Wednesday, May 02, 2012

The Thing About Rape Jokes

In the past few weeks I have touched on the surface of what I consider to be some very serious issues: issues where the ideology of hate pushes people to treat others in inhuman ways. I've talked about bullying. I've talked about rape and the sexual assault and how gender policing is something that affects boys every bit as much as girls, if in a different way.

Before you continue on to what I have to say here, I very much suggest you check out the articles that I've linked here, because what I am about to say, if misinterpreted, is likely to get a lot of hate directed at me. Even if you do understand what I am saying, I think it is quite possible a lot of hate will be directed my way. But I think it is something that needs to be said.

In the discussion that I had with a classroom of students at SUNY Binghamton, we talked about a chapter in The Immanence of Myth that compared the abuses of Abu Ghraib with performance art, hazing, and the comedy or satire of absurdity.

To my surprise, there was very little reaction from the students. They got involved in the conversation, but none of them turned beet read or screamed at me. I was, quite frankly, rather surprised. Because not only did I support rape jokes in this specific context, but the underlying premise of the piece, if you understand what it is saying, is that for healing to occur, jokes about rape, jokes about genocide, jokes about racism, are quite often essential. They are a part of the cultural process of dealing with the horrific, in the same way that, like it or not, Hitler is now the butt of jokes more often than the source of horror. How do you think an Auschwitz survivor feels about the Hitler rap? but at the same time, this isn't to say that these things need to stop. Like I said, I think this is a bit like the scab on a wound. It's the same way that, personally, I need dark humor and satire to get over the bumps that would otherwise probably make me melt down right there in everyone's face.

To understand why this is the case, you need to understand both the function of the subconscious, at least in Freudian terms, and the function of jokes in the terms laid out by Allan Dundes. I discuss these elements at length in The Immanence of Myth, but all without coming out and saying what I am saying here, because I was quite frankly afraid of the backlash.

To be less acadamic about it, watch Doug Stanhope's routine, and consider how it differs from the hackery of Tosh, who made the initial "rape joke joke" that started the internet 'controversy' about the subject. (And which, for the record, was indeed not funny.)
Believe it or not, jokes about rape can be funny. (Yes, even feminists think so.) But Daniel Tosh’s hotly debated “joke” aimed at a female heckler was far from humorous—in fact, it was a perfect example of hownot to joke about rape. (The Nation, "Anatomy of a Successful Rape Joke.")
Doug also touches on taboo subjects, including rape, but he does it in a way that is meant to point out the horror and the absurd, the intention, much like chappelle's KKK black man sketch, (see below) is meant to point out the psychology of the perpetrators, not condone it, though it is true that quite possibly someone will misinterpret it and think that it is supporting rape and contributing to rape culture. That unfortunately can't be helped, because no matter what you're going to do, there's going to be... how can you say this PC? No, you can't. There's always going to be stupid, mean people.

Every group has their shadows, their hated groups and their taboos. When you take the sentiment analysis of Beacon and run it on feminist forums, the software lights up like a christmas tree with hate when the conversation turns to rape jokes. My point being that if you ignore whether you agree with an ideology or not, there are certain topics that will turn the members of that ideology toward hateful speech.

The reason I support rape jokes of a certain nature is the same reason that support black comedians like Chapelle making jokes like the nigger family, or the skit he does with the blind White Supremecist who is, in fact, a black man. (EDIT: Sorry guys. Comedy Central took it all down off of YouTube because that's a sensible web content strategy. You can probably find it on their site but I'm not going to grace them with the link, for being dicks.)


It is the same point I made in the classroom, which I recorded for your enjoyment, edification, or fury. Jokes are often the only way that we can bring awful things into our consciousness and approach them, it is the only way that we can get close enough with them to begin to deal with them. It is a way that we can discuss things in society that we would otherwise not discuss at all.

The solution to these social problems of hate is not, ever, to hide from them. Never. It is not to pretend they are isolated incidents. It is not to "don't ask, don't tell." No. No. No.

And please, as a final note before I open this up to having hate spewed in my general direction: there is a huge difference between jokes about the holocaust or jokes about rape, and jokes that make fun OF the victims of sexual assault or the holocaust. Anyone who makes fun of rape survivors, those that call them weak, or belittle them as whiners, deserves things that I don't have words for. That's not a joke, it's a just another form of bullying.

I am, myself, a survivor of sexual assualt and a great deal of bullying and physical abuse for being "different," as you know if you read the articles linked above. I know this does not give me some kind of carte blanche, but I do think that it gives me a little more of a sense of what can allow for healing for some of us than those who haven't experienced these things, but want to make assumptions about what is or isn't appropriate. You know what I say? Fuck appropriate.

For me, at least, talking about these things in public is a part of how I am able to heal. My writing on this site is a part of how I work toward healing. Being completely honest about my feelings is a part of how I heal. And sometimes making jokes about really "inappopriate" things is a part of it too. So, though it may not be how you heal - and in that case you certainly have the right to go somewhere else - but for me, I find it incredibly offensive to be told that jokes about sexual assault are offensive to survivors of sexual assault. I will make that decision for my self, thank you very much.


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