Being offended by rape jokes doesn’t mean lacking a sense of humour

Nicky Clark

53189836 300x227 Being offended by rape jokes doesnt mean lacking a sense of humourThere has been a spate of celebrities defending rape jokes to the world and their fan base on Twitter recently.  Comedian Daniel Tosh at a recent LA gig, called for comedy topics from his audience then when someone suggested rape as a topic, he allegedly silenced a woman protesting the idea with the suggestion that it would be “funny” if she were gang raped.

Comedy that makes you think can’t be bettered. All I think of these comedians is that arrogance is no arbiter of decency.

Comedian Louis CK was disappointingly being touted as an example of a ‘good rape joke’. Really? I think this joke actually counters defence of him. The premise was that CK had invited a woman back to his hotel room and when she had said stop, he’d stopped. He then went on to explain that the woman told him afterwards that she hadn’t meant that. She’d meant yes, but that she hadn’t wanted to tell him that. CK pointed out that this was a dangerous situation.

He had stopped. He hadn’t raped her. This was circulated and repeated. Taken at face value it’s an odd tale but it’s important to look more closely at the premise . What his fans failed to recognize were two glaring flaws in his joke. The first was that not raping someone isn’t an opportunity for self-congratulation. Not raping a woman is the act of a normal human being.

The second point is the most worrying.

His whole joke was based on the premise of probably the most damaging myth about rape there is. ‘She said no but she meant yes’. If you’re a rapist looking for celebrity endorsement, you might imagine that’s the place.

The next usual suspect to step up in defence of Tosh was Doug Stanhope. Doug can often be found defending things he feels passionate about, like free speech or in Doug’s interpretation, calling people with Downs Syndrome a “retard”. On his website Stanhope refutes this accusation and says it’s simply him doing an impression of Palin’s opponent, in the vice presidential debate. Except it isn’t really, because Stanhope uses the words at the start of the routine, before he goes on to use the words, in vice presidential “character”.

I’m no supporter of the viewpoints of Sarah Palin or of the columnist Alison Pearson who clashed with Stanhope over her opposition of the right to die. However this crucial argument was reduced to adolescent ranting with Stanhope wishing a fetid ovarian cyst on the columnist for having a different viewpoint. He waged a Twitter war and behaving much like the trolls he claims to loathe, and galvanized his fan base to heap abuse on the woman who had angered him. As a supporter of the right to die it was disappointing to see the issue being sidelined by Stanhope’s inarticulate tantrum.

In his defence of  Daniel Tosh he went for another oft repeated defence, “We only have her word to go on”. As the saying goes you can have your own opinion Doug, but you can’t have your own facts.

Although not actually there himself, Stanhope derided people commenting. Oddly he appears to have preferred to believe the word of the comedy club owner where the protesting and silencing took place. The club owner himself admitted that he hadn’t heard  it properly but that didn’t stop Doug wading in with his condemnation and reassurance that the woman was apparently an unreliable witness on her own feelings and experience, when she blogged about it.

His feelings were expressed via Twitter when he tweeted Tosh saying:

“You’re hilarious. If you ever apologize to a heckler again I will rape you. #FuckThatPig

Self regulation in comedy is at times as inadvisable as self regulation of banks, but I suppose if it’s “just” rape or “just” people with a learning disability then according to Doug “it’s funny because I tell you it is” Stanhope, then it’s ok.

Comics were extremely vocal that Tosh’s apologies were unnecessary, and ironically they seemed really offended by them, whilst simultaneous ridiculing anyone who was offended by rape jokes.  Also the Pavolovian defence of it’s “just a joke”. Once again the same line about there being no ‘rules to comedy’ and that no subject should be off limits was touted.

The oft-repeated phrase about how people shouldn’t confuse the subject of a joke and the target or a joke was wheeled out. Although true my concern is the less well-observed truth that the subject of a rape joke and the target of a rapist are usually the same thing.

The notion that people are just humourless, or PC when it comes to rape jokes is as exhausting as it is wrong. The idea that those who speak out against rape culture because they are simply being offended is also tiring.

This isn’t about offence, this is about fury at the number of rapes, which go unreported, the number of rapists who never face a jail term and the blame being shifted from the assailant to the target. Much more troubling are the famous apologists for rape jokes who bolster a culture whereby those who complain about enablement of cruelty are decried and ridiculed.

From jokes about disability, which target the disabled person, to jokes about sexual torture that target the person who is raped, if you utilize free speech to complain, you’re told to be quiet.

The fact is the notion of laughing at people for something they can’t help or prevent needs much closer scrutiny because despite the peddled myths of culpability – it wasn’t your fault. The fault for your attack lies sole and completely with the person who raped you. It doesn’t matter if you were drunk or what you were wearing. It doesn’t matter how late at night it was or whether you were alone. It doesn’t matter if you knew your attacker or you didn’t. It doesn’t make it your fault if you are mentally or physically disabled or if you have Alzheimer’s or mental health problems or if you were a child.

It wasn’t your fault. It was their fault.

It’s time that the jokes about rape stopped because instead of blaming the rapist they blaming the target. At the moment the people laughing the loudest are the ones who are benefitting from the promotion of rape “jokes”, the 97% of rapists who never spend a single day in jail in the US and the 90% of rapists who go unreported in the UK.

These shocking facts alone should cause some to stop and rethink their material, which promotes a culture that discourages people from reporting their rapist.

According to Home Office data table for Recorded Crime in England and Wales in 2011 the total number of recorded sexual offences stands at 54,982.

Not that Stanhope or Louis CK or any of the other famous comedians with huge fan bases running to embrace Tosh and tell the rest of us that we are humourless, will allow this type of PC nonsense to frame their narrative. Given the outpouring of negative public reaction to Tosh and his comments, the people who pay the wages of the famous are making their feelings clear.

As inconvenient as it is, perhaps it’s a truth worth considering. But then when it comes to challenging famous people via social media whether through Facebook, blog or on Twitter to paraphrase Doug from his own website:

“This is the arrogance of a ‘celebrity comic’ that is beginning to realize that they no longer have a monopoly on public discourse.”

With news from The DPP that 9 out of ten rapes go unreported the question isn’t can you make rape jokes, but, should you.

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  • Mr mc

    No more jokes about Irish
    No more jokes about French
    No more jokes about women

    Fact is jokes usually offend someone

  • Sam

    I agree. I don’t like Jim Davidson as I don’t think he is funny in the slightest but he still has a right to express himself in the way he sees fit.

  • NullFuture

    I’m not confusing anything. I’m not accusing them of racisim, merely of using something they may (or may not) have witnessed for comedic purpose and being funny with it, Chris Rock more funny than Martin Lawrence but such is life.

  • Donnie Roberts

    Well, you lied about Doug Stanhope “galvaniz(ing) his fan base to heap abuse on the woman who had angered him” in regard to Allison Pearson. As it was quite entertaining, I vividly recall the Twitter exchange between the two. The fact is that many of his loyal, yet misguided fans proceeded to heap abuse on Pearson. It was Stanhope himself who encouraged his followers to not blindly insult Pearson, but rather to read her absurd article and excoriate her based solely on what she had written.

    You also lied about this, “As a supporter of the right to die it was disappointing to see the issue being sidelined by Stanhope’s inarticulate tantrum.” Here’s a link to what Stanhope wrote in response to Pearson’s article and all the madness that followed (including her accusing him of misogyny and trying to have him arrested and fired).
    Its a rather well-written piece… is it because of all the cuss words and unfamiliar ideas that you’ve deemed it “inarticulate?”

    Lastly from what I’ve seen, I could never bring myself to read all of your blog posts (I’d rather bludgeon myself in the eyes using a 2×4 covered with glued shards of glass dipped in apple cider vinegar). But from what I HAVE read, you seem hell bent on informing us that you have a sense of humor. Guess what? I don’t believe you.

  • Luke Johansson

    Cancer is horrific, death in general can be horrific, child molestation is horrific, torture is horrific, suicide can be horrific. In fact, countless topics are or can be considered horrific. That being said, I have heard hilarious jokes about each of those subjects. Most people know someone, or are themselves affected by subject matter that is commonly used in comedy. Doug actually put it perfectly in an interview, the VAST majority of people have made or heard (without showing this passionate opposition that seems to spring up every time a person of note says anything that can be taken out of context) the old joke about someone going to prison and how they “better not drop the soap”. The shameless hypocrisy of these people makes me sick. Why is one rape joke ok yet another completely unacceptable? Is it because this time tested, old favourite is always made with a male victim in mind? Another example of the fierce hypocrisy that exists within the (I’m assuming) feminist circles, was the vile way the panel members of the view spoke about a man who had suffered genital mutilation at the hands of his wife, and the nonchalant way it was received by women actually defending it. Now this wasn’t a joke ABOUT male genital mutilation, this was actually mocking a SPECIFIC act in which a wife actually mutilated her husband’s genitalia. There was no joke, no humour, apart from the joy the ACT ITSELF brought about in Sharon Osbourne, and there were women who had the audacity to defend this.

    As a final note to summarise; everyone that says rape is never funny need to learn what “context” and “subjectivity” are, and to understand that what may not be funny to them because of their own personal experiences may be funny to someone else who lacks that particular frame of reference. In the same way that some people may be offended by drunk driving references in comedy because their grandfather’s cat’s uncle got hit by a drunk driver. If you don’t like someone, don’t associate with them – but other people will. If you don’t like a song, don’t listen to it – but other people will. If you’re offended by something, deal with it and move on (That’s in reference to my stance on humour – not rape, before you overzealous feminazis decide to comment.) – because other people will not be offended

  • Phillip Keane

    You are automatically assuming that I am protesting an “anti-rape” ideology. That is extremely dumb. Who ISN’T anti-rape?

    I am protesting anti-rape-joke campaigners, who seem to have nothing better to do than jump on a bandwagon because they have no real cause of their own.

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