Chillin' With Dylan

Chillin’ With Dylan: Is There Ever a Time For a Joke About Suicide?

Jeffrey BeallHernandez, a former NFL tight end, was found dead in his jail cell April 20, hanged by his own bed sheets.

Suicide has been a trending subject these last couple of weeks.

With the hit Netflix series “13 Reasons Why,” and the recent self-inflicted death of former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez, the grisly subject of suicide has taken the spotlight, especially on social media.

The internet brings out the best and the worst of humanity, that’s not a secret. I, like many others, love seeing memes on my news feed; sometimes the edgier they are, the better.

But, I feel compelled to write about something that’s important now more than ever before: Prudence and good judgement.

Hernandez took his own life April 20. He hanged himself in his jail cell by tying his bedsheets around his neck. He was serving a life-sentence without parole for murdering Odin Lloyd, a former semi-professional football player and the boyfriend of Hernandez’s fiancee’s sister, in 2013.

The suicide came as a surprise to many. Just the day before, Hernandez had been found not guilty of an additional double murder in 2012. But make no mistake: Hernandez was locked up. He wasn’t getting out of jail.

As soon as the news of the suicide broke, the memes and jokes started flooding social media. I won’t lie, some of the jokes cracked were creative and even got me to chuckle.

But there’s a danger with jokes, a danger that makes me wonder if the jokes are worth it. Do these jokes detract from the severity of the subject matter? Should we joke about things like suicide?

This is where the prudence and good judgement come in. I completely get it, a lot of people turn to humor to get them through something difficult. It’s a lot easier to joke about something dark and twisted than address it for what it is — like I said earlier, edgier is often better.

In short, a joke about suicide for its own sake is deplorable. But, in specific contexts, I think it’s acceptable.

Still, for every joke that we crack about Hernandez, we need to remember the circumstances surrounding the situation: He was a convicted murderer. Odin Lloyd is dead, and until proven otherwise, it’s because of Hernandez.

I’m not demanding for people to just quit joking about Hernandez, but rather that they keep in mind the setting in which they make such jokes.

As I mentioned earlier, suicide is a serious thing that shouldn’t be taken lightly or joked about for its own sake. That being said, even Hernandez jokes can be funny, given the setting. But rushing to be the top comment on an ESPN Facebook post just to get a bunch of likes is not the way to joke about this. It minimizes the severity of the issue, and creates the possibility that someone with real suicidal inclinations will simply be met with jokes. Imagine someone was majorly contemplating taking they own life, and all they see on their news feed are jokes about suicide. What does that tell the person: That people treat suicide as a joke and a joke only.

I found “13 Reasons Why” to be an excellent commentary on the social responsibility we have. You never know who is struggling with depression, or a mental disorder which causes suicidal thoughts. I’m not going to pretend to be a saint, I’ve shared a few memes about both Hernandez and “13 Reasons Why” with a few of my friends privately. But I’m not going to share one on my timeline, or joke about it on the shuttle between campus.

A dark or touchy topic doesn’t necessarily need be excluded from humor; good comedians can walk that trapeze. Remember there is a time and a place for everything, especially a joke.

What I’m asking is that we remember that for all the jokes, we are still talking about very dark subjects, murder and suicide. Odin Lloyd’s family doesn’t see Hernandez as the subject of a meme. They see Hernandez as the man who took their family member’s life. A high schooler may not hear “welcome to your tape” and laugh like you might, but rather hear it as an echo of his or her pain. We need to be cognizant of this, and act (or joke) accordingly.

This is my last column for the Phoenix. Oddly enough, the Hernandez tragedy is what made me want to start writing two years ago. Sports aren’t always about games. If I could leave “Chillin’ with Dylan” readers with one message, it’s the one I’m trying to express in this final column.

Be prudent, and use good judgement.

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