The Philadelphia Inquirer has an interesting article today about the “issue of cultural sensitivity…in the world of comedy”. Comedy: When The Laughing Stops looks at how comedians struggle with knowing where to draw the line – and when to go ahead and cross that line.
Some people fear that when comics don’t delineate boundaries, it gives the public the impression that it, too, can freely utter offensive comments. [Chris] Rock addressed the subject during his sold-out New Year’s Eve show at Madison Square Garden. Fat girls make fun of skinny ones, he said, but skinny ones can’t do the same to fat ones; the poor can excoriate the rich, but the rich are not allowed to ridicule the poor.
What’s the common theme there? Subjugated groups can poke fun at their subjugators, and it’s comedy.** When subjugators make humor out of the condition of the subjugated – not so much. To revel in the status of subjugator and mock the ways in which the subjugated group experiences your boot on its neck is to promote continuing subjugation. It will be funny to those who are comfortable with the subjugation. But it will be seen as an act of violence by members of the targeted group – at least, those who aren’t complicit in their own subjugation.
Wanda Sykes making a joke about wishing she could leave her pussy at home, so she could then tell potential rapists “Sorry, I forgot to bring it with me today” is funny. She’s speaking with and for women, and challenging through humor the fear all women have about being raped. Men making jokes about wanting to rape women promotes the notion that all women should be sexually available to any male who wants them at any time. I guess that’s funny if you think men have a right to rape women, or that rape isn’t such a bad thing, or some kinds of rape are acceptable.
**In the case of fat women/skinny women, it’s not so much that skinny women personally participate in oppressing fat women, but that our culture values thinness and looks down upon the non-thin. A fat woman can mock the cultural oppression; a skinny woman making fun of fat women reinforces the equation fat = bad and disgusting.