You be the judge.

A few days ago I received an email from a friend of mind. It was sent to him and he was forwarding it to his own personal listserv. It was presented as a piece of humor. Sort of a joke about the differences between Democratic and Republican women.

My friend, let's call him Steve, is a Wall Street operative so there's usually a strong hint of Republican bias and sensibilities in the listserv correspondence and humor.

He is a registered Republican, and he did vote for Bush twice. But, he also voted for Obama. So it's no sure thing, his politics. He's not an ideologue. And he does have catholic political tastes in his choice of friends. However, the labels Liberal, Progressive or humanistic would cling to him like a hair shirt. And he streams a dry, Don Rickles kind of humor.

These things I know about Steve comprise some part of the filter through which I screen most things he says or sends to me. So, based on my sense of his social politics, my immediate reactions to the email he forwarded were pretty negative.

Candidly, I don't know how long this bit of "humor" has been making the net rounds or if it ever went viral. For years people keep rediscovering jokes, images, rumors, urban legends, heart-wrenching or heart-tugging anecdotes and, like the NBC motto for reruns went, "If you haven't seen it before, it's new to you."

So, this "joke" was new to me.

New, yes, but the sentiments were familiar and instantly annoying-- very annoying -- because they're cheap shots, ad hominem attacks, consistent with the tenor of modern Republican attacks on all flavors of non-Republicanism.

Or at least that's how I saw it. (Of course I might have just been in a bad mood)

Shedding my usual patina of civility, I fired off an email to my friend and included those on his listserv, letting him (and them) know what I thought of the humor and what I inferred to be a most annoying sub-text or implicit sexist theme.

So, without any further ado, here's the bit of humor I received and the correspondence which ensued. Oh yes, names have been "redacted" to protect the innocent, the guilty and to prevent law suits:

"Awww... c'mon, it's Democrats have some lookers,too..."

(The photo of Reno had no drool but I couldn't remove it from the picture)

I first wrote this:

Sent: Tuesday, December 29, 2009 4:54 PM
Subject: RE: Female Democrats and Republican

Truly dumb, Steve. And offensive.

Let's have IQ comparisons; or is that off limits because you can't have sex with it?

Someone replied: "Ooooooo...bad! I can't help but wonder if you would feel the same way if the Political affiliations were reversed."

I replied: "Yes I would. I've written several blogs concerning Palin, mostly during the campaign, and I my focus has always been on her politics, not her beauty."

Someone else replied: "Her Politics, sure. I can understand and respect a difference of ideology. But you referenced her intelligence vs. the others pictured."

I replied:
"I was pointing out that Rep/Cons Palin was presented as glamorous and all the Dems were presented as aging, tired, old, wrinkled, etc., with, perversely, no weight given to their accomplishments vis a vis Palin; it was beauty and glamour vs. age and the ravages of age (nancy pelosi aside), an invidious comparison and on one level, ironically and frankly, a slap at Sarah Palin. All Dem women are noted for their brains, knowledge, wisdom and accomplishments, none of which are considered signature qualities of Palin (though she is considered very media savvy, facile and clever).

"But still, I insist, this gallery of images is more a matter of male sexism masquerading as political humor. Politics aside, for me, its offensiveness outweighed its humor."

Someone else replied (a woman)"Well said!"
Then Steve emailed me and asked that I STOP corresponding with his friends on his listserv because... I just shouldn't do it and also because they're flooding him with criticisms of me, jamming his inbox.

I stopped.

He also felt that I should have kept my comments about his mailing to just him. Interesting.

So, we have (at least) three separate issues discernible in all this:

1. Was I over-sensitive to issues of polarized political humor or were the people forwarding it perpetuating politically polarized, mean-spirited partisan humor?
2. Did I see sexism where it didn't exist--and it was in fact political humor, not sexist humor?
3. Is it a violation of net etiquette to e-mail a reply to all people on someone's "personal" listserv, much as you would on a group or institutional listserv?

What is your take on these issues? I'd really like feedback on this. 

About the Author

Stuart Fischoff, Ph.D.

Stuart Fischoff, Ph.D., was Senior Editor of the Journal of Media Psychology and Emeritus Professor of Media Psychology at Cal State, Los Angeles.

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