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.