Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Is Crack Still Funny?

In 9th grade, a friend and I began to gang up on a girl who sat behind me in World History class. Tracy was a mutual acquaintance with a great sense of humor, so we tried to joke every single day about how she smoked crack. We would take any opportunity to remark about her crack rocks, her crack pipes, her house full of crack babies, and her remarkable ability to smoke dumptrucks of crack and not die. She was always the first to laugh at our crack jokes, and later went on to a fast-track career at Hooters.

That was 1993 - I was 14 years old at the time. Thirteen years later humorists are still making jokes about crack - take Dave Chappelle as an example.

Drug culture has long been a source for jokes, but crack is and has always been predominantly a problem of the urban poor. Powerless as they are, this makes crack an easy target and so the jokes have never been earmarked as politically incorrect, even though they technically are. Crackheads, crack rocks, crack pipes, crack whores, crack babies have all had their place in American pop culture. And now crack jokes are near ubiquitous. Any idiot with no background in humor can call somebody a crackhead and get a laugh. Type "crackhead" into technorati.com (which searches millions of blogs) and you get 11,853 posts that use the term.

Even though crack is not the problem in urban America it once was, it still affects millions of lives. Crack still represents the gold standard of depravity - there is nobody lower in the world to an American than a woman who sucks dick for a crackrock (except a man who sucks twenty dicks for a crackrock.)

But America in the last decade has come to embrace its own depravity more than ever. We celebrate it in all strata of society - through alcoholism, porn addiction, corporate and political corruption, backward foreign policymaking, and unabashed greed. Sin is in.

Satirizing a society that has leaned so far over the pit of depravity is easy. American society has already created a caricature of itself. To poke fun at it now is just childish and repetitive - the stuff of Saturday Night Live and Jay Leno. Searching for satire will lead you, no doubt, into very sticky territory, where the Yang in Wilsonian Parody Dualism must be hyperexaggerated. At some point you cross the line between edgy humor and plain shock value - stuff that offends without eliciting laughter. For example, imagine a crackhead scientist who builds a car that runs on crackrocks - and the exhaust is fed up a pipe into the mouth of the driver. Or I could joke about a desperate crack whore smoking her ossified crack baby. These examples run from predictable and barely funny to shocking and not funny. That may be the best you can expect of crack jokes today. A good crack joke will take some real work.

If nothing else, crack jokes have lost their edge. But they have clearly been planted firmly in the national lexicon and may so continue for generations. And while I don't think crack jokes are over, supergenius humorists like myself should be expected to hold ourselves to a higher standard. Crack clearly still has a place in the humorist toolbox, but should only be used in unique situations. We must resist the powerful addictive force of crack jokes. Otherwise, we're no better than 9th graders who call their friends crackwhores.

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