This weekend, I heard an episode of Prairie Home Companion which included a supposedly humorous song about what method of suicide a father would use to escape his responsibility. I found myself slowing the car and listening with incredulity. A verse or two later, Mr. Keillor sang about the father having six or eight children and then “getting a vasectomy so he wouldn’t have any grandchildren”.
I snapped the radio off and pulled over to the curb. I tried to conceptualize on what planet suicide and incest would be considered funny. In what galaxy is making songs for a family radio program with slap-happy context about taking one’s life or having sex with one’s children, considered a reasonable way to make light of extraordinarily serious subjects?
As the sister of a person who committed suicide and being close to others who have tried or felt like trying, I think about suicide as tragic, the act of someone who finds his or her life insurmountably overwhelming or inescapably painful. Dying seems to such people to be the only way to escape, the last resort for relieving oneself of the flood of suffering. How can that be considered amusing? Even as one who will crack jokes at funerals about the natural appearance of the casket-dwellers, I would not ridicule the act of taking one’s own life. I wonder — am I overly sensitive?
As for the idea that we should laugh at a man getting a vasectomy to avoid procreating with his own children, I have no words to convey my disgust. Again, I contemplate my reaction and ask myself if I am simply humor-impaired. I don’t think so, though. I once had a foster son who, at age six, had FIVE documented suicide attempts on account of being sexually abused by his stepfather and various other men. The clients and children of clients whom I serve in Juvenile Court invariably have some trail of sexual abuse rifling their history. This is simple not a funny subject. I might have made a stupid joke about Arkansas girls and their brothers twenty-five years ago, but in the intervening years, I have found out that those jokes echo reality.
After continuing on my journey home, I thought about what I had heard and whether I should do anything about my feelings. I logged onto the Internet and found an email address for the show. I tried to phrase my thoughts in a way that did not sound like complaining. I’m not sure I succeeded.
But on this issue, I’m willing to cut myself a little slack. It just ain’t funny, and I’m okay with saying so.