So @mistressmatisse tweeted (I’ve unpacked her link for better readability):

This is best article I’ve ever read on rape jokes: when they are funny, and when they are not, and why, with examples. How To Make A Rape Joke

I share her sentiments. It’s a great article, by Lindy West at Jezebel. I’ve always been a free speech absolutist who is nonetheless (1) opposed to people being hurtful dicks when they flap their gums and (2) quite capable of being an oblivious, hurtful dick when I flap my gums. West does a very nice job of explaining how (and how not) to exercise the freest of speech while remaining decent and humane.

I struggled with my word choices in the paragraph above, though. It’s that word “hurtful” — I don’t mean it quite literally. I mean something like “inflicting emotional pain”, yes. But avoiding that infliction, in my taxonomy of values, doesn’t cut too many onions when ranked against the importance of making one’s points, be they serious or funny or both. Some onions, yes; but not too many. Lindy West, though, talks about hurtful speech as if it’s literally harmful, like a blowtorch or a beating:

If you’re a comic performing to a reasonably full room, there’s a pretty good chance that at least one person in the audience has been sexually assaulted. If you didn’t know that, fine, now you do. Congrats. So when you make a joke in that room that trivializes rape or mocks rape victims, you are deliberately (because now you know!) harming those people. On purpose. Not because you’re a rapist—you’re probably not—but because you’re selfish and amateurish and lazy and scared.

It’s the one thing in an excellent article that I strongly disagree with. Because, no. Those people were harmed by their rapists. Of course it’s dickish to tell a joke that’s oblivious to that harm, or uncaring with respect to it; but we shouldn’t misplace responsibility for it by placing the responsibility on the shitty comedian who tells that joke.

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