Oscar Wilde once said, “Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit.”
Well, Oscar, I disagree. Because I think I’m pretty damn witty. And I’m also very sarcastic.
Sarcasm has become a regular part of my rhetoric. I use it to flirt, I use it to joke around with my friends, I use it to give my little brother a hard time practically daily. Sometimes, I’ll even use it to describe myself (either in modesty or self-deprecatingly).
But if I’m totally honest with myself, Wilde is right.
Sarcasm is a cheap form of humor; it requires minimal thought or cleverness to execute. So why has it become such commonplace in modern society?
the popularization of sarcasm
The word “Sarcasm” derives from the Greek word “sarkazein,” which means “to tear flesh, bite the lip in rage, sneer.” Ironic, isn’t it? That the word itself comes from a place of hurt and violence. More on that later.
Sarcasm first appeared in English in 1579, which means it’s not a new concept by any means, but it seems that its popularity has sky rocketed recently.
This is probably partially in thanks to the popularization of shows like Comedy Central Roast and, one of my personal favorites (though not around anymore), The Colbert Report. You have to admit; watching people make fun of each other is pretty hilarious.
Social media has also likely given rise to the popularity of sarcasm. Behind the shield of a computer screen and internet identity, the average person has more courage to use a form of communication that can often seem offensive. Plus the perfectly crafted sarcastic or ironic comment or tweet can take time to come up with—time that social media, versus in-person conversation, easily provides.
Studies show, however, that sarcasm may actually be good for you. Various academic research studies (seriously) have shown that sarcasm enhances creative problem solving, exercises the brain more than sincere statements, and makes our brains sharper. Those who cannot understand sarcasm are perceived as naïve or inferior. A lack of understanding of sarcasm can even be a sign of brain disease.
If that’s the case, then bring on the sarcasm, right? Wrong.
the four biggest problems with sarcasm
Despite the reasonable case for the positives of sarcasm, there are some heavily weighted negatives to take into consideration as well. If not considered, the popularization of sarcasm may just be our downfall.
#1 sarcasm is a subtle form of bullying
Unfortunately, bullying is a serious problem in our society, especially at a young age. It manifests itself in many different ways— one of which could be sarcasm. If school-aged children are exposed to sarcasm, they may adopt it as a way to subtly bully others. And, quite frankly, bullying happens well into adulthood. Using sarcasm to bring others down and impress a feeling of superiority on others reflects the type of power imbalance characteristic of bullying.
#2 sarcasm is counterproductive
When attempting to communicate with another person, sarcasm is just a roundabout way to get to your conversational destination. For someone who uses sarcasm frequently, the lines between a “joke” and what’s “real” become blurred. Other people may not know when you’re being serious, and that’s counterproductive to what you’re trying to accomplish in this conversation.
#3 sarcasm is a defense mechanism
This is true in two ways. First, people often use sarcasm as a crutch. It prevents them from saying what they really mean by masking their true feelings as a “joke” instead of coming right out and saying what’s really on their mind. Second, sarcasm usually stems from some sort of insecurity. Someone might impart a sarcastic comment on someone else when that’s really how they feel about themselves.
And finally, most importantly…
#4 sarcasm desensitizes people to true insults and hostility
“Aw, come on, I was just kidding.” “Don’t get all offended, it was just a joke.” How many times have you heard someone say that right after they directly insulted you? Not a very funny joke when someone hurts you, is it?
But when someone says they’re “just kidding,” we feel like we have to sit there and take it, or we feel bad for feeling upset by that person’s comment, like it’s wrong that we feel that way. That’s the desensitization caused by sarcasm.
I worry for society if we continue on this path of desensitization because it allows bullies and jerks to get away with things that they shouldn’t. Pretty soon, outright insults and hostility disguised as sarcasm and irony will become the norm and that’s not okay.
what to do about sarcasm
Guess what? You don’t have to be hostile to be funny. Clever wit, not at the expense of others, is more effective in humor than mocking someone else. If you can’t manage that, then just memorize the movies “Step Brothers” and “Anchorman” and quote those in regular conversation. You’ll do just fine with that.
Quite frankly, human beings could benefit from being more direct in conversation. If sarcasm is a way to avoid saying what you mean, then don’t avoid it. Say what you mean and mean what you say. If you have to deliver bad news or a negative comment, do so delicately and politely rather than masked in a “joke” that will probably do more damage than good.
As I’ve mentioned, I am admittedly a sarcastic person, but I never intend to be hurtful when I use sarcasm. I never go out of my way to cut other people down or make them feel bad about themselves, but sometimes you really have to think before you speak. You never know how your words could affect someone else.
At the end of the day, I’m still going to laugh at Comedy Central Roast and slow clap Colbert’s punch lines, but maybe in our day-to-day life, sarcasm isn’t the best communicative tactic.
But, if you have to be sarcastic, try to avoid making someone else the butt of your joke. Unless it’s Donald Trump. He’s fair game.the four biggest problems with sarcasmPublished in