Jokes about unfamiliarity are only funny if the crux of the joke is a self-depreciating acknowledgement that you ought to be more familiar with the thing and that your ignorance thereupon is silly. They DON'T work (or at least, they don't reveal anything flattering about you) if the crux of the joke is a belittling dismissal of the thing about which you know nothing.
Example 1: The "joke" of Western ethnocentrism.
At last night's Academy Awards, Jimmy Kimmel made a lot of jokes about non-Western names. Like when he quipped about the name of Mahershala Ali (the "Moonlight" actor who made history this year by becoming the first Muslim actor to win an Oscar). Or like when he met an Asian-American guest named Yulree (and when he met her husband Patrick, Kimmel quickly said "see, that's a name!") during an extended gag/prank about a tour bus.
These jokes would be fine if they were delivered in a self-depreciating "isn't it funny and stupid and sort of messed up that I stereotypically have trouble with your name" kind of way (or even if they came across as a "let's have warm-hearted fun with your name so that everyone is having a good time and nobody feels marginalized" kind of way, like puns about my last name, for example).
But that's not how the jokes landed.
I'm sure Kimmel means well--but his jokes came across as saying "your complicated names are weird and crazy, because they're not classically white American names." And regardless of his lack of malice, that's a racist microaggression. Especially given that Mahershala Ali has already shortened his name (originally Mahershalalhashbaz, which is from the Book of Isaiah), probably in an attempt to try to avoid stupid jokes like Kimmel's.
Example 2: The "joke" of pretentiously aggressive anti-pretense.
Kimmel also made a lot of jokes last night about how Oscar nominees are often films that nobody has heard of. This is probably forgivable (the crux of the joke seemed to be a sort of commiseration among artists who understand the sad reality that their craft is so seldom fully appreciated), but it reminded me of similar (and more clumsy) jokes that I often hear this time of year: namely, the lazy dismissal of "artsy fartsy" or "pretentious" films.
Jokes like "it's just a movie lol" or "it's silly how seriously movies take themselves" are rarely indicative of some deeper truth or self-awareness; rather, they reveal a sense of willful ignorance and contempt.
If you didn't see "Silence," maybe that's your fault. Go see it. If you thought "Manchester By The Sea" was too depressing to be illuminating, maybe that's your fault. Look into it (and yourself) a little deeper. If you don't care about "The Salesman" because watching it would require you to read subtitles, maybe that's your fault. Read subtitles. If you thought "Arrival" was philosophically incoherent nonsense, maybe that's your fault. Think harder. If you thought "Moonlight" was just the so-called "liberal media" trying to push its racial/sexual agenda(s) onto you, maybe that's your fault. Watch the film, open your heart to a little more empathy, and try to put yourself in the place of its protagonist.
Am I saying you have to particularly love all of those films? No, of course not (I didn't). You don't even have to like all of those films. Good audienceship is so much more than "like or dislike." You can dislike a film (or, more specifically, its style, its story, its characters, or its thematic implications) without being entirely dismissive of it and shrugging it off as "boring" or "not for me." Because nothing is "boring" if you actively engage in your role as an audience member! And everything is "for you" if you choose to pay attention to it!
Example 3: The blah-blah-bland jokes about hating "La La Land."
Sure, maybe "La La Land" wasn't incredible enough to warrant 14 Oscar nominations. Maybe, compared to something as provocative and groundbreaking as "Moonlight," one could argue that "La La Land" was a little lackluster. But calling the film "Blah Blah Bland" is probably the most lazy way I can think of to criticize it.
The film simply wasn't bland, cinematographically or narratively. It looked amazing, and it had interesting stuff to say (besides the obvious self-references and the "follow your dreams" stuff which I admit may appear, on a surface level, to be derivative and unoriginal). Reveling in open disdain for the film--because it's too white, or too trendy, or too commercial, or too "safe," or too fun, or too poppy, or too accessible, etc--doesn't make you smarter than it.
Ours is a world in which anti-intellectuals (like climate change deniers) are glibly dismissive of scientific data; political polarization has rendered too many questions as "us vs them" battlegrounds instead of "truth vs error" explorations; understandable exhaustion from caring about things has turned into a snide "who cares about anything" attitude; activists are dismissed derisively as "SJW"s; and common decency has been labeled disdainfully as "P.C. culture." Et cetera.
So, now more than ever, we need to remind ourselves that it's fine to care about things. It's great to learn about things and to enjoy things. Deciding not to care about things doesn't make you cool. Dismissing the work and art of others (because it doesn't fit your cultural experience, your political ideology, your aesthetic sensibilities, or your scientific understanding) doesn't put you "above" the thing you're dismissing. It just makes you look stubbornly belligerent.
[Side note: full reviews of each of the mentioned films in this post are forthcoming--I'll include links here.]
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[Footnote (which has nothing to do with the Oscars, but it does have to do with dismissive jokes): I should mention how tired the age-old "oh, it's the superbowl?" jokes are getting. I admit I've been guilty of telling them. And I still tell them, sometimes--but lately I've been making more of an effort to make sure that the crux of my joke is never along the lines of "ha, football is pointless and stupid!" and is instead something like "ha, it's sort of funny and weird how little I understand about this big tradition!" If I'm telling the joke in a way that pokes fun at how out-of-touch I am to the world of sports (and vulnerably explores how alienating that out-of-touchness can feel), then it could be a good joke. But if I'm telling it in a way that dismisses/rejects a pastime that gives a feeling of meaning, community, and joy to millions of people, then I'm probably just being an ass. And yes, yes, I know that I wrote a pretty stupid blog post about football on this site in 2011, but let the record show: I'm acknowledging here and now that I was stupid.]