Source: the ANOVA
A much beloved opinion of the woke set is the idea that punching up is good, and punching down is bad. This is the new rule for comedy, and like all rules of contemporary liberalism, it is treated as though it is universally straightforward and easy to follow. This is, of course, nonsense.
Take my own context, a college campus. If a student mocks their instructor, are they punching up or punching down? The easy answer is yes; the instructor is in the position of authority. But in fact this is, in many institutional contexts, entirely wrong. Most American college classes are taught by adjuncts or grad students. Neither has institutional power. Neither has job security. Neither works for more than poverty wages. In the liberal arts colleges that are the epicenter of wokeness in particular you will find that in fact the average undergrad has vastly more power than the average adjunct. It’s not even close. One group, after all, is seen by the institution as the customer.
Which is not to say that I would call an adjunct making fun of a student as “punching up.” In truth there is no simplistic way to perfectly map the complex and shifting power dynamics between student and teacher, and this is true in far more scenarios too. If the man who was preemptively fired from SNL was in the position of superior power compared to his critics, how did he come to be fired? Doesn’t the fact that his critics got what they wanted, and he did not, suggest in fact that he was the one who lacked power? I don’t know. I do know that power is an immensely multivariate and complicated thing, and mapping it onto a binary is a habit of the incurious and the privileged.
“Punching up” and “punching down,” like so many other things in our political culture, is just a radical oversimplification to suit the priors of the chattering class, another attempt to make the complexity of life palatable for oversize children.