Overweening Generalist

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Paul Krassner: Can A Rape Joke Be Funny?

One of my favorite of the human beings, Krassner, who coined the term Yippie and "soft core pornography" and a few others I'm forgetting, first published his ethical quandary- can rape jokes be funny? -  in Reason magazine, but updated the article a month later in Huffington Post to include what Louis C.K. said on The Daily Show...although I'm sure he's touched on it in one or more of his numerous books, but I can't find my notes if he did. (In a private email Paul showed me he'd further updated this article, recently, to include the idiotic comments by far-right-wing Republicans Todd Aiken and Richard Mourdock.)

                                                      Paul Krassner

One of the titans of free speech in the second half of the roaring twentieth century, and up to today, Krassner (b.1932) has held that irreverence is his only sacred cow.

If you were too lazy to read Krassner's article I link to from HuffPo above: in 1970 he was doing stand-up and - Roe v.Wade was a few years off - Krassner has been candid about his own role in providing an abortion referral service before the Roe decision. His joke in 1970 was how we ought to hold a "rape-in" of lawmakers' wives, in order to impregnate them and so they'd lobby their husbands to legalize abortion.

Some of his friends objected to this joke. Krassner was in an ethical quandary: he thought his joke was an effective satirical jab at the hypocrisy of men who were legislators who had outlawed abortion. But then also, as a political satirist, he didn't want victims to be the target of his humor, even in a joke. It wouldn't be the congressmen's wives who were to blame for illegal, unsafe abortions. But he abhorred censorship, even of the self- variety. As he says, he stopped doing the joke by "rationalizing" that his consciousness had evolved.

Skip ahead 42 years and you have the Daniel Tosh incident, covered in Paul's article. Note that, on or about the same night Tosh joked about rape, Sarah Silverman also joked about it, but it didn't go viral on Twitter; she didn't receive the backlash Tosh did. Tosh, in holding with the True Comedian's Creed (which I just made up), said of course rape is horrible, but we should be able to joke about anything.

Rape Jokes Go Way Back
At a lawyer's convention in 1942, this joke was told:

A girl rushes into a lawyer's office. "I want him arrested! He threw me on the bed. He...oh it was awful!"
Lawyer: Now calm down. Let's get the story straight. What did he do first?

Girl: He locked the door.

Lawyer: Aha! Kidnapping! (He makes a note.) Ten years. Then what did he do?

Girl: He pulled up my dress.

Lawyer: Indecent exposure. Two more years. (Making a note.) Then what?

Girl: He put his hand on my...my...

Lawyer: It's all right. I understand. Attempted assault. Five years. And then what?

Girl: He threw me on the bed.

Lawyer: Ah hah! Mayhem and felonious constraint. Ten to fifteen years. And then?

Girl: Then...he did it to me.

Lawyer: That does it! Rape! Twenty years - maybe we can get him the chair! And meanwhile you were screaming and struggling...

Girl: Wellllll...not exactly. You see, it was kind of late, and I didn't want to disturb everybody, and...

Lawyer: (Tearing up his notes in disgust) Oh for Christ's sake, that's just a plain ordinary fuck!
-gleaned from Gershon Legman's Rationale of the Dirty Joke: An Analysis of Sexual Humor. Legman - one of the great compendious minds of the 20th century, by the way - says this is an updated version of a joke Rabelais told in his 1532 book Pantagruel.

                                     16th c. French satirist Francois Rabelais, looking
                                     rogue-ish. Trained as a doctor, his books are filled
                                     with drinking jokes, fart jokes, shit jokes, even a rape 
                                         joke. Look for his stuff under "classics."

I wish Tosh - who probably did not graduate from a Great Books program - would've defended himself by referring to Rabelais, if only because Rabelais deserves to be in the cultural spotlight again. Plus it would've been a real mindfuck to switch the tone to Renaissance French literature. Or to just palm off the rape joke as a legacy from Francois Rabelais, who was trained as a physician. Maybe it's just me.

Now a quick divergence:

The Intellectual Class and Its CCD
Often referred to as "Careful and Critical Discourse," I'm more influenced by Alvin Gouldner, who calls it the "Culture of Critical Discourse." Gouldner makes a series of arguments about the speech idioms of the humanistic intellectuals and the newer technical intelligentsia - together they form the "New Class," and they are slowly winning a war against the older, monied bourgeoisie. The CCD is marked by three things: You must be very concerned to justify your assertions. Secondly, you can appeal to authority, but that's not impressive enough: you must still ground your argument using a rhetoric that does not appeal to authority. Finally, you must try to win the voluntary consent of those appealed to, based solely on the logic of your assertions. In other words, you can't say "My dad's rich and my uncle's a judge, so I'm right, and if you say I'm not I'll have my guards throw you in the moat."

Also, the CCD is situation-free: if you're holding a meeting and some heavily tattooed guy with dreadlocks and sandals has something to say, and it's a good idea, it must be taken seriously; it doesn't matter who is talking: if they are able to speak in the CCD-idiom, it doesn't matter their dress, their accent, their skin color, their gender.

But Gouldner also says the New Class's CCD: "In its virtuous aspect, self-editing implies a commendable circumspection, carefulness, self-discipline, and 'seriousness.' In its negative modality, however, self-editing also disposes toward an unhealthy self-consciousness, toward stilted convoluted speech, an inhibition of play, imagination, and passion, and continual pressure for expressive discipline.  The new rationality thus becomes the source of a new alienation." - p.84, The Future of Intellectuals and the Rise of the New Class

Thus, I would argue, the quality of speech we get from intellectual comedians - and I would consider Louis C.K, Patton Oswalt, David Cross, Sarah Silverman, Marc Maron and about 15 others here - is either a variant of this CCD (all of these stand-ups are writers with fine minds, well-read, maybe not steeped in the CCD that becomes habitual after four years in a good university), or they represent an outsider's challenge to the intellectual class in their daring, open speech. Who among us has not sat and listened to the Learned Professor, who, gosh, sure has a lot to say and he says it so well, but it's kinda boring, and who ever thought a talk on (rock and roll/masturbation/James Bond films/the history of beer) could be so dull? I say: the academics need to figure out a way to inject some "play, imagination, and passion" every now and then. What? You think if you do that we won't think your PhD was serious?

Whatever you think, there's a reason why I consider George Carlin a linguistic philosopher of some sort, and the best intellectual comedian who ever lived. Here he is on our topic.

George Carlin on "The Humorous Side of Rape"
From Napalm and Silly Putty, pp.175-176:

Many people in this country want to tell you what can and can't talk about. Or sometimes they'll tell you you can talk about something, but you can't joke about it. Like rape. People say you can't joke about rape. They say rape's not funny. And I say, Fuck you, I think it's hilarious. How do you like that? I can prove rape is funny: Picture Porky Pig raping Daisy Duck. See? Hey, why do you think they call him Porky?

And I know what men are gonna say. Daisy was askin' for it; she was comin' on to Porky, she had on tight feathers. Porky got horny, and he lost control. A lot of men talk like that. They blame it on the woman. They say, "She had it comin'. She was wearing a short skirt." 

Doesn't seem fair to me; doesn't seem right. But I believe you can joke about it. I believe you can joke about anything. It just depends on how you construct the joke, what the exaggeration is. Every joke needs one exaggeration. Every joke needs one thing to be way out of proportion.

I'll give you an example. Have you ever seen a news story like this? Some burglar breaks into a house, steals some things, and while he's in there, he rapes an eighty-one-year-old woman. And you think to yourself, "Why? What the fuck kind of social life does this guy have?" I want to ask him, "Why did you do that?" But I know what I'd hear: "Hey, she was comin' on to me. She had on a tight bathrobe." And I'm thinkin', "Next time, be a little more selective, will you?"

Now, speaking of rape, but changing the subject slightly, you know what I wonder? Is there more rape at the Equator or the North Pole? I mean, per capita; I know the populations are different. I think it's the North Pole.

Most people think it's the Equator. Because it's hot down there, people don't wear a lot of clothing, guys can see a woman's tits, they get horny, and there's a lot of rape and a lot of fucking in general. But that's exactly why there's less rape at the Equator; because there's a lot of fucking in general. You can tell the Equator has a lot of fucking: look at the population figures. Billions of people live near the Equator. How many Eskimos we got? Thirty? Thirty-five?

No one's gettin' laid at the North Pole; it's too cold. An Eskimo says to his wife, "Hey honey, how about some pussy?" She says, "Wally, are you crazy? The windchill is 150 below!" Eskimo guys are deprived, they're horny, they get pent up, and every now and then they gotta rape somebody.

Now, the biggest problem an Eskimo rapist has is trying to get wet leather leggings off a woman who doesn't want to take them off. Have you ever tried to pull the leather pants off someone who's trying to kick you in the nuts? It takes a lot of effort. And, in the process, you would lose your hard-on. In fact, at the North Pole your dick would shrivel up like a sack of dimes.

That's another thing I wonder. Does a rapist have a hard-on when he leaves the house in the morning? Or does it develop during the day while he's walking around checkin' out the gals? Just wondering.

                                                  Prof. George Carlin

So: whattya think? Can rape jokes be funny? Why?


Anonymous said...

I haven't read the areticle yet, but I have off and on been traking the masculinist movement for the last 6 months or so, one of the the debates that come up a lot is the concept of "rape culture", I have currently not made my mid up on whether this actually means anything, though it has some fruitful discussion there bares on interpersonal and social problems.

Just recently I looked at some youtube videos discussing (what I deem to be) a very crass joke, but it opened a dialogue on the tension of free speech and political correctness.

Here is a link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Etl5T8BUzvI&noredirect=1

michael said...

I'm dubious about a "rape culture," as the most reliable stats I've seen show it's the same small percentage of violent men who commit this heinous crime. And if they've done one, they're quite likely to have done another.

There seems to be a different dynamic between those rapes reported when the two people know each other, and the ones when the woman gets raped by a total stranger. In my early twenties I was having a lot of sex with a gal, and it got kinkier and kinkier. And then one day we're getting all hot and heavy and I start to initiate penetration, and she starts resisting, physically. Me: What's going on? She: I don't want to do it...I had been reading some "No means no" literature and suddenly saw myself in an orange jumpsuit on the stand for rape. So I backed off, bewildered and pissed off.

It turns out she was trying to act out her "rape fetish scenario," but how was I supposed to know that? She never told me she it was one of her fantasies.

Does this mean she - or "women" - enjoy rape? I don't think the fantasy and an actual rape- in which there was zero consent on the part of the woman - are in the same universe. The SITUATIONS may LOOK very similar, but the actuality is quite different.

I intend the article to be a sort of Head Test, so thanks for engaging.

The most basic take I have on the Q is that the words are not the Thing; those who get very upset over this seem like my hyper-educated female friends when I bring up the topic of the word "cunt." Word-magic permeates all sectors of our society, it seems. You just have to look extensively. I freely admit the topic is not an easy one; just be a white dude and go up to a black dude all friendly and say, "Howz mah nigguh today?" It's complicated.

[By the way: what's the worst thing a white guy can be called? What's the most potent word-magic? I asked at a book group meeting once and no one had an adequate response.]

A good recent documentary I saw that seems to address all this is _F***: A Documentary_(2005 Steve Anderson).

My basic take on the Can A Rape Joke Be Funny? comes from what I'd call a quasi-Wilhelm Reich POV: comedians have a role to play as jesters: they get to say things no one is supposed to even THINK. And when they joke about it, we laugh, and discharge deep muscular tensions bound up with emotional anxieties about living in a society that goes against biological desires. We're relieved on a subconscious level that someone could bring this stuff up. Obviously rape is a horrendous crime: it violates a deep sense of the person's selfhood. It's very difficult afterwards to feel safe, anywhere...and feeling safe in society: isn't that the basis of some idea of the "social contract"? But that's not what the rape joke is about: it's about feeling free to violate word-magic taboos.

The total context of what we know about the comedian seems to also figure into how we receive the joke. For me, there are certain comedians in which the rape jokes, no matter how "good," would be sorta creepy. Andrew "Dice" Clay comes to mind.

I'm very much with Tosh/Carlin/Louis CK, Sarah Silverman, et.al: we should be able to freely joke abut ANYTHING. It has nothing to do with our advocating the thing. Jews were the first comedians to joke about the Holocaust; no one believes they want another one.

Or do they? "Hey, the Jews were acting all private and shit. And look at the dough some of 'em have! Just look at that Lloyd Blankfein character. They wuz askin' for it."

Anonymous said...

Intereesting reply.

I refrain from making "controversial" jokes unless I am in the company of people I know, this is not because I think that certain jokes should not be allowed, there is just the palapable reality that I could get beat up. it is complicated.

Actually rape culture as it is now known is not just about actual rape, but about the use of the word rape in everyday contexts. like when you get ripped off, some people might say "man, you got raped"

this is the most comprehenisve explanation I have heard, so far:

"rape culture" seems to me one of those "seeing it everywhere" type of paranoid trips; I think it serves to legitamite forms of state control which only perpetuate the troubles it seeks to solve. sombunall women are becoming evermore sceptical about the intentions of men, or at least that is something I am getting ever more paranoid about.

What do you think about the masculinist movement? and about the seduction community? th latter question Might sound like a weird topic, as I am not sure how familiar people are with this "new" cult like community, but I would like to see you do a blog post on it (that is, if you know about it), as I think this is one of those cultural trends that is having a lot of direct and indirect influence on culture. I am not too keen on the idea of seduction community as it bares an influence on the "masculinist" movement, I think it just exacerbates sombunall feminist diatribes against men. thoug there are splinter groups that are floating towards a conservative look at male coming of age rituals which is quite an interesting development.

The world just keeps getting more complicated...

michael said...

Andrew: I hadn't known much at all about the "rape culture" thing; thanks for that link. I had assumed "rape culture" was sex-negative feminists only. This is interesting.

Re: your riff about refraining from making controversial jokes, depending on who's in the audience: this reminded me of Ezra Pound's "Tempus loquendi/tempus tacendi" in The Cantos: there's a time to speak and a time to stay quiet.

Re: I'm not very well-read at all on the masculinist movement, but 18 mos or so ago I read Neil Strauss's The Game, and it blew me away. I had every intention of writing about it, but the OG gets sidetracked by his other 23 current abiding obsessions, and it fell away. I have a bunch of notes on NLP/hypnosis/how it relates to Lakoff's work/how it's geeks using their own skills in a sexual arms race and seems biologically explainable/how women seem to be much more aware of the "tricks" of the seduction community now, so guys need to invent a new "game", etc. I watched just about everything on YT that had anything to do w/Neil Strauss (and I've read four of this other non-Game books; he's a very interesting writer and person to me) and Strauss's guru, "Mystery."

Maybe I'll get back on it in the next few months and write about it. Maybe.

Yes, it does get more and more complicated. Aye. Thanks for commenting, man!

Cleveland Okie (Tom Jackson) said...

I would guess the worst thing a white guy can be called is a "racist." Not easy to remove that taint when it's been applied, even if the accusation is not fair.

Anonymous said...

I find strauss the least creepy of the lot; there is now a lot of infighting and all sorts of strange offshoots, that seem like massive marketing scams (even strauss has distanced himself somewhat from it) I can give you some links if you want, but I warn you, it only gets stickier from there.

For instance, ross jefferies, who apparently was the pioneer of the whole subculture, is now dedicated to dismantling it, still others have tried what is called "ghosting" (this concept is a very err.. unique response to the predicament)because of their dissilussionment with the seduction community.

Currently the best forum for disccusing "man problems" is the spearhead, where some of the jargon from the seduction community is used in disccussing male/female relations.

I have reseaarched the community a lot, though I have not dabbled in becoming part of it or tryng any of their tecniques in any but the most cursory of ways in "picking-up" women, I do think the "innergame" aspect has a lot of overlaps with robert anton wilson, probably because of the NLP thingimajig. the problem with the community is that it has almost lost itself in the rediculous end of the "self-help" community, which is just a marketing scam in my eyes.

Straus's book was a bit of an eye opener, and a pretty good narrative to, a pity he has left the community behind. I have not read any of his survival books, though.

regards andrew

Anonymous said...

PS Sorry for derailing the topic.

michael said...

Rather than derailing it, I think we took it in an interesting direction.

I'm somewhat aware of the infighting and disavowals in the Seduction Community, but I haven't really been following it. They did make a cultural impact - which is still being felt - and then most of it splintered. We see variations of this narrative all the time.

I couldn't put Strauss's survival book, _Emergency_ down (he has more than one?); I found myself surprised that he made so many persuasive points. Have I done anything to prepare for various catastrophes? Naw. Hardly anything. But that guy can write, and he's funny. He also seems like a natural in interviewing rock stars and actors. Have a look at Everybody Loves You When You're Dead. I also read his book about going on the road with Motley Crue, something like _The Dirt_? I haven't read his book about Jenna Jameson or his Marilyn Manson book, and there are a couple others.

It would've been interesting to get RAW's take on the seduction community. I remember reading one seduction website and some guys were telling others to read RAW (IIRC, Prometheus Rising), even Korzybski, and of course, Milton Erickson.

If I had to guess it would go something like this:

Q: Have you read any of the seduction community stuff? Are you aware of them?

RAW: Yea, I've read some of that stuff. They make great use of NLP and some other hypnosis and magickal techniques I've written about in my books.

Q: What do you think of them?

RAW: Well...know what you're getting into before you try to apply your magick. Are you really so hard-up you want to practice deception in order to get laid? If your answer is yes, then go for it. Pay very close attention to not only the techniques you used and their outcomes (as Crowley taught us all), but how you feel about it afterwards. How we treat people can have unintended consequences not only of others, but for ourselves. And learn from that, too. Meanwhile, wear a condom when you go out on a Ross Jeffries-inspired pussy hunt; you'll never know what you'll pick up.

(Does this contain any verisimilitude?)

Anonymous said...

I think there is only one; I was just thinking too fast and the transcription came with errors.

I would have liked to have known a lof of RAWS opinions on a lot of things. In fact I was pleasently suprised when Tom (okie), posted a quote from RAW talking about John Barth, and furthermore the fact that it was an in -depth opinion and not just a cursory statement, was even better.

See I am one of those people that RAW would have implored to Do The Exercizes in his book, but I have problems sticking one subject for more than a day. the longest I mediatated for consistently was a week. This is getting worse as i get older, for instance, I used to read a few books a month, now I can't even finish one, without going to another one adn then another until I come full circle and feel anxious that I never finished the first one in the first place, I can't remember the last time I actually fully finnished reading a book.

To get back to the subject. have you every read some of the books recomended by neill struass on his website, he lists what I think are some of the better ones recomended by the seduction community) I think I read somewhere in one of your blogs that you had copies of Robert Greene, but hadn't yet fully read them, maybe that was elsewhere.

michael said...

That letter that Tom dug up in which RAW talks with admiration about John Barth was very surprising to me, too.

To what do you attribute your not finishing books?

I don't have any copies of Rbt Greene, but to anyone who's interested, here's Neil Strauss's link to seduction books, and NB Matt Ridley's The Red Queen and Dawkins's famous The Selfish Gene are in there; looks like some geeks did a good job of grounding the seduction discourse well:


Anonymous said...

Attribution to one particular thing is hard. Generally I think it is a mixture of the internet, and my return to higher education.

I use to frequent a book store, the owner there used to slander the internet, and claim he would never use it. Then one day I came in to the store and he was talking about how he had finally succumbed to the using internet. I asked how that was and he said "I can't get off of it, its like electronic cocaine."

Though I am sure it has more to do with my resolve, I know exactly what he was getting at.

Robert Greene is worth reading simply beacuse of the historical scope of his works. if you read this alongside some of hyatt's work, it leads to some quite interesting results.

tom, you said:
"I would guess the worst thing a white guy can be called is a "racist." Not easy to remove that taint when it's been applied, even if the accusation is not fair."

Do you think this is worse than being accused of rape?

one of The epithets that I hear girls say of guys a lot is "creep" I ask what they mean, and usually I get quite a vague answer.

michael said...

Being called a "racist" seems complex to me: on one hand it's thrown around as an easy epithet, and if I'm called a racist, I'm not a public figure and not a racist, so it doesn't bother me; however, I could see how you could publicly fuck up and say something stupid...maybe you were joking, but it got lost in the actual situation--->reports---->what comes out in the media. Personally, if someone called me a racist I'd wonder if I said/did something that I was unaware of.

Also let us recall our General Semantics and remind ourselves of the bad Aristotelian software we may be running here: these are abstractions and "essences" we're talking about. I may have acted in some "racist" way at time X; while at most other times,most decidedly not racist.

Being accused of rape seems like a very serious situation to me.

I know what you mean about "creep," Andrew. I think it depends on the situation. I have a streak of Erisian and bizarre, maybe too-intellectual sense of humor, and that can come off as "creepy" sometimes, with the wrong audience. Also, I am so fascinated by the semantic unconsciousness at work in our various realities that I will broach a topic there, and I think a lot of the time people see it as threatening or offensive. The blogpost about Krassner's Q: some may see the title and just think, "What a creep!," and never read the article, and move on.

The "creep" stuff reminds me of RAW's interest in Ethnomethodology, which, in a major sense was a supermicrosociological method of probing into the semantic unconscious.

Now I MUST check out Rbt Greene!

Anonymous said...

I remember reading the whole of korzybski's work nearly seven years ago and thinking it was a wonderful companion to Wilson's work. When I read this I also came across a website dedicated to what I will call "reverse engineering" korybksi, which attempted to link his works explicitly to the phisophical movements about science and, other things, that was going on in those days. I was at this point in a hostel, while reading it, and the author of the website made something really clear to me; Most people who study korzybski come to the semniars and go to all the non-technical seminars and miss out a core understanding of what general semantics. the technical things were logic, mathematics, and engineering. I decided after this to enroll in to electronic engineering, to better understand korzybski. In a way it worked, but I began to feel a little out of touch, it was at this point that people began to think that I was weird or "strange".

The website is still around and is updated on a regular basis, I think the website is the only one dedicated to the project of seeing what is outmoded in general semantics on the internet:

here it:ishttp://www.xenodochy.org/gs/

Ethnomehtology is something that is on my long list of things to find out about, and although I have read something on wikipedia and a short article in a journal, I find it fascinating, and brings up all sorts of questions about human perception and narrative capacity.

I am surprised that you have not had a few females on here talking or at least complaining that you shouldn't even entertain the idea; I would not bring the subject up at all in the company of most the poeple I interact with these days, one or too close friends maybe, but that is it. goes back to the ezra pound quote you posted above.