The Sexist

The Onion’s Best and Worst Rape Jokes

I've written a lot recently on who can successfully tell a rape joke and what targets are fair game for the butts of those jokes. One perennial source of rape humor, the Onion, gets the rape joke dynamic right a lot of the time. The format has a lot to do it: as America's leading source of fake news, the Onion is always skewering the media along with its make-believe subjects, and media treatment of sexual violence is often ripe for satire. Sometimes, its best and worst shots, after the jump.

EVEN SARAH PALIN WOULDN'T BOYCOTT:

5. "Police Sketch Artist Likes How Portrait Of Serial Rapist Turned Out"

TARGET: Amateur artists.

MONEY QUOTE: "'I like how she added a little white dot to the suspect's pupils to make his eyes stand out," Haines said. "It sent a little chill up my spine, I'll admit. And the shading on the face is nice, too. She's come a long way with skin tones. I remember how, when she first started working here, Lynn Marie would just rub the side of the pencil lead across the paper if she had to draw a black suspect."

WHY IT WORKS: The amateur artist obsessed with her own "work" at the expense of all reality? Classic.

4. "Brutal Gang Rape Gives Screenplay More 'Punch'"

TARGET: Douchebag screenwriters who think a rape is all it takes to make their product edgy.

MONEY QUOTE: "'The studio asked for a little more oomph, a little more edge,' Weichert said of the added scene, in which the sister of lead character Jack Fist is brutally raped in an alley by Fist arch-enemy Ivan Petra and a band of the Russian drug lord's thugs. 'So, to give Fist more motivation, I figured I'd put in a crime he'd definitely want revenge for. Only the sickest of freaks would fail to identify with the hero after seeing this rape scene.' Weichert also noted that the scene calls for female nudity, which 'has never hurt a film's box-office receipts.'"

WHY IT WORKS: "Edge" is the eternal excuse for the sexualized spectacles that pass for rape on the big screen—often delightfully devoid of consequence or physical and emotional impact (sometimes, there are boobs!). This eerily prescient Onion item predicted Jody Hill's much-maligned "edgy" date rape scene in Observe and Report by ten years.

3. "Candidate Turns to Focus Group for Position on Rape"

TARGET: Spineless politicians.

MONEY QUOTE: "Wanting to 'feel out the popular attitude before committing to a position,' Virginia House of Delegates candidate Mark Earley turned to focus-group analysis Monday to determine Virginians' stance on the hot-button issue of rape."

WHY IT WORKS: Focus groups always deserving of satire. Bonus points, because so many politicians have made unpopular comments about rape that the situation isn't entirely inconceivable.

2. "Neighbors Believed Murderer Only Capable of Rape"

TARGET: Those who secretly think of rape as a more understandable offense than other violent crimes.

MONEY QUOTE: "I've known John Smith since grade school," said Deborah Sykes, 38, Smith's next-door neighbor. "I'd never have suspected for a second that he had it in him to murder two innocent girls. Rape them, sure. But murder? No way."

WHY IT WORKS: This story recalls the recent murder trial of a Vancouver, Wash. man who would admit to killing a 13-year-old girl but not to raping her. He insisted instead that he "killed her after having sex with her." The Onion joke, similarly, plays off the misconception that rape is a less-than-violent crime because it involves sex. And everyone likes sex—and can understand why a person would want it so bad they'd force it out of a victim.

1. "Raped Environment Led Polluters On, Defense Attorneys Argue"

TARGET: Anyone who has ever said, "she was asking for it."

MONEY QUOTE: "While, obviously, it is extremely unfortunate that this forest was raped, it should have known better than to show off its lush greenery and tall, strong trees in the presence of my client if it didn't want anything to happen," said lead defense attorney Dennis Schickle, speaking before a courtroom packed with members of the media. "It's only natural for any red-blooded American developer to get ideas in its head when it's presented with that kind of untouched beauty."

WHY IT WORKS: The Onion at its best: Revealing the absurdity of the most annoying character defamation defense by re-framing it in a different context.

MORE OFFENSIVE THAN AN A-ROD AND WILLOW QUICKIE IN THE 7TH:

5. "J.K. Rowling Hints At Harry Potter Date Rape"


J.K. Rowling Hints At Harry Potter Date Rape

TARGET: J.K. Rowling; Scholastic Books.

INSULT TO INJURY: From a fake Scholastic VP of PR: "[The date-rape] is a beautiful moment in the book, full of raw, raw honesty, and I think I would be doing you a disservice by not letting you discover the magic yourself."

WHY IT FAILS: At first, I thought that this video targeted Rowling's announcement that Albus Dumbledore was gay, and made jokes out of comparing homosexuality to rape. My bad: The video was released four months before Rowling announced that the functionally asexual wizard was gay. As commenter W Allison points out, the joke is, in fact, targeted at "how the whole time before the last books, Scholastic was teasing like all these terrible things were going to happen—death, ruin etc." to the books' beloved adolescent characters. So, it's actually a lot funnier than I thought. Still, the Scholastic VP of PR character makes my skin crawl, and not in a ha-ha-makes-my-skin-crawl kind of way.


4.: "Missing Girl Probably Raped"


Missing Girl Probably Raped

TARGET: The media, which blows all missing white female disappearances out of proportion; but also, missing girls who were probably raped.

INSULT TO INJURY: "The worst case scenario remains that she is dead. Raped to death by her merciless assailant."

WHY IT FAILS: Kinda funny, but relies completely on shock value. . . . which begins to fade after 2 minutes 33 seconds.

3. "Israeli President Accused of Rape"

TARGET: Jews; Palestinians; Jews

INSULT TO INJURY: "Well, at least he'll have Palestinian support behind him for having raped a Jew."

WHY IT FAILS: Subbing in Jewish jokes for rape jokes is kind of a rogue move, but this offensive bait-and-switch doesn't produce the hilarious punchlines to overcome the overall queasiness.

2: "Report: Almost Nobody Raped During Duke's First Lacrosse Match"

TARGET: The three Duke Lacrosse players accused of raping a woman in 2006 (the charges were dropped in 2007).

INSULT TO INJURY: "'The Duke lacrosse program plans to uphold its proud tradition of winning and barely raping anyone,' first-year coach John Danowski told assembled reporters and law-enforcement officials after the match. 'And it was great to see the record number of 6,485 fans in attendance, all of whom really showed their support except the two female undergraduates seated in Section 8A and [Blue Devils cheerleader] Chrissy [Heinman], who were being sexually assaulted.'"

WHY IT FAILS: This item may be attempting to skewer the overblown media reports of the infamous Duke lacrosse scandal. Instead, it adds fuel to the fire by playing off the lacrosse players' perceived insatiable rapiness—helping make this "she cried rape" case more high-profile than any case involving an actual rape.

1. "Fellow Cheerleaders Rally Cheer Of Support For Recently Raped Teammate"

TARGET: Those pesky high-school cheerleaders with so much school spirit; rape victims; rapists.

INSULT TO INJURY: "'R-A... P-E-D, nothing's gonna stop Su-zie. Yay, Suzie!' the squad cheered before the 1,500 students who filled the gymnasium to celebrate the victim's return to school. Rapist Fritz Hent, an East Hawks linebacker, will sit out the first game of the season as punishment."

WHY IT FAILS: Not enough shock value to soothe the cringe on this one. Working in a rape reference to make fun of cheerleaders? Why?

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CORRECTION: Originally, this post shamelessly accused the Onion of homophobia for playing off Rowling's Dumbledore-is-gay announcement in its rape video. But as W Allison points out in the comments, the Harry Potter joke video was released on June 4, 2007, a full four months before Rowling revealed that Dumbledore was gay. It turns out the video only appears homophobic after the fact!

  • Gender Studies Major

    Hey, let's be clear... The first comment on the Moshe Katsav story is designed to mock Israel's unjustified war on Lebanon in 2006. So it's mocking Israeli aggression. It's not a Jewish joke.

  • Alan

    Amanda, you completely forgot about "US Troops Pull Out of Viatnamese Peasant Girl." It's in Our Dumb Century.

  • http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/blogs/sexist Amanda Hess

    Holy shit, Alan, that's one for the ages!

  • W Allison

    Actually, that Harry Potter joke is really old, came out way before the whole "dumbledore is gay" thing, right before the last book came out ... I think it's more a joke about how the whole time before the last books, Scholastic was teasing like all these terrible things were going to happen -- death, ruin etc

  • http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/blogs/sexist Amanda Hess

    W Allison, You got me! The Onion is way better at this rape joke shit than I gave them credit for. I've corrected the post with your input.

  • Anna

    I appreciate your analysis on this, and I thought it was extremely well-done; however, I have a slightly different opinion on the last one.

    I don't think it's a cheerleader joke with rape thrown in. I think the last sentence about the football-playing rapist is what cinches the actual point: even when we as a society can provide support to rape victims instead of shame, the fact remains that punishments for rapists, especially young or first-time offenders, tend to be extremely lax. It plays into the idea that "boys will be boys," especially athletically gifted young men who are seen as competitive "alpha males" with a bright future. It is often seen as a one-off mistake that someone so charming and popular would commit rape, but a less well-liked young man would receive a much harsher penalty for the same crime; the same goes for a less wholesome woman, who might receive a less enthusiastic outpouring of sympathy. Sorry this is kind of long-winded, but I just wanted to share my opinion.

  • Kati

    I side with Anna as well. I read it as being a small dig at the constant pep of cheerleaders but being more about how athletics simply look over poor behaviours simply because someone is a part of the team. Everything is swept under the rug and teammates and cheerleaders alike are expected to put on their game faces for appearance's sake.

  • dh

    On the murder/rape story, I think the joke is the fact that neighbors always say that they didn't think the suspect was capable of a violent act. "He seemed so quiet & nice" is a common refrain such stories.

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  • Davey

    On a pure humor level, there's a significant drop-off from Onion print stories to their forays into video news. With the former, you can just skim the headline (which is 90% of the humor right there), but in the latter, the joke just goes on and on, with actors of variable quality. The Harry Potter story suffers not because the Scholastic publicist is creepy, but because he's creepy and mugging and not a recognizable caricature of any publicist, just a grinning pedophile.

    I also think the “Candidate Turns to Focus Group for Position on Rape” isn't funny because it's a dull cliche about spineless politicians. If you're going to tread on a subject as inflammatory as rape, you shouldn't use it for something that could come out of the Joke-a-matic 3000.

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  • http://vagabondsaint.wordpress.com Vagabond Saint

    I agree with Anna. . .the joke there is really about the lax punishment the rapist received. I'm not sure about the cheering though; maybe it was all they could think of to do? I dunno; they're fictional characters.

    VS

  • Robin

    I think the Israeli one is making fun of how events and atrocities within such conflicts as the Israel/Palestine situation are only reported on in terms of how they will affect popular opinion about the conflict. Barely any attention is given to the horror of the acts in and of themselves. Like, "Suicide Bombing Postpones Peace Talks", or somesuch. Yes, there's a mild bar mitzvah joke thrown in, and a bit about Israeli aggression, but I think media jadedness is squarely in the cross hairs of this satire.

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  • http://tyciol.livejournal.com Tyciol

    One of the reasons this fails though is that murder IS worse than rape. Rape is more understandable because people can more easily do it operating under cognitive distortions that it is wanted by a victim or that they will end up liking it and it will be better in the long run, or that they will recover from it or something.

    Clearly I would not agree with such distorted thoughts, but they are more understandable to me than the huge emotional rages or utter cold bloodedness that leads people to murder one another.

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