In my home province of Newfoundland and Labrador, our history is filled with a lot of struggle and hardship. One of the ways that we as a people have coped with such trials is through the use of humour; we have learned to laugh at ourselves and at the various things life throws at us.
Newfoundlanders are known for their wit and humour, and many of our citizens have made an impact on the national entertainment stage through their use of comedy. While the use of humour can be a great source of strength and comfort, there is a line that can be crossed in which humour serves the function of mocking, judging and looking down on others; this line may not be apparent to the one crossing it, but it may cause further pain to those on the receiving end.
I became aware this week of a site called Plentyofskeets.com, which directs users to the Newfoundland and Labrador Justice Department's website and specifically to the court dockets of the provincial courts containing the lists of people who will be appearing daily. The site is owned by Mike Barrington, an amateur comedian from St. John's, who came up with the idea a few years ago as a play on the dating site PlentyofFish. He says he intended no ill will but rather wanted to make someone laugh and to be silly.
While it sounds innocuous enough - the site only directs people to information that is already publicly available - it is the use of the term "skeet" that I find objectionable. This term is used in this province mostly in a derogatory manner to refer to people who are lower-class, ignorant in speech and involved in drug/alcohol use and petty crime. By creating this site as named, Barrington is directing people to a list of people who can all be labeled as "skeets" with the intent to laugh at them. While he may not have intended any ill will, having your name appear on a court docket is far from funny for those who find themselves in this situation and being mocked or made fun of is the last thing they need.
I have worked with many men and women over the years who have found themselves in conflict with the law and only a very small number even remotely fit the definition of "skeet".
I have worked with many men and women over the years who have found themselves in conflict with the law and only a very small number even remotely fit the definition of "skeet". Virtually all feel a deep sense of shame and remorse for their actions and the impact this has had on their lives and the lives of their loved ones and families. Addiction, and the crimes associated with supporting it, are serious problems. While we are making progress in how we deal with these problems, mocking those who experience this is neither helpful nor constructive. It also needs to be noted that not everyone whose name appears on the court docket is guilty of a crime and it is hard enough for them that their name even appears.
Barrington claims that he has not gotten any negative feedback or objection to his site and I'm not surprised. People feel bad enough that this is happening in the first place; who would want to draw further attention to it by responding to such a site and possibly opening themselves up to further mockery or humiliation? I doubt that anyone whose name appeared has contacted Barrington and said they had a good laugh at seeing their name associated with this site.
I'm all for using humour to help cope with life's problems, but it can also be very hurtful. I would ask Barrington, and those who visit his site, if they would find it as funny if it was their name, or a family member that made a mistake and got into trouble with the law, to be part of plenty of skeets?
Considering how prevalent addiction is in our society, chances are we will all know someone who ends up on a court docket and that's nothing to laugh at.
Brian Hodder is an LGBTQ2 activist and works in the field of mental health and addictions. He can be reached at email@example.com.