On Mockers and Mockery (Part 1 of 2)

A dissection of a mindset

Some sins are universal. Some vices are inescapable. Repentance is such a necessary thing. Who, among us, can claim innocence? The most we can do is strive to recognize the vices as vices and avoid them at all costs. But inescapable has some meaning to it. Mocking others is one such vice. It is bad. It is ugly. It shouldn’t be done. Yet we all are guilty of it to some extent, at some point of our lives. And of course we didn’t mean it in a bad way!

This piece discusses mockery but the focus is not on how it is a terrible thing. Most people will answer the question, “Is making fun of people a bad thing?” in affirmative. And most people make fun of other people. Why is that so? Through this piece, I intend to reflect on this very question. Why is that so?

How do we rationalize an act of mockery?

It is thought that generally, making fun of people is a mean thing to do. Well, considering the frequency with which an average person engages in acts of mockery, it will be extremely difficult to find a person who is not mean at all. But more often than not, we have ‘reasons’ for such a behavior. Rest of the time, we don’t find it ‘serious enough’ to look for a reason.

Where does it start? What is the trigger? Absurdity, maybe? When someone deviates from the normal behavior. And by normal behavior I obviously mean the standards that everyone has set in their minds for people to comply with. If someone adheres to these, it is routine. If someone deviates, we have a ‘weirdo’ on our hands. It appears that the root of the matter lies here. There are all sorts of people. And these all sorts of people nurture all sorts of standards within them. Now isn’t it a bit impossible that these all sorts of people will conform to all sorts of standards simultaneously?

Okay, so we have a trigger: the attributive quality of being absurd. Mockery then, I think, is pointing out that absurdity and exaggerating it in front of others — to an extent that they start to feel afraid of getting associated with that absurdity. Simply put, people then find it easier to team up with the mocker than to deal with a strange thing/behavior themselves. After all, who would enjoy trying to fit an anomalous datum in an already well-defined system i.e. their standards for a normal behavior.

After trigger, let us move towards the response. Why laughter? I’ve not been able to form a satisfactory answer to this. But if I am allowed to state speculations, I’d say it is to nullify the threatening shadows that are accompanied by a strange thing. The strategy of ‘dominating before you get dominated’, perhaps?

Putting the reasons for the response aside, let us dig into the response itself. What makes us mock other people and feel justified about it?

The most common form of mockery does not arise when the person who is mocked is purely seen as an ‘object’ i.e. something to which things are done. The most common ‘victims’ of mockery are usually people who may be called ‘offenders’. That does not necessarily mean ‘people who have actually done something offensive’. In these cases, mockery is a tool to counter any offense we ‘feel’ from a person. We make fun of them to bring them down, to belittle them. And we want to bring them down because inside our head, they rose above us when they ‘offended’ us; which can be translated as ‘tried to bring us down’. So this one here becomes a battle of ‘egos’. Who is better among the two of us? This is what it all boils down to.

Another mode of thinking is a relatively straightforward one. It says, “You (the person who is mocked) are inferior to me and therefore I am in the position to jeer at you”. Of course nobody says that out loud. But that is pretty much the motivation. The person thinks, “I am better than Person X and I am better because I have worked to be better. Similarly, Person X has worked (or actually has not worked) to be worse. Therefore, I am allowed to make fun of him”.

It is interesting that in both of these cases, the justification is that the person somehow deserved it. So then, is this justification good enough?

Yet another major type of rationalization for mockery is the denial to the notion that it can ever be something serious. To people that legitimize their mischievous acts this way, things are always in controlled limits. Of course they know what they are doing and they are not doing anything evil. What harm can an imitation of a person bring to that person? Or to anyone? Perhaps that person would mind it for some reason? But you can always do it without letting them know!

An offshoot of such a thinking is the one where the mocker over-estimates the emotional strength of one he is mocking at. It is displayed in statements like “Oh, he wouldn’t mind it at all!” or “Oh, he can take it well. Don’t worry!”. The point here is that if the victim is okay with it, it is not a wrong thing to do after all. Here, the question whether it is okay to mock others or not is substituted with whether the victim feels alright about it or not.

It is not uncommon of people to conceal their vulnerabilities. They are not that carefree and solid as you think they are. The whole reasoning of the mocker then becomes useless. But it is hardly given any importance. The mocker needs a ground to stand on and talk back to anyone who tries to say that he has behaved in an inappropriate manner. It does not matter if that ground is well-founded or not. The matter of concern here is that the mocker assumes something but then he assumes no more.

To be continued…