Gallows humor is one of the most traditional and least savory elements of esprit de corps. For cops, doctors, soldiers, social workers—anybody whose job site is the miserable human heart—gallows humor puts the “against the world” into us-against-the-world. In a Venn diagram of “jokes cops post in online forums” and “civil rights violations,” a lot of material would fall in the overlap area. Emergency-room abbreviations like CTD (Circling the Drain) or FDGB (Fall Down Go Boom) cauterize the emotions, triaging competence at the expense of empathy. When gallows humor enters journalism it’s often dehumanizing without the excuse of necessity: I’ll always love the tabloid style, but one day I realized that HEADLESS BODY IN TOPLESS BAR describes the death of some mother’s child.
In this hard-bitten landscape, the journalistic experiment in empathy Cracked.com has embarked on is an outlier. Cracked, which started out as MAD Magazine’s kid brother, now looks more like a punk version of the Washington Post.