If it doesn’t make me laugh

September 4, 2013 § 1 Comment

I challenge you to come up with more than one funny dead baby joke.

I mean, really funny. Not a smirk raiser. Not a “aren’t we so cheeky, telling this awful joke” crooked grin. An actual knee slappingly funny joke about dead babies. One that doesn’t depend entirely on the fact of dead babies to try and push some kind of social outrage button, a well structured piece of comedy involving dead babies as an integral part of the joke.

Now, you may in fact be able to do it. That doesn’t really change the fact that most jokes of this type aren’t really all that funny. They’re tolerated because, in general, we don’t live in a society where dead babies are a huge problem, much less a huge problem that’s completely ignored and played down by everyone. There aren’t a lot of people saying “Well, sure, your kid died of SIDS, but really, it was kind of asking for crib death. Look at the way it slept!” Infant mortality isn’t used as a means to belittle others in order to establish dominance over them, and there are relatively few people threatening to kill babies because someone said or did something they didn’t like. Generally speaking, also, threats to kill infants are taken seriously and not brushed aside with a ‘He’s just like that’ or ‘it’s just a joke’ or ‘there’s nothing we can do about that’ or ‘boys will be boys’.

I mention this because it is an argument I see all the time, like yesterday, when I made this post. The basic argument breaks down to “Why are rape jokes special, why do you want to ban them but not murder jokes or dead baby jokes or war jokes” and it is based on a mistaken premise, but it also makes me aware of something – it assumes that I want to ban rape jokes, which I do not. There is a huge difference between believing that rape is a serious issue and problem which carries a huge emotional charge such that it is often poorly served by being made into the subject of a joke and wanting jokes about it banned. I don’t want the jokes banned. If you want to run around telling jokes about rape every second of your life, go ahead.

I simply don’t see why that then gives you immunity from me saying “That’s not fucking funny” and here I’ll take the second part of that argument from before: what about dead baby jokes? What about murder or war jokes, or jokes about concentration camp survivors? Well, my friends, what about them? Are they usually fucking funny? In the hands of a master comedian, perhaps. I don’t know about you, but when I watched Life is Beautiful, I laughed maybe twice. I didn’t find the movie a goddamn laugh riot, despite its being listed as a comedy. Does that film deserve to exist? Sure, absolutely. But that doesn’t make the shitty little joke you’re about to tell about Auschwitz a goddamn laugh riot, and when you tell it, I will probably say something along the lines of “That’s not funny”.

What I don’t get… what I may in fact never really understand… is why the rape joke, and those that tell the rape joke want immunity from that. If you tell a joke about unloading a truck full of dead babies with a pitchfork, the most laughter you’ll get is a pained groan most of the time. Nobody seems to expect anyone to find that joke terribly funny, which is probably why there isn’t a burgeoning subset of jokes about babies and how funny their corpses are. But when someone tells a joke about rape, or even a joke that tangentially mentions rape, we’re expected to just either think it’s the funniest shit we’ve ever heard in our lives or stand there, mute, allowing that jester to enjoy his or her chortles unencumbered with whether or not we actually liked the joke.

Why is rape the one subject we’re expected to just passively accept jokes about? Anything else, the audience is allowed or even expected to react – clearly laughter would seem to be the goal, of course, but plenty of audiences have hated plenty of jokes and it has never been seen as some sort of personal attack on comedy or freedom of expression.

Whether you be a stand up comedian, a webcomic creator, standing around a water cooler (do people even still do that?) or on Xbox Live, what you say in the name of humor doesn’t act as a force field shielding you from interaction. You are not dispensing the glory of comedy from on high, you are in the trenches with the rest of us and what you say isn’t going to be mutely accepted. Plenty of audience reactions have been terrible as well – I can’t and won’t argue that the comedian is always wrong – but that doesn’t mean that all you have to do is say that you were kidding at the end and anything you say is under some comedic form of diplomatic immunity.

I’m especially amazed when someone uses rape not out of any interest in discussing or mocking how we treat rape or rapists or rape victims or indeed anything to do with rape, but just for the same reason we tell ‘dead baby’ jokes – rape is used purely because it is a bad thing, a shocking thing, and it has the power to create that sense of shock that the comedian is looking for. It’s false edginess – inserting rape into a joke or story that doesn’t really involve it, that could just as easily be told with the exact same structure without it. The now-infamous “Dickwolves” strip comes to mind here – the use of rape in the joke is purely because rape is worse than murder or even torture in a narrative sense, and so the comic uses rape purely as a “ooh, it’s really bad” rather than as itself. Rape is a garnish in this case.

People ask “Well, what’s special about that vs. a joke about pedophilia” and I’ll say a few things about that. First, pedophilia is rape. There are pedophiles who have never raped anyone, of course, but the ultimate expression of pedophilia is rape, and so, it falls under the rape joke rubric. Secondly, our society in no way condones pedophilia or treats the children the way it does adult women who have been raped, it doesn’t say “Well, pedophiles will be pedophiles” and shrug its shoulders and cry about how a promising young pedophile’s life was ruined by his trial. Although it still sometimes treats those that commit rape on children as if they were barely even criminal at all.

Even after the children kill themselves.

What I’m getting at is, a joke about pedophilia or pedophiles probably isn’t funny either. Again, some master comedian might be able to wring some comedy out of it, possibly by exploring how ridiculous and insane our society is about it. What all of this comes down to is this – you can tell whatever goddamn jokes you want, but just saying that something you said is a joke neither makes it funny nor makes it invulnerable to our responses. You are not rubber, and we are not glue. Go ahead and tell that joke you’ve been working on all morning about a pedophile with a truckload of dead babies at Auschwitz, if that’s what you’re dying to do.

It had better be goddamn hilarious, though, or I’m going to tell you it sucks, and when I do, don’t go crying that I’m censoring you. I’m not. I’m just saying your joke sucks, and that if you decide to make a big shitstorm about your terrible fucking joke, it says something else about you.

§ One Response to If it doesn’t make me laugh

  • Anastrace says:

    Really, it strikes me as odd. Why is it that you are defending that joke so fervently? Why is it that the dead baby/concentration camp/pedophile/rape/whatever is so central to your humor? Can you not find humor in something else? Must you go to something like that, and usually it’s not because you are diving into your own experience for a personal revelation kind of humor/story it’s because oh man X is so bad because he did Y to underage kids. It’s not a thing, it’s a background angle, to provide edge.

    It’s more of a taboo in our culture to sexually abuse them than it is to kill them. (http://www.escapistmagazine.com/videos/view/jimquisition/5972-Rape-vs-Murder)

    So yeah, you may think oooh I’m being all cool and edgy and because I told this joke about some woman getting gangbanged by a nazi, but don’t cry censorship when the rest of the world tells you to shut the fsck up. Castigation isn’t censorship. It’s just the rest of the world telling you that you are an asshole.

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