Let’s talk about rape jokes

In light of the recent Daniel Tosh fiasco, Jezebel made a great point: there are rape jokes which rely on the idea that people getting raped is funny, and then there are rape jokes where rapists or rape culture form the punch line. You can definitely tell the latter. The problem with the former is that rape is not funny. It’s just not.

It’s like how you can tell jokes about having cancer, and all the shit that puts you through (and many survivors cope by doing just that), but you can’t tell a joke where the punchline is “And then he got cancer!” Because nobody could think getting cancer is funny. Maybe grimly satisfying, when it happens to someone who’s totally vile. Like, I’d be pleased to hear someday that Jerry Sandusky has been raped to death in prison, but I still wouldn’t be amused, per se.

Still confused? Let’s try to put it in perspective. Who finds the above picture hilarious? Rarely the guys who find rape jokes funny. They vociferously lecture about how getting kicked in the balls is THE MANPAIN I WILL NEVER UNDERSTAND and all that. They’re right, of course. Getting kicked in the balls is not funny.

But sometimes in comedy media, they’ll sanitize the ball kick. The guy isn’t writhing in silent gasping agony, tears streaming seemingly out of every pore as he turns a strange color. He’s just hurting, and his doubling over is a funny image (out of context). Except, if you’ve been kicked hard in the balls, or if you were a guy in a world where you had a 25% chance of getting kicked damagingly hard in the balls at least once, and once it happened to you, your chances of having it happen again got bigger, you would know not to laugh even when it’s sanitized.

Rape has been similarly sanitized in our rape culture. If you’ve never really had to think what getting raped might feel like because you have no sense it could happen to you, your image of rape might be all those scenes where a it turns into passionate lovemaking with magical retroactive consent and then everyone climaxes like porn on steroids. If rape was really like that, it could be funny because, well, no harm done, right?

But in reality, both rape and the ball kick are entirely traumatizing and horrible, and they can cause permanent damage. Those of us who know that don’t find them funny. It’s like cancer. We get that it’s just pretty fucking tragic, so we don’t find getting cancer funny.

If you find rape funny, you need to read more about rape from the perspective of victims. If you still find it funny at that point, then all I can say is you better laugh real hard when you get your tragedy – the deadly diagnosis, or the car accident that changes your life forever. You’d better laugh and laugh and laugh, because you don’t get to find everyone else’s tragedies amusing, but expect to have yours taken seriously.


  1. Cloudtigress says

    Apparently the rape “joke” isn’t Tosh’s only misogynist comment. Someone over on fanficrants made a passing comment about how some routine/joke of his made some of his fans think it was alright to go up fat women they didn’t know and rub their stomachs without the womens’ consent. Don’t have any context beyond that, but the idea that an entertainment figure would say “this is good to do”, and his fans would do it, is super creepy to think about.

  2. firebird says

    I know the difference you point out had me a bit confused when I first read about the Tosh thing. I knew I had seen some jokes about terrible things that were actually funny in a grim way, and I had a hard time articulating why they were and his wasn’t, although I didn’t see why anyone would think his comments were funny from what I’ve read of the transcript. So making that point is important and helpful, especially for people like me who are challenged at joke-making (I generally avoid making jokes at all because I’m bad at it, so I have trouble explaining why some jokes are wrong because I don’t really get jokes at all).

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