Rape Jokes (Part 1): Education

Over the past few days there has been an uproar in the media over the topic of “rape jokes.”  I’ve surfed through about a billion blog posts discussing the issue and I even took some time to brush up on feminism and rape culture. After all of that, I found one quote at Shakesville.com that indirectly sums up my feelings on rape jokes:

“Rape culture is ‘nothing’ being the most frequent answer to a question about what people have been formally taught about rape.”

Yeah.  I believe that.  It’s a very poignant and interesting statement.

And I’d like to add:

What have you been formally taught about jokes?

Nothing.
Zero.
Nada.

At best, the general public has no education on the topic of “rape” or “jokes.”  And, yet, everyone seems to have an opinion when it comes to “rape jokes.” An emotional, uneducated, uninformed opinion.

Really?!?  Everyone?  Not one person has thrown their hands in the air and said, “I don’t have a lot of information on the topic of humor, so I can’t speak on this subject in any meaningful way.”

Comedy is an extensive field that has been studied for hundreds of years and still remains a mystery.  Lack of proof prevents ideas about comedy from growing legs and emerging from the pools of theory and evolving into fact. Scientists can’t even begin to explain why Person X will laugh at a joke and Person Y will not.

But, every voice I hear on the topic of “rape jokes” seems to have it all figured out.  They speak with a know-it-all arrogance about jokes.  They self-righteously knight themselves crusaders against some monster they can’t even identify.

As a means to give their opinions weight, bloggers will announce their credentials:
“I have a degree in Gender and Women Studies, so I think I can speak on this topic.”
“I’m an expert in censorship and intellectual freedom, so I think I can speak on this topic.”

On the topic of jokes?  No.  Sorry.

Your degree in Volcanology doesn’t qualify you to talk about lava cake.

Where is your knowledge about jokes?  The history of jokes?  Shouldn’t people be developing an opinion after careful consideration of ALL the available information?  Why aren’t people reading up on joke structure and humor theory?  Why don’t the philosophies of Freud or Henri Bergson enter into the conversation?

Why are people’s opinions about comedy fueled more by their feelings and less by their knowledge?  Why are people so protective (read: defensive) of their uninformed opinions about comedy?

Are rape jokes funny?  Can they be funny? Maybe it’s time to calm down, have a breath, and say, “I don’t know.”

That’s better.

And, if you don’t know, maybe you don’t need to.  In the end, you have the privilege of reacting to “rape jokes” in any manner you like, good or bad, for no reason at all.  No one needs to agree with you.  And you shouldn’t need them to, either.