Why Tosh is no laughing matter

July 17, 2012

FEW COMEDY lovers have yet to hear about the controversy surrounding comedian Daniel Tosh. At a show, he recently stated that jokes about rape are funny, and when a female member of the audience yelled out that rape jokes are never funny, Tosh demonstrated just how out of control such "humor" can be by saying it would be hilarious if she was raped on the spot by five men in the audience ("Talking back at a sexist bigot").

This is unacceptable. The mental torment that rape victims suffer for years after being assaulted is no laughing matter. The mere discussion of the topic often triggers painful episodes. The friends and family of rape victims feel this pain in a different way as they try to help their loved ones deal with the emotionally devastating effects of rape. We feel a righteous indignation when some insensitive person makes light of this suffering.

Not everyone who laughs at these jokes is necessarily numb to the realities of rape when it actually happens. For some reason, however, many people (mostly young men, in my experience) will come to the defense of a comedian for making light of rape in a misguided defense of "freedom of expression" for artists. Some will even go as far as to celebrate such garbage as a kind of sly satirical commentary on the human condition.

How edgy of Daniel Tosh to joke about raping women, something which an alarming number of men do and get away with every day. It's so edgy to make light of the torment that so many women suffer without getting any justice.

No, it's not.

It actually happens all the time, when rape victims cast about for support in this society, only to be mistrusted, blamed or mocked. The fact that Daniel Tosh is a professional comedian should in no way liberate him from the shackles of decency.

Artists have a responsibility to engage critically with the problems of the world. An artist who willfully panders to the lowest common denominator for money and fame doesn't deserve our praise. A thinking, cultured person cannot stand outside of politics, no matter how much they may wish to do so. This is true for both the entertainer and the audience.

When people laugh at and defend people like Tosh, they're advancing a very destructive position. They may not intend to say that they think rape itself is tolerable--but when they say it's legitimate to make jokes and threatening statements, they're saying the atmosphere in which rapists feel emboldened is an atmosphere they're comfortable with.

Conversely, when we decide that not only are rape jokes not funny to us personally, but they actually have a dulling effect on our collective consciousness and our ability to effectively oppose and fight sexual assault, we're making the opposite statement.

Which kind of position do you really want to put forward? Which side do you want to be on?

Think about the women in your lives and what they have been through. Is it still funny when you apply this sort of "humor" to them? Nine out of ten will shift uncomfortably as they try to decide. This is a good thing.

Next time, join us on the right side. As for that "number ten," please continue to make yourself known to the rest of us so we can sever our ties. We don't have time for you.
Jason Netek, Austin, Texas

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