12 July 2012

Daniel Delegates

This is a post about rape jokes. It's got some in. If you don't want to read them, feel free to skip to the end at any point and I won't be offended.

So Daniel Tosh, comedian, was doing his schtick about how rape can be funny, got heckled for it, and made jokes about the heckler getting gang raped. He has since, I should point out, provided some unsubstantiated counter-accusations by way of apology. Anyway, this has set off the customary argument between the people who say rape is never a legitimate topic for humour, and the comedians who say it can be when they do it.

Ally Fogg argues that comedy "takes you on a journey", and whether the joke is ok or not depends on the journey. I'd put it even more simply - every joke is a statement. A convoluted, roundabout statement largely for entertainment purposes, but still a statement. If the statement is so at odds with your understanding of the world that it makes no sense, you won't find it funny. If it's the kind of statement an asshole would make or agree with, if you tell or laugh at that joke, you're an asshole.

Usually, as I've gone into, the statement is pretty easy to decode. Sometimes, you're saying the opposite of what you really think, or what you really think but exaggerated. Sometimes you're saying something you think but that it's socially unacceptable to say. Sometimes you're saying what your gut reaction is, but which is at odds with what you actually think. Most of the time though, you're also saying "I refuse to take this topic seriously at this point in time."

This is one of the problems with rape jokes. Nobody treats knocking on doors as a serious topic. As long as you take politics seriously at some point, being flippant about it is legit. When a person jokes about rape, they announce to anyone listening that they refuse to take rape seriously, and where this differs from refusing to take, say, murder or common assault seriously is that we as a society have a real problem taking rape seriously outside of humour. Granted, humour is upside-down, especially dark humour. The fact that we're shocked when people refuse to take it seriously can be the point of the joke, if you find it funny being shocked. But remember, not everybody likes being shocked by the thought of sexual violence.

From here on in there'll be detailed dissection of rape jokes, so you can either skip to the end, or skip the off-topic prattle about other shite he's said and read the main one the post is about.

The weird thing is, some of the statements Daniel Tosh has made through jokes, I reckon most feminists would agree with:
Basically, there are four kinds of rape. The traditional, scary rape which seems to happen only to joggers, so if you wanna stay safe, knock it off with the cardio.
This joke seems, weirdly, to be aimed at the kind of pre-emptive victim-blaming we get in the form of advice on how not to get raped. Instead of things like don't drink, dress sluttily or go out without a strong, responsible man to protect you - things we don't want women to do anyway - he picks things women are supposed to do, like work out and be healthy. He goes on:
Then there’s prison rape, which involves criminals so it doesn’t really count.
Well shit, feminists have been saying for years that our attitude to prison rape is abominable. He can't keep it up though:
Now, date rape is the politest rape of them all, but it would happen way less often if doctors would just stop prescribing the date rape drug. Last, but not least, statutory rape, which can be very confusing, because let’s be honest, women never look their age. 15 or 57, who can tell? I don’t work at a goddamn carnival. And every place is different. In these states [shows highlighted map of the US], the age of consent is 16. Basically, if your state can’t wait for President Palin, it’s a safe bet you can legally bang a high school sophomore. But for you real perverts, in Mexico it’s 12 so book your flights today.
He has to go off into puns and silliness (from Ludicrous Statement jokes to Rape!-LOL jokes), because the overall message of the skit is not "Victim blaming is ludicrous and we need to pay more attention to sexual assaults in prison" but "Relax, it's just rape. No need to take it so seriously."

Then there's the joke he apologised for. He starts off with a mixture of Rape!-LOL jokes and Rape-Joke-In-Front-Of-A-Feminist jokes. Rape is funny because it's something you're not to joke about, and telling jokes about rape is funny because some omnipresent straw feminist says you can't but you're doing it anyway. These are basically the worst jokes - the least funny and making you the shittest human being. Anyway, as soon as his authority as comedian is challenged, he goes:
Wouldn’t it be funny if that girl got raped by like, 5 guys right now? Like right now? What if a bunch of guys just raped her…
The joke works on two levels, both of which are unfunny and shit. On the first level, he's been told his jokes are upsetting someone, so, in a heroic act of resistance, he does it worse and focused directly on her. This is your standard Rape-Joke-In-Front-Of-A-Feminist. On the second, he's using hyperbole and Going Too Far. He's saying it'd be funny if she was gang raped, but all he really means is she should shut up.

Daniel Tosh has a weird idea of dramatic irony. This woman thinks something is too awful not to take seriously, so what would be hilarious is if it happened to her really awfully so she had to take it seriously. Not she disrupted my humour, wouldn't it be ironic if she didn't hear anything funny for a week, or she hates rape wouldn't it be funny if nobody ever got raped again anywhere. She hates rape so wouldn't it be funny if she got the thing she hates. Like how poetic justice is when someone prevents a murder and then gets murdered. But what Tosh is getting at is the same either way - he is not at fault for joking about rape, she is at fault for being uncomfortable with it. Though obviously nobody should really assault anyone, the threat of rape is a great way to shut up gobby women.

But the most interesting bit is that Daniel Tosh doesn't do his own dirty work. He doesn't imagine himself raping the heckler, but like 5 purely hypothetical guys. Maybe they're the stereotypical raincoat-and-glasses pervert entirely unlike him or his audience. Or some animalistic ethnic group entirely unlike him or his audience. Or the stereotypical Tattooed Thug that Nice Guys always lose out to, entirely unlike him or his audience. Or stereotypical overprivileged fratboy jocks, entirely unlike him or his audience. Whatever he was imagining, rape is externalised, outsourced.

Transgressive humour, as it's basically just pretending to break taboos under controlled conditions, does more to reinforce than to undermine them. But an awful lot hangs on what exactly these taboos are and why. Compare his skit on anti-bullying campaigns, where he seems to identify more with the bullies, and even if he's partly joking, the overall butt of the joke is the lameness of the victims. Yeah, he's edgy, but the wrong edge. Where good comedians push the envelope, he pulls it back towards himself and his own.

Daniel Tosh's joke doesn't remind us that rape is a terrible, terrible thing that we should never do, but that rapists are terrible, terrible people utterly unlike us. Clearly he would never rape a woman himself, but he's quite happy to use the fear of gendered violence by unspecified other people to get her to shut her trap. Even when his jokes hinge on the idea that rape is bad, like UniLad, his working definition is mostly the comparatively rare "stranger rape". While he doesn't tell the 6% of rapists in the crowd to keep up the good work, he does tell them to relax because rape is something other people do. Although he's not quite saying "rape is funny", he is providing a release valve for after bossy feminists force us to take it seriously. Of course, he would be appalled if the heckler really was attacked, it's just important to remind her of her place because his freedom of speech is more important than hers.

I don't want to say flat out that rape is never a laughing matter or a subject for humour, for the simple reason that I've seen quite a few feminists, even Melissa McEwan and even on anti-rape marches, use humour in discussions of rape, if not to comfort the afflicted, then to afflict the comfortable. Humour is a powerful tool and not one misogynists should have the monopoly on. The problem isn't that Daniel Tosh uses humour around rape, but how he does it. Daniel Tosh uses rape jokes to afflict women for the crime of being afflicted, and, if any rapists start to feel uncomfortable, to comfort them with a reminder that the real rapists are elsewhere.

Edit: Couple of things: Stavvers and Actual Professional Comedian Jonnie Marbles have both written things on Daniel Tosh which I recommend, plus Jezebel has a guide to joking about rape without being a total arse, giving four examples. Oddly enough, all of the examples, as well as ridiculous statements which satirise our perceptions and complacency around rape, are Unreasonable sick jokes. They make irrational behaviour and gut reactions that really happened sound absurd by describing them as if they were reasoned thought processes, rather than just saying something that the mean feminist thought police won't let you.

Also, I found out about Daniel Tosh's hilarious lightly touching women's stomachs while they're sitting down memeskit. Like with his heckler abuse, in itself this isn't rape, or sexual assault, or even particularly sexual. But it's the same use of hypothetical rape to intimidate: we get to touch you however and whenever we want and don't you forget it, PS no fat chicks.

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