So these days, people love to scrutinize humor for any hint of punching up or down then follow up with their objections. It’s basically a knee jerk reaction against the superiority theory of humor: The superiority theory of humor traces back to Plato and Aristotle, and Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan. The general idea is that a person laughs about misfortunes of others (so called schadenfreude), because these misfortunes assert the person’s superiority on the background of shortcomings of others. Socrates was reported by Plato as saying that the ridiculous was characterized by a display of self-ignorance. For Aristotle, we laugh at inferior or ugly individuals, because we feel a joy at feeling superior to them.
I once heard somewhere, and I’m paraphrasing of course, that “all comedy is inherently punching down”. I’m not sure who said it, but it has a certain truth to it. We make light of things we feel are beneath us. It matters not whether it’s the disabled pauper or the adonis multimillionaire. When we make fun of them, it is because we see a flaw in their being.
But not all humor is punching. Puns rarely punch, and riddles are frequently without malice. Those jokes will, at best, illicit a mild smirking chuckle from an adult, but still, the things that make us laugh, and laugh really hard, are often at the expense of others.
This has unfortunately seeped into the political discourse frequently used in social media. People on the right love to make fun of the libs, while people on the left take their jabs at neo-Nazis. Meanwhile the SJWs are on the phone to the thought police, and the comedy vegans keep trying to restrict us all to telling knock knock jokes that everyone’s heard by second grade.
And of course everyone is offended.