Saturday, 28 October 2017

Rape jokes.

A version of this article first appeared in Indy Voices in 2012 entitled "Being offended by rape jokes, doesn't mean lacking a sense of humour". I'm not offended I'm asking for pause and contemplation.The subject is once again under the microscope with the horrific news of sexual abuse, harassment and rape.
Unfortunately my article has recently been inadvertently deleted and so while I wait for it to be reinstated, I've reproduced it here.

A photo from my first comedy gig

There 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 she be gang raped .
Comedy that makes you think can’t be bettered, however all I think of this comedian, is that arrogance is no arbiter of decency.
Comedian Louis CK was disappointingly being touted as an example of a 'good rape joke'.
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 myths about rape there is. ‘She said no, but she meant yes’. If you're a rapist looking for celebrity endorsement, 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"
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 very like the trolls he says he loathes, galvanised his fan base to heap abuse on the woman who had angered him.  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 allegation  "We only have her word to go on". At one point Stanhope in fact calls the woman a liar. As the saying goes, you can have your own opinion Doug but you can’t have your own facts.
Doug, although not actually there himself, 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 correctly  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 Stanhope “it’s funny because I tell you it is”.
Both 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.  Again the Pavlovian defence of it’s “just a joke”. 
The oft-repeated and good phrase that 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 solely 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 focusing on the wrong issue because instead of blaming the rapist, they're 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 media, 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 if the target of the rapist and the target of the joke are the same, should you make that rape joke?


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