Patton Oswalt On Rethinking Rape Jokes

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by Kerensa Cadenas
June 19, 2013 1:30 PM
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Last week, Lindy West wrote an article for Jezebel about the rape threats she had been receiving after appearing on FX's Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell to explain rape culture and the role of comedy in this conversation. West and other feminists have been discussing whether or not rape jokes can be funny or even should be told.

That has spawned mass conversations about censorship, comedy and rape culture--but in many cases, especially as West points out, these conversations reinforce the point she is making. Much of this debate stemmed from last year when comedian Daniel Tosh told rape joke after rape joke, and a female audience member called him out on it saying that "rape jokes aren't funny." Tosh's ridiculous response was that the woman should get gang raped by members of the audience. He later apologized, but it showed the pervasiveness of rape culture. 

Comedian Patton Oswalt, who admitted to defending Tosh at first, wrote a wonderful essay about comedy focusing on thievery, heckling and rape jokes. The whole thing is an important read. 

But we want to pay special attention to the points Oswalt makes about rape culture and his own changing viewpoint on rape jokes.  This is a great look at shifting perspectives and owning up when you realize you were wrong.

And let's go back even further. I've never wanted to rape anyone. Never had the impulse. So why was I feeling like I was being lumped in with those who were, or who took a cavalier attitude about rape, or even made rape jokes to begin with? Why did I feel some massive, undeserved sense of injustice about my place in this whole controversy?

The answer to that is in the first incorrect assumption. The one that says there's no a "rape culture" in this country. How can there be? I've never wanted to rape anyone.

Do you see the illogic in that leap? I didn't at first. Missed it completely. So let's look at some similar examples:

Just because you 100% believe that comedians don't write their own jokes doesn't make it so. And making the leap from your evidence-free belief to dismissing comedians who complain about joke theft is willful ignorance on your part, invoked for your own comfort. Same way with heckling. Just because you 100% feel that a show wherein a heckler disrupted the evening was better than one that didn't have that disruption does not make it the truth. And to make the leap from your own personal memory to insisting that comedians feel the same way that you do is indefensible horseshit.

And just because I find rape disgusting, and have never had that impulse, doesn't mean I can make a leap into the minds of women and dismiss how they feel day to day, moment to moment, in ways both blatant and subtle, from other men, and the way the media represents the world they live in, and from what they hear in songs, see in movies, and witness on stage in a comedy club.

There is a collective consciousness that can detect the presence (and approach) of something good or bad, in society or the world, before any hard "evidence" exists. It's happening now with the concept of "rape culture." Which, by the way, isn't a concept. It's a reality. I'm just not the one who's going to bring it into focus. But I've read enough viewpoints, and spoken to enough of my female friends (comedians and non-comedians) to know it isn't some vaporous hysteria, some false meme or convenient catch-phrase.

I'm a comedian. I value and love what I do. And I value and love the fact that this sort of furious debate is going on about the art form I've decided to spend my life pursuing. If it wasn't, it would mean all of the joke thief defenders and heckler supporters are right, that stand-up comedy is some low, disposable form of carnival distraction, a party trick anyone can do. It's obviously not. This debate proves it. And I don't want to be on the side of the debate that only argues from its own limited experience. And I don't need the sense memory of an actor, or a degree from Columbia, or a moody, desert god to tell me that.

I'm a man. I get to be wrong. And I get to change.

Thanks for this Patton. 

A CLOSED LETTER TO MYSELF ABOUT THIEVERY, HECKLING AND RAPE JOKES (Patton Oswalt)

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More: Comedy, Misogyny, Patton Oswalt, Feminism

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1 Comment

  • faye kane ♀ homeless brain | June 25, 2013 12:54 AMReply

    Think rape jokes can't be funny? And absolutely, you think they can never, EVER make the woman look bad?

    THE JEDI MASTER OF ALL RAPE JOKES was the scene in a Woody Allen movie where he gets off at a bus stop on a lonely city street, right after a girl gets off.

    By coincidence, she makes the same turns at street corners that he is about to make. Suddenly she whirls around, aims a can of pepper spray at him, and screams "I'm not afraid of you, you worthless SCUM! I have mace here to defend myself from subhuman bastards like you!" Then she runs into a building.

    He walks into the same building. It turns out not to be coincidence after all; she was headed to the same apartment party as he was. As soon as he walks in, they are immediately introduced to each other, and he looks down at the floor, feeling very awkward and embarrassed.

    That's a MASTERPIECE, and it's an example of why Woody Allen is a comedy genius.

    I like it because it shows how innocent people get blamed (and punished) for the crimes of others, and when that happens, nobody gives a damn. It's like people can throw a pie in your face with impunity, and everyone else thinks it's perfectly reasonable.

    Note that virtually no "rape jokes" actually involve a rapist.

    Thank God I'm not a man and have to deal with all of this "any sexual reference at work is harassment" and "I'm making out with a girl and right before I put it in, if she changes her mind at the last moment, it's rape just as surely as if I drazgged her into the woods."

    There are many female high-school teachers convicted as "rapists". In how many other crimes does the "victim" love what happened, brags to his friends about it, and dearly wishes it would happen again?

    In one case, when the woman got out of prison, the "victim", who was now over 21, married her, and they're still happily married today, two decades later.

    Then there's the 17 year-old girl who sent a naked pic to her fiancee and was convicted of "producing child pornography" and had to register as a sexual predator.

    American culture is FKCCD UP. If it's not the anti-sex repiglicans, it's my fellow Liberals. And mindless, witless, humorless, knee-jerk "zero-tolerance" attitudes like yours are what causes it.

    There are only two rules of comedy:
    1) it must be funny
    2) the definition of "funny" is "what an audience laughs at."

    What people laugh at says something about them, not the comedian or even the joke. You can *never* blame a comedian for telling jokes that work. Guys like dick jokes. Little kids like "weiner" jokes that are so stupid that grownups can't even tolerate hearing. I like multilingual puns that would bomb at "Bubba's Comedy Barn" or The Apollo.

    Like happiness, humor is is whatever you want it to be. Any joke is "okay" if people laugh, period.

    The HELL with you and your "art form".

    —faye kane ♀ homeless brain
    sexiest astrophysicist you'll ever see naked
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