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Last week, I published a cornucopia of rape cartoons drawn by Real World D.C. cast member Andrew Woods for his college newspaper, the Rocky Mountain Collegian. Woods’ comic strip sparked plenty of on-campus controversy at Colorado State University while he was a student there; last week, the controversy over Woods’ work hit national TV. On the first episode of the Real World D.C., Woods claimed that he was ultimately fired from the paper for “trying to offend women and lesbians and stuff like that.” The sampling of rape cartoons penned by Woods drew both defenders and detractors. Thoughts on rape cartooning—- from the “is it worse than Maxim?” rule to the crucial distinction between the humor of Dave Chappelle and Carlos Mencia—-after the jump.

Bob applies the “is it worse than Maxim?” test:

Gee, lighten up. Like anything that college—-college!—-kid wrote is worse than what one would see in Maxim, or hell, the Onion.

Anne writes:

Bob, when you have a 15% risk of being raped or sexually assaulted in your lifetime—-the way women in America do—-come back and we’ll talk.

Until then, you don’t get to decide whether rape jokes are funny or not.

See yeah concurs:

That’s the problem Bob. Guys do not get this “humor” is highly offensive to women. It *is* everywhere–Judd Apatow movies, Maxim, the Onion, etc. That doesn’t make it anymore right, acceptable or clever. Welcome to rape culture. See! Put more alcohol in her drink so she can’t consent! Get her drunk! Rape her and she’ll forget in the morning! So.effing.funny. You don’t see how this is offensive? Thanks for contributing to the status quo.

Emily H floats a rape joke theory:

Most of these cartoons are tasteless and unfunny, but I don’t buy “this really happens to women, so it’s not funny” as a critique. Most dark humor is about things that “really happen” to somebody; otherwise it wouldn’t be very dark. There are lots of jokes out there about cancer, getting fired, racism going to jail, the U.S. torturing people, and so on. Such a joke isn’t necessarily funny to someone who has experienced one of those things, or has a knee-jerk reaction to hearing about it, but we don’t say for that reason that jokes like that should be banned. It would be absurd to say jokes can only deal with things that are “funny” when they happen in real life — what would be left? Cats riding on roombas?

When a joke deals with a dark topic, its funniness depends on whether the joker has developed a persona that fits the material, and the grace and skill which which they tell the joke. It does NOT depend on whether the topic is light and cheerful.

“Bob, when you have a 15% risk of being raped or sexually assaulted in your lifetime – the way women in America do – come back and we’ll talk.” Everyone on earth has a %100 risk of dying someday; some of the funniest jokes are about death. Of course the two things aren’t the same, since death is inevitable but rape should be prevented. And I’m not saying everyone should “lighten up” about Woods’ crappy cartoons. I am saying that funny rape jokes are funny, unfunny ones aren’t.

But I’ve got my own theories:

I do personally find some rape jokes funny. Reactions to jokes are often very personal, of course, so they will vary person to person. But personally, I don’t find this particular rape joke funny because it depicts such a common thing to happen to women on college campuses.

The joke here is in the comic strip’s “edginess”; the punchline is in the absurdity of the fact that a guy would use “she was drunk” as an excuse for sexually assaulting her. If you look at campus rape statistics, however, that position is not extreme at all; alcohol-assisted sexual assault is actually quite common on college campuses. So what Woods gives us is a pretty standard depiction of campus sexual assault, but there’s no added “funny” there to make it a joke. It’s just what happens to women.

Compare that to the Onion headline, “Raped Environment Led Polluters On, Defense Attorneys Argue.” This joke takes a common situation for sexual assault victims (people arguing that the rape was her fault) and reveals the absurdity of that scenario by placing it in a new context. Now that’s a rape joke.

People who favor the “but it’s edgy” school of rape comedy might then say that Woods’ joke is funny *because* it is offensive; the comic strip may not itself contain any humor, but it’s extreme and edgy and therefore funny because people find rape jokes offensive. I do think that the inherent offensiveness in rape jokes plays a part in why the well-crafted ones are so funny—”Raped Environment Led Polluters On, Defense Attorneys Argue” is funny because it’s clever while being a little bit taboo. But in jokes that aren’t funny, the “edgy” argument is basically just saying that sexual assault of women is inherently funny because it’s so awful. I don’t buy that. And because this is something that happens to so many women, taking the position that making rape jokes is inherently funny tends to alienate a large portion of your audience.

Richard differentiates between jokes that are simply “anti-PC” and those which effectively critique “PC culture”:

I think the point about Andrew’s cartoons about whether they are objectively offensive or not is missing the point. You are correct in saying that a politically correct culture can became overbearing because its really difficult many things of value that will not offend someone.

With that in mind, what I think the really valid criticism of Andrew Wood’s cartoon is that they function as neither a strong critique of PC culture nor the situations they depict. Really, I think they are purposely trying to offend people to fulfill some hope by Andrew to be edgy and anti-PC. When are purposely trying to offend people for the sake of offending them rather than perhaps upending some belief you think is invalid, I think it is disingenuous to then argue that those people are stuck up and just trying to be political correct.

I am trying to avoid going to long, but I think a really good example of this distinction is between the shows Chapelle’s Show and Mind of Mercia. Chapelle certainly did many things on his show that were certainly politically incorrect, but they served the purpose of breaking down or ridiculing racial stereotypes. Mercia on the other hand did not seem to have a goal other than trying to get you to appreciate how he was fighting political correctness by reviving stereotypes.

On some of your general gender arguments, I think the point is that on a macro-level women face a series of barriers that are generally tougher than the ones men face. I think this forum and others is not just a place for women to complain, but rather confront and constructively deal with these barriers.

On this same point, I think you misunderstand the sense of external blame that these are other articles are arguing exist. These cultural forces function in a very concrete way a lot of the time, which is why for example we are discussing a specific cartoon rather than the concept of rape cartoons.

April thinks women who don’t like rape cartoons should just stop bitching and not read their student newspaper:

I think people should chill out about his cartoons. It is just humor, everyone has their own taste. If you dont like it then don’t read it. Yeah they are about serious topics, but there are a lot of jokes made on serious topics. I like andrew a lot and enjoy his personality and quirkiness. I am a woman and I don’t feel disrespected. Gees, everyone is acting as if he is a horrible person. Im sure everyone has made a joke that doesn’t “respect” to whom you made it toward. Everyone needs to just get over it and stop bitching.

While ellen is beginning to have mixed feelings about this whole Real World phenomenon:

This guy creeped me out the second he appeared on the screen. I knew I REALLY disliked him when he took a picture of the girls’ breasts instead of their faces… and was even more appalled when the girls laughed it off. I’ve been an avid watcher of The Real World for a long time (shoot me), and have consistently said I’d get along with everyone on the show… I’d be the “mediator”. But this guy… oh my gosh. I’d have to leave the house within an hour of being around him.