We’ve talked in class before about “punching up” vs. “punching down” in comedy. Personally, I think it’s better off to punch up at the people who have the most, or at least more, privilege. After the joke at their expense is over, those people are still better off. This brings me to Bo Burnham’s song “Straight White Man”—much like the Louie C.K. joke Krefting refers to in Making connections: Building cultural citizenship through charged humor (p 26), Bo trivializes problems that white (in Bo’s case also straight and male) people face, or to some degree create for themselves:
“I state my problems, other people roll their eyes.
Three trips to the mall, zero khakis in my size.
I’ve never been the victim of a random search for drugs,
but you can’t say my life is easy until you’ve walked a mile in my uggs.”
And like with most YouTube videos, the comment section is a disaster zone of people who take offense and write things like “only place women doesn’t have the same rights as men are in the east don’t kid yourself”, but then there are those who tell the ones complaining to calm down, that it’s just a joke. To which I ask, is it? I mean, clearly yes, it’s a joke, but obviously Bo’s not saying that the entirety of the message of the song is not to be taken seriously. He’s not saying that the notion that white men have more privilege is ludicrous but rather of the idea that one can be upset about having less privilege than before while still having the majority of the benefits (ie “We used to have all the money and land, and we still do but it’s not as fun now”).
So does charged humor fail when even the supporters of a joke brush it off as “just a joke” not to be taken as seriously afterwards? I’m sure those laughing in the audience were on the same page as Bo, but social change often has to include, or even require, the assistance of those in power (which in this case seem to be the one’s complaining in the comment section about a song of them complaining). Bo, as a straight white man, acknowledges the situation and pushes it to an extreme to ask viewers to think critically while getting a kick out of it. But was it effective?