Rape jokes: Just who exactly needs to shut the hell up?

When it comes to jokes I have always concurred with Schopenhauer in his belief that there’s nothing funnier than the sudden apprehension of an incongruity between a general concept and a heterogenous object which is subsumed thereunder, and hence between what is abstract and what is perceptive.
When that happens I piss myself.

More Crap Jokes, Viz

Censorship is bad, isn’t it? The only people who like censorship are evil dictators and the totally, terminally uncool. Oh, and the stupid, who don’t know what’s good for them. So they can shut the fuck up. Only not in a “let’s all censor the stupid” way. That would be evil and stupid and uncool. I mean in a “they ought to shut up because nothing they have to say is of any value” way. I wouldn’t actively intimidate them into being silent, or at least not until massive peer pressure was proving ineffective and I was at risk of looking stupid by association.

Because I am cool and intelligent and so not an evil dictator (alas), I’m not about to start telling people what they should and shouldn’t find funny, or what they should and shouldn’t use as material for jokes. Not only would that make me look uncool and stupid, but I’d risk being like that totally stupid, uncool woman who challenged stand-up comedian Daniel Tosh on his assertion that rape jokes can be funny.*

This morning I was reading a piece in the Guardian about the Tosh incident, with many of the comments that followed aimed at defending Tosh’s right to free speech (yay!). Comments such as this:

The audience members[sic] job is to watch the show and keep their fucking mouth shut unless they are laughing or the comic has asked them a question.

(I am glad I rarely visit comedy clubs; they sound worse than job interviews.)

Of course rape is a horrible thing. If this was a debatable fact then where would the humor come from? As for the lady who got offended in the audience, she should have understood this to be the case. Even if she didn’t understand/like where the humor was in that sort of joke she should have kept her mouth shut.

Yeah, the thick, humourless loser! Who could possible think that rape being a horrible thing is “a debatable fact”? (People who joke about it in a crass, threatening manner? No, ’cause actually they’re way ahead of you on this; they’re “deconstructing” it all and you’re too much of a moron to notice.)

This just another prime example of how naive people are. Comedians are uncensored and should continue to benefit from that freedom. This lady should stay away from live comedy period.

Yay! Power to the comedians and their freedom of speech! Without the provision of “safe spaces” in which it’s okay to joke about rape without anyone being permitted to challenge you, where would we all be? Sometimes I think we should set up refuges for white, male comedians, so that they can be truly free to make as many edgy jokes as they like. Someone should set up a Jimmy Carr trust (Jimmy Carr, for instance).

See, what gets to me about all this is not the fact that people trivialise rape, or use humour to reinforce rather than undermine damaging assumptions about it. I mean, that bothers me, but in a global way; this is something more specific. It’s the way in which jokes and humour are presented as some kind of sacred ground, making any challenge necessarily unreasonable. Certain comedians – those with no fucking imagination, for instance – seem to amass whole cliques around them, desperate for edginess by association, and hence willing to bat down anyone who won’t toe the line. And such people like to suggest that saying something isn’t funny is tantamount to censorship; it isn’t. It’s saying something isn’t funny.

It has been argued that the woman in the Tosh incident’s real offence was heckling. Heckling is apparently a cardinal sin. Comedians should be allowed to say whatever they like, uninterrupted, otherwise the heckler is just spoiling it for everyone else. So it’s a question of etiquette. Fine. All the edgy, no-to-censorship, free-speech afficionados are actually just etiquette nerds. Frankly I find it bizarre that we live in a culture in which the House of Commons is a free-for-all, and a comedy club is a place where you laugh on demand or shut the hell up. Thank god the evil censors don’t have their way otherwise we’d be, um, behaving in exactly the same manner in which we are right now.

Perhaps I’m only saying this because I’m a feminist. Feminists are often accused of having no sense of humour. Personally, I find that funny. Hell, I found it so amusing the last time it happened to me, I changed the tag line of my blog. Even so, the “no sense of humour” accusation is usually an attempt to shut people up. It’s a failure to engage with difficult questions by telling someone they’re simply not up to understanding you and responding in the appropriate manner. It’s a cowardly way of avoiding debate and it’s certainly not amusing (but then I would say that).

Well, this is what I think: the “feminists have no sense of humour” brigade really need to shut the fuck up.

Only joking.

* Tosh’s follow-up to the heckle: “Wouldn’t it be funny if that girl got raped by like, five guys right now? Like right now?” I know, it’s total comedy gold. You’re laughing, right? If not, I hate you and you have no right to be reading such a cool, intelligent, edgy blog.

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11 thoughts on “Rape jokes: Just who exactly needs to shut the hell up?

  1. Did you see Kate Harding’s reply with the 15 rape jokes that worked? I didn’t agree that they all did, but there were some jokes in the list that said something about rape and how we talk about rape and at least raised a wry smile.

    To me there’s a world of difference between a joke that makes you think about rape culture and one that uses rape as the punchline. Especially as the latter seem to say the same incredibly cliched stuff everytime and still want a cookie for doing so. Aside from not being able to respect people who enjoy laughing at people’s most upsetting life events, I’m sick of having to hear the same shit joke done badly and then treated as something unique. Yawn….

    1. I think you’re right – I haven’t seen the Kate Harding thing but was reading something by Jessica Valenti which included some jokes which worked on that level (e.g. a Wanda Sykes one about a detachable vagina, which highlighted the ridiculous pressure we place on women to do things to “avoid” rape). It’s so different from a smug man standing up and announcing well, he finds such-and-such funny, as if that is somehow brave.
      It’s hard to say what is or isn’t funny as that’s so subjective, but I think it really matters whether a joke’s based on ignorance or not (otherwise it’s just reiterating a prejudice in an ostentatious way). Jokes can be a great way of exposing misunderstandings and attacking idiotic beliefs. I get really annoyed about jokes about mental illness and schizophrenia for similar reasons. There is an opportunity to use them to give a snapshot of the reality, in an amusing way, yet usually it’s the same old “split personality” crap. And as ever, it’s because the joke’s usually made by someone who has no idea what they’re talking about.

  2. The Australian comedy scene seems to be quite effective at weeding out THAT type of comedian – the one whose only material is less than deftly ‘illuminating’ the differences between men and women and talking about poo.
    I have therefore been lucky enough to experience a great deal of comedy (which I love) that doesn’t offend me. And let’s face it, I’m a moderately to severely embittered feminist so it’s not always easy.
    I have made the happy discovery that sensitive topics can be funny when dealt with appropriately and cleverly.
    Cleverly being the operative term. I think the point above about rape (or similar issue) being the punchline is key. You shouldn’t ask an audience to laugh at a rape victim. A rapist? Perhaps. The rape-culture? Absolutely.

    I too am tired of people defending offensive rhetoric as brave humour. Sometimes, when people don’t find your material funny, it’s not because they are stupid, humourless or ‘too pc’, it’s because it’s not funny.

  3. After reading the Guardian article, I’m surprised that no one seems to take issue with the woman’s ‘right’ to heckle.
    Maybe it’s different in Australia (I have been told by comedians that American audiences have a different attitude towards heckling – it’s almost encouraged here), but I am baffled by the idea that this woman’s ‘job’ as an audience member was to sit and shut up, or that the only avenue an audience member has for expressing disapproval is to not laugh.
    Is that not also censorship (provided you are using the grossly flexible misappropriation of the word that prevails in the debate)?

  4. Hey, retard – You spelled “offense” wrong. Maybe that’s why you’re getting worked up over a guy making his living, and some bitch blowing it way out of proportion. Ever heard of “Freedom of Speech?” How about “Perception?” If the cunt didn’t want anything said to her, she should have kept her fucking mouth shut, and none of us would have to listen to this pathetic, excuse for a sob story. Have a nice day.

    1. 1. As an English person, I’d like to be able to use English spellings on my own blog without being called a retard. Oh well, no accounting for the culturally ignorant.
      2. “Ever heard of “Freedom of Speech”? […] she should have kept her fucking mouth shut”. Interesting juxtaposition.
      Having a great day, thanks.

    2. Hey, Trevor, if you’re going to get on your high horse about spelling, does that mean it’s open season on your hopeless comma usage and contradictory logic?

    3. Hello dear,
      “Freedom of speech” cuts both ways. If a so-called comedian is free to talk misogynist crap, anyone in the audience is equally free to call him out on it.
      Or does this “freedom” only apply to people you agree with? Does seem a rather “right-wing American” response.
      It would also explain why you think your corrupted spelling of “offence” supersedes the one used by the country that invented the language you’re dragging your knuckles through.
      As a matter of “perception”, mine is that you’re a bitter, sexually inadequate tossbag and I wouldn’t wipe my arse (that’s ARSE, not ass) with you.
      Toodles!

    4. “Hey, retard – You spelled “offense” wrong.”

      A gift. A gift from you to me. Oh Trevor, didn’t you know that there are different spellings in British English? Didn’t you know that even genuine spelling errors do not prove mental retardation either way. Strong opener, Trevor. Let’s see what else you have to say.

      “Maybe that’s why you’re getting worked up over a guy making his living,”

      This is what we know in the trade as a “non-sequitur”. You pose the question, why is this blogger getting worked up about a guy making his living by making rape jokes, and the first possibility that pops into your head is “She cannot spell (because she is retarded)”

      “and some bitch blowing it way out of proportion.”

      I am confused, Trevor. Why do you refer so obliquely to how this guy makes his living? “it”? Are you afraid that if you say what he did in place of the word “it”, that bitch will appear to have a case?

      “Ever heard of “Freedom of Speech?” […] the cunt […] should have kept her fucking mouth shut,”

      Do you hear that, Trevor? That’s the sound of everyone on the internet laughing at you. You’re not even trying to construct an argument. I’ve pushed better arguments out of my arse (not a spelling mistake, that’s a regional variation. You learn something new everyday!). Or did you ask if the blogger had heard of “Freedom of Speech” because you would quite like to have it explained to you. That would make a lot of sense, especially considering you follow with:

      “How about “Perception?””

      Do you mean that comedy is the eye of the beholder? Do you mean that some people have had experiences so horrific that they cannot bear to have them held up in jest? Do you mean that socialising with others is a clumsy attempt to match their needs against our own and sometimes things are perceived in a different way and we hurt each other’s feelings by accident, so we constantly have to negotiate how we express ourselves. Do you mean that sometimes people have no idea that some topics are really not funny to groups of people because those topics impact on their lives in a very real and very unfunny way, so we have two competing perceptions of the same issue?

      Of course you don’t. You have no idea what you mean, do you?

      “shut, and none of us would have to listen to this pathetic, excuse for a sob story.”

      I enjoyed your use of the Oxford comma there, Trevor. The comma between the adjective and noun not as much. Maybe your finger slipped. Maybe you are a retard. Maybe it explains why you like calling strangers cunts and bitches.

      “Have a nice day.”

      Frankly, I think everyone who reads your well thought out and passionately argued defence of free speech will not be able to help themselves but have a nice day. In your head.

  5. In this case I have to disagree. Free speech can’t be compromised. We need to hear it all, see it all – to be free, grown up, and mature. Rape jokes are not off limits, and when offended, go home and upload a youtube of your umbrage. The heckler really did need to STFU.

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