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Poll Results: Jokes About Chronic Illness: Funny or Not?
March 30, 2022
At the 94th Academy Awards ceremony (Oscars) this past weekend, Chris Rock made a joke at the expense of a person living with alopecia — Jada Pinkett Smith. Alopecia is an autoimmune disorder that develops when the body attacks its own hair follicles, which causes hair loss, per the American Academy of Dermatology. The hair loss tends to be unpredictable, and it can cause a lot of anxiety and sadness.
The moment quickly went viral, and there has been a lot of conversation around Will Smith’s reaction, but as a community of people living with chronic disease, we sought to have a conversation about the joke that mocked an autoimmune disorder that impacts millions of people.
In our latest poll, we aimed to gain insight into how our community who live with chronic conditions felt about the joke.
We asked respondents “If you watched the Oscars or saw the clip, did you think Chris Rock’s G.I. Jane joke directed at Jada Pinkett Smith, who lives with alopecia, was funny?”
Of the 3,245 respondents, not surprisingly, more than 85 percent said they did not find the joke funny.
There were three answers respondents were able to choose from:
- 85.8% said no
- 10.6% said yes
- 3.6% said I have no idea what you’re talking about
Thoughts from the one-question poll were expanded during CreakyJoints’ monthly #CreakyChats on Twitter where patients were asked the same question.
Here are some key insights from the discussion:
Despite patients being open about health struggles, people still make a mockery of health
There’s enough to cope with when you’re diagnosed with and live with a chronic illness. Feeling your body do things out of your control and watching it change from what it once was takes a toll both physically and emotionally. This toll is magnified for people of color who experience health disparities that interfere with diagnosis, quality of treatment, and many aspects of patient care.
Many patients are open about this struggle, sharing experiences, and their journey to help spread awareness and understanding, as seen evident by Jada Pinkett Smith’s Instagram, where she has been open about her alopecia and the resulting hair loss. We can’t take for granted when people share about their health journey — it takes bravery to open up from a vulnerable place. So, when health becomes the punchline of a joke, it really stings for patients.
“Chronically ill and disabled people have unfortunately been the brunt of a lot of jokes for many years and our pain and illnesses are often not taken seriously — by some members of society and some health care professionals,” says Sarah Shaw, BIPOC Patient Advocate and Community Outreach Manager at the Global Healthy Living Foundation. “Black women and disabled Black women living with chronic illnesses have always been out on the frontlines sounding the alarm for and defending public health crisis and social justice issues.”
Here’s what people said during the #CreakyChats about how harmful it is when people make a mockery of health:
- “Black women are often made fun of and denigrated in comedy. To add that she, like many of us here, have been vocal about our conditions. It wasn’t funny. If I make fun of myself, that is one thing. That doesn’t mean someone else can.” — @ryanecandyce
- “No; it wasn’t at all – making fun of someone’s health issues or disabilities isn’t comedy, and it really makes me mad.” — @joknighty
- “Not only was it NOT, but knowing that us as patients share with each other insecurities we have about aspects of our disease and what people say about it, I was very disappointed that some actual patients were more upset about the reaction than the action.” — @xtel007
- “Absolutely not funny at all. As someone who’s had their health issues made fun of it was incredibly disheartening to hear and witness a person’s medical condition used as a joke for entertainment purposes.” — @authorjpsummers
Patients are hoping this was a wake-up call for people to take chronic illness seriously
People who live with chronic illness often feel invisible: to the world, to their loved ones, and even to health care professionals. People living with chronic disease should not feel obligated to have to always educate other people about their issues, yet they often take on that duty or it is thrusted upon them. This joke forced chronic and disabled people to speak up once again to try to get people to, well, get it.
Here’s what people said during the #CreakyChats about hoping this turns into a learning moment:
- “Nope, his joke was not funny at all and clearly it was hurtful. I don’t know if he knew about her alopecia, but regardless, it was a bad joke. What’s worse is seeing comments online that diminish alopecia.” — @dividivigirl
- “I do hope some lessons have been taught out there about how it is wrong to poke fun at a condition, even by a famous comedian.” — @chroniceileen
- “Not funny. Nothing was funny about that situation. It wasn’t anything I was to see again. I hope we all learned from it.” — @michaelkuluva
Want to Get More Involved with Patient Advocacy?
The 50-State Network is the grassroots advocacy arm of CreakyJoints and the Global Healthy Living Foundation, comprised of patients with chronic illness who are trained as health care activists to proactively connect with local, state, and federal health policy stakeholders to share their perspective and influence change. If you want to effect change and make health care more affordable and accessible to patients with chronic illness, learn more here.
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