Let's not lose our sense of humor

During a recent drive through California's central coast, my husband and I stopped in a small town to refuel and buy some drinks.  In the mini-mart, I discovered the spork, an amusingly shaped hybrid between a spoon and a fork. 

I showed it to Jeff and said, "Look! Transgendered cutlery!"  We laughed and ate our lunches with our sporks.

I shared my little joke on Facebook, along with a photo of a plastic fork; a plastic spoon; and, to the right of them both, the spork. I thought it was funny and I knew many of my Facebook friends would get a laugh.  Many people immediately "liked" it, and a few added their own pointed observations, such as "If you like your old cutlery, you can keep your old cutlery."

I also knew I'd get pushback by the mirthless and myopic members of the P.C. brigade.  In less time than you can say "I'm feeling triggered," they pounced.

"There's nothing new about sporks, just as there's nothing new about transgendered people, if you hadn't noticed," huffed one woman, perhaps from the safety of her Handmaiden's cloak.

A man whom I have not seen or spoken to in more than fifteen years called me a bigot who surely hates transgendered people.  My "intent wasn't only to malign transgender people, it was to malign the fact that they have a voice in society," he accused.  While he was at it, he listed many other categories of minorities I had hurt or trivialized on Facebook over the years.  Like a KGB agent, he had been watching me.  And he kept a list.

Heavy charges, indeed, from the woke elite!

This hysterical and vitriolic response to a mild joke about plastic cutlery demonstrates why most Americans have developed a well deserved case of "PCSD" — Politically Correct Stress Disorder.  Symptoms include joining secret Facebook groups of like-minded people, indigestion, and uncontrollable eye twitches upon hearing the words "cisgender," "cultural appropriation," and "marginalized."

Humor needs room to breathe.  The vise grip of P.C. extremists has had a chilling effect on comedy.  Many stand-up comics will no longer perform on college campuses, because a minority of snowflake students can no longer tolerate any joke they may find offensive.  People's careers have been destroyed by an inappropriate joke, even after they apologize.  Since I work for myself, I was safe from being fired, which emboldened me to post my spork joke on social media.  More seriously, though, I'm unwilling to be silenced by the P.C. police.

Last fall, The Atlantic ran a story titled "Americans Strongly Dislike PC Culture," which revealed that 80 percent of Americans who responded to a study believe that P.C. culture has stifled free conversation.  Even Bill Maher agrees, having warned during interviews that the bullying and threatening tactics of P.C. warriors are dangerous and self-defeating.

Humor is an essential life tool, not a luxury.  Funny and clever jokes and stories help us relax a little, regain perspective, and avoid gloom, even during painful times.  Shared laughter is also a bonding experience, creating some of life's most precious memories.  If we laugh hard enough, humor even doubles as aerobic workout, burning up calories and tightening our abs!

Humor will always be subjective, and humor without a point of view isn't even funny.  There is no pleasing everyone, but you are almost guaranteed always to offend someone.  For example, much of my writing has focused on my Jewish religious practice, yet I have received fan mail from a Muslim in Saudi Arabia and angry mail from a Jew in Brooklyn who accused me of spreading damaging speech when I poked fun at the Jewish obsession with Chinese food.

Go figure.

Maybe it's time to gather up the failed experiment of hypersensitive political correctness, with its endless restrictions on our speech, and stick a spork in it.

Judy Gruen's latest book is The Skeptic and the Rabbi: Falling in Love with Faith (She Writes Press, 2017).  Her work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Chicago Tribune, New York Daily News, Boston Globe, Aish.com, the Jewish Journal, and many other media outlets.