Angles: Is humor appropriate in response to the death of a public figure?

Since the passing of Queen Elizabeth II on Sept. 8, 2022, it’s been difficult to go onto the internet without coming across some kind of joke related to the event, whether it be conspiracies about her reincarnation or Irish twitter poking fun at the Brits.

But how appropriate is it to joke about the death of a person? Though most of the world didn’t have a personal connection to the queen, she is still someone’s family member and someone’s friend. Many who found her inspiring for the humanitarian work she did throughout her life are also certainly grieving in their own way.

Then again, the argument could be made that the jokes are rather directed toward the British Crown, or the royal family. Both are structures that have dark and harmful histories, after all. Perhaps it is an opportunity to step back and evaluate the impact that British royals have worldwide and whether that impact is overall positive or negative.

Everyone grieves differently, and everyone reacts to death differently. Maybe humor is a coping mechanism for some, but is it one that ultimately does more harm than good?

Yes, sensible humor is okay

Zoë Shriner

In response to the death of Queen Elizabeth II, the reigning monarch of the United Kingdom since 1952, the internet has been doing what it does best — poking fun

Some argue that out of sensitivity to those who are grieving and to avoid dishonoring her lifetime of public service, the circulating jokes are inappropriate and should stop. However, humor should not be censored, and the jokes can stay.

Humor is a widely accepted coping mechanism that can be used to assuage anything from daily stressors to intense trauma. Especially after the loss of someone close, using humor is a healthy way to honor that person by focusing on what made them so incredible in life rather than being swallowed by the pain of their death.

Realistically, though, none of us Gen Z Americans are “coping” with the death of a 96 year old British monarch we never met. As such, there are definitive lines that should not be crossed when making jokes about the late queen. In the same way that a self-deprecating joke might be funny when said about yourself but not somebody else, passive observers of the queen should be mindful of the nature of their jokes.

Unfortunately, what is comedically distasteful is highly subjective and is a constant debate. To older adults who witnessed decades of the queen’s humanitarian work and have had lots of time to develop their own little parasocial relationships with her, any joking at all likely feels offensive. 

Alternatively, to Gen Z, the queen is a mysterious, grandma-like figure they might have learned about by watching an episode of The Crown in AP World History or when they saw a meme online about her. If anything, jokes about the queen’s death are just callbacks to the years of memes questioning whether she was immortal.

It’s not that public figures deserve to be made fun of, but being a literal queen means that the public must be allowed to voice their opinions. If those public opinions happen to come in the form of jokes online, so be it. 

Additionally, the queen lived a full life that spanned almost an entire century and she died peacefully among her family. Mourners reportedly waited in line for up to 24 hours to pay their respects to her. Her passing is sad, but not tragic in the way that her daughter-in-law Diana’s was. Joking about something unexpected like a car-crash fatality is unquestionably in poor taste. 

As long as it is within reason, finding a bit of humor in the tragic, yet expected passing of Queen Elizabeth II is not worthy of condemnation.

No, humor is inappropriate

Katelynn Paape

Over this past year, we have seen the death of two beloved icons: Betty White and Queen Elizabeth II. Both took the world by surprise and left many grieving in their own ways, but humor is not an acceptable response to death, no matter the status of the deceased person. 

Given their status as a public figure, one may not see the harm in posting a comical response to the death of someone famous on social media, but the famous person still has the status of parent, sibling or friend. It is immensely important to remember everyone enduring the pain of losing their loved one.

Many claim that their coping mechanism is humor, and a study done by Stanford University even found that jokes can be beneficial when faced with adversity. 

However, researchers said there is a time when humor should not be applied, no matter one’s typical reaction to situations.

One could argue that, in regard to the recent death of Queen Elizabeth II, the monarchy is outdated. There is a ton of scandal within the royal family that is worthy of criticism. There is no question that the monarchy deserves a joke or two thrown at them, but in times of despair, like the one they are facing now, respect should be given to the family. 

It is fair to say that no one expected Betty White to die last New Year’s Eve. Time magazine certainly didn’t. She was a household name across the United States and even earned the honor of being “the best thing since sliced bread.” Thanks to “The Golden Girls,” people across the United States almost felt like they knew her.

The logic is simple: if it’s not okay to joke about America’s queen, it isn’t okay to joke about the U.K.’s queen. America was put in the United Kingdom’s shoes when it lost royalty.

The devastation Princess Diana’s death caused was seen all over the news. According to the New York Times, she was one of the world’s most photographed people.

I think humor is a great thing. It can unite people and make people feel better, but humor about death has the power to hurt those who are already grieving. Showing respect to the deceased is one of the best things anyone can do to make a grieving loved one feel better, regardless of how famous the deceased person may be. 

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Katelynn Paape
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