By Bandy Aowdenek
Trigger warning for rape jokes and rape apologism
The idea that Seth McFarlane is a psychologically underdeveloped manchild prick with the mental age of a 13 year old boy making fart noises probably won’t make many news headlines.
However even by his own standards his performance hosting the most recent Oscars plunged new depths of sexist white liberal American “dude humour”. In his routine Seth managed to get in a joke about Chris Brown’s assault on Rihanna, intimated that Jennifer Anniston used to work as an exotic dancer, that people can’t understand what Salma Hayek says because she is a Hispanic American (and wouldn’t care anyway because they would just be ogling her) and used nine year old Quvenzhané Wallis for a joke about her sleeping with George Clooney.
The piece de resistance of Seth’s ‘humour’ was ‘We Saw Your Boobs’ – a musical piece in which Seth sang about scenes of topless nudity featuring Hollywood actresses, several of which were in the audience at the time and filmed looking visibly uncomfortable. Most reporting of Seth’s performance criticised him for being juvenile and ultimately not very funny – picking out the “We Saw Your Boobs” routine as the lowest point in his routine.
However this piece was far more sinister than just Seth being a privileged dickhead – four of the references he made in his song were to topless scenes during a rape. So for Seth McFarlane watching a rape scene in a film just falls into the category of “look – tits!”. It’s a pretty grim look into the guy’s psyche that he can watch someone go through a harrowing, life threatening experience and basically class it as wank fodder.
It would be easy to discount Seth McFarlane as the kind of arsehole you try to avoid in the pub but there is a bigger problem the Left needs to recognise here. Seth McFarlane is part of a trend of comedians who consider themselves to be progressive, left wing and sometimes even feminist but are still happy to make jokes about the abuse of women and in particular jokes about rape. When you watch Family Guy you get a pretty clear idea of what Seth’s politics are – anti-religious right, pro-drug legalisation and left-leaning Democrat. Seth has given $200,000 to the Obama campaign and was given the Harvard Humanist of the Year award for his “his active, passionate commitment to Humanist values, and his fearless support of equal marriage rights and other social justice issues”.
It’s easy to imagine Seth fitting in very nicely into the liberal left wing culture in coastal USA, cracking jokes at insane Republican politicians and daft poor people who believe in God.
There’s one big chink in his supposed right-on guy armour though – the sheer tidal wave of sexist and misogyinist humor in Family Guy; from low level sexist silencing – “Shut up Meg” – to making assaults on women the literal punchline of jokes and repeated use of rape as “edgy” humour. I used to watch Family Guy in the eleven to midnight slot on BBC3 and when I became aware of feminist criticisms of the rape jokes and sexism in the show I noticed it was present in literally every episode. Very rarely was there an episode without a woman being punched or where it was implied that Quagmire was going to rape someone. At the same time as I watched Family Guy I was also watching older episodes of The Simpsons (cos no cunt watches after season 10 anyway) and it became clear to me that rape jokes in popular culture were a pretty recent phenomenon. Where did they come from? Disturbingly I think they came from comedians who would consider themselves to be left wing and would be appalled at accusations they
When you watch comedians from the 70’s and 80’s there’s no shortage of sexism and misogyny – jokes about mothers in law, wives, girlfriends, women in the workplace etc. But I honestly can’t remember seeing some sexist saturday night mould tv comic making jokes about rape. It obviously wasn’t because they respected women – they were happy to joke about women drivers or attacking feminists as mad hairy lesbians.
The good old days
It was that their sexism was “family friendly” and designed to be acceptable for folk gathered round the tv on a Saturday night. It was ok to make jibes at the old ball and chain or those weird gay people marching for their rights – rape however was a bit too close to the knuckle. A bit too harsh for laughing along to in between the sets on Big Break.
The reality is that rape jokes have been made acceptable by self-proclaimed ‘lefty’ comics who think that by making jokes about it they are challenging a taboo and rejecting the sterile social conservatism of more ‘clean cut’ sexist northern comics. A good example of their logic comes from George Carlin, an American comedian in the same mould of Bill Hicks – angry about capitalism, disgusted at the corruption and inequality of American society and frustrated by the ‘sheep’ in the population who do nothing to oppose it. Unfortunately Carlin’s also responsible for one of the earliest examples of rape jokes in stand up comedy with his piece “Rape can be funny”.
Another lefty comic notorious for making rape jokes is Frankie Boyle. I remember watching Mock The Week as a teenager where Boyle was basically the star attraction. It was great to see a Scottish comedian finally given prominence on the BBC free to bring West of Scotland humour to a mass audience in a time when most middle-class English nuclear family sitcoms were absolutely fucking dire. Instead of having to watch vacuous Michael McIntryre subentities we could watch Frankie Boyle talk about how instead of a state funeral Scots would dig a hole into hell to give Thatcher over to Satan personally. Bliss.
I can feel the good in you, Frankie
Frankie also penned this vicious attack on the BBC for it’s attitude to the Palestinians and donated his entire legal winnings to the campaign to free a Guantanamo Bay inmate. So Frankie is clearly a comedian with some morality and who is willing and able to make significant sacrifices in defence of a people facing oppression.
That’s partially why it’s so disappointing to see him use rape as a comedy tool so regularly and so viciously. At a recent gig Boyle referred to olympic cyclist Victoria Pendleton saying “Victoria can lift twice her own bodyweight. Sexy, as it means she still wouldn’t be able to throw me off.” When Chris Huhne got sent down for perverting the course of justice Boyle tweeted that “Huhne” was the sound a prisoner would make when being raped.
Why do so many comedians freely criticise exploitation, racism and war just not get it when it comes to making jokes about rape? Not only do “lefty” comics not get it about rape jokes, they’ve basically led the charge for them. The reality s that it’s a fucked up product of responding to sterile, family friendly stand up comics by thinking you’re free to joke about anything – including and especially rape because it’s taboo and shocking. The old sexist stand up comics – your Jim Davidsons and Bernard Mannings – were so boring and inoffensive (except towards women) that the new wave of anti-establishment comedians during the 80’s resolved to joke about everything in society they could, war, terrorism, murder and rape. When challenged about the acceptability of making rape jokes Carlin gave this textbook response,
“Ohhh, some people don’t like you to talk like that.
Ohh, some people like to shut you up for saying those things.
You know that. Lots of people. Lots of groups in this country want to
tell you how to talk.
Tell you what you can’t talk about. Well, sometimes they’ll say, well
you can talk about something but you can’t joke about it.
Say you can’t joke about something because it’s not funny. Comedians
run into that shit all the time.
Like rape. They’ll say, “you can’t joke about rape. Rape’s not funny.”
I say, “fuck you, I think it’s hilarious. How do you like that”
For Carlin being told you he joke about rape is a form of censorship, like being told he can’t say fuck the government. Nobody has the right to tell him he can’t speak his mind and the people who don’t want him to tell rape jokes are the same kind of people who want to ban swearing in records, sex on tv and make all comedians act like upstanding clean cut Americans. There is a grain of truth here. A lot of the people who will attack comedians like Carlin are Mary Whitehouse “think of the children” types who want comedy to be almost like a state regulated arm of Christian society, tepid and wholesome.
However there are consistent criticisms of rape jokes by feminists who have nothing in common with social conservatism and in fact argue, with justification, that rape jokes have a profoundly conservative and regressive end as outlined here. Rape jokes reassure rapists that what they do is normal and worthy of joking about. Studies of rapists show about 6% of men would rape if they could – so long as the term ‘rape’ is not used.
These rapists or potential rapists are led to believe their behaviour is a normal part of male sexuality because of rape jokes – everytime one is made and a group of guys laugh at it they are reaffirmed in their view that what they are doing is not so bad, that all guys do it and hush it up.
Rape jokes have fundamentally regressive ends, they hold back the liberation of women and they are in no way compatible with being progressive or left wing. Making rape jokes is no different from Jim Davidson calling black people “chalky” or Roy Chubby Brown joking about stabbing asylum seekers. They have the same destructive consequences.
Comedians who make rape jokes will respond that there’s lots of jokes made about horrible things like war, terrorism, murder etc, and that at the end of the day if a joke is funny its funny. There’s two problems with this defence though. First of all rape jokes aren’t the same as making abstract jokes about murder or war. One in four women have been the victims of rape or attempted rape. When you make rape jokes in front of a large audience either at a gig or on TV large sections of your audience will be the target of your joke. It’s simply not the same as joking about Mafia hitmen or Osama Bin Laden etc.
As for the defence that if a joke is funny its ok this assumes comedy takes place in a vacuum where the only thing that matters in the world is being funny. Most of the comedians who make jokes involving rape do not make racist jokes because society accepts that the subject matter makes it not funny to joke about, even if youve made some absurd contradiction that would be funny in other contexts.
Ultimately lefty comics who make rape jokes do so because they’ve never really came into contact with feminist politics when they’ve become radicalised, largely because the left is still a male dominated space that frequently never takes womens oppression seriously.
Male comics can relate to other men being driven into poverty by capitalism, shot dead by armies of occupation or imprisoned by repressive states but still don’t understand the exploitation of half the world population enough to stop making jokes about raping them. The best kind of comedy challenges authority and stands up for the powerless – that’s why Bill Hicks is funnier than Chubby Brown, because there is a justified anger in attacking the evils of marketing, government assassination programmes or fundamentalist Christians that just isn’t there when a comedian jokes about stabbing asylum seekers.
The longest running exploitation in human history isn’t capitalism though, it’s the exploitation and repression of women which existed long before it – when you make rape jokes you back that up. Making rape jokes should be as unacceptable for ‘progressive’ comedians to make as racist jokes about black people or immigrants. Guess what male lefty comics, rape is not your taboo to joke about and your public profile does not come ahead of women’s safety.