Domestic violence is no laughing matter.
According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, one in every four women will be a victim of domestic violence in her lifetime. An estimated 1.3 million women find themselves assaulted by their partners each year. Moreover, almost one-third of female homicide victims reported in police records are killed by an intimate partner. And in 70 to 80 percent of the homicides involving intimate partners, no matter which partner was killed, the man physically abused the woman before the murder.
So now that this is established, why do folks laugh at the Ike Turner domestic violence memes?
You might have seen them on Instagram, or on someone’s Fscebook page. It’s the black and white picture of a young Ike Turner, rocking a Sonny Bono bowl cut, with various captions that basically make a joke out of the late musician’s abusive past. For example:
My girl ain’t allowed to read horoscopes. I’m her Past, Present & Future
My girl ain’t allowed to Turn Up, unless she wants to Turn up missing
My b***h ain’t allowed to drink milk. The only strong bones she needs is mines
I trip my b***h everyday because I am the only ni**a she is allowed to fall for
I pushed my girl off the bed while she was sleep – To remind her that the man of her dreams can’t save her.
I would be lying if I said that a few of these memes never tickled my funny bone. The haircut, the vicious side-eye, and the ironic play on words all just works so perfectly–as a joke. And as much as I understand that there is nothing funny about domestic violence, I also know that it is damn near impossible to tell a nice joke these days.
I’ve been reading a science fiction book called Stranger in a Strange Land. In it, the main character, who is a martian from Mars, is trying to “grok,” or understand, humor. It is during a trip to the local zoo where he witnesses monkeys fighting each other in a cage that he first begins to understand what is at the core of why we laugh:
“I’ve found out why people laugh. They laugh because it hurts-because it’s the only thing that’ll make it stop hurting-of course it wasn’t funny; it was tragic. That’s why I had to laugh. I looked at a cage full of monkeys and suddenly I saw all the mean and cruel and utterly unexplainable things I’ve seen and heard and read about – and suddenly it hurt so much I found myself laughing.”
To this day I can’t think of a single joke, prank or gag, which doesn’t demean or humiliate its subject, who is usually the punchline, in some way (If you can think of one, please share it in the comment section below because I am stumped). Even the cleanest of comics (i.e., Sinbad and Bill Cosby) are guilty of light mocking of their families and self-deprecation. Therefore, in comedy, it is hard to draw limitations on what should or should not be funny. With that said though, I don’t think there are enough people, in general, who have a clear understanding of the severity of domestic violence and its impact on our culture to dismiss these memes as just jokes. Not when we still have folks championing the idea that “Rihanna had it coming,” or when we have women tweeting about how Chris Brown could certainly “beat me.”
Not to mention that the only time most folks speak in reference to the domestic violence situation involving Ike and Tina Turner is when we are mocking or making light of a particular scene in What’s Love Got to Do With It? In that film, Lawrence Fishburne’s performance of Ike Turner was so over the top that it verges on parody. So at times, its hard to know if we are laughing and mocking the insecurities of Ike Turner (and other abusers like him), or if we just have issues empathizing with the pain of others. I mean, watching monkeys in a cage fight is one thing, because after all, they are monkeys. But we are human beings, and as written, more evolved than that. Right?