Joke's On Those Who Joke About Japan
USATODAY.COM STAFF WRITER: Nothing like a staggering natural disaster to bring out mankind's ... worst? While the crisis gripping Japan has tugged on hearts and wallets, it also has drawn cracks from cultural figures that redefine insensitivity.
• Comic Gilbert Gottfried was fired Monday as the voice of insurance giant Aflac after tweeting jokes such as "They don't go to the beach. The beach comes to them."
• Family Guywriter Alec Sulkin tweeted that feeling better about the quake was just a matter of Googling "Pearl Harbor death toll." Almost 2,500 died in that 1941 attack; more than 10,000 are feared dead in Japan.
• Rapper 50 Cent joked that the quake forced him to relocate "all my hoes from L.A., Hawaii and Japan." He tweeted in apology: "Some of my tweets are ignorant I do it for shock value."
Is our insta-mouthpiece part of the problem? Don't blame the messenger, says Twitter's Sean Garrett, citing "The Tweets Must Flow." The company blog memo notes Twitter's inability to police the 100 million daily tweets.
Comedians often do get away with emotional murder. That's their job, Joan Rivers tweeted Tuesday in Gottfried's defense: "(Comedians) help people in tough times feel better through laughter."
Too soon, as Rivers' catchphrase asks?
"There's a line in our culture, but it seems to keep moving," says Purdue University history professor Randy Roberts. Before, "a tasteless joke wouldn't make it past a cocktail party. Now it reaches millions instantly. Don't say something stupid if you don't want people to hear it."
Even so, joking about death may be over the line.
"People died here — it's something your parents should have taught you never to make fun of," says Teja Arboleda, a former comedian and founder of Entertaining Diversity, which advises companies on diversity questions. "There's humor that helps us through a tragedy, and humor where you kick people when they're down. There's no reason for the latter."
And yet others have piled on, including Glenn Beck (who called the quake a "message from God") and pro basketball player Cappie Pondexter (ditto). Dan Turner, press secretary for Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, resigned Monday after circulating a Japan joke to staffers.
"Japan is always going to be a target for some, as Germany and the Middle East might be for others," says Shannon Jowett at New York's Japan Society. "But I'd rather focus on the overwhelming sense of support we are seeing."
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