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Sunday, November 6, 2011


A number of years ago, long before I created Bleep!, a girl in my class decided to be (sarcasm alert) extremely mature and imitate someone who has Tourette's Syndrome. At the time, it bothered me a lot that she was acting that way. Now, when I think back on it, I realize how offensive and stupid she was being.

There are several medical conditions which cause a loss of censorship of speech. Tourette Syndrome is a brain condition that, among other symptoms, causes the patient to curse uncontrollably. Schizophrenia, a mental disorder that is characterized by misperceptions of reality, can cause people to act violently and curse. Bipolar disorder, a syndrome in which the patient cycles from being extremely manic to extremely depressed, can also cause uncontrollable cursing. People who have suffered from a stroke (which is like a heart attack in the brain) or other forms of bleeding in the brain can also lose control and curse. Other chemical imbalances and brain damage can cause uncontrollable cursing fits.
There are millions of people every year who suffer from these conditions and cannot control how they speak. A completely healthy person who has total control over everything they say and still curses is almost mocking the people who cannot.


  1. Talia, this bring up the subject of humor and comedy. Have you never heard a standup comic use a swear word and, because you sympathized with his feeling and frustration and how it led to swearing, laughed? Are comics therefore not allowed to use swear words? In other words, even if we SHOULDN'T use swear words, is it no understandable, sympathizable, and therefore funny sometimes when comics do to illustrate a point?

    In addition, Tourette's Syndrome is a huge area where there are many, many extraordinarily funny situational jokes. For example, would you not laugh if the President of the United States had Tourette's and, while giving a joint news conference with Russian premier Vladimir Putin, couldn't help but curse him when trying to shake his hand? (Putin of course, being the dictator that he is, deserves such words anyway. Which is precisely the point and why is it funny.)

  2. A comic who curses in a routine is not in any way comparable to someone who is purposely poking fun at someone with a medical condition. If this girl had been imitating someone with Down's syndrome, would you think that's funny? I certainly would not. I would be extremely offended by it, actually.

  3. a) " A comic who curses in a routine is not in any way comparable to someone who is purposely poking fun at someone with a medical condition."

    I guess you're right, but I thought of that because of the legitimate example of humor in my next paragraph, and also because I wanted you to concede (which you seem to do in some cases) the notion that the use of swear words may be beneficial. (This possibility would be an important potential qualification to Bleep!s mission statement and to explore.)

    b) A comedic skit (let's say on SNL or MadTV) where the President of the United States had Tourette's, and then met Premier Putin, and accidentally called Putin exactly the names that this brutal, murderous, thuggish dictator deserves, would be very funny. Why? Because Putin would finally in a small way be getting his 'just deserts', but, due to the strictures of diplomatic protocol, be unable to respond. (In other words, the above skit would be making fun of Putin, not the President-but in order to do that the skit would have to imitate Tourette's.) Am I right here? Of course I am right.

    c) "If this girl had been imitating someone with Down's syndrome, would you think that's funny?"

    Comics can be very creative, so to categorically deny that they might find some way to imitate someone with Down's Syndrome for some good reason is philosophically and artistically restrictive:

    'Easy Case' Example:

    Let's imagine that we are, to borrow the notion from President Jug Ears, having a bowling contest between a person with Down's Syndrome and one without. Let's imagine that the person without is very arrogant, and the point of the skit is to make fun of his arrogance. Therefore, if we proceed through the skit, with the person with Down's beating the arrogant klutz at bowling, we would need to imitate the person with Down's Syndrome completely. Since making fun of bad things (here arrogance) is the whole point of comedy, this skit would be justified.

    Some harder cases:

    'Hard Case1':

    It is a legitimate question in the ethics of comedy whether one is morally allowed to make fun of the non-bad traits of a clearly bad person. For example, the Italian dictator Benito Mussoni was fat. If we make a skit mocking this evil dictator, would we be allowed to mock his fatness as well? Would that be funny? I tend to think it would, and thus is morally allowable. Therefore, if hypothetically we would get to know a person with Down's Syndrome who happens to be a jerk, would we not be justified, if he is enough of a jerk, in ALSO making fun of the fact that he has Down's Syndrome?

    'Hard Case2':

    Another potential case is that people with Down's Syndrome may, as a class, possess some trait which can understandably irritate us (whether or not we are right to be irritated). Let's imagine for the sake of argument they can 'slobber' excessively when speaking. (I'm not saying they do, let's just imagine.) If therefore, we put them in a situation where their slobbering causes irritation, as when a teacher is giving them a test and the person continually slobbers on his paper, requiring the teacher to repeatedly give him a new test sheet, then this potentially may be funny when we see how irritated the teacher is getting, when we see that the test will perhaps never be completed, or even perhaps that a (relatively) smart person with Down's might do this deliberately so that he didn't have to complete a test he didn't want to take. We could in any case understand the irritation of the teacher, and find a skit which imitated the slobbering funny, without holding anything against the 'slobberer'.