Natural Disasters Like Sandy Are No Laughing Matter

If you’re like me, you’ve used humor for many things. Often it’s self-deprecating, to make fun of yourself in an embarrassing situation, such as a clumsy pass at romance or a terrible test grade. Other times it may be to lighten a dark or serious situation (Facebook statuses during the recent presidential debates come to mind).

That’s all well and good, but a line needs to be drawn somewhere. Have we really lost all dignity and respect to the point that we need to poke fun at devastating natural disasters?

Photo of hurricane destruction in the Rockaway neighborhood of Queens, N.Y. (courtesy of

Like many DeSales students, I fled home the Sunday before Hurricane Sandy hit, as soon as it was announced that Monday’s and Tuesday’s classes were cancelled. (I even made my own feeble attempt at a joke on Facebook: “Leaving DeSales for Jersey at this point is like jumping out of a bear trap into a pool of piranhas.” Ha, ha.) But by Monday night, it was clear that this storm was no laughing matter. My entire hometown of Somerville, N.J. lost power. I took a quick tour of the town Tuesday afternoon and saw countless uprooted trees of all sizes. One especially gigantic tree that lay in someone’s front yard bore a cardboard sign: “Please, no pictures. My roots are showing!”

That’s that first kind of humor I mentioned – self-deprecating. Cute. Understandable. Then there’s this Facebook status I read (before losing power Monday evening): “Hey, it looks like Jersey Shore’s getting canceled in real life, too.”

I thought it was moderately witty until I began thinking about how many people live in the shoreline counties of Atlantic, Ocean and Monmouth which were hit the hardest. Many of their homes are not only without power, but also without water, likely flooded and generally in shambles.

There’s nothing funny about sheer destruction. This Jersey Shore Facebook post reminded me of comedian Gilbert Gottfried’s insensitive tweets about the 2011 Japanese tsunami, including, “Japan is really advanced. They don’t go to the beach. The beach comes to them.” That comment got him fired from his gig as the voice of the Aflac duck. Sandy may not be comparable in scope and in number of casualties to the tsunami, but try telling that to the families of the dozens who have lost their lives due to Sandy.

The recent proliferation of social media not only gives everyone a forum to be funny – it makes everyone think they’re funny. When news breaks, Facebook and Twitter become glorified joke contests. Internet memes by their very definition are magnets for wannabe comedians.

All of that is fine for less serious topics, like pop culture news and embarrassing political sexting scandals. But when people are killed, injured and put out of their homes, we all – myself included – need to think twice before hitting send.

DeSales, like New York City, Philadelphia and the rest of the densely-populated Eastern seaboard, is still recovering from Hurricane Sandy. What are bad jokes and Internet memes going to accomplish? Why not lend a hand instead? A dollar, a canned food item or an hour of your time will go a long way – and that’s something we can all smile about.

Leave a Reply