Making the World Safe for Sarcasm

The days of the practical joke are gone. It’s practically become extinct. April Fool’s Day at my work was (not literally) a joke, and I was very surprised by this because even though they work hard, my co-workers seriously have some of the most avid senses of humors I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. Jokes have long since lost their practicality; instead they’ve segued into the interplay of language, where they have found a safe haven in the seemly endless opportunities for irony, sarcasm, and parody.

To me, sarcasm is a way to elicit responses, rather than judge. Judging the victim leaves him/her with no defenses, especially when you’re snickering behind your trailer trash target at the local Target. Some people enjoy people-watching and condescendingly poking fun at outward appearances. I don’t. It’s like beating up someone who can’t fight back, or playing a team with a skill level way below that of your team. At least with ironic wordplay, you can sock one to the annoying asshole feeding you degrading lines at the bar—and give him a chance to respond. Plus, I’m forever fascinated by how different people will react to the truth, with a little irony on top and dressing on the side, especially those who know that I’m messing with them. Language and its meanings instantly become more interesting when the element of sarcasm is in play. Without it, humor would suffer the limitations of literal jest and what have become impractical jokes. It makes everything more fun; such pastimes as degrading yourself, making an observation about the meaning of life, writing an entire review of a really horrendous made-for-TV movie, or discussing the merits of the early movie career of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger can be taken to new heights…or depths…depending on which way you look at it.

Sarcasm has the dynamic ability to manifest itself in many different scenarios. Here is a small list of my recurring run-ins with sarcasm. I refer to myself in second person in an effort to protect the guilty, or at least make me feel less guilty by putting the blame on “you,” thus maybe making you, the reader, feel a little bit guilty. Not going to happen, you say? Well, read on and see.

1. The other person doesn’t know you’re being sarcastic. When you start giving clues that you are messing with him/her, he/she either still doesn’t know (and will never know) or he/she gives you a “look,” as if to say, by way of facial expression, “What’s wrong with you?”
2. The other person knows you’re being sarcastic and is playing along, only you don’t know he/she is actually mocking your little charade. And you probably will never know.
3. The other person knows you’re being sarcastic and is playing along. While you’re aware of this, you’re so disappointed by your inability to dupe your victim that you decide to give up and walk away, thus creating some confusion, maybe a hint of animosity, in the other person.
4. You’re leading the other person into a maze of lies…and it’s working! He/she is either so gullible or so convinced by your flawless acting that he/she actually believes your bullshit. Once the truth is revealed and he/she realizes he/she has been had, you probably feel really good about yourself, but your victim feels pretty stupid and often resorts to self-mockery to downplay the embarrassment. You should probably watch out for any attempt at revenge.
5. You’re not being sarcastic, but the other person has become so accustomed to your frequent sarcasm than he/she thinks you are so incapable of taking conversation seriously that you can possibly be serious; therefore, he/she takes you sarcastically and you have no idea. At this point, social connection is lost and can only be regained by trying to determine who was being sarcastic and who was being serious, thus wasting time that could have been spent doing something more productive.
6. Your sarcasm content is sensitive to the other person. He/she would rather you not joke about it but is afraid to tell you when you are clearly having so much fun with it.
7. Your interpretation of the other person’s sarcasm leads to a needless argument.
8. You repeat the same blatantly sarcastic comment, trying to keep it alive as long as possible, until it might as well have died a thousand deaths, and then you repeat it again (**Please note: I have inherited this from my dad. And because my dad has never been able to stop, I don’t believe I have any hope of ridding myself of this curse). The scenario: You’re driving into an empty Denny’s parking lot around dinnertime with your dad and your sister. Your Dad says, “Wow, this Denny’s sure is packed.” (there’s laughter, not because it’s particularly funny, but because, like all of your dad’s jokes, it is so eloquently unfunny. And it’s also kind of funny that there is a Denny’s in America that is empty at 5:30 p.m., which is the unofficial suppertime for senior citizens). You say, “Damn, you’re right, it sure is.” Your Dad says, “I don’t know if they’re going to be able to seat us.” Your sister says, “Let me run in before you park and put our name on the list.” (laughing) You say, “Hurry, Dad. Now slow down so she can get out…but don’t stop.” You park, have a couple chuckles, think the joke is dead when you walk into the restaurant and your dad immediately asks the lone waitress, “You guys got enough room for us?” (chuckles all around). The waitress laughs and looks around, smiling, and says, “I don’t know, we might be able to fit you in somewhere.” Once seated, after a couple minutes of unrelated conversation, your dad returns to the empty restaurant tip again when my sister announces what she’s going to order. “Cari, I don’t know, I think they’re out of eggs.” And guess what? It’s still funny to him! And it’s funny to you and your sister because it’s still funny to him. Five minutes later, Dad: “We’re probably going to have to wait a long time for our food.” He probably joked about it yesterday at the office…either that or something else he’s repetitiously joked into the ground of the cemetery he drives by and announces for the gaz-illionth time, “Did you hear about that place?” “What?” (points) “People are just dyin’ to get in there!”
9. You incite contagious sarcasm that spreads and snowballs and ultimately gets so preposterous that everyone involved forgets what you were talking about in the first place.

October 24, 2004


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