Thursday, June 7, 2012

"Bad Taste"

It occurred as I was watching an episode of Rawhide (1959-1965, featuring Clint Eastwood) on the “Westerns Channel.”  An “inner voice” suddenly entered my consciousness, informing me, in a rather insistent tone, that a joke I had written in a blog post scheduled for upcoming publication was in abominable taste.

I could not shake this idea off, not in the sense that it unnerved me that such a decent spirit as myself had come up with this atrocity.  I could not shake off the necessity of having to go up to my office and change it. 

Why did I not want to do that?  Firstly, it would mean missing some portion of the episode of Rawhide, and I was really enjoying watching it.  (I had to respond immediately, because, if I didn’t, being me and the age I have arrived at, I would subsequently forget to.) 

Secondly, changing the joke meant moving, and I was, at that moment, extremely comfortable. 

But more importantly than both those reasons – as justifiable as they were – was the fact that a part of me did not want to change that tasteless joke. 


Because it was funny.

A great joke, like and educatable mind, is a terrible thing to waste. 

I knew it was good, because it had triggered my “funny button” when I thought of it.  That “funny button” is Grade “A” reliable.  Under “Mitigating Circumstances”, however, was that fact that I was inebriated when it came to me, a signal not that it wasn’t funny, but that I needed to be careful re its appropriateness for publication. 

(Note To Myself:  Consider blog post about whether alcohol exposes a deeper truth or merely a darker truth.)

On the other hand, the joke remained funny when, unencumbered by alcohol, I later transcribed it from my notes, and inserted it with a confirming “That’s hilarious” reaction into my blog post.

My “inner voice”, however, remained insistent. 

The joke in question had to go.

And so, with a monumental effort, I break free of my inertia, begrudgingly abandon Rawhide, and return to my computer to revisit the post.  

I reread the joke in question.  Yup, it was disgusting, all right.  (The process that took place here is fascinating to me.  I am sitting there, watching television, when, out of the blue, my unconscious pounds on my door, demanding that I revisit a joke I had written in a blog post several days earlier.  How exactly does that work?)

My initial impulse is to try and retain the joke but to make it more palatable by, rather than “nailing it” head on, rewriting it in a more subtle and literary fashion.

I read over my rewrite.  The joke remains funny.  (Though the bad taste version was at least twenty percent funnier).  I decide I have rescued the situation.  My atrocity had been vanquished, my reputation preserved, meaning, no readers would rise up against me, as in,

“Dear, Mr. Pomerantz.  I have always trusted you.   But your execrable judgment concerning (the joke in question) has shown me I was mistaken. 

Goodbye forever.

A former regular follower, whom, considering your level of readership, you can not easily afford to lose.”

I am content with my accomplishment.

And then, I change my mind.

I realize that what I have done is, I have kept the essence, meaning, the premise of the joke, and merely prettied it up with window dressing.  It was the concept that was in bad taste, and that concept remained present.  (What I had engaged in, in an effort to preserve the "funny", was not an imaginative salvage operation, but a less than courageous hiding of the evidence.)

What I finally wound up doing was devising an entirely different joke.  It was humorous enough, I suppose, but to be honest, I had punted, injecting an innocuous alternative, as a bridge to take me to the next place that I wanted to go.

I could have thought up a better joke – you always can – but at the moment, it was the best I could come up with.  On the whole, I felt satisfied.  I had removed the objectionable joke, albeit with a replacement that would have to struggle mightily to generate a chuckle.

Today, I have laid the groundwork with an (unspecified, as I am not a total hypocrite) example.  Tomorrow, I will examine what “bad taste” means.  And is there really such a thing. 

And most importantly - 'cause it’s about me – how the loosening of the censorship restrictions meant the end of my career.


PG said...

I just discovered that the "new" English Department head (ie.young) decided to take the teaching of Grammar off the curriculum at my old, formerly academic, school because it was too "hard" for the students!
(hard....not difficult)
Personally, I think it's because it's too "hard" for the newer teachers to grasp, but this serves to reinforce your contention that things aren't boding too well for the future of civilization in the writing department.
Remember, if there's no such thing as bad taste, then you are also suggesting that we've seen the last of good taste as well. I know that when I see it!
All I can say is "Oy!" (with a sigh)

YEKIMI said...

Why not post the alleged "offending" joke and see if readers agree or disagree if it's offensive? If it's a word or two that may be the problem just replace it with asterisks or another non-offensive word [like "gerbil" or something else]. Unless you think it's so bad that entire countries or races may declare jihad on you.

Johnny Walker said...

A whole post that makes me want to see this offending joke. Bah!