So this recently blew up around the internet. For the linkophobes, Daniel Tosh -famous for the viral video review show Tosh.0 has been under fire for demeaning a female heckler by saying “Wouldn’t it be funny if that girl got raped by like, 5 guys right now? Like right now? What if a bunch of guys just raped her…”.
Bravo, Tosh. You’ve turned from just an annoying twunt to one who promotes rape culture. You must be a hit with the ladies… Please, no Rohypnol jokes about that either. You’ve done enough.
But I digress. I don’t want to further demonize someone who -in all likelihood, simply fucked up. There’s plenty of articles on the internet to do that for me and frankly, I save that sort of hellfire for Westboro Baptists and Kyle Sandilands.
However, as a writer myself, I do wish to weigh in on the darker side of comedy such as rape “jokes” and their ilk.
As many of my friends know, I am no stranger to dark comedy, “problematic content” and generally being completely fucking tasteless. Many a bottle of beer has been consumed while seated among my friends as we shared dead baby jokes and similar. I’ve been the insensitive jerk who has said the wrong thing at the wrong time and I’ve criticized others for doing so. My work in film/web content is no different and somehow I have generally avoided the ire of my feminist/ally friends and merely have been told that I have “too many male characters” and “man-angst is irritating”, both of which I’ll admit to. The one incident where my writing has been problematic was terrible dialogue choice (though given this is HiOP we’re talking about, it wouldn’t be the first time).
I’m of the belief that anything -in the right light, can be used as commentary. Rape, abortion, death, etc. should be talked about despite being horrific acts. You can throw racism, sexism, privilege, LGBT* issues and the like in there as well. That said, it’s not a matter of WHAT you talk about, it’s HOW and using those same topics to make light of a situation -while possible, is just asking for trouble. My belief is that if you’re going to joke about rape et. al (which -in my humble opinion, you probably shouldn’t), you’re either going to have to be an amazing fucking wordsmith or be content that you’re going to piss off a LOT of people. There’s a fine line between being “edgy” or “out there” and just being an offensive prick and frankly, there’s not a whole lot of people I’d be putting in the former category. The late George Carlin and Bill Hicks are notable exceptions, however even their material I sometimes have problems with.
Speaking of Carlin, you may be tempted at this to point out his bit on rape being funny. Which I’ll admit is a good take on it. “But Lunchbox!” I hear you shout “How can you condone one person’s use of rape jokes while the other you criticize?”
Remember that “amazing wordsmith” thing? Most rape jokes are poorly constructed and just a mashing of offensive words together to “shock” listeners -usually uttered by males who will most likely go through life without being raped. Carlin, on the other hand, knew what he was doing and his material was constructed intelligently and laden with social commentary as to not particularly offend anybody. Still lacking in taste, yes but a completely different take on it. Bringing this back to Daniel Tosh, while he directly chose a victim to be the butt of his jokes, Carlin’s bit attacked rapists and rape culture as a whole.
Sarah Silverman is another example of someone who -while not on the level of Carlin, executes the whole horrible-situation-dressed-up-with-social-commentary thing. The episode of The Sarah Silverman Show where she pokes fun at awareness campaigners is a perfect example.
It’s not even a case of “needing to lighten up” or “I choose to be offended” or some other defensive bullshit that people come up with. I’m well aware that humour is subjective. One man’s “not funny” is another’s comedic gold. However, when you joke about these things in the wrong way, it trivializes it and cheapens a horrible and very real experience that could happen to anyone, nevermind the victim-blaming, apologists and soforth… This is pretty much what I think a LOT of people don’t get at all. By thinking you can say what you like without filtering your material and the masses can just “deal with it”, you’re not going to challenge societal norms or get people on your side. Rather, you risk completely losing your audience and having someone offer to punch you in the junk.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think everything should be happy families and we should all live in pristine, inoffensive bubbles. As a writer, it’s my job to win you guys over and really, I’m well aware of the fact a group of people won’t like what I have to say, miss the point or simply don’t enjoy my boner-joke shenanigans. I also don’t think we shouldn’t make anything that isn’t challenging or confronting in fear of offending people. I do think, however that you can write a great script/novel/sketch/routine without resorting to trivializing horrible situations for a cheap laugh or for shock value. I mean, that’s what Kyle Sanilands does. You don’t want to be Kyle Sandilands, do you?