In the past few months, there’s been an increasing amount of posts and twitter traffic about how terrible rape jokes are and why they are absolutely never okay. I’m not going to defend them directly, although I will link to articles from both sides. What bothers me more, is telling people to stop doing something. That’s censorship, that’s silencing a voice, and truly, is just an arbitrary line that someone decided to draw.
First, a terrible joke
A boy and a pedophile are walking through a dark forest. The boy says, “These woods are scary”.
The pedophile looks at him and replies, “Tell me about it. I’ve got to walk back alone.”
We as humans, have never really come to grips with what we’re okay with talking about. The language grows, we continue explore, learn and grow about the world around us, and yet feel the need to protect the people around us, the next generation, the innocent. We start to define what it means to be an acceptable human being, what’s okay to say in front of elders, children, in ‘polite company’ – what can be said in certain buildings, or during certain activities. Most of this happens organically, with the offending party being naturally ostracised, but increasingly, there seems to be a need to actually be able to control it. Kapil Sibal wants to censor the internet, and the words he’s been using to define the content: inflammatory, derogatory, objectionable, controversial. Every joke on the planet fits that bill.
Another terrible joke
How many Jews can fit in a car?
About 50, most in the ashtray.
What can black women do to prevent crime?
Have an abortion.
Whether or not you find jokes funny or offensive will depend on where you’ve drawn your personal line. Maybe your race wasn’t suppressed, driven to slavery and slaughtered by the truckload. Maybe hearing the word ‘black’ or ‘joo’ in a derogatory context doesn’t bring up the harrowing history of your people. For me, I find old, family-friendly sexist humour absolutely hideous. It makes me proper sick that at a wedding, all in ‘good humour’, there will be jokes about a women always getting the last word, about men staying out of the kitchen, helping with the chores, …. I’d truly like to believe we’re past this, and our roles are not defined by our race or gender or sexual preference.
Quick, gay joke
How do you turn a fruit into a vegetable?
And then there’s violence and war. Absolutely as important and serious as anything sex related, but easily trivialised in action movies and video games. For some reason it is absolutely fine for a six-year-old to watch one man put a bullet through another’s skull, but if he kisses the girl he saved as a result, censor the shit out of that! Even in our daily lives, we use incredibly powerful and violent language to describe typical events: traffic was hell, work was torture. Torture! Seriously. You’d equate having a long day with having your fingernails torn out, or being electrocuted through your penis, or your kneecaps blown out.
I’m fairly certain the most ‘offensive’ word in that last sentence, was penis.
And hey, religion time
What’s white and hangs off clouds?
The coming of the Lord
I generally have a problem with the untouchables: the areas you can’t question for some unexplained reason. Religion tops this list, but respect for elders, government policy and maybe society as a whole are the other biggies. These subjects are apparently outside your scope of understanding and you really should have no say in them. Somebody important, and unquestionably smart came up with the rules to all this, and we are not worthy to even know why they are still applicable to us. That’s the way the world has worked thus far, and we must protect the next generation from the thought that it may not be ideal.
And in truth, all of it has faced change over the years. Change that we took for granted, but some section of a society fought very hard for. We say ‘Greek Mythology’ without batting an eye, but to them, it was anything but fiction. They were gods, and they must be pleased. Try saying ‘Christian mythology’ today. It’s the same with age and gender. Picture a politician. Chances are you picked an oldish man. That’s statistically accurate, but not for good reason. Someone, sometime decided that until you were this age, you couldn’t make decisions that would affect another person. If you were a women, you’re just shit out of luck. 18 to drive or wield a firearm, but 21 to drink yourself silly beforehand. Men can marry at 21, girls at 18. Someone just made this crap up – to help the function of his town during that time. It doesn’t have to apply anywhere else, at any other time.
Didn’t I start with rape
I just trivialised rape in the context of this blog post. I gave it no special attention, and put it right alongside war, torture, racism, disease, religious freedom and pretty much every other serious and we-shouldn’t-joke-about-this subject there is. And if you can tell me why it is any different, and requires a separate place on the mantle, please, be my guest. But to me, the ability to talk about something starts with taking it off the taboo list. Our generation has the ability to discuss, in comfortable circumstances, far more subjects than would have been socially acceptable a generation or two ago. We can, we do, and it helps us learn from it and grow as a species. Conversation is our greatest tool, and humour is a significant strength behind it.
There isn’t one. I can’t truly, and with a clear conscious, say that it’s okay to joke about something that was unimaginably distressing to someone. But that can’t stop the conversation. That can’t seal it off in a glass case, to be only discussed under guidelines and strict supervision, because no great idea came from those conditions and I’d rather live in a society that goes “She got raped? We really should bring it up and get her to talk about it.” rather than “Shhhh, pretend like everything’s okay.”
Humour can be an incredibly powerful, albeit confusing, coping mechanism. The most recent portrayal of which is Seth Rogen trying to come to terms with his friend having cancer in 50/50. Entirely great movie, and his character really gives our generation a voice. We know how we’ve been told to act, but we’re really not sure if that suits us just right.
Other stuff to get you thinking: