Saturday, March 9, 2013

My Most Failed Joke of All Time

I have a thing for failed jokes. I love them. I collect them and savor them later.

One of my favorites is when I was returning a pair of pants and the clerk asked, "Reason for return?" "They're haunted," I said. Clerk edges away and speaks no more.

Or the time my neighbor and I were discussing a local vet's penchant for suggesting unnecessary surgery. "Oh," I said, looking at my dog, "Maybe I won't get Daisy that boob job then." Neighbor stares at me. Discomfort ensues.

I don't know why I like failed jokes so much. Maybe it's because it's so completely bad and awkward in the moment that celebrating them is only way to process it.

My latest failed joke, however, isn't gonna go down that way. It was a post I just did for Jezebel about vagina panties. (Sound familiar? It ran here first.) The idea was that instead of women getting unnecessary cosmetic labiaplasties they could instead just pop on a pair of these, panties with a vagina built right in:
You know, no muss, no fuss, fairly cheap, you can change 'em out as labia "styles" change... Ha ha--that was the joke. Whatever.

You may as well know this first. I also called this sort of cosmetic surgery "retarded," which was dumb. I thought that we had come to a point where we could judge from context whether retarded was a cruel and deliberate mockery of a mentally-challenged person vs. an adjective for something poorly thought through. I thought "retarded" had entered the vernacular, as did former medical terms "idiot" and "moron." But clearly it hasn't. I obviously regret that people felt hurt by my use of the term.

So yes, I get and am sorry for the whole "retarded" thing and my ableist ways.

However, here's what else Jezebel readers complained about: (I realize intellectually that Jezebel commentators are famous for being particularly vitriolic and uber-PC, but it was still pretty shocking to me how completely misunderstood my message was and how personal the attacks were. "Fuck you, Jill Hamilton!" being one such input. You can head over to Jezebel and view the carnage if you wish. You should probably take a pair of protective goggles along.)

Anyway, the complaints:

--I am mocking transfolk.*
This, I guess, comes from the fact that I wrote that the panties intended purpose was for "cross-dressers, transfolk and the like." Because that's what they're for.  Their product description says:

"Wearable Vagina, Vagina Panty for Crossdressing, Tranvestite and Transgender (S/M (30-36" Waist), Nude)." 

It was intended as a factual and neutral statement like "Skis are worn by skiers." Someone was furious because by saying transfolk instead of just folk, I was making transfolk different. Which I was, because in the one instance of who these panties were designed for--and that instance only--transfolk are different.

Perhaps I am wrong. Maybe there might be a day when I, a non-transgendered person, might want to pop on a pair and sport a double vagina look. Or hell, maybe two pairs and go triple vag. "You like what you see? I've got two more where that came from, honey."

--I am mocking women who had labiaplasty for medical reasons.
Jesus, how much of a jerk do they think I am? If you need the surgery, go to it, sister. If, however, you are like this woman who wrote to In Bed With Married Women a few months ago...

I was married to my high school sweetheart for 15 yrs. We recently divorced, and he has no qualms about telling me before, during, and after our marriage, how ugly my vagina is. I started looking into medical intervention...

...perhaps a bit of sisterhood support (i.e. your vagina is gorgeous and he was a controlling asshole) might negate the desire for the surgery.  I highly recommend Large Labia Project, a site that empowers women to celebrate their different sizes and shape of labia via photos and reader letters.

--I mentioned Naomi Wolf's book Vagina: A New Biography which someone was angry about because they didn't like the book.
 What? I like that book. Suck it.

--I used the term vagina for vulva.
That's because the panties are called "vagina panties"--officially, for fuck's sake. And everyone knows what we're talking about anyway. That's the term Naomi Wolf uses as well and since I've already tossed my lot in with her, I'm sticking with it.

I also used the term Kleenex today, when more properly I should have said Kleenex Brand Facial Tissues. Please take up the issue with your congressperson.
jill, a total cunt, possibly

*If you are transgendered and were offended by this, please explain to me your objections. I do take that one seriously and since I'm non-trans (CIS), I could very well be completely tone deaf on the topic. I don't want to be that guy who's like, "What's she so mad about? I just asked her if she's on the rag?" If you could just tell me your concerns, instead of yelling and possibly avoid the sentence, "Fuck you, Jill Hamilton," I'd be grateful.

(image via Lady Cheeky, aka Smut for Smarties)


Spiffy McBang said...

Your jokes don't fail. Your audiences fail. I want to use the haunted pants line now.

Jill Hamilton said...

Thanks Spiffy.*slightly weepy* As for the haunted pants line, don't use it at the Macy's in Pasadena.

Sara said...

Jesus, Jill. I want to complain about you using the C-word when describing yourself, but I'm not sure how to file a grievance against you on your own blog. But when I figure it out, I'm gonna.

Jill Hamilton said...

p.s. dear god, am I ever happy to be back here among you all.

estonia said...

From now on, everything I return is gonna be because it's haunted.

N/A said...

You are not a cunt. UNLESS, you like the word cunt, and then you are a total cunt.

See? Who knows. You could get mad at me calling you a cunt, or celebrate it. PC people need to calm the fuck down. We now live in a world where people are afraid to speak for offending others.

Instead of being more kind, we're afraid and people lash out at subjective humor. The root of the matter is I think some people genuinely want to be angry... they want to be angry and find a kernel of "offensive behavior" in every article they read so they can rip the author a part. And when that happens, I notice the offended reader doesn't talk about the article's aim or purpose, they just go on and on about the tiny little "offensive" term. That, by the way, is offensive. And ignorant.

I like your blog. I like your writing. I don't believe you deserved that backlash. I thought the panties were kind of amusing.

You can't win them all. I wrote an article about talking to a friend of mine about oral sex/masturbation, sold it to a publication, and had some women calling me a godless, women-hating whore because I encouraged that kind of behavior. I was baffled. But, it goes to show you-- you can't charm all people. Be proud of your writing and know many of the negative comments have so much more to do with the psyche of the person writing them rather than the work you produced. You didn't fail.

Dani said...

I say retarded all the time, but mostly at home where I'm less likely to offend. P.C. is overrated.

Kellie @ Delightfully Ludicrous said...

Haunted pants! I'm so using that the next time I have to return something.

Unknown said...

I think Spiffy McBang said it best. I try not to use the word retarded - but like you, in my mind it is no longer connected to someone who actually suffers from a mental delay.

Belinda said...

I LOVE your humor Jill Hamilton......LOVE IT! Unfortunately, I truly believe our society tends to submit negative comments quickly, but rarely submit complimentary comments when it's due. I'll bet you made so many more people laugh 'til they peed themselves (which I quite often do when reading your blog, articles, texts, etc.).

Anonymous said...

I have a son who is medically labelled as "retarded", so as the audience member who is most qualified to have an opinion on offence, I tell you that the use of the term isn't offensive to me, unless it is being used maliciously. Clearly in a comedy forum it is not. Sometimes I think people look for ways to take easy offence, and I'm sorry that they were so vitriolic and eager to inflict injury in return to any imagined injuries they received in reading your hilarious blog. I think that when people are negotiating a new set of social rules, whether it be for mental challenges or new acceptance of transgender issues, they are more likely to stick to the letter of the PC law than to the spirit of it, because no one wants to be accused of being nonPC. It's a shame that we can't think for ourselves what is happening on a case-by-case basis, but rest assured that you are witty and you are not at all insensitive, as far as I've read. You brighten the days of your readers with your posts, so try not to take the crit over there too hard. We love you! *hugs*

Tom Medsker said...

I love your writing and it makes me LOL - really! If the people who love your writing wrote thank you notes, those thank-yous would greatly outnumber the nasty grams. Don't go changin' to try and please them.

Red Shoes said...

Wow... I read the comments over "there"...

Those people are retarded...

Just kidding...


Political Correctness sucks donkeys...

Big donkeys...

I, for one, liked your article.


Cagey-C said...

For what it's worth, I laughed out loud at the dog boob job joke.

I agree that "retard" was not a well-thought out usage--not because it hasn't passed into a certain level of cultural currency, but because it has an ambiguity that "idiot" and "moron" don't. We don't generally use those latter two terms to talk about people with developmental delays, but it's still generally considered legitimate to refer to someone with different mental abilities as "mentally retarded." So there's an active association with the term that makes its derogatory usage more problematic.

A comedic forum like yours is tricky to navigate sometimes, because some of the most effective comedy uses language that is somewhat shocking as a means of highlighting social hypocrisies. It's a fine line to negotiate sometimes, and its almost inevitable that it will be crossed on occasion--but it should be pretty easy to see that you didn't intend offense, and I think your response is quite introspective and thoughtful.

As someone who is also not transgendered, I can't speak for anyone who is--but in the absence of a response so far, I'll offer at least an attempt at a partial perspective. I don't think that you actually crossed, or even blurred, the line on this one; and as someone who considers himself to be a feminist, I'm admittedly appalled at the utter humorlessness of too many commenters who wave the feminist flag on various blogs (perhaps to counterbalance the antifeminist, erm, idiots who like to stir up trouble). I thought you were actually quite on target in using the vagina panties as a way of making a point about the stupidity of cosmetic labiaplasty. But my hunch is that the sense of offense on the part of some transgendered folks might arise from the sense that their gender identity is already constantly under attack, and is too frequently used as a cultural punchline to all sorts of jokes. Feeling constantly under attack tends to make it harder to see friendly intent in cultural commentary that adopts some of the timbre of attacks but puts it to different ends.

That said, I think your point, and the way in which you made it, remain trenchant. And I really do admire your invitation to continued dialogue in the face of the bilious attacks you've received in the Jezebel comments. Well done, Jill.

I.Akirov said...

Definitely, some people just need a life, everyone here, please, if you know one of these characters, please help them get a life so they stop playing perhaps-someone-need-a-hero-like-me.

Can't keep anything to myself said...

I like your take on these situations and that you refer to them as failed jokes. I have a lot of these and chock them up to me just being an awkward person, but you're right, if they don't think my totally awesome joke was funny, their loss! I have a great sense of humor, and if you don't like my jokes, then you're missing out on laughter and that's your problem, not mine. My humor can be subtle, dry, sarcastic, and inappropriate (but not in an offensive way, at least I don't think I'm that offensive) and once you get to know me, it's very obvious, but some people... Man, I'm pretty sure they think I'm the world's biggest bitch just because they don't get my jokes. Oh well. I am who I am and I like that I'm sarcastic, witty, and a little inappropriate.

As far as PC terms, I used to say retarded a lot and to call people retards (not to their faces obviously) (probably worse than just referring to a thing a being retarded). I guess it sounds bad and I get that it can hurt people, but I wish these people would understand that this is just a word I learned in a certain context. And that context is totally unrelated to the mentally handicapped or disabled. Sometimes this word just fits better than saying, "wow, you're such a stupid head!" However I feel bad when people bring it up and are offended by it and it's made me pretty aware of my use of it. I think the only time I even use it anymore is around my sister because all my guards are down and I have no filter.
I've also had the same problems with the word "gay." I would say "gay" has gotten me into more trouble than "retarded" because there a lot of gay people in my life. Hell, I live with a gay guy! So no, I'm not insulting gays, and I'm sorry when I hurt people when I say it, I'm trying not to, but sometimes it just fits so perfectly.


Can't wait to spend some time in hell with you, Jill :)

Can't keep anything to myself said...

Also, those commenters totally failed to see the actual points in your article. I'd conclude that they're the ignorant ones.

Anonymous said...

Jill No prob with the **tarded thing but the thought police hate that word. (Dan Savage had to go through the same pain) I never miss your column nor his: you are the better writer he probably gives better sex advice. BTW I LOVE the B & W photo with this weeks column!!!! Where do you get the awesome pix?
Keep on keepin' on Jill

in bed with married women said...

estonia, well, give it a try. it's certainly smarter than using vagina for vulva on Jezebel.
Jean Marie, thanks. I feel like I probably owe you some money or something for the lovely therapy.
dani, i am usually on the pc side, which is weird. maybe i'm all for pc as long as it's stuff i find offensive instead of other people.
Kellie@Delightfully Ludicrous, well, ok, but do so responsibly.
Vanessa D, but i'm still gonna call a vulva vagina. I'm might do it right now, to myself. Just because.
Belinda, *sniff* thank you, girl.
Keppie, dear girl, thank you so much. i think everyone thought the whole post was like straight-forward journalism or something? oh, keppie, it was scary out there! so glad to be back!
Tom, damn, you are so supportive all the time. So appreciate you!
Red Shoes, thanks for popping by to say that. means a lot.
Cagey-C, smart, articular and funny as usual. you will be pleased to know that i am going to attempt to adjust my karma with a story on a really cool trans dude.
I.Akirov--I don't think we've heard from you before. Thanks for speaking up!
Can't Keep--Girl you too, always thoughtful, smart and funny like Cagey-C. I'll try to work on my language. Guess lots of "stupidheads" are in my future.
Anonymous--yes! @jeannehospod on Twitter said his solution is "leotarded." and I got the picture at Lady Cheeky, It's "smut for smarties" and is great.

Irene said...

I like Jill's writing fine, but I can't quite see why anyone would want to go to bat for a word like "retarded." It just makes me think of fourth-grade bullies. Incidentally, there's a national campaign on by the Special Olympics to get school kids to "retire the R word."

Trisha said...

Hi Jill, I have been in your place before - although it was just Reddit sex positive forums not Jezebel. I know how shitty and confusing it feels. I would never be bothered by someone commenting thoughtfully on something I said if they felt wronged by it, and I know you wouldn't either. It's just that most of the commenters are plain ol' jerks that can't make good points even if there is one to be made.
I will say that in the end those experiences have actually made me more thoughtful about what I write in a way. But man it kinda hurt in ways I didn't expect, so I just want to say, keep on keepin' on. I don't think one can write things on the internet with any kind of audience and not get this at some point.

Jill Hamilton said...

Irene--I think it's a reaction to the overteaching of the point. If I said something boorish at a dinner party, for example, it would suffice if someone just took me aside and mentioned it to me. If however, not only that person, but literally hundreds of people, came up and stood in my face cussing and yelling at me to reiterate the same point they could easily see had already been made...well that's when it's like, "Back the fuck off."

Trisha, good lord, I can't even imagine anyone talking issue with anything you say. If you're getting it, you're right, can't say nothin'.

Lady J said...

It's so easy to over-react to things if you don't take the time to think about them first - I reckon it's always best to sleep on your comment and if you still feel the same way in the morning, then send it. It's amazing how much righteous indignation just drains away, and how often you end up going "oh, so THAT'S what they actually said, not what I thought..."

I don't think I've ever been offended by what I've read here. And you've always got the option of going (as I do if I'm offended by something written online) "well I'm never visiting this site/reading this author again". I guess it depends if you need an audience for your outrage....

But a thought that I have that has been troubling me since the first time this nonsensical labia removal thing surfaced and I was first introduced to the term "The Barbie" where the vagina/ladies externally visible sexual reproductive parts (if vagina is the incorrect technical term) had been surgically altered to look like a prepubescent clam shell:

This only works if you are already subscribing to the view that pubic hair has to be removed in this area. Because if you don't have a brazillian you can't see much. And if you have a full on au natural 'fro going on down there, with no trimming occuring at all, then you won't even be getting a glimpse of labia or dangly bits. Just a lush patch of hair. Which renders the surgery pretty pointless.

(Also, in my own case, and in the TMI box, you can kind of tuck the dangly bits back under the larger outer lips if you want and then they don't dangle any more - it feels a bit weird at first, but then you don't even notice.... well I didn't, but given I was in bed late at night when I discovered this, I think I dropped off after a while... such tucking also renders surgery pointless)