Rage is born of fear

September 3, 2013 § 11 Comments

There’s a power in rage that clouds our ability to understand it. Rage – real, honest fury that causes your skin to flush and your teeth to clench, that makes your hands close into fists involuntarily, that seething anger that moves you before you know you’ve moved – precludes reflection. It is incoherent in its insistence on response, part and parcel of the fight or flight response. And that is due to the fact that rage is ultimately just the other side of fear. It’s called fight or flight because it comes down to standing your ground to drive off a threat, or doing everything possible to escape it. Both are born out of the sense of a threat to one’s very survival. At times, therefore, the rage response can be disproportionate. Feeling deep rage over your drink order being mishandled or someone cutting you off in traffic is a sign of a response that does not take the circumstances into account, an unbalanced reaction.

Why do I bring this up? Because frankly, I’m trying to distance myself from the rage I felt this morning on hearing that, three years down the road from the original terrible rape joke, Mike Krahulik regrets most taking down the Dickwolves merchandise he was selling. He doesn’t regret telling an unfunny joke that made people reading his work feel a host of negative emotions, or his own stubborn refusal three years later to let that joke just die, no. He regrets that he ever backed down, even if it was just from selling merchandise about fictional wolves that rape people. Frankly, the rage I felt on hearing that news is disproportionate. I should not be enraged to the point where I have to go for a walk to vent that rage. I shouldn’t be so angry at the idea of this discussion still existing three years later that I want desperately for someone to attack me so I can expend this shrieking in my head.

I shouldn’t be so angry.

Why, then, am I so angry? I’ve always been a staunch defender of free expression, not just from the government but from social pressure as well. I’ve always argued that we don’t need government censorship when people’s lives can be ruined by social pressure, and that it’s a pernicious threat to personal liberty. If I believe that, why am I so angry now? Where does the rage come from?

The rage comes from fear.

I am afraid of rape jokes, because I am afraid of rape, and rapists. I am afraid of attitudes that trivialize rape, that make rapists emboldened or give them the idea that rape isn’t really very serious. When Chelsea Manning made her desire to live as a woman public, after her trial and conviction, one of the first things said by pundits was a rape joke. We live in a culture where people can rape others and not even believe they’re a rapist. People who work in creating our media think rape is just a character trait, a trivial, throwaway moment used to establish how bad a dude someone is. We tell these jokes and laugh about these things, we laugh not the rueful laughter of someone who sees a horrible truth and seeks to laugh to escape it but the laughter of the powerful mocking the powerless for their pain, the laughter of the booted man stepping on a neck. What’s the big deal, we’re asked, don’t you have a sense of humor and then the laughter again.

There are of course many different kinds of comedy. There is comedy that seeks to point out the hypocrisies and failings of ourselves, our culture, our world and works. There is the comedy of release, that sees the horrible and the repulsive and laughs to salvage something from the pain and misery. There is the comedy that seeks to change the world, the comedy that seeks only to explicate it. And there is the comedy of oppression, of the status quo mocking those that don’t fit in, aren’t part of the program. I’ve said before that I’m not the joke police, because such an activity is both absurd and immaterial. Comedy is a subjective as art – what I find funny may not amuse you in the slightest. Saying “X isn’t funny” no matter what X is comes to nothing, because the most I can say with any real conviction is that X isn’t funny to me. Why, therefore, are rape jokes not knee splitting hilarity to me? I have several reasons. Some are objective and others subjective, some general trends while others are deeply personal.

Why do I fear rape jokes? Because I remember being ten.

There is a special helplessness in the moment of violation that never leaves you. It washes out all your memories of before it happened, and smears everything that comes after it with its color. You will learn to cope, because you must, although how you cope may not be terribly effective and you may spend the rest of your life trying to do it. But it will always be with you. Whether you are a child or an adult when it happens only really changes degrees – you will always be pitted, scarred, you will always carry that awful experience cut into you. To have that then being held up again and again and again as nothing, the punchline to a bad joke, to have this bleeding weeping thing inside of you chortled over takes a cold dead hand and presses on that broken place and whispers “Don’t you have a sense of humor?” while it drags all the viscera back out and throws a heap of bloody intestines in your face. Again. And you feel it all again, the feeling of dirt in your mouth, of tears streaming down your face and racking, choking sobbing that no one hears and no one answers. The breath of someone you don’t want on your skin. Pain you don’t understand and can’t process. Something that you thought you’d never escape pressing you down, something you might have been willing to die to escape, and isn’t it funny? Why aren’t you laughing? Don’t you have a sense of humor?

The rage comes from that place. Because time hardens you, and you grow a scab over it, and that scab? It makes living possible. It makes life possible. It makes it so you can go on, so that you can meet someone and not flinch at their touch, that you can say yes to life despite that place inside you. That you can have days when you’re not thinking about it. Days when you don’t remember what a knife held to your throat and whispering, cackling in your ears was like. And then someone decides hey, isn’t it funny and laughs at that thing you carry around inside you like a sore. Someone decides isn’t this silly, isn’t this trivial, isn’t this how we can tell Doctor Morlock is a bad dude and they break open that scab and haul everything back out into the world again and make you feel it. And laugh at it. Laugh at you.

A world where everybody thinks this is funny is a frightening world. It’s a world where it could happen again. A world where someone you know and like and even maybe trust could turn into someone who does that thing and doesn’t even see it as that thing. It is terrifying for me to move in a world where at any second I could be ten again, and helpless before that, and be forced to experience it again. And when I feel that fear, it becomes rage in that alchemy of the body, that response to a threat that says “Do we escape or do we deter through attack?” Because I can’t escape it, can I? it’s everywhere. It’s pundits laughing about a woman being raped in prison, it’s movies where people rape just to establish their evil – where the act of rape is not, in and of itself, so monstrous that it is the central piece but is rather just a centerpiece, a garnish that serves to illustrate, a detail only. Where jokes about rape are told casually, and often the rape isn’t even part of the joke – jokes where the rape is only in the joke because it’s amusing to imagine for the people telling it. So there’s no escape. You can’t be safe, of course, but you can’t even pretend you can be safe. You can’t even keep your scabs closed. You have to have one of the worst things that can happen, that did happen, yanked back out into your mind and laughed at because some skinny little shithead who got made fun of in school thinks he owns oppression.

There’s that rage again.

And yes, I admit it. I am afraid right now. I am afraid, because I can’t live through it over and over again every day, and I can’t escape it. Because even the things I use for escape purposes love to laugh at me for it.

If you think this is funny, well, I can’t really argue with you. Humor is subjective, and comedy doesn’t have to be subversive to be funny. But comedy that exists to support cruelty and maintain the status quo, comedy that trivializes suffering and supports those that make others suffer isn’t funny to me. I will admit to finding some dark comedy potential in these champions of personal self expression thinking it’s perfectly okay for them to tell jokes about the most awful thing in many people’s lives, but then they seem to totally lose the ability to champion the free speech of those calling them shitbags of human misery for doing so. I guess it’s only funny until it is about them. Their pain isn’t funny, you see. Only ours is.

Mel Brooks once said “Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you fall into an open sewer and die.” I guess it’s something like that.

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§ 11 Responses to Rage is born of fear

  • Sidenorna says:

    Good sir, you fear rape jokes and encourage people to not tell them. You give good and ration reasons that I can easily get behind, until I take a step back and look at other subject and jokes. Should we make AIDS or Cancer jokes taboo? Millions of people suffer threw those tragedies today? Or is that okay because no joke will ever cause people to gain cancer?

    What about Nazi jokes..I mean they happened so long ago.. Well I grew up knowing that some of my family was not around because they were related to people who would not be censored. I for a long time took care of someone who would wake up every night screaming because what he live threw. I have seen survivors of the Holocaust and yet people make Nazi jokes all the time. Should Seinfeld be banned because of the Soup Nazi?

    Should War Jokes be banned? I could go on and on, but at the end of the day people will claim rape is special, and it’s not.

    “Because if you don’t stand up for the stuff you don’t like, when they come for the stuff you do like, you’ve already lost.”
    ― Neil Gaiman

    More aptly put and obscure

    “Fear of serious injury alone cannot justify oppression of free speech and assembly. Men feared witches and burnt women. It is the function of speech to free men from the bondage of irrational fears.”

    –Louis D. Brandeis

    “Free speech is meant to protect unpopular speech. Popular speech, by definition, needs no protection.”
    –Neal Boortz

    • matthewrossi says:

      There are several problems with what your saying. Here are a few:

      No one is censoring anything. Censorship can only be imposed by those with power over the speaker, whether it be governmental or social. I am doing neither. I am not saying you shouldn’t be allowed by the government to trivialize rape or treat it like a funny punchline, I’m saying it is deplorable and asinine to do so. It is the mark of a callous asshole. If you tell these jokes, in most case, YOU are a callous asshole.

      That’s not censorship. It’s freedom. You’re free to say what you want, and I’m free to say what I want ABOUT what you want to say.

      If you can find a single place where I said “ban rape jokes” I’d like to see it. I didn’t. But I reserve the right to get angry about them, to say they are loathsome and awful and the people who tell them are loathsome and awful.

      • Sidenorna says:

        I know when I am wrong and I have been doing this too long. What I meant to say was, what makes a rape joke worse than, a Nazi, murder or any other types of jokes?

        I am sick of people holding rape as some sort of evil so great that it is alone by it’s self. Like it’s okay for the hero to kill countless people in a game, movie or book.You know beheading and what not. High Lander had a TV show ETC… But Lara Croft getting rapped that’s over the line? Or how about, how many games are the heroes tortured?

        I am sorry for misreading your disgust as trying to censor people. I just don’t see rape as an evil that shall not be named.

      • Cameron says:

        tell me a “murder joke”

        or a “nazi joke”

        or an “aids joke” that isn’t actually a homophobic screedlet

        tell me a “war joke”

        or anything else that is similar to the structure of rape jokes, that structure being “haha, rape!”

        rape isn’t “an evil that can not be named,” but our culture’s standard rape joke is “isn’t it funny that people get raped”

        dead baby style jokes – in addition to being tiresome and devoid of humor – aren’t told in a society where one in six to one in thirty three babies are horrifically murdered

        rape jokes work to minimize rape and shame and degrade its victims, rather than shame and degrade rapists

        that is why they’re shitty

        hey check this out, a standup routine about rape *culture*: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=29ArdxWYBGQ

    • jmjamison says:

      I’ve read through this a couple of times and I don’t see him advocating any kind of censorship or banning of anything. He is explaining his feelings on the subject.

    • matthewrossi says:

      Dude, no one said it shouldn’t be named. What has been said, over and over again, is that these jokes are mean spirited attempts to trivialize someone else’s pain. That we live in a society where rape isn’t taken seriously, where rape is far more common than we’re willing to admit (possibly 1 in 5 women has been raped in the US) and in general, the casual use of rape in fiction and humor serves to create the idea that rape itself is a joke, especially when you can look at our society and SEE people who have been raped getting treated worse than the rapists.

      Frankly, I don’t really care if you don’t get it or not. I’ve BEEN raped. That seems to be the subtext you’re not getting. So I’ll make it text for you – I understand how rape victims feel because I am one. I am going to stand up and say this shit is horrible every fucking chance I get.

      • Sidenorna says:

        let me be as clear as day here. I understand you were a victim of rape. I want you to understand that I have been as well. I want to tell you this because anecdotal evidence is not evidence. You do not speak for everyone who has ever been raped.

        I have been falsely accused of rape by someone who rapped me. should I stand out on a roof top shouting all date rape is a lie? By the way the only reason I did not go to trial was because she bragged about it to my sister.( she did not know she was talking to my sister at the time, my sister and I aren’t really close.)

        You are talking about your own suffering and I understand that you suffered at the hands of a bad person. But if the act of joking about rape makes someone an asshole, why wouldn’t joking about mass murder make some else an asshole? People are killed, all the time and yes you joke about killing people nearly weekly. As Wow is nothing but a big joke about murder. Or are they only assholes when they offend you?

        This goes to everyone if you think rape jokes will lead to more rape, Do you think games like call of duty,WOW, or any other violent games, stories,jokes, movies or any other media will lead to more killing?

        lastly Rossi I respect you as a person, and understand that you are a great warrior in wow but in the real world do not light things on fire when you run over them. At the end of the this,I want you to know that I am not trying to attack you,or your past. I am simply wanted to broaden some points of view,

        Good night and good luck.

  • Robert says:

    @Sidenorna, how in the world do you get to that last sentence??? The probably with rape is that it IS an evil that a lot of people do not address. When it is “named” it’s as a joke. But when it really comes up, as in actual rape, people shout down the victims, making it uncomfortable or even worse for people to speak out. They put the onus for prevention on the victim, not on the perpetrator.

    When an idiot like Krahulik uses it to set up a joke and is told by some people that’s not cool he doesn’t get it because he lives in a culture where rape victims are silenced far too often and he doesn’t realize the effect he has (that’s being generous to him, for all we know he would have doubled-down even if we didn’t have a rape culture).

    In a vacuum rape might not be worse (although it certainly wouldn’t be betetr) than beheading. But so what? You don’t live in a vacuum and neither does anyone else who dissembles or pretends not to udnerstand or lacks empathy. We all live in a world where rape is common, where people around us perpetuate a rape culture regardless of their intent and it takes a huge amount to even take a tiny step in the other direction to make things better.

    Let’s understand this world we live in and make it better, not double-down, as PA did, when people point out that we’re promoting bad ideas, no matter how tough it is to realize.

    • Sidenorna says:

      In a vacuum rape might not be worse (although it certainly wouldn’t be betetr) than beheading. … How many people do you know who recovered from beheading? I dare you to point out of person who got beheaded and lived to tell their story. I know I recovered form being raped.

  • […] 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 […]

  • ruggrat says:

    Rossi, thank you for freaking posting this.

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