Rape jokes in popular culture: breach of consent is no fun in any context
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Trigger Warning: mentions of rape and sexual violence
When the concept, the action or just the word ‘grated‘is used with the intention of crafting a comedic script, this is called a rape joke. Such use undermines the severity of the rape, as well as the trauma of the survivors. There are many ways that rape is used as a comedic trope in movies and television. This includes both overt and covert ways of including it to cause laughter.
Explicitness depends on the target audience, the time of publication, the nature of the material and, most importantly, the directness of the act itself and the gender of the victim and the perpetrator. The rationale is that these are just jokes and joking about something doesn’t mean you approve of it, which may be true for some people who indulge in this kind of humor. However, when such humor is engaged, it ends up downplaying the crime, if not rightly justifying it.
While it is true that in recent years creators have intentionally tried to be attentive to their content, most continue to use rape jokes for shocking purposes, sometimes in the name of black humor. . But even in progressive content, creators tend to slip away. Jokes about non-consensual sexual situations always struggle to be recognized as rape jokes. If a sexual situation involves coercion, unequal power dynamics, emotional or psychological blackmail, a person being unable to give consent or otherwise, it cannot be portrayed in a light and humorous context..
Even movies and shows that approach sexual assault in a nuanced way sometimes tend to obscure or outright ridicule survivors. Male survivors abused by women, as well as trans and non-binary survivors are especially ignored or used for comic relief. This trend does not of course come out on an isolated screen in society. As a society, we tend to validate rape jokes and continue to give them space. Traditional popular culture still uses tropes that normalize rape jokes and tell us to let them go because it is “just entertainment‘and not to be taken too seriously.
When rape as an act itself becomes the joke
In some films, rape is used as a joke on its own without even the slightest recognition that it is seriously problematic. This is one of the most straightforward ways to joke about rape and perhaps the most harmful. While other forms of rape humor are unmistakably flawed, they at least seem to realize that it is inappropriate to use rape for laughs, an attempt to sidestep the directness. The direct use of rape for humor is more offensive because it knowingly tolerates rape in the name of black humor.
For example, Grand Masti, an Indra Kumar film is based almost entirely on misogyny, but one line stands out. The protagonist, played by Vivek Oberoi, sees a report on gang rape and says: “Speaking of rape, where is my wife?This is particularly in bad taste because of the legal vacuum on marital rape in India and the high incidence of intimate partner violence. The fact that something as violent as gang rape is used to build a crude joke is almost unbelievably callous.
The “player” who cheats on women to put them to bed
Most popular cultural accounts of gang of friends portray a male character who objective and cheat on women into bed and is proud of his many sexual conquests. He is generally encouraged by other characters, especially other men. The group continues to support him despite suspicions that he may be having sex on the basis of manipulated consent. His conquests are used to reinforce the comic emphasis.
In the popular series how I Met Your Mother, created by Carter Bays and Craig Thomas, after Barney’s character spent the night with a woman, his friend asks him if the woman knows he did, and the usual mass laughter from sitcoms plays background. This reinforces the harmful notion that sexual activity is being practiced To women rather than with them.
The “romantic gesture” of forcing themselves on their love interest
In the 2004 Bollywood movie Hum Tum, the protagonist played by Saif Ali Khan, strongly embraces his love Rani Mukherjee because they are arguing and he wants her to stop talking. This reinforces the gender power dynamic by normalizing that it is allowed to do anything without waiting for consent.
To make matters worse, this occurs in a scenario where she had explicitly rejected his advances earlier. They end up together in the climax of the film. While not a rape, it still clears the consent line. Romanticizing this behavior also normalizes other types of similar activities like stalking, in the name of romance.
Read also : Your rape joke isn’t funny, period.
Rape as a sexual adventure
This is when the abuser, usually a cisgender man, rapes a woman and sees it as a victory. It also reiterates the nefarious idea that women are just trophies for men – under their control, to satiate their egos and provide sexual gratification, regardless of the consequences for them.
The character of Matt Damon, in Ocean’s 13, the “innocentThe heroine of the film, she drugs Ellen Barkin and takes advantage of her drunkenness. This is justified in the film because Matt Damon is not attracted to her and distracts her in order to hold up his boss. That doesn’t make it passable because sexual harassment is sexual harassment regardless of the intent.
When rape is used as a punchline
In the Bollywood blockbuster 3 idiots, Aamir Khan plays pranks on the character of Omi Vaidya by modifying the text of his speech so that he ends up repeating several times that the principal has raped many people in the institution. This farce is also meant to be a moral lesson. While they don’t directly tolerate rape, they still downplay its seriousness and poke fun at the survivors by making a punchline of it.
The trivialization of sexual assault on men
Patriarchal notions of gender place male survivors of sexual abuse as weak when they acknowledge their trauma. Their weakness then becomes a trope to create humor.
One of the more surprising names on this list is Schitt Creek, a show known for its progressive storytelling. However, in the pilot, Sarah Levy’s character implies that her brother is frequently raped in prison, which is meant to be a joke. While the show never repeats such a joke, it is essential to see how deeply rooted the patriarchy is, even in the most liberal of circles.
When sexual assault by women goes unchallenged
Sexual assaults by men are often ridiculed because women are not seen as strong enough to physically restrain a man, and sexual assault on women by other women is fetishized.
In Wedding crashes, Isla Fisher handcuffs Vince Vaughn and assaults him as he repeatedly asks her to stop. Later, he falls in love with her ”confidence“, and they end up together. The film treats it as an experimental sexual activity, even though his consent is clearly violated. Many have praised the scene, saying it was refreshing to see a woman instigate the comedy rather than the punchline Of course women should have that opportunity onscreen, but no one, regardless of gender, should be acting a comedy about sexual assault.
Sometimes rape by women is also seen as a takeover by women rather than a violation. For example, Bridgerton has been praised by feminists for focusing on female pleasure. Meanwhile, the series finale shows Rege-Jean Page asking Phoebe Dynevor to stop during sex, and she refuses because he lied to her about her infertility so they don’t have to. to have children. While he is wrong and she has every right to be angry, she has no right to assault him. This kind of representation is not a step forward in the movement for parity and justice.
Rape comedy continues to take its place in popular culture in both overt and covert ways. It has survived for so long because society is so deeply rooted in patriarchal norms that the concept of consent and the true seriousness of its violation have still not been recognized.
Additionally, our society is still built around power structures that create gender roles that are continually reinforced and perpetuated by movies and TV series. It can be said that art only imitates life, but when art imitates life without any criticism, it contributes to the stagnation and strengthening of power dynamics and gender violence. Even creators who realize this shouldn’t be laughed at still don’t understand how many ways there are breaches of consent every day. We need to realize that violence in any form is not funny, and something as traumatic as rape cannot, in any context, be funny.
Read also : Is the joke on you? Let Me Laugh: About Being a Killjoy Feminist
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