Maybe you’ve seen the meme. A photo shows a peanut butter and jelly sandwich cut poorly on the diagonal. The left ‘half’ is about sixty percent larger than the right. The caption: Serve this to your OCD friend.
It’s not really funny at all. There’s nothing clever about it. It breaks no new ground. It’s a joke that’s been circulating since the dawn of the web, since Jack Nicholson starred in his OCD film As Good as It Gets twenty-five years ago.
Psychotic Delusions, a Facebook humor page I follow, has posted it twice in the past couple of years. Everyone comments:
“Oh, that would drive me nuts, I must have OCD.”
“I’m so OCD, I wouldn’t even touch that sandwich.”
“You should see how I organize my shoes, LOL.”
I commented too: OCD is a debilitating condition, not a punchline. This is like laughing at a cancer patient’s bald head.
Someone named Bruce responded: Are you serious? OCD vs Cancer, really?
Donna Jean jumped into the fray: My older sister has OCD. It claimed her mind 45 years ago. She is practically homeless. Bladder cancer devastated my husband for the last 5 years of our 46 year marriage. I’ve been on the frontline for both, and I prefer physical sickness rather than mental.
Thanks Donna Jean. My OCD never claimed my mind. It disrupted my work performance, it affected my relationships, it caused me to draw ridiculous lines in the sand.
Buying pizzas at my favorite pizza joint to thank my coworkers for helping me with a project, I asked for twelve plates. On the cash register I saw $1.20 pop up. “Did you just charge me for those plates?”
“Hey man, I gotta eat too.”
“I’m never coming back here again” And then I didn’t for seven years. Lines in the sand. All the freaking time.
My OCD is medicated now. A happy accident. In 2016, I started taking medicine for my Tourette Syndrome. It works, sort of. I’d say my Tourette symptoms are about fifty percent better than they were. The OCD? That’s mostly gone. Still, I saw how paralyzing my mild case could be, people are home-bound by OCD. I want to educate people who think it’s all a big joke.
I throw out that ‘not a punchline’ comment with some frequency—on OCD and especially Tourette. Tourette syndrome is one of the few disorders that is fair game for comedians. Usually, people ignore me when I start complaining, but a couple of times I’ve gotten backlash. “Hey, lighten up. It’s just a joke.”
Last night Susan, Eli and I watched Family Guy. Do you know this show? It’s one of those inappropriate Fox network cartoons that are made for adults, but everyone freaks out because kids watch them too. In the episode last night, they used Tourette as a punchline. The character Chris did his Tourette Hamster Dance—a series of arm movements accompanied by nonsensical sounds. As comedy goes, the it fell flat, at least to me and my family. I guess the funny part was supposed to be that Chris has Tourette.
I said, “That’s uncool. I’m going to write them a letter.”
Eli responded, “Don’t be a Karen, dad.”
This could have set off a big family debate, but I let it go. My ‘that’s uncool’ remark lacked any conviction right from the start. It felt more obligatory than righteous. Plus, I don’t really talk to Eli about the potential for mocking and bullying from Tourette. It hasn’t happened to me.
This evening, I thought about Eli’s Karen remark. I didn’t phase me in the least, and I tried to figure out why. Family Guy mocks everyone. They make racist jokes about the Black character, disability jokes about the guy in a wheelchair and misogynistic remarks about all the female characters. According to Wikipedia, the show has been accused of being anti-Semitic, anti-Catholic, homophobic, transphobic, and so on. They rip on God, Jesus, Muslims, Down syndrome and the Boston Marathon bombing.
I realized it’s stupid for me to get riled up over a Tourette gag. There’s so much more to be pissed about. Now I’m wondering why I watch the show at all. I enjoy edgy, satirical humor, and Family Guy excels at that. It becomes so egregious at times that the jokes make me gasp out loud. But now I wonder, is the ‘humor’ only picking on minority groups and outsiders? Probably not, but it’s time for me to check myself while watching the show. Possibly I’m getting laughs from racist, hurtful humor. And at a minimum, I’m desensitizing myself to the exact sort of biases I claim to abhor.
My knee-jerk Karen comment seems to have woken me up. I’m not trying to censor the writers, but I want to stick up for my tribe. Suddenly I realize that on this show there are dozens of other tribes that need as much or even more consideration than mine.