'The New York Times' Really, REALLY Hates 'Cards Against Humanity'

Twitter Screenshot of the popular game "Cards Against Humanity."

There’s nothing more hilarious than reading The New York Times insisting that something wildly popular for generating laughs just isn’t funny. Stop laughing, people — you’re racist! The “party game for horrible people” is itself horrible, not tongue-in-cheek, and quite frankly offensive to everyone.


Oh, except conservatives. According to the Times‘ Dan Brooks, “Cards Against Humanity” is “a game of naughty giggling for people who think the phrase ‘black people’ is inherently funny. That demographic includes nervous parents, people who describe themselves as ‘politically incorrect,’ the pathologically sarcastic, accidental racists — in a word, everybody.” Make no mistake: Brooks himself is being sarcastic when he says “everybody” — he really means conservatives.

In order to see through his bias, a reader has to understand the game. “Cards Against Humanity” is a card-matching game. One player puts down a black card which describes something (such as “____, that’s how I want to die,” or “____ is a slippery slope that leads to _____”) and everyone else puts down a white card with a noun of some kind (“Jobs,” “Estrogen,” or “The Blood of Christ”). The first player must choose which white card best fits the black card, and whoever put down that white card gets a point.


The game is fundamentally irreverent, and it purposefully uses cards which are offensive. But here’s something to keep in mind — it is an equal-opportunity mocker. Yes, there’s a “Barack Obama” card, but there’s also a “George W. Bush” card. I’ve played it many times, and like in other social situations, everyone chooses cards that appeal to the group involved. Conservative groups mock conservative tropes and “Barack Obama” always wins. Liberal groups mock liberal tropes, and I’d be surprised if “Donald Trump” ever lost. For every “Black People” card, there is a “White People” card. Nothing is off limits.


But Brooks seems not to realize this. He argues that the game is only fun “among the straight, the able-bodied and especially the white,” because “the game implicitly assumes that no one playing will actually have AIDS or be profoundly handicapped, so that its gags remain only theoretically offensive.”

Brooks is really off his rocker on this one. One of my closest friends — the friend who actually enjoys “Cards Against Humanity” the most, I might add — is himself rather less than able-bodied and he has a profound physical disability. Engaging in dark humor is his way of coping with his own long history of debilitating health struggles. I understand some people would be offended by these things, but in the groups I have played the game with, we implicitly understand where the limits are.

But Brooks doesn’t see it that way. To him, it is fundamentally offensive, and even “profoundly alienating.” He attacks the “hypocrisy” of small groups of people getting together to safely violate “real, enforced taboos” which are “outnumbered by the expanding category of utterly safe rebellions for which we congratulate ourselves daily.” To Brooks, these “utterly safe rebellions” should not exist — not in small groups where people agree not to be offended, and perhaps, more terrifyingly, not even in the minds of the politically incorrect.

Once you see through this hypocrisy, it becomes impossible to enjoy Cards Against Humanity again. The frisson evaporates, and the game becomes more like church: a profoundly alienating activity where the suspicion that everyone is faking it vies with the fear that everyone is more into it than you.


This deprecating remark about church could be applied to any social situation in which someone feels uncomfortable. Indeed, it applies equally to a football game, an Olympic event, and even presidential debate. Heck, even when your friend on Facebook posts about her new job, her wedding, or her newborn baby, the same situation applies. Your friend puts on a joyful face and posts about how wonderful her life is, and the natural response is a mix of suspicion and fear. That’s why some people hate Facebook — it can be profoundly fake.

Next Page: But Facebook works for the same reason as Cards Against Humanity.

But if you really know your friend, you know her joy is real. You like the post, maybe even share it, because you’re part of the intimate circle of understanding. That circle can be very large, or it can be very small, but within it, jokes become inside jokes. To those outside the circle, those jokes aren’t funny — they may even be offensive.

That’s why “Cards Against Humanity” is best enjoyed in more intimate situations, where shared experiences help develop a common language of humor. The transgressions of political correctness which Brooks so attacks are what the inside jokes look like to someone on the outside.

Perhaps that’s the real reason why Brooks hates the game so much. “Because it is an icebreaker, the people trying to get me to play it are invariably friends of friends — the class of person that commands the most deference in social situations,” he writes. So Brooks has been pressured into playing the game, and when he did so, people played cards that offended him. (Perhaps he’s a “Nickelback” fan.)


I understand — I myself have been offended by the cards from time to time, but I know it’s a joke. Sometimes I have even picked the card that most offends me, because it is the most inventive, the most apt, or the most hilarious. Not everyone can do this, and the game is certainly not for “social justice warriors” who need “trigger warnings” to protect them from “microaggressions.” Indeed, if you cannot laugh at the idea of a “microaggression,” the game is not for you.

That does not mean it’s necessarily a conservative game by any means. Even social justice warriors should be able to laugh at themselves sometimes — that’s the levity in human nature.

Brooks can’t take levity, however. When he notes that the game awards the position of “card czar” to “the person who most recently pooped,” Brooks admits, “Just typing that makes me angry.” Similarly, he condemns the popular game “Apples to Apples” on which “Cards Against Humanity” is loosely based, as “a game for 5-year-olds” that “promises the same idiotic freedom that small children enjoy.”

Granted, potty humor is not always funny, but “Cards Against Humanity” is wildly popular (as is “Apples to Apples,” by the way), with over 30,000 5-star reviews on Amazon. The game makes people laugh, and that is a wonderful thing. Those who are likely to be offended should retreat to their “safe space,” and no one should attack them for it. Just don’t try to spoil the fun for everyone else.



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