Are Rape Jokes Funny?

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Are rape jokes funny?

"You know she's playing hard to get when you're chasing her down an alleyway."

Is that funny?

Not particularly.

Should Facebook pages devoted to rape jokes be taken down?

Not entirely sure.

It seems as though Facebook hosts a couple of pages devoted to rape jokes. Now before we go any further on this I must state for the record that if there is one particular human act that offends and disgusts me more than any other, it is rape. Kill, steal, cheat...okay, but rape? Unforgivable. Cut off his balls and feed them to him for dinner!

However, I am also a firm believer in freedom of speech – no matter how offensive.

So I suppose the question is: are rape jokes something that should be protected? Or, are they in fact the thin edge of the wedge in a culture that while ostensibly abhorring this most wretched of human acts still records something like a twenty percent sexual assault rate and conviction rates that are abysmal.

In her crusade against these pages, Jane Osmond acknowledges that freedom of speech is an important element in the debate, but insists that these jokes actually contribute to a culture of rape that pervades our society. ‘Rape jokes are hateful,’ she states, and they make light of or distort the reality faced by women every day. By not taking rape seriously, jokes such as these work to aid in the denial of the existence of wide-spread and prevalent sexual violence in our society.

I'm not so sure I disagree.

But can rape never be funny?

There is the famous George Carlin reply. “I can prove to you rape is funny. Picture Porky Pig raping Elmer Fudd!” Now that's just a little humourous, no?

What do you think?

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14 comments

  • Comment Link TJ Dawe Sunday, 16 October 2011 00:47 posted by TJ Dawe

    I think Carlin disproves his own point in that routine. His rape jokes aren't that funny. I've always thought that was one of his weaker routines. But I can see his impulse to defy anyone forbidding him to say something.

    There are rape jokes in Woody Allen's play and movie Play It Again Sam, and in a few early Mel Brooks movies. Young Frankenstein even contains an actual rape - in which the monster carries off snooty heiress Madeleine Kahn, who's scared as she sees him taking off his pants and tries to bargain her way out of the situation, but then becomes aroused when she sees his giant "schwanstucker," and bursts into song when he penetrates her. They wind up married at the movie's end. I saw Madeleine Kahn talk about this in an interview on Later with Bob Costas, and she described it as a rape in a way that implied the term was only occurring to her at that moment. And the movie was, at that point, twenty years in the past. More years have passed. Our sensibilities have changed. The fact that there are Facebook pages filled with rape jokes is a big surprise to me. I would have thought such things as outdated as Polack jokes, or Newfie jokes. Does anyone tell those anymore?

  • Comment Link Lindsay Monday, 17 October 2011 01:34 posted by Lindsay

    In a conversation with Br Trevor and Sr Sarah the other night, Br Trevor asked us our thoughts on this piece, and I definitely had some. One of my thoughts (which was completely independent from hearing or reading Br TJ’s comment), was that of all the Carlin jokes, that one’s just not that good. Mediocre at best. Not because it’s a rape joke, but because, in my opinion, it’s just not that funny. Especially in comparison to his other material.

    Also, my innate, visceral reaction (which must count for something), is that rape jokes are icky, and are just plain bad taste. We can do better than that. Some things are funny. Some things are sometimes funny. Some things are rarely funny. And some things are never funny (not many, but some). Rape jokes probably fall somewhere between rarely funny, and never funny.

    However, on the issue of free speech, I’m all for it. I really am. Tell your rape jokes. No really, tell them. Tell them loud and clear. Tell them at dinner, tell them on your facebook page and tell them on a first date. I’d prefer to know who the rape joke tellers are, and I’d rather they we’re subject to the public reaction/consequences of being a rape joke teller, rather than snickering privately with other rape joke tellers.

    It’s disappointing to me that there are two Facebook pages dedicated to rape jokes. I did search for them on Faceook though, and couldn’t find them. But they might still be there. If so we can evaluate them for ourselves, know which of our ‘friends’ have ‘liked’ those pages and be sure to never fuck them.

  • Comment Link Bergen Vermette Tuesday, 18 October 2011 08:17 posted by Bergen Vermette

    Just a short thought here...

    Comedians are always pushing at the boundaries of what's culturally taboo. Rape, for good reasons, is taboo. Because it's taboo, culture has some bent-up emotion / shadow around it. We feel that knot in various ways and comedians poke at it. It think it's a bit distasteful, but did laugh at the porky pig - elmer fudd joke.

    Can't tell if I laughed because it was ridiculous or because of the underlying nervous 'shock value' of a broken taboo.

    I did recently laugh my ass off during the movie Your Highness, when a male character was ass raped by a mythical minotaur. Are male rape jokes more acceptable (how many "don't drop the soap" gags have you seen), and if so why?

    (hell, there's even a male rape scene in the PG movie dumb and dumber)

  • Comment Link Trevor Malkinson Tuesday, 18 October 2011 20:04 posted by Trevor Malkinson

    I find this issue a tough one. Like Andrew I find rape deeply repugnant, and I'm loathe to allow for sites that only help build a culture where rape is laughed at and acceptable. Having said that, I've been through this intersection via other hot topics, and I think we ultimately need to hold up the value of free speech in these types of instances. It's just too slippery a slope, it's becomes too easy for people to censor others in all directions on the political spectrum etc, once we open that door. I could be talked out of it, but it seems to me that freedom of speech is a central pillar of modernity that must be preserved/included within any future cultural formation/advancement.

    So what do you do about sites like these on Facebook then? My view is similar to Lindsay's. I think people with contrary views need to go on to such sites and voice their views, do battle so to speak. We can also use the powerful social tools of shame and public scorn. In the end, what I'm saying, is that views such as these may have to be finally confronted in a living, vital human to human situation, not in some prefashioned censorship. Again, I'm open to other views, but that's where I am as I write this.

    As to Carlin, I laughed several times during that bit. At times it might've been like Bergen said, the old cover-the-mouth "oh my gosh did he say that" cultural taboo breaker laugh, but a couple of genuine laughs too. And I appreciate what Carlin was doing. During a (long) period where postmodern political correctness was culturally ascendent, Carlin never tired of going after it. I think his instincts were ultimately correct in that regard.

    Anyway, just a few thoughts today. This question of when free speech is appropriate will not go away anytime soon, so it always remains a useful discussion to work through.

  • Comment Link Lindsay Robertson Wednesday, 19 October 2011 20:07 posted by Lindsay Robertson

    I suppose whether or not the image of one cartoon character raping another is funny, is too subjective to come down on one side off. Again, I don't find it funny (and there's very little shock value in for me), but that doesn't mean it's not. However, like Bergen said, comedians do indeed push social boundaries. Carlin was a master at that, specifically in the arena of 'political correctness' like Trevor said. So given his gifts and talents in this area, and his ability to be unthinkably funny, a rape joke that does all these things, from Carlin, could've been way better. I wonder if even he was held back due to the social stigma of such a topic?

    I still can't find these pages on Facebook, but I have a feeling the jokes on there do none of these things that Carlin usually did so brilliantly. I still believe that in the spirit of free speech they should be 'allowed', and out in the open where they can be challenged.

  • Comment Link Chris Dierkes Tuesday, 25 October 2011 16:49 posted by Chris Dierkes

    to take a slightly different angle on this--legion are the cop shows in which the cops mock a criminal they've caught with the threat of "ending up in a cell with a guy named Bunny." This is perfectly normal and never really questioned. I mean I guess Porky Pig raping Elmer Fudd is something like male rape (though cartoonish), but generally what we are talking about here is male rapes of women....as per the earlier "joke" in the piece.

    But it seems--at least by the standards of nightly television--that males raping other males is funny. Or at least conventionally assumed to be so. If you ever saw HBO's Oz or American History X they have actually show (graphically) male prison rapes. Shawshank also refers to it though not as graphically.

    I just note that even in myself when the question is raised, "Are Rape Jokes Funny" I immediately think of a joke about a man raping a woman and have a revulsion. But it takes me extra thought to realize I here rape jokes on TV all the time. But such causal jokes about rape would clearly not be ok on TV if they were about men raping women.

  • Comment Link Trevor Malkinson Wednesday, 16 November 2011 00:26 posted by Trevor Malkinson

    well I think we know where Eve Ensler stands on this one.:) I found her statement quite a compelling and powerful read. It begins:

    "I am over rape.

    I am over rape culture, rape mentality, rape pages on Facebook.

    I am over the thousands of people who signed those pages with their real names without shame.

    I am over people demanding their right to rape pages, and calling it freedom of speech or justifying it as a joke.

    I am over people not understanding that rape is not a joke and I am over being told I don't have a sense of humor, and women don't have a sense of humor, when most women I know (and I know a lot) are really fucking funny. We just don't think that uninvited penises up our anus, or our vagina is a laugh riot."

    it goes on from there...

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/eve-ensler/over-it_b_1089013.html

  • Comment Link Richard Munn Friday, 18 November 2011 21:44 posted by Richard Munn

    Hey Chris,

    I liked what you brought to the discussion about the 'comedy' made of rape.

    I'll post a video here that I've watched many times as it demonstrates a strong ambiguity about male rape, male sexual identity, male shame, contrast with female rape, what support is available for men, machismo . . . it's packed. Oh, and it's by Dave Chapelle.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LLWlBgj0uOc&feature=results_main&playnext=1&list=PL3A983679AE6E6578

    Caught me slippin' . . .

  • Comment Link Bergen Vermette Saturday, 19 November 2011 02:25 posted by Bergen Vermette

    Oh man that's funny.

    Here's the minotaur male rape scene I mentioned above, missing an extra funny bit at the end (for those who've seen the movie), but you get the picture...

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KIMwAyN1hWs&feature=related

  • Comment Link Chris Dierkes Saturday, 19 November 2011 19:33 posted by Chris Dierkes

    @Richard,

    that's exactly it. Chapelle is always right on the money.

    I just read an article apropos of this in the VancouverSun today. Money quote:

    For men in particular, promiscuity, uncontrollable rage and aggressive behaviour can are common coping mechanisms as they attempt to overcompensate for what they experience as the emasculating effect of sexual abuse at the hands of an older man, said Jim Hopper, a clinical instructor in psychology at Harvard Medical School, who has studied the long-term effects of sexual abuse on men.... "Relative to girls, boys are socialized to not be aware of, to not express, and to not have empathy for vulnerable emotions," said Hopper. "So, when you're abused, you're hit with these overwhelming emotions, and, as a male, you're conditioned not to be able to deal with them."

    http://www.vancouversun.com/news/More+needed+help+Canadian+have+been+sexually+abused+experts/5735876/story.html

    Or in Chapelle's language, 'you just gotta walk that off.'

    This connects to Tim's piece around men not being taught to respond to vulnerable emotions:

    http://beamsandstruts.com/articles/item/608-on-mens-pain

  • Comment Link Amy Jean Cousins Sunday, 20 November 2011 01:56 posted by Amy Jean Cousins

    Hey folks,
    I'd have to say rape jokes are never funny. I'm with Eve on this one -as it relates to both sexes.
    Andrew, I share a similar feeling about rape -I feel the potential of an uncontrollable rage inside me when I think about the fact that some of my friends have been raped, and that children are also victims of rape. So this is definitely a charged topic for me.

    The clip Bergen linked to, I actually have issue with. The character -- after being raped by a minotaur, actually does not look that distressed by the whole matter. If a man was actually raped -and this is me being super serious and offended by the joke -he would be totally shattered by the experience. Especially a heterosexual man, who has never once though a penis up his ass would be a nice thing to experience. Shattering and deeply disturbing shit.

    I always think about this scene from a film I saw about a grown man, dealing with the fact that he was raped as a boy. It was a scene from "The prince of tides" it deeply upset me at the time. Definitely not something we talk about openly in our culture and DEFINITELY nothing to joke about. I think if we have actually witnessed rape, or experience rape, these jokes are deeply offensive -and never funny.

    I can, however, appreciate Chapelle's approach because I think we're laughing at how utterly sad the truth of what he's saying is...

  • Comment Link Bob Main Friday, 16 December 2011 13:44 posted by Bob Main

    Just poking around the site at 5am and I decided that this would be a good (and dangerous?) place to comment for the first time. Apologies if this sounds tired because I bloody am...

    I hope it's eventually obvious that actual rape isn't what people are laughing at. People are laughing at timing, absurdity, irony, the unexpected, all that comedy stuff. Louis CK has a few funny jokes about rape (youtube the unfortunate: "louis ck rape"). They're well written and it's all handled with pretty perfect amounts of said comedy stuff because he's excellent at his job. Not everyone can do that. His jokes are told from that amazing place where "everyone is in on the irony, or are they?" We live there, but that's another very long story... Anyway, just like all comedy (music, philosophy, lit, film, architecture, etc.) there's obviously the taste problem, not funny to everyone. And rape has that horrible bit where it's actually a fact and there are victims, but then there are war jokes, murder jokes, illness jokes, horribly-dumped jokes, an endless list of "victim comedy," so where does that leave us? And I think that's close to the main point. Comedians (probably not people making rape-joke Facebook pages...) are simply looking to make (all!) life funny. They fail all the time (half of Kids in the Hall comes to mind), but they keep digging for the funny where there may or may not be any. And fortunately (or unfortunately, doesn't matter...) there are no limits on where the mind will dig. Without those extremes of thinking, without brains that wrestle with ideas and laughter, we wouldn't have some of the extremes on these very beamy and struttish web pages.

    Oh.... what the heck... There's a Fringey play called "This is Cancer" that did quite well, I think? People told me to go because I had the same cancer as a child, but I had no interest because it's MY cancer and I don't want to sit around and wait to see how other people laugh at it. I don't want to be told that it's funny by how others react. (I was also worried (after watching the trailer) that it's not funny at all, but it's getting that irritating free ride that sometimes happens when a topic is so sad or honest that we pretend it's good...) Mostly, I don't like musicals, but the point is that I would never dream of telling Bruce Horak that his play is offensive and therefore, what? Shouldn't be performed? That's truly extreme thinking... Anyway, substitute cancer for rape (extreme comedy!) and I think there's a point in there somewhere... Sensitivity is (thankfully?) relative. As you were.

    Regards,
    Bob Main

    PS. I bet most people don't notice the massive overuse of "wonky eye" humour in contemporary fiction. I've been meaning to start a blog about it...

  • Comment Link Bergen Vermette Saturday, 17 December 2011 22:19 posted by Bergen Vermette

    The comment above is a good one... just wanted to add a 'current events' update re: rape jokes.

    last week a popular (former) MMA champion, Miguel Torres, tweeted a clearly offside (and kinda disturbing) rape joke. He was promptly dropped from the UFC by president Dana White.

    The plot thickens though as White previously excused 2 prior rape jokes from other former champions, Forest Griffen and Rashad Evans. The rational behind the dropping of one guy but not others, was the context behind it. Griffen's comment, for example, was apparently an observation taken out of context (and he promptly began volunteering for a rape relief program), while Torres' comment had no explanation to it (beyond a sick joke with poor taste).

    Anyway, clearly the whole rape joke thing is a debate alive and well in society.
    http://sports.yahoo.com/mma/blog/cagewriter/post/UFC-sets-the-line-on-rape-jokes-Torres-gone-whi?urn=mma-wp10471

    Oh and by the way... apparently male rape jokes are still okay, as just days after the Torres expulsion, president Dana White made his own male rape quip on twitter...
    http://sports.yahoo.com/mma/blog/cagewriter/post/Dana-White-responds-to-Twitter-troll-with-prison?urn=mma-wp10789

  • Comment Link Andrew Baxter Saturday, 17 December 2011 22:38 posted by Andrew Baxter

    I think you hit the nail on the head Bob. Anything can be funny if told properly. I say terrible things sometimes and boy if they are not just hilarious. Not because of the words themselves but because of the timing and delivery. Shock can be well done, there is no question.

    But when taken out of that context, when simply told to be crass, I'm not convinced that rape jokes are terribly funny and should be off limits (I can't believe I just said that!)...especially male rape jokes which seem to have no cultural sanction behind them at all. I'm certainly sympathetic to the point that there are plenty of terrible things that happen to people all over the world and so are those things off limit too?

    I have no answers. Only confusion. Ambivalence. A very strange and unfamiliar feeling.

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