No Laughing Matter: Why Are People Trying To Make Rape Something To Joke About?

September 19, 2012  |  

Scenes from popular movies, lyrics from acclaimed songs, quips from notable comedians and clips from loved television shows are all guilty of attempting to slap a smile on the face of rape culture, simultaneously slapping every survivor in the face by perpetuating the idea that there is something funny about the sexual violation and degradation of any man, woman or child.

Unique in its horror, rape like no other crime violates on several fundamental levels. Aside from being physical burglary, it’s an act of power which destroys self-respect, self-esteem, sexual well-being and feelings of security; simultaneously producing triggers, feelings of shame and socialized guilt. To quote criminologist and educator, Freda Adler, “Rape is the only crime in which the victim becomes the accused.”

So, in a world where victims are blamed, sexual assaults occur every two minutes (U.S.) and 1 out of every 6 women has been the victim of rape/attempted rape in her lifetime, it has to be understandable that one doesn’t buckle over in laughter when comedians like Daniel Tosh make jokes about women getting gang-raped in a public setting, or movies like Hit & Run employing prison rape jokes (which also manages to touch on racial stereotypes) doesn’t invoke the desire to give a standing ovation. And the same can be said about music such as Notorious BIG’s “Dead Wrong,” which has two vivid lines regarding sexual violence; and the heavy metal band, The Mentors, who coined the phrase and genre, “rape rock.” This free speech mentality (differing greatly from creative license) that entertainers/media officials have exercised for decades has been used to systematically incapacitate minorities and women.

The idea that rape is somehow hilarious, to those telling the joke and those laughing, is rooted in the presumption that it won’t happen to them, which is especially true of men. These people with these jokes or lyrics have never had a firsthand account of sexual assault, and they have no idea the trauma that kind of violence can incur. For many women, though, rape is a reality. Women are raised with the realization of rape, told to avoid alleyways and dark paths, and ensured that if they were to dress a certain way or behave a certain way, then they won’t ever fall victim to rape. But this attitude not only disarms women, and lures them into a sense of false security, it also reinforces victim blame. This mindset rationalizes that sexual violence dealt against a woman wearing anything less than a sweater set and a long skirt is justified.

All of this isn’t to say that rape can’t be addressed in the media, or that the action and the culture of rape can’t be addressed with comical concern, but it has to be done with a sense of decorum, and its goal should be to shine light on the conditions of rape and rape culture in this society. Comedians such Wanda Sykes, Elayne Boosler, Tig Notaro and Sarah Silverman are able to do this, riding the fine line between astute commentary and humor. The late great George Carlin was also able to do this with the following joke:

Picture Porky Pig raping Elmer Fudd. See, hey why do you think they call him “Porky,” eh? I know what you’re going to say. “Elmer was asking for it. Elmer was coming on to Porky. Porky couldn’t help himself, he got a hard-on, he got horny, he lost control, he went out of his mind.” A lot of men talk like that. A lot of men think that way. They think it’s the woman’s fault. They like to blame the rape on the woman. Say,“she had it coming, she was wearing a short skirt.” These guys think women ought to go to prison for being cock teasers. Don’t seem fair to me.

The perpetual evolution of the definition of rape could be a factor in the national disassociation with rape. While it’s brilliant that law officials are finally zoning in on the definition of rape, understanding the spectrum of actions to be identified as rape, how long did it take? And now that we have a functional definition, what does that mean for women? What does it mean for the media? The sad truth is that it may not mean very much at all. The definition may have changed but media’s attitude toward rape hasn’t changed because their attitude toward women hasn’t changed. In the same light, the media has no respect for individuals in the prison system, which is why it’s so easy for entertainers and media outlets to visit the idea of others being sodomized by brash strangers. At some point, people need to realize that there’s nothing funny about sexual assault and until it can be addressed in a tasteful way that could even bring attention to such an issue, it needs to be off limits.

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