01 December 2011

A Short Typology of Rape Jokes

Ok, I've already done a short thing on types of offensive humour, but I'm gearing up for a pretty long thing on rape jokes and metaphors, and so I'd more than welcome any feedback on the models I'm going to use for it. I'm not going to give examples of actual rape jokes here, as you probably didn't come here to read that sort of thing, and if you comment I'd ask you to do the same or give fair warning.

I count two ways of looking at humour. The first I'm going to call the Chuck-Flav Model: There are serious statements and there are silly ones. The purpose of the silly ones is to lighten the mood after a serious statement. Famous users include, of course, Public Enemy, but also classical Greek literature and when Johann Hari puts in a godawful pun before a serious, leg-stroking sentimental assertion. The second is the Isn't-Žižek-Clever Model. Very clever philosopher Slavoj Žižek tells a joke, but that joke, by drawing attention to absurdity, is a serious philosophical statement as well. Famous users include Woody Allen, Sigmund Freud, Stephen Moffat and Bertolt Brecht. Possibly also Jesus and the Babylonian Talmud.

I'm a firm believer in the second model, and these are the four types of offensive jokes I'm working with:
  • The Unspeakably Sick Joke: It's absurd to say it but it's ok to think it.
    E.g. women, eh? Eh? Amirite?
  • The Unthinkably Sick Joke: It's absurd to say it because it's absurd to think it.
    E.g. leave the ladder where it is and just turn your wrist. You can change it on your own now.
  • The Unreasonably Sick Joke: It's absurd to say it as some kind of rational opinion, even though it perfectly describes common behaviour.
    E.g. most of the jokes where a dog (Wilfred, Brian, Dean Spanley) describes doggy thought processes.
  • The Unfunny Sick Joke: It's absurd to say it because it's not funny. It's absurd to even think it's funny. So why am I laughing?
    E.g. Orange you glad I didn't say banana.
I also count four levels of rape jokes. They don't really get better or worse with depth, just, er, deeper:
  1. The Rape!-LOL! Rape Joke: This is the simplest one. Rape is a taboo subject. So just saying the word is enough of a taboo-break to get a laugh. While this looks like Unspeakable humour, it’s more Unthinkable/Unfunny. It is absurd to think rape is funny, therefore to joke about it is absurd, and absurd is funny. Not that this lets this kind of joke off the hook: rape is sex as well as violence, and so is quite often taboo for the wrong reasons.
  2. The Ridiculous Idea Rape Joke: An Unthinkable or Unreasonable claim about rape, which is funny because it’s ridiculous. When feminists use irony, sarcasm or any other kind of humour, for example running a reductio ad absurdum on victim blaming, this is the joke they're telling. Of course, what ideas about rape you find absurd enough to laugh at say an awful lot about how you see it, and it this kind of joke is also an excellent medium for being an arsehole.
  3. The Going-Too-Far Rape Joke: The trouble is, not all ridiculous statements are ridiculous because you think the ideas they’re based on are ridiculous. I’m sure any feminists reading are well aware of the heinous crime of taking things too far, and that the people taking a stand against it are usually all for equality in principle. What’s Unthinkable with this kind of joke isn’t our basic cultural assumptions about rape, but failure to impose a limit on following them through, and failing to keep it reasonable and centrist. It has less to do with challenging ideas to do with rape than it does with staying comfortably close to the status quo. It resists movements in either direction, but suffice to say feminists won’t get much use out of this kind of rape joke.
  4. The Rape Joke In Front of a Feminist Rape Joke: Now this really is Going Too Far. Your statement about rape isn’t Unthinkable or Unreasonable, and isn’t obviously different enough from your real opinion to even seem like a joke, ruling out Unfunny. But if it’s obvious a feminist is listening, expressing this kind of opinion is Unspeakable, because they will call the thought police or get you sacked for sexual harassment or turn you into a newt or whatever it is they do. Of course, once she’s gone, this opinion is no longer Unspeakable and the opinion you just expressed is no longer laughable. You know when you go on a woman’s blog comments section and explain exactly what should be done to her? This is the joke you’re attempting to make. If you were a bit scared when these jokers found your home or work address, it obviously went over your head.

To make it a bit clearer through mild equivalents, the Rape!-LOL! Rape Joke is sort of equivalent to shouting “BUMS!” The Ridiculous Idea Rape Joke is sort of like saying that, just because they sound the same, a door is a jar. The Going Too Far Joke is sort of like how Jeremy Clarkson wants striking workers to be executed except he doesn't really and a far milder punishment would suffice. The Rape Joke In Front of a Feminist Rape Joke is like shouting “BUMS!” in front of a vicar or a maiden aunt.

Anyway, suggestions/additions/criticisms most welcome in the comments. Being a dick less so.

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