Ooh, something close to home

A lot of what I read concerns people I’ve only ever heard of, probably because a lot of what I read is from overseas, but it’s interesting when that world and my own combine. This happened in the past few days when a post on Pharyngula mentioned Professor Ed Rybicki.

I know Rybicki because he lectured some of my undergraduate classes and, as I later learned, was a founder member of the Institute of Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine where I am now based. He was one of the more interesting lecturers, with a wide span of knowledge and lectures that often contained a interesting tangents. He’s taking some flack on Pharyngula (and did all over beforehand) for a humorous piece he wrote in Nature which used gender stereotypes for comedic effect. This lead to a huge outcry that the column was sexist, which I think is going a bit far.

Sexism is a big problem but I do not think that means it should be excluded from comedy. It’s used by both male and female comedians but that does not mean that someone necessarily shares those views. We can not be serious the entire time, life’s too short. From time to time we need to just relax and tell each other a joke. Stereotypes can help because they give us recognisable characters in a very short space of time. In a fantasy one could spend hours on exposition of the bleezork’s history, culture and traits or talk about orcs, elves and dwarves. The latter three are instantly recognisable to everyone (or at least those familiar with fantasy) and allow you to jump right in. In a similar way stereotypes could provide a world that is familiar to everyone where action can take place, even as we move away from that world in reality.

While I do support the efforts to make a more egalitarian world I think it is taken too far when the reaction to harmless pieces of humour is start shouting sexism. When there is evidence of someone favouring one gender over the other in the real world then go ahead but let’s not apply that criterion to the fictional. In the meantime I’ll continue to enjoy humour whether it relies on stereotypes or not.

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