The Sexist

Sexist Comments of the Week: Real World Rape Cartoons Edition

Last week, I published a cornucopia of rape cartoons drawn by Real World D.C. cast member Andrew Woods for his college newspaper, the Rocky Mountain Collegian. Woods' comic strip sparked plenty of on-campus controversy at Colorado State University while he was a student there; last week, the controversy over Woods' work hit national TV. On the first episode of the Real World D.C., Woods claimed that he was ultimately fired from the paper for "trying to offend women and lesbians and stuff like that." The sampling of rape cartoons penned by Woods drew both defenders and detractors. Thoughts on rape cartooning— from the "is it worse than Maxim?" rule to the crucial distinction between the humor of Dave Chappelle and Carlos Mencia—after the jump.

Bob applies the "is it worse than Maxim?" test:

Gee, lighten up. Like anything that college—college!—kid wrote is worse than what one would see in Maxim, or hell, the Onion.

Anne writes:

Bob, when you have a 15% risk of being raped or sexually assaulted in your lifetime—the way women in America do—come back and we’ll talk.

Until then, you don’t get to decide whether rape jokes are funny or not.

See yeah concurs:

That’s the problem Bob. Guys do not get this “humor” is highly offensive to women. It *is* everywhere–Judd Apatow movies, Maxim, the Onion, etc. That doesn’t make it anymore right, acceptable or clever. Welcome to rape culture. See! Put more alcohol in her drink so she can’t consent! Get her drunk! Rape her and she’ll forget in the morning! So.effing.funny. You don’t see how this is offensive? Thanks for contributing to the status quo.

Emily H floats a rape joke theory:

Most of these cartoons are tasteless and unfunny, but I don’t buy “this really happens to women, so it’s not funny” as a critique. Most dark humor is about things that “really happen” to somebody; otherwise it wouldn’t be very dark. There are lots of jokes out there about cancer, getting fired, racism going to jail, the U.S. torturing people, and so on. Such a joke isn’t necessarily funny to someone who has experienced one of those things, or has a knee-jerk reaction to hearing about it, but we don’t say for that reason that jokes like that should be banned. It would be absurd to say jokes can only deal with things that are “funny” when they happen in real life — what would be left? Cats riding on roombas?

When a joke deals with a dark topic, its funniness depends on whether the joker has developed a persona that fits the material, and the grace and skill which which they tell the joke. It does NOT depend on whether the topic is light and cheerful.

“Bob, when you have a 15% risk of being raped or sexually assaulted in your lifetime – the way women in America do – come back and we’ll talk.” Everyone on earth has a %100 risk of dying someday; some of the funniest jokes are about death. Of course the two things aren’t the same, since death is inevitable but rape should be prevented. And I’m not saying everyone should “lighten up” about Woods’ crappy cartoons. I am saying that funny rape jokes are funny, unfunny ones aren’t.

But I've got my own theories:

I do personally find some rape jokes funny. Reactions to jokes are often very personal, of course, so they will vary person to person. But personally, I don’t find this particular rape joke funny because it depicts such a common thing to happen to women on college campuses.

The joke here is in the comic strip’s “edginess”; the punchline is in the absurdity of the fact that a guy would use “she was drunk” as an excuse for sexually assaulting her. If you look at campus rape statistics, however, that position is not extreme at all; alcohol-assisted sexual assault is actually quite common on college campuses. So what Woods gives us is a pretty standard depiction of campus sexual assault, but there’s no added “funny” there to make it a joke. It’s just what happens to women.

Compare that to the Onion headline, “Raped Environment Led Polluters On, Defense Attorneys Argue.” This joke takes a common situation for sexual assault victims (people arguing that the rape was her fault) and reveals the absurdity of that scenario by placing it in a new context. Now that’s a rape joke.

People who favor the “but it’s edgy” school of rape comedy might then say that Woods’ joke is funny *because* it is offensive; the comic strip may not itself contain any humor, but it’s extreme and edgy and therefore funny because people find rape jokes offensive. I do think that the inherent offensiveness in rape jokes plays a part in why the well-crafted ones are so funny—”Raped Environment Led Polluters On, Defense Attorneys Argue” is funny because it’s clever while being a little bit taboo. But in jokes that aren’t funny, the “edgy” argument is basically just saying that sexual assault of women is inherently funny because it’s so awful. I don’t buy that. And because this is something that happens to so many women, taking the position that making rape jokes is inherently funny tends to alienate a large portion of your audience.

Richard differentiates between jokes that are simply "anti-PC" and those which effectively critique "PC culture":

I think the point about Andrew’s cartoons about whether they are objectively offensive or not is missing the point. You are correct in saying that a politically correct culture can became overbearing because its really difficult many things of value that will not offend someone.

With that in mind, what I think the really valid criticism of Andrew Wood’s cartoon is that they function as neither a strong critique of PC culture nor the situations they depict. Really, I think they are purposely trying to offend people to fulfill some hope by Andrew to be edgy and anti-PC. When are purposely trying to offend people for the sake of offending them rather than perhaps upending some belief you think is invalid, I think it is disingenuous to then argue that those people are stuck up and just trying to be political correct.

I am trying to avoid going to long, but I think a really good example of this distinction is between the shows Chapelle’s Show and Mind of Mercia. Chapelle certainly did many things on his show that were certainly politically incorrect, but they served the purpose of breaking down or ridiculing racial stereotypes. Mercia on the other hand did not seem to have a goal other than trying to get you to appreciate how he was fighting political correctness by reviving stereotypes.

On some of your general gender arguments, I think the point is that on a macro-level women face a series of barriers that are generally tougher than the ones men face. I think this forum and others is not just a place for women to complain, but rather confront and constructively deal with these barriers.

On this same point, I think you misunderstand the sense of external blame that these are other articles are arguing exist. These cultural forces function in a very concrete way a lot of the time, which is why for example we are discussing a specific cartoon rather than the concept of rape cartoons.

April thinks women who don't like rape cartoons should just stop bitching and not read their student newspaper:

I think people should chill out about his cartoons. It is just humor, everyone has their own taste. If you dont like it then don’t read it. Yeah they are about serious topics, but there are a lot of jokes made on serious topics. I like andrew a lot and enjoy his personality and quirkiness. I am a woman and I don’t feel disrespected. Gees, everyone is acting as if he is a horrible person. Im sure everyone has made a joke that doesn’t “respect” to whom you made it toward. Everyone needs to just get over it and stop bitching.

While ellen is beginning to have mixed feelings about this whole Real World phenomenon:

This guy creeped me out the second he appeared on the screen. I knew I REALLY disliked him when he took a picture of the girls’ breasts instead of their faces… and was even more appalled when the girls laughed it off. I’ve been an avid watcher of The Real World for a long time (shoot me), and have consistently said I’d get along with everyone on the show… I’d be the “mediator”. But this guy… oh my gosh. I’d have to leave the house within an hour of being around him.

Comments

  1. #1

    15%? Really? REALLY?

    On topic, I thought Andrew's jokes were funny because they depicted him having sex, when he's clearly a virgin.

  2. #2

    @Dave

    The 15% statistic refers to all American women. The numbers are much higher for college women. http://www.rainn.org/statistics

  3. #3

    What do you say to comments like that? Jesus.
    I'm not sure why some people find certain directions so hard to follow: DON'T MAKE RAPE JOKES.Just don't.

    "Richard differentiates between jokes that are simply 'anti-PC' and those which effectively critique 'PC culture'"

    Is he for REAL??

    'You are correct in saying that a politically correct culture can became overbearing because its really difficult many things of value that will not offend someone.'

    No, see Richard, this one of the many problems with your argument (which also has lots of spelling errors and stuff in it, but anyway). It's not PC culture that makes our world hard to live in, and life 'overbearing'; it's the sexism,racism and unchallenged prejudices that abound. You are placing blame on the wrong thing, see?

    As many people don't know, but should by now, political correctness is always the thing that gets blamed when privileged people start freaking out, because they realise that their privilege is being questioned by others. Rather than confronting their own prejudices and saying, 'yes that "joke",comment, mode of behaviour was sexist, racist what have you', they take the easier, cowardly way out, and blame the person who was offended in the first place. Blaming 'PC culture', is in and of itself, a cowardly act.

  4. #4

    "Blaming ‘PC culture’, is in and of itself, a cowardly act."

    For one, my statement was in context of actually explaining why Andrew's cartoon are clearly wrong and offensive.

    "It’s not PC culture that makes our world hard to live in, and life ‘overbearing’; it’s the sexism,racism and unchallenged prejudices that abound. You are placing blame on the wrong thing, see?"

    The point I am making does not contradict with what you are saying I think.

    I am not blaming PC culture for creating racism, but I think if taken to far (which at this point I would say that it is not) it can actually make it more difficult to challenge prejudices.

    Just because its related to my previous example, I will do a Chappelle's Show example. In one relatively politically incorrect segment, Chappelle take's on the character of a blind black leader at as a member of the KKK. Taking on the topic of the KKK who killed and destroyed the lives a large amount of people in a humorous way is certainly not something that is politically correct and will likely offend many people. The clear message of the segment however is to make light of the ridiculously of racial prejudice based on the fact that it is purely based on the superficial visible skin, rather than some inherent qualities. It challenges the legitimacy of the prejudices that the KKK had.

    If political correctness were taken to an extreme (which it of course did not noting the value of this and other works), then this extremely effective challenging of racism would not have seen the light of day.

    More broadly, it is difficult to bring up many prejudices in a politically correct many times, and therefore the only way to confront these prejudices is to on some level reject some level of political correctness.

    As silly as it might sound, recognizing this allows people to stop being polite and get real.

    Just to reiterate again, I think Andrew's cartoon's are not an example of a proper challenge to PC culture or fighting sexist stereotypes. I think they are a sophomoric and rather intentional attempt to offend people in order for him to feel as though he is fighting political correctness.

  5. #5

    "I am not blaming PC culture for creating racism, but I think if taken to far (which at this point I would say that it is not) it can actually make it more difficult to challenge prejudices."

    What on earth does 'taken to [sic] far' actually mean? Who determines what is taken too far? You?

    Putting the word ‘too’ in front of ‘politically correct’ (I am paraphrasing your statement, that taking political correctness ‘to an extreme’ is bad), doesn’t qualify anything, it just recapitulates your argument that it is political correctness/people’s offendability that inhibits freedom of expression and cultural critique.

    Using the word ‘too’ (or other words that imply excessiveness) to ‘qualify’ what kind of speech/performances are acceptable/unacceptable, demonstrates a lack of self-reflexivity on your behalf. The phrase ‘too politically correct’ is so overused, and inherently paradoxical. It is like trying to put the word ‘consensual’ in front of the word ‘sex’, and believing that you are ‘qualifying’ what kind of sex you’re having. The word ‘too’ and the language of excessiveness is so often used ( and I believe you are using it here) to draw up/recapitulate the boundaries of normative thought, and mark the person you are arguing with as working outside that body of thought ( it is implied that this is a bad thing and weakens my argument): “If political correctness were taken to an extreme …then this extremely effective challenging of racism would not have seen the light of day.”

    Generally speaking, saying that one is politically correct shouldn’t be a way of silencing or trivialising marginalised viewpoints, by implying that you are really embracing these viewpoints.

    I think the idea of ‘challenging PC culture’ would be less humorous, and more intelligible to a lot of people, if PC culture was in fact commonsensical, ‘oppressive’ and mainstream, and was therefore worthy of us diverting our energy and resources away from dealing with other social issues in order to tackle it. But it does not have this mainstream status. As one of many examples, you can google ‘too politically correct’ and come up with millions of pages, but trying to find intelligent critiques on the stigmatisation of being (too) politically correct on the net is much harder.

    “More broadly, it is difficult to bring up many prejudices in a politically correct many times [sic], and therefore the only way to confront these prejudices is to on some level reject some level of political correctness.”

    Being ironical, sarcastic, or satirising contentious issues doesn’t mean you are, ‘rejecting some level of political correctness’. The point is that one APPEARS to be rejecting political correctness in front of their audience, without actually doing so, in order for one’s perspective to be heard. This is kinda the point of performances that pose a true challenge to the status quo.

    Political correctness isn’t about inhibiting conceptual reinvention and/or political critique. It’s about, amongst other things, promoting awareness of hatred and presenting a challenge to it. And although I can imagine you insisting that you don’t see it in the former way, and constantly disavowing that you do, the ‘qualification’ that you’re talking about ‘excessive’ as opposed to ‘ordinary’ political correctness doesn’t somehow make these claims true.

    Oh, and also, I think I might return to your original comment that was published in Amanda’s post, because now that I think of it there was something else I had a problem with:

    ‘I think this forum and others is not just a place for women to complain, but rather confront and constructively deal with these barriers.’

    Yeah, see I find this comment offensive and typically masculinist. If women want to get REALLY REALLY angry on feminist forums, and rant about their experiences, they should be able to. Speaking up on the feminist blogosphere shouldn’t be conditional on whether we can ‘rationally’ (*vomit*) address/critique a situation and come up with solutions for it.
    It is not ok for someone ( especially a male- I am not saying you are a male-but is particularly not ok for men to do it) to come along and say ‘no, you need to do XYZ as a prerequisite for contributing to feminist forums’. Women’s voices/narratives/experiences have been silenced and trivialised for so long. It is enough that women have the strength to be able to write about their experiences online. Let me be very clear: it is not up to you to imply that some women are merely ‘complaining’, and that there are more important things (you will tell us what!) that need to be worried about.

  6. #6

    "Political correctness isn’t about inhibiting conceptual reinvention and/or political critique. It’s about, amongst other things, promoting awareness of hatred and presenting a challenge to it. And although I can imagine you insisting that you don’t see it in the former way, and constantly disavowing that you do, the ‘qualification’ that you’re talking about ‘excessive’ as opposed to ‘ordinary’ political correctness doesn’t somehow make these claims true."

    I think this gets to the reason why we are having a disconnection. The way the person I was responding to was defining political correctness was not the benign way that you are discussing, but rather defining it in the context of efforts to shut down discussion of offensive topics. An example of this would be saying "DON’T MAKE RAPE JOKES.Just don’t. " Or going back to my example, don't make jokes about the KKK.

    My point which on some level again I think we agree on is that those jokes should be made in a way that actually challenges the status quo and prejudices. The above cartoons do not make any such challenge.

    In terms of political correctness, some people really would like to prevent ironic or humorous yet real challenges to the status quo because they could possibly be offensive, for instance the Chappelle's Show example I use. As you can see, in this last sentence I am saying "those who avoid topics that could be offensive", rather than the term political correctness purposely because that is the problem I am challenging rather than your definition of political correctness.

    "What on earth does ‘taken to [sic] far’ actually mean? Who determines what is taken too far? You?"

    I don't pretend to know how far is too far, but I would say its when the benefit of clamping down on possibly offensive behavior outweighs the cost in terms inability to effectively confront prejudices. I do not think we are anyway near that place though.

    "Let me be very clear: it is not up to you to imply that some women are merely ‘complaining’, and that there are more important things (you will tell us what!) that need to be worried about."

    Again in context my statement makes more sense because I was responding to a statement (or rather 30 rambling statements) that argued that this blog represents a place where people do nothing but complain (they used a more gendered term). I did not mean to disparage complaining, but rather my goal was to point out that this forum and even the 'complaints' themselves serve important and constructive purposes.

  7. #7

    "Freedom Fries" officially took political correctness too far. It can be done.

    That said, rape jokes are a no no. Rapist jokes, like Amanda's example, can and have make me laugh. I gather that's at the heart of your argument, Richard, and I totally agree. The Chappelle show made fun of racists. Mencia makes fun of races. There's a huge difference there. And these rape cartoons aren't making fun of the protagonist/whatever the jerkwad's name is.

  8. #8

    HA those comics are funny, you guys need to sit back relax, and realize you only live once, why waste life complaining about something like this? Idiots.

  9. #9

    This dude has "perv" written all over him. I would not even want to go to the bathroom in a house that he was in for fear that he'd put one of those "pee cams" in the toilet. Yech!

  10. #10

    "What do you say to comments like that? Jesus.
    I’m not sure why some people find certain directions so hard to follow: DON’T MAKE RAPE JOKES.Just don’t. "

    Do we really need such hypocrisy?

    Where do you get off giving anyone "directions" about what jokes to make, and what not?

    Face it, dude. Some people are going to find things funny that you find offensive, and certainly that upset other people. That's life. You've got two choices. Band together and make such things "illegal" and try to enforce it, or accept it. Somewhere between the two you're going to find the real world. And if you have a problem with *that* then you have serious issues with society. And even if you could somehow make "rape jokes" illegal, they are still going to be made, and you are STILL going to have to deal with it.

    I suggest that you stop worrying about the jokes and save your concern for the real thing.

  11. #11

    You HAVE TO be kidding me. Yes, these cartoons are sexual, even perhaps distasteful and sexist, but they are NOT about rape... just because the character in the real is a guy and looser in bed with a girl talking about sexual matters does not make every clip about rape....Get Real

  12. #12

    Dear Andrew,

    I just wanted to say that I think you're hilarious and your comical personality comes through in your work, which I admire.
    Take Care,
    Carla

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