Print Edition: July 18, 2012
Oh god, you’re already thinking it. Here comes a feminazi. Here comes a bitching, whining, uptight, humourless cow who can’t lighten up and take a joke. She’s going to talk about society and shit, then cry about it.
Well, fine. This article is about things I don’t find funny. I’m not a very funny person, but I love laughing. It’s an unfortunate thing, you know. I have a great sense of other people’s humour. Other people can be pretty funny.
Anyways, so a guy I’ve never heard of is up on stage doing a comedy routine. Somehow—testimonies vary—the jokes gravitate towards rape. Sitting in the crowd is a woman, who came for Dane Cook, who would perform during the same show. She also didn’t know this guy – comedian Daniel Tosh.
This woman later blogged about what happened. “Tosh … starts making some very generalizing, declarative statements about rape jokes always being funny, how can a rape joke not be funny, rape is hilarious, etc. I don’t know why he was so repetitive about it but I felt provoked … I didn’t appreciate Daniel Tosh (or anyone!) telling me I should find them funny. So I yelled out, “Actually, rape jokes are never funny!””
There is some kind of tradition for comedians to heckle audience members who heckle them. So Tosh responded: “Wouldn’t it be funny if that girl got raped by like, five guys right now? Like right now? What if a bunch of guys just raped her…” And the woman wrote in her blog that she left, with the audience members laughing behind her.
So funny. Isn’t that funny? Like, five guys. Raping her, right then. Zing!
Humour can be used in so many different ways. It can be, healing, it can be a method of discussing the taboo, of opening our minds. It eases tensions, hides tensions, and persuades us. I think humour is powerful: it lets us say things that we’d never be able to say outright. I admire people that can manipulate humour and use it effectively.
So why was there so much backlash in the media, against the blogger and Tosh? One use of humour is something we don’t often think about, though is so very common: cruelty.
Anyone who has been bullied knows that the mean-spirited people who like to inflict emotional pain often have their own sick sense of humour. They think it’s funny to torment you. That’s what rape jokes are, right? Tormenting victims, threatening women with a very genuine reality. One in four women in North America will be sexually assaulted.
We know what rape is. We know it’s not funny. It’s not Tosh’s brand of humour. It’s just humour in one of its many forms, humour hiding something. You can say, relax, it’s just a joke. But it’s the wrong kind of joke. It’s cruelty.
But at the same time, I can’t say I find all rape jokes unfunny and insulting. We laugh at death jokes, jokes about people getting hurt, defenders of Tosh say. Why not rape?
There was an interesting article in Jezebel called “How to make a rape joke.” The author writes that there’s a difference between making the victim the butt of a rape joke and making the rape culture the butt of the joke.
Author Lindy West uses a routine by Ever Mainard as an example: “The problem is that every woman in her entire life has that one moment when you think, ‘Oh! Here’s my rape!’” Mainard says. I watched a 10 minute clip of her joking about rape. It wasn’t insulting or demeaning. It was very well done.
West then writes that the joke is about rape culture. It’s about what women are taught (don’t walk alone in the dark!), constantly, about how they feel in this rape culture, about how they feel about the wrong kind of rape jokes. It’s generalised. It’s not about the woman—singular—getting raped. “It’s like the difference between a black comic telling a joke about how it feels to have white people treat you like you’re stupid all the time versus a white comic telling a joke about how stupid black people are,” West writes.
Joking about rape culture might open discussions. Why are women taught “don’t get raped” rather than men told “don’t rape?” Why do we have to debate about what consent means? Why can’t women wear whatever they want? Why is it our fault? Why is respect so hard to find, and why are men threatened by women so often?
Living in a rape culture where assholes like Tosh are popular is hard for women. It’s hard to be afraid, to be demeaned, blamed and threatened.
And a 10 minute clip of a female comedian talking about that moment, when you’re walking alone in the dark and you see a man ahead, well, we relate to that. Maybe men can understand. Maybe it’ll make us understand this rape culture better. But at least we’re talking about it.
Those are the kind of rape jokes that can be told.
I’ve looked up this Tosh guy. He’s a real jerk, a real douche. He stoops to shocking people. It’s boring and mediocre. He can’t pull the crap that he tries to pull. It comes off as disrespectful and desperate.
The people that are standing up for his freedom of speech go ahead. I’ll exercise mine and say: you think that’s funny? I think you’re a fucking idiot.