Help fight JMS

Talk About Race — By April Scissors on July 19, 2010 at 6:55 am

I write to you, in desperate need of assistance. There is, and has been for a long time now, a growing epidemic within our American society. And if we do not soon band together to stop it, it stands to consume us all. Though growing in numbers daily, this illness rarely receives adequate coverage in mainstream news and media outlets, except in the most extreme, horrifying cases. This illness, this disease I am referring to is called John Mayer Syndrome, or “JMS” for short.

Now, I am sure many of you are aware of John Mayer, the Grammy-winning singer/songwriter, and may be thinking, “Really, April?” And yes, friends. Really. Though named after the dubiously talented artist, the disease did not necessarily begin with him. However, the symptoms of this disease were running so rampantly through his bloodstream months ago, that it is, unfortunately, only natural that it bear his namesake. Though I do not have the exact historical timeline, I believe JMS has been among us for many, many, many years. It is only now in this age of hypermedia and technology where information spreads uncontrollably at lightning speeds, that greater awareness of JMS is being raised.

Symptoms of JMS, I am sure you are so curious to find out about, can essentially be summed up as when an individual engages in a distinct display of racism, sometimes sexism, all around offensive language, either written or verbal, all in the name of humor. For those not suffering with JMS, it is unquestionably clear that the person’s words are offensive. However, due to JMS sufferers’ upbringing, racial, gender, or class privilege, celebrity (real and imagined), individual cultural mores, or just good ol’ fashioned delusion, they view themselves as humorists, and maybe even satirists. “I’m not racist! I was just making social commentary on racist people who actually think those things, using humor. You know, so we can have an intelligent conversation about the people who really think like that. I’m sorry my humor was so grossly misinterpreted!”

Joel Stein

Considering John Mayer’s last most visible display of JMS happened months ago, you kind souls may be asking yourselves what events must have recently transpired that have willed me to raise public awareness about this disease that hurts us all. Well, that would be an essay written by Time writer, Joel Stein.  His “humorous” piece, “My Own Private India” has sparked rightful outrage among many South Asian-Americans and other individuals with common sense. When confronted about his thoughtless and insensitive article, Stein quickly responded with an apology stating, “I truly feel stomach-sick that I hurt so many people. I was trying to explain how, as someone who believes that immigration has enriched American life […] I was shocked that I could feel a tiny bit uncomfortable with my changing town […].” And while labeling one’s offense as humor is an important signifier of JMS, essentially blaming those who you’ve offended as missing your message and you in turn become offended by their “confusion”, is the final, solidifying marker of John Mayer Syndrome.

Stein finished his apology with, “If we could understand that reaction [him being uncomfortable with his ethnically-evolving hometown], we’d be better equipped to debate people on the other side of the immigration issue.” See, friends?! Again, “I’m not racist! I was just making social commentary on racist people who actually think those things, using humor. You know, so we can have an intelligent conversation about the people who really think like that. I’m sorry my humor was so grossly misinterpreted!”

Alas, do not let these examples mistake you into thinking that John Mayer Syndrome is only an affliction of the intellectual, famous white, male, and wealthy variety. JMS is actually quite prevalent among the not so intellectual, or famous, still white (though every now and again, not…but usually), most often male (although, more females are beginning to show symptoms), and the not even close to wealthy variety. So, you may be curious as to how the average, every day person may show signs of having contracted JMS. Well, as a strong advocate of ending this horrible disease, I’ve dedicated an extensive amount of time to some “field research,” if you will, and below are a few examples of my findings.

If you, in the past, presently, or maybe in the future recognize any of the following situations, you have born witness to someone suffering from John Mayer Syndrome. And if you recognize yourself in any of these situations, please seek immediate assistance from an educator, a graduate student, cultural critic, psychologist, or just anyone with an ounce of common sense.

  • If you are at a bar, in front of a bar, or within a five mile radius of a bar, and you see a white man suddenly bounce his shoulders, wave his arms from side to side, and recite any Top 40s rap lyrics, and then burst into a fit of giggles, all after he has made eye contact with a black woman…he suffers from JMS.
  • If a man kisses a woman, that he does not know, on the neck, and simply shrugs his shoulders and smiles like, “well, you’re in public, sooooo”…he suffers from JMS.
  • If you tell a man the above situation, and he responds with, “Well, you know maybe he just thought she was really pretty, and had nice skin, and he didn’t know what to say”…he too, suffers from JMS.
  • If you hear a woman say, “No, no, it’s cool. I dated a Jewish guy!… See, I date different guys of different religions and races so I can always make the joke. I date the blacks, I date the Mexicans. I date ‘em all for comedy.”…she suffers from JMS.
  • If a man wears a t-shirt with the words “TITS AND ASS” boldly printed across the front, and laughingly says, “Oh you know, it’s just funny!” And later adds, “Vaginas are funny!”…he suffers from JMS.
  • If a man takes the time to make a Facebook ‘Causes’ page, asking for friends to “Help End Women’s Suffrage” with a National Geographic-esque photo a Sub-Saharan African woman kneeling in the desert attached to it, “as a joke”…he suffers from JMS.

So, as you can see from the above examples, the non-celebrity individuals with John Mayer Syndrome are not nearly as offensive, and hurtful as the comments made by John Mayer or Joel Stein. These common, everyday examples may elicit pity for JMS sufferers more than anything else. HOWEVER, do not let your sense of pity weaken my plea for your assistance. We are at the crossroads, friends. In this supposed multiculturalist, Obamaian age of post-racialism, post-feminism, and “post- everything else,” individuals who rarely have to reclaim their identity from unattainable societal imposed standards, or constantly reassert their worth to the masses, or fight daily for rights to all the freedoms this country so aggressively promotes, are too often allowed to say and do hurtful, ignorant, and offensive things, without any anticipated repercussions for causing harm to others unlike them.

Where privilege is the essential cause of John Mayer Syndrome, apathy allows for it to thrive. You do not have to be Indian to be offended by Joel Stein’s comments; nor do you have to be black, or a woman, to cringe or be bothered by John Mayer’s statements. Like the last song and dance number in High School Musical, “we’re all in this together.” So, I challenge you to join me in advocating against the growing number of JMS sufferers, and say, “NO! I will not accept your thinly veiled racism (sexism, ageism, classism, heterosexism, et cetera et cetera) as humor! You are ignorant and offensive! Get your life together, sir (or ma’am)!”

Thank you for your time. May peace, good sense, and decency be with us all. Viva La Revolución!

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Author: April Scissors (1 Articles)

April Scissors

April Scissors is a Media, Culture, and Society graduate student. She writes about race, class, gender and sexuality issues reflected in popular media and in everyday experiences on her blogs. You can also follow April on Twitter @aprilscissors.

  • 1 Comment

  • Chip says:

    Not everything is as cut-and-dry as you’re saying. John Mayer’s an idiot, true. But you’re damning satire as a whole. By your logic, PJ O’Rourke and Jonathan Swift are both bigots, not to mention a gallery of legendary, politically subversive comedians (Carlin and Pryor, to name two).

    Good satire is difficult to create. And yes, there are people a bit too dim or too rigid in PC-belief to understand good satire when they hear it. But you’re assuming that no one can think critically about satire and accept it in the proper context.

    Not every race-centric work of satire is inherently racist. Instead, good satire might even help otherwise bigoted folks understand how pointless and misguided their prejudices really are.

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