Fredrickson: Tragedy should not be laughed about

Michelle Fredrickson

Editor’s Note: All opinion section content reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by the Collegian or its editorial board.  

This is a Collegian head to head. The columns are in response to a recent video of YouTube star Logan Paul filming and mocking a victim of suicide. This instance brings up an important question: Is humor an appropriate way to cope with tragedy? Columnist Michelle Fredrickson believes humor is an inappropriate way to discuss suicide. The opposing view can be found here

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According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention , 117 people die by suicide every day, and for every single person who takes their own life, 25 more people attempt it. Suicide is a serious public health concern that needs to be addressed.

The seriousness of this issue cannot be overstated. This is why jokes about suicide actually detract from the conversation and don’t add to it or help anyone.

Toward the end of 2017, famous YouTuber Logan Paul posted a video in Japan’s Aokigahara forest, nicknamed ‘suicide forest,’ which is morbidly famous for being a place people go to take their lives. In the video, which has since been removed by YouTube, Paul was seen laughing and joking with his friends in front of the body of a victim of suicide.

“What, you never stand next to a dead guy?” Paul said in the video, “this was all going to be a joke!”

Though he later claimed that he posted the footage of the suicide victim to bring awareness to mental health, his flippant tone in the video suggested a much different agenda, with many people suggesting he did it for views on his channel. 

 

Caitlin Doughty was among many who took to twitter to show their distain for Pauls actions

“Suicide is not a joke” is the official stance of YouTube in response to the Paul situation, and YouTube is right. Jokes about suicide are not only in poor taste, they could be downright dangerous.

It’s not okay to joke about most serious medical conditions. It’s not okay to joke about terrorism. It’s not okay to joke about murder or violence against others. But, somehow it’s okay to make jokes about suicide, even though it is the intersection of a serious medical condition and violence.

In the doubtlessly traumatizing times in which we now live, morbid humor is on the rise. But people need to be mindful of the impacts their words can have, because as already established, someone who hears an absent comment may be suicidal or been personally affected by suicide. To them, that joke isn’t funny. 

One medical doctor wrote that a suicidal patient may remember jokes they have heard about suicide, which trivializes the issue and makes taking that step to kill oneself easier.

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Society does need to do a better job talking about suicide. However, talking about it and joking about it are different things. Talking about it is a serious, solution-oriented conversation. Joking about it trivializes the issue and makes the problem itself feel less scary.

The problem shouldn’t feel less scary. It is scary. 

The influx of jokes about suicide may actually take away from legitimate cries for help. One indicator of someone struggling with suicidal thoughts or intentions is in the way they make jokes about killing themselves. This can provide a signal to those around them and help the person get the help they need.

We have conversations about preventing disease without making jokes about it. We have conversations about violence prevention without making jokes about it. We must not be so unable to have a serious conversation about an issue like this that the only way we can discuss it is with jokes. We have to be better than that.

By understanding the stigmas and acknowledging what can be harmful, a thoughtful societal discourse is possible. But to achieve that goal, society needs to stop making suicide a laughing matter.

No one should ever compromise another person’s safety for the sake of their own humor. No joke is worth another person’s life. Paul said in his apology video that he had hoped his video would save lives, but considering the immense backlash it’s done anything but. Joking is not an appropriate way to have a conversation about this topic. 

If just one person’s life can be saved by removing suicide jokes from our vocabulary, it’s worth it to take that step.

Michelle Fredrickson can be reached at letters@collegian.com or online at @mfredrickson42