We make no pretension of being unbiased here at the CWR. We have our particular axes to grind and banners to wave. Evan, you’ll notice, often covers the place of Asians in culture- in no small part because Evan is a combo of a few Asian peoples himself, and more directly affected by that issue. I, alternatively, grew up in the Middle East, and after having spent pretty much the entirety of my life with Arabs and Muslims (not the same thing, shouldn’t have to explain that), I’m more sensitive to Middle Eastern issues- Islamophobia in particular.
I could spend all day railing on the treatment of the Middle East/Arabs/Occupied Palestine/Muslims/etc. The way Arabs/Muslims are singled out for scrutiny and criticism. Casting Indian actors to play Arabs, since Arabs don’t match their own stereotype. The lack of appreciation for the key role the Middle East played in preserving and advancing science and philosophy.
You get the idea.
So rather than trying to tackle a single issue that could be (should be, and has been) covered by an entire academic book, I’m going to hit up super-specific issue.
EVAN: Hey, readers. Welcome back to yet another segment of “Evan and Gordon Talk.” This week we’re going to be discussing the limits of stand-up comedy, specifically in terms of crassness. How far, exactly, is too far?
GORDON: I’m gonna come on out swinging say that there’s really no such thing as “limits,” just inappropriate timing and venue.
EVAN: Alright, well, let’s take an example and see if you can provide an appropriate time and venue. To retread some well-worn territory, how about rape jokes?
GORDON: Before our readers jump to conclusions, please here me out-
Rape jokes aren’t alone in being terrible things. We have murder, the Holocaust, disease, Darfur- you name it. Yet we set rape aside. My best estimation for why that is for us (in the west) is that it’s a clear and present issue- as opposed to starvation and disease. It is, therefore, something that’s close to home- something that we don’t typically joke about on the grounds that it’s, well, “real,” for lack of a better term.
Now I’d be hard pressed to imagine a scenario in which a rape joke would be okay. But then again, if I were living in the late 1940s, I believe I’d be just as hard pressed to imagine a situation in which a Holocaust joke would be funny.
EVAN: I’m still waiting for an answer to the question.
I’ve got a video that my brother is quite fond of where Ricky Gervais jokes about Hitler and Nietzsche, and it’s actually quite funny, and does involve the Holocaust. I suppose it could be argued that time has allowed us to not turn to the oft-used cry of “too soon.” But, again, I am interested to know about a way rape jokes might be considered not extremely inappropriate.
GORDON: My point is- I can’t see the future; none of us can. The fact that I can’t imagine a venue in which such a thing would be funny doesn’t mean that it, like the Holocaust or any terrible event, won’t be joked about years from now and be just as funny as that Ricky Gervais bit.
You see what I’m saying?
EVAN: I think what needs to be discussed is the difference between funny and appropriate.
GORDON: Touché. But before we get into that, let’s clarify our terms here.
We’ve been saying “rape joke,” but the truth of the matter is, we’re not talking about “rape jokes”- we’re talking about ones specifically pertaining to women, aren’t we? I mean, how many “Don’t drop the soap!” jokes do we hear and think nothing of?
*For clarification to our readers- what got Evan and I thinking about this was a Tosh scandal– look it up.
EVAN: Okay, so specifically jokes regarding male on female rape, to clarify. Go on.
GORDON: Well- doesn’t that force us to rethink the entire question? With that in mind, do we have to ask rather “Who can be joked about?”
EVAN: I think that’s a pretty vague question. We can joke about a lot of people: kids, politicians, Americans-
There’s a difference between a priest walking into a bar and a woman who’s been sexually assaulted.
GORDON: Let me offer you this, for clarification. There’s a bit by (awesome) comedian Aziz Ansari which includes a rape joke. In this case the “victim” in the situation is a man. There was no outrage.
Contrast this with the outrage that surrounds rape jokes regarding women. Why is there this difference in public reaction?
EVAN: Again, what I’m asking is to specifically discuss an appropriate time and venue for the type of joke already clarified. To explore the difference is to go back to what you said earlier, that rape for us in the West is more “real” than genocide or drought, etc.
You explained it yourself fairly quickly, I think. For most of the public rape of men is not as “real” as the rape of women.
GORDON: Then, as awful as it sounds to us now, isn’t it possible that in a world where female rape is as “real” as the Holocaust (or any of the other stuff terrible stuff we joke about today) it’d be just as tame as the aforementioned jokes?
EVAN: But all you’re saying is that there’s a possible future in which rape jokes are acceptable. As an “appropriate time and venue” the same can be said of everything from cannibalizing your own children to bestiality.
I’d also argue that the aforementioned jokes aren’t classified as “tame” even today. Just less sensitive.
GORDON: Fair enough. I guess I should restate my position.
The issue isn’t with what gets put into a joke, so much as who or what is being mocked. Mocking a victim- be it a murder victim, rape victim, holocaust victim- that’s not cool.
EVAN: Let me try to reiterate what you’re saying- We can mock an action, just not the victim?
GORDON: Absolutely- as we wound up concluding in our discussion of “ironic racism,” the point is to satirize/mock/etc. racism for the hideous and idiotic thing that it is.
EVAN: As often exemplified by comedians such as Russell Peters and Dave Chappelle.
I could cite similar jabs at that Arch-Dirtbag Todd Akin by political comedians and satirists who used rape NOT to make fun of rape, but to make fun of Todd Akin’s mind-boggling moronic views on the very same subject, and NOT to make fun of rape victims.
EVAN: That’s a really great way of putting it.
And I think this is the first time we’ve actually really broken down a topic, instead of following rabbit trails and culminating with me mocking you for your human failings.
GORDON: You’re just losing your touch.
EVAN: Hey, this has been a fairly deep and legitimate conversation.
GORDON: That it has.
EVAN: And we are now reaching the end of our allotted 45 minutes. The two choices for next week’s topic are:
GORDON: What’s the greatest flaw of our generation?
EVAN: And “Television Wars.” i.e. all of the shows that feel the need to just slap words in front of the word “wars” and have at it.
Once again, thank you all for reading. Feel free to stick around and check out other posts, and definitely come back next Wednesday for our next installment.
This isn’t the first time I’ve lamented about the sorry state of feminism in the culture wars, and it certainly won’t be the last- nevertheless, the time has come for me to really lay out exactly what it is that’s killing feminism.
Sure feminism was necessary at one point, but it’s just not relevant anymore.
You never hear that stated outright, but it seems to be underlying most responses on why feminism isn’t as major an issue was it was in the 70s or the 60s or the 50s or whenever exactly it was that the last wall of patriarchy supposedly fell.
Let’s face it, women can vote, run for and hold public office, be CEOs or workers, and so on and so forth. Really, shy of being able to serve in combat (American women, anyways), one might argue that all doors are now open. This mentality even seems to be affected most contemporary feminists, who though I am sure have the very best intentions, really can’t find much to rail about themselves. I’ve been through blog post after blog post, article after article, and found that overwhelmingly the subjects being discussed are mostly rants against Todd Akin (not to say that idiot doesn’t deserve it) or retrospectives on the battles of the past. Take a look at the contents of the latest Ms. magazine:
With Wonder Woman at the helm, the issue celebrates 40 years of fearless reporting with 40 Ms. and key feminist moments that shaped our history; birthday letters from dozens of life-long readers; and essays from founding editors Gloria Steinem and Letty Pogrebin, and current Executive Editor Kathy Spillar.
In the special 40th anniversary issue, you’ll also read about:
– What’s at stake for women in the 2012 election
– The significant ballot initiatives in your state
That last one’s not talking about running for office- it’s literally about jogging. ‘Cuz apparently there was some blog post asserting that women with a certain body type aren’t cut-out to be runners, and that merited a response. Sure, whoever said that was wrong, but is that what feminists have been reduced to? Chasing down solitary quips of (comparatively) benign misinformation in the ugly bowels of the blogosphere? If that’s the standard for a worthwhile target, Evan and I should be beaten to death for mixing up when the premier of Community is going to be shown.
Please don’t beat us to death…
If this is the substance of the contemporary feminist movement, can you really blame people for feeling that all that’s to be done has been done? Can you really blame people for stereotyping self-proclaimed feminists as just angsty or contrarian? Is feminism just going to wither away?
I hope not- there’s still plenty of work to be done.
See this picture?
It’s from Dove’s “True Beauty” campaign. A series of advertisements aimed at combating anorexic and unrealistic standards of beauty. I’m sure the owners of Dove- a corporation by the name of Unilever- would be proud.
You know what other company Unilever owns?
Yep- these guys.
Now as I have family who read this blog, I’ve got embedded for you below the mildest Axe commercial I can find- be assured that it’s prudish and progressive compared to the rest of ’em.
That’s what we’ve got here- a corporation that on one hand is hawking their products by telling you that you’re beautiful just the way you are, and on the other hand depicting women as mindless dolls in low-cut dresses who can be manipulated with aerosol bottles. The latter alone would be a slap in the face, but that fact that the company is two-faced enough to shamelessly operate both utterly discredits their “True-Beauty Campaign” and exposes the fact that they’re ready, willing, and able to use feminism itself as a vehicle for controlling and objectifying women and perceptions about ’em.
This is Paul Polman, Unilever’s CEO, and he can go **** himself.
See, there’s this offshoot of modern feminism called “Sex-positive feminism” (you might know it by other names), which broken down to its most basic elements asserts that women’s use of their sexuality is empowering- and while no one would deny sexuality as an integral part of any human being- more often than not, this line of thought is used to justify strip clubs, prostitution, pornography, etc. as being actually good for women.
Now I’m not going to start accusing the founders of “Sex-positive feminism” of selling out their own movement- I don’t think that’s what their intention was. But then again, such things are what the road to hell is paved with, and even if the goal of this off-shoot was to make sexuality just as empowering as brains or brawn, the simple truth of the matter is that the prostitute isn’t probably viewed by her client as being a more well-rounded person because of her job. Heck- using this logic, I might argue that a twelve year old Honduran girl whose working for 32 cents an hour in a sweatshop is likewise “empowered”.
Strange how “Dead by 26 feminism” isn’t quite as popular…
Feminism isn’t dead- it’s just got a knife at it’s throat, and if saving feminism from becoming a tool of the very system that it was first established to combat isn’t a worthwhile endeavor- I don’t know what is. To anyone who would complain that all the important battles have been won- I present to you this. “Your solution to saving feminism is by saving feminism?” you might ask- and hey, it’s a valid point. But this isn’t just some circular exercise- this is a struggle for what’s really empowering. It’s a fight over messages- will we be told “These shoes are empowering!” or “No- they are shoes– empowerment comes from how far you walk and how much butt you kick.” Isn’t that worth something?
At the very least it beats writing an angry article about how body shape doesn’t exclude you from jogging.
P.S. I know I should also say some stuff about the “Slut Walks” (“Slutwalks”?, “Slut-Walks”?), the issue of rape, the continued problems of worker-manager ratios, etc. but it’s past 1:30 in the morning- please excuse the narrowness of this post.
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.