Jokes, Ctd.

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Last week, in reference to Louis CK, I wrote:


I think that last joke exhibits what I'm talking about. It sounds like a statement about women, but in fact the absurdism of the claim reveals CK's on-stage persona as the joke's target. Very few people would (publicly) claim that there are "good reasons" for rape. Many people on the other hand, do believe, and do publicly claim, as Tracy Morgan said, that gay people are not "born this way," that anti-gay bullying is insignificant, and that if gays can "take a dick up the ass...they can take a joke." Moreover, those people tend to hold political power in states like Tennessee.

This caused a stir in comments, as well as over at Shakesville. I continued my argument in comments, but didn't really persaude anyone. I think it's worth airing this out a bit. Here's a letter I received objecting, which I think presents the problem fairly well:

I'm an occasional reader, which is a source of sadness to me since I enjoy reading your work every time I return. The fact that I enjoy your writing and read it far too rarely makes me feel rather badly about the fact that I'm writing you now with a criticism, but such is the world. Hopefully it reassures you that at least I think that you are--for the vast majority of the time--thoughtful, insightful, introspective, and culturally astute. That's part of the reason that a particular post stands out, though. 

 I just read your column about Louis CK's response to Tracy Morgan and I found your analysis to be deeply problematic. For the record, I think that the CK joke is really, really funny, but with one caveat - it assumes that we're in a post-rape world. And so did you. The joke, and your comments on it, come from the assumption that rape is always bad, that there is no just reason for it, and that this is an opinion shared by the majority of people. 

Now, if this is the world that Louis CK lives in and that you live in then I am very, very jealous of you. I don't think that you're intentionally saying anything hurtful or that you would ever deliberately erase the lived experience of any other person, so I'm not angry with you, but I do think that this column demonstrates a blind spot as to how pervasive rape is in our culture. 



As a survivor of rape, it's not infrequent that I'm asked what I did, blamed for my own assaults because I had consensual sex with the individuals before they assaulted me (although my situation was exactly that which CK described - they wanted to and I didn't), or accused of being hysterical when I calmly point out that rape is a problem in our society. This is the experience of many of my friends as well. 

The joke would be funny if a large number of people didn't think that women have rape coming to them when they don't want to have sex but, unfortunately for myself and for many people I know, we've lived the reality of rape, and your world is different from ours. I was disappointed to see that you actually believed that rape isn't a big enough problem to warrant careful consideration in its discussion. 

 Sure, Louis CK's joke is based off of the fact that people who feel that way are repugnant, and it's the kind of joke that I would make privately, but publicly you absolutely have to account for the fact that there are a lot of people who will laugh at that because they think that what he says is actually correct and no one has the courage to say it. 

 This is part of why I have little patience for humor that is "dark and edgy" - usually that kind of humor comes at the expense of people who are less-than in society. Even if they come from someone who thinks that they are making the jokes at the expense of bigots, our society hasn't advanced to the point where we don't rape women or beat gay people; that kind of humor, rather than being something edgy, simply echoes the views of the majority of people, and there is nothing more establishment than, wittingly or unwittingly, mocking those who are already down. I can't condone that, and I have a hard time believing that you are so unaware of the reality of rape in our culture. I expect more from you because you give it nine times out of ten. Perhaps you can rethink this?

I did, and I still disagreed. But rather than step on this comment by rehashing my thoughts from last week, I want to turn this over to the floor.

As always, do me a favor and be kind. If you find yourself typing out of anger, walk away, have a drink and come back later. This is a really sensitive issue that should not be handled with kid gloves, but should be handled with a modicum of respect. Don't be an idiot.

The actual deployment of the joke is below.



MORE: Here's the second clip, which I erroneously posted first. My bad. I have no idea about the creative process here. I'm not sure whether one proceeds from the other.


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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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