If Comedy Has No Lady Problem, Why Is Lindy West Getting So Many Rape Threats?
Lindy West writes:
Last Thursday, I went on FX’s Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell and tried to explain rape culture in a few 15-second sound bytes (fun stuff—if you’ve never tried it, RUN-DON’T-WALK).
I was in a debate with comedy vet Jim Norton (who’s been thoughtful and fair throughout this whole thing, so don’t be mean to him), who essentially took the stance that comedy requires absolute freedom in order to function. Comedians joke about difficult issues because it’s a “release of tension” for people uncomfortable with those issues. It’s “catharsis.” No subject should ever be “off limits” and comedians shouldn’t be “silenced.” And anyway, language doesn’t affect culture, so how could rape jokes have an effect on actual rape? Rape is illegal! Everyone hates rape!
Well, that’s the fundamental disconnect between us. I believe that the way we speak about things and the type of media we consume profoundly influences how we think about the world.
Let me be clear: I don’t believe that previously non-raping audience members are going to take to the streets in a rape mob after hearing one rape joke. That’s an absurd and insulting mischaracterization. But I do believe that comedy’s current permissiveness around cavalier, cruel, victim-targeting rape jokes contributes to (that’s contributes—not causes) a culture of young men who don’t understand what it means to take this stuff seriously.
And how did they try and prove me wrong? How did they try to demonstrate that comedy, in general, doesn’t have issues with women? By threatening to rape and kill me, telling me I’m just bitter because I’m too fat to get raped, and suggesting that the debate would have been better if it had just been Jim raping me.
This isn’t just coming from anonymous trolls. Local comics — whom I know and work with — have told me to shut the fuck up. One hopes I’ll fall down a flight of stairs. (He later apologized—to my boyfriend, not me.)
Are rape jokes appropriate? Are Holocaust/slavery/n-word/Jew/Asian/religious jokes appropriate?
As long as they’re funny, yeah they’re appropriate. Mel Brooks does Holocaust jokes, South Park has done rape jokes. But if they are not funny, then they suck. Of course all not-funny jokes suck, but not-funny jokes based on offensive topics suck harder. Daniel Tosh and Sarah Silverman, your jokes are lame and you suck.
I put this in “humor” since it is about comedy and what is appropriate subject matter for comedy, not because I think it is funny.