What’s so funny about rape?

Stand up comics say rape “is the new black.”
I’m a big fan of stand up comedy. (Wanda Sykes and Margaret Cho, swoon!) I like dirty jokes, controversial comics and dark humor. What I don’t think is funny, however, is this:

[Comedy festival] Fringe 2009 also welcomes back Aussie standup Jim Jeffries, whose jokes include: “Women to me are like public toilets. They’re all dirty except for the disabled ones.” Jeffries tells me: “You can’t do a joke these days about black or Asian people – and rightly so – [but] you can do rape jokes on stage and that’s not a problem.” Why does he think rape is now less of a taboo than racism? “I don’t write the rules,” he says. Nor, it seems, does he seek to challenge them. [San Francisco comedian Scott] Capurro told me, with some distaste: “For a lot of comics, it’s OK to talk about raping women now. That’s the new black on the comedy circuit.”

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. From Family Guy to Seth Rogen, folks joking about rape and violence against women seems to be the oh-so-hilarious thing to do. (Though of course, it’s hardly a new trend.)
What I truly don’t understand is how anyone could possibly think that joking about rape is being edgy or somehow fighting against the mainstream – which seems to be what the comics in this Guardian article are arguing. They say they’re taking taboos head-on. But the thing is, rape jokes and mocking violence against women are mainstream. They’re not a taboo at all – they’re the norm, sadly. So all of these comedians giving themselves a pat on the back for being sooo controversial – when all they’re doing is upholding the status quo – really fucking irk me.
Because if their rape jokes were actually challenging the mainstream, they’d be subversive, not holding up what American culture already perpetuates – that rape is a-okay. I think what is particularly telling is that so many of the people arguing that jokes about sexual assault are fine are dudes – the demographic that tends to be ones who, well…rape.

Similarly, some of the comedians arguing that racist jokes are okay are white – and appear to believe that we’re in some sort of Utopian world where racism and sexism don’t exist anymore.

A younger generation see things differently: challenging taboos is less a betrayal of their recent forebears, more a concession to a changing world. “In the 1970s, black and Asian people were getting shit put through their letterboxes,” says [comic Richard] Herring. “But the world has moved on. Now we accept the [anti-racist, anti-sexist] tenets of alternative comedy as true, and don’t need to patronise audiences any more.”

Perhaps the world “has moved on” for Herring – but it sure hasn’t for a lot of other folks. So long as racism, sexism, rape, and violence are accepted norms, telling these kind of faux-controversial jokes will do nothing but prop up a culture that thinks rape is not just not a big deal, but hilarious.
Related: Sense and Humor
Melissa’s “Rape is Hilarious” post series
I’m Going to Rape You Later

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