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The Daily Tar Heel

The Joke's on You, Laughing Into the 21st

Sure, the 20th century had its moments, like the never-should-be-withdrawn-from 1972 Antiballistic Missile Treaty and the return of Christ (Texas, 1993).

The new millennium though, well, who knew what unimaginable marvels of the future it could bring.

Surely, we thought the future would resemble something to that of the world of Star Trek, complete with peace on earth, a plethora of blinking lights and lots and lots of aliens bent on killing Captain Kirk.

Ah ... the mystique of the 21st century -- and how fitting that we would have an arguably disappointing anti-climax to that whole Y2K issue! Half the world dreaded a 21st century apocalypse, featuring such world-ending disasters as getting a bill from the local Blockbuster for 100 years worth of overdue fines on "Breakin' 2: The Electric Boogaloo." The other half partied like it was, well, any other new year. And the next morning, we were all waking up from a kinda-bad-kinda-not-so-bad dream, all hung over -- except, we were thinking, "Hey, I'm all hungover in the 21st century! Wow, I need me some Tylenol ..."

All of us, I suppose, except for those "purists," who I'm sure were all thinking, "Those suckers! We have yet to see the 21st century! Fools! Oooooh ... need Tylenol ..."

The 21st century wasn't born of fire and brimstone like everybody predicted -- no, the transition into the promised land known as the future was uneventful and unremarkable. And so, it's no wonder that I still feel like we're living in the past.

Oh, don't get me wrong -- I think the human race has made significant advances since I've been alive, but in certain respects, we haven't budged an inch since I was a wee lad, dreaming about the 21st century.

Take for example the state of "funny" -- you know, like jokes and stuff.

On a recent episode of HBO's "Dennis Miller Live," that oh-so-witty, talks-too-much late-night host delivered one of his patented funny-picture captions, as he so often does.

To make a long story short, the picture portrayed George W., fresh from his tour of Southeast Asia, (assumably) petting his dog. The caption? Something to the effect of, "Don't worry, we wouldn't eat you!"

Ha ha ha, another joke about those Asian savages who eat poor, cute, innocent dogs. To follow this up, last month, Jay Leno's crack on Korean short-track skater Kim Dong-sung who "was so mad he went home and kicked the dog, and then ate him," (referring to Kim's disqualification, which led U.S. skater Apolo Ohno to be awarded gold) -- a pair of jokes that could have been heard way back in the days of the decidedly intolerant 20th century.

Oh yeah -- sure, these jokes are funny all right. Hey, I'm a lighthearted guy just like anybody else, and there's no way I take myself seriously enough to find dog jokes offensive.

But that doesn't mean these kinds of jokes should be OK in the 21st century. Writers for Dennis Miller and Jay Leno, all I have to say to you is: "Sweet Jesus! If you're going to make fun of Asians, in the very least, try something new! Jokes about eating dogs, being slant-eyed and owning convenience stores are old and tired and part of the repertoire of 5-year-olds!"

I'm not all for PC -- in fact, I hate political correctness. But, if I had my way, there wouldn't be any jokes at my, or anybody's, expense.

A famous French philosopher named Henri Bergson once wrote an entire essay on the state of funny titled "Le Rire" ("The Laugh"). In it, he outlined, categorized and ranked the various things that humans find funny. And way at the bottom was "ridicule," the basest and most horrible kind of funny.

What's funny is that Bergson wrote this in anticipation of a new century -- the 20th century. How sad that 100 years later, we're no better off.

So the next time you hear one of these jokes-at-somebody's-expense, you can chuckle, laugh, guffaw or whatever. I do. But be aware of what exactly you're laughing at and realize what an ass you are for doing so.

I do that too.

Eugene Kim has eaten dog. Once. In Vietnam. Last year. By accident. And it was not that bad. Ask him all about it by e-mailing him at chinook@email.unc.edu.

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