General Question

marinelife's avatar

What impulse would make someone make jokes about the earthquake-tsunami disaster in Japan?

Asked by marinelife (62485points) March 15th, 2011

Dan Turner, Gov. Hayley Barbour’s press secretary resigned after it came out that he made a series of poor jokes including this one in emails: “Otis Redding posthumously received a gold record for his single, (Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay. (Not a big hit in Japan right now.),” Turner wrote. Source

Gilbert Gottfried just lost his job as the voice of the Aflac spokesduck after tweeting a series of really gross jokes about the disaster in Japan.

Why would the disaster even be thought of as a basis for jokes? My mind and body do not even go there.

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65 Answers

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

I think it’s the I’d rather laugh than cry thing. They’re covering up the pain by trying to make a joke.

erichw1504's avatar

Some people just have very different senses of humor. For instance, many think racist jokes are terrible, while other can laugh at them. It depends on your point of view.

Personally, I think the “jokes” Gottfried made about Japan are tasteless and wrong during this time, even a couple years down the road, I don’t think they would be funny.

syzygy2600's avatar

Why do people make jokes about 9/11, pedophiles, and rape?

Some people deal with the bad things in life better when they can make a sick joke about it. Some people are just assholes.

ragingloli's avatar

Jokes are nothing compared to this disgusting display

YoBob's avatar

Many use humor as a way of coping with bad situations. It’s kind of like whistling past the graveyard.

Frankly, I’m surprised we haven’t seen more humor poking fun at the name of the city where the plant is located, “Fukushima”. It just seems ripe for a tasteless joke or two.

Austinlad's avatar

Making jokes about what’s happening in Japan is deplorable, but I recall Alan Alda’s line in the Woody Allen movie “Crimes and Misdeameanors” ...

“Comedy is tragedy plus time!”

wundayatta's avatar

What astonishing ignorance and hatred! To have so many American lack compassion for the victims in Japan makes me ill. Where is our big heart? How can so many people say this is payback for Pearl harbor? Unbelievable!

syzygy2600's avatar

People on the internet are stupid.

In other news the sky is blue.

WillWorkForChocolate's avatar

I have to say that Gilbert Gottfried has never been funny anyway, and those jokes are more than just tasteless- they’re dumb.

I don’t understand why people would make jokes about it either. I understand that humor is a way to cope, but not at Japan’s expense. Not right now. And all that crap from “patriotic Americans” about this being payback for Pearl Harbor? If people deserved payback for everything, I’d expect a couple of black men to walk through my door any minute to rape and beat me as payback for what happened to their ancestors. It’s time to move on, live in the now and help out! Past is past people, fuck!

OpryLeigh's avatar

I have received quite a few jokes via text message regarding the events in Japan at the moment. Of course they are in very bad taste but it has got to the point where, after any sort of natural disaster or tragedy, it only takes a day or so for the jokes to start flying around.

I think there are a large amount of people that can see humour in any situation, rightly or wrongly. I try to look at jokes like this as an amusing play on words rather than offensive, that way I don’t feel as bad if/when they make me laugh. It’s not that I find the situation in Japan amusing at all, I feel horrible for all those people that have lost loved ones and homes but I have to admit that some of the jokes have made me chuckle.

Now, as far as public figures go, I really don’t think they should be making jokes that could potentially be seen/heard by the public. Posting jokes like this on Twitter is disgusting and idiotic. As far as the chap who resigned after sending an email containing these jokes, who did he send them to in order to make him resign?

aprilsimnel's avatar

I cut off a person who claimed to be my friend on 11 September 2001. I actually got an email from the wanker where he joked about, among other things, the people who were forced to jump. At 10:30 NYC time. Meaning the North Tower had just collapsed. It didn’t help that his caveat was that he couldn’t help but make jokes during disasters on this scale, and then he went straight to the jokes. After all, his loved ones, he knew, were OK.

I believe there’s a time and a place for everything, including gallows/black humour. Ongoing disasters, in my opinion, aren’t that time. And, @ragingloli, those people in the link would look for any excuse to hate on Japanese people, I’m certain.

KateTheGreat's avatar

Giving that he is a somewhat famous comedian, it could be just to get his name out there. All press is good press, according to celebrities. But if it was just a common man making jokes, they’re either assholes or they are too afraid to show emotion and feel sorry for those who were lost in this disaster.

Jude's avatar

Loli’s link made me sick.

kevbo's avatar

GG made 9/11 jokes (at Hugh Hefner’s roast in L.A. as documented in the film “The Aristocrats”) mere months after 9/11. After clearly making the room uncomfortable, he switched to a telling of The Aristocrats joke and managed to (at least according to the comics interviewed in the film) create a spectacular cartharsis during a time when the comedy business had all but ground to a halt. Not to mention he was hired by AFLAC sometime after that incident. So lesson learned maybe.

I agree with you @marinelife, it’s tasteless and gross. I think a lot of people still think of foreigners or anyone who is not “one of them” as 3/5 human. I also think it’s common among adolescent (male) intellects, since the phenomenon of spectacular death and injury is almost always a topic worthy of one’s fascination.

El_Cadejo's avatar

@ragingloli Those people are fuckin moronic…. Yes yes its god paying them back for pearl harbor, I mean we didnt do that with 2 fucking nukes or anything…...

As per the question. A simple lack of tact I believe.

Nullo's avatar

I think that it’s a coping mechanism, myself, an effort to deal with the situation without being dragged into despair.

@ragingloli Those are just people stuck in the past. I’ve met Europeans with similar reactions towards American troubles. I would be one myself (mostly with regard to the Germans), except that about halfway through eighth grade, I realized that I was two solid generations removed from everything that happened in the 1940s. Most of the participants are dead, and that my generation had to work out international relationships for itself in this post-WWII world.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

I saw two photos in the paper last night that kind of summed up the magnitude of the disaster. One was a woman looking under and overturned car swamped with debris. She was looking for her husband. The other was an elderly gentleman sitting on a crate holding his head in his hands, amongst the debris. It was his house. Anyone that finds humor in that is disgustiong. And for the Pearl Harbor idiots, if you’ll recall they struck us after we embargoed their country

syzygy2600's avatar

Enough of the Pearl Harbor talk. Those people saying it’s payback are obviously dumb mouth breathers, fuck ‘em. However there’s also no need to justify the actions of the Japanese in WW2 sixty years after the fact. Let it go.

Response moderated (Flame-Bait)
Nullo's avatar

@Adirondackwannabe It’s better to leave the past in a place where we can learn about it, without dredging it up where it can be underfoot. The natural rejoinder to your encouraged recollection is, “embargoes don’t shoot people,” and the debate keeps on rolling.

YoBob's avatar

@Jude, I’m pretty sure that all nationalities have their fair share of assholes. I, for one, would appreciate not being judged by stereotype.

Hibernate's avatar

There are people who don’t really care about such things.
There are some who’ll even justify some jokes with the fact “even God has a sense of humour”

Not all jokes are meant to be understood but it doesn’t necessary mean you have to disaprove them from the start. [ don’t judge what you don’t understand ]

Jude's avatar

@YoBob I am referring to the people in the link. Calm down.

YoBob's avatar

@Jude Alas, the web filters won’t let me get to that link from behind the work firewall so I really have no idea what it contains.

Nullo's avatar

@YoBob It’s a collection of photos of the disaster along with Facebook screenshots suggesting that the tsunami was retribution for the attack on Pearl Harbor. It is captioned with, “Americans: @$$holes of the world.”

That press secretary, I have decided, is genuinely (not hyperbolically) foolish. He should have known what kind of reaction he was going to get; that’s half of his job.

anartist's avatar

Some of the people who care the most—the rescuers, the firemen, the cops—they sometimes joke so they won’t cry or become paralyzed with the horror.
Jokes can be a way of relieving pain.
Pause before you cast judgement.

El_Cadejo's avatar

@anartist I understand that very much, but the people we are talking about arent them. What did Gilbert Gottfried vest into the people of Japan that he is dealing with his grief and that he cares the most?

Theyre two totally unrelated scenarios.

Jude's avatar

So, I went ahead and emailed one of the guys in Loli’s link (facebook). His email back “I hope that your whole family gets swept away in the Tsunami, too” with a few choice expletives.

Ignorant fuck.

Jude's avatar

I probably should get out and get some air. :)

mattbrowne's avatar

I see two possible reasons

1) Helplessness and frustration – human beings sometimes use humor to deal with high pressure
2) Total ignorance lacking a grasp of the actual situation

Nullo's avatar

@Jude What did you say? The knee-jerk reaction to having random people sending you hatemail (or even undesired criticism) is to be mean right back.
There is a proverb that goes, “A soft answer turns away wrath.”

Joker94's avatar

Well, sickening though they may be, people make jokes in situations like these to cope with them. I’m all for dark humor and all, but Gottfried’s jokes weren’t just tasteless, they were genuinely unfunny.

I guess people will be able to look back at this and have a laugh about it one day, but not now. It’s just too damn soon, in my opinion.

filmfann's avatar

Gilbert Gottfried’s comments aren’t even funny, they are just plane stupid. That he made such remarks while working for Aflac, who does a hefty part of their business in Japan, shows his ignorance of his meal ticket, as well as the values of taste.

Nullo's avatar

Interestingly (and more than a little tactfully), the disaster manga “Tokyo Magnitude 8.0” has become rather scarce on the Internet.

Jude's avatar

@Nullo I asked him why so ignorant?

He told me to fuck off and that my boyfriend should cover my “cunt mouth” and that my family should be swept away, too”. I told him that I was with a woman. He then proceeded to tell me that “all that you need a good hard f*ck with a real d*ck”. He called me a Brit c*nt.

I shouldn’t have stooped to his level and emailed. I regret that now. I don’t usually do that sort of thing, really.

What I really wanted to say was “Who else do you hate besides the Japanese, gays, Brits, your momma, and yourself?”

filmfann's avatar

The Clint Eastwood movie “Hereafter” has been pulled from all the Japanese theaters due to a scene showing a tsunami.

DominicX's avatar


I wouldn’t really say “assholes of the world” as much as “fucking morons of the world”. It’s stuff like this that only perpetuates the stereotype that Americans are all dumbasses. Let’s just hope it’s a minority of people who believe that. I haven’t seen anything like that on Facebook myself…

Do these people even think of Hiroshima/Nagasaki? If Hiroshima and Nagasaki had never happened, their comments would still be stupid and hateful, but this is just ridiculous…there are no words that can accurately describe how stupid those comments are…

Nullo's avatar

@Jude Ah. See, you insulted him. Approaching his ignorance more obliquely (Socratically?) would have been better.

Jude's avatar

My mistake.

filmfann's avatar

@ragingloli I would also not say that the viewpoints expressed in your link were the views of even 1% of Americans. We are concerned for the Japanese people, and we are trying to help. You will find Americans have been great contributers to the recovery of Thailand and Haiti as well.

Jude's avatar

But, you know, whoever put that collage together was trying to start trouble, also. They probably decided it would make great news to go around looking for the most heinous, retarded, douchebag, insensitive comments from a bunch of fucking morons who just happen to reside in the United States and then draw attention to them as though these people are somehow representative of Americans. It’s just a lame attempt at getting attention and it’s not helpful for anyone.

Again, I regret stooping to that level.

Nullo's avatar

@Jude I concur.

I did overhear a rather civilized (if a bit detached) variant at a store. The shopkeeper and the customer were talking about the disaster, and one of them commented that such an earthquake-and-tsunami would have been handy in 1943, but was just trouble now.

DominicX's avatar


Well, the caption is stupid, but is there anything wrong with drawing attention to extreme ignorance? Especially when high profile people make such comments?

MilkyWay's avatar

It’s just plain disgusting.When I was in the waiting area in hospital someone said something.
There was a tv and my dad put on the news coverage of japan’s situation.A few minutes later someone said “I can see a blockbuster movie comin out of this one…” Then he started laughing.
Some people are just selfish and have absolutely no morals at all.

Stefaniebby's avatar

People making jokes about this are disgusting. They say “What about Pearl Harbor?” in @ragingloli‘s link and it’s just awful, so ignorant!

After seeing these pictures I wonder, how can one be so cocky? Some people… (shakes head)

augustlan's avatar

[mod says] This is our Question of the Day!

Cruiser's avatar

People are human and have lapses of common sense and do dumb things….it seems as though there is a blood thirsty streak in our society that is quick to latch on to the weak stupid elements of what people do and rather than ignoring the obvious stupidity, now dumb shit stuff is elevated to something that’s really not worthy of a second thought.

Go to any comedy club on open mic night and silence is the best message sent to a really bad joke and just watch the idiot squirm.

Nullo's avatar

@Stefaniebby I would like it if you would explain exactly what you mean by “it’s… so ignorant,” particularly with regards to what is being ignored.
This because I realized earlier today that some people use “ignorant” in lieu of other words, and my curiosity has been piqued.

dalepetrie's avatar

My two cents:

This Dan Turner is an immature idiot who was probably a really unpopular kid who found his dad’s dirty joke book in 9th grade and managed to get his classmates to pay attention to him, which made him decide that he was actually funny, and until now, no one’s told him that he’s really just an idiot. He’s the kind of blowhard who tells really bad, unfunny jokes and thinks he’s the life of the party, and because of his proximity to power, people have just let him get away with it. So, he tells a joke that wouldn’t even be funny if “enough time” had passed, and forgetting that there’s a time and a place (or possibly never having been told this in the first place), he sends this joke out in an official communication. Realistically, he probably tells bad jokes via official email all the time and no one’s ever called him on it, but this time, he happened to make light of a recent international tragedy. To me, this is the kind of guy who probably should have been fired long ago for not behaving in a professional manner, it was bound to happen sooner or later, and the most disappointing thing to me was that it took this lame ass joke to finally break the camel’s back as it were.

As for Gottfried, I’ve appreciated some of his humor, and I don’t demonize him for these jokes, because it’s what he DOES. As someone mentioned, the scene in the Aristocrats showed him starting in on 9/11, and the audience shouting “too soon, too soon.” Just last September, when fellow comic Greg Giraldo committed suicide, Gilbert tweeted (on the day of Giraldo’s death) something to the effect of “if he’s cremated, will that be the Greg Giraldo roast?” Insensitive? Yes! Funny? Depends on who you ask. Too soon? Well, most would say yes, but if you watched the Aristocrats, you’d know that Gilbert does not subscribe to the theory of there being such a thing as “too soon”.

What I got out of the Aristocrats was something that I’d sort of known intuitively, but had never really articulated…the fact that the basis of humor is in defying your expectations….we laugh because what we are given in the form of a “punch line” is not what we are expecting. There are many ways to achieve this, but the comedians who work “on the cutting edge” do so by “pushing the envelope”. Essentially, if you consider what humor was 20, 50, or 100 years ago, the funniest things were what was culturally outside the norm. Our cultural mores shift over time, and in our modern society, very little that used to be taboo is now still considered “untouchable”. In fact, it seems that the most shocking (and therefore to some, the most funny) thing you can do is to violate the rules of political correctness.

So this is Gilbert Gottfried’s “schtick”, always has been, always will be, and to be honest, I “get” mean humor…it requires detachment from the situation. So the way I see it, a comic who makes his living by saying shocking things, by being politically incorrect and insensitive, can be expected to make light of a tragedy without regard for the rules that most of us follow. If anything, Aflac should not have the gall to act surprised that he would make these jokes….anyone following Gilbert on Twitter because they enjoy his humor would be hard pressed to claim they were “offended” or “shocked” by these comments.

Now, although I can laugh on the inside at “mean” and “insensitive” humor, and therefore have no right to judge someone for utilizing it, I see a big distinction between Turner and Gottfried here, Turner was an assistant to a high ranking government official, he was acting in an official capacity…not only would his position have put him closer to the situation. One would expect that making light of an international tragedy amongst government and political figures would bound to be unexpected and unwelcomed by most who would read the comments, not so with Gottfried.

Bottom line is, comedy and tragedy have often been linked, because indeed there is a fine line between the two. Both shock a reaction out of you…the difference being in how that shock is meant to make you feel…good or bad. Some things can be both funny and tragic, and this often depends solely on perspective. To someone who is emotionally detached from the situation, something could be funny which would be patently offensive and personally upsetting to another. Humor is a subjective thing…to be honest, as much as I abhor rape and rapists, I’d rather sit through an hour comedy routine consisting only of rape jokes than watch Jay Leno’s show for an hour, yet millions watch him every weeknight. I think when someone makes light of something truly tragic, it does not mean that he or she does not understand why it is tragic, it doesn’t mean that he or she does not feel bad for the victims of the tragedy, but it does mean that given the ability to view this situation from a disconnected and unemotional point of view, they are able to find the humor within the situation.

To wrap this up, I think we need people like Gilbert out there making these kinds of jokes, because he is trying to break down our modern day taboos. He is a response to our current culture of outrage…people seem to be looking for things to be outraged by, and it’s gotten to the point where we as a society shoot first and ask questions later. Consider 9/11. Up until that day, people were throwing eggs at Bush’s motorcade, many felt he was an illegitimate leader who had illegally seized power by using his influence. On 9/11 he gave a speech which boiled down to the equivalent of “we’re gonna make ‘em pay for what they done,” and it was hailed by over 90% of the people as a truly “Presidential” moment. For months afterwards you couldn’t say anything bad about Bush…every anti-Bush website was taken down or suspended…even Barbara Streissand went on record saying she would not be critical of him at this time. It was “too soon”. Bill Maher simply stated that you can call people who die for what they believe anything you want, but “coward” might not be the right word, and he was fired and treated like a pariah. Something like 2 years later, one of the Dixie Chicks suggested that Bush made her ashamed to be a Texan, and suddenly they’re banned from radio and getting death threats. Now we’ve got this conservative blogger who is sending people out undercover to destroy the organizations he doesn’t like, such as ACORN (an organization that fought for decades to raise people out of poverty) or NPR (the only source of news we have in this country that is not controlled by commercial interests)....same guy responsible for bringing down ACORN just this week re-edited some comments from an NPR fundraiser to make them sound really bad, and both the fundraiser and the President of NPR were fired, even though the whole tape showed nothing that offensive.

And both sides do the same shit. This week, ultra conservative Larry Kudlow on CNBC was simply doing his job, talking about the financial impact of the Tsunami, and what he tried to impart was that the human cost aside, this could also be a great economic cost…nothing untrue or offensive about that, but his comments were portrayed as if he said the human cost was not important at all. You have Helen Thomas who for decades covered every Presidential press conference, and then one day said something that was poorly worded that offended Jewish people, and suddenly her esteemed career ends in shame.

Political correctness and our over-willingness to police it by being hyper critical of every thing anyone says that someone might not like is destroying long held traditions, well intentioned people are making life more difficult for those they most want to help by over-reacting and not asking questions or trying to put anything in context. We are a society that lacks context, we seek the 15 second sound byte to tell us what we think, we’re too busy to see point of view, perspective or multiple sides of the same story. People like Gilbert Gottfried realize that and make that point by purposely not playing by these rules. And seeing that I can say two things that may seem contradictory, but which are both 100% true. #1 – I feel deeply for the people affected by the tragedy. #2 – I see nothing wrong with making light of the situation if you don’t do so with the intent of it being hurtful to someone.

In short, people need to lighten up and learn to simply ignore the things they don’t like…if we could ALL do that, then our society could advance light years. But as the saying goes, you can’t make an omelet without cracking a few eggs…Gottfried cracks eggs for a living…we don’t like how he cooks the omelet, then we don’t eat it, simple as that.

marinelife's avatar

@dalepetrie I am unwilling to “lighten up” regarding Gilbert Gottfried’s non-funny jukes. They are inappropriate and just wrong.

WillWorkForChocolate's avatar

@dalepetrie I can see about 10% of the point you were trying to make. Other than that, I call bullshit. Nobody needs to “lighten up” about Gilbert Gottfrieds jokes. His jokes were sick, completely unfunny, and just plain wrong. I don’t give a flying fuck if the Pope himself wants to use humor as a coping mechanism, it still doesn’t make anything funny about Gilbert Gottfried starting off jokes with “I fucked this Japanese chick…” There is a time and place for sick humor, and NOW is not the time.

cak's avatar

@dalepetrie: I understand what you are saying, but I disagree. I think it’s sad that he couldn’t stop and think long enough to realize that those jokes, just aren’t funny. People are still finding their loved ones, people are still not finding their loved ones. The tide is still carrying bodies ashore. Nuclear meltdown is a concern. Devastation surrounds these people. Do you really think they need sick jokes about this situation? It takes a weak person to give into the urge to make jokes about this situation.

marinelife's avatar

@cak I wish I could give you more than one GA!

dalepetrie's avatar

Just to clarify, when I say lighten up, that doesn’t mean you have to try to see the humor in them, it just means, if you don’t like it, ignore it. Yeah, it’s mean, it’s insensitive and I don’t doubt that you don’t find it funny. But I don’t support censorship in any form. There are a lot of things that people say that I object to, that I disagree with, that offend me to my core. But I have “lightened up” enough to accept that they have every right to say these things, even if it makes them insufferable assholes. And Gilbert has chosen an abrasive persona for his comedic output, he chooses to offend, and he has every right to do so, and in a society where people are all too quick to take offense to absolutely everything, that is exactly what we need, even if we don’t like it or want to listen to it ourselves. His jokes may well be offensive and wrong and too soon and whatever…but that is by your standards, even if it is also by the standards of 99.99999% of everyone else as well. I firmly believe that the right of free speech is most important when it is applied to the minority, the more minor the minority the better, because there is strength in numbers….no one needs to fight the fight that we should not be rude, it’s common sense, it is the oppressed minority who needs to have someone stand up for his rights. In this case, GG is the oppressed minority, I am the one standing up for his rights, and you are the majority who doesn’t have to like it, but has to accept it for what it is and get on with your lives.

marinelife's avatar

@dalepetrie I agree about free speech, but I don’t have to accept the speech that I find hateful. I have the right of free speech too, and disagreeing loudly in print is my perfect right of response.

cak's avatar

@marinelife Took the words out of my mouth

@dalepetrie: I’m agreeing to disagree about GG. I do agree that he does have freedom of speech.

dalepetrie's avatar

Totally agree with that sentiment as well.

asmonet's avatar

I don’t get why Dan Turner resigned over that. Yeah, people may be sensitive about it – but honestly, I’ve made just as careless little jokes. So has everyone, no one makes funny and fabulous jokes 100% of the time. Maybe not with this event, it’s just putting your foot in your mouth. Shit happens. That comment really isn’t enough to drive you out of your job. But then again, he is a press secretary – he should know better. I’m just annoyed that some things in politics seem to be a bigger deal than they should be. /unpopular opinion

As for the question at hand, as people have said above it’s a stress response. People trivialize in order to absorb and process disturbing information. We have kind of a thing in my family of inappropriate responses to tragedy or danger. I was mugged, gun to my temple and all I managed to say was “Are you fucking kidding me right now, dude?” – the cops informed me this was not ideal. My cousin’s father died suddenly in an avalanche, his body has never been recovered and he was the only one in his group to be injured severely. Not very fair and kind of horrible. When my elementary aged cousin was told, he collapsed into a laughing fit and couldn’t breathe, for hours.

The point is, we react to things differently. We’re individuals, in a general sense yes, some will react with humor and others with crying. Some will feel compelled to jump on a plane and join relief workers and some will be paralyzed with helplessness.

We as fellow humans should not be judging anyone’s response to pain. We don’t know their story, why they react the way they do and we have no right. So long as they are not inciting anything or repeatedly attacking others as a response everyone should fuck off and let people deal with things the way they need to.

Gottfried on the other hand is a giant cunt. And that’s the nicest way I can say that.

marinelife's avatar

@asmonet Dan Turner’s remark was just the last straw (I really did not think his comment was all that bad.). He had a history of making snarky remarks in emails and some of the others were quite a bit worse. Because Hayley Barbour is considering a run for the Presidency, he just cut the guy loose.

asmonet's avatar

@marinelife – Understood, in that case yeah. He’s a moron.

Riggerman's avatar

I think hes trying to turn the situation around make people laugh not at others misfourtunes but like say you crashed your car and someone a month later gave you the name speed racer its kind of like that

Faze44's avatar

This type of impulse comes from a Very puerile individual, suffering from anal retention that purges these disgusting comments due to a lacklustre life and mind. Free speech is great when positive and out there when we learn and enrich our lives and mind, but this sick little individual highlights the inane, thought processes without conscience or empathy that many have in society today.

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