Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Are Food Allergies Funny?

I know that post title makes it sound like I'm about to go off on a diatribe about how food allergies are not funny, but I honestly mean the question sincerely and would be very curious to hear your thoughts, especially if you (or your child) do not have food allergies. I am always interested to hear the viewpoint of people not so immersed in the allergy world as I am.

I've noticed that it's apparently okay in popular culture to poke a little fun at food allergies. This recent post over at Dooce, (which largely has nothing to do with food allergies), just reminded me of the topic. Clearly, she wasn't trying to offend people with food allergies, she was just trying to make her point in a humorous way by poking a little fun at herself.

I can also think off the top of my head of episodes of The Office, 30 Rock, and Modern Family that have all incorporated food allergies as part of the plot within the last two years. Being sitcoms, the situations shown are meant to be funny of course, but I find myself clenching up and having trouble appreciating the humor. I literally sit there having an internal dialogue with myself going, "Kate. Do not be so uptight. It is just a joke, for crying out loud." And in the category of "any press is good press," one could argue that even poorly portrayed images of food allergies raise food allergy awareness amongst the general public. (I'm not so sure I agree with that theory in this case, but I'm just throwing it out there. In my opinion, a truly inaccurate portrayal of food allergies can do a real disservice to people dealing with them. For example, a portrayal of a buffoon with a fake food allergy might fuel doubts about whether other people's properly diagnosed food allergies are real.)

Anyway, I'm mostly not offended by sitcom portrayals of food allergies, or people using food allergies in jokes, I guess, because I have to admit, it does just go to show that with food allergies on the rise, they are much more a part of the viewing public's consciousness than they would have been 5, 10 or 15 years ago. And that apparently makes food allergies acceptable fodder for comedy.

The more uptight part of me has to wonder, though: would it be okay to poke fun at someone with cancer, diabetes, autism, or some other affliction in the same way? Would the viewing audience find it as funny? Why are food allergies so funny? Sadly, I think it's because a lot of people secretly find it sort of annoying to have to be bothered by the food allergies of those around them, so jokes are a way to let off steam about that.

I don't know. Those are just some ideas I've been pondering. What do you think?

I do believe that in life it's critically important (regardless of the situation) to retain some ability to laugh at ourselves. So I'm really striving to foster the part of me that is not offended by attempts to humorously portray food allergies, and to tone down the part of me that is admittedly still a little uptight about it. It's all about finding the right balance, I guess.


Sarah said...

ya, not really funny, although a lot of medical conditions are satirized in sitcoms. The fact that George Costanza's fiance dying from envelope glue was the punchline in a Seinfeld episode is just odd...
Anyhoo, I think the thing with food allergies is that people conceptualize it as an extreme form of picky eating or weird eating habits and use it as a form of hyperbole. I hate to think of people with true food allergies taking this to heart, but don't even get me started... as my husband will attest, my sense of humor has waned in certain areas after working with so many people with serious problems that result from things that other people take for granted. I'm constantly grappling with the "I know this is supposed to be funny, but it's really not" issue. One of my coworkers says it's the cost of becoming wiser... hopefully in an enlightened and nonjudgmental way. I still crack up at Scrubs though! And I'm trying to avoid advocating for an overly PC World. It's a tough balance. I guess you let other people find humor in things that they've never experienced as real... and if you're running a recovery program, call them on it when they ARE experiencing real issues and just ignoring it.

Curmudgeons we are.

Your comments on the picture of you and Beth with your Mom was hilarious by the way!

Beth said...

Food allergies are not funny. But situational comedies ARE funny. Or at least try to be. Hence the name "comedies". I think if you take off the food allergy lens, you might find that the same episodes of the shows were also making fun of (or seriously stereotyping) blacks, gays, Hispanics, type A mothers, doofus husbands, Jews, single women, bad drivers, self-absorbed teenagers, etc etc. I certainly don't get the impression that food allergies stand out for being mocked above and beyond other issues people face. Cancer and Autism are likely not on sit-coms because really, who can begin to find the humor in that? The same reason war, the Holocaust, and infidelity are not sit-com fodder. So in some ways, it is better to be in the "comedy" category, that there is at least some light at the end of the tunnel worth laughing about, vs the tragedy category. For a more realistic portrayal of the risks food allergies on tv, maybe Gray's Anatomy or the equivalent drama is a better bet as far as educating the public...

Tiffany said...

I've started drawing cartoons about the funny things I hear people say, the things I've said and the things I think about saying hours after a food allergy encounter. My goal isn't to upset anyone, but I think sometimes laughter is a good medicine :)