Do people change over the course of a decade or more? Let’s explore this with a joke I wrote about recently deceased musician Amy Winehouse in 2011.
When this joke was posted to Facebook in 2011 I laughed myself silly at how clever a comic I was. At the time that iteration of myself had limited experience with co-occuring peers, as in no experience with co-occuring peers at all. I read the post now in 2023 and I cringe reflexively and morally scold myself.
It’s never too soon for a joke and someone being offended by my joke isn’t a mitigating control. What makes this cringe-worthy now is I’ve had many co-occuring friends in my life since 2011, many peers at odds with addiction and mental illness. Five years of presenting Laugh It Off to peers inpatient at Turquoise Lodge Hospital gifted me insight into what it’s like living with addiction, and, yes, while it’s excellent to laugh at the horrible experiences of being a peer (the crux of Laugh It Off, that laughing at the horrible stuff takes back the power the horrible stuff holds over us), it’s simply never acceptable to take joy in a peer losing their life to their addiction.
So I’m morally scolding myself through the lens presentism. This isn’t the same as apologizing for the Amy Winehouse joke because the notion “I should’ve known better back in 2011” holds no weight or relevance. It’s like Disney firing James Gunn (writer and director of Guardians of the Galaxy) for a rape joke he made on Twitter over a decade before. Because he should’ve known better as a younger version of himself that joke would be cringe-inducing a decade later. And he should’ve known he’d be working for Disney. And maybe this isn’t the best example because Disney had to eat racist Dumbo crow and hire Gunn back to do Guardians 3 under threat of boycott by the principle cast. And now Gunn is the head of the DC Cinematic Universe. So he came out great with opportunities never presented had Disney not fired him over a flippant decade old post.
Okay, backtracking out of the rabbit hole, the point to laser in on is people’s attitudes and beliefs evolve over their lifetime, and this is borne of life experiences reshaping bits and pieces of their worldview. And often upon retrospection – in my case here because Facebook Memories remember forever and every year remind me of this – I’ll revisit a prior version of myself and think, “Dude, it’s sure a good thing I don’t think like that anymore, and thank every star above I’ve grown as a person.”
In 2011, a celebrity succumbing to substance addiction didn’t register in any real way. It was an abstract to riff upon as something jokey and fun. Twelve years later in 2023, I’ve witnessed too many friends and their lives impacted by addiction to ever find mirth in their pain.
Growth and evolution of attitudes and beliefs is the core of the human experience. Poking fun at addiction isn’t acceptable joke fodder for me any longer, because my life experiences over twelve years are now wisdom unavailable when Amy Winehouse lost her life to her addiction.
Proof positive: The majority of Hunter Biden memes fall flat with me. Good on you, Steve. Here’s a self-earned self-administered pat on the back. Keep up the good work and I’ll see you in twelve years for the next round of “Dude, what the hell were you thinking with that joke?”