There’s been a debate raging in comedy and feminist circles (sometimes a debate, sometimes something worse) about the appropriateness of “rape jokes” and whether or not it’s wise to make them or that the debate around is Censorious Speech Smashing. Lindy West has taken this up as her charge and written some good things on it over at Jezebel, and she recently debated Jim Norton on Totally Biased with Kamau Bell. Norton didn’t seem to get the underlying issue there, but made some great points about comedy needing to be free of censorship and all that fun stuff.
I think unfunny things can be funny! Hell, most things I draw cartoons on aren’t actually funny in real life, but I generally come down on West’s side. I was going to type out a long explanation of why, but there was a column in the Times a few week ago, “The Jokes On All of Us” by Andrew Hugins, that sums up my position perfectly:
I love jokes, even in their frequent ugliness. They illuminate the irresolvable contradictions our lives are built on. And they make us vulnerable to other people’s reactions — will you laugh, or not? Will I please you or offend you? That’s a complicated calculus when humor depends on surprise, which is close to shock, which is perilously close to outrage. It’s possible to make jokes about anything — even rape and the Holocaust — but I can’t think of a truly successful joke that is, at its base, attacking the victim.