Here’s why we should never use the “just joking” card again, ever

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The thing with jokes is if they have to explain that it was just a joke, chances are, it wasn’t.

Last July 21, the president made headlines anew for suggesting that people can disinfect their face masks by “drenching it in gasoline or diesel” so it can be reused. The next day, the health ministry’s undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire in a press briefing quickly reminded residents to not take the advice seriously, suggesting that the president was just joking.

In his own defense during a Malacañang press briefing last July 23, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque even turned the tables by accusing those who would take the Chief Executive’s remarks seriously of not being accustomed to his brand of humor even after four years of presidency.

In a nutshell, the President was just joking, and if you think he wasn’t, then you don’t know him well enough. After all, it’s hardly the first time he joked about a serious public matter.

From drug use to rape remarks, the President has never been fearful of firing all cylinders, and the Palace — never the President himself — has always been prompt in dismissing them as “just jokes,” as if to say there was no harm done.

Except there was and will always be, whether they would like to admit it or not.

The joke

Whenever we try to know what these “jokes” mean, we often end up seeing them for what they truly are. Almost always, these remarks are either of these two things: misinformation, or a misdirection. Have patience if they are both.

It really doesn’t take too much time to fact-check his points and to prove that they’re false. News agencies even do it so we don’t have to. But then, we have to ask: did we really have to stretch a muscle? Did it really need to be said?

In place of “jokes,” we could’ve learned more about how they intend to combat the coronavirus or to subsidize the most marginalized amid the pandemic. 

Instead, we lost that much valuable time having to hear about it, dissect it, and then disprove it, for the sake of those who aren’t able to see and hear beyond the pronouncement.

The listener

Which brings us to those who don’t laugh whenever we are graced by the President’s humor: all of us. 

When the President makes haphazard jokes like this, two things always happen.

First, immediately after he lets go of his words, somewhere, someone who couldn’t afford to know better, who doesn’t have the means to detect the sarcasm or deem the remark as a blatant scientific sham, will do exactly what the “joke” tells them to do, and then suffer for it.

Next, once these “jokes” have settled into our collective consciousness, they start to turn into walls that keep certain people out of public service. 

Competent women are dissuaded from pursuing public office because of how he views women (“feminists should lighten up!”); hardworking healthcare workers are discouraged because of how he disregards science; more young people yearn to become gun-slinging law enforcers because of how low he views human life. All for the sake of a joke.

Let’s remember that humor is a communal device meant to reflect what we deem acceptable as a society. In a way, it’s a bonding strategy; our sense of humor emboldens and keeps close those who laugh with us, and at the same time shames and excludes those who don’t. 

If his “jokes” are racist, sexist, classist, incorrect, and impolite, then that’s exactly the kind of culture he will cultivate. 

What’s worse, if these “jokes” echo from the highest seat of the land, then what’s stopping people from emulating his performance with the same bravado?

The speaker

Perhaps that’s the biggest risk that these “jokes” pose: that they are spoken by the President himself, and yet never really claimed by the same.

Whenever these remarks are dismissed as the President “just joking,” or whenever they call the masses dense by not using our common sense, what they’re really doing is passing the blame to their citizens, forwarding the responsibility of accountability to the people who doubly suffer by being the butt of the joke.

This is to say, if you douse your face mask with gasoline and suffer health problems, not only are you stupid for believing the President, but for actually doing what he said in jest.

We get it; people tell jokes to lighten the mood, and sometimes they go too far. It’s a litmus test for both sides: if we make a bad joke and they didn’t laugh, we say sorry for crossing a line and then take a step back. 

But when a person says the same bad joke over and over, not only do the words lose their charm, they lose their listeners. And what is a clown without an audience? 

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