08 June 2010

Rape Jokes and Equal-Opportunities Offensiveness

Bear with me for being over a year behind on responding to this post, I’m afraid that’s how I fucking roll. Highlight:
For example, for at least a decade, comedians have been doing “white people are like this” and “black people are like this” humor. On the face of it, this is “equal,” but in a society that is organized around whiteness, the effect is not the same. Jokes about how lame uncool, stiff, or stingy white people are simply don’t have the same consequence as jokes about how blacks are lazy or prone to crime.
The article misses a more straightforward business point: some t-shirts will sell better than others. I’m willing to bet that offensive attacks on Arabs, Muslims and (assumed to be) illegal immigrants will prove more popular than light-hearted digs at whitey’s embarrassing dancing.

But the article also seems to have missed a wider point. They seem to read “offensive” and “socially damaging” as synonyms, which is a massive oversimplification. Taboos do not, cannot, be established simply by avoiding them. They have to be discussed, and shown, and there are several ways of doing this:
  • The Comeuppance: Oedipus goes mad and blinds himself, Mark Renton dives into in the worst toilet in Scotland for his methadone, Gene Hunt had got it all wrong, Bill gets killed.
  • Association with more established taboos: after raping the female-to-male transsexual, they murder him. Saying something stupid or evil within his first five minutes on screen. Doing something utterly evil and getting away with it.
  • Being played by Alan Rickman or having certain foreign accents.
  • The medium itself: if it’s in Grand Theft Auto or a Marilyn Manson video, this is a context where you expect taboos to be broken, and every transgression announces a taboo.
I’d even say computer games are popular precisely because they allow you to do things you can’t do in real life – not just shoot hookers, but leap several times your own height, fly a jet, lead armies of little blue-and-green men over a cliff, have several chances at life and so on. If you’re enjoying a video game, you might as well take it as a sign that you can’t, or shouldn’t, do this in real life. That’s why I’m unassuming and non-violent in real life, but turn into a murderous psychopath the moment you put a joypad in my hand.

It’s a truism to say that context is everything, but with humour, as with any treatment of taboos, it’s fairly important. Taboos are established and strengthened by breaking them under controlled conditions. With humour, this could be that it’s on an offensive t-shirt, that the character saying it is stupid or obviously prejudiced, or that the person saying it is Jimmy Carr. The Sick Joke is an important social institution which states quite clearly, “humour: do not express in seriousness”. This seems to work with most humour – the expectation of laughter officially states that this is not the speaker’s own opinion. Even with the most childish puns, the joker breaks and establishes the taboo assumption that because ‘ajar’ sounds like “a jar”, if the door is ajar it’s clearly not a door. I count four reasons not to say in seriousness what you might say in a joke:
  • The Unspeakably Sick Joke: You can’t say that because it’s socially unacceptable. You can think it, but please keep your opinion to yourself.
  • The Unthinkably Sick Joke: You can’t say that because it’s quite obviously a completely stupid opinion to hold, and absolutely nobody will agree with you. Change your mind as quickly as possible.
  • The Unreasonably Sick Joke: You can’t say that because, even if it does reflect the way that you think and act, the way you think and act doesn’t bear enough rationalisation to talk about.
  • The Unfunny Sick Joke: Aka the sick cracker joke. You can’t say that because it’s a bad joke that we’ve all heard a hundred times before. You do anyway. Everyone laughs, and wishes they weren’t laughing, which is even funnier.
The best satire usually involves the Unreasonably Sick Joke. You observe someone’s attitude or behaviour, and reformulate it as if it was the product of a conscious, rational thought process. The best belly laughs mix the Unthinkably Sick Joke and the Unfunny Sick Joke. Someone expresses a ludicrously offensive, stupid opinion. You laugh, thinking “God, that’s not even funny”. Which is funny. The Unspeakably Sick Jokes tend to be the most unfunny, smug and self-congratulatory and, scientifically speaking, the most closely equivalent to wanking in front of the mirror. Everybody thinks gays are disgusting, women are useless bitches and black people are all criminals. But what with PC and stuff you’re not supposed to say these things. I am though, because I’m a hero. This kind of joke is traditionally followed with “Am I right?”, which roughly translates to “This isn’t really a joke, laugh if you agree with me.”

So now I’m going to analyse some Sick Jokes, which, obviously, will not only be offensive and potentially triggering, but also pretty lengthy, so I won’t be offended if you skip to the end, carefully avoiding reading anything or clicking the links.

First, I’ll translate some t-shirts The Social Image objects to.
It’s not gay if you beat them up afterwards
Unreasonable. “Macho closet cases who use violence to sooth their feelings of self-doubt are fucking idiots”
Stop abortion: Kill sluts
It’s pretty self-contradictory, so at first I tended towards Unthinkable. On the other hand, avoiding hypocrisy has never been the pro-lifer’s strong point, so I’m going to go with Unspeakable. “Only sluts have abortions, and as such forfeit the right to life”.
[Crucifix] Men who wear sandals get what they deserve
Unthinkable. “Yeah, sandals are gay, but it’s not quite serious enough to kill people for it.”
[People fucking in hospital] Coma Sutra
Unfunny/Unreasonable. “Coma and Kama sound similar! Raping women in their sleep is a laughing matter!”
Slavery gets shit done
Unreasonable, sort of. A blunt way of saying “slavery, as an economic system, is immensely beneficial for the slave owner”. People who are offended by this should avoid history books like the plague.
Kill yourself: all the cool kids are doing it
Unreasonable. “Teenagers who kill themselves often do so partially out of concern for their image.”
Swallow or it’s going in your eye
Unspeakable. “Women should be required to swallow semen and, if necessary, threatened with physical pain into doing so.”
I’ve had it up to here with midgets
Unfunny/Unspeakable. “‘To have had up to here’ can be interpreted both literally and metaphorically. Midgets are lesser people.”
If a fat girl falls in the forest, do the trees laugh?
Unspeakable. “Fat girls are lesser people. It’s natural to laugh at them.”
[Man on bog] The Koran: Now in two-ply
Unspeakable, if that. “Islam is bollocks and Muslims should be regularly belittled”. Rule of thumb: if you can imagine people wearing a t-shirt unironically, it’s not just incitement to religious hatred, it’s also not actually a joke.
[Woman with utensil] I should be in the kitchen
Unspeakable. “Women should be in the kitchen”.
Arrest Black babies before they become criminals
Unreasonable/Unspeakable, can go either way. “Black people are (unfairly characterised as) criminals. This is obviously (not) genetic.”
[Stripper] I support single moms
Unspeakable. “Single mothers are often driven to demeaning sex work by poverty. I am not exploiting them but helping them.”
What about all the good things Hitler did?
Unthinkable. “We focus too much on all the war and genocide.” I ruled out Unspeakable as everyone and his dog mentions Autobahns and reviving the German economy all the fucking time. On the other hand, some people do confuse “never talking about” and “talking about all the fucking time”.
I [plane] NY
Unthinkable/Unfunny. “The ubiquitous heart symbol can be replaced with other things. I intend to fly a plane into the World Trade Centre”.

While it’s not actually humour (or funny, or good), Cath Elliot and Lady McScamp get understandably upset by a Marilyn Manson video where he sings meaningfully into the camera about being sensitive and heartbroken for three-and-a-half minutes, before bludgeoning an attractive blonde girl in her underwear to death. The standard response is along the lines of
If the viewer didn't previously think beating & raping women was sexy Manson sure wants them to think it now
Of course, it’s a Marilyn Manson video. Anything that happens in a Marilyn Manson video is deliberately crafted to shock you and so not something you should attempt yourself. Marilyn Manson knows this, his fans know this. But this video works two ways. He’s still a taboo-busting Gothic shock-rocker, but he’s also an empathetic artist/musician who pulls a face like a kicked puppy while he sings about loss. Is this ingeniously-crafted ambiguity, between emotional sensitivity and emotional overreaction, challenging our ideas of empathy and exposing the fine line between navel-gazing and psychosis? Or is he just trying to look sensitive to sell his power-ballad to the lucrative emo market without alienating his core fanbase?

Then there’s Ricky Gervais’s rape-jokes:
I've done it once and I'm really ashamed of it. It was Christmas - I'd had a couple of drinks and I took the car out. But I learned my lesson. I nearly killed an old lady. In the end I didn't kill her. In the end, I just raped her.
Unthinkable. “Raping old ladies is not as bad as drink-driving.” This one is ambiguous though – is raping old ladies unthinkable because old ladies are weak and vulnerable and rape is an awful, awful thing to do to anyone, or because old ladies aren’t sexy? Which aspect you find unthinkable (and therefore laugh at) determines quite reliably whether you need to be hit in the face with a shovel.
[Lengthy exchange where the inventor of a sex-machine pretends to test it on a female volunteer, but actually uses his own penis]
Unreasonable. “Men will often use subterfuge to have sex with a woman who wouldn’t let them otherwise”. It’s not a pleasant way to say it, but it’s true, and it’s not like you end up admiring the inventor.
From The Invention of Lying
[Tall, thin, pretty, blond, white woman is walking down the street and passes Gervais.
Gervais: The world's gonna end unless we have sex right now!
[Woman whips around and she looks at him, VERY frightened and frantic.]
Woman: Do we have time to get to a motel, or do we need to do it right here?!
Unspeakable. “Making women think they will die if they don’t have sex with you is something we’d all do if we got the chance.” What’s nasty about this is not that it’s a rape-joke, not that it condones rape, but that, in the trailer at least, it seems to pass people by as a light-hearted fantasy.

Right. Those are the jokes that didn’t make me laugh. Except that first t-shirt, I think I smirked. It’s quite clever, though I wouldn’t wear it. These are some Sick Jokes I do like.
PETA demo: Semi-naked women packaged as meat.
Unthinkable. “Women are meat”. Though PETA are usually godawful shite, this is clever. It plays on our entirely justified objections to treating women like meat, and makes us think about how we treat meat. If you’re offended at the objectification of women, good, so you should be, now get offended at your dinner, carnivore scum. PETA exploit the social function of “offence”.

Anal Cunt. Anal Cunt are fucking genius. Any opinion expressed by Anal Cunt is not the opinion of Anal Cunt. Any opinion expressed by Anal Cunt is probably not the opinion of anyone. Anyone whose opinion is expressed by Anal Cunt is an arsehole and a cunt. Some highlights:
your band is fucking awesome,you have the best sound
you're really really good, you're the best band around
[chorus:]hootie and the blowfish
Unthinkable. “Hootie and the Blowfish are a talented and inventive band and just the sort of thing Anal Cunt like”
[Of a potential rape victim]
I saw you wearing a 311 shirt and reading French poetry
To your lesbian lover who was wearing a beret
Unreasonable. “People who like 311, French poetry, sex with other women or wearing berets are socially objectionable, and deserve to be raped”. Apart from the (AC-standard) 311 dig, berets, French poetry and lipstickless lesbianism are somewhat frowned upon in certain circles, and let’s not pretend rape is never used to express disapproval of women.
You shouldn’t have been a woman
You shouldn’t have had a cunt[...]
You should’ve worn a chastity belt
You should’ve volunteered to fuck him
You should’ve been ugly
I hate you because you’re a woman
Unreasonable. “Rape victims should have modified their behaviour. Rape victims are partially, if not wholly to blame. Rape victims are to blame because they are women and it is possible to rape them. I hold these opinions because I hate women.” Don’t tell me anyone would ever un-ironically express that attitude in those words. Don’t tell me that people don’t have that attitude anyway.

Lastly, one of the many neo-Fascist closet-cases the BNP put up for election a while backsaid
Rape is simply sex. Women enjoy sex, so rape cannot be such a terrible ordeal. To suggest that rape, when conducted without violence, is a serious crime is like suggesting that force-feeding a woman chocolate cake is a heinous offence. A woman would be more inconvenienced by having her handbag snatched.
Feminism 101’s reply wasn’t outrage or condemnation, but sarcasm. They took him at his word. They made their readers envisage being force-fed chocolate cake. It’s pretty harrowing, and absolutely spot on. It’s also very funny. When some gobshite says if sex=chocolate cake, rape=walk in the park, yes, he’s drawn the wrong conclusion, but it’s much funnier, and much more effective as an argument, to point out that his premisses are sound and yes, force-feeding a woman her favourite dessert is a pretty effective way to ruin her life. You see, the thing nobody wants you to know about feminists is, for all their bluster about rape-jokes, they do them fucking brilliantly.

It’s not enough to just dismiss offensive humour, however offensive, simply because it’s offensive. Joking about something is just an oblique way of talking about it. Rape jokes tend to be considered the most offensive (and so to their fans, the most hilarious) because we’re still cagey about talking about rape. We’re still cagey about joking/talking about rape, not because rape is bad (we joke about war and death and all manner of serious stuff), but because, either straight-faced or as jokes, people say abhorrent and stupid things about it. And what people say about rape in jest is nowhere near as damaging as what misogynist cunts in in fuckwit-wigs say in all seriousness. Joking about rape is not a taboo because of how bad rape is, but because of how reluctant we are to discuss it, and how flippant certain people are about it in perfect seriousness.

Both the thin-skinned maiden aunts saying “that’s not funny” and the self-satisfied wags saying “calm down, it’s a joke” have failed catastrophically to understand the first thing about humour. It may well be a joke, but if the joke’s message is cuntish, you’re still a massive cunt. It may well be very funny indeed, and you may be a massive cunt with a fine turn of phrase and split-second comic timing, but I’m afraid that’s still a massive cunt. Ok so I'll snigger at your joke because it's good, but if you ever catch fire, you can piss on yourself laughing boy. Sorry.


  1. Whoa dude. Two posts in a day.

  2. Fuck me, but this is a good piece. Tweeted.

  3. In light of this brilliant post, I would definitely piss on you if you caught fire. In a good way, laughing boy.

  4. I've been doing some things about 'offensive' comedy recently, including hosting an event as part of the Underbelly Comedy Festival and blogging, so try this for some thoughts on the subject:


  5. So you're offended. So fucking wot?

    To offend is to be offensive. To offend someone is, well not allowed these days if they belong to one of the protected groups ie gay people, coloured people, women and the disabled.

    Feminists subscribe to the principle of free speech unless and until some bitch is offended and wants to rip your balls off.

    What is hate-speech?

    It is speech that makes people hate you.

    What is hate-crime?

    The hate-criminals are the ones who hate you for saying what you just said and want to rip your balls off.

    I think I have got that right ...

  6. Thanks for the positive feedback. PBD - interesting article, I've left a comment and cross-plug myself.

    Claire: you've misunderstood the entire article. Probably because you're a thick-headed whiny bint. Hit yourself in the face with something hard a few times and read it again.

    "So you're offended. So fucking wot? "
    So I think you're a thick-headed whiny bint. Is that the answer you were looking for?

    "To offend is to be offensive. To offend someone is, well not allowed these days if they belong to one of the protected groups ie gay people, coloured people, women and the disabled."
    Ah, that explains why Jimmy Carr and Ricky Gervais are serving those jail sentences instead of filling out auditoriums and making a fuckload of money telling shit jokes with smug faces. Of course it's fucking allowed, that's why you get to hear people make offensive jokes. It's just when they do, they get criticised for it, in the same way when you say thick-headed whiny stuff, I call you a thick-headed whiny bint.

    "Feminists subscribe to the principle of free speech unless and until some bitch is offended and wants to rip your balls off. "
    And then, horror of horrors, they'll use their undeserved free speech to say nasty things about you! Can't they see the tears in your eyes? It shouldn't be allowed!

    "What is hate-speech?
    It is speech that makes people hate you.
    What is hate-crime?
    The hate-criminals are the ones who hate you for saying what you just said and want to rip your balls off.
    If you're going to say stupid shit, we reserve the right to form our opinions of you based on the stupid shit you've said. If hating thick-headed whiny bints for being thick-headed whiny bints makes me a hate-criminal then I'm happy to go to hate-prison for my beliefs.

    "I think I have got that right ..."
    I think you've confused 'getting it right' with 'dribbling angry, incoherent bollocks all over a perfectly good blog'. In the same way that you've confused 'free speech' with 'silencing your critics', and 'thick-headed whiny bint' with 'martyr'.

  7. Anonymous5/7/10 18:41

    Claire Khaw is worse than a whiney bint, calling her one is offensive to whiney bints. She is an immigrant against immigration, an ethnic minority who is racist and woman who hates women. She takes the worst parts of the Koran, with the most moronic interpretation, and peddles it as enlightened shit. She self promotes on a worrying scale, one wonders how a tax payer has the time, she thinks slavery should return and international apologies can be made with a prostitute. She also hates single mothers and calls them slags and slappers.

    hateful vile woman.

  8. 1. Actually, "Anonymous" (who is doubtless female), to put it another way, I think the concerns of those about immigration should be honestly discussed and dealt with after being honestly discussed

    2. In what way am I racist, unless to have concerns about immigration makes one racist? It does seem an extreme conclusion to come to, if I may say so. Is poor Mrs Gilliian Duffy racist?

    3. Which parts of the Koran do I take? I have had praise from Muslim scholars about my quite servicable if not impressive knowledge of the Koran. Those who wish to check out my interpretations should read in particular The Battlefield Love blog.

    4. I don't hate women, but I hate hate feminism, which in my humble opinion is bad for men as well as women, the young as well as the old, and certainly bad for the future of Britain.

    5. I have no problem with slavery if there is the possibility of manumission and the property in the slave resides in the state. Illegal immigrants, bankrupts and bankers would be amongst the class of people I have in mind for enslavement.

    6. Single mothers are indeed the worst sort of people, and our fear of criticising single mothers is of course a product of the extremist feminism regime we are currently living under.

  9. See what I mean? Thick-headed whiny bint right through to the core.

  10. Wow, Alex, you've got so many devastating arguments at your command.

  11. I have indeed, but why would I waste them when I can just pelt you with repetitive abuse?

  12. Fuck me I've just noticed Claire Khaw brang up Gillian Duffy. Confused self-martyring loudmouths of a feather, eh?

  13. Ok, firstly I have no Idea how I found this site. I was minding my own business, and then suddenly I notice a tab open which hinted at the subject of rape, and here I am.

    This line really made me laugh:

    "Bear with me for being over a year behind on responding to this post, I’m afraid that’s how I fucking roll."

    In the same way, I am almost a year late commenting on this post, but that's how I fucking roll too!