Does a joke about a friend's devotion to Obama count as "Politics"
March 20, 2017 6:44 AM   Subscribe

This is one of those incidents that sticks in my mind and would appreciate opinions on it. I was at a bar-b-q and apropos of just a word that was connected, I referred to teasing a friend about how Obama is his deity. This guy in the group had a peeved look on his face and angrily asked "you really think there are people like that?" (as if I had just mortally insulted all Obama supporters.)

As a a matter a fact, I do think that, of course, there were people like that, but it seems besides the point as me bringing it up was just a light-hearted comment on a friend's idiosyncrasies. Does even this count as "talking about politics" (so, traditionally considered a bad topic of conversation) or did I run into a hyper-partisan or hyper-sensitive child?
posted by Jon44 to Human Relations (47 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Hard to say without having been there, but my vote is for having ran into a hyper-partisan and/or hyper-partisan child.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 6:46 AM on March 20 [1 favorite]


I'd be peeved about that, personally. Depending on tone and context, that could sound really patronizing.
posted by soren_lorensen at 6:48 AM on March 20 [70 favorites]


You sound much more overly sensitive about the whole thing than he does. Part of telling jokes with an edge is that you need to accept that some of them will fall flat, or even offend, some people. Don't get peeved after the fact that not everyone finds you as funny as you expect them to.
posted by scantee at 6:49 AM on March 20 [84 favorites]


Of course you were talking about politics, and in a glib and sneering way. Sometimes talking about politics is just fine. But usually not just fine to talk about politics in a glib and sneering way with people who disagree with you. Also it is not "of course" true that people think of Obama as a deity. Many people think he was/is awesome. But you were and are being glib and sneering.
posted by sheldman at 6:51 AM on March 20 [77 favorites]


That doesn't actual qualify as a joke. A joke has a set up, a punchline, a point. What you did was patronize (soren_lorensen) and dismiss whatever your friend said in a sneering (sheldman) way, and then when he reacted like you were being a patronizing, dismissive, sneering jerk -- which you were -- it sounds like you compounded it by pulling the whole "it was a JOKE why are you so sensitive?" gaslighting routine.
posted by schadenfrau at 6:54 AM on March 20 [73 favorites]


Politics and religion, really. Even some very funny people are still very serious about their religious beliefs.
posted by Room 641-A at 6:59 AM on March 20 [5 favorites]


As a a matter a fact, I do think that, of course, there were people like that, but it seems besides the point as me bringing it up was just a light-hearted comment on a friend's idiosyncrasies.

It's not as besides the point as you think.

or did I run into a hyper-partisan or hyper-sensitive child?

The way you're talking, I suspect that you often find yourself confused when people take umbrage with your allegedly "light-hearted" commentary.
posted by mpbx at 7:00 AM on March 20 [57 favorites]


Oh hey also.... am I reading this wrong? Did you refer to an adult as a child by the end of this story?
posted by soren_lorensen at 7:05 AM on March 20 [54 favorites]


Yes, it counts as politics. If your intention was to avoid political discussion, you failed by bringing up a politician in a conversation that was not, it sounds like, related to politicians in any way. That's the least of the issues here, though, as "talking about politics" isn't universally a terrible thing to do at a social gathering, depending on the people and the gathering.

"Teasing a friend about their idiosyncrasies" is the problem. That's not a great thing to do unless it happens to be a friend with whom you have a long-standing tradition of interacting this way and are 100% clear that you're both into it. And even then it's a thing best done just between the two of you, not at a party where you're making other people be bystanders to a conversation they may not understand is genuinely lighthearted on both sides.

The fact that you made the joke to start with, and still don't understand what the actual problem was based on this post, suggests to me that you are likely not a person who reads a room or a conversation well enough to make even slightly edgy jokes about fraught topics. Perhaps steer your sense of humor into safer waters, for now.
posted by Stacey at 7:16 AM on March 20 [19 favorites]


it seems besides the point as me bringing it up was just a light-hearted comment on a friend's idiosyncrasies. Does even this count as "talking about politics" (so, traditionally considered a bad topic of conversation) or did I run into a hyper-partisan or hyper-sensitive child?

It's possible the answer is both. That said, if you did this to me, I would stop talking to you at the BBQ. Many Obama supporters specifically feel shitty lately. Talking about Obama is by definition talking about politics. Talking about religion is another "please don't" topic for most friendly gatherings. What you did was sort of joking-not-joking where you could retreat into a "hey it was just a joke!" language but at the same time, you were saying what you really felt. At the point at which someone has an angry response to something you have said, you need to consider that if what you said wasn't intended to make them angry, then you haven't accomplished your conversational goal. Teasing, to me, is rarely polite conversation. You don't know what baggage people bring to a conversation and some people don't like teasing to begin with and politically-loaded "just kidding" teasing is less defensible than most, in my opinion. Obviously this is a thing reasonable people can disagree on, but that's my take.
posted by jessamyn at 7:25 AM on March 20 [23 favorites]


Sometimes when you're in that "giving people shit" mode, you can accidentally say something that is genuinely hurtful or upsetting. Maybe this guy has been getting a lot of mean remarks about his politics lately, or maybe you phrased it in a way that was hurtful to him without meaning to. Basically, you can be in a situation where 99% of the time, it's all good fun - and then you say something that you think is totally innocuous which genuinely hurts someone.

It's not illegitimate to be hurt by someone's mockery. Also, in a lot of groups, there's sort of an informal "we make fun of each other but we all steer clear of [things that are genuinely painful]". Like, I have friends who say some stuff that, in many social groups, would be kind of hurtful but it's all in good fun - but even in that group, everyone knows that some things are off limits, and every once in a while, feelings get kind of hurt.

Honestly, I think that whole "let's all mock each other" thing requires a lot more social skills than is commonly believed, because you really have to monitor the room and know where everyone's individual boundaries lie.

My feeling is that if you like that kind of roistering mockery deal, I think it's good to be ready to apologize when you accidentally say something that is hurtful. It's the price you pay for the whole roistering mockery thing, and it doesn't need to be a big deal - "I'm sorry, man, I didn't mean that the way it sounded" or "I'm sorry, I don't actually think that and I didn't mean to overstep" are almost always fine. If people are in a mockery-intensive space, usually any sincere acknowledgement that you didn't mean to hurt them is fine.

So basically, I don't think the guy was a baby or that you were particularly out of line (as long as you were behaving in a way that was normal for that social group). I just think that you stepped on someone's toes by mistake, and quick, low-key "whoops, didn't mean to, sorry about your toes" is fine.
posted by Frowner at 7:30 AM on March 20 [8 favorites]


Also, watch out for situations where not everyone is into the mockery - you need to know your social group. If your friend likes the whole "giving people shit" dynamic but this accidentally hit a little too close to home, that's one thing; if he never participates and you're roping him in, then you should stop.
posted by Frowner at 7:34 AM on March 20 [2 favorites]


There's another angle to this, in addition to what's already been brought up: Accusing Democrats of "worshipping" Obama (or Hillary) is a really common right-wing rhetorical tactic, and generally has very little basis in reality - it's just a way to insult them and write off their positions as the result of some kind of cultish brainwashing.

So it's very possible that this guy wasn't just reacting to what you thought was some light-hearted teasing about your friend's politics - which is definitely political, BTW. He could have been reacting to the signals you were putting out telling him that you are part of this group of asshole right-wingers, even if you did so inadvertently.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 7:38 AM on March 20 [74 favorites]


Well, you either think that believing in a "deity" is foolish or you think that believing in a religious icon is totally normal and expected in which case you are being insulting of religious beliefs. Assuming the former, what you were saying is: "Obama is, like, your sky-god, amirite?!" Meaning: your devotion to this person is perhaps both foolish and blind, rooted not in rationality but in exuberance. Which, yeah, if you liked Obama and are distressed at what has just happened in the country what you said is like poking at a raw nerve. You pretty much said, "Shutup about Obama, already." So, given that sub-text, you shouldn't be surprised that someone reacted in an irritated way because no one likes to be assumed foolish or irrational in their values. It's not "talking politics" exactly, it's poking at someone's values in an unfair way.
posted by amanda at 7:38 AM on March 20 [12 favorites]


If your joke was half as patronising and self righteous as the way you worded the question about the joke, you were the one being the jerk.
posted by wwax at 7:44 AM on March 20 [57 favorites]


The reason we say people shouldn’t talk about politics isn’t because there is some kind of social taboo against discussing, say, marginal tax rates or environmental legislation. It’s because politics (and religion) are subjects people feel strongly about and take personally. Whether what you said was *really* talking about politics is a lawyerly question — but you’re at a party, not in a courtroom. You should be thinking more about the spirit of the rule: i.e. don’t say things which make are likely to make people feel uncomfortable and/or start an argument.
posted by Bloxworth Snout at 7:46 AM on March 20 [7 favorites]


So what if someone had said, in a lighthearted way, "Oh, you know Jon44, with his illogical and unsubstantiated conspiracy theories!" And then they said "Ha ha."

Would you be a little peeved at the implication that you're irrational and that your political opinions are based solely on some personal bias? Especially in the context of a social event, where you really might not want to get into it?

If you really believe that, maybe bring it up in a context where people can reasonably address your accusations without stomping on everyone's buzz, rather than passive aggressively tossing it off like that.
posted by ernielundquist at 7:52 AM on March 20 [1 favorite]


As a woman, therefore a person whose vaguest opinions are routinely hyperbolized in precisely that kind of sneer (and in the very recent past received pretty much that specific abuse, because of course I'm so bad at thinky-things I can't support someone without being aware of their flaws), I'd avoid you forever for talking to me like that and lower my opinions of your friends.

People do not enjoy being spoken to this way. I'd be grossed out if you said the same thing to me about a sportsperson or scientist or writer I liked (which was a favorite flavor of putdown in primary/secondary/college), because again: I don't enjoy being automatically accused of being incapable of nuance. I absolutely consider it at best a microaggression if not open aggression. It's not funny, and it's a beloved tool of bullies.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:54 AM on March 20 [67 favorites]


a light-hearted comment on a friend's idiosyncrasies

Sometimes "light-hearted" comments about people's "idiosyncracies" can sound a lot like making fun of someone's personal beliefs or personality, and fall really flat. This effect is doubled if you're with company and it sounds like you just made fun of someone in front of a bunch of people.
It's hard to tell whether either of you was in the wrong here, but it's something to be aware of in future.
Sometimes teasing can be OK, and fun, but generally it's in the context of friends who often tease each other, and have already established they are OK with jokes about each others' politics.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 7:58 AM on March 20 [2 favorites]


In that one comment, you managed to insult your friend about their religion, their politics, AND their maturity ("child"? really?), then followed that up by insulting their sense of humor and called them hyper-sensitive. Now you're wondering why they were so "touchy"!

The only thing you can do here is profusely apologize for your rude, tactless behavior.
posted by easily confused at 8:11 AM on March 20 [30 favorites]


You said something obnoxious and someone got pissed at you for it. When you say obnoxious things, that's often what happens.
posted by colfax at 8:26 AM on March 20 [30 favorites]


Does even this count as "talking about politics"

Doesn't matter. You hurt your friend's feelings, or the very least caused irritation at what was supposed to be a relaxed social event. You owe them an apology. (I'm not even going to touch the "over-sensitive child" thing because dude, really?)
posted by rtha at 8:39 AM on March 20 [2 favorites]


I read this as you gave a non-present friend some shit and a guy who was there took offense to the fact that you mentioned, sarcastically, that there actually were people like that. I think both you and the guy who took umbrage should learn to keep certain opinions/thoughts/comments to yourselves.

Was it politics? It certainly wasn't sports or crafting or anything else. Also, to me, the fact that this is something that has stuck with you makes me believe that you think you might have been wrong or might have overstepped or something. When you think that might be the case, it usually is the case.
posted by AugustWest at 8:48 AM on March 20 [3 favorites]


I know people who have framed portraits of Obama in their living rooms. And it sounds like you found the most thin-skinned person at the BBQ.
posted by Guinevere at 9:07 AM on March 20


Ohhhhhhh boy. So if I'm reading this correctly, you heard one word ("apropos of a single word that was connected"), and used that as a launching point to deride the political stance of a person not even present at the barbeque, and someone else called you out on it, and now you're here asking for confirmation that you're in the right and the other person is just a big baby.

Dude. Yikes. If I was talking to someone at a party and they did that, I'd be cringing inwardly and avoiding them for the rest of the night/rest of my life. That's the kind of stuff I usually hear from someone right before they start talking shit about libtards.
posted by palomar at 9:08 AM on March 20 [28 favorites]


On a second read of the question, I realize this wasn't you teasing a (present) friend, but referencing your teasing of an absent friend, which is somewhat of a different story.

Still, we are in highly partisan times, and it's really best to avoid anything that smacks of politics if you wish to preserve decorum.
posted by corb at 9:14 AM on March 20 [1 favorite]


I would say that the reason this falls flat is that when you describe it here? This doesn't sound like you're talking about a friend at all. When you tell a joke to a friend, if you describe that process afterwards, it should probably sound like... you know... you actually like that person? Imagine if you knew a friend of yours, an actual friend, was describing you right now on the internet as a "hyper-sensitive child". Imagine how you'd feel about that. Would you say that person was your friend after that?

If you're genuinely friends with the person, then your jokes, political or otherwise, should reflect how you feel about that person--you might joke about politics, but you'd be joking about politics in a way that would reflect your fondness for this person. If you're not genuinely friends with the person, then you should avoid jokes about personal stuff across the board. Teasing is only okay if you have the sort of relationship with someone where both parties are going to know it's okay. If you aren't that close, don't do it. The difference between teasing and being an asshole is not necessarily a difference in behavior, it's a difference in the way you've built up your relationship before that point so that everybody feels totally secure in how the comments are going to be taken.

Or, in other words, if you were actually close enough to this person to make this joke, you'd already have known how the joke was going to go over.
posted by Sequence at 9:25 AM on March 20 [2 favorites]


I don't think it matters whether it was "politics" or not, it was a shitty thing to say if the person in question was present. (I can't tell from your description whether that was so.) If the person in question was not present, well, you'd certainly have revealed yourself to me to be the kind of person who talks shit about folks behind their backs, even if the comment was relatively innocuous.

Yeah basically all around, you don't come off well here.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 9:45 AM on March 20 [5 favorites]


You can be right about the other person or it can be light-hearted joking but it can't be both. because yes, absolutely there are people who have no political principles of their own and no capacity for independent thought, but are deeply into politics for the personality-cult aspect of it and think what they think because a cool person said it or wrote it - I think Obama is actually less likely to inspire this in people than many others on the left, but for sure there are people who are passionate mainstream Democrats because of the Cool Dad gloss Obama left all over everything. and for sure it is possible for less personally engaged people to suspect and notice this motivation in others.

but this is a pretty extreme insult. It's really a bad and scary thing when people get caught up in this and think it's what politics is. and when it's true it is a pretty comprehensive condemnation of someone's reasoning capacity and intellectual integrity. and bringing it out as a joke so that people cannot respond with the gravity it demands is a cheat and can be bullying if deployed for that purpose. this kind of thinking and behavior -- following the man, not the policies -- is how Trump got elected, after all. so it is a big deal and if you think it is something to tease about I think you should take your own judgments more seriously.

tl;dr if you really think you understand people and their unspoken drives that well, you can say so. but whether you're right or wrong, you have to expect people to understand an insult as an insult.
posted by queenofbithynia at 9:59 AM on March 20 [3 favorites]


I think people are piling on a bit overmuch here - your offense here was not a big one, you just kinda failed to read the room.

First of all, when you tell stories about how you said some clever thing, they're really never as funny as you think they are, and it's always weird to hear someone implicitly begging for admiration that way. This goes for any topic. But it should induce an eye-roll, not a confrontation.

Second, yes, as you obviously know, talking about other people's politics is talking about politics. This is only not true if the story you're telling is about something completely exotic, like if the person in your story only votes for candidates with red hair, or something like that. In this case - criticizing someone for loving Obama overmuch - it's obviously talking politics and not a great idea in the current, polarized climate.

Third, the guy who confronted you should have just rolled his eyes and walked away, not gotten loud about it.

No big deal, but yeah, you're going to get pushback if you make political remarks at parties these days.
posted by fingersandtoes at 10:00 AM on March 20 [3 favorites]


Telling a story about teasing another friend is a bit boorish, yes. It's generally a bit tacky to regal people with stories of your own wit, but even more so when that wit involves mocking someone else.

It sounds like that guy took it personally, for the reasons laid out by other commenters here. But that doesn't mean you were in the right. It sounds like you told people about this joke assuming they would find it funny, and was surprised someone found it personally offensive. Now you know. It's not a matter of someone being right and someone being wrong - it's about having a nice time at a party and not causing unnecessary arguments.
posted by lunasol at 10:00 AM on March 20 [9 favorites]


Does even this count as "talking about politics"

Is Obama a political figure? Then yes, it counts as talking about politics. It couldn't possibly be any clearer. There is no room for confusion here.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 10:17 AM on March 20 [2 favorites]


If you did this to me I would avoid any future interactions with you to the extent possible. It is really not your place to judge what is allowed to be how important to people.
posted by PMdixon at 10:18 AM on March 20 [4 favorites]


I have a long running friend where we routinely abuse each other for fun. After a decade of this, it can get really out of hand to observers who don't know us... and last time we did it in public, we got called on it, which is totally legit, cause we were inflicting our personal horrible on innocent bystanders.

So yeah, in this particular climate using the phrase Bush/Obama/Trump is your deity is... not cool. Using it out of context seems odd as well. It probably would have raised my eyebrows.
posted by Jacen at 10:34 AM on March 20 [3 favorites]


I would be annoyed by that comment. Admittedly, I'm VERY sensitive right now to political criticisms right now because, COME ON, as as many progressives/liberals/whatever/people who are devastated by the election. And as I was thinking about this, I thought, "Would I say the opposite, tease someone about 'worshiping Trump?'" even if I thought it was true, especially at a party or something?

Nope. I wouldn't. That, to me, sounds like picking a fight or mocking someone in a slightly nasty way. I agree with whoever above said it was a failure to read the room and bringing up a charged topic in a relaxed setting. It's not a capital crime, but maybe back off of that kind of teasing for the foreseeable future.
posted by Aquifer at 10:54 AM on March 20 [2 favorites]


Yeah, this isn't even opinion: of COURSE talking about someone's devotion to Obama is politics - referring to Obama as this person's deity doubly so (and also hyperbolic).

But, since you asked for opinion: yeah wow you insulted this person and a lot of others at the same time, and made yourself look pretty bad, in my opinion.
posted by destructive cactus at 11:16 AM on March 20 [3 favorites]


Take Obama out of this for a moment. Maybe your friend loves LeBron James, or Billy Joel, or some other celebrity. It's well known, they're not ashamed, but still, "Billy Joel is your deity, huh?" is pretty darn awkward. Sometimes it's perfectly fine for someone to say something about themselves, but not okay for someone else to say:

"I basically worship Beyonce!" is fine, "she worships Beyonce" takes the self-depreciation out of her control, and can come across as patronizing.

So there we have it without any political charge, but now we have to contend with the fact that politicians and their actions have real-life consequences. Being right or wrong about a politician is a lot more important than an opinion about a celebrity. So when you put it in terms of Obama, you're implying that their blind devotion isn't just for entertainment, but is in fact a serious character flaw with real-life consequences.

In short, yes, you were talking about politics, and you should be more careful about how you dismiss your friends in general, and specifically in the company of others who you don't know as well.
posted by explosion at 11:36 AM on March 20 [8 favorites]


I mean, yes this is talking about politics, sort of by definition. However, I don't think talking about politics is some terrible sin. Perhaps because my job involves politics so I essentially NEVER go to any social gathering where politics doesn't come up in some fashion. :)

But, I don't think anyone got offended that you somehow mentioned the dreaded "P" word. I would guess it's that you were mocking a friend who it sounds like wasn't even there at the party, and then when someone challenged you, you dug in your heels rather than laughing it off and saying "Oh, no, of course I didn't mean that! Sorry it came out that way -- let's get back to the burgers." Or whatever.
posted by rainbowbrite at 11:40 AM on March 20 [1 favorite]


Dude, the choices you've allowed are "did I what I say count as politics" wherein you are implicitly blaming others for what you said (i.e., their bs rules made your comment unacceptable) OR "are they little babies" which is explicitly blaming others for what you said.

I would take this opportunity to do some self examination and see if you have ever taken responsibility for your own words and actions, or has every conflict you've had always been someone else's fault...
posted by danny the boy at 11:47 AM on March 20 [30 favorites]


Yes, this counts as talking politics, and I'm having trouble understanding how this exchange unfolded. Maybe it's a failure of my imagination, but I simply can't figure out how it would make sense to share this anecdote when it was, "apropos of just a word that was connected," unless that word had political undertones. Regardless, I don't think there was anything wrong with the bystander's reaction because, as peeved as he was, he was asking for clarification, and, as mentioned by others above, it's a common and incredibly demeaning insult of Obama supporters to accuse them of blindly worshipping him, when most, if not all, may admire the man, but also see his flaws.

To intimate people are incapable of critical thinking and understanding nuance, thus invalidating all their opinions about anything related to that topic, is offensive. Maybe your friend doesn't care, but other people who similarly dig Obama might. Substitute whomever you admire politically and think about how you and other like-minded people would receive this joke when they don't know the person telling it very well. My guess is it would raise some hackles and, therefore, would best be kept between people who know each other well and have this type of teasing relationship.
posted by katemcd at 1:09 PM on March 20


I think talking about Obama in a non-political way is a luxury liberals do not have anymore. We're living in a climate where words are weapons.
The word combination you used is a pretty classical weapon used to shut down the arguments of liberals. You used fighty, highly politicized language. Aparently without meaning to.

I think it's not on other people to give you the benefit of the doubt as to your intentions. You're living in a climate where people are being hurt and endangered every day by Trump's actions and their pain is being minimised (in the exact way you just demonstrated!). You basically walked around a room ful of people with broken toes and you stomped on them!

I think it's on you to understand, and accept, why what you said was so painful.
posted by Omnomnom at 1:10 PM on March 20 [4 favorites]


Posting this question - framed like that, here and now - might point to a general problem with reading the room.

That aside, yes, it was politics.

If you make any statement about a current, major political figure (like our president of the last eight years) - that's talking about politics. By definition.

If you'd said ice cream his deity, you'd be talking about food. If you'd said Chuck Berry was his deity, you'd be talking about music.

Just to give you a heads up - right now, just about everything is politics to a lot of folks. So being derisive, dismissive and obnoxious isn't going to make you very popular at parties.

Which isn't to say not to do it. But the consequences are there.
posted by crankyrogalsky at 1:40 PM on March 20 [1 favorite]


It sounds like you were talking to one friend and mocking the political persuasion of a third person who wasn't in the room. I am pretty thick skinned and enjoy talking politics among friends, but I would be pissed if I heard that, because (1) it's patronizing as others have pointed out, and (2) the person you were insulting was not even around.

So +1 that you didn't run into a "hypersensitive child" (there you go again, speaking to us to mock a person who isn't in the conversation). You violated a taboo, sure, but it wasn't the one about not talking about politics, it was the one about not belittling other humans.
posted by basalganglia at 4:34 PM on March 20 [7 favorites]


It seems like it was both. This isn't an either-or dilemma. It was politics and someone was sensitive.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 5:37 PM on March 20 [1 favorite]


You can't play the "just joking" card if you mean what you say.

People can tell.
posted by J. Wilson at 5:39 PM on March 20 [22 favorites]


As a a matter a fact, I do think that, of course, there were people like that...

You are trying to have your cake and eat it too: saying something you really think but claiming it's just a joke. People can in fact tell when you're doing that. It's like when someone says, "No offense, but..." or "Don't take this the wrong way..." and proceeds to say something really offensive and then gets upset when people react to the words they actually said.
posted by BibiRose at 4:47 AM on March 21 [7 favorites]


Also, what Frowner said. Even if you are in a crowd where a lot of friendly shit-talking goes on, you don't get a free pass for everything. The people who talk the most shit are sometimes the quickest to take offense. Sometimes because of the actual content of the remark, sometimes because they can dish it out but they can't take it, sometimes because their remarks were not taken as they wanted them to be.
posted by BibiRose at 5:48 AM on March 21


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