As one of those annoying people who always has to comment on everything, I feel like I’ve been keeping my mouth exceptionally well-shut for the last week in regards to this whole Daniel Tosh rape joke incident.
Let me preface this by saying that I’m in no way trying to condone rape or defend anything Daniel Tosh has ever done, period. Aside from catching a few episodes of Tosh.0, I’ve never really paid much attention to the guy. I’m also a white male who’s never been sexually abused, so hopefully I don’t tread too ignorantly while walking on these extremely offensive eggshells.
After Daniel Tosh publicly
put his foot in his mouth ate both his own legs, a big discussion was stirred up about whether or not it’s okay to joke about rape. A number of comedians jumped to Tosh’s defense, and were promptly labeled “rape apologists.” I was particularly irked to see Louis CK lumped on this list for Tweeting at Tosh, “Your show makes me laugh every time I watch it. And you have pretty eyes.” To me, that sounds like “hey, everyone’s mad at you, but I’m still your friend.”
Of course, Louis CK has made rape “jokes” in the past. So has George Carlin. And we love them, because they make us laugh, and because they don’t seem like bullies. From what I’ve gathered Tosh tried to make a joke about rape, did it tactlessly enough that an audience member called him out on it, and instead of either moving on, apologizing, or rolling with the punches, he said the equivalent of “I hope you get raped.”
The subject of sexual abuse is a touchy one. Bringing it up, jokingly or otherwise, to someone who’s been raped or molested will more often than not elicit an angry, shocked, or otherwise upset reaction. Considering that one in five women in the United States say they’ve been sexually assaulted, and that over half the cases of sexual abuse go unreported, it’s safe to assume that there are a lot of people (women and men) out there who’d really rather not think about it. Whether it’s a deep rooted issue that’s long since buried, or water under a bridge that’s already been crossed, it’s just not a fun topic. Some people don’t seem to understand that.
The idea of “rape jokes” isn’t as simple as labeling jokes “knock knock jokes” or “guy walks into a bar jokes.” A joke that mentions the word “rape,” isn’t necessarily saying “Haha, look how funny rape is.” Rape is considered by most decent human beings to be one of the worst things possible, and being that far to one edge of the spectrum makes it prime fodder for edgy hyperbole. Reread the first sentence of that last paragraph. The part about a “touchy subject.” That was a completely accidental play on words that made me groan when I noticed it. Is it a rape joke?
In college, I wrote a column for the school paper about how I disliked the idea of mentally going to a “happy place,” since it made reality seem depressing by comparison. Instead, I proposed dealing with bad days by putting your mind in the worst place ever. I said that my personal hell would be getting raped by a giant spider while it messily ate a cheesesteak sandwich and dripped grease on me. That wasn’t me making fun of rape, or rape victims, that was hyperbole. That was the absolute worst thing I could think of, and after mentally picturing it, real life seemed much better by comparison. The power of negative thinking.
I went to the movies recently, and was a little surprised to see two movie trailers, back to back, with “rape jokes” in them. The trailer for Hit And Run ended with Bradley Cooper being pressured into describing the man who raped him while he was in prison, and immediately after, the trailer for Pitch Perfect opened with Anna Kendrick cheerfully being issued a rape whistle on her first day at a new school. The first thing that came to mind was this video montage of rape jokes that had somehow made their way into primetime sitcoms. Rape jokes are like red velvet cake. They’ve been around for ages, but suddenly they’re everywhere. Also: they’re usually fucking disgusting.
That wasn’t a rape joke, that was a joke about rape jokes. And cake.
I’ve seen a number of people angrily decree that rape jokes aren’t funny, and that they shouldn’t be made under any circumstances. This type of militant attitude towards humor tends not to sit well with comedians, smartasses, and other snarky folk. I can’t speak for anyone else, but it bothers me when someone tells me I can’t say something. I don’t really want to make rape jokes, but being told I can’t is basically a rule, and the whole reason I started making jokes in the first place is probably has something to do with a fundamental problem with authority.
It’s like telling NRA members they can’t have automatic weapons, or telling the cat not to piss in your shoe-closet; it’s less about the actual need for guns, or to wanting ruin a perfectly good pair of shoes, it’s just that they don’t like being told what to do.
I’ve had conversations with people about rape stuff, and I’ve read some articles. I generally try not to be an ignorant guy who just blunders through life not understanding why people feel the way they do about stuff. Obviously, I’ll never fully understand something I haven’t experienced, but I try to do my best.
Still, when someone says “that’s not funny,” it sometimes comes across as a challenge.
One of the biggest problems with sexual abuse — y’know aside from it being, like, one of the worst aspects of humanity — is that it’s kept quiet. Victims or otherwise, people don’t know how to cope with the idea. The fact that people are discussing it publicly is a pretty big deal. The fact that this started with a “joke” isn’t necessarily a good thing, but good comedy does provoke thought and discussion.
Speaking as a funny person , the knee-jerk reaction of “you can’t say that kind of thing, it’s not funny,” is tantamount to someone saying “shut the fuck up, you’re an asshole.” It’s a reprimand and an order, not a request, or a critique of any kind. Granted, Daniel Tosh was acting like an asshole, and I’m glad someone told him to shut him the fuck up, but trying to combat comedy with seriousness is a losing battle.
Sexual abuse is a very bad thing. It would be cool if it was a thing that would go away forever right now. Unfortunately, treating it like it doesn’t exist won’t make that happen, and you can’t simultaneously promote awareness for it while demanding it only be used in serious a stern, serious context. Nobody’s going to want to talk about something if everyone’s shouting at each other about it.
Funny people, comedians, and gigglemancers — You have the power to make people laugh and think, so don’t use that power to make them cry and feel shitty. The next time you wanna make a joke about rape, imagine your mom’s in the audience.
Or Mariska Hargitay. You wanna tell rape jokes to Mariska Hargitay? That make you feel tough? Yeah. That’s what I thought.
Oh, Detective Benson, I’d be your special victim any day.