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A Culture of Ridicule

Insult and ridicule are all around us.  Yet more than that, the culture today seems to embrace and endorse it.  Think about the celebrity gossip magazines that pepper the check-out counters of our grocery stores.  Most of them will contain a prominent section colorfully labeled “I can’t believe they wore that!’ or ‘Fashion hits and misses.’  They are always different, yet always the same. The celebrity that does not fit the accepted mode of what is ‘in’ is ridiculed for all to see and read.   Magazines and websites no longer simply contain images of celebrities decked out in glamour gowns at red carpet events, now they strive to expose the embarrassing and fragile parts of their lives; often in a state of ridicule and distain.  Remember the onslaught of underwear-free celebrities flashing the camera’s as they got out of their cars?

Of course, it’s hard to be sympathetic isn’t it? ‘They bring it on themselves’ we say.  Yet that is exactly what the magazines and websites sell to the culture. Celebrities deserve the ridicule and the insult garnered from these things. When they wear something unfashionable they deserve to be on the ‘worst dressed list’.  When they say the wrong thing they deserve to be attacked as ignorant and foolish.  When they walk out of their homes without make-up on they deserve for the world to gasp in horror.  They are, after all, celebrities.

But insult and ridicule are not just locked within the bastion of celebrity culture.  Regular individuals often become the brunt of vehement attacks through programs such as ‘America’s Got Talent’, “The X Factor” or ‘So you think you can Dance”?   Often in a more brutal way that the insults meted out to celebrities, these shows depict the ridicule of those unsuccessful in their audition process.  The audience yells “BOOO!” to the person whom they see as talentless; the judges dismantle the musical or rhythmic ability of someone off tone or off beat.   The result is the same: the individual is ridiculed in sometimes the most hurtful of ways.  In this it’s not just the judge’s distain and mockery we love, it’s often how much they agree with our own.

My own implicit mockery amidst these shows became evident to me as I watched TLC’s new break out hit “Here comes Honey Boo Boo!’  If you haven’t seen this show, in centers around six year old Alana Thompson as she attempts to make her way in the glitz pageant world.  This show, however, has very little to do with pageants. Rather it is an unattractive look at her family.  The show seems to go out of its way to depict the family as anything but glamorous or fashionable.  There is the constant appeal to the family as ‘rednecks’; the unflattering look at the families nutrition; a highlighting of the eldest daughter’s teenage pregnancy, the reinforcement of their anything-but-glamorous home.  In fact, whenever the outside of the home is shown, you can usually see a train go by in the back-ground. The not-too-subtle message is clear: this family is from the wrong side of the tracks.

And if they are from the wrong side of the tracks, then obviously we are on the right side of the tracks, right?  If this is the case, don’t they deserve our mockery and insult? After all, given that the theme song for the program is the sound of flatulence, isn’t our mockery actually expected and even coveted?

Here is where you see the intention of the show.  The show is not filmed in a way to elicit sympathy for the Thompson family.   The entire program is designed and crafted to hold up this family to be mocked and ridiculed.  They serve to make the viewer feel superior in their ethics, their morals, their fashion and their intelligence as if some how the Thompson Family (and thus by extension everyone who reminds us of them) deserves our insult.

Such is the culture of ridicule.  It is based on seeing other people as completely different then ourselves.  It lives in the view that we are ‘better.’   Furthermore, as shows like Honey Boo Boo and Hell’s Kitchen continue to be popular solely because of the insatiable mockery that they depict, what is communicated in the culture is that mockery makes you popular, and insulting others gets you ahead.

And we wonder why teenagers seem to suffer crippling depression, or why we see a rise in physical or cyber bullying?

The reading from James last Sunday reminded us that the way we speak to one another is a spiritual issue.  The words we use give evidence to the spirituality that lies deep within us.  James says:  ‘Out of the same mouth comes praise and curses, my brothers and sisters, this should not be.’   Cursing is not just swearing.  It is a spiritual degrading of the individual and the image of God in which they were created.  Our snarky remarks and snide comments subtly suggest that the individual we ridicule is not worth God’s time, effort, or love.

But what if it was different?  What if we stopped ourselves before we mocked and ridiculed?  What if we saw our speech as a tool to empower and heal, instead of one to tear down and destroy?  What if we waged war on insult, bullying, and mockery?   What if we actually acted on that old mother’s proverb: If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.

Do you think the world might be different?  Do you think our world might reflect the kingdom of God just a little more deeply?

I for one want to lend my voice and find out.

Kyle Norman

About Kyle Norman

I am a Priest in the Diocese of Calgary, serving the wonderful people of Holy Cross, Calgary. I watch reality television, I drink Starbucks coffee, and I read celebrity gossip columns. I am also a magician and often use magic tricks to teach the children at church the lessons of the Bible. I believe that God is present in the intricacy of our lives, and thus I believe that Pop Culture can provide intriguing lessons, examples, and challenges for our lives of faith. Connect with Kyle on
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