Comedy can play a huge role in sparking up laughter, often times bringing light to situations. Though, comedy can also bring light into situations that tend to stay on the darker side of a humor spectrum. A very controversial aspect of comedy is the content or topics that is used and or being provided for people to laugh at; one topic that fits this controversial title is rape jokes.
Rape jokes are a form of jokes that specifically speak upon rape. As rape is a very real, sensitive, traumatizing, topic for many; many of us question why one would take rape in use it as humor content for people to laugh at. According to RAINN the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization, sexual assault is a very common act; an American is sexually assaulted every 98 seconds, and over 321,500 people are victim of rape and sexual assault each year in the United States.
Rape is more common than most think; as traumatizing and horrific it can be, why are we making jokes out of it? As rape is a very touchy topic, some argue that comedy helps people process the difficult idea of rape. Society perceives rape jokes and the role of comedy within rape jokes as both positive and negative, in other words, few who find it acceptable and few who don’t. I think rape jokes are unacceptable to an extent. There are only a few exceptions to which rape joke are acceptable to present. Rape jokes are acceptable if coming from a rape survivor who is trying to create a positive impact off a negative action.
According to Merriam Webster, the definition of a joke is “something said or done to provoke laughter”. Laughter is a form of humor, and humor is seen in almost every aspect of life, and has been around since humanity began. Every human has their own minds that shapes their thought process to find what’s humourous and what’s not, thus giving the ability for someone to create a joke. Correspondingly, humor is a basic human process that can often get us to question what humor even is. Though humor seems as simple as a joke being told or something being done to provoke laughter, there is much more behind the act which has caused multiple scientific studies to be conducted.
One close look into the detailed topic could be found in the book “HA! The Science of When We Laugh and Why” by author Scott Weems, a cognitive neuroscientist. He aims to provide readers with the knowledge of what humor is and how humor is closely associated with nearly every aspect of human cognition, because it helps us cope with incongruity, ambiguity, and conflict; while explaining and supporting his idea “that humor and it most common symptom-laughter- are by-products of possessing brains which rely on conflict. Because they constantly deal with confusion of ambiguity, our minds jump the gun, make mistakes, and generally get muddled in their own complexity.”(xiv) This creates a reason for us to laugh at any topic necessary.
According to the national sexual violence resource center, Rape is the most under-reported crime; 63% of sexual assaults are not reported to police. One in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused before they turn 18 years old, with this only 12% of child sexual abuse is ever reported to the authorities leaving it more likely to reoccur. Looking into the adult statistics, one in five women and one in 71 men will be raped at some point in their live. Moreover, in the U.S alone, one in three women and one in six men experienced some form of contact sexual violence in their lifetime. Rape is an incident that happens any time sexual intercourse takes place without your consent. The definition of rape, according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network is: ‘forced sexual intercourse, including vaginal, anal, or oral penetration.
Penetration may be by a body part or an object.’ (Tracyn) It is important to be aware that either gender can be the perpetrator or the victim of rape. Each genders both being humans who have feelings also have to deal with the aftermath effects whether that be physical or mental. Keeping in mine that every human is unique, each may handle this traumatizing event differently but often times than most there are common effects, such as, PTSD causing flashbacks, severe anxiety, to depression which can cause prolonged sadness and the feeling of helplessness, to even suicidal thoughts or attempts. With this, most rapes go unknown and some are egure to break this silence.
From the information above, there is a clear observation that humor and rape are at two polar opposite ends of the spectrum. These are two very different topics; one that brings joy, and one that brings horror. Which brings us to the question of what are rape jokes? Rape jokes are a form of jokes that specifically speak upon rape and they can be created from whoever desires to do so, but popularisly more and more comedians are using this touchy subject for material in their shows. This is an extremely controversial form of humor that has been utilized in many settings, from stand-up comedian who are rape victims and or non rape victims, to TV comedy shows, and even in everyday “comedy” you can hear in a social setting.
There are only a few exceptions to which rape joke are acceptable to present, one is that it is acceptable to tell a rape joke if you’re a rape survivor who has more purpose for the joke than solely just trying to use it for laughs only. One appearance of a rape joke from an survivor, could be found in the book The Rhetoric of Humor: a Bedford Spotlight Reader, by Kirk Boyle, which features “Laughing It Off” by Katherine Leyton, a Toronto poet and writer who wrote this article putting forth her opinion on the touchy subject of rape and comedy. This idea arroused after she heard of an incident in 2012 when a woman heckled a comedian about a rape joke during a standup routine. Not only did she state her opinion on rape, this incident influenced her to also looked at many other male and female comedians to see what they think.
Leyton opens up her essay with her good friend Alexandra Howell, a former comedian who performed a joke about being sexually assaulted. She explains as she was laughing with the crowd, she immediately felt ashamed, she experienced a more upsetting reaction, then a humorous one. As most, it could be justifiable that many felt compatible with Leyton with her reaction. Howell then explains to Leyton that she gave her permission to laugh and by doing this she felt as if she had control on how people reacted to her experiences as it helped her therapeutically by negotiation her own feelings about the incident.
Comedy is a great platform to bring up touchy, in the shadow topics. Oftentimes, surviors of rape have a reason and the capability to talk about their own experience to their fans, though in some cases, comedians who are non survivors still feel invited to speak opun rape solely for amusement; which I find immoral. Rape jokes are only okay if trying to create an impact on fellow survivors, and they should only be told to survivors to create the safety net of not giving off the wrong impression that instead of trying to bring awareness and light to the topic, people are getting told our suffering for their amusement.
This tactic could be seen by comedian Heather Jordan, who is a victim of sexual assault. She too questioned herself about mixing sexual assault into her stand up comedy as she hated the idea because its a dark past, but she wanted to speak truth so her mindset. With this she created a stand up comedy show, performed entirely by rape survivors.