The second post I ever wrote on this blog was about the word “rape,” and since then it has not ceased to be an issue. A number of events have occurred in the past couple of months, and re-reading many of them this week has reminded me what a big deal it can be.
About a month ago stand-up comedian Daniel Tosh was doing a show when an audience member commented on the bit he was doing. He had been going on about how hilarious rape jokes were [his position: always], when the woman interrupted him by yelling “Actually, rape jokes are never funny!” She reports that Tosh responded with the words: “Wouldn’t it be funny if that girl got raped by like, 5 guys right now? Like right now?”
John Seavey, one of the writers on Mightygodking, wrote a response to what happened, titled “From the “How To Be A Decent Human Being” File….” In it he decried Tosh’s response to the woman, and basically lay down that freedom of speech or not, threatening someone sexually is not something you ever do.
I talked to Gordon about this yesterday, and not to turn this into another “Evan and Gordon Talk” post, but I had to add just a little of our conclusion to this one:
[after agreeing that probably no one in the audience actually took Tosh’s words “seriously.”]
EVAN: I mean, I guess we can both be on the level that to at least one member involved, Tosh, it was not a threat.
GORDON: Agreed. You also promised to crap in my bed. [I will not deny this -E.]
EVAN: Valid, but 1/5 of all Gordons don’t have their beds crapped in.
Similar to my first post on the word, there are those out there who believe that this is all a matter of sensitivity. Comedians like Louis C.K. have defended Tosh‘s right to free speech. Others on the internet have taken more creative avenues to back up the “rape joke” that was made [warning for language and content]:
The video, for those who don’t feel like or want to watch it, is a press conference with the character “F-ck Bot 5000.” He answers that rape jokes are off limits, while jokes about “9/11,” “dead babies,” and “making fun of autistic children” are perfectly acceptable. The point being, from what I can tell, that people are being overly sensitive about a particular buzzword, but letting these other topics slide completely.
Then, of course, there’s the whole “legitimate rape” thing. On August 19th Todd Akin, Republican nominee for the state of Missouri Todd, told KTVI-TV that “First of all, from what I understand from doctors [pregnancy from rape] is really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”
Now I’m no Biology major, but I have friends who are, and none of them can back up his claims. His words have, of course, created quite the uproar on the internet. Jezebel compiled a very thorough “Official Guide to Legitimate Rape,” which compiles the ways in which the word and act have been portrayed in past years. I strongly recommend checking it out.
Finally, game designer James Desborough wrote a post this past June entitled “In Defence of Rape.” After admitting that the title is instigative at best, he, and this is a direct quote, states “Rape or attempted rape is a f-cking awesome plot element, one of many.”
Gordon and I talked about this one as well, and the issue is, at the heart of his argument, not wrong. The gist of what he’s saying is [and I quote Gordon] “Look, rape can be an effective and powerful storytelling element, so long as it isn’t trivialized.” And that’s not something I can disagree with.
What I can disagree with is his statement that “I’m not prepared to take spurious claims about ‘rape culture’ etc at face value without something substantive to back them up.” It’s one that he uses to defend his argument, lumping “rape culture” in with the “‘all men are bastards’ argument.” I don’t see what can be more substantive than the gigabytes of rape porn on the internet. I mean, it’s not like it’s hiding or anything. If some weirdo gets off on The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo then that’s one instance, but the people creating rape porn for a very large audience is not.
Rape is, as ever, a hotly debated issue. While we can always say that people are being too sensitive, the fact is that it is a very real, legitimate act that happens more than once a minute. It’s not something to be made light of, and especially not something to “jokingly threaten” someone with. It is also not something that can simply be thrown around in speech without strong knowledge of what’s being talked about.
Thorough and thought-provoking, Evan. I had heard about Todd Akin’s remark but didn’t know the whole story.
I really appreciated that article in Jezebel. I didn’t know the half of it, and now I’m really enraged! Especially appreciated the phrase “magical sperm-defying ovaries.” And why were the phrases “forcible rape” or “rape-rape” ever uttered? Redundant! “If you don’t know how basic biology works, you shouldn’t be able to hold a government position that gives you real power over the bodies of millions of women.” Amen, Katie J.M. Baker. Amen.
A comedian having the right to joke about rape in a public place is debatable, but it’s not debatable when it comes to someone in office who says something that outrageously stupid. I’m not at all surprised that Romney and Paul Ryan are distancing themselves from that level of ignorance.
I agree with your last paragraph. But when I posted something on facebook about it, I think the response I got was along the lines of — “Tosh went too far with the threats but it’s okay to make light of rape or whatever you want if you’re a standup comedian (especially a comedian who makes a living off of being as outlandish, rude and offensive as possible). Anybody who doesn’t like it should avoid seeing his show.”
Evan, you brought up a good point to me – what happens when crass humor is actually funny? Another interesting response to Tosh’s rape jokes and rape humor in general is “Anatomy of a Successful Rape Joke”: http://www.thenation.com/blog/168856/anatomy-successful-rape-joke#
What do you think about the author’s opinions and assertions?
Emily, I’m going to be straight-up and admit that the idea to not judge crass humour by how funny it is belongs to China Miéville, whose talk I wrote about here: https://culturewarreporters.com/2012/08/31/go-listen-to-guilty-pleasures-art-and-politics/
He basically goes on to say that if our main defence is, “Well, these jokes just aren’t funny” what happens then when they do become funny?
With that in mind, whether or not rape jokes are funny is really besides the point. I agree with Valenti, author of the article you sent me, that stand-up that point out absurdities about rape, the “she was asking for it” argument can be helpful. The difference is, of course, that these jokes are not really about the actual act itself.
This following link has a video embedded with another of Tosh’s rape jokes in it: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/07/11/why-daniel-tosh-s-rape-joke-at-the-laugh-factory-wasn-t-funny.html
It was honestly kind of hard for me to watch. That sort of “humour” adds nothing to the conversation, and I would say that it has no value to anyone.
Tosh makes my blood boil. Free speech, sure. But no self-respecting human being, man or woman, should legitimize his idiocy by continuing to watch his program. It’s degrading to the viewer.
Well that’s kind of the point of free speech though, it’s not agreeable speech which needs to be protected. It’s sole purpose is to protect that which many find disagreeable. It wasn’t a threat, but at the same time wasn’t really funny at all. If the joke was made on cable TV or something where a kid or someone who is maybe a victim of rape can accidentally switch to and see, then yea maybe the network hosting it would be wise not to air it, but it’s a show where you have to go out of your way to see, pay for tickets, show up, etc, and really only fans go and see comedians live usually. If you’re going to a gig like that and have any knowledge of the comedians, you should expect things like that to be said. Still, whether or not it was funny is irrelevant. If people are bothered by it they should boycott him and his shows, simple as that.
You won’t solve the way society views rape by stifling any mention of it, freedom is necessary to provoke discussion. That is when people’s ideals change.
While I don’t think rape should be trivialized, I do think that people going to Daniel Tosh shows should be aware that he isn’t exactly a tactful person. I mean really, it is Daniel Tosh.
I agree with you that media consumers should be more discerning of what they spend their time and money on. As crass as a comedian may be, however, I don’t think most audience members expect to be threatened. The woman targeted closed her summary of the incident with this:
“I should probably add that having to basically flee while Tosh was enthusing about how hilarious it would be if I was gang-raped in that small, claustrophic room was pretty viscerally terrifying and threatening all the same, even if the actual scenario was unlikely to take place. The suggestion of it is violent enough and was meant to put me in my place.”
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“I don’t see what can be more substantive than the gigabytes of rape porn on the internet.”
Fantasy =/= reality. The people involved in producing and consuming such material are consenting adults. Such a claim is of the same ilk as saying computer games cause violence. As such it does not indicate a rape culture (which would be something more like a Middle Eastern state where women can get thrown in jail for being raped). Our culture does not accept or condone rape and, therefore, is not a rape culture.
Acceptance comes in many forms and degrees. CNN’s coverage of the Steubenville case is a prime example (http://gawker.com/5991003/cnn-reports-on-the-promising-future-of-the-steubenville-rapists-who-are-very-good-students). Women are still at a disadvantage in our society. Sure, we generally recognize rape as a problem, but as long as people keep saying things like “those poor boys had such a promising future” or “she shouldn’t have dressed like that, she was asking for it” we will continue to be a rape culture, if not fully, then at least to a degree that none of us should be comfortable with.
I wasn’t implying that rape pornography was created by non-consensual individuals, more that its existence is indicative of a large audience and that by virtue of being silent about it our society gives its tacit approval.
A rape culture where the act is both accepted and condoned doesn’t exist as you describe it, but one where it is glamorized in music and pornography and where such a drastic double standard exists concerning it most certainly does.