Anonymous, cruel mockery masquerading as humor didn’t start with social media. A surge in mass-produced valentines in the 1800s, prompted by cost-saving innovations in color printing and postage, included not only hearts-and-lace romance and light whimsy but pain-inflicting nastiness. Unsigned cards mocked gender roles, grandiosity, morals, ethnicity, physical traits, social class, or lack of a spouse. Although numerous, they make up only a small proportion of the Victorian valentines left to us today. Most recipients tore them up or burned them.
“Can’t you take a joke?” is one of my least favorite remarks. It allows no response; if you disagree, you’ve proved the point. On the other hand, affectionate teasing and banter can be welcome. How do you draw the line? Avoiding anonymity may give the surest clue. To paraphrase the old saying, if you can’t say something with your name attached, don’t say anything at all.
I'm a historian who writes novels and literary nonfiction. My home base is Madison, Wisconsin.