Japan Jokes Make Me Ashamed to Be an American

Kim Conte

gilbert gottfriedYeah, I said it: I'm ashamed to be an American. Not in general, of course. Just specifically when other Americans insist on making insensitive jokes about heartbreaking international catastrophes a la Gilbert Gottfried.

Admittedly, in America there's been an outpouring of sympathy and support for the Japanese people in the wake of the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear crisis. But there's also been a slew of inappropriate and horrifying comments about the situation -- most via social media from notable public figures including Gottfried, 50 Cent, Alec Sulkin, and Glenn Beck. I think it's disgusting.

And please don't feed me any lines about it being a comedian's job to make us laugh in the face of tragedy, OK Joan Rivers? Because some of these jokes are completely over the line.

It's one thing to use humor as a coping mechanism to help deal with tough situations. But it's quite another to make cracks rife with hatred at a time when people need support the most. I would argue that some of the Japan jokes -- namely those that reference Pearl Harbor -- fall into this category.

Take, for example, Sulkin's off-color tweet (which he later removed and then apologized):

If you wanna feel better about this earthquake in Japan, google 'Pearl Harbor death toll.'

Now, if you did, in fact, follow his Googling advice, you would discover that almost 2,500 died in the Pearl Harbor attack, and more than 10,000 are feared dead in Japan. His remark isn't just offensive -- it's inaccurate! But that's irrelevant because the bottom line is: Why did he think it was OK to joke about Japanese people dying in the first place?

Stuart Fischoff, senior editor of the Journal of Media Psychology, goes as far as to suggest that there might be a "reservoir of prejudice" behind many of these statements. He explained:

No doubt, there's a mordant sense of humor that comes out in times of stress ... but in this case it's bringing up culturally accepted prejudice against the Japanese. We didn't see this during Haiti.

Those are some strong words to be sure, but I don't think he's that far off the mark. I think what we may be seeing here is some Americans slinging offensive comments in an effort to distract from their own fears and insecurities. And it couldn't be coming at a more inappropriate time. Is anyone else ashamed?

Do you think it's okay to joke about Japan?


Image via Splashnews.com

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