No Joke

I’ve recently been rediscovering some of the music that I liked as a kid. Since I listened almost exclusively to “oldies” as a kid, it means I’ve really been enjoying a lot of music that my parents grew up on, which is a very strange sort of nostalgia.

But I was listening today to the Bee Gees’ “I Started a Joke,” and it got me thinking. I’ve always kind of liked the song, and read it as the lament of an asshole getting his due. But listening it tonight, it occurred to me that it could easily be about a bigot, or bigots in general. Let me lay out my (kind of silly) case.

I started a joke, which started the whole world crying.

“I started a joke, but it actually caused harm to people.”

But I didn’t see
That the joke was on me.

As people got wiser, became better, they realized that the real joke here was the bigot, the backwards asshat who thinks it’s funny to judge and dismiss a group of people because of some common trait.

I started to cry, which started the whole world laughing,

Ultimately, the only rational response to bigotry–and to the overly dramatic gymnastics that bigots engage in to claim that they’re the real oppressed victims–is ridicule.

Oh, if I’d only seen that the joke was on me.

This all could have been avoided if I’d realized in the first place that bigotry is fucking terrible.

I looked at the skies, running my hands over my eyes,
And I fell out of bed, hurting my head from things that I’d said.

But instead I got overdramatic, thinking that the whole world was out to get me, thinking that my petty problems matched the difficulties faced by the people I demeaned, and attributing any difficulties I had to my willingness to speak truths that other people found uncomfortable or impolite or politically incorrect. It never occurred to me that I was just a jackass.

Til I finally died, which started the whole world living,

Old bigots die. The problem with bigots is they tend to get entrenched in their beliefs, and they tend to get entrenched in positions of power within the existing social structure, allowing them to get their bigoted beliefs embedded in the social structure. It’d be nice if those old bigots could realize that they’re wrong with the ease that younger generations tend to, but it doesn’t always happen that way. Consequently, the solution has long been to allow the old bigots to gradually die off, taking their bigotry with them, and leaving the society in the hands of people who largely see that bigotry as a relic of an unenlightened past. The change comes slowly, the change comes painfully, but it comes.

Oh, if I’d only seen that the joke was on me.

It’d be nice if that weren’t the case, but bigots cling so desperately to their beliefs. As they dwindle in numbers, they become increasingly ridiculous. And increasingly pathetic. They become increasingly the punchline of society’s joke.

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