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There won’t be a Stormtrooper in your 2013 HR Calendar

What brings a smile today can induce cringes tomorrow – something we found out while brainstorming cartoon ideas

By Todd Humber

In the summer months, the editors at Canadian HR Reporter turn their attention to the serious work of being funny.

This is the time of year when we start brainstorming cartoon ideas for our annual human resources wall calendar.

A couple of weeks ago, an idea was floated for a cartoon showing a worker sitting at his desk wearing a Stormtrooper mask, a la Star Wars. The punch line hadn’t been 100 per cent settled, but essentially we’d have the HR person approach him and say something like, “I need to talk to you… and it’s not about you coming in late.”

It was a cute idea. Not our funniest, by any stretch, but it showed potential. But when we got the rough drawing back from Dave Anderson, our talented cartoonist, it didn’t seem so amusing anymore.

That’s because, in between the time the idea was brainstormed and the time we got the cartoonist’s work, a coward walked into a Colorado movie theatre screening The Dark Knight Rises and shot 70 people, killing 12 of them. After being arrested, he allegedly told a couple of officials he was “the Joker” — a character from previous Batman movies — and his hair was dyed red.

The idea of having someone dressed up at work as a movie character went from being cute to bringing up painful memories of a massacre. We tossed the idea in the garbage.

These are the issues we struggle with, not only in putting together the wall calendar but in coming up with ideas for art to brighten up the pages of Canadian HR Reporter. When tragedy strikes — as it seems to be doing far too often these days (the Norwegian massacre, the Batman shootings and the killings at the Sikh temple in Wisconsin, to name an unfortunate few) — it gives everyone pause.

What brings a smile today can induce cringes tomorrow. In the months before the 9/11 attacks, we ran a cartoon that showed workers loading TNT into an HRIS in an effort to get demographic information out of it. The idea of showing a cartoon blowing something up was taboo after the attacks. It felt too insensitive.

There are plenty of examples, in plenty of different mediums, of ideas that unfortunately — and unintentionally — bring to mind evil acts.

I still find the opening sequence of Mad Men, which shows a man in a suit falling from a building, a bit creepy and it’s been more than a decade since the World Trade Center was attacked.

On the big screen, there’s a movie in theatres starring Ben Stiller and Jonah Hill called The Watch. It’s about a group of suburban dads who form a neighbourhood watch group. But who can think about that without thinking about Trayvon Martin, the Florida teen who was shot and killed by a neighbourhood watch captain?

The movie has nothing to do with Martin, and it was in production long before he was killed. It’s actually a sci-fi comedy about aliens, but the timing was unfortunate for the producers. 20th Century Fox had to scramble to change the marketing of the film because the trailer featured Hill, imitating a gun with his hand, pretending to shoot at teenagers. Ouch.

The initial movie posters had to be scrapped as well — they featured an alien-themed neighbourhood watch sign riddled with bullets.

And even the name of the film itself was changed, from Neighborhood Watch to simply The Watch to further distance itself from the Martin case.

When your 2013 HR calendar arrives in the mail — all subscribers get it for free — it will be chalk full of great cartoons. We have lots of good ideas in the hopper, after all. But it won’t feature one with a worker dressed as a movie character. Hopefully, by 2014, that idea will be funny again.

Todd Humber is the managing editor of Canadian HR Reporter, the national journal of human resource management. He can be reached at todd.humber@thomsonreuters.com.

© Copyright Canadian HR Reporter, Thomson Reuters Canada Limited. All rights reserved.

Todd Humber

Todd Humber is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Canadian HR Reporter, the national journal of human resource management. Follow him on Twitter @ToddHumber
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