Last week Fredrick Kunkle, who writes the "Tripping" blog for the Washington Post, wrote an article about how Virginia joined most other states in the civilized world by making dooring a traffic violation. This is a story that most other local news sources ignored and as David Alpert wrote in his post on the article, Kunkle dug into how the bill found a champion "an aide to state senator Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax) got scars from being doored while biking, yet a police officer blamed him, the cyclist." Which was all good and useful and real journalism.
But then Kunkle decided to make a joke about intentionally dooring cyclists.
Tripping loves bikes of all kinds and gladly supports dooring laws. But about that exception, which focuses only on the driver-side door and exempts people from opening the door on the side away from traffic? We might argue that if you nail an adult riding his or her bicycle on the sidewalk, you should get a $50 award. Double, if it’s during lunch hour on K Street.
It's not a particularly funny joke. And for those of us who ride bikes, it's worse than not funny, it cuts a little close to home. People do get doored in the area. There's even been a case in DC of someone who died because they got doored, and I'm sure it's happened in Virginia. The exception he referred to is even a bit contentious, because in some states - like Oregon and Rhode Island - it IS illegal to door someone on the passenger side, even if they're on a sidewalk or trail. When you're in fear of something - like being injured by a collision with a car, it's discomforting to hear people make light of it or even to imply that injuring you would be a good thing.
The general rule is that jokes should be made at the expense of those who are more powerful than you, and that making fun of those who are weaker than you comes off as mean-spirited, insensitive and bullying. Making fun of slave-owners is funny, making fun of slaves is not. Making fun of wall street bankers is funny. Making fun of people who've lost their homes is not. Etc...The dynamic between cyclists and drivers, and who fears whom, sets this up as a mean joke.
Kunkle responds to the GGW criticism
But I also wonder whether GGW -- or maybe bikers in general? -- has lost his sense of humor. When did so many smart people get so literal?
Which shows that he doesn't get it. "It was just a joke" is not in an of itself a defense. Elyse Anders has good advice on this subject
If someone is mad or hurt or offended by your joke, you cannot demand they find it funny. Instead of telling [them] “It was just a joke”, try not insulting [them] in the first place and if you can’t do that, then try using these words, write them down on a note card and keep them with you:
“I am sorry I hurt you. That was not what I wanted to do at all. It was mean of me to say. Your feelings are valid. I should not make jokes to upset you because jokes are supposed to be a thing that makes us enjoy each other’s company more.”
Here, instead, is Kunkle's "apology"
Several people have now issued demands for an apology over a joke that was, admittedly, made in poor taste.
So here goes:
I'm sorry I am not Emily Badger.
Kunkle has a video, here's mine.