Thus Spake Zuska

Today I introduce a new category, “Outrage of the Week”, just so I am able to tell you about the nice young men who recently competed in the New Jersey King of Campus Comedy contest.

As reported in the Chronicle (Jan. 11, 2008 issue):

The competition’s most popular topic was, believe it or not, rape. The first comic told two rape jokes. Another said he could never be a rapist because he likes to sleep after sex. Yet another said he would call his victim the next morning because he’s such a nice guy.

Er, ha.

Later one of the competitors began his act by promising the audience that he wouldn’t tell any rape jokes. He broke that promise two minutes later with a one-liner about using “ropes and formaldehyde” to solve his romantic problems.

Ha again.

Ha indeed. I guess I was just born without the “rape is soooo funny” gene. These fine, upstanding young men are attending college with our daughters, sisters, cousins, friends. I mean, I’ve always known that rape is a major issue on most college campuses. I just didn’t know it had become fashionable to make sport of it.

Now some of you are firing up your keyboards right this very minute to tell me to lighten up, get a sense of humor, stop being such a feminazi. One, I’ll just point out it was a man writing the Chronicle article who found this vein of humor offensive. Two, I’ll remind you that it is precisely because I do have a sense of what is humorous that I find this stuff not funny, but disturbing. If you think it’s funny, it’s because you think there is something inherently funny about men coercing and forcing women to have sex. You are okay with laughing about sexual violence.

If you are comfortable with the realization that you like laughing at women’s pain, then go ahead and laugh your head off. But do me a favor, and call me again sometime in the future after your sister or wife or mother or daughter gets raped, and tell me again how funny the rape jokes are.

Oh, wait, you don’t think a little forcible persuasion actually counts as rape? Well you are in good company; when I was a graduate student at Duke, a survey of undergraduate men showed that something like over twenty percent of them were A-OK with forcing a woman to have sex with them, if they thought they wouldn’t get caught. I’ll bet those guys would think these jokes are hilarious.

Unsurprisingly, the 5 women in the New Jersey competition did not lace their routines with rape jokes. Though we are told “one did sing a ditty about not wanting to be raped”.

The whole thing just makes me tired.

What do you want to bet that there are far, far more people who will be outraged by the news that Harvard has established 12 postdoctoral fellowships for women and minorities in chemistry and chemical biology, than there are who will be bothered by the notion of undergraduate men mocking rape victims?

Comments

  1. #1 Benny
    January 10, 2008

    It is not the jokes that are funny. It is the fact that they are joking about something that they shouldn’t be joking about. Same with:

    Dead baby jokes – How do you get 126 dead babies out of the back of a pick up truck? A pitchfork

    Pedophilia jokes – What is the toughest thing about having sex with an 11 year old? Getting the blood out of your clown suit.

    Michael Jackson jokes – What do Michael Jackson and Caviar have in common? They both come on little white crackers.

    HIV jokes – What did the deaf dumb and blind kid get for Christmas? Aids.

    And a whole host of jokes on other topics that are totally taboo. South Park is the master of this humor. And if you take a step back, you may find that it is actually funny. I do.

  2. #2 The Ridger
    January 10, 2008

    Sorry, not one of those jokes was funny.

    Guess I didn’t step back far enough. Is off a cliff so I get brain damage far enough, or what?

    Just joking…

  3. #3 PhysioProf
    January 10, 2008

    Sorry Benny, but you are full of shit. Men telling rape jokes is all about making certain that women understand that they present themselves in public only at the pleasure, and with the forebearance, of men.

    Women telling rape jokes *can* be about the humour of transgression, depending on how it is done. Men, no way.

    Transgressive humor only works when the joke teller is not operating from a position of privilege vis a vis the taboo being transgressed. South Park is funny because the children are completely utterly powerless, and don’t even understand the nature of the taboos they are transgressing.

  4. #4 haydin
    January 10, 2008

    There is a difference between joking about taboo subjects and being a member of a dominant group joking about doing bodily harm to another person. “Baby eating” jokes, for example, are more acceptable because they mock the old stereotype of witches (women) and jews(minorities) eating Christian babies. It’s sort of re-claiming a stereotype. Dead baby jokes are more acceptable because nobody actually makes a habit of killing babies. (Now I’m not saying that these jokes are funny)

    But, being a white person joking about “stringing up” a member of another race IS NOT cool, because a lot of white people in recent history have actually done that. Also, being a man joking about raping a woman isn’t cool for the reason that it feel threatening to us women.

  5. #5 Matty Smith
    January 10, 2008

    I’m not usually troubled by a darker, “inappropriate” humour, but this crosses a line. It reminds me of an evening out at a restaurant with a group of men who, assuming I was idiotic as there were, joked that they’d could all share statutory rape charges because they found the young waitress so attractive.

    I’m a gay man that straight men assume is straight, what I’ve heard from some straight men out of earshot of women is abhorrent. Attitudes need to change.

  6. #6 Howard
    January 10, 2008

    It’s been 40 years since my college girlfriend was raped on her way to my apartment. I still think about what it did to her, and don’t find rape humor funny at all. However, rather than scolding men for poor taste, insensitivity and boorishness, I would rather hear women come back with castration jokes or colonscopy jokes. It takes a thick skin to succeed in a hypercommunicated world.

  7. #7 student_b
    January 10, 2008

    would rather hear women come back with castration jokes or colonscopy jokes.

    No, that doesn’t work. It’s not the same.

    Rape jokes are so offensive because, as PhysoProf said, they’re made out of a sense of superiority over women.

    Castration doesn’t happen regularly to men. It’s not something the average male has to fear. So men can just shrug of jokes like this. But women do have to fear rape.

    Part of rape jokes also is, that the jokes isn’t just a joke.

    For example jokes about dead babies are mostly just stupid, but never as offensive as a rape joke, because nobody (sane at least) would ever entertain the idea about killing babies. But part of rape jokes is the idea (the temptation) to actually do it. When, for example, a male makes a rape joke about a waitress, it’s not only a joke, but also shows the desire (resp. lust) of this male towards the waitress. Yes, part of rape jokes in male groups is that the idea of rape is entertained (though mostly not conducted).

    A dead baby joke can be very offensive if told to, for example, parents who just lost a baby. No one in their right mind would do that and claim it’s funny.

    It’s the same with rape jokes.

    So no, rape jokes can’t be funny. (When told by men. I can entertain the possibility that they could be funny when told by a woman, though I can’t imagine a situation where they would be funny even then.)

  8. #8 decrepitoldfool
    January 10, 2008

    I remember in the 1960′s Jackie Gleason joking about drunk driving, or threatening his co-star “One of these days, Alice; Pow! Zoom! Right to the moon!” (Pantomimes uppercut with closed fist at a woman half his size, cue laugh track)

    People called him “The Great One”. I wonder how funny Audrey Meadows thought it all was.

  9. #9 Nelson Muntz
    January 10, 2008

    I think ‘student_b’ has got it right.

    We could make jokes about, for example, babies turning cannibal — which could be funny for the simple reason that no such thing would ever happen, yet it is ghoulish to think about.

    But a joke about rape? Rape can happen, and it isn’t a negligibly rare event. What if a big bruiser made a joke about raping one of the men present? How funny would that be? No one in their right mind would make a rape joke. But someone in their wrong mind might.

    Men aren’t the only ones to be wrong-minded. Women joke about castrating their men, cutting their throats, and setting fire to them. Check the news stories: all these things actually happen.

  10. #10 TheAristocrat
    January 10, 2008

    Science blogs discussing the merits of comedy is akin to comedians blogging about chaos theory.

    Just kidding.

    I don’t think that you can really sort out what is funny strictly by who is saying it. White or black, man or woman, bad material is bad material, plain and simple.

    The problem with the jokes described in the blog posting is that they’re not funny, rape joke or not. Extremism for the sake of it isn’t funny. These guys seem to me to be untalented people pretending to be comedians. Real comedians would take offense.

    Comedians are not known for being politically correct, and they most certainly are not politically correct 100% of the time, either. None of the truly great comedians have ever embraced PC as a virtue onstage. George Carlin. Bill Hicks. Richard Pryor. Judy Gold. Carrot Top, even.

    That’s not to say that it’s all right to joke about rape (or anything else that is extreme in its potential to offend). This is not a defense of that.

    But, to a great extent, experiencing comedy is cathartic, and the people who go see comedians often do so to get away from normal life. Much like plays were and are. Shakespeare’s “Merchant of Venice” or John Webster’s ‘The Duchess of Malfi’ are considered classics, as is ‘Huckleberry Finn’.

    All three of those works are full of stereotypes and provocative ideas. They do not necessarily celebrate slavery or anti-Semitism or Incest, but they can be enjoyed if understood. SHOULD they be banned? No. Just like performance art and horror movies and paintings and pornography and great literature, you should be free to experience what you see fit. If there is no market and no one to go see these performances, their careers will dry up, maybe even before they get started.

    I don’t personally think rape is funny, but I also don’t think you can tell me what I should think is funny. I’m sorry, but I respectfully disagree.

  11. #11 Zuska
    January 10, 2008

    I’m not actually trying to tell anyone what they get to think of as funny. I am trying to say that if you find rape jokes funny, then you hold some pretty repulsive beliefs and ideas in your mind, and you shouldn’t be allowed to go along blithely unconscious of that fact, or of the fact that other people know that about you. If you are okay with projecting the image of yourself as someone who is pro-rape, then by all means, laugh at rape jokes.

  12. #12 Lab Cat
    January 10, 2008

    Thanks for the information about the Harvard postdoc fellowships.

  13. #13 whymommy
    January 10, 2008

    Ugh, ugh, ugh.

    And I’m with Student_B. It just isn’t the same. It’s all about power and fear. Fear and power. Two sides of the same coin.

    It must end. We must speak up.

    Rape jokes just aren’t funny.

  14. #14 dreikin
    January 10, 2008

    “If you are okay with projecting the image of yourself as someone who is pro-[lawyer demeaning/clergy+choirboy relations/cannibalistic babies], then by all means, laugh at [lawyer demeaning/clergy+choirboy relations/cannibalistic baby] jokes.”

    Feel free to replace those topics with any of jokes you particularly like/use a lot/rib someone with.

    It’s an incredibly poor argument, much like asserting that because someone’s playing devil’s advocate, the must ACTUALLY believe what they are arguing for. Or that people goading each other about doing something will necessarily do it – say, claiming they’re going to go on an incredible adventure over the summer, trying to beat each other’s ideas, despite the fact it’s entirely unrealistic for them.

    And the one joke, as I understand, seems to have its main focus on the sexual desperation of the comedian, mentioning an absurd thought of the kind that may occasionally pass through a person’s head, but is instantly dismissed – like, say, killing your boss (which happens these days) because they put you on a particularly nasty assignment or did something else to you. Which, by the way, a lot of people _would_ exasperatingly joke about with their friends and coworkers – but no one will believe they’ll actually do it – likewise, not an overwhelming number of the males in the room probably thought he was serious, nor, possibly, the women.

    Whether or not rape jokes are in good taste, that’s not a particularly good argument either way.

  15. #15 haydin
    January 11, 2008

    Dreikin:
    Yes, absolutely, making jokes about clergy/choirboy relations is wrong, because it’s RAPE.

    And joking about lawyers? I’m totally Ok with that. Just like I’m ok with people making jokes about engineers.

    Joking about cannibalistic babies is fine as long as this isn’t actually a problem in your country/society/time. Again, I don’t think it’s funny, but I don’t find it offensive. Perhaps somebody else will disagree, and then I might change my mind.

    Killing bosses. Hmm. Off the top of my head, I’d guess that being a male boss is approximately 100 times safer than being a woman. But I might be wrong.

  16. #16 haydin
    January 11, 2008

    Just to clarify: I think it’s 100 times safer to be a male boss than a woman in general. If you are only comparing safety RE: getting killed by a subordinate versus being raped, I’d say the safety margin is closer to 100,000.

    Of course, I’m pulling numbers out of my bum.

  17. #17 Alexis
    January 11, 2008

    I’m rarely willing to say that a thing (X, rape jokes, the word fag, etc) is never acceptable. Frankly, I find the intent, delivery, body language, speaker, history, tone, etc. all relevant to determining the meaning behind X.

    Rape joke? Probably not funny most of the time. But I could actually envision an instance where it could be. Ask yourself why is the guy telling a rape joke? Is the joke making fun of rape or is it making light of rape, is it making fun of the victim or is it making fun of the rapist? The way and reason a joke is told can lean in any of these directions and vastly changes the meaning of the joke.

    I can tell a friend her outfit is gay and we’ll laugh hysterically. I’m not making fun of other ‘mos in that instance, I’m subverting the slur for its absurdity value. But I can damn sure tell when a person next to me uses it in seriousness, and – guess what? – not funny.

  18. #18 Frederick Ross
    January 11, 2008

    Umm…as a perfectly healthy young male, those just aren’t funny. But then, neither are dead baby jokes, or any of the rest of those mentioned. They’re designed to make you cringe (I have lots of experience with this, having worked with a fellow who would tell rabbi, minister, and priest jokes by the hour — he was only after cringes). I suspect the slight chuckle that they get is a defense mechanism: if I treat that as a joke, I don’t have to have horrible cognitive dissonance.

    But we must remember that most of the boys in college aren’t mentally healthy. They’re seriously damaged, in need of massive therapy, and spend their time opening their wounds wider in a kind of group masochism.

    Also disturbing: French youth apparently use the phrase, “I’d like to rape her” in exactly the same way as Americans would use “she’s hot.” My respect for the French has dwindled steadily since moving to a French speaking country.

  19. #19 dreikin
    January 11, 2008

    Haydin, you missed the point: not that any of those are or are not OK, but the proposition that saying something or understanding/responding to something, particularly in a context where it’s NOT assumed it is the/an actual position held by the speaker (jokes, devil’s advocate, etc.), automatically makes you (assumed) supportive of the subject matter.

    Laughing at a rape/racist/lawyer joke does not make you pro-rape/racist/lawyer-hating.
    Liking the color blue does not mean you like IBM (“Big Blue”).

  20. #20 Zuska
    January 11, 2008

    Sorry, Dreikin. Rape jokes have a purpose, and that’s to remind women that they are only safe at men’s pleasure, that all women are vulnerable to rape, and that the men telling the joke think this situation is funny. Laughing at rape jokes makes you complicit in this state of affairs. Laughing at racist jokes is just as bad. Lawyer jokes are in a different category because lawyers in general are not a subordinated group in our society, and the people telling (and laughing at) lawyer jokes are not in general in a superior position to lawyers with real-life consequences to that superiority like sexism and racism entail (e.g. rape, racial violence).

  21. #21 PhysioProf
    January 12, 2008

    People like dreikin just don’t get that who you are, and what unearned privileges you possess by virtue of who you are, affect whether what you say is funny or not. “If it’s ironic humor when black people call their black friends ‘nigger’, then why isn’t it funny when I call black people ‘nigger’?

  22. #22 L-girl
    January 13, 2008

    Thank you for this post and especially for the excellent discussion. A friend of mine who knew I’d be interested sent it to me. I blogged about it today. Thanks again.

  23. #23 dreikin
    January 13, 2008

    Look, I’m not claiming that rape jokes are OK – I just take issue with that particular argument. It makes assumptions that it shouldn’t, or that should be made explicit / given good reason for.

    Such as the (now stated) assumption that “Rape jokes have a purpose, and that’s to remind women that they are only safe at men’s pleasure, that all women are vulnerable to rape, and that the men telling the joke think this situation is funny” – or, y’know, because the ‘comedian’ is making a joke about their desperation..

    I’d wonder how the first two parts (and thus the third) would work out if the men are telling it only amongst themselves, or (gasp!) a woman made a similar joke amongst her friends, targeted towards men. But of COURSE we know that NEITHER is a possibility because…
    Um, because why, again?

    And then there’s that line “because it’s RAPE” – all that makes me think of is “because it’s HERESY”.

    And speaking of assumptions, we then have PhysioProf:
    Thanks for assuming all sorts of qualities about me. Mind telling me what they are in a bit more detail? Obviously we’ve got ‘ignorant’ and (probably) ‘privileged’ – presumably meaning white male. Any others?

    And, as far as I’ve experienced, there’s very little ironic humor in the use of nigger, if any. It’s generally just another pronoun, but with inclusion rules – and not always very strong ones at that.

    In the end, I think Alexis said what I’m trying to say (in part) much better – context is very important. But I keep seeing people trying to strip all the context and then impose their own in order to justify their view or feelings toward the matter. If you’re going to make an argument in such a manner, at least make explicit (and preferably justify) what context you perceive it in (and why yours is the only possible one).

  24. #24 Zuska
    January 14, 2008

    “Context” is a nice device for justification in this case. Explain to me why, if a young man is “desperate”, his thoughts turn to rape? Women, who are also often desperate for sex, do not as a rule contemplate rape as a means to satisfy their desires. If it seems “natural” to you that a young man, desperate for sex, should contemplate – however lightly – raping someone, then you are accepting this state of affairs. What purpose can there be for rape jokes, other than to remind women that they are vulnerable to rape? Just as racist jokes remind the targeted group that they are subordinate and vilified. There’s no humor in racist jokes – unless you accept the racist assumptions underlying them – and there’s no humor in rape jokes, unless you accept the sexist assumptions underlying them: that it’s okay for men to coerce women into sex, because they are unfairly holding out, or the men are desperate and so turning to rape is an acceptable alternative, or any other scenario underlying “joking” about rape. Somewhere, at the bottom, is the assumption that it’s okay and even funny to contemplate raping a woman. If you are comfortable with holding those kinds of beliefs, then I am sure you will find rape jokes to be hilarious. If, however, you are not, you will not find any humor in rape “jokes”. It doesn’t matter if men are telling them among themselves, or to a mixed audience; the underlying belief system that allows the teller or listener to find humor in the joke is the same. It’s called sexism.

  25. #25 Zuska
    January 14, 2008

    If we really must talk about “context”, then let’s talk about the “context” that women live in, the context where we are raped by acquaintances and strangers alike, where we are afraid to walk alone at night, where we are afraid of having “rape drugs” put into our drinks, perhaps by the person we’re out on a date with, where we are raped by soldiers as an act of war, where in some parts of the world women find themselves shamed and ostracized by their families because they’ve been raped, where we never ever really live without the fear of being raped. That’s the background “context” you want to use for deciding whether or not joking about rape is funny. And if you still think rape jokes can be funny, then maybe you’ll want to work up some lynching jokes, too, for your routine.

  26. #26 Caledonian
    January 14, 2008

    What purpose can there be for rape jokes, other than to remind women that they are vulnerable to rape?

    Violating a social taboo for the purposes of physiological arousal and thus increased humor response.

  27. #27 Alexis
    January 15, 2008

    “Context” is a nice device for justification in this case. Explain to me why, if a young man is “desperate”, his thoughts turn to rape? Women, who are also often desperate for sex, do not as a rule contemplate rape as a means to satisfy their desires. If it seems “natural” to you that a young man, desperate for sex, should contemplate – however lightly – raping someone, then you are accepting this state of affairs. What purpose can there be for rape jokes, other than to remind women that they are vulnerable to rape? …

    I can’t speak to the other posters, but I can assure you that I am damn sure not using it as “justification” for anything. I am using context as “reality.”

    A few points:
    Explain to me why…to satisfy their desires.
    Because society accepts rape coming from men. As a “rule,” women do not commit rape or even consider it, not least of which is because they aren’t supposed to. That said, there are certainly women out there who do do things they aren’t supposed to, and that includes thinking about and committing rape. These cases are usually unreported, because to admit what happened would place the man – or woman – in the socially unacceptable spot of admitting he was “weaker” than a woman. Is it sexist? Damn straight, all the way around, both coming from the men and the women.

    There is nothing “natural” about this situation. It is socially constructed from the bottom up, and it is maintained both by men and women.

    But so is the rest of the world. Every interaction a person has is socially constructed, like rape, like race, like class, like jobs. We joke about these things for many convoluted reasons. Perhaps we feel helpless and laughing is the best we can do in a situation. Perhaps it holds the demons at bay a bit. Perhaps it is the only way we can keep a dark subject from slipping entirely into the shadows, where we pretend it doesn’t exist and its effects only become that much more poisonous because of its secrecy.

    The fact that talking about rape is taboo is much of what allows it to maintain power. This is why I say context is important. Turning rapists into objects of ridicule can hold power. Turning victims into objects of ridicule can do the same. Given those contexts, which would you rather hear?

  28. #28 Zuska
    January 15, 2008

    Alexis, that’s a very interesting comment. However, I seriously doubt that the young men who are the subject of my post were making their rape jokes because they “feel helpless and laughing is the best we can do”, or to “keep demons at bay”, or to “keep a dark subject from slipping into the shadows”. Those might possibly be reasons why women would make jokes about rape, and could be explanations for why the young woman mentioned in the article “sang a little ditty” about not wanting to be raped.

    Talking about rape isn’t taboo, at least for men. They talk about it and fantasize about it a great deal. Talking about rape as a serious issue and something that must be prevented, talking about societal changes that need to be made to make rape unacceptable – those things are not talked about so much, though I don’t know if taboo is the right word for why they are not talked about. They are not talked about because the power relations current in society favor other ways of talking about rape – as a joke, as something to fantasize about, as something that is more or less inevitable because “men will be men”.

    Of course society accepts rape coming from men – or we wouldn’t have young men joking about their desire to commit rape. That’s not an explanation of why society accepts rape, or why/how young men learn to think about rape as a possibly legitimate solution for their sexual frustrations. And I never said the situation was natural – I said that if you take the position that rape jokes are funny, then you are complicit in the view that the situation that obtains is natural or normal and/or can’t (or shouldn’t) be changed.

    You are right that we don’t talk much about women coercing/raping men, nor do we talk much about man-on-man rape – except in jokes. That’s the source of many jokes especially relating to being imprisoned; and in that case, I would say the function of those jokes is to keep demons at bay and claim power over the fear that the homophobia of heterosexual men generates. Those are not transgressive jokes, but expressions of anxiety.

    Men – who rape women – joking about rape of women, are also not being transgressive. They are upholding the status quo.

  29. #29 Alexis
    January 15, 2008

    Zuska,
    I’m not disagreeing with you concerning whether or why the co-eds made rape jokes that were unfunny. I think we probably see eye to eye on that issue.

    But I do think saying that something is always unfunny no matter what is awfully fraught with danger. I think humor offers possibility as a way to broach difficult subjects, and rape certainly qualifies as a difficult subject. To that end, I think closing all chance of its use as a constructive tool is short-sighted. I think it is actually quite a good question to ask “When could this be funny, and why, and how can we use that to positive effect?”

    I also think you aren’t giving all men quite enough credit when you suggest that only women can use rape jokes to achieve cathartic results. I suspect there are plenty of men out there who, while perhaps not raped themselves, know a person close to them who was and feel nearly as strongly about it as women.

    As to whether or not you said rape is natural, I know full well you did not, and I don’t think it is either. Even (to play the devil’s advocate) if it were, part of being a civilized human means not acting on every single impulse we have. I don’t shit in the middle of the sidewalk when I have needs, and I fully expect that other people will not rape me when they have needs. I mentioned it in order to clarify that, although other posters have aligned themselves with me in varying ways, the discussion I am having is separate from their own.

  30. #30 Mecha
    January 15, 2008

    Alexis,

    I agree in part to your argument that saying something is ‘always unfunny’ is fraught with danger. But here’s the issue in my mind: Zuska’s right that really dealing with rape, no matter how many jokes people make, doesn’t happen, and being semantically picky doesn’t really make the issue go away, and ‘never’ is so close to correct as to make it a non-issue. (I feel the same way, more or less, about the ‘men can make rape jokes too maybe’ point that you make, so.) The first part is fairly self evident. The second is what I want to expand on.

    Rape jokes, which is to say male on female rape jokes 99% of the time, which is to say, jokes which treat rape as ‘normal’, or make it seem like things which are rape aren’t, take their humor in vast part from a perceived sympathy, as in, other guys going, ‘Yeah, I can understand that’ or ‘boy, that describes me/women.’ This underlies statements like Zuska’s, where thinking those jokes are funny requires you to have views which suck. (Male-on-male rape jokes have a different ugly dynamic.)

    They are also tropes, so overdone it’s ridiculous. If I were to say ‘never do a rape joke’ as a rule, I would be right so often that the more technically accurate ‘you can do jokes involving rape if you are really, really, really, really, really, really, REALLY, really careful and good and prepared to deal with the fact that it probably won’t work anyway’, rule, much like the rule dealing with rape in character backgrounds in writing, is only meaningful in that it explicitly spells out what ‘never’ really means. The cases in which such a joke is truly okay are so small that it they are an exception which really need not be named, because nobody could ‘accidentally’ succeed. They are the boundaries. Only the best can push them, and everyone else should know better.

    I’m liking the metaphor that it’s like saying that the standard 17th century laws of motion aren’t 100% accurate. You’re right, but only in the most technical sense which so few people are qualified to use that it doesn’t matter that most people just use the standard laws of motion. Start with the basics for a while. Then you can go to graduate ‘being funny with jokes that are all but impossible to make funny’ school.

    An example of successfully using a hint of rape as part of a joke can be seen in Wanda Sykes’ ‘detachable pussy’ routine. The first thing scenario she lays out, in fact, after bringing up the concept of leaving ones pussy at home, and how freeing that is, is being able to tell a rapist, ‘sorry, I left it at home’. The idea that a woman can leave behind being a sex object, and how absurd the consequences seem, is in itself illustrative of how much women are treated like what is between their legs defines them. She goes on to develop the theme in multiple ways. The joke there is on society, and a pointed one it is. That’s when you can successfully make that kind of joke.

    -Mecha

  31. #31 Zuska
    January 15, 2008

    Alexis, I appreciate what you are saying. As is often the case, Mecha lays out an argument so succinctly there is little left for me to say except “thanks for saying that.”

    The only thing I want to add right now is a seemingly minor, but important point. What I think I’ve been trying to say is not, necessarily, that something is always unfunny. The point I tried to make, perhaps not well, in my post is that if you DO find rape jokes funny, you must hold a certain set of views. You won’t find the jokes to be funny unless you think in a certain way about women as sex objects and power relations between women and men.

    Oh, one other thing. Mecha’s example of Wanda Sykes’ routine is a good one. But note that she is not making a joke about rape as something she’d like to do; she’s creating humor out of the situation women are in, of always being seen as sex objects that should be available to any man who wants them. That’s a very different thing than joking about how you’d like to coerce your girlfriend into sex.

  32. #32 Alexis
    January 16, 2008

    Mecha, Zuska,

    Yes, I can see these points perfectly well – the vast majority of the time, these jokes are not funny. Almost enough to be not worth considering.

    …Currently.

    I suppose what I’m trying to get at is that these treatments of rape are tropes, as you’ve pointed out. They are the same way of doing things. They are entrenched, and socially “normal.” And that’s precisely the problem. So I suppose it seems to me that the solution is not to permit them to remain so by declaring the subject off-limits. That maintains the current status quo to my mind. I think it would be much more effective to change the rules entirely.

    Saying 99% of rape jokes aren’t funny is a statement of fact as the world currently exists. Are there ways we can change the situation so that fact doesn’t hold from this point forward?

  33. #33 Zuska
    January 16, 2008

    Perhaps I am not being clear. It’s not about whether rape jokes are or are not, in some objective sense, “funny”. It’s about what it is that an individual believes or accepts that allows them to find humor in jokes about rape.

    The beliefs you have to hold in order to find Wanda Sykes’ joke funny are very, very different from those you would hold if you found the rape jokes of the young men in the post to be funny. In a sense, you can say that jokes like Sykes’ are not even in the same category as what I am calling “rape jokes”, that is, jokes predicated on men’s desire to rape and sense of entitlement about sex-on-demand.

  34. #34 Caledonian
    January 17, 2008

    It’s not about whether rape jokes are or are not, in some objective sense, “funny”. It’s about what it is that an individual believes or accepts that allows them to find humor in jokes about rape.

    No.

    People do not in fact run jokes past their political affiliations to decide whether they’re funny. We don’t need to hold any particular beliefs to find Wanda Sykes amusing, or not. Nor do we need any to evaluate the quality of fratboy rape humor.

    One does not have to be anti-Semitic to find Holocaust jokes funny, and I know several Jews who would be rather startled at the suggestion that they do. Perhaps you would care to explain to them, through me, precisely what beliefs they need to hold to find potential for humor in such a tragedy?

  35. #35 Alexis
    January 17, 2008

    Shorthand is never entirely clear, which is perhaps why I stubbornly insist on questioning any unstated underlying assumptions I may hold.

  36. #36 Zuska
    January 17, 2008

    Caledonian, I don’t find Holocaust jokes to be funny, either. Sorry.

    Of course we don’t “run jokes past [our] political affiliations”. We don’t have to. We have our acquired biases and beliefs, and it is those that enable us to find humor in various situations. I don’t happen to have any of the biases or beliefs that would allow me to find humor in rape jokes, but other people do. All I’m saying is, if you find humor in something like that, don’t be surprised if someone like me is going to call you out on exactly why you think it’s so funny.

  37. #37 Caledonian
    January 17, 2008

    Caledonian, I don’t find Holocaust jokes to be funny, either. Sorry.

    Neither do I. But that is utterly irrelevant to the issue at hand.

    I don’t happen to have any of the biases or beliefs that would allow me to find humor in rape jokes, but other people do.

    You are wrong about the sorts of biases and beliefs that allow people to find humor in references to atrocities. You’re not calling people out, you’re demonstrating that you don’t have a clue.

  38. #38 Zuska
    January 20, 2008

    I’m not the one who brought up Holocaust jokes in the first place, you did Caledonian; now it’s irrelevant to the issue at hand? I’m afraid it’s you who are wrong about what it is that allows people to find humor in rape jokes. Exactly how much feminist theory of humor have you studied? Maybe you need to go back and do a little more reading and thinking. I’m not the first person in the world who has put forth this understanding of how and why people create and respond to certain types of “humor.”

  39. #39 Caledonian
    January 24, 2008

    No, it’s whether we find them personally funny that is irrelevant.

    I think you should spend less time concerning yourself with feminist theory, and more time getting in touch with reality.

  40. #40 Emily
    January 24, 2008

    Boy, I’m sure glad someone is here to explain to us stupid feminists about reality. Thanks!

    I’m also pretty disgusted by the number of people who think that prison rape jokes are funny. “Federal pound-’em-in-the-ass prison” is something I’ve heard many times. “Better hope his cellmate isn’t a big butch dude.” We’ve all heard that.

    Because, you see, criminals aren’t allowed to have bodily integrity any more than women are. They don’t get a say on whether they can exist in that society where they are raped frequently, and that’s okay, because they’re bad men.

    Ugh. That’s such crap. Rape is not an acceptable punishment.

  41. #41 Zuska
    January 24, 2008

    Well, Caledonian, you aren’t even making sense anymore. Whether we find rape jokes “personally” funny is irrelevant? Jokes are just somehow funny without any personal involvement? Individual agency allows a person to find humor – or not – in what is culturally sanctioned as funny.

    Feminist theory and reality are not mutually exclusive.

    Denying the usefulness of feminist theory to help us understand reality is a very common move for those who can’t accept the troubling aspects of gender analysis. If you want to have your rape jokes and laugh at them, go right ahead. Just don’t try to pretend it doesn’t say anything about you.

  42. #42 James Jones
    January 24, 2008

    Rape jokes are unacceptable in public (unless you paid good money to see it).

    A private joke between two consenting adults is absolutely, perfectly fine no matter who they are or what the topic of conversation is.

    The space between those two is blurred. But you should always feel free to say if a topic of conversation is making you uncomfortable. Even if it’s dressed up as a joke. If someone suggests you should lighten up, explain to that person why you’re uncomfortable — presumably a colleague/family/friend — and it should be obvious that they’re being insanely rude (eg women (and most men) don’t like rape jokes — pretty obvious; most people don’t like racist jokes — pretty obvious).

    However, in private-groups many people make these jokes simply to shock and exactly because of that distateful humour it somehow transforms the initial disgust into fantastic humour. That’s also perfectly acceptable. (I’m ignoring the meta-argument that people are somehow becoming worse for it. eg Enforcing negative stereotypes, encouraging malign behaviour.)

    The problem isn’t the joke itself. It’s the telling of it to someone who doesn’t think it’s funny and finds the subject matter unjokeworthy. You probably have your own joke that amongst your friends you think is hilarious but you’d blanch at the idea of telling your grandmother.

    Edgy jokes are a spectrum disorder, like Tourette’s.

  43. #43 Xenos
    January 25, 2008

    Within a day after the Shuttle disaster years ago, I heard this joke:

    Q: “Where do the Shuttle astronauts vacation?”
    A: “All over Florida.”

    One of the uses of humor is to provide an extraordinary context within which to process information. By “extraordinary” I mean in the sense of being outside of someone’s ordinary mental field. Whether or not this use of humor provides a societal or even a personal function is debatable, but that is beside the point. The point is that this is, for better or worse, one way in which some people function. YOU may not function that way, but that is your business. In a free society, we are free to expose ourselves to all sorts of stimuli—and free to remove ourselves from those stimuli we don’t appreciate. The management of our stimuli is our own individual responsibility.

    What people consider funny often involves pain or other unpleasant circumstances happening to someone, often someone undeserving of it. Old silent reels that were considered funny in their day would depict some innocent person slipping on a banana peel and falling on their ass. For some reason, pain inflicted on someone’s derriere has been considered funny, when any other part of the body wouldn’t have been. Who knows why such things are in the human psyche? In a world based upon survival of the fittest, who knows what purpose humor and laughter even serve, or where they came from?

    It has been pointed out here that women don’t consider rape. That may well be true, but women possess their own form of sexual coercion to inflict: forcing someone to become a father against his will. Are there any jokes about that, I wonder?

  44. #44 Oy
    January 25, 2008

    “I think you should spend less time concerning yourself with feminist theory, and more time getting in touch with reality.”

    This is hsi actual goal – maligning feminists. The truth of your argument against this sort of non-humor is irrelevant because its far more important to denigrate feminists.

    For those still confused about why this is unacceptable, allow me to explain using one of Melissa McEwan’s( Of Shakeville) example:

    Imagine a woman (or being a woman) who’s just been through rape. After the ordeal and in an attempt to be calmed and relax she watches some comedy. And this is what she’s met with – a pack of privileged boys mocking what she’s just been through, making it clear they find nothing wrong with mocking her ordeal, making it clear that they find humor in her situation.

    It’s not funny. It’s privilege, entitled boys poisioned by rape culture exercising their privilege to be heartless pigs.

  45. #45 LJG
    January 25, 2008

    I think the main point here is that certain types of jokes which are disrespectful and malicious towards a group of people are generally not funny to the masses. If you find them funny it does say something about the person you are. If you tell and laugh at racist jokes be it at Muslims (popular these days) or African Americans it says something about the way you feel towards a particular group. If you laugh and find rape jokes funny it also says something about the way you perceive women and or prisoners who are victims of your jokes. Just as you will continue to find these types of jokes funny, the rest of the world will continue to see something negative in you for finding them funny in the first place. As we should ‘just deal with’ you finding them funny, you should ‘just deal with’ us thinking about you in a certain negative light.

  46. #46 Caledonian
    January 25, 2008

    I believe Mel Brooks has said that he’s the only Jew ever to make money off of the Holocaust.

    He’s also said “Tragedy is when I cut my finger; comedy is when you fall into an open sewer and die.”

    I shudder to think what Zuska would conclude about his beliefs.

  47. #47 etbnc
    January 26, 2008

    The widespread inability to perceive harm underlies many of our social problems.

    The culture of science places high value on ideas as abstract, disconnected entities. Seeing the connection between our behaviors when we express ideas and the consequences of our behaviors seems to be a difficult challenge.

  48. #48 PhysioProf
    January 26, 2008

    “What people consider funny often involves pain or other unpleasant circumstances happening to someone, often someone undeserving of it.”

    What people consider funny also often involves highlighting and affirming the subjugated status of one or another traditionally oppressed class of individuals in society. However–and this is what seems to be escaping a number of commenters to this thread–humor is not morally neutral, and the fact that someone somewhere finds a form of humor funny does not immunize it from moral opprobrium.

    It can be a moral wrong to find a particular type of humor funny. How funny it might be is irrelevant.

  49. #49 Caledonian
    January 28, 2008

    There seems to be some confusion here. Are you claiming that making rape jokes is morally wrong, or that finding them funny is?

  50. #50 Zuska
    January 28, 2008

    You wouldn’t be making rape jokes unless you thought they were funny, so the two aren’t as separate as you seem to suggest. “Making a joke” is a social exercise that requires the teller of the joke and the (appreciative) listener for its enactment. Both are morally implicated.

  51. #51 Caledonian
    January 29, 2008

    You wouldn’t be making rape jokes unless you thought they were funny

    Unless your audience finds them funny.

    As for morality, it’s arbitrary – you can declare anything you like to be as moral or immoral as you please. However, you’re claiming it’s immoral because it has certain necessary associations.

    If you can produce cognitive psychology research showing a link between the content in the jokes that you tell and your positions on subjects (or in what you find funny and your positions, etc. etc.) then you will have a point.

    Merely pointing to works in feminist theory is useless, like supporting the claims written in a newspaper by pointing to another copy of the same edition. What is the justification of the claim? That’s what’s important.

    Especially since the claim contradicts much of what we do know about humor…

  52. #52 Luna_the_cat
    January 29, 2008

    Zuska — ever read the Dave Barry piece about his son losing his passport?

    … When a boy reaches 13, the Knowledge Fairy inserts into his brain all the information in the entire universe. From that point on, he no longer needs any parental guidance. All he needs is parental money.

    This is why a teenage boy who’s had a driver’s licence for two hours knows that he can drive 267 kilometres an hour in heavy traffic, while devoting two percent of his attention to the actual road and 98 percent to the critical task of adjusting the radio to exactly the right volume setting. If you criticise him, he’ll give you a look of contempt mixed with pity. Because you are a clueless old nerd who was last visited by the Knowledge Fairy in 1873, and your brain has been leaking information ever since.

    My only point here is, keep this in mind when arguing with Caledonian.

    Caledonian:
    http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/klu/sers/1998/00000038/F0020009/00291858

  53. #53 Zuska
    January 29, 2008

    Luna, thanks so much for that citation! Also for your analysis, which may explain a lot…I love the way Caledonian equates peer-reviewed scholarship in feminist theory with a newspaper article. It’s been an interesting conversation in that Caledonian has displayed so many varieties of resistance to and disparagement of the uncomfortable truths of gender analysis.

  54. #54 Caledonian
    January 29, 2008

    It has been fascinating… to see how effectively ideology extinguishes even vestigial tendencies towards skepticism.

  55. #55 PhysioProf
    January 29, 2008

    Caledonian appears to still be feeling his first-year grad-student oats.

  56. #56 random visitor
    January 29, 2008

    About humor as a form of resistance: could be that these young men do feel frightened & oppressed & alienated, to whatever non-trivial extent, by the wildly inconsistent norms of power relations and speech taboos that surround gender in a) universities and b) their culture at large. On the one hand, feminism is still a going concern particularly at universities, and there are all sorts of fantasies (in the strict sense) about the power of feminism and “political correctness” and sexual harassment charges and so forth; on the other hand: in my recent experience, if you’re a oung straight guy among peers, you are encouraged to act out your horniness whenever possible. There’s this friction between a (real and imagined) aggressively pro-sex popular culture and a (real and imagined) aggressively anti-sex institutional culture, and it’s hard to negotiate.

    Also, the only time I went to see a standup open mic in recent memory, everyone was trying to be as obscene and shocking as humanly possible. There are some strange ideas going around about what makes good comedy: most of that stuff, even when it didn’t have to do specifically with rape, was monotonous, unsurprising, and sort of unpleasant. The crowd was pretty dead, too.

    Please note that I am trying to describe, not justify, a phenomenon in that first paragraph. I find it interesting primarily because it scares me, and I want to understand it better.

  57. #57 Caledonian
    January 30, 2008

    There seems to have been a deliberate attempt to conflate the act of telling rape jokes with finding rape jokes funny, but the two phenomena don’t seem to be necessarily connected.

    Indeed, the study Luna_the_cat linked to actively contradicted that linkage: enjoying the rape jokes was associated with hostile or confrontational attitudes towards sexuality, especially with men. But despite disapproving of the jokes significantly more than men, women weren’t significantly less likely to tell the jokes.

    It’s almost as though being willing to tell such jokes wasn’t connected to your attitudes regarding them… but that can’t be right, as it contradicts feminist theory as brought to us by Zuska.

    Clearly, the study must have been poorly conducted somehow. Or maybe they’re trying to avoid facing the unpleasant truth by releasing false data?

  58. #58 Luna_the_cat
    January 30, 2008

    If you read the study, Caledonian, it addresses this specifically.

    This supports Johnson’s (1991) finding that women told as many aggressive and sexual jokes as men. However, it should be noted that this effect is due more to men’s expressed unwillingness to tell these jokes (between somewhat unlikely (2) and neutral (3) on the scale) than it is to women’s expressed willingness to tell these jokes (see Table II). Thus, although men and women were both somewhat unlikely to tell these jokes, men found them to be a bit more acceptable and a bit less offensive than women.

    In other words, the fact that as many women as men are willing to tell these jokes is simply because significantly fewer of the men who find them funny are willing to tell the jokes themselves, whereas nearly all the women who find them funny, are. Finding the jokes funny has a very strong positive correlation with “Adversarial Sexual Beliefs and the Acceptance of Interpersonal Violence” for women, too. This is the strength of reading an entire paper, rather than just an abstract — you get details like this.

    What amazes me about you is that you advertise yourself as being a prime example of rationality, but you visibly work on the following principles:

    What is perceived as truth by Caledonian Is The Truth.
    What is not perceived as truth by Caledonian Is Not Truth.
    (Since the Knowledge Fairy has clearly visited you in the recent past) You need never be in doubt about anything.
    When presented with evidence which directly contradicts you, even when this is quite clear and unambiguous, you will tie yourself in increasingly painful knots to avoid ever having to admit that you might possibly ever under any circumstances be wrong. Or you simply accuse other people of fraud.

    Haven’t you got it yet? This is not how *good* scientists operate. This is the province of cranks.

  59. #59 PhysioProf
    January 30, 2008

    Haven’t you got it yet? This is not how *good* scientists operate. This is the province of cranks.

    It is also typical of first-year grad students who have yet to figure out that they are no longer the smartest one in the room.

  60. #60 etbnc
    January 30, 2008

    Thank you, PhysioProf, for that insight.

    It seems to me that American culture delays healthy emotional maturation to a degree that’s become problematic. Unfortunately it also appears to me that the subculture of academic science provides ways for some participants to further postpone maturity.

    Do you see signs of those problems also?

  61. #61 DrugMonkey
    January 30, 2008

    “Unfortunately it also appears to me that the subculture of academic science provides ways for some participants to further postpone maturity.”

    Not really. I think PP’s point can be expanded a bit to recognize that certain people have a tendency to be arrogant asshats until they have their head handed to them in the arena in which they derive their “superiority”.

    So for some (ok,men), getting one’s ass kicked repeatedly on the playground suffices to de-asshat. For those who are overly impressed with their own smarts, it takes an environment in which one’s intellect is repeatedly kicked around. As PP says, sometimes that only occurs in the grad school phase. Conceptually, for some subset of really bright people, never.

    This may explain why Nobel Laureates sometimes remain asshats until their dying day.

    I’m sure there are equivalents in other cultural subareas in which individuals pride themselves to the point of arrogance.

  62. #62 the real me
    February 1, 2008

    “it was a man writing the Chronicle article who found this vein of humor offensive”
    Yay, another cuckolded-from-birth girly man, who has no voice of his own, drowned as he is in feminine pablum.
    He doesn’t count.

    These guys are like, the equivalent of what Camille Paglia was to violence reactions.
    Um, feminists are those people who say things like ” well when female schoolteachers rape boys, at least the teachers are good looking,” or “It is impossible to rape a man because women don’t have penises…” right?

    The solution to men feeling it necessary to joke about rape would be for feminiz to stop objectifying ( and fetishizing) all men as rapists. Humor of this sort is a reaction formation to the great violence that anti-rape lobbyists perpetuate on the psyche of men at large. Deal with it.

  63. #63 Luna_the_cat
    February 1, 2008

    wow, “real me”, are you a creationist and a global-warming denialist and an anti-vaxer as well? I mean, with that level of stunning and vehemently ugly ignorance, why not go for the whole package.

  64. #64 etbnc
    February 2, 2008

    Luna, that might also be “real trolling”.

    Also, belated thanks, Luna, for that Dave Barry excerpt about the Knowledge Fairy. It seems a succinct explanation for a number of behaviors. I missed it my first time scanning the additional comments, but it certainly seems relevant to my earlier note.

    I commend you and Zuska and those commenters who actively work to create a context for social learning. Thanks for your contributions.

    Cheers

  65. #65 Luna_the_cat
    February 2, 2008

    etbnc, you’re probably right. Here’s a question — is it real trolling if the person actually holds that attitude, or is it real trolling if the person doesn’t hold that attitude in reality, but pretends to just in order to get people wound up? Or, are both of those “real trolling”, just different flavors?

    As to the Dave Barry piece, it and the “Incompetent and unaware of it” study have illuminated much of life for me. ;-D

    Those are really kind words, though.

  66. #66 etbnc
    February 2, 2008

    Luna, I put “real trolling” in quotes to parallel your earlier use of quotes and to suggest a pun on the commenter’s nickname.

    But raising a question about the psychology of trolls does strike me as relevant to the original topic. As I recall from back in the days of Internet yore, early on the terms “troll” and “trolling” supposedly signified game-playing behavior, a kind of sport, or sometimes performance art. But it seems to me that was a flimsy cover story from the start. The behavior was unhealthy then and it still is now.

    As you suggest, these days I don’t really try to distinguish trolling as a supposed game from functionally equivalent harmful behaviors. When Troll Spectrum Behavior occurs, I do think it’s important that someone demonstrate a healthier counterexample. Accidental quasi-trolls might learn if offered an opportunity, and some healthy social reinforcement helps to maintain a sense of community. Beyond that, of course, no feeding. :)

    It seems to me Troll Spectrum Behavior might be related to a problem that I see underlying the topic of Zuska’s post, and that I see underlying a number of social problems: a widespread inability to perceive harm.

    Filtering out perceptions of harm, injustice, exploitation, pain, and suffering; lacking empathy or actively suppressing empathy; ignoring the consequences of our behavior; these things seem like enablers in mechanisms that create further harm. I find that disturbing.

  67. #67 kw
    April 26, 2008

    Posted this already over at Adventures in Ethis and Science, but Kung Fu Monkey has an excellent post on in-group and out-group comedy:

    http://kfmonkey.blogspot.com/search?updated-max=2007-05-30T23%3A59%3A00-07%3A00&max-results=20

    in the context of the Imus affair a while back.

    Relative power and in-group/out-group status are the relevant issues here — and men in general don’t fall on the right side of those dividing lines on this topic.

  68. #68 dreikin
    August 28, 2008

    Warning: Googling yourself on adderall is BAD. Evidence below.
    —-
    —-
    Also disturbing: French youth apparently use the phrase, “I’d like to rape her” in exactly the same way as Americans would use “she’s hot.” My respect for the French has dwindled steadily since moving to a French speaking country.

    Posted by: Frederick Ross | January 11, 2008 4:18 PM
    —-
    Similar here in Florida – I’ve heard the phrase “I’d hit that” more than I’d like. Not rape, but same objectification.
    —-

    Sorry, Dreikin. Rape jokes have a purpose, and that’s to remind women that they are only safe at men’s pleasure, that all women are vulnerable to rape, and that the men telling the joke think this situation is funny. Laughing at rape jokes makes you complicit in this state of affairs. Laughing at racist jokes is just as bad. Lawyer jokes are in a different category because lawyers in general are not a subordinated group in our society, and the people telling (and laughing at) lawyer jokes are not in general in a superior position to lawyers with real-life consequences to that superiority like sexism and racism entail (e.g. rape, racial violence).

    Posted by: Zuska | January 11, 2008 9:09 PM
    —-
    Sure, most things have a purpose – but what’s your evidence that THAT is the one-and-only purpose? Would it make a difference if it were a quadriplegic male noted for his philanthropy and activism in women’s rights issues telling the joke? And if laughing at something makes you complicit, then surely anyone who’s gone from laughing to crying is responsible/complicit in whatever it is that’s making them cry. And then there’s the assumption that all males view women as a subordinated group. Honestly, you give them too much credit – a lot of them probably don’t even think about it, and those that do probably probably are so blatantly sexist no one likes them anyway (except the fellow bigots), know that women have problems in society as a whole but don’t personally view them as someone to be subordinated, or are oblivious to the actual issues faced by women and don’t really see women – status-wise – as all the different. And how can you know that it’s the situation, and not the play on words, or perhaps a different situational element they find funny? The ‘humor’ in someone (talking about) stealing a car because they’re desperate – er, sorry, *raping someone* because they’re desperate, is not necessarily about the act, but perhaps about the frustration. Often called hyperbole or exaggeration.
    —-

    People like dreikin just don’t get that who you are, and what unearned privileges you possess by virtue of who you are, affect whether what you say is funny or not. “If it’s ironic humor when black people call their black friends ‘nigger’, then why isn’t it funny when I call black people ‘nigger’?

    Posted by: PhysioProf | January 12, 2008 10:09 PM
    —-
    Nope, I’m aware of Sapir-Whorf. Culture makes a difference, as does language and a multitude of other things. A person at a funeral is not likely to find some jokes funny that they may laugh uproariously at in other circumstances. And who can tell whether something’s actually funny if you don’t know the language (or, ::ahem:: context) it was given in?
    —-

    “Context” is a nice device for justification in this case. Explain to me why, if a young man is “desperate”, his thoughts turn to rape? Women, who are also often desperate for sex, do not as a rule contemplate rape as a means to satisfy their desires. If it seems “natural” to you that a young man, desperate for sex, should contemplate – however lightly – raping someone, then you are accepting this state of affairs. What purpose can there be for rape jokes, other than to remind women that they are vulnerable to rape? Just as racist jokes remind the targeted group that they are subordinate and vilified. There’s no humor in racist jokes – unless you accept the racist assumptions underlying them – and there’s no humor in rape jokes, unless you accept the sexist assumptions underlying them: that it’s okay for men to coerce women into sex, because they are unfairly holding out, or the men are desperate and so turning to rape is an acceptable alternative, or any other scenario underlying “joking” about rape. Somewhere, at the bottom, is the assumption that it’s okay and even funny to contemplate raping a woman. If you are comfortable with holding those kinds of beliefs, then I am sure you will find rape jokes to be hilarious. If, however, you are not, you will not find any humor in rape “jokes”. It doesn’t matter if men are telling them among themselves, or to a mixed audience; the underlying belief system that allows the teller or listener to find humor in the joke is the same. It’s called sexism.

    Posted by: Zuska | January 14, 2008 3:35 PM
    —-
    “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country!”. Sheesh, what a flaming communist that guy was. And considering all the evils that have come out of it – Stalin, et al – I can’t BELIEVE he’s actually talking about that! I, for one, am horribly offended. Only people that support communism and all of it’s evils could say something like that! Oh? What’s that you say? That’s not what the point of that phrase was at all? Hmm..

    There’s a difference between *contemplating* something and *joking* about it. One does not have to *contemplate* bad things happening to a lawyer to *joke* about such. What purpose? Quite a few, not all of them ‘evil’. How would your proposed purpose apply when the joke is between males – no women around to ‘remind of their place’. But of course, from your comments thus far, I would assume you’ll come up with something like ‘So that they can reaffirm their superiority amongst themselves’. Maybe – but it’s an awfully paranoid stance to take. Now, paranoia may not be wrong, and I’m sure there are people who do it for just those reasons – but that’s no reason to tar everyone with the same brush. What if, for example, they’re echoing or copying an ‘acceptable’ rape joke they’d heard from a female comedian?

    Further, your statement that there’s no humor in something “unless you accept the sexist [or, I suppose, other] assumptions underlying” it falls flat on it’s face in the face of other categories of jokes which are based on acts and such that most people would find horrible if it happened in real life. A piano falling on a cartoon cat is funny (sometimes). The same thing happening to a real cat is not. Sometimes that underlying belief system has nothing to do with persecution, hate, or other similar motivations.

    And even given all of that, what IS the problem with contemplating something? Without going into the easy territory of thought-crimes, why must a person who can use their imagination necessarily agree with everything involved with what they’re imaging? Was Nabokov ‘evil’ because he could write “Lolita”?
    —-

    If we really must talk about “context”, then let’s talk about the “context” that women live in, the context where we are raped by acquaintances and strangers alike, where we are afraid to walk alone at night, where we are afraid of having “rape drugs” put into our drinks, perhaps by the person we’re out on a date with, where we are raped by soldiers as an act of war, where in some parts of the world women find themselves shamed and ostracized by their families because they’ve been raped, where we never ever really live without the fear of being raped. That’s the background “context” you want to use for deciding whether or not joking about rape is funny. And if you still think rape jokes can be funny, then maybe you’ll want to work up some lynching jokes, too, for your routine.

    Posted by: Zuska | January 14, 2008 3:58 PM
    —-
    No, that’s the background context YOU use. Do you really think that most people give much thought to other people’s problems or sensitivities when they don’t share them? Sure, they’ll do so in regards to particular people, or when it’s a topic of interest (in some form or another) to them, but aside from that, it probably doesn’t enter into their minds. Your characterizations don’t fit – on the one hand, you claim all these males have a superiority complex of some sort, but then you expect them to natively sympathize with something that, given the former, they might not even know is an issue? And even if they ARE aware of it, why should anyone who doesn’t share the same background context – male or female – give a damn when they’re not around someone they know to have that background? If it’s not personally significant to them, what’s the matter with joking about it? You say that lawyer jokes are OK (or someone did, I think, besides me), but what if you knew a lawyer who’d HAD been victimized for being a lawyer? Would that keep you from laughing at lawyer jokes when they’re not around? If so, eventually there’s nothing left for you to laugh at.

    Work up lynching jokes? Please, gallows humor has been around for ages – even from the people about to be hung. (Further, I’m not a comedian).

    Oh, and what Alexis said.
    —-

    Talking about rape isn’t taboo, at least for men. They talk about it and fantasize about it a great deal. Talking about rape as a serious issue and something that must be prevented, talking about societal changes that need to be made to make rape unacceptable – those things are not talked about so much, though I don’t know if taboo is the right word for why they are not talked about. They are not talked about because the power relations current in society favor other ways of talking about rape – as a joke, as something to fantasize about, as something that is more or less inevitable because “men will be men”.

    Of course society accepts rape coming from men – or we wouldn’t have young men joking about their desire to commit rape. That’s not an explanation of why society accepts rape, or why/how young men learn to think about rape as a possibly legitimate solution for their sexual frustrations. And I never said the situation was natural – I said that if you take the position that rape jokes are funny, then you are complicit in the view that the situation that obtains is natural or normal and/or can’t (or shouldn’t) be changed.

    You are right that we don’t talk much about women coercing/raping men, nor do we talk much about man-on-man rape – except in jokes. That’s the source of many jokes especially relating to being imprisoned; and in that case, I would say the function of those jokes is to keep demons at bay and claim power over the fear that the homophobia of heterosexual men generates. Those are not transgressive jokes, but expressions of anxiety.

    Men – who rape women – joking about rape of women, are also not being transgressive. They are upholding the status quo.

    Posted by: Zuska | January 15, 2008 1:19 PM
    —-
    Talking about rape in an offhand, joking manner, not really. Were I to start talking seriously about doing it, I’m quite sure that in a fair amount of groups that would at least make many of them quite uncomfortable, if not getting me in for a pounding (how many men do you know of with sisters? how many of those wouldn’t hesitate to kill someone raping their sister?). As for talking about methods for societal change: a lot of people (at least down here) see the death penalty or life as a pretty good solution (although not exactly for rape – not because the crime isn’t worth it, but because of the he-said/she-said problem), and that’s the extent of their thought on methods of societal change in regards to crime. It is most obviously clear, to anyone not looking through tainted glasses, that the view that rape is “something that is more or less inevitable because ‘men will be men’” is NOT the dominant view.

    Society “accepts” rape from men only in the sense that it doesn’t ‘make sense’ to them for it to go the other way – because of the opposing stereotype that men are never unwilling to have sex, and that they have complete control of their penises (hint: as many males in puberty will attest, it rises when it wishes, regardless of will). Men can be victims of sexism as well.

    Still wrong on the ‘if (joke == funny) then (person accepts all elements of joke as right and proper, or agrees with them, or other such nonsense)’. Complicity can not come from simply finding a joke funny (unless it’s complicitness in bad taste or some such). Otherwise, millions of children and animators are complicit in deaths by anvil, piano, guns, etc.. Loony Tunes should be burned.

    And what about women – who rape both women and men – joking about rape? Are they too upholding the status quo? If they’re not, what about a man telling the same joke for the same purpose? Oh, and don’t forget about all those men – who rape sheep – and women – who rape dogs – either..
    —-

    Exactly how much feminist theory of humor have you studied?

    Posted by: Zuska | January 20, 2008 9:30 PM
    —-
    Ah, lovely: the Courtier’s reply..

    Why, exactly, should we accept feminist theory of humor as the end-all and be-all of the interpretation of humor? Any moreso than Chinese, Bostonian, or Earthian? Why must all swans be white?
    —-

    Well, Caledonian, you aren’t even making sense anymore. Whether we find rape jokes “personally” funny is irrelevant? Jokes are just somehow funny without any personal involvement? Individual agency allows a person to find humor – or not – in what is culturally sanctioned as funny.

    Feminist theory and reality are not mutually exclusive.

    Denying the usefulness of feminist theory to help us understand reality is a very common move for those who can’t accept the troubling aspects of gender analysis. If you want to have your rape jokes and laugh at them, go right ahead. Just don’t try to pretend it doesn’t say anything about you.

    Posted by: Zuska | January 24, 2008 4:44 PM
    —-
    They’re not relevant to what he was arguing about. I certainly hope that’s a sincere mistake and red herrings and straw men aren’t standard elements of your argumentative repertoire.

    With what caveats and in what areas? Just because they are not mutually exclusive (if that is the case) does not mean that they are equivalent.

    Denying the usefulness of eugenics is a very common move for those who can’t accept the troubling aspects of controlled evolution. Same goes for denying the usefulness of the geocentric astronomical model.
    Or, to put it another, stop with the Courtier’s replies, please. The fact that an idea *exists* does not make it *correct* nor *accurate*.
    —-

    “I think you should spend less time concerning yourself with feminist theory, and more time getting in touch with reality.”

    This is hsi actual goal – maligning feminists. The truth of your argument against this sort of non-humor is irrelevant because its far more important to denigrate feminists.

    For those still confused about why this is unacceptable, allow me to explain using one of Melissa McEwan’s( Of Shakeville) example:

    Imagine a woman (or being a woman) who’s just been through rape. After the ordeal and in an attempt to be calmed and relax she watches some comedy. And this is what she’s met with – a pack of privileged boys mocking what she’s just been through, making it clear they find nothing wrong with mocking her ordeal, making it clear that they find humor in her situation.

    It’s not funny. It’s privilege, entitled boys poisioned by rape culture exercising their privilege to be heartless pigs.

    Posted by: Oy | January 25, 2008 12:46 PM
    —-
    There is probably someone to be offended, quite possibly by conflict with personal experience, by every bit of humor out there. So? Should others stop having their humor because someone might be a bit or a lot sensitive to the subject?

    And what in the world leads you to the assumption that these ‘boys’ are necessarily ‘privilege[d]‘ and ‘entitled’? Are you under the delusion that the un(der)privileged, the untitled, and the subordinate/subjected men out there are necessarily ‘better’ at this?

    And what is this “rape culture” you speak of? Is it like Fight Club?
    —-

    I think the main point here is that certain types of jokes which are disrespectful and malicious towards a group of people are generally not funny to the masses. If you find them funny it does say something about the person you are. If you tell and laugh at racist jokes be it at Muslims (popular these days) or African Americans it says something about the way you feel towards a particular group. If you laugh and find rape jokes funny it also says something about the way you perceive women and or prisoners who are victims of your jokes. Just as you will continue to find these types of jokes funny, the rest of the world will continue to see something negative in you for finding them funny in the first place. As we should ‘just deal with’ you finding them funny, you should ‘just deal with’ us thinking about you in a certain negative light.

    Posted by: LJG | January 25, 2008 1:52 PM
    —-
    No it doesn’t. Others may make unfounded ASSUMPTIONS about a person’s attitudes based on their humor – but hey, as long as it’s only *personal* stereotypes and prejudices, well then, THAT’S okay!
    —-

    The widespread inability to perceive harm underlies many of our social problems.

    The culture of science places high value on ideas as abstract, disconnected entities. Seeing the connection between our behaviors when we express ideas and the consequences of our behaviors seems to be a difficult challenge.

    Posted by: etbnc | January 26, 2008 10:53 AM
    —-
    Every time a rape joke is told (even in private to close friends), another sheep forcibly loses it’s virginity…

    (okay, yeah, cheap and bad shot, I know..[and know, that was not humor])
    (but speaking of which – what about the Scots/Sheep jokes? How do they fit in to all of this?)
    —-

    “What people consider funny often involves pain or other unpleasant circumstances happening to someone, often someone undeserving of it.”

    What people consider funny also often involves highlighting and affirming the subjugated status of one or another traditionally oppressed class of individuals in society. However–and this is what seems to be escaping a number of commenters to this thread–humor is not morally neutral, and the fact that someone somewhere finds a form of humor funny does not immunize it from moral opprobrium.

    It can be a moral wrong to find a particular type of humor funny. How funny it might be is irrelevant.

    Posted by: PhysioProf | January 26, 2008 5:57 PM
    —-
    Well, for one that depends entirely on there being moral absolutes (there aren’t), and for another, since when is how one instinctively reacts to tickling a moral issue? Would a pun that happens to involve the word rape (say, a limerick) be morally bad in your system?

    As far as I’ve known, the only things NOT morally neutral are the motivations for actions, words, etc.. An earthquake is morally neutral. So too is a joke. The intent behind the joke is what is (or, as I see it, should be) the issue.

    But of course the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Just not with moral nor amoral stones.
    —-

    Zuska — ever read the Dave Barry piece about his son losing his passport?

    … When a boy reaches 13, the Knowledge Fairy inserts into his brain all the information in the entire universe. From that point on, he no longer needs any parental guidance. All he needs is parental money.

    This is why a teenage boy who’s had a driver’s licence for two hours knows that he can drive 267 kilometres an hour in heavy traffic, while devoting two percent of his attention to the actual road and 98 percent to the critical task of adjusting the radio to exactly the right volume setting. If you criticise him, he’ll give you a look of contempt mixed with pity. Because you are a clueless old nerd who was last visited by the Knowledge Fairy in 1873, and your brain has been leaking information ever since.

    My only point here is, keep this in mind when arguing with Caledonian.

    Caledonian:
    http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/klu/sers/1998/00000038/F0020009/00291858

    Posted by: Luna_the_cat | January 29, 2008 2:00 PM
    #53

    Luna, thanks so much for that citation! Also for your analysis, which may explain a lot…I love the way Caledonian equates peer-reviewed scholarship in feminist theory with a newspaper article. It’s been an interesting conversation in that Caledonian has displayed so many varieties of resistance to and disparagement of the uncomfortable truths of gender analysis.

    Posted by: Zuska | January 29, 2008 2:12 PM
    —-
    An interesting article. But the correlations weren’t all that high, so it doesn’t really add too much to this. Sure, there’s a trend, and I don’t think anyone would really have argued against it beforehand. But, that correlation still indicates a fair amount of scattering – ie, that it’s not unlikely that that someone in the ‘morally favorable’ end of the scales might also find the sexist jokes funny (particularly if they’re male).

    And Zuska: tsk-tsk. Dismissing Caledonian’s arguments with a wave of a loosely-connected analogy and once again throwing out a strawman? At least Luna_the_cat addressed, if inadvertently (though probably advertently), what he was talking about: where’s the support for those feminist theories. In other words, she put out some *evidence* supporting your views, instead of just obliquely referencing a subject area. Feminist theory (from what little I admittedly know of it) is a *social* science. Also known as the ‘soft sciences’, or, more bluntly, those ‘sciences’ with a big ‘talk & theory’ to ‘good/useful evidence’ ratio.

    And what uncomfortable ‘truths’ might those be? The only people I’ve known of to hold any good claim to truth are mathematicians.

    But it’s nice to see you, Luna_the_cat, and PhysioProf bonding – even if it’s by denigrating someone else.
    —-

    There seems to have been a deliberate attempt to conflate the act of telling rape jokes with finding rape jokes funny, but the two phenomena don’t seem to be necessarily connected.

    Indeed, the study Luna_the_cat linked to actively contradicted that linkage: enjoying the rape jokes was associated with hostile or confrontational attitudes towards sexuality, especially with men. But despite disapproving of the jokes significantly more than men, women weren’t significantly less likely to tell the jokes.

    It’s almost as though being willing to tell such jokes wasn’t connected to your attitudes regarding them… but that can’t be right, as it contradicts feminist theory as brought to us by Zuska.

    Clearly, the study must have been poorly conducted somehow. Or maybe they’re trying to avoid facing the unpleasant truth by releasing false data?

    Posted by: Caledonian | January 30, 2008 9:48 AM
    —-
    Not exactly – if you’re talking about the correlation I think you are, all that said was that they were more likely to retell the joke *when they thought it was funny*, while men were less likely to do so.

    I would like to note, however, that with one exception (if I didn’t miss any), all of the jokes were of only one form of sexism. A rather peculiar ‘flaw’ in the experiment as it pertains to this argument, since the values may be exactly reversed if the sexism of the jokes went the other way.

    However, I found this rather interesting (and it contradicts, or rather addresses, one of my earlier points): http://www.uiowa.edu/~grpproc/crisp/crisp13_10.pdf
    —-

    It is also typical of first-year grad students who have yet to figure out that they are no longer the smartest one in the room.

    Posted by: PhysioProf | January 30, 2008 3:02 PM
    —-
    ::ahem:: Just so y’alls don’t get the wrong idea – I prefer to know or learn the truth rather than to have been ‘right’. I also like adversarial arguing though (devil’s advocate – a position near and dear to me ;-) )
    —-
    the real me: troll or idiot? can’t decide..
    —-
    —-
    dreikin: feeding you flame-bait since 1/15/08…

  69. #69 Halogoth
    January 27, 2010

    I like most rape jokes. I don’t think rape is cool though. Joking isn’t the same as doing it. Those who are offended by rape jokes aren’t the right audience. Simple as that. We can blah, blah, blah about it, but for what purpose? People will still like offensive humor and people will still be offended. Yin and yang. If you weren’t so horrified by rape jokes, then the wouldn’t be as funny to some people. You push, they pull. Shadow and light. No further discussion needed. Damn….. Sometimes I wish thy never invented the Internet…… Everyone gets to blah, blah, blah, I have thoguhts about things, me, me, me. Everyone should have a hobby or two. Life’s short, after all. You don’t wanna be typing and staring at a screen when you could be doing something better. You don’t really want to be getting on peoples cases and going around all flustered with social disbelief. Relax. …..although I might be of a different generation that is (gasp!), different! If you can’t beat them, then why try? Why waste the time that we have? Never stop learning and leave you mind closed.

  70. #70 Daniel
    March 20, 2010

    I’m sure we are all adults. So I think we should all be able to understand that the actual act of rape is far from funny. I was molested when i was younger and guess what? im far from a women. (for those people that think things only happen to women) i was twelve yrs.old anyway… jokes are funny. It helps make light of the situation and in my opinion make the rapists look really dumb. every minute hundreds of people around the world get raped and thats not funny. however i just read a rape joke about this guy who raped a girl and came out with gonorrhea. well haha that’s what you get. i mean im black white and spanish so when me and my friends do race jokes oh man i get it good.lol but even though im 18 im mature enough to know they aren’t trying to hurt me. put it like this if you want people to understand and respect your point of view you have to also understand and respect theirs no matter how off the wall or insane it may seem to you.

  71. #71 Vicki
    March 22, 2010

    Respecting people does not always mean respecting their point of view.

    I do not have to respect the point of view of people who think I should be killed in order to demand respect for myself and my point of view, which is that I’m as human as they are and have the same rights.

    Also, people don’t have to be trying to hurt you to do so. If someone steps on your foot by accident, it still hurts. If that foot is already injured, it can do real damage–even though the careless person on the train doesn’t know that they’re stepping on an open wound (as literally happened to someone I know).

    Jokes that treat something as trivial and normal encourage people to think of it that way. To take your example: is an easily-treatable disease really “punishment” for violent assault? And if it is, what does that say about the victim, who was already sick? Are we going to assume she must have done something wrong, in order to catch gonorrhea?

  72. #72 Endor
    March 22, 2010

    Shhh don’t try making him empathetic and logical! mocking human suffering is funny! You know, cuz . . . um . . . . jokes r funni!

  73. #73 Cameron
    April 8, 2010

    I only tell rape jokes over some beers when I’m just with my close friends who I know enjoy that stuff too. And none of us are rapists or believe that women exist solely for the pleasure of men.

    I hear people go on and on about feminist humor theory, and
    I love how these people assume that they know what goes on in other people’s minds. I find some rape jokes funny (and funny is a matter of opinion), because I like dark humor. I just find it oddly amusing. Yet somehow I’m not a rapist, sexist, or subconsciously believe that women should be confined to the kitchen. Somehow I hate rapists and think actually raping people isn’t funny. Perplexing, huh?!

    One of the long posts so delightfully claimed:
    “Rape jokes have a purpose, and that’s to remind women that they are only safe at men’s pleasure, that all women are vulnerable to rape, and that the men telling the joke think this situation is funny. Laughing at rape jokes makes you complicit in this state of affairs. Laughing at racist jokes is just as bad..”

    Don’t pretend you know me or what goes through my mind. If you don’t like it, you have every right to not laugh, tell me why you’re offended and why you think I should shut up. But you can’t tell me why I’m joking and what I’m thinking. It almost looks like feminist theory of humor just can’t see the forest through the trees.

  74. #74 tyciol
    May 4, 2010

    It’s sexist to say that rape jokes can only be funny when told by a woman. I think it’s about context and that people are acting like telepaths thinking they can read into the intent of the joke-teller or those who find it humourous.

    Keep in mind that babies do get killed, often in heats of passion just like rapes occur. They stem from people taking seemingly innocent desires (quiet, company) to harmful extremes.

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