Jessica at Feministing on the trend of rape humor:
What I truly don’t understand is how anyone could possibly think that joking about rape is being edgy or somehow fighting against the mainstream – which seems to be what the comics in this Guardian article are arguing. They say they’re taking taboos head-on. But the thing is, rape jokes and mocking violence against women are mainstream. They’re not a taboo at all – they’re the norm, sadly. So all of these comedians giving themselves a pat on the back for being sooo controversial – when all they’re doing is upholding the status quo – really fucking irk me.
Because if their rape jokes were actually challenging the mainstream, they’d be subversive, not holding up what American culture already perpetuates – that rape is a-okay. I think what is particularly telling is that so many of the people arguing that jokes about sexual assault are fine are dudes – the demographic that tends to be ones who, well…rape. (And who get assaulted at much lower rates than women.)
I did a cartoon on this subject a few months ago, when rape humor and the legalization of marital rape were colliding in the news. I didn’t get it then, and don’t now.
The Guardian article is worth a full read. It treats the difficulty of pulling off offensive humor — not just rape, but racism, homophobia, etc.; the relative effects on audience; and the history of anti-establishment humor in the late 20th Century. For political cartoonists, this bit will ring a few bells:
In fact, most of the comics I spoke to denied any responsibility for how audiences interpreted their work. “If you’re doing a brilliant piece of irony and someone takes it literally,” says Herring, “that’s not your fault. It’s their fault for not being intelligent enough to get it.” Does he have a responsibility to frustrate the bigots in the crowd? “I don’t know how you control that. It’s a massively complicated issue.”
My art isn’t bad; it’s just too avant-garde for your puny bourgeois mind. But seriously, while some misunderstandings can be avoided with a little cognitive effort on the audience’s part, Herring is using baroque layerings of ironic distance to cover the fact that he needs retrogressive stereotypes to get a laugh. He’s not challenging liberal pieties; he’s letting liberals drop one pious facade in exchange for one of critical detachment. “Oh no, that’s not really ME laughing at racist humor. I’m too smart for that!”
It’s bad faith. Unlike Margaret Cho or Louis C.K — artists who use offensive humor to discuss the crap in our heads and our difficulties in overcoming it; there is no honesty here. Nothing is revealed, nothing challenged, and, frankly, nothing funny.
UPDATE: Amanda Marcotte on myths of the rapist motivations that permeate our culture. She doesn’t mention the work of comedians who perpetuate these myths, but as you read, you’ll no doubt think of routines you’ve seen that incorporate them.