It’s been almost two years since Tosh.O assaulted the American public with his shocking and terrifyingly ignorant Comedy Central special, which featured the worst joke I’ve ever seen on national television (watch it here, but be advised, it’s horribly offensive). And yet in the year and a half since, I find myself struggling every day to defend my anti-rape-joke stance. I know I usually use the media to defend and explain my assertions, (and I will again use some pop-culture references in our exploration of this fucked up mentality that is way less anomalous than you’d like to think) but I also have a personal account of a public discussion about Tosh’s “joke”. And yet it’s not even the joke that ends up pushing my buttons so hard I just have to break down and say something to the internet (though it definitely didn’t help). What absolutely ruins me is the idea that with all the things you are not allowed to say on television, rape, in any capacity is not censored.
Now don’t get me wrong, I think that exposure to rape and sexual assault in an educational and realistic capacity is important. For those of us who haven’t personally experienced sexual assault, it is a window into the serious consequences, emotional and physical, of the victims. For those of us who have experienced that kind of trauma, sometimes it’s just too hard to explain to people who either don’t know or don’t care to know about what we’ve been through, and some artistic representations that do it justice take some of the pressure off of us to represent the whole phenomena when we’ve already been through enough.
Don’t know what I mean? This video from French writer/director Éléonore Pourriat appeared on Buzzfeed this week and has since gained over 4 million views. TRIGGER WARNING: This video depicts realistic sexual assault and nudity. Regardless, it is an enlightening view of both how artistic interpretations of sexism and sexual assault can make us think critically about the world and our own actions. Watch it Here.
Recently I had a conversation with about 20 people about Tosh’s 2012 joke and the reaction from the room was seriously surprising. My opinion was and still is as follows:
How is it that you can’t say words like “fuck” or even “tits” on Comedy Central, but rape is okay? What kind of message does that send to viewers? Shows like South Park and Family Guy use characters that are known pedophiles or rapists. Those shows even air on networks like FOX that are generally far more censored than smaller private/cable networks. Going further, how are nipples, the basis for sustaining human life, blurred out, but rape, an indisputably negative and harmful action allowed to be aired as early as 9pm? I don’t know about anyone else, but I was definitely staying up til 10 in middle school. Do we really want 12 year olds repeating the message that rape jokes are okay? And if you say that just because we air them doesn’t make them okay, how can you explain to kids and adults alike how to know the difference?
The responding argument was that Tosh.O, Family Guy, and South Park are allowed to joke about it, simply because the others do. It’s a phenomena that happens all too often in this weird juvenile side to American culture- popularity out-rules and over-powers morals.
So what do we do? Stop watching. The only thing that media responds to is popularity. If TV shows/networks knew that certain jokes brought down viewership, maybe we’d have a shot at affecting the way that the media treats rape. Change the channel. Chances are you have hundreds of them anyway. Do you HAVE to watch the show that makes millions of victims feel both obsolete and victimized all over again? Regardless of “popular” opinion, you always have a choice. You support the organizations that you pay attention to. The websites you visit most often, the channels you watch, and let your children watch as well, everything you do in the media reflects on the information you consume. Media is catered to the populous, so here are some simple things you can do to start changing the way you consume media.
1. If you hear/see an offensive representation of sexual assault, speak up and turn it off.
If you watch a TV show or channel that airs something offensive to you, don’t subject yourself to that kind of media! If you see a website that has an offensive article, stop visiting that website. You don’t have to tell everyone around you that you’re doing it, but if a friend asks, explain your decision. It’s your choice, in the endless expanse of information we have available today, you shape your environment- make decisions you are happy with.
2. Share positive or enlightening messages.
A lot of people who are dismissive of rape, just don’t know how to be empathetic. With all of the exposure the majority of people consuming mass media have to rape as a source of amusement, you can counteract that. You don’t have to become an activist, or post nothing but Oprah episodes on your Facebook, but then again, how bad would that really be?
3. Be a shoulder.
The worst part about all of this desensitization to sexual assault is that there are a lot of people who get laughed at or pushed aside when they experience abuse in their own lives. You don’t have to take on everyone’s problems, but if someone comes to you with a serious situation like this, don’t push them away. Let them talk and try to listen, or help them get professional help. Trust me, there is nothing like feeling supported and understood when you are a victim. And there is nothing more enlightening than hearing a real experience first hand. Rape is real, and joking about it doesn’t make it go away, it just makes it harder to get help.
I am endlessly frustrated by this “they did it so I can do it” mentality. We are the “they” and if we stop doing the things that we think are wrong, eventually “they” will have to stop too. We are not just consumers of media and culture, we are the makers and shapers of culture. It is everyone’s responsibility to change the things that are wrong with society world-wide. And if you wait for the world to change on its own, or accept popular culture because its popular, you are doing your country and yourselves a disservice. It could be a different world, but nothing moves if you don’t push it forward- so move forward.