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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  • NullFuture

    Oops, missed this one.

    Indeed you are correct about many black comedians talking about racism as they have experienced it, however, they have (and still do) talk about it from the position of black people being racist. Martin Lawrence has been one of the forerunners in this aspect and Chris Rock has also had such material. Do we stop them? No, because it examples, or lampoons, the stupidity of racism regardless of who it’s by.

    On top of this, if we go back to the Louis CK joke, it was about an experience he had, or claimed to have had.

  • Darren Anderson

    just awful about your sister….And you will not encounter much support in these hills ref Lighten up or ‘dont take jokes seriously’ which (I have been informed by some) equates me with the rapist. That’s what youre dealing with.

  • Darren Anderson

    to even discuss the censoring of comedy is backwards, whatever the subject which one feels is unpalatable.

  • Darren Anderson

    Agree on the Louis CK piece- you have to be agitated to find such sinister meaning in this CK piece to actually find it, which is worrying.Goodness me, if those passionate about raising awareness/understanding around such an important issue decide to ‘find’ such meaning in Louis CK, they have no credibility- particularly when one takes a minute to assess more worthy targtes. It doesnt seem to matter what cold hard factual stuff you submit- for those who have decided “that guy is a misogynist and his hidden meaning is he tacitly supports rape” or some such nonsesne, there is no progressive debate. They would censor comedians, and offer nothing that would tangibly progress our society to understand and intelligently discuss such a topic. Comedy is way off being a legitimate target- but it’s an easy one.

  • Carbonel

    Chris Rock is not racist. I’ve never seen Martin Lawrence so I can’t comment on him. You confuse frank discussion of race & racism with racism itself.

  • Carbonel

    So, if you follow my point, it’s fine for Amy Schumer or Andy Andrist to discuss their experiences.

    It’s not about taking offence: it’s about contributing to a damaging culture of ignorance, myth & trivialisation around rape.

  • stonedwolf

    You implied it.

    “Stop feminists, support STRONG FAMILIES.”

    The implication, clearly drawn, is that feminism is the antithesis of “strong families”. Yes, blame-attributing – and completely moronic too by the way.

  • Martin

    calling people’s posts “moronic’ is offensive, men are NO longer willing to be abused,this is NOT the 1970s, i have reported your post as offensive

  • stonedwolf

    I quite agree, morons would be horrified to be associated with a numpty such as yourself.

  • Paul Connor Kearns

    For me, rape is an odious crime. Thus, it is, by definition, unfunny. Making ‘jokes’ about rape is, in my opinion, piss weak and tasteless.

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