Comedian versus Feminist: are rape jokes okay?

When I wrote about Lindy West’s nonsense “feminists don’t hate men” list several months ago, I assumed that West experienced a momentary lapse in coherent thought. Her list was a rambling mess of typical feminist arguments supported only by blind assertions and heavy doses of snark. That sort of rant happens to the best of us. However, a recent video suggests that was how West actually thinks. Somewhere between snark, conceit, feminism, and whatever passes for liberal intellectual thought lies West’s thought process.

Kamau Bell invited West to debate the topic of rape jokes with comedian Jim Norton on his show Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell. For those unfamiliar with Norton’s material, he is raunchy and has told many rape jokes. What happens is sixteen minutes of Norton taking down West’s arguments with a mix of coherent thought, humor, logic, and a fair smattering of rape jokes. West, on the other hand gets a few laughs but offers little:

What amazes me most is the difference between Norton and West. Jim Norton comes across as prepared. He has an argument to offer, defends it, and supports it with examples. Lindy West has an argument as well, but it gets lost in her snark and righteous feminism. She visibly searches for the words she wants to say while acting as if she is landing zinger after stinging zinger. If you listen to the audience, she gets fewer laughs than Norton when she lands a joke, and most of them are from a handful of women.

In fairness, Norton has had years to perfect thinking on his feet. As a stand-up comic, Norton likely comes up with bits on the spot if something does not work. So West cannot honestly stand toe-to-toe with him in that regard. Yet it appears that West came with nothing more than her “rape jokes are wrong because I’m offended and I get to call you a dick for it” argument. While it is not the best logic, it would be less embarrassing for West if she did not come across as so self-righteous, hypocritical, and sexist.

For example, as she spends her time complaining about rape jokes, she makes several herself. As Dylan Gadino pointed out:

As West continues to reference the Tosh incident, she explains that his comeback was inappropriate, in part, because sometimes “everyone” does rape that girl. “I don’t mean that the people in the club then rally and say ‘Oh, I’m not doing anything’ (looks at an imagined watch on her wrist)…”

She gets laughs. Lindy nailed it.

“It’s actually really trivializing to say that mocking and exploiting a rape victim’s trauma to her face – because there will be women in that audience and probably men who have been sexually assaulted – is the same as making fun of a thing,” she says.

But didn’t she do just that? Is she excused from making a rape joke because the broader context of her appearance on Totally Biased was to defend would-be victims of rape? Does she get a rape-joke pass because she’s a woman? Did she not tell the joke from the perspective of the rapists (a point of contention for her when comedians do the same) during her quick quip?

That is the problem with this argument. Humor is subjective. West might not find a joke funny, but other people might. When people argue that a certain topic is off limits, what they are really saying is that everyone should share their sense of humor and opinion, and that is not how humor works. As Norton points out, the goal is to be funny. If the joke lands, fine. If it does not, fine. That is how humor works. Sometimes it is subversive. Sometimes it works precisely because we are so bothered the acts described.

(That goes back to the link to Norton’s material. In the prison rape joke, Norton makes himself the butt of the joke. And it is funny. Not because he is the butt of the joke, but because of the situation as he presents it. It is so disturbing and bizarre that you cannot help but laugh.)

Norton makes a point that goes completely over West’s head: what is the limit? Where do we stop drawing the lines? Chances are that someone in the audience may have been a victim of violence. Does that mean comedians cannot joke about that? Norton uses the Holocaust and Hitler as an example, and all West can manage is a weak come back about there not being Holocaust victims in the audience and there not being an institutional denial of their experiences or an attempt to silence them, which is ironic given that there are plenty of people who deny the Holocaust and try to silence the victims.

What truly kills West’s argument is a little insight Norton makes. West uses Jeff Goldblum’s picture on her Twitter page. As Norton points out, Goldblum played a sadistic rapist in Death Wish. Norton asks West what is more traumatic: seeing someone act out a rape in a convincing fashion or someone making a joke about it? West responded by saying people do not have to pick between the two, but that dodges Norton’s point. If telling a joke is triggering and wrong, would not actually depicting the act with real people be more triggering and more wrong?

Obviously West is partial to Goldblum, however, Norton touches a larger point, which is that no one can anticipate who is in their audience. No comedian can know whether there are rape victims in the audience or know whether those victims will take offense to a rape joke. West essentially argues then that comedians should therefore not tell the joke. Well, that is censorship, and while West claims she is not arguing for it, it sounds like she is.

Free speech is a zero sum proposition. People get to say what they want, whether you like it or not. Yes, one can argue that telling jokes where the victim is the butt of the joke is poor taste. However, that does not mean someone cannot tell that joke. You have the option of not laughing, complaining about it, or leaving the comedy club. And on that note, people go into comedy clubs knowing there will be blue material. While you may not find a set funny, you still knew what you walked into. Complaining about blue material in a comedy club is like complaining about getting mud on you at a farm.

West ends by claiming that comedians use rape jokes as a crutch just to get a reaction, and asks “why does my vagina have to be your crutch?”

Lindy, I truly hate to inform you of this, but no one is concerned about your vagina. Your vagina does not collectively represent all vaginas. Likewise, no random rape joke, half of which are directed at male victims, is specifically about your vagina. While your vagina may be the most pertinent thing in your life, no one else cares about it. As difficult as it is to imagine, six billion people go about their whole day without even thinking about your vagina. The only one using your vagina as a crutch is you. Considering how poorly you did in the debate, perhaps you should take it in for repairs.

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27 thoughts on “Comedian versus Feminist: are rape jokes okay?

  1. Pingback: Comedian versus Feminist: are r*pe jokes okay? | Viva La Manosphere!

  2. God, I relished seeing her get destroyed. Her whole point resides on calling someone a dick? Doesn’t she know the vast majority of the population thinks dicks are hilarious? As opposed to a vagina, which is the unfunniest thing ever. Since whoever owns one doesn’t seem to have a fully developed sense of humor. – no ad hominems – TS

  3. Well,

    I’m a huge metal fan…

    people would tell me the music is violent and angry, that it will make me violent and angry. But truth be told, it is catharthic to listen to such music…

  4. also,

    I remember someone trolled Melisa McEwan’s blog and made a comment about “trigger warnings.” The troll said that they were robbed at gunpoint and the word “trigger” was “triggering” and therefore she should use another word. While obviously, they were playing a prank, the bigger truth is you can never sanitize the world so that no one’s feelings are hurt or no one is offended….

    Lots of comedy is predicated on being “edgy” and talking about societies “double standards.”

  5. John, I think a vast majority of the population thinks “pussies” are hilarious, depending on the context. But I agree that West seems overtly concerned with getting to call someone a name. Of course, many snark people mistake name-calling for insight.

  6. A man loses significant ground by even considering feminists’ arguments. They all generally have the same intent, and this one is no different. This beastly girl’s intent is to be relevant, respected, and to police male behavior that she does not like; in other words, basically everything. She complains about “rape culture” because she wants something to complain about, yet no man in his right mind would even have consensual sex with her. She is too lazy to take care of her body, and being female, it is still within her very nature to want to want attention from men. I could talk about the psychology of her actions all day, but I’m already taking her too seriously. She can complain and bitch about rape culture and jokes that offend her all day, but in the end, she loses because she is a hideous human being, both externally and internally.

    It’s all an awful joke. I think once the manosphere started expanding we began to take feminism too seriously by actually debating it. Of course we have to, to an extent, because much of feminism is a negative to men (though mostly beta males, alpha males do pretty well) on the macro scale. But if I’m living my daily life, and I see myself as a 9 on the value scale, and her as a 1 or a 2, do I care what she thinks? No. I ignore her because her words mean nothing to me.

    (I missed this comment because I was rather busy this week. Moe, I do not allow personal attacks here. It is one thing to question someone’s argument, but to go after them personally out of line. While I agree that West is likely trying to get attention, that has nothing to do with her appearance. Again, no personal attacks here. TS)

  7. With the arguments on offer from this feminist, I can’t help but get the feeling those like her have little to bring except “Debate by Assembly Line”.

    Take a talking point, manufacture it for whatever audience she intends to sway, and presto!

    In this case, though, hardly anyone bought the product since the material is growing tired and stale.

  8. Isn’t the point of rape jokes being bad supposed to be because some of the population don’t think they are jokes? That’s the most common reason I’ve been told rape jokes are bad, not just because of triggers?

    Ts, do you yourself find rape jokes bad?

  9. norton is a fucking genius and he’s incredibly smart. i saw him perform live 2 weeks ago.

    as a victim of sexual molestation, i ALWAYS make rape jokes. so she can go fuck herself.

  10. Pussies are hilarious. Vaginas are not. Whenever feminists cry, it is about their vagina and not their pussies.

  11. Archy, I think rape jokes where the victim is the butt of the joke are in poor taste, although sometimes I find them funny. In general, I think rape jokes can be funny depending on the context, which is true of all jokes.

    I do not buy the argument about people not realizing these are jokes. While some people may think, “Yeah, she deserves it!” or may make the jokes to minimize the act, we all understand that people who tell such jokes are trying to get a laugh. Even if it is out of malice, they are still telling a joke. I also think many people use “triggering” as a way to shut down something they do not like.

  12. One interesting insight I have, is how jokes seem to operate on a different unconscious part of my brain. I laugh even when I “don’t want to” because it’s not something I think “should be laughed at”. It happens all the time.

    I had a friend a good while back who told all sorts of incorrect ethnic, etc. jokes and I’d laugh all the time to my embarrassment, and finally I realized, I can laugh at all sorts of things, and it’s fine, it even helps creating new creative insights and understandings. We need that! I’m in no danger of not taking them seriously when I want to. Which I often do. He actually also called out prejudice just as quick and clearly as anyone and didn’t like it one bit.

    If you want to have a serious conversation about something, then do. Don’t censor humor. It’s not the same thing. Feminists are just trying to maximize female privilege over everything they can. Ignore them, take rape seriously, laugh at rape jokes if you do.

  13. There are terms for this kind of humor. Its called “Black or Gallows” humor.

  14. Seriously moe what are you getting at with all those insults at West in your first paragraph? All that does is turn people off that want to have conversation and it just gives folks like her more fuel to point at and complain about “being silenced”.

  15. Her argument about the holocaust was invalid, as it is representative of the culture of anti-anti-semitism. Someone of the Jewish faith could take offence to it, or could have had their family disrupted by the holocaust (it wasn’t that many generations ago). She also only referenced the Tosh incident, which was not a funny rape joke.

    One of the funniest rape jokes I saw when that whole thing was big in the media was the woman who talked about being followed by a black man thinking he was going to rape her, and then him getting offended for her thinking that because he was black. It went from a woman being super concerned about this random man going to rape her to this black man being stereotyped by this woman for simply walking behind her at night. Which is less okay in that joke, the joking about rape, or the joking about black men (which she also mentioned as being an issue, at least 60 years ago)?

  16. Norton raises an important point: which jokes are OK and which aren’t?
    Being able to make people not tell jokes about certain topics, shows social power. Jokes have the ability to undermine social hierarchies, by tricking people into laughing even when they are not supposed to. Not disallowing certain jokes is a restrain of social power. If you stand by the marginalised, why would you want to limit their arsenal?

  17. Jupp, your question raises another question: who gets to decide whose social power gets limited? Adam gave a great example of this. If we allow women (or actually feminists) to ban rape jokes, this prevents marginalized groups like black men from joking about being suspected of being a rapist because they are black. That raises another question: whose marginalization is more important?

    This is why censorship is so bad.

  18. I think the biggest point that Lindy West and many other feminists have been trying to make through out this entire debate is not censorship, like you imply, but holding comedians accountable for offensive jokes. I have never heard a feminist say comedians should be legally punished for their jokes, but that society should punish them, just like any other market that consumers disagree with. For comparison just look at the advertisers that Rush Limbaugh has recently lost for his comments.

    As West and many other feminists have said, comedians have the right to make rape jokes, but society has the right to get upset and pull our support of those comedians. Comedians should never be censored and should always have the right to free speech. The same applies for feminists.

  19. I think the biggest point that Lindy West and many other feminists have been trying to make through out this entire debate is not censorship, like you imply, but holding comedians accountable for offensive jokes.

    West’s point in the video is that the jokes should not be made because they might upset a rape survivor in the audience. That is obvious censorship, and West is smart enough to know it, so she couches that position in the argument that it is really about getting to insult someone who offended her. She is not holding comedians in general accountable for offensive jokes because everyone does not find the jokes offensive. As Norton said, West tries to present her position as representative instead of saying she is the one who did not like it.

    I have never heard a feminist say comedians should be legally punished for their jokes, but that society should punish them, just like any other market that consumers disagree with. For comparison just look at the advertisers that Rush Limbaugh has recently lost for his comments.

    Censorship is not just the government but also society barring you from saying something they do not like. You have a right to express your opinion and others have the right to disagree. Once you start preventing people from being able to express their opinion — be it by legal means or by shaming — that is censorship and it is wrong. West and other feminists do not want comedians to joke about sexual violence against women. Fine. Do not listen to the jokes. But you do not get to silence people you disagree with.

    As for the Limbaugh situation, that is a great example of the right and wrong way to respond to “offensive” comments. Deriding Limbaugh for his comments was perfectly fine. I do not like Limbaugh, so I do not listen to his show. That is the market deciding what sells and what does not. Forcing his advertisers to pull their support of his show would in theory result in Limbaugh losing the financial benefit to show, effectively silencing him. That was the wrong way to do it.

    Feminists have the right to free speech. However, like everyone else, they do not have the right to unquestioned speech. As West said, you get to say what you want you, and if I think it is offensive I get to call you out on it.

  20. Facebook campaigns against the advertisers of radio shows, etc do exist when someone is offended. Make one slip and you can lose your job. It’s pretty damn harsh, I see very little leeway given. Why fire someone over a slip of a tongue? Send them to a course on how to behave better first. That’s what the comedian was talking about and that’s why it’s censorship because we need money to eat and the censors are going after the money (advertisers, etc).

  21. First of all Limbaugh’s advertisements were pulled because of the backlash of potential costumers for those advertisers. We live in a capitalist society run by the free market. Comedians are essentially a business, their service is the comedy they provide. When costumers are dissatisfied they are allowed to complain. When costumers are offended they are allowed to protest.

    To simply dismiss complaints by suggesting the patron switches to another service does not address that patron’s initial concerns. When we see a fault in a product we warn other users to stay away and use a different product. In this case when we see a poor comedian and warn others to to stay away from this comedian.

    Attending a comedy club or show is not a contract that allows the acceptable risk of being offended. There are a number of kinds of comedy that does not offend, and their are a number of comedians who have jokes about rape that are constantly being defended by feminists as a “funny rape joke.” This includes jokes by George Carlin, Louis C.K. and Wanda Sykes.

    You’ll note I listed Louis C.K., a man involved in the Tosh controversy that started this debate. I’ve actually seen a number of feminists torn on Louis C.K., some defending his jokes while others dismissing him. That just shows how comedian is subjects. Yes, feminists realize comedy is subjects. Nelson asked where the line was. There is no line. There are a number of a factors that take in account whether a joke is acceptable or not, and those factors are determined by society and the individual. And once it passes that individual’s threshold an individual is allowed to complain. If it passes mother individual’s threshold then this become a complain from society.
    This is not censorship. This is society.

  22. Are calls to boycott not a form of censorship? There’s a big difference between saying “You’re a dick” for that joke and “Everyone sign my petition to get such n such banned from a club/advertisers to drop out, etc”.

  23. First of all Limbaugh’s advertisements were pulled because of the backlash of potential costumers for those advertisers.

    Exactly. I have no problem with boycotts, however, let us not pretend that the backlash was not an attempt to silence Limbaugh. It was. It did not work, yet it was a clear attempt to get him pulled from the air by reducing his advertiser support.

    To simply dismiss complaints by suggesting the patron switches to another service does not address that patron’s initial concerns. When we see a fault in a product we warn other users to stay away and use a different product. In this case when we see a poor comedian and warn others to to stay away from this comedian.

    That is exactly what I suggested. If you do not like a particular comedian’s brand of comedy, do not go to their shows. That is a much better solution than trying to prevent the comedian from telling jokes you do not like. As for the comedian being “poor,” that is a subjective opinion.

    Attending a comedy club or show is not a contract that allows the acceptable risk of being offended.

    Yes, it is. When you go to any kind of entertain venue, you accept the risk that the artist will say or do something you might not like. You do not have a right not to be offended, and there is no way anyone can anticipate what will offend every member of the audience.

    I’ve actually seen a number of feminists torn on Louis C.K., some defending his jokes while others dismissing him. That just shows how comedian is subjects. Yes, feminists realize comedy is subjects.

    It does not appear so. If feminists as a group realize comedy is subjective, then they would understand that labeling certain jokes as inherently “offensive” makes no logical sense.

    Nelson asked where the line was. There is no line. There are a number of a factors that take in account whether a joke is acceptable or not, and those factors are determined by society and the individual. And once it passes that individual’s threshold an individual is allowed to complain. If it passes mother individual’s threshold then this become a complain from society.

    I think you meant Norton, not Nelson. Setting that aside, you prove his point. It is not that society has a problem with rape jokes; it is that you have a problem with the joke. And instead of saying, “I’m offended and here’s why”, you treat your opinion as representative of a whole group of people. Even if many people agree with you, they do not represent everyone’s opinion.

    Feminists represent a tiny portion of the total population, and I doubt every feminist has the same opinion regarding rape jokes as Lindy West. So one cannot claim that feminists’ complaints are society’s complaints. Likewise, the feminist position appears to be that comedians should not tell rape jokes, either at all or of a certain type. That is censorship all day long no matter how much you think it is reasonable. It is no different than Mormons saying no one can tell polygamy jokes, gay people saying no one can tell gay jokes, or government officials barring people from joking about their office. When you try to control what someone can say and place a penalty on them for saying it, it is censorship.

    And just so it is clear, I have no problem with anyone complaining about what someone said. I just have a problem with the idea that some random group of people get to arbitrarily decide who gets to say what, when they get to say it, and how they must say it.

  24. Pingback: Rape Jokes: The Freedom of Expression goes both ways | julietjeske

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