Sunday, 25 January 2009

bad jokes

i've been listening to radio nz national off and on over the summer (more off than on, i must say). in the afternoons, matinee idle tries to do some funny stuff, particular with the songs. they also have a comedic track playing every morning.

as i say, i haven't listened to much of this stuff, but one afternoon not so long ago, simon morris & the other guy played a song called "bad jokes". and sure enough, one of the bad jokes in the song was (i'm paraphrasing): "why do we use the term PMS? because 'mad cow disease' was already taken". there were a couple of others about women that were just as wonderful, and we were supposed to laugh at them because they were bad jokes. except, when they said the one i've quoted, a huge cheer went up from whatever audience they were playing to.

one particular morning, they had the guy who hosts that programme on tv3 with lots of models in gold dresses (something with the word "deal" in the title?). and if he didn't go raving on about the models breasts and how they kept them in their dresses. followed up by some stuff about how stupid they all were.

i remember seeing a stand-up comedy routine by chris rock on tv one night, which was so full of sexist crap that i just had to turn it off. and our own homegrown guys are just as much fun, including what i've seen of mike king & that andrew whoever, when they do stand up.

i am just so sick of being expected to take this all as a joke. i'm sick of being expected to laugh at stuff that is basically degrading. i'm sick of comedy having to be "un-PC" to be funny, when i know it doesn't have to be that way at all. i know it doesn't because i've watched (at about 11pm, when such things are usually broadcast) ellen degeneres do an hour of stand up, and have me in stitches, without being rude about anybody at all. i've seen seinfeld do it, i've heard bill cosby do it. it may be that these people, at some point in their career, have done objectionable stuff (at least, objectionable to me). but the fact is that they can be really funny without hating on women (or black people or whatever). i won't say "it's not hard", because i don't know, maybe it is. but it is possible.

i certainly expect better of our national radio station. i should be able to listen without having to hear such crap. can i just say that i'm so glad that we're getting back to regular programming from this week?

and just when i finish writing this, i see someone else is pissed off about a similar sort of thing.

58 comments:

hungrymama said...

I always feel with comedy that you can always poke fun at yourself or people like you but you have to tread ultra-carefully if you want to make jokes about other groups. And the best comedy comes with lots of empathy and a good heart.

I wonder if it is significant that the I-am-not-a-bot word for this post is "spermfun".

lovestitches said...

Sometimes it seems like the funniest joke a man can tell (funny to him) is that a woman must have PMS because she's being grumpy. We can be grumpy for other reasons.

Bad jokes, offensive jokes make people laugh, they sell tockets and make money so there will always be people lowering the bar.

Anna said...

Ī think you're absolutely right about the un-PC thing - its the last refuge of rednecks. People who just never coped with the idea of sharing the world hospitably with women/gays/other ethnicities dignify their views by portraying themselves as un-PC challengers of the oppressive status quo that won't let us have fun anymore. Whatever. Actually, women and fat people are two of the last groups people can make fun of relatively freely.

Carol said...

Oh I just haven't listened to those 2 un-funny guys on Nat Rad over this summer. They just lap up this kind of feminist criticism BTW. Best to ignore them - they are boring and irrelevant IMO.

I don't know why Nat Rad has to go to an irrelevant summer programme.

I watch Al Jazeera on Triangle in the morning, with a little of Morning/Summer Report on Nat Rad in between. Then there's the (shadow-of-its-former-self) BBC World Service and various alternatives on the Internet.

I agree humour doesn't have to be non/anti-"PC" to be funny. In fact I think the whole anti-PC line of both humour and serious comment is now tired and dated. There are now alternatives to having to put up with such stuff, with the range of media outlets available.

My hope is if enough of us ignore those 2 boring guys on Nat Rad, they'll go away.

Giovanni said...

I'm with you every step of the way on Simon Morris and the other guy. I do have a certain amount of respect for Chris Rock, though, as well as Bill Maher - to mention another politically incorrect character with some material that could be characterised as anti-women (although I think it would be simplistic). I'm not a woman, so feel free to be sceptical of my not taking offence, but did watch Maher's excellent Victory Begins at Home - which had a bit about what he calls "the feminisation of society" - with my rather staunch partner and other than muttering at one point "he has some issues, doesn't he?" she didn't dismiss him out of hand.

But I'm not saying that there needs to be an intelligent framing for potentially offensive material to be acceptable in comedy either - sometimes offending can be a glorious thing unto itself, like in the famous Aristocrats joke. It's what comedy does, and has a place I think. Whether you'd label one as a nasty, racist and mysoginist comedian (I'm looking at you, Mike King), or as a bloody genius and a credit to the human race (I'm looking at you, George Carlin) will be a matter of personal interpretation.

Alison said...

I've been watching a lot of Tim Minchin's comedy recently - he takes the approach of inhabiting a persona for many of his comic songs, one of which is sung from the POV of a guy who owns a blow-up doll. Given the rest of his humour, my understanding is that he's making fun of the sexist and controlling attitudes of the doll's owner, but the same thing applies - the crack about PMS gets a huge response. I'm always amazed to see how many people enjoy his comedy while completely missing the fact that he's making fun of their attitudes, not espousing them himself.

stargazer said...

i'd never heard of bill maher until i read shakesville. i've never heard any comedy by him, so all i know is that the people at shakesville think him a total douchebag. a couple of examples:

http://shakespearessister.blogspot.com/2007/10/dont-be-this-guy.html

http://shakespearessister.blogspot.com/2008/11/bill-maher-still-douche.html

if the links don't come through, just go to the shakesville blog & run a search on his name. i have to say that i agree with them on a couple of counts:

1. when guys on the left, the supposed liberals, spout this shit, then it's much harder for women on the left to get themselves taken seriously.

2. just because you have something decent to say on a variety of political issues doesn't make it ok for you to make people laugh by putting down women.

i can see that i might be seen as oversensitive. but honestly, when you have to put up with this crap every which way you turn, it gets really hard to just shrug it off.

Giovanni said...

Wow, the first link you've got there is one of the most egregious examples of totally missing the point of a joke I've ever come across! And the second one is, well, pretty lame really. Feel free to take these guys' opinion over mine and not waste any of your time on Maher, by all means, plus I welcome the fact that he has detractors - it's something he obviously invites with his work. But in the humble opinion of this correspondent Real Time is still one of the most intelligent shows on (American) television, and Victory Begins at Home is still a most provocative (in the best sense of the word) show, as was the book version, If you Ride Alone You Ride with Bin Laden. I didn't agree with a good fifty per cent of their content, but I could never accuse them of being cheap, gratuitously offensive or insincere.

Not wishing to derail the thread any further.

Brett Dale said...

Seinfeld and Ellen are great, I really loved Ricky Gervais and the office, and his take on UNPC humor.

Ive been in Offices, when someone has told a joke that shouldn't have been told, its just so awkward.

You really cant go pass the genius of Andy Kaufman and George Carlin either.

notafeminist said...

Giovanni: Apart from trivialising rape (and I'm not sure how anyone thinks that that's OK), they haven't missed the point at all. I'm sure that there are many jokes involving rape that are funny, but I assure you that those jokes are funny for the victims and not for the rapists.

Just like if you're gonna make gay jokes, it better be funny for gay people. If you're going to make jokes about Maori, they have to think it is funny. Otherwise it isn't humour; it's just using your power to trample on people who don't need any more trampling. And that's the furthest thing from 'edgy', it's just doing exactly what most people do.

And I totally agree on Ellen, she is hysterical. She seems to manage it without demeaning anyone. Actually, my friends have me rolling on the floor sometimes, and they similarly don't have to imply that black people will assault you to be funny. Why are offensive people well-received?

Because they affirm the present power imbalance, and for many of us who are lucky enough to be on the larger side of this imbalance, that makes us feel good. And it shouldn't.

Giovanni said...

Apart from trivialising rape (and I'm not sure how anyone thinks that that's OK), they haven't missed the point at all. I'm sure that there are many jokes involving rape that are funny, but I assure you that those jokes are funny for the victims and not for the rapists.

I happen to have seen that episode of Real Time, and the joke was clearly at Old Spice's expense - not at rape victims. It was about how the fragrance of good old times may not be necessarily something to be longed for, since we know that the good old times weren't all that good, especially for women.

And I'm not going to make any friends here, but of course it's okay to make jokes about rape. Sarah Silverman does it, doesn't she? Ellen maybe doesn't, and you may find her un-offensive, but I'm much more offended by her selling herself out to Visa (and attempting to sell me to said company) than I am about anything that Silverman has done. And I'll take any half hour of Silverman of Maher, or any five seconds of Carlin, over a liftetime's worth of Ellen's comedy specials. (To me she falls in the Whoopy Goldberg category, the self-styled edgy comedian who is so not edgy it's not funny - literally.)

A thinking comedian is always better than an un-thiking one. My father died of a heart attack, it's a painful subject for me, but I can take jokes about heart attacks. And he was molested by a priest as a young man, but I can take jokes about the catholic church and its merry ways, so long as they are made by a thinking comedian. There are a lot of feminist and non-feminist progressive comedians out there and guess what, some of them are offensive.

Brett Dale said...

You would take the humor of Sarah Silverman aimed at preteens males over the genius of Carlin?

One of the most offensives things I have is on the programme Bro Town, one of the so called funny lines was the father said to the mother "Im going to put my fist into your face"

Pretty tasteless if you ask me.

notafeminist said...

I'm willing to believe jokes can be funny about pretty much anything - but context matters. It really, really matters.

If rape was treated the same as any other type of crime, I guess I could stomach jokes about it (but only if the joke was funny for the victim). But it isn't. Police spend more time telling women to live in a bubble than trying to educate people to respect women's bodies. Newspapers seem to think that reporting on what a rape victim was wearing is a relevant part of journalism. Women everywhere are terrified of reporting rape for a million reasons, one of which happens to be that "Stop rape! Say yes!" happens to make some people laugh.

Rape jokes which are offensive are off-limits because we are yet to see it as a real problem. "Rape fantasy" sex is a significant part of the pornographic industry. How can we think we're ready to treat rape the way we do with this kind of climate? When 1 in 7 young Australian boys think that it's ok to force a girl to have sex if she's been flirting, how can we turn around and say "Beer before Liquor makes the panties come off quicker!" or "No means no! Well maybe if I'm drunk LOL!"? Is a rape victim going to laugh at these? Hardly. Is a rapist?

If anyone's gonna make a rape joke, they'd better understand that who's laughing makes all the difference.

Because of this, I don't understand how a thinking comedian, or any person with the ability of simple thought could make a rape joke. Thinking comedians understand that rape jokes can really screw some people up; thinking human beings wouldn't make rape jokes to score cheap laughs and a few bucks.

So that's why I can go through an entire South Park episode and not crack a smile, but Ellen Degeneres has me howling.

(And the worst thing anyone can say right now is "Jesus Christ, it's a joke! Lighten up!")

Giovanni said...

Rape jokes which are offensive are off-limits because we are yet to see it as a real problem.

It's how you define that offensiveness that is the issue. I found the joke made by Maher at issue quite appropriate, but I'm not claiming to be the official international measuring standard of course.

If anyone's gonna make a rape joke, they'd better understand that who's laughing makes all the difference.

Excellently put.

Thinking comedians understand that rape jokes can really screw some people up

A lot of things are offensive and hurtful to a lot of people. But since comedy is a means of talking about things, negating that particular means on matter what, it seems to me, diminishes the culture's ability to comprehend a problem. I would say that as a society America was made richer by Lenny Bruce and George Carlin. And they did offend a whole lot of people.

Giovanni said...

On the other hand... stupid? sexist? Stargazer must be referring to 'my' Prime Minister.

Anonymous said...

"No one has the right not to be offended." - Quote by John Cleese.

Grow a thicker skin, most jokes at some stage will be offensive to some one.

Alison said...

Ah, the old "get a sense of humour" chestnut. That's a new one. No, really.

Humour is not universal. It doesn't need to be. At the same time, blindsiding victims of rape and sexual assault with jokes about what happened to them - lacks empathy at best.

Anonymous said...

Alison, what right do you have not to be offended? Of course humour is not universal, of course not everyone is going to be empathetic get over it!

Hugh said...

You know what I really hate? Jokes, invariably by female comedians, about men being grossed out by menstruation. When a girl talks about some guy she knows who barfs at the sight of a tampon, it always gets a big laugh. Maybe I'm just living in a bubble but I've never met one of these guys.

Alison said...

I agree Hugh - but then I hate lazy comedy that relies on stereotypes. There's plenty left to laugh about without relying on putting people in tight little boxes.

Anonymous, what are you on about? Where did I say I had a right not to be offended? There's plenty of offensively lousy comedy that I couldn't care less about. I just don't watch it.

But I'm not talking about offense in regards to rape jokes, I'm talking about flat out trauma.

Jokes about rape do two things in particular; they trivialise something which is very often deeply serious to the people who've experienced it (and since it's usually men who joke about it, there's could be a perceived layer of threat involved in doing so) and they potentially traumatise people who've experienced it. That's a very different matter to making a joke about something that half the audience thinks is just plain unfunny.

And you know what? If I'm going to pay to go and see a comedian, it's in the hope that I'm going to hear something new and interesting. Rape jokes are callous, but they're also largely rather unoriginal.

Danielle said...

I must now have a moment where I freak out about how much Bill Maher pisses me off.

ARGH!!!

OK, that was the moment. :)

The problem with Maher is that he does have some really good things to say, politically, and so you'll be all 'heh, that's pretty funny', and then someone mentions something to do with women and he becomes an absolutely egregious, patronising, essentialist asshole practically *instantaneously*. I've been watching him for about a decade now and he never lets up. I have quite a few armchair psychology theories about him actually... something to do with him doing the same things over and over again (like exclusively dating porn actresses or strippers) and expecting different, non-damaging results... yeah. Anyway, that bit about the 'feminisation of America' is so fucking irritating it makes me want to stab someone (I know, I know, 'it's not OK').

In general, I'm all about the context with humour, and I don't think anything is particularly off-limits. There is something truly hilarious about a comedian playing up their own psychotic enragement or their own gruesome, profanity-laced self-loathing (see Lewis Black, George Carlin, Louis CK, Patton Oswalt...), but that smug 'take my wife, please!' shit? Maher should be cleverer than that. It's so tired and hackneyed. 'Women are like THIS! Men are like THIS! Women are STUPID! Their concerns are DUMB!' Where are we, the Catskills in the 50s?

Erm, yeah. This is one of my 'things'. Obviously. ;)

notafeminist said...

Anon: I wish I lived in your world, where you can spring up the magic words "Get over it" and suddenly no one is traumatised by a comedian's lack of basic empathy.

Unfortunately, in the world I live in, rape is terrifying, and "get thicker skin" doesn't quite work to dispel that terror.

Moreover, if these were jokes that implicitly or explicitly degraded homosexuals, they could have (and they definitely do have) an effect on young queer teens. And it is in this sort of environment that suicides happen. "Grow a thicker skin" is the last thing such rangatahi need to hear; we need to be telling them to not be afraid of seeking help, rather than telling them to be ashamed of needing it.

My ex-partner was raped as a very young child; often it was the mere mention of rape that could take him back to that day, trap him, and make him relive it all. Years of therapy has improved him, but not by much. It is a cold-blooded human being who could ever trivialise the pain that he suffers everyday. If you ever got near him and told him "get over it" you would be contributing to the further destruction of his mental wellbeing. Please don't have this kind of attitude towards rape - it actually does damage.

One day, society will take rape seriously as no-fault traumatic violent assault. Until that day, nearly all rape jokes are off limits. And when that day comes, people will have the brains not to make rape jokes in the first place.

Hugh: Menstruation-phobia jokes also suck because they reinforce the idea that women ought to be ashamed of their bodily processes, and that they certainly shouldn't talk about them. Odd, because I thought a rather large amount of the world experiences menstruation fairly regularly...

Hugh said...

Menstruation-phobia jokes also suck because they reinforce the idea that women ought to be ashamed of their bodily processes, and that they certainly shouldn't talk about them.

That's not quite the impression I've got. Most of the comedians who make these kinds of jokes seem to be approaching it more from the perspective of 'god, men are such wimps they can't cope with a little bit of blood', not 'men are quite right to be appalled by menstruation because it's disgusting'.

Giovanni said...

I share your pain, Danielle, but... you have been following Maher for ten years, haven't you? And I don't imagine it's because you enjoy aiming shoes at the telly. The fifty per cent of what comes of his mouth that doesn't make you want to scream (sexism, the clash of civilisations, praising Berlusconi...) is well worth it. I wish I could say the same of less offensive comedians, is my point.

Julie said...

Maybe I have a weird sense of humour, but one of the funniest jokes I ever heard was a short quip about SH1 (and 2). It was all about the delivery, the timing, the atmosphere, which the comedian (a Canadian bloke, can't remember his name sorry, was at the Comedy Festival a couple of years ago) employed.

I don't expect to like, or find funny, ever joke I ever hear. Different strokes and all that. Humour based on hating isn't that great though, in my book.

Azlemed said...

http://www.stuff.co.nz/4830015a1860.html to add to the debate... check out italys prime minister getting into trouble for rape comments

Anonymous said...

Notafeminist; can you not see, that by getting offended and hurt by jokes you don't agree with you're re-victimizing yourself. What happened to you in the past may well have been traumatic, but if you keep on re-victimizing yourself, you will not be able to move on with your life.

Put the past behind you!

I really do object to people like yourself, who continue to re-victim themselves and then subject the rest of society with demands on how we should and shouldn't behave because you might get offended.

Get over yourself!

You are responsible for how you feel and what happens to you, don't put that responsibility on to other people.

Stop being a victim!

Alison said...

Anonymous, "victim" doesn't mean what you seem to think it means.

Anonymous said...

Alison, what does victim mean then?

notafeminist said...

"You are responsible for how you feel and what happens to you, don't put that responsibility on to other people."

Actually, I somehow thought that you are not responsible for being raped.

This bullshit about victims needing to get over it is a bit old. People recover in their own time. People do not get raped one day and then laugh about it the next. We need to support each other when some awful like this happens, not say "Get over it, it's not that big a deal, don't make us moderate our insensitivity for you."

In the end though, it just comes down to how much of a big jerk you are. I wouldn't make an insensitive rape joke because it might seriously fuck someone up, but if you don't care about people enough I guess that's not a problem for you. I don't make jokes about people being short, or fat, or brown, or poor, or anything like that, because I'm not a dick. I could tell them to get over it, but I'm not a dick.

You obviously are very keen for people to flick their personal "Over it" switch. Can you please tell me where this is? I'm incredibly interested.

Anonymous said...

Notafeminist; if you want to get on with your life you need to accept responsibility for yourself, that means accepting responsibility for your feelings, actions and what happens to you.

If you do not accept responsibility for yourself then you are handing responsibility for you to other people, and then you will become and continue to be a victim.

Do you ever wonder why some people go through great adversitiy but come through seemingly unscathed? While others fall apart? One is not a victim the other is a victim.

This is what any physcologist (well the ones that you pay good money to see) will tell you. Sorry if this seems hard nosed but thats the way it is.

Unfortunately you sound as if you get a lot from being a victim, it gives you the excuse or justification to be who you are.

How do you find the off switch? thats hard and its also easy. Find a good psycologist, one you pay for...the free ones will only tell you what you want to hear. For me something happened one day and Id just had enough.

notafeminist said...

I do not intend to let this go on much, but your assumption that I am a victim myself is unfounded - I have not suffered sexual abuse but being in this lucky position, I choose to be, you know, sympathetic.

And once again, no one is responsible for what happens to them; if part of your answer to getting over rape is accepting that you are partly at fault for it, then that's bull.

Also, if you'd like to fund a good psychologist for all victims who can't afford it, that's great. I'm guessing for a lot of women who are victims of rape as part of domestic violence, they don't have this money. They're often financially dependant upon their partners, and are stuck with the children as well. I don't know a lot of people with the money to throw around on psychologists, and I don't expect women with abusive partners and children, or women who break up with their partners to have this kind of money. It is possibly the biggest non-solution I have ever heard.

I'm saying that we need to support victims getting over it in their own time and in their own way. You are saying we need to blame victims for having their lives screwed up because they can't afford expensive private mental health.

I fail to see how it is me that is making life harder for victims; further more, you are advocating that everyone overcomes sexual abuse at the same rate. Unfortunately, people are different.

Rape jokes that are in any way sympathetic to rapists or denigrating to rape victims are never OK. Regardless of how at peace you are with yourself, we should never do any kind of normalisation of rape.

Alison said...

No anonymous, it doesn't sound "hard-nosed" it sounds ignorant, and arrogant.

The below quote from you illustrates exactly how you're misunderstanding (or willfully misusing) the word victim;
"Do you ever wonder why some people go through great adversitiy but come through seemingly unscathed? While others fall apart? One is not a victim the other is a victim."

You're wrong. A victim is, in its simplest sense, any person who suffers from the actions of another. Culpability lies with the person who does harm. It doesn't matter whether the effects are immediate and physical, or lasting and emotional or mental. A person can be a victim of assault, whether they show mental and emotional effects or not.

YOU do not get to decide who is or is not a victim. YOU do not get to define what effects are "appropriate". YOU do not get to place blame for suffering back on an innocent party just because it suits you and your "hard-nosed" worldview to do so.

The after-effects of trauma are many and varied. The brain is simply far too complicated for such utterly specious generalisations as you are making to apply. There are many many factors contributing to resilience and coping as "any psychologist" could tell you, making the effects vastly different on different people. There can be many layers of fear and shame for people who have experienced sexual assault. NONE of them are the "fault" of the person experiencing them.

Julie said...

What Alison and notafeminist said.

I find this idea that we can remove ourselves from being social animals by strength of will rather odd. None of us is an island, not even bloody Ibiza, and frankly I tend to think that a person who tries to be an island probably has some mental health issues of their own to resolve.

Anonymous said...

Notafeminist, Alison & Julie. Any feelings and/or response you have are your feelings and/or response, not anyone elses feelings and/or response, and therefore your are responsible for them, irrespective what has happened to you to have that feeling and or response.

If you decide that someone else is responsible for your feelings and/or response then your are handing power over yourself to that person. this is a dificult concept to get, but when you do get it, it is considerably empowering and liberating.

Yes I was fortunate to have to money to pay for my own professional help, I only wish that the counselling I had was more freely available to those who would benifit from it.

Alison said...

And what about your feelings and responses? They're just yours, with no bearing on the rest of us too, right? No? Oh, I get it.

stargazer said...

anonymous, if i can sum up your argument, it goes something like this: "i have the perfect right to be an asshole whenever and where-ever i want. if you get offended by it, it's your own fault, so get over it"

my response to that is "sure you can be an asshole, but i will call you out for the asshole you are, and will make sure that as many people as possible recognise you're an asshole. hopefully the result will be that your audience gets smaller and smaller, til at the end you'll be a very lonesome asshole. and it will all be your own fault. get over it."

the essence of my original post, which you seem to have completely lost sight of, is that we the audience don't have to put up with this shit, and we the audience should be letting people & organisations like radio nz know that we won't be listening anymore if you keep dishing it out. it's a very simple case of supply and demand, and i'm all about reducing demand.

Hugh said...

Anon, I don't particularly like piling onto you when you are facing so much criticism, but I think you need to reduce your argument to its logical conclusion - eg, that if I stab you in the guts, the pain, fear and misery you feel will all be your own fault, not mine.

I think you're trying to make a point about thinking positively and making the decision to move on, and that is certainly valuable. But the idea that we all have the capacity to shrug off any trauma no matter how hard we try is taking this to an absurd level.

It reminds me of the 19th century school of pyschotherapy, which consisted mostly of slapping people and telling them to pull themselves together.

Generally this theory is very popular among white, heterosexual anglo-saxon males of affluent background, the sort of people are least vulnerable to trauma, and mistake their privilege for some sort of mental fortitude that others could emulate if only they tried.

Julie said...

Hugh, I so love the last paragraph of your last comment that it's resounding around inside my brain demanding I share it with others. Thanks for putting it so well.

Giovanni said...

Thanks for putting it so well.

Whereas I found it really facile and unhelpful - the kind of comment that gets an automatic “yes” response from a liberal, right thinking audience without really addressing anything. It must a white rich guy’s fault! Isn’t any old thing you can think of a white rich guy’s fault anyhow?

Which is not to say that I go along with what our friend Anon has been saying. But I’ve been trying for days to work out why this idea that ‘you can’t make jokes about rape’ bothers me so much. I find it really insidious and wrong, and feel vaguely ashamed and bothered for feeling that way.

I honestly think that the Maher Old Spice joke was a good joke, that it made a good point and that society would be a sadder place if he was censored or ostracised for having made it. Wouldn’t be the first time, incidentally, they shut down his long-running show, Politically Incorrect, after 9/11 when he dared question the rhetoric of the War on Terror. White House spokesperson Ari Fleischer said at the time: “people have to watch what they say and watch what they do”. Which is a phrase that fifteen thousand miles away and eight years later still sends shivers down my spine. And that maybe is not entirely off topic here.

But why am I defending a guy I don’t even like? And I keep going back to something that Moni Ovadia once said. Ovadia is a Jewish writer and entertainer, as well as a historian of Jewish humour and folk arts. He pointed out once that there exists a rich repertoire of jokes in Yiddish about the Holocaust, brilliant but brutal, savage jokes, told by survivors to other survivors, and that he heard some of them, but didn’t feel like he had what we’d call the mana to relay them to a theatre audience in such a vastly different context.

So perhaps that’s it: it might be okay for victims of horrible crimes to tell jokes about what they themselves suffered, to other sufferers, as a way of exorcising their experience.

Which segues nicely into the Sarah Silveraman rape joke in the Aristocrats, which leaves you for a second with the disturbing feeling that it might not be a joke at all - perhaps she really was molested by Joe Franklin? Precisely because people don’t generally joke about these things. I’m pretty sure she wasn’t, though. So... shall we lump Sarah Silverman with the people we ought to ostracise, for making facile jokes about something that might upset someone, and for what, for a cheap laugh? Unless she really was molested, if not by Joe Franklin maybe by somebody else, in which case it would be okay? Or still not okay?

Then I saw one of Ricky Gervais’ shows, it was either Fame or Politics, and his bit about Hitler and Nietzsche which is essentially one long joke about the Holocaust. And it has none of the redeeming features of those other jokes: Gervais neither a Jew, nor a survivor; no greater moral point being made for the betterment of society; no cathartic value in exorcising the horror of genocide.

Horrible, horrible man, that Ricky Gervais. Except not really. That was a great ten minutes of comedy. It was about the things we are not supposed to talk about, and what made it exceptional and subversive as opposed to facile or cheap was that he was daring to say those things himself, in front of an audience, ‘going there’, making it funny. His whole work after all is about the dehumanising force of polite conversation, of social taboos, of the things you’re not supposed to say. And comedy is just the place where you subvert that logic, which is the oppressive logic of group think and conservatism: so let comedians make jokes about whatever they like. Sometimes it will be something you yourself were a victim of, and I’d have to say: still a price worth paying.

Danielle said...

It must be a white rich guy’s fault!

I don't think that's what he was saying. It's more that the idea that victims should 'suck it up and get over it' is a mark of unexamined privilege.

My favourite Sarah Silverman bit is from her show: her one-night stand with God, who happened to be black. She couldn't work out who he was at first, though. 'Are you God's black friend?' she asked him innocently. Heh.

Also: I still want to stab Bill Maher in the eye. ;)

stargazer said...

giovanni, i see a whole lot of difference between silencing political dissent and calling out people who are degrading women (or another group of people). you talk about context, and i guess i can accept that. but the examples i gave had no context, nothing that could justify the nastiness. instead, it creates an environment that makes it ok to look down on [xyz] group, that makes it ok to keep them underprivileged or ostracised or whatever.

as far as i'm concerned, if you're going to put your work into the public sphere, then you are open to critique and criticism; and to being called out when you get it badly wrong.

Giovanni said...

I'm not disputing that, nor saying that there are no racist or mysoginist or just plain old nasty comedian - but we went from your examples to Maher and to banning jokes about rape in all instance and that way a sadder, less progressive society lies, in my most humble opinion.

Giovanni said...

It upsets me so much I've been rendered unable to form the plural of nouns, it seems.

stargazer said...

but i think this is entirely the point. that rape jokes, in our current culture, makes it easier for rapists to feel ok about what they did; makes it harder for women to report rape; makes it harder for those reporting rape to be taken seriously; makes it harder to reform rape laws so that women can have any kind of access to justice.

and mr maher makes it ok for progressive, liberal men who should be our allies to ignore the need to treat us as equals, to value our concerns and take them seriously, to build alliances that will help us in the fight for our rights.

this is why they are both bad, and why it's important for us to say they are bad and acknowledge the damage that they do.

Giovanni said...

and mr maher makes it ok for progressive, liberal men who should be our allies to ignore the need to treat us as equals, to value our concerns and take them seriously, to build alliances that will help us in the fight for our rights

I still think you're completely missing the point of the joke, which is at Old Spice (and "old society")'s expense, therefore in fact I would argue probably closely aligned to your politics. But if you're saying that it's okay to make that kind of point, so long as you don't mention rape because that in the context amounts to legitimising it, boy, we couldn't disagree more. The joke is sharper precisely because it DOES mention rape.

stargazer said...

i've never heard the old spice joke, so not particularly interested in any individual bit of his work. i'm more talking about his general attitude and tendency to use misogyny way too often, for which see danielle's first (very good) rant on the subject.

Giovanni said...

i'm more talking about his general attitude and tendency to use misogyny way too often

Funny, since you initially said you didn't know who the guy was except via shakesville.

for which see danielle's first (very good) rant on the subject.

Ah. See, you could have told me that you had come to other people's own conclusions on the thing we were talking about and therefore there was no point in arguing to merits. Could have saved me a bit of time there.

stargazer said...

umm, don't we all rely on other people's judgements, especially if it's people whose views we've agreed with in various forums or on various subjects. do i really have to sit through stuff that i'm highly likely to find objectionable and which will make me angry/upset just to make exactly the same point?

in much the same way that paul litterick "reads this stuff so you don't have to", i'd say danielle has watched this stuff so i don't have to, as have the shakesvillers.

but let's take maher's name out of it and make the point more general: when progressive, liberal men who have some wonderful views on other subjects use misogynistic humour, it makes harder for us to to build the alliances that will help us in the fight for our rights, and it makes it harder for us to get our concerns taken seriously. you can spend time arguing as to whether or not mr maher fits that description. what i'm saying is that if he does (and some people whose views i respect think he does), then what he does is wrong.

Giovanni said...

umm, don't we all rely on other people's judgements, especially if it's people whose views we've agreed with in various forums or on various subjects. do i really have to sit through stuff that i'm highly likely to find objectionable and which will make me angry/upset just to make exactly the same point?

I was trying to challenge that view, and make a general point, and thought that maybe you could bring yourself to read and consider a one-liner, might as it might soil your eyes to do so. But obviously whatever I was going to say on the subject was going to be overridden in advance by the Socratic wonder that are the writers at Shakesville (and Danielle, whose work I love - but she knows that).

I really had my back up about this for nothing all week. I promise I shall try to take myself less seriously in the future, but by the same token I think I’ll be taking you *a lot* less seriously.

Alison said...

Giovanni, I don't think anyone has suggested banning rape jokes; what we're hoping/calling for, is people to be more sensitive to the trauma such offhand comments inflict on others. Yes, that's idealistic, but I don't see that as problematic. I have many hopes for our society that depend on people developing empathy and compassion.

I also think that's inherently tied up with feminism, not because women have a monopoly on compassion, but because we've been told we do, and men have been told that to exhibit compassion and empathy is "girly" and therefore inappropriate.

stargazer said...

and thought that maybe you could bring yourself to read and consider a one-liner, might as it might soil your eyes to do so.

sigh. and the point i was trying to make was that it's not a single one-liner that's important, it's the body of work, the general tendency towards a particular direction. hence there is no purpose in looking at one single joke, i'd have to watch heaps of stuff to get a sense of that general tendency, which i'd rather not do. especially when others have already done so.

i'm sorry that i've upset you somehow, can't see where that happened. i thought i was just debating the issues without making any personal attacks, but it's obviously not how i've been perceived.

Julie said...

For all that this thread has been fraught at times I've found it quite a thought-provoking read. Thanks to everyone for prodding my grey matter, and hopefully others' too.

Giovanni said...

and the point i was trying to make was that it's not a single one-liner that's important, it's the body of work, the general tendency towards a particular direction.

Why? If the point at issue is whether it is licit in some circumstances to make jokes involving rape, what's that got to do with bodies of work? If I argue successfully that a single joke by comedian X is an example of permissible use of rape in a joke, shouldn't that suffice? The implication that "everything that [comedian X] says ought to be dismissed because he's sexist" leads us down some very disturbing paths indeed. THM is not in the business of compiling black lists, is it?

hence there is no purpose in looking at one single joke, i'd have to watch heaps of stuff to get a sense of that general tendency, which i'd rather not do. especially when others have already done so.

Well, given that Shakesville was using the joke in question to argue that Maher is sexist, I'd have to question your logic there. There is a substantial difference between relying on other people to read/see things so you won't have to, and letting them do your thinking for you. But more to the point, if I challenge a particular conclusion of yours and you get all "but Danielle said so" on me, we're not going to go very far. Argue the substance of what I'm trying to say or don't argue with me at all - it is, after all, far from compulsory.

And, not to harp, but...

i'm more talking about his general attitude and tendency to use misogyny way too often,

...aside from the second-handedness of it all, what does it even mean? "Mmmhhh, for my next joke I think I'm going to use some mysoginy. Yes."

The most ironic thing about this thread is that it makes so many of Maher's most infuriating points for him. And he certainly doesn't need that kind of help.

(Danielle: is there any room in that stabbing plan of yours?)

stargazer said...

well, i'm glad you're talking to me again, even if you're not taking me seriously :)

The implication that "everything that [comedian X] says ought to be dismissed because he's sexist" leads us down some very disturbing paths indeed.

see, this is where i have a problem. if comedian x is saying some disturbing & degrading stuff about women (& let's forget about maher, let's say it's chris rock or some other random person), then it seems to me to be a valid response to say "we are not going to take the rest of your work seriously until you improve your record on women, because it's really not good enough & it's damaging to us".

i mean, if you continue to listen to the the comedian for the other stuff pretty much gives the message that the bad stuff is ok or not important. and so there is little hope for change.

the other alternative is to keep calling out comedian x on the bad stuff when it happens. but it gets really hard to do that if, in each individual instance, someone pops up and says "oh but this one wasn't so bad". because each individual instance may not look so bad in itself, but when it's all added up, it leads to a general attitude that it's ok to treat [xyz] group as stupid/unimportant etc.

i don't know giovanni, maybe we're just talking past each other. but please don't get offended, because i have been enjoying your contribution to this post.

notafeminist said...

I think Ellen Degeneres put it best in this little clip:

http://nz.youtube.com/watch?v=QcMEL3_YsVI

This, for me, is the reason I don't tolerate humour which relies on the denigration of anyone, regardless of how intelligent they are.

Giovanni said...

see, this is where i have a problem. if comedian x is saying some disturbing & degrading stuff about women (& let's forget about maher, let's say it's chris rock or some other random person), then it seems to me to be a valid response to say "we are not going to take the rest of your work seriously until you improve your record on women, because it's really not good enough & it's damaging to us".

I think the "damaging to us" part is somewhat overstated, but yes of course the response is entirely valid. I happen to feel differently, and that the take to task but not entirely dismiss part in your next paragraph is the best approach - kind of what Danielle must have been doing with Maher all these years, seeing as she's developed a whole theory around him and such.

But art and comedy are offensive sometimes, I think inoffensiveness and 'correct' thinking all the time only go so far. Which is not my way of saying: sexism and racism, gimme gimme gimme! But asking an artist to "improve his record" on this or that, boy, how many different ways can you spell "slippery slope"? Danielle's "yo, jerk" approach seems decidedly more grown up and empowered.

Chris Rock and Bill Maher are pretty sharp comedians. And here's the thing: they might occasionally say something that is worth listening to even on gender. Our collective critical faculties ought to be enough to navigate them - to think that they foster sexism by being sexist I think is rather condescending of society and culture as a whole.

To reset the topic somehow: I think we can actually take the odd joke on the subject of men being sexist jerks all the time or even - gasp! - PMS. This, however, has shaken me a bit:

http://www.nzherald.co.nz/lifestyle/news/article.cfm?c_id=6&objectid=10554571

Hugh said...

Whereas I found it really facile and unhelpful - the kind of comment that gets an automatic “yes” response from a liberal, right thinking audience without really addressing anything. It must a white rich guy’s fault! Isn’t any old thing you can think of a white rich guy’s fault anyhow?

I'm not blaming anything on rich white guy's - don't mistake my response to Anon as an attempt to take a position on the goodness or badness of jokes about rape. It's merely an attack on his particular philosophy on dealing with this kind of thing.