I wrote a post about rape jokes back in November and it’s already become one of my most popular posts. I don’t know if my blog got an increase of traffic because people were looking for commentary on rape jokes, or a list of hilarious rape jokes to tell their friends, but I’ll pretend it’s the former for my own peace of mind.
Early this morning, I got a comment from someone with the handle Laptopkerouac, and though I thought about responding directly in the comments section, I realized I had too much to say on the subject to limit it to the comments section. There are a couple of misconceptions here that I want to clear up.
“What irks about feminists railing against rape jokes, is that they rarely show any sign of perspective about other sensitive topics that are sometimes the subject of jokes. Rape is a subject that is of particular significance to them, and so they argue that rape is the one subject that has no place in humor.
When i was discussing the movie “Twilight: New Moon” with some of my friends i brought up the scene after Edward leaves Bella, when Bella spends what looks like months gazing off into the distance with a “thousand-yard stare” and waking up her father in the middle of the night with shrieking night terrors, like she’s having f***ing Vietnam flashbacks. When I used that metaphor with my friends one of them could have pointed out that PTSD is a serious issue that doesn’t need to be trivialized in reference to some movie that i just didn’t like, but no one did because that wasn’t the point of the joke.
The truth is that comedy sometimes has to deal with serious subjects, not to trivialize them but to create hyperbole and give the audience an emotional reference point. Using this kind of subject matter is made difficult though because people always seem to think that they have the one exception to that rule. Everyone thinks that their one “thing” whether it’s rape, mental or physical illness, war, religion, or whatever is the one subject that’s simply too important to be made light of. It’s an understandable human impulse but its one we need to recognize in ourselves and fight because it’s selfish and hypocritical. Like the idea of “I like jokes, just when they’re on someone else”, the argument that topics can be discussed humorously as long as they’re not the ones that I care about is just childish and should be done away with.”
First of all, this comment is much less belligerent than a lot of troll droppings I’ve gotten, but I’m categorizing it as a troll dropping anyway, because there’s no sign of this person wanting to have a good faith discussion with me about the issue. This is just a three-paragraph lecture ‘splaining to me why I’m wrong.
Now let me point out the flaws in this argument.
1. When someone opens an argument with “what irks about feminists railing against rape jokes,” I know we’re already off to a bad start. The word “railing” plays into the “hysterical feminist” stereotype, and on top of that, the commenter is implying that I speak for all feminists, which I never claimed to do. My initial post was not the Official Feminist Viewpoint. It was my personal viewpoint.
2. “They argue that rape is the one subject that has no place in humor.” Logical fallacy alert! I blogged about rape jokes, ergo, I think rape is the only topic that has no place in humor. By that logic, if I blog about cannolis, it must mean that I don’t like cheesecake.
3. Re: the Bella/Edward PTSD joke. Well, that joke does trivialize PTSD. That may not have been the point of the joke, but that’s still what the joke does. “Intent” and “effect” are not the same thing.
Personally, I don’t have a problem with the joke because I read and watched Twilight, and Bella Swan is self-involved and overdramatic enough that she probably WOULD compare her breakup problems to a soldier suffering from PTSD (if she knew what that was). But my liking the joke doesn’t make the joke magically problem-free.
4. “Comedy has to deal with serious subjects.” Aaaaand now it’s time for Comedy 101 splainy-time, as though I don’t know the purpose of comedy. Yes, humor can be a great way to make connections with people and shine light on a serious subject. But I’ve seen far, far too many rape jokes where the punchline is nothing more sophisticated than, “And then she got raped! LOL!” Or, if the joke is about a male victim, “And then he got prison raped and now he’s a fag! LOL!”
Those aren’t nuanced jokes with a higher purpose, or that create an emotional reference point with an audience. That’s just laughing at rape victims. If you (the royal you) want to laugh at rape victims to prove some sort of point about “equal opportunity comedy,” hey, be my guest. You’re well within your rights to say whatever you want about anyone. Just don’t be surprised when other people think you’re an insensitive turd.
I have seen and heard jokes about rape that are more nuanced than a “LOL RAPE!” punchline, but as I discussed those at some length in my original post, I don’t feel the need to reiterate that point here.
5. “Using this kind of subject matter is made difficult though because people always seem to think that they have the one exception to that rule. Everyone thinks that their one ‘thing’ whether it’s rape, mental or physical illness, war, religion, or whatever is the one subject that’s simply too important to be made light of. It’s an understandable human impulse but its one we need to recognize in ourselves and fight because it’s selfish and hypocritical.”
Selfish and hypocritical. Okay. Let me process that for a minute.
People who make or defend rape jokes usually fall on the “everything should be a topic for comedy” argument. They claim that everything and everyone should be laughed at without exception. So they tell a rape joke, and when someone doesn’t laugh, or speaks up and says, “I don’t think that’s funny. That’s insensitive,” the joke-teller will ‘splain to the objector that s/he has no sense of humor, is too sensitive, everything should be a topic for comedy, and why can’t you just take a joke?
In other words – it’s completely unacceptable and an imposition on free speech rights to tell people what they should or should not joke about, but it’s completely acceptable to tell people what they should and should not laugh about.
“You can’t tell me what to say, but I can tell you how to feel.”
As Bart Simpson would say, “The ironing is delicious.”
I haven’t even gotten into the reasons why rape jokes can be particularly damaging, but if you (the royal you) are interested in reading more, check this out.