Well, I thought it was harmless enough.
But sometimes even the most innocuous jokes are taken poorly. As my tweet spread, I became inundated with @-replies that ranged from mild frustration (“poor taste”) to rage and even a couple of death threats. (My first!) Oh, sure, plenty of people seemed to like the joke, too—and I imagine those that retweeted it, for the most part, understood its tone. But for every positive comment I got, there were ten more iterations of “twat,” “wanker,” “cunt,” “kike,” and “knob jockey.” That last one is the most adorable euphemism for gay I’ve ever heard, so by all means, slur away!
I was overwhelmed by the response—and also really surprised. What about my tweet was actually offensive? Yeah, if you take it literally, it’s an indictment of the English people, but why would anyone take umbrage at another country’s prompt clean-up efforts? As I explained in subsequent tweets—which I’m certain few of the furious masses read—it’s more of a joke about American inactivity and ignorance (particularly about the UK). Of course I don’t think that being quaint and proper are universal English characteristics, or that community action is worthy of criticism. I’m frankly astounded anyone could take it otherwise.
I think there are valid reasons to criticize me for writing that. The riots are taking a serious toll on the country, and it is, for some, “too soon” to joke about them. Fine. But to the slew of people who responded, “We’re cleaning up because we care about our community,” I have to ask, are you fucking kidding me? Of course I understand. Of course I sympathize and admire your efforts. I’d argue that the very stereotype I was lampooning, the “quaint and proper” Englishman, comes from a positive quality many British people do possess—that is, the ability to “keep calm and carry on.” This is not a bad thing.
And then there were the responses that compared the riots to September 11th and Hurricane Katrina. I’m not going to touch that, insofar as I’m not a fan of ranking tragedies. I will say that it strikes me as ass-backwards to suggest a rather tame joke is on par with making light of the deaths of thousands. Which is not to say that comedians haven’t made jokes about 9/11 and Katrina—because plenty have, and often. But the type of humor I was employing is, in my mind, a different animal entirely.
At this point, I have to address what many of you may be wondering—is this entire post just a humblebrag? I won’t deny that I enjoyed the attention I got yesterday: no tweet I’ve written has ever spread so far and so fast. That having been said, I don’t relish being called names, or threatened with violence. And I get no satisfaction from offending people. Now, I didn’t lose (much) sleep over yesterday’s outrage, because I stand behind my joke, and even elaborated it to diminish its potential for being misunderstood. Still, I don’t want attention for being a wanker. (Maybe for being a knob jockey. Aw, knob jockey.)
I’ll also admit I got twitchy at the number of tweets calling me ugly. But then I reminded myself that my avatar isn’t exactly flattering, and I am too adorable to be this insecure.
As always, this experience has reminded me about the downside of exposure. The more people you reach, the more people you can piss off. Someone is always going to be offended, whether for reasons rational or not. Someone else is always going to try to tear you down, perhaps just for the hell of it. I have written before about my need to develop a thicker skin, and I think yesterday’s onslaught of negativity was good exposure therapy. It’s not that I’m past taking harsh words to heart—I’m just learning to appreciate them for what they are.
I understand my humor. I know my heart is in the right place. And I know the people who matter don’t think I’m a soulless monster who deserves to have his house burned down. So it’s here that I note my explanation and reflection on the events do not mean I regret anything. I’m doing something that doesn’t come naturally to me—not apologizing.