It's OK To Have A Complicated Relationship With Art: More Thoughts On Rape Jokes
The Subtle Oppression of Women by Comedy (published by America's Comedy dot com)
Portrait of a Feminist Comedian
The Pen is Mightier Than the Rape Whistle (chronologically, I reckon this one should be read after the stuff I'm about to link below)
W. Kamau Bell then had Lindy West and Jim Norton come on his show Totally Biased (which, seriously, you should be watching!) and discuss the topic. The uncut internet version of that discussion is below:
The antidote for offensive speech is always, always, always more speech.
In a world that wasn't completely topsy-turvy, this advice would mostly apply to the "don't tell rape jokes" side. But almost everyone on that side--I should say, my side--of the argument has gone out of their way to make it clear that they aren't asking for censorship of any kind, as even Jim Norton acknowledges at the link above. On the contrary, it's been the other side who has responded with attempts to shout down and intimidate those wanting a conversation. I should note that I'm not talking about comics, for the most part, who are, unsurprisingly, more intelligent than a lot of their fans.
But I also have a little sympathy for the other side. I don't think the issue is in any way black and white. The difference between a joke that points out the evil of rape culture and a joke that makes the victim the punchline can sometimes be nebulous and subjective (other times, it's pretty clear). I'm not surprised that there was a knee-jerk reaction to the calling out of rape jokes (I was surprised that there was such a defensive reaction to the particular situation involving Daniel Tosh, which seemed pretty clearly beyond the line, but talking to some people in the wake of it, they really didn't hear it as a threat, which may have to do with experience? A threat is definitely what I heard). I think there's an idea that these dudes are having the conversation they want to have, but it's also possible that they're having the conversation they expected to have, or are used to having. I mean, it's very, very rare for someone to start talking about offensive art in America and take the next step of advocating some form of censorship. I don't know if it's a sign that America is evolving on that front, or just that this issue resonated with a particularly intelligent group (remember that female comedians are central to this whole conversation).
So nobody is calling for censorship. What we're asking for is for people to think about rape jokes. Think about what they mean. That's important to remember. The other, related point that is important to keep in mind is that this is rarely about a particular rape joke being over-the-line. It's about the PREVALENCE of rape jokes. It's about it being a go-to topic at so many male-dominated comedy shows. So think about that: are you really saying that, if you hear male comics going to cheap rape jokes over and over and over in the course of a show, and that continues at show after show after show, that we shouldn't even TALK ABOUT WHAT THAT MEANS?
The point of making a rape joke is to shock.
At the basic level, that's why you pull out a joke about rape, the holocaust, or whatever taboo topic you use. There is really no logical reason to get bent out of shape at getting the reaction you were looking for.
It's OK to have a complicated relationship with art.
Late breaking link: And yesterday, Patton Oswalt, who had formerly been rather vehemently on the...oh, let's call it the other side, has re-examined his views, and written a pretty amazing post about it.