Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Jason Zinoman defends the poor beleaguered misogynist comedians

Jason Zinoman uses a favorite tactic of our male-dominated traditional media - get a woman to defend the Patriarchy. He quotes Tammy Pescatelli on the Daniel douchebag Tosh controversy:
I can’t defend Daniel’s words because I didn’t see the joke, but sounds like he was trying to make a funny situation out of an embarrassing one,” Ms. Pescatelli said. “Look, we’re at work. I’m trying to make a living making people laugh. I’m a mother. And this is what I’ve got to put up with?” 
This is how editors who want to attack feminism generally do it - hire Caitlin Flanagan or Katie Roiphe to write an article on a subject having to do with women. You can be sure they'll manage to turn the issue, no matter what it is, into an object lesson on How Feminism Has Ruined Everything, because that's their schtick. They really wouldn't have any careers except for their reliability at attacking feminism - and attacking feminism is considered acceptable if a woman does the attacking.

It's quite amusing to see Zinoman and the comedians he quotes jump through hoops to defend rape jokes. Zinoman even tries the  "everybody's doing it" defense:
Make no mistake: The reason there are so many rape jokes is that they work. As Mr. Tosh now knows, telling them carries a potential price, but so does changing the unfiltered, anything-for-a-laugh ethos of comedy clubs.
This was news to me - the fact that there are "so many rape jokes" in stand-up comedy and that "they work." When discussing the Tosh issue on Facebook one of my friends said she stopped going to stand-up shows because they were so misogynist. I didn't know what she meant, but then I get my stand-up comedy on Youtube and my favorite comedians tend to be women. I guess this is what she meant about the misogyny.

Prior to this controversy, the only rape joke I was aware of was Sarah Silverman's performance in The Aristocrats, in which she claims she was raped by Joe Franklin. But it was brilliant and not offensive and here's why - Wikipedia describes the premise of the film:
"The Aristocrats" is a longstanding transgressive joke amongst comedians, in which the setup and punchline are almost always the same (or similar). It is the joke's midsection – which may be as long as the one telling it prefers and is often completely improvised – that makes or breaks a particular rendition.

The joke involves a person pitching an act to a talent agent. Typically the first line is, "A man walks into a talent agent's office." The man then describes the act. From this point, up to (but not including) the punchline, the teller of the joke is expected to ad-lib the most shocking act they can possibly imagine. This often involves elements of incest, group sex, graphic violence, defecation, coprophilia, necrophilia, bestiality, child sexual abuse and various other taboo behaviors.
The joke ends with the agent, shocked and often impressed, asking "And what do you call the act?" The punchline of the joke is then given: "The Aristocrats".
Please note the term "child sexual abuse" - in other words, child rape. The brilliance of Silverman's approach is to take the premise of the alleged hilarity of "taboo-breaking" like child rape and play it straight. Putting "The Aristocrats" concept into that context is not only consciousness-raising but also funny - funny at the expense of other comedians, especially Joe Franklin, who threatened to sue her.

Here's why Tosh's response was objectionable, and not excusable based on "comedians say the darndest things." Zinoman makes the point and then quotes Pescatelli for backup, that this is some kind of working conditions issue: "I’m trying to make a living making people laugh. I’m a mother. And this is what I’ve got to put up with?” 

You are trying to make people laugh. Sometimes you fail. Just because some insults are excused on the basis that they are funny doesn't mean that all insults are therefore funny.

Tosh's alleged comment: “Wouldn’t it be funny if that girl got raped by, like five guys right now?” isn't part of his act. Someone interrupted his act and he responded by making that remark. Just because somebody makes a living as a comedian does not mean that every single thing they ever say is excusable because it's "just a joke."

But even more so, what Tosh said can best be compared to a white comedian in a nightclub in the South in the 1950s responding to a black man's heckling by saying "Wouldn’t it be funny if that boy got lynched by a white mob right now?"

White people have been lynched too, but it was much, much more likely to happen to a black person - and the perpetrators were invariably white people.

Just as rape, which, although it can happen to men, is most likely to be committed against women - by men.

Now maybe Zinoman and all the other Tosh/rape joke defenders would have no problem with a white comedian in the 1950s South saying it would be funny if a black man was lynched by a white mob.

But if they do have a problem with that, then they have to explain why that's not OK, but it's fair game to say it would be funny if a woman was raped - especially considering that rape happens much more often than lynching ever did.

I would suggest that the men who make these rape jokes are defending what they consider their rightful place at the top of the hierarchy. Just as if they were a bunch of white Southerners in the 1950s laughing at lynching "jokes."

The Onion has the best response yet to the Tosh controversy - I got this link via Katha Pollitt on Facebook:
Daniel Tosh Chuckles Through Own Violent Rape
'You Just Gotta Laugh,' Reports Comedian Through Blood And Tears