Is Comedy Dead? Or Just the University System?

It’s been an interesting few weeks since the presidential election. Most people were not expecting the result, and the backlash has been loud. Being at one of the most liberal universities in the country, (Columbia (the school in New York not the country)) has given me the privilege to witness protests, drama and overreactions at record levels.

The story begins long before the election. One week before to be exact. Well, one day before that. Facebook was busy that day, as people were checking into Standing Rock. My news feed was literally full of people checking in there. So, as it is said, “when you can’t join them, beat them.” I decided to check in myself, but not in Standing Rock, but rather in Fargo, which is in the same state (North Dakota, one of the best 50 states in the union). I added the caption, “I think I took a wrong turn….” Harmless joke, right? I thought it was just a harmless joke, at least until the next day. I got a Facebook message from a fellow Columbia student saying, “Hi, just wanted to let you know that I’m unfriending you because of your post related to Standing Rock. I think it’s pretty messed up not to stand with people struggling for their rights to the land!”

Overreaction much? (Don’t answer that) There were three things I found wrong with the message. The first is that I made a joke and got unfriended because of it. While I don’t care about being unfriended by this specific person (it’s probably obvious we aren’t so close), to unfriend someone because of a harmless joke is rather a low point of our society (or maybe writing about it happening is?).

The second problem I found was that I never stated my opinion on the issue. Even though when you make fun of something it sounds like you have a negative view towards it, a lot of times you are just taking a good opportunity to make a joke.

The third problem I had was with the second part of the response based on the person who said it. “It is messed up to not stand with people struggling for their rights to the land!” I find this extremely ironic because this person does not stand with their own people (the Jewish people) in struggling for their rights to the land of Israel. Sadly, as with many Jews around Columbia University, not only do they not stand up for Israel, but instead publicly against Israel.

One week later was the presidential election. The mood around the university was confident. Then the results starting trickling in. At first, nothing out of the ordinary, but as the night went on, surprises starting coming in. Once it was clear that Columbia students’ preferred choice was not the victor, a gathering was organized on campus (this was 2 or 3 in the morning). I checked it out, but it was nothing more than a few-hundred people hanging out in small groups while every so often someone would shout something negative out loud. However, at that point I already saw people all around me literally crying, depressed and angry. That didn’t change for days, and it is still happening to an extent. Teachers cancelled classes and midterms, while many others used class time to discuss the election and let people get out their frustration and anger. (I am in a very mathematical program where close to 90% of the students are from another country, so I didn’t get the opportunity to participate in that.)

In the days following the election, many school administrators sent out emails giving their sympathy and letting everyone know about available resources (where were these resources in previous presidential elections?). They also told students in these emails that they would not let any authorities take any illegal immigrants and they would refuse to let the federal government do basically anything they disagree with around the campus and those associated with it. With an administration and faculty like this, no wonder the large majority of students have their views.

A little more than a week after the election, a massive walk out took place, not only at Columbia but universities across the country too. The goal of the rally was to declare a sanctuary campus and support ‘immigrants’. I had to check it out so I stopped by. I witnessed illegal immigrant after illegal immigrant speaking to the crowd saying how they are scared they will be deported, and cursing out the newly elected administration. I heard for some of them they couldn’t study or go to class ever again now because of the uncertainty of their status. While it might sound like it was just a small group of students, it was a lot more negative than that. There was constant cursing, threatening and ridiculous claims to a supportive crowd of mostly students.

The same week I attended a campus political group’s meeting. While the group is not supposed to have a specific ideology, almost everyone there is of the same one (shocker). Unfortunately, I arrived late, but still managed to hear some outrageous claims and statements, showing how far removed these students are from middle America. One person questioned everyone on the number of people of color they were friends with and claimed if you did not have many then you are probably racist. Another claimed “Make America Great Again” meant let’s treat people of color like sh*t. There was of course the Hitler comparison and the claims that freedom of expression was going to be eliminated. The constant mentioning of checking your privilege and how all straight white males are terrible people was there too. The electoral college is also institutionalized racism apparently.

I’m still encountering people daily who are depressed, scared and furious. Maybe we should just give the new administration a chance before we declare our country over with? If it isn’t going well then maybe we can then be scared and start a revolution. For now, let’s just sit back and see what is coming and continue doing what we can to make this world a better place. More important than that, let humor be humor and let’s learn how to make fun of ourselves and everything around us. The scariest possibilities are not necessarily what our next president can do, but from a society that cannot take a joke (like this whole presidential campaign season). I just hope those who were hoping she would break the glass ceiling, break out of their own plastic bubble.

Columbia University
About the Author
Zander Wold is a Jew from Los Angeles currently living in Haifa.