Rape isn't Hilarious

[Trigger warning.]

Yesterday, Shaker Pranamama emailed me the link to this piece at Jezebel, in which Megan asks: "Is a rape joke ever funny?"—a query that strikes me as soliciting serious exploration about as much as "Is Dane Cook a douche?" I mean, some questions just don't warrant our time.

Suffice it to say, Megan concludes that rape jokes can be funny, in no small part, it appears, because she wants to justify using humor to deal with her own sexual assault.

Except, here's the thing: Public rape jokes have fuck-all to do with sexual assault survivors using humor to deal with their own sexual assaults.

Megan's argument lacks some critical distinctions and exceptions: Public jokes and private jokes are not equivalent. Jokes for laughs and jokes for catharsis are very different animals. Jokes about rape made by men, who have a significantly lower chance of being raped, are not the same as jokes made by women, whose lives are qualitatively different from men's because of their heightened chance of being raped. Jokes that minimize the severity and ubiquity of rape (e.g. prison rape jokes) perpetuate the rape culture; jokes that underline the severity and ubiquity of rape (e.g. Wanda Sykes' detachable vagina bit) challenge the rape culture.

And even still, all rape jokes run the very real risk of triggering survivors who aren't expecting rape jokes in their escapist entertainment. (Go figure.) Which underscores the inherent deficiency of the question "Is a rape joke ever funny?" It's incomplete without a discussion of audience, intended or otherwise—and the audience for any rape joke potentially includes survivors who may not only find the joke decidedly unfunny, but also triggering.

The distinct possibility of someone experiencing anxiety, panic, or some other distress associated with re-experiencing one's sexual assault after hearing a rape joke sort of renders irrelevant the question of whether the joke is "funny," you know?

Certainly, there are those who would play the old "hysteria" card, diminishing the gravity of post-traumatic stress disorder as the same "oversensitivity" with which feminists or people of color or LGBTQIs or disability activists or some other marginalized group are branded for objecting to demeaning "jokes"—although I can't really imagine a more pathetic and cruel argument than dismissing PTSD sufferers as "oversensitive" to justify continuing to make rape jokes.

And now we're back to that critical distinction between public rape jokes that treat rape as a joke and sexual assault survivors using humor to deal with their own history. Only one of those is triggering by design.

Failing to deconstruct both the difference in authority and intent, and the wholly separate culture meanings and effects, of dudez making rape jokes in a widely-watched cartoon and a just-raped woman making jokes about her circumstances just to get through to the next minute without breaking down, effectively casts those two scenarios as equivalent. They are not. And any of us who can understand why the n-word has a totally different meaning in the mouth of a black man with his mates and in the mouth of a white supremacist with his, can surely understand why not all rape jokes are equal.

Context, especially for such a delicate subject, is everything.

I don't begrudge Megan her dark humor; I hang on quite firmly to my own gallows humor about such things myself. But I don't use the humor of the hangman to justify it. The hangman can go fuck himself.

[Rape is Hilarious: Parts One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, Seven, Eight, Nine, Ten, Eleven, Twelve, Thirteen, Fourteen, Fifteen, Sixteen, Seventeen, Eighteen, Nineteen, Twenty, Twenty-One, Twenty-Two, Twenty-Three, Twenty-Four, Twenty-Five, Twenty-Six.]

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