SNL takes shots at an accused rapist by making jokes about raping him

To quote Seth Meyers… really?

The cold open on Saturday Night Live this weekend was about Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the former head of the IMF, who last week was accused of sexually assaulting a hotel housekeeper. The sketch started with Strauss-Kahn being led into a cell, whereupon his two black cellmates introduced themselves and started talking about European fiscal policy.

Here’s the thing: European fiscal policy isn’t at all funny (correction: it’ can be funny, but only in the hands of Eddie Izzard). The only reason this sketch was funny because in this culture, black men, especially black men in prison, are supposed to be ignorant. So the idea of two black men in prison speaking intelligently and insightfully about austerity measures in Germany is hilarious, because it’s so wildly unusual as to be absurd.

So… that’s kinda racist.

As though this weren’t enough, the sketch ended with a rape joke! The two men, having sat on either side of Strauss-Kahn for several minutes as they debated what should be done about the Greek economy, never letting him get a word in edgewise, stopped talking about European fiscal policy and said, “So… We’re gonna rape you now.”

Hilarious! Biggest laugh of the sketch! My sides, they split!

I can think of only two reasons why you might find that joke funny. The first is that you don’t take rape all that seriously, in which case you probably think the charges against DSK aren’t that big deal, and neither is the idea of him being raped in prison – in fact, both are funny. If this is the case, what the hell is wrong with you? The second is that you think the charges against DSK are a concern, but you aren’t bothered by the idea of him being raped in prison – the former isn’t funny, but the latter is. If this is the case, seriously, what the hell is wrong with you?

Rape is rape, and it’s always serious, whether it happens to an immigrant hotel maid on the job or a white European former head of the International Monetary Fund in prison.

Really, SNL. Really.

New York, NY

Chloe Angyal is a journalist and scholar of popular culture from Sydney, Australia. She joined the Feministing team in 2009. Her writing about politics and popular culture has been published in The Atlantic, The Guardian, New York magazine, Reuters, The LA Times and many other outlets in the US, Australia, UK, and France. She makes regular appearances on radio and television in the US and Australia. She has an AB in Sociology from Princeton University and a PhD in Arts and Media from the University of New South Wales. Her academic work focuses on Hollywood romantic comedies; her doctoral thesis was about how the genre depicts gender, sex, and power, and grew out of a series she wrote for Feministing, the Feministing Rom Com Review. Chloe is a Senior Facilitator at The OpEd Project and a Senior Advisor to The Harry Potter Alliance. You can read more of her writing at chloesangyal.com

Chloe Angyal is a journalist and scholar of popular culture from Sydney, Australia.

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  • http://cabaretic.blogspot.com nazza

    They’re out of ideas, and have been for a long time. Even Tina Fey can’t save a lack of talent.

  • http://feministing.com/members/azure156/ Jenny Gonzalez-Blitz

    For some reason I’ve met even people who are otherwise opposed to rape but find prison rape somehow acceptable or funny. Sometimes even as just, when it happens to another rapist (like in this sketch, or another famous example is the Sublime song “Date Rape”, which ends with the rapist in jail saying “and now he takes it in the behind”). I don’t know how to get people to understand that I completely hate rape. I hate ALL rapists. So why would I see justice in one of them being raped in turn? Now there’s two.

  • http://feministing.com/members/mercurialgirl/ MG

    I think the sketch is a commentary on normative assumptions about who commits rape. As Strauss-Kahn is approached by his cell mates, we were meant to assume that they were going to rape him, or threaten him with violence. The (racist, classist, dismissive, unfunny) discourse around prison rape was being invoked. When they started discussing economic policy, we were meant to have been diverted – to assume that because they have this knowledge and interest, they aren’t going to rape him. We were wrong, and that’s the punchline. I think it is a joke at the expense of those who have come to Strauss-Kahn’s defense, based on the assumption that men like him don’t rape.

  • http://feministing.com/members/laurajeanne/ laura

    there is a juxtaposition of three stereotypes. the first stereotype is “black men in prison talk a certain way”. so when the skit shows them talking about global financial policies it is very effectively exposing this assumption (via showing us a scenario that we would never see on tv…black men talking about greek debt while in prison). then the audience is lulled into a comfort zone by their “correct” subject of choice. then the audience is shocked with being faced with another awful stereotype. that black men are all sexual assailants. these two disgusting assumptions when put together and compared to assumptions that are often dolled out about Strauss-Kahn (or people like him) reveal just how ludicrous (funny?) the narrative he is afforded. That he is NOT stupid or a rapist because he is a wealthy white male.

    the humor is in the comparisons of the assumptions we afford people for ludicrous reasons. by placing kahn next to two men who would never get any devil advocacy, the skit reveals just how absurd it is to protect or defend this guy just because he is wealthy and powerful. or more directly the assumption that he is not a rapist just because he knows about global financial policy is not any sort of reasoning that would be applied to a person of color.

    it a sad shake your head sort of humor. i didn’t laugh at the “punch line” because it promotes rape or the stereotypes its presenting. it doesn’t do either. i didn’t laugh because the punch line is just too damn painful for me (as well as the stereotypes). but as a survivor i totally disagree that this skit is promoting rape or justifying rape of a rapist. it is actually critiquing the tropes its parading. the question here is not “is this skit promoting rape”? the question is are certain subjects above sarcastic humor or parody? is parodying racist tropes effective or does it backfire? do jokes about rape reveal a bias for whom the show is written for?

    • http://feministing.com/members/hopita/ Hope Anne Nathan

      I agree. I think the joke in both cases is about cultural assumptions and media-enforced stereotypes. The joke about black men in prison having an intelligent discussion about economics is really a joke about the stereotypes that saturate the media (i.e. black men in prison are ignorant and everyone knows that, right?) as well as about the media consumers who don’t question these stereotypes (i.e. you, the viewer, weren’t expecting them to be educated, right?). And the rape joke at the end, to me, is the same thing — it’s about assumptions and expectations.

  • http://feministing.com/members/drlangstoc/ Christopher Langston

    I didn’t find this sketch particularly funny, but I don’t agree with this article’s conclusion that the sketch is glorifying or excusing rape, or that the joke is only funny if you don’t “take rape seriously” or whatever.

    Grouch Marx said something like “It’s not funny to push someone dressed up like a grandmother down the stairs — it’s got to be a real grandmother.” By parity of reasoning to that made in this article, Groucho was advocating domestic violence against grandmothers — a perspective that would totally miss his point. His point was that comedy isn’t funny if it doesn’t touch our most uncomfortable feelings, the most taboo subjects. I agree with him. There are no subjects, whether pushing grandmothers or rape, that are so serious that they can’t be joked about. Joking about these subjects doesn’t necessarily glorify or excuse offensive behavior, and their humor doesn’t presuppose offensive beliefs. Incidentally, that doesn’t mean that jokes can’t be offensive; they can. But just because a joke includes a reference to rape as a punchline doesn’t mean that its offensive, anymore than having a punchline where a grandmother gets pushed down a flight of stairs is necessarily offensive.

  • http://feministing.com/members/misscuss/ Reed

    Glad to know I wasn’t the only one who didn’t laugh after the rape joke.

  • http://feministing.com/members/liz85/ Liz

    The possessive pronoun in the following headline (“Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s women: the full list,” the link that leads to a an article with a title that shifts how it is offensive: “Here’s The Full List Of Every Woman Who Has Allegedly Been Involved With Strauss-Kahn”) is every bit as disturbing as the rest of the article:

    http://www.businessinsider.com/dominique-strauss-kahn-list-of-women-2011-5

    There is a strong effort on the part of Courtney Comstock’s article to at once clarify his affairs and alleged assaults and to link them and blur them as well.

    The article blurs the line by saying that they are all women whom he was “involved” with, though that becomes an interpretive nightmare when you imagine the “involvement” being dragged down a hallway and locked in a room. Also, it begins saying that the “women are coming out of the woodwork,” like cockroaches, which dehumanizes and lumps them all in together.

    Treatment of this case in the media is highly offensive, and I appreciate your making that issue front and center on feministing.com!

  • http://feministing.com/members/patinbelgium/ Pat Z

    This “joke” is so off on so many levels, it’s hard to know just where to start!
    What IS telling is that a “joke” like this can get past the “brainstorming” writing sessions, rewrites and rehearsals and onto nationwide television — with apparently no one (or not enough people, or no one with any power) saying.Hey, wait a minute…WTF!?!”
    This is just one more example of how institutionalized sexism, racism and ideas around rape continue to be in the United States (and elsewhere…).

  • http://feministing.com/members/mzza/ Bill

    Thanks for posting about this. It’s another twist on the tired, recurring, also-offensive “Scared Straight” skits on SNL where a group of ‘high school students’ is subjected to any number of similar jokes, frequently involving rape as threat & punch-line.

    Many good points already, so I’ll just add to the prison aspect: the long-running and too-frequent jokes about ‘rape’ in prison populations further the idea that prison happens to “bad people” who “deserve what they get” which in no way reflects the reality of our for-profit prison industry in the US and the violence is does to (primarily) communities of color.

    Maintaining an image of prison populations as the violent other does nothing but help keep these disenfranchised populations invisible to those who’d rather not see how we’re destroying families and communities.
    http://www.criticalresistance.org/