Joke ‘Em

BACK IN MY mis-spent youth, I heard a phrase from several of my gay friends and none of the straight ones (at least at first), which I believe originated in a comedy routine by gay favorite Bette Midler. It went, “Fuck ’em if they can’t take a joke.”

I forget the precise details of the routine, but as I remember it, there wasn’t a joke involved, if you know what I mean. It was just one of those bit sof sarcasm that gay men in particular and insider populations in general can be depended on to deliver into the cultural mindstream with great regularity. And, of course, since it also manages to strike right at the human funny bone in its surprise factor, (not to mention it has a pitch-perfect rhythm to it), it caught on quickly in the wider culture.

Nor did it take very long for an anagrammatic version — “Joke ’em if they can’t take a fuck,” later shortened to simply “Joke ’em” — to catch on as well.

One sense in which the phrase seems to have been used is in referring to and dismissing those nosy-parker elements in society which seem bent on policing private, victimless, consensual behavior — peering into the bedroom, so to speak. People who are not adult enough to be trusted with liberty because they cannot mind their own business.

(Which leads me into a wiki-wander around the acronym MYOB (Mind Your Own Business) and the Eric Frank Russell story, “And Then There Were None,” which introduced me to the acronym, but doesn’t appear to have originated it — at least, not in any way that garnered EFR full credit.)

I tell you that to tell you this:

Reading the comments to Sarah Hoyt’s current blog post — indeed, in the post itself — I find I keep coming back to muttering under my breath, “Fuck ’em if they can’t take a joke.” And remembering the famous line from Heinlein:

A “critic” is a man who creates nothing and thereby feels qualified to judge the work of creative men. There is logic in this; he is unbiased — he hates all creative people equally.

And it makes me wonder: why do we put up with critics at all? Do we really have to have reviewers? Do we need to cater to them?

Remind me of why, again?

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