There are a number of rules of thumb that need to apply where rhetorical discourse involves humour and irony – The Court Jester:
- Essentially UNLESS you are appointed / recognised / claiming the role of court jester in any given context, then humour comes with a duty of care to its target. If the target doesn’t find it funny, you have a responsibility to make peace with the target, either by prior investment of love or by working to resolve the offense, to ensure any valid point intended by the humour has indeed been communicated. Grabbing attention is a perfectly valid point of humour, provided the reason for grabbing attention is followed-up. Irony, in particular, travels badly beyond voice and eye contact, and as (the apocryphal) Einstein said – the communication problem is the illusion that it has happened.
- If you ARE the court jester, you are given licence to offend your target, on the mutual understanding of yourself, any audience and target(s) that this freedom is being used to make points of social value, to prick consciences etc. The fool was tolerated at the court of kings, kings that otherwise had the power of summary execution of anyone causing offense. King, fools and courtiers all knew the rules of the game, even if the innocent child who couldn’t see the emperor’s clothes did not.
- Suffer the little children. The corollary is that, despite freedom of expression, we can’t all choose to be court-jester or innocent-child at the same time, anywhere, anytime. It would be chaotic, unproductive, destructive and tiresome if we all did, but that is simply the practical problem.
- A game with rules is there to be gamed and the rules evolved. There is a more fundamental issue. Context and understanding matter. In these days where anything and everything is shared publicly, immediately, beyond any context, original intent within any original context are lost. The offense may be apparent whereas the point and the humour are not. The only rule is respect and duty of care towards any target.
[All rules are “for guidance of the wise and the enslavement of fools“.]
[More on Rhetorical Rules of Engagement]
[More on Rappaport’s Rule(s)]