Diabetes Jokes: Humorous or Hurtful?

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In today’s society, it seems that an automatic coping mechanism for the less-pleasant things in life (like diabetes) is to resort poking fun at it. But is there a point where diabetes jokes cross a line?

Personally, I’ve learned to laugh at diabetes-related humor. I’ve never taken genuine offense to it, and seeing as my name is Molly, I’ve become accustomed to others making drug jokes around me.

However, I do know that some people aren’t as thick-skinned as me. I’ve noticed lately that comments pertaining to diabetes are nonchalantly dropped in conversation. For instance, earlier today my professor began class by tearing into a package of Pop-Tarts. He apologized to the class about eating in front of us, saying “I just need to eat this right now, I feel dizzy from not eating. Have you guys ever experienced that, like you’re having a low blood sugar or something?” I couldn’t help but smirk after he said this, but kept my mouth shut. I didn’t want to risk embarrassing him by saying how well-acquainted I am with that sensation.

And then there was this question on my first psychology exam of the year. It said something along the lines of “David has a greater fear of dying from a terrorist attack than diabetes because of his knowledge of the events that took place on September 11, 2001. However, his risk of dying from diabetes is much greater and therefore David is demonstrating which heuristic?” The answer readily came to mind for me: the representativeness heuristic. Since I was so confident about my answer, I spent more time focusing on how diabetes popped up in such a foreboding manner on an exam.

I can’t forget the many pop culture references made to diabetes, either. I love the show South Park, and I cracked up when they introduced a character named Scott Malkinson who is teased by Cartman for having “a lisp and diabetes”. South Park is notorious for its satirical nature, so I found myself amused rather than offended by the casual reference. On the same token, most people are familiar with Wilford Brimley, the star of many Liberty Medical commercials and the individual who has increased awareness of “diabeetus”.

Photo taken from www.southparkstudios.com

As a result of all this, I’m asking myself why diabetes is constantly mocked and/or brought up in such a devalued manner these days. Is it possible that downplaying diabetes makes bullies think it is okay to tease kids, like Cartman teases Scott Malkinson, who are affected by this disease? I grew up as a diabetic, and with peers who were very understanding and accepting of my diabetes, but it saddens me to know that isn’t the case for all diabetics, juvenile or adult.

I’m interested in hearing what others think about this. Are diabetes jokes acceptable or inappropriate? Is there certain criterion that classifies a joke as being humorous or hurtful? Does it promote insensitive treatment of diabetics? Again, I’d like to emphasize my knowledge of diabetic humor bothering others, and just because I am not offended does not mean nobody is. 

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7 Comments on "Diabetes Jokes: Humorous or Hurtful?"

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stephanie
I’m the mom of a Type 1 diabetic daughter dx age 12. A friend of ours has Type 1 also and was dx age 4 about 40 years ago. The fact that the very same ignorance and stigma and as far as I’m concerned abuse is STILL going on is absolutely wrong! I find nothing funny and neither should any other person diabetic or otherwise. WE don’t joke or put down the person who has cancer. We don’t belittle and blame the person with lung cancer who has literally may or may not have smoked themselves into their disease. Why… Read more »
mzizgayle
I have had diabetes for 17 years and I can laugh about this, not so much at the fact people find this disease scary, it overwhelms them, and go thru all the emotions denial, but I can laugh at myself.  I was in the grocery store last month and the bagger was making remarks about why I bought this or that, normally I would have told him to cut it out, but I just said it is because I am diabetic.  Well then the kid looks me up and down (I am 5′ 2″ and weigh a whole 115 lb)… Read more »
Bryan Johannes

Again, another well written piece. Some great commentary as well. We continue to see that UMASS education paying off. Lot’s of Love and Encouragement. Love Dad and Mom.

uptown girl

For me, there is absolutely nothing at all funny about D.  I find these “jokes” offensive and immediately turn off the program, as well as the D commercials.  They’re far too simplistic and make D seem like it is no problem at all.

Erin
I really think it depends. I kinda think diabetes jokes are similar to the word “nig***”. Some people can say that word and have it not be offensive. Often, African Americans will say it to each other with out a second thought. But when someone outside of the African American community says that word, it IS completely inappropriate. It’s just wrong. When people make diabetes jokes but have no clue about the actual disease, I tend to get offended. I am very thick-skinned and not much bothers me, but when people are spreading around ideals that are not true, it… Read more »
Onoosh

While I try to keep my perspective and sense of humor regarding off-the-wall (and supposedly humorous) comments about diabetes, I think those of us who have it need to take people aside privately and explain to them why the disease really isn’t funny. if we don’t, we allow diabetes jokes (analogous to racist, sexist, or other so-called humor that simply attempts to mask negative attitudes toward a chosen minority group) to perpetuate     the ignorance of those who tell them. There’s an education moment here, if we use it skillfully. 

James Ron

I personally find it offensive. My son has Type 1, and I am livid if anyone jokes about the disease in my presence. Regardless of the origin of one’s diabetes, it is a difficult disease, and should never be mocked. 

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