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Eric: Language, shock, and lack of shock

(From Gin and the Devil. Click on the thumbnail for full sized minimal expectation by design!)

First off, I'm several days late on this particular snark. Blame it on the bossanova.

There are words that make a person uncomfortable. They're words that become touchstones -- words that shock when used correctly or sparingly. Words that are just plain bad words. They can hurt, or remind, or minimize.

And they can also be fucking funny, when used correctly.

It goes back to Lenny Bruce. Lenny Bruce used obscenities and spoke outrageously. He shocked, he titillated, and he delighted. But if you go back and actually listen to Lenny Bruce's comedy, you discover the obscenities were sidelines. The revolution was in his subject matter. The revolution was in his anecdotal storytelling style. The revolution was in his mastery of language. When he used vulgarity, it produced an effect, and that effect was funny as Hell.

Contrast that with Chris Rock. I happen to think Chris Rock is also hysterical... but Rock's obscenities are meaningless. They're drone in the background. They're punctuation. And so the words end up having no value at all, much less shock value. In Lenny Bruce's hand, "cocksucker" became a reason to go to court -- a defense of the First Amendment. A finely tuned weapon to skewer the audience. In Chris Rock's hand, "cocksucker" is synonymous with "guy I don't like," end of story.

This isn't a discussion about vulgarity or obscenity, however. It's a discussion about words. And when they're used well, for good effect. When they're funny, even though the meanings behind them aren't.

Which brings us to this Gin and the Devil strip. I had no archive page to link to, so if you click on the thumbnail and don't see what I'm talking about, go back to the 7/7/2005 strip. Got it? Good.

There is nothing funny about rape.

There is nothing funny about rape.

I want that to be perfectly clear.

George Carlin once asserted that anything could be funny. When 'rape' was given to him, he said "you bet. Daffy Duck raping Porky Pig," and proceeded to do sound effects. And it got a laugh. But it wasn't rape that was funny. It was cartoon characters acting unlike cartoon characters that was funny. Elayne Boosler responded to Carlin by coming up with her own 'funny rape joke,' when she found his unfunny. Her's was "defense attorneys are now claiming that rape victims 'were asking for it' because they weren't wearing underwear when they were attacked. When I heard that, I put on a second pair!" And again, rape isn't funny in that joke -- the steps necessary to convince a jury you didn't want to be raped is. Even the plethora of jokes about prison rape rarely if ever actually involve the rape. Instead, they involve gigantic bald men named Bubba or Killer standing in front of a very small looking victim we have a reason to dislike, saying "yer purty" or the like. It becomes rape as poetic justice. But the act is generally not a part of the joke, and when it is a part of the joke it doesn't usually end up funny.

(Why do I expect D.J. Coffman to try and prove me wrong, now?)

"But wait," you say. "You said rape wasn't funny, but now you're talking about various rape jokes. Which is it, mister writer man?"

Just what it sounds like. The depiction of rape isn't funny. The trappings around it can be. Cartoon characters. Prison rape references of people we don't like. Had Michael Jackson been convicted, the mind numbing plethora of prison rape jokes would have been frightening and complete. But none of them would have actually featured Jackson in the act of being raped. Rape is too visceral. Rape is too intense.

And the word is, in fact, shocking. In a way that "murder" probably has never been. It's laden with potential energy. And that energy can be released, and that release can be funny.

This Gin and the Devil strip isn't about rape. It's about the McDonald's interview process. But the way the word is used nails you in the eyes. It shocks you, for a brief second, and then that potential energy gets released into laughter. Milby's point is savagely well made as a result, and at no point does the ugliness implied by the word "rape" get injected into the strip. It's well done.

Contrast that with the word "gay" as an insult. "Gaaaaaay," to invoke PvP. At this point, the word has been denuded of shock value. I know a reasonable number of people who find its use offensive, be it in PvP, or South Park, or anywhere else. And often it can be. "Gay" becomes synonymous with "unmanly." With "defective." It's not that "gay" couldn't have been used and been funny -- it's that it's been overused to the point that it's just not funny any more. And if it's not funny any more, the only thing left for it is offensiveness. And "Gaaaaaay" as a punchline takes a lot of effort and skill to make funny, because it's got little potential energy left in it. We've heard it.

The strength of Milby's word choice stems in part because the word is still taboo. And the joke works. It's funny.

At the same time, I really kind of hope we stay in Lenny Bruce's territory with it... not Chris Rock's.

Posted by Eric Burns-White at July 12, 2005 11:53 AM

Comments

Comment from: djcoffman posted at July 12, 2005 1:06 PM

Showing the ACTUAL rape might be a tad too much, you know??? But something about Ned Beatty being raped in the woods by hillbillies DOES strike me as funny, and horrifying at the same time.

The reality of rape, it's not fucking funny at all. When I think of "rape", i think of a woman being raped, and that's not fucking cool to joke about. There ARE lines you shouldn't mess with there.

Again... for some reason, stick ASS, in front of rape.... and it sounds funny. "You're gonna get an ass raping."

Doesnt Penny Arcade have a fruit raper or something?? : )

No. You were right Mr. Burns. There INDEED isn't anything funny about rape.

Comment from: Aerin posted at July 12, 2005 1:07 PM

I find it rather more amusing that McDonalds knows to ask if you've raped anything, not justs anyone. My sister has worked at McDonalds (still works there as far as I know) and can confirm that what Milby describes is pretty much the interview process.

Comment from: djcoffman posted at July 12, 2005 1:13 PM

Also... I've found it often that "GAY" is the new "N word" -- I don't say the N word.

You're not allowed to say GAY unless you happen to be gay. If you say Gaaaaay. YOu're obviously homophobic or hate gay people.

Comment from: SeanH posted at July 12, 2005 1:33 PM

I honestly wouldn't mind seeing "gay" become the new "nigger", really. Constantly hearing "gay" used as an all-purpose pejorative has been pissing me off for three or four years now.

Comment from: Will "Scifantasy" Frank posted at July 12, 2005 1:52 PM

Amazing. A discussion of words, shock value, and George Carlin, and the phrase "seven words" never gets said. *grin*

Seriously, though, I think you really hit on something here, Eric...why some words or topics are funny. It's not the topic itself, it's the trappings.

By the way, one big problem I have with the word "nigger" being such a taboo is that the word "snigger" and the adjective "niggardly" become words to step around because they're too close to "nigger." That and the other issue, the "we can't talk about it because it's too taboo" question, but that's a different topic for a different day...probably.

Comment from: 32_footsteps posted at July 12, 2005 2:03 PM

To play devil's advocate a bit, I think you're putting on too much of a modern sentiment, Eric, on whether or not murder ever carried the same visceral reaction as rape.

I mean, there are cultures, to this very day, that afford almost no rights to women, and where such actions are considered acceptable within that culture. In those cultures, they might well only use murder in shock jokes, but would casually talk about rape.

I'm not condoning it in any way, but I think that you have to recognize its truth.

Now, I'll just go back to laughing at old Something Positive strips, particularly the ones after the fat woman's corpse landed on Davan.

Comment from: RKMilholland posted at July 12, 2005 2:52 PM

Now, I'll just go back to laughing at old Something Positive strips, particularly the ones after the fat woman's corpse landed on Davan.

I wish I still had the hate mail.

Comment from: Shaenon posted at July 12, 2005 2:55 PM

Aerin is right. What makes this one funny is "anything" rather than "anyone." God is in the details.

Comment from: Alexis Christoforides posted at July 12, 2005 3:05 PM

There is nothing funny about rape.

You. Shouldn't have said that.

Thanks to that I have a mental picture of you in that second panel.

Comment from: KevDude posted at July 12, 2005 3:19 PM

Alexis:

Please try reading next time.

It's fun!

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at July 12, 2005 3:32 PM

32 -- I agree, actually. I was speaking from within my cultural context. The culture I live in -- and that most of my readers live in -- has that visceral reaction to rape. Other cultures may vary. In some it's no big deal.

(And I'll admit to being provincial enough in my ways to be horrified by that fact.)

Alexis -- you'll note, of course, that in both VG Cats strips rape is implied but not depicted. So, once again it underscores the point. I'm going to have to watch out for oversized gimps, however. And thank you so much for that.

As for the "anything" making the line? I agree. Language is the key. ;)

Comment from: Tangent posted at July 12, 2005 3:44 PM

*shrug* To me, gay still means happy. *chuckle* But then again, I enjoyed classic literature. *grin*

Heck, there are cultures out there where gay *still* means happy, and they might say "Oh, I'm feeling rather gay today" when asked how they are doing.

Amusing enough comic though.

Rob

Comment from: Alexis Christoforides posted at July 12, 2005 3:47 PM

KevDude: Um, I have?

And I agree with everything Eric said, so the above comment was just me pointing out that a) that's where my mind went and b) yes, the implication of male rape is funny (VGCats) while the portayal is NOT (Pulp Fiction? Can't think of a better example)

I think it's similar to cartoon violence (funny until someone bleeds) but South Park broke that 'taboo'.

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at July 12, 2005 4:00 PM

Actually, now that Randy Milholland has chimed it, it occurs to me that Something Positive did the dance around the subject as well as anything I've seen. He didn't use the word for sudden shock effect, of course. But the juxtaposition of imagery from before to after served a similar purpose. Especially since he then followed up, including consequences.

But then, Milholland's good at this stuff.

Comment from: KevDude posted at July 12, 2005 4:00 PM

Oh, sorry then Alexis. I thought you were trying to make a point against the snark.

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at July 12, 2005 4:09 PM

Kev -- we're okay. But don't forget the rules. They get to insult me. It's in the contract. ;)

Comment from: Wednesday posted at July 12, 2005 4:13 PM

This all reminds me of the time we here at the house discovered the game Battle Raper.

"This," I said, "must be an error in romanization or something. Clearly it's Battle Rapier. See, all these girls look perfectly normal, insomuch as one can look normal when one's a ripoff of Dead or Alive."

"You're right," said those around me. "It can't possibly be Battle Raper. Or, if it is, they can't possibly mean it." And, since we couldn't get the demo to run, we went on, blissfully unawares.

Blasted Something Awful reviews. I was wrong. Khan, &c.

Nothing makes a girl giggle more nervously than discovering that, uh, yeah, it actually is Battle Raper. And it is, in fact, a martial arts combat game that lives up to the title. You fight the girl, you knock the clothes off the girl, you... uh...

Yeah!

Did you know that there's a Battle Raper 2? (Arguably NSFW teaser image, haven't looked at rest of site.)

Did you know that, for some reason, saying "BATTLE RAPER" in a menacing, barbarian-comic-book-hero voice is more amusing than it has any right to be?

Please have me shot.

Comment from: 32_footsteps posted at July 12, 2005 4:44 PM

Eric, I'm provincial enough to believe that as well for at least the subject at hand. However, I was deliberately countering the following statement:

And the word is, in fact, shocking. In a way that "murder" probably has never been.

To people in different cultures throughout history, and in fact our own, "murder" was a really shocking word, moreso than "rape." In fact, it possibly is to some in our culture today - if nothing else, compare the punishments for each crime in most First World penal systems. (Isn't the sentence for a crime the evidence of how shocking the crime is, after all?)

Not that anyone is going to make a huge deal out of it, but what you say in the comments does contradict what you said in the snark.

That does lead to interesting questions - I know that quite a few people have been glib about killing people in general in our culture. What would our reaction be to someone from a culture that was greatly shocked by the word "murder"? And how would we feel if we flipped things around, they made a joke about rape, and we reacted highly negatively of it?

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at July 12, 2005 5:06 PM

Not that anyone is going to make a huge deal out of it, but what you say in the comments does contradict what you said in the snark.

Well, no. It really doesn't. My comment elaborated on it -- acknowledging that I was speaking of my culture, not natural law -- but within that caveat, the statement stands.

I'm not going to ever be one of those people who disclaims everything he writes, putting in "in my culture" or "in Western Civilization" or "in Judeo-Christian tradition." Those cultural biases are implicit. They have to be, or every time we write anything we have to disclaim it.

You mentioned there was a cultural bias in the statement. I acknowledged that yes, there was one. There's going to be others, because I'm a white guy writing essays in New England in the United States of America. Everything I do will be laden with bias. And, as I specifically write opinion and argumentative essays, the fact that there is bias is -- once again -- implicit.

Comment from: Spatchcock posted at July 12, 2005 5:27 PM

Man, I wonder how funny someone who's been raped would find that comic? Hell, I don't think we've really plumbed the well of dehumanising, brutalising behaviour for humour yet.

Eric, what were you thinking? Are you even thinking at all?

Comment from: SeanH posted at July 12, 2005 6:02 PM

Uh, Spatch, I don't think rape victims are really the target demographic for Gin and the Devil, exactly...

Comment from: Wednesday posted at July 12, 2005 6:23 PM

Besides, it's reassuring that McDonald's employees have no prior sexual assault history.

I mean, you're going to work for the Clown, you should make some effort not to be the Scary Clown.

Comment from: MattMilby posted at July 12, 2005 6:31 PM

Man, I wonder how funny someone who's been raped would find that comic? Hell, I don't think we've really plumbed the well of dehumanising, brutalising behaviour for humour yet.

Eric, what were you thinking? Are you even thinking at all?

That's not a comic about rape. That's a comic about a job interview. Now, I've got a comic about rape, if you want something to gnash your teeth at, but this isn't it. Here's the one you want to get mad about:

http://ginandthedevil.com/archive/06052004.html

That's what a comic about rapin' looks like. Just to put things in perspective.

Comment from: MattMilby posted at July 12, 2005 6:33 PM

Man, can I blow it with the text formatting or what?

Comment from: cyco posted at July 12, 2005 7:32 PM

I would argue that the word "rape" can be used in a comedic fasion because the world of humor (and especially comics) is largely dominated by men. In general, while most women don't have to live their lives afraid of being raped, they do see it as a real threat, unlike men who look at it as more of an abstract since it is highly unlikely to happen to them. This is my experience, anyway, and I know that there exceptions to everything. I'm just speaking in generalities.

Comment from: Kristofer Straub posted at July 12, 2005 8:37 PM

Anything is funny if it hasn't affected you. The word "rape" and its implication of violence, and its solely-offensive nature, makes it awkward (and funny) when used outside of describing a horrible crime. I thought the word "cancer" was funny until it affected my mom. Then it wasn't funny at all. But then my mom got better, and now it's funny again. But only a little bit. Or at least -- it doesn't bother me to hear.

At any rate, I don't begrudge anyone for finding something like that funny, since I have.

Comment from: 32_footsteps posted at July 12, 2005 9:06 PM

Eric, I'm sorry, but you're reading what you meant to say, not what you actually said. You don't, within the body of the snark, give any sort of context for the sentence I quoted in italics. Without that context, you assume way too much.

I'm not saying that you actually think that way, but your words read that way. I understand what you're trying to say with the clarification in the comments. But you don't have that context in the body of the snark itself.

And it comes to no surpise to me why people get antsy whenever I'm on editing duty back at the home site.

Comment from: miyaa posted at July 12, 2005 10:24 PM

I don't understand how a male being rape can be considered okay material for comedy while a female being raped isn't. I think comics such as Penny Arcade, VG Cats, and Something Positive often go way over the top than they really have to make their point.

I also don't understand how certain groups (probably with some ID confirmation) seemed to be allowed to say taboo phrases like "gay" or the n-word where as it is more than frowned upon generally. Certain topics and phrases be out of bounds for all groups or not at all, less we get into a confusing array of particular qualfiers such as if you are of a particular ethic group, then you can say such and such that would otherwise be considered insensitive in general.

Comment from: djcoffman posted at July 12, 2005 11:00 PM

"I'll take THE RAPIST for 600, Tribeck."

"That's THERAPIST... it's says THERAPIST!"

Comment from: Aerin posted at July 12, 2005 11:19 PM

I don't know, I think the point of the joke was less about the fact that he got asked that particular question and more that that qustion is all he got asked. (I don't like the structure of that sentence either.) McDonalds doesn't care if he's good with people, if he can count higher than ten, or if he's been dismissed from a previous job for pissing in the soup. It's like Wednesday said: as long as you're not going to be Scary Clown, you're in. The punchline is "You start Thursday," not "Y'ever rape anything?" That part is just punctuation. Doesn't change Eric's point, really, but it's good to keep in mind. Also, no one's remarked on the poster on the wall. "Eat it. Bitch." It's Surly McDonalds! I swear I've been to this one!

Also, Shaenon, you made my day.

Comment from: siwangmu posted at July 12, 2005 11:43 PM

to 32: You are missing something fundamental here. We are talking about words, and the power of words. The word murder, in many, many countries around the world, probably carries very little shock at all. Because they don't speak English. This is a case where "the word X" actually refers to "the word X." Now, if you were to argue that at a past point or many past points (or in a contemporaneous non-mainstream-American English-speaking culture) the word "murder" carried more shock value or what have you than "rape" did, then we could have a discussion. But as long as you are going to be an editorial stickler, I simply can't overlook the fact that you are casually discussing the impact of a specific word in cultures where the most apt translation for that word may not even be clear. The translation choice could decide the whole issue!

Your problem with Eric's supposed generalization, to me, stems from the fact that you are applying his comments in an unwarrantedly (that's probably not a real word) general way. To me, it is plain that the statement made in English when you say, "The word X compares to the word Y in the following ways" is a statement regarding those specific English words in a more-or-less standard English language environment.

Also, a nit-pick which turned into a very long rant, I hope you don't take it personally: you said that Eric may be putting too modern a sentiment into his writing, and you immediately went on to say that "There are cultures to this day that..."

Those cultures are modern. I may not like aspects of their modern culture, but they occupy nearly the exact same chronological space as we do (I only say nearly to prevent having to think about taking relativity into account). This only bugs me because I was just recently made aware of the way the history (and with it, much of mainstream culture) I grew up learning marginalizes the "Non-West" by treating them as if they are not in fact in the present, but almost literally believing them to be "in the past," "behind," etc. There's a term for it, but I can't remember it.

To call our current culture modern and imply that those that differ from it are regressive sets up an implicit value judgment against those other cultures and makes it impossible for us to clearly view their problems, achievements and history, because we don't even construe them as occupying the same space as us. Of course modernity exists, and to say that America is a technologically modern nation would be accurate. You, however, meant culturally/morally modern, and that's a whole different ball of wax. I love women's rights as much as the next person, possibly much more, but when I say that other nations have mores that differ from mine and it bothers me because many customs prevalent there violate basic tenets of my culture, that's what I mean. If those customs remind me of societal conditions at some point in the past of my culture, I can make that observation, but that does not place those cultures on an equivalence with my culture's past, and it does not imply that there is a normative path from that past point in my culture to my present culture which the other nation is clearly bound to follow. Cultures do not "catch up" with each other, they are not advanced, and they do not neccessarily progress. They change. I believe the trend in American history has generally been change for the better, but I'm making that judgment as a product of the current incarnation of the culture, so that would naturally be my assumption. None of this means I have to like or agree with customs that differ radically from my own, but I do need to be aware that I am not sitting at the finish line looking back at the ignorant stragglers.

I'm sorry if I'm overreacting, and I mean no offense.

Also I think the only situation where rape can ever be funny is the "Use the admittedly horrific act as a punishment for a character we have come to despise" convention (does that count as a convention?). The prison rape being funny by itself thing has come to bother me a lot, because that kind of joke functions on a non-acknowledgement/lack-of-awareness of how horrific rape is even when it happens to men. That said, the McDonald's thing was hilarious and did not bother me in any way.

Comment from: siwangmu posted at July 13, 2005 12:06 AM

By the time I finished writing (way too much) I had forgotten that I wanted to respond to miyaa as well about wishing all groups could use the same words.

I think we already have an array of qualifiers that govern our expression; for an easy example, in a recent Gossamer Commons Trudy switches instantly from calling Keith nuts to all-out agression when Malachite agress. In this case, of course, it is also related to the fact that she had thereby perceived the very real threat present, but the "I can call him stupid but you can't" concept is basic enough that I think anyone can recognize it. There are things I can say about my in-group that I will become offended by if others say them, and this is because of the in-group out-group definitions. If I call my sister a bitch, I'm probably fighting with her and frustrated. If somebody else calls my sister a bitch, it will piss me off because she fundamentally isn't and they've insulted someone I care about.

The use of the N-word, to me, is just a broader application of the in-group out-group principle which already exists and operates on us constantly. As it's use continued within the black community, the meaning changed, and that only reinforced the fact that there were group boundariesdefeinitions governing its use, because when Dave Chapelle says it, it's clear from context that he is using the newly developed definition and talking about his in-group, but if I were to say it, because my membership in the group of white Americans exists whether I want it to or not, the term is naturally interpreted according to the context of a white American. In which context, by the way, it is inappropriate and racist.

It's also not that different, to me, from a word that has different meanings in different parts of a language-speaking world. If a foreigner shows up and uses aword that in your town has a dirty meaning, you might giggle a bit, but you assume the stranger means the broader, more conventional definition. This is why no one was genuinely confused by Kennedy's Jelly Donut thing--our words are interpreted atleastinpart according to our context, and we couldn't really function any other way.

I think. I don't really know what I'm talking about, though.

Comment from: 32_footsteps posted at July 13, 2005 1:15 AM

siwangmu, if you really want to mince that many hairs and say we're just juggling with the English words "rape" and "murder,," alright, but I think that's a very narrow interpretation. The words exist pretty much on an equivalent level in many languages, so we're not discussing something that can vary depending on cultural context. We're talking about very basic words here.

Beyond that, though, you're putting a very modern frame of reference onto the words. Jump back a hundred years or so, and do the words carry the same weight and shock that they do today? Perhaps, but I suspect not. Like it or not, Eric's phrasing was quite far-reaching, and I don't think he can make that statement apply for anything beyond the last 50 years or so.

And if you want to suggest that I'm being prejudiced against non-western societies, then I'd like to turn that back around and point out that you're assuming that no "western" cultures would be more shocked by murder. I suspect that there's a few cultures even within the United States (as it's hardly a cultural monolith, as the politics certainly attest to) that treat them as equivalent crimes, and perhaps some that treat murder as more shocking and foul.

I'm making no geographical distinctions here. Keep that in mind next time you think I'm assuming something about a given region.

Oh, and for the record, you'll have to actually link to a comic in question when you want me to look at it. I don't particularly care for GC either way, so it's not on my usual reading list.

Comment from: William_G posted at July 13, 2005 1:29 AM

Couple of thoughts on this.

-I cant remember if it was Larry Young that brought it up or not, but at around the time of the horrid Indentity Crisis rape thing, he talked about the idea of villians raping the hero's girlfriend as a form of revenge. The question got asked, "So, why doesnt the bad guy rape the hero instead?"

The reason was that geting raped renders the victim completely pathetic. So we wouldn't accept Peter Parker getting raped except AS a joke because otherwise the character becomes worthless. Which explains why we find the whole bad guy gets prison raped funny, and Ned Beatty getting raped by hillbillies in Deliverance, horrific.

- The reason Chris Rock can use "cocksucker" as a punctuation is because Lenny Bruce made it possible for him (and everyone one else) to do so. This being a good or a bad thing depends on your POV I guess.

-The reason men get worked up over female rape is that our genes make us act that way. A source of genetic distribution has been damaged or otherwise removed from us.

And yes, we're all incredibly gallant, sensitive, modern men of reason who see the immorality on such an act... The huge sales of rape oriented pornography have no reflection upon us.

Comment from: gwalla posted at July 13, 2005 1:43 AM

Wednesday: yeah, the prevalence of rape fantasies in Japanese porn is pretty disturbing.

Comment from: Brendan posted at July 13, 2005 1:53 AM

I don't think I've ever known anyone who considers the word "gay" offensive, when used as an adjective in regard to a 5/6 man. I've seen bisexual people and lesbians take exception, but not nearly to the degree of "that word." (Of course, the slang meaning of "absurd" is a different matter.)

Comment from: Darth Paradox posted at July 13, 2005 3:26 AM

I'm for some reason reminded of one time when I was at an anime con... 3:00 AM rolled around, and we decided that what we needed to do is watch bad hentai for the comedic value.

Anyway, one scene has a very large man whose only line - repeated five or six times, mind you - is "I WILL RAPE YOU!!" Even when it's made quite clear that the rape will not in fact occur (it wasn't that kind of hentai, thankfully), the guy was still yelling it.

Maybe it was the 3-in-the-morning, con-addled brains, but we found it hilarious. Of course, it would have been a lot less funny if the rape had actually happened...

Comment from: Suzanne posted at July 13, 2005 4:14 AM

My sarcasm meter is broken so please excuse if you were actually being sarcastic instead if serious, Spatchcock.

Man, I wonder how funny someone who's been raped would find that comic? Hell, I don't think we've really plumbed the well of dehumanising, brutalising behaviour for humour yet.

Well, I think it's pretty funny. Funny in a cautious way. Part of recovering from rape or sexual assult, esp. when your assaulter was someone you knew, is humour. Putting out a rape joke in front of close friends, to see who is flustered. Seeing who is brash enough to fully walk away from such a conversation, non-plussed. Because sexual offenders? Most of those people are brash enough that they don't chuckle uneasily at rape jokes. They aren't scared of what the joke will do to their friend/lover/girlfriend/victim. They walk away non-plussed.

Sure, the situation needs a degree of gravity. But there comes a place and a time when a victim needs to remember, needs to feel, that life is coming back to the road it was on to begin with. Humour helps change a victim into a person with control of a situation, because the way rape really takes power away from those who are raped is by making them into a constant victim instead of a person with all the power and trappings of power that a normal personhood entails.

I'm not sure if I can explain it, but it's like an inside joke.
Seriously.

My partner and I have spent the past three weeks putting our lives and our relationship back together after a very ugly sexual assult by a "respected individual", and neither of us are offended by this comic. We needed this smile. Really, we did. Gin and the Devil might even hit my daily reads list.

Feel free to flame me, but I think Eric has the right approach.
And my partner agrees.

Comment from: unliz posted at July 13, 2005 5:16 AM

I know I'm coming into this sorta late (typekey AND my computer hate me), but I'd like to expand (sort of) on something William G said. He mentioned the reasons he thinks men get so worked up about women being raped is that it's how men are wired. I think that's partially true, but I think another part of it is that society as a whole is so ignorant of the idea of male rape. To your average straight guy, male rape is something that happens to gay men and prisoners. Not something that happens to virile strong young straight men. I know that when I want to go outside after dark (at 19) my mother will freak out unless I have a male chaperone or large dog with me. She doesn't think twice about my brother wandering around alone at all hours of the day. I think women and men are raised (at least in mainstream American society) to think constantly about women being raped. How to protect women. If you watch any show on self-defense, it's normally protecting women from a male attacker. As a society, we don't think about men being raped whereas it's something that we train women to think about on a daily basis.

I'd also like to make the observation that the reason it's so taboo to talk about rape and not murder is the fact that you'll be hard pressed to find an excessively traumatized murder victim, but with rape you run the risk of opening up old wounds.

Comment from: Montykins posted at July 13, 2005 6:06 AM

The statement "X is never funny" is objectively wrong. The closest you can get is "I never find X funny." Something is funny if people laugh at it. Take, as an example, puns. Some people find puns hilarious, while others sniff and say that puns are "not funny".

Should people find puns funny? Maybe not. But if they do, if they're laughing at the joke, then the joke is, at least to someone, funny.

"Funny" isn't an objective thing that's decided on by a vote. You can't say "Well, only a couple people laughed but all of us over here were really, really offended, so it's not really funny." Funny's purely in the ear of the laugher.

Comment from: About Us posted at July 13, 2005 6:50 AM

32_footsteps, I feel compelled to respond to this point:

Eric, I'm sorry, but you're reading what you meant to say, not what you actually said.

No, 32, you're reading what you think he said, not what he actually wrote.

I'm being pedantic here; maybe this isn't what Eric meant. But take careful note of tenses:

And the word is, in fact, shocking. In a way that "murder" probably has never been.

Your decision to assume that this means "Rape has been more shocking than murder" is, well, your decision, but it's also a decision based on reading what you think he said, not the actual words on the page.

Whether or not "rape" actually is currently more shocking than "murder" has ever been is beyond my scope. (Whereas mere pedantism never is! :D)

Comment from: vortexae posted at July 13, 2005 10:50 AM

I'm being pedantic here; maybe this isn't what Eric meant. But take careful note of tenses:

And the word is, in fact, shocking. In a way that "murder" probably has never been.

Just to add an ingredient to the pedantic stew, notice also that Eric's post, as written, deals with the comparative humor and shock value of the words 'rape' and 'murder', not the concepts for which they stand.

Comment from: 32_footsteps posted at July 13, 2005 11:20 AM

But you can't divorce the words from the concepts they describe. The reason those words do shock is because the actions they describe are anathema to the reader. But if they aren't anathema, they don't shock.

Of course, you could argue that murder is no longer such a taboo subject, given how flippant you can be about the topic and few, if any, bat an eyelash about it, but that's a topic for another day.

As for more mincing of words, you're refusing to follow the logical conclusion. According to the statements Eric laid out, "murder" has never been shocking in the same way "rape" has been. "Rape" is something that has never been funny because it's too shocking. Therefore, "rape" is the ne plus ultra of shocking. The logical leap to "'murder' is less shocking than 'rape'" is short and fairly obvious.

Does Eric explicitly say as such? No, but it's there within the context of what he did say. And even within the words he did say, I don't think he can really make that statement. There are people out there who will give you a baleful glance for even saying "murder" or a related word (I speak from experience - I was once grounded for making one serial killer joke - not many in my family besides myself are fans of Chopping Block).

The most Eric could say is that, for him, "rape" is shocking in a way that "murder" never has been. Anything beyond that assumes way too much.

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at July 13, 2005 11:39 AM

You know... there comes a point when the semantic debate vastly, vastly outweighs its significance in the essay.

I'm just saying.

Comment from: Wednesday posted at July 13, 2005 12:18 PM

djcoffman: I've actually been in the position where I had to avoid saying the word "therapist" around abuse survivors because you could split the word up into "the rapist." 'Course, some of those same people would start referring to therapists as "therps," to rhyme with "perps," so... Iiiii dunno.

gwalla: You're kind of missing my point. It's not that the prevalence of rape fantasy in Japanese porn is disturbing (it is, but no more or less so than the prevalence of rape fantasy in American pulp paperback porn back in the day, or stuff like I Spit On Your Grave); it's the comical extreme to which a DoA/Tekken clone capitalizing on rape fantasy takes things. Would it have helped if I'd mentioned the disembodied hand in the cut scenes for game two?

Anyhow. Am avoiding the whole rest of the discussion.

Comment from: Merus posted at July 13, 2005 12:38 PM

Two minor points: I disagree that one can't divorce words from the concepts they describe, mostly because words are a construction of humans and thus liable to change. The meaning of "gay" can vary quite wildly depending on context, and considering the recent growth in cop shows, apparantly so can "murder".

Possibly the best example here is swearwords - their perceived shock value fluctuates with the times, and I'm quite sure there are swear words that have increased in shock value since they were coined. Probably Australian curses like "wanker". "Crap" as well, possibly. And the co-opting of "gay" as a de facto swearword, I guess. People will associate anathema with whatever they want to, to be flippant about it.

Also, I consider my consolation for being a very stupid 8-year-old to be the ability to make suicide jokes without fear. This will probably get me into trouble at some point.

Comment from: 32_footsteps posted at July 13, 2005 12:41 PM

Eric - I'm a guy who has written at least 60,000 published words (let alone forum posts) about video games in the last year alone. There might be a line after which your point is lost amongst debates trivially important. I passed that line so long ago that it's merely theoretical at this point.

Weds - That game has been floating in my head for some time. One part of me is tempted to review it, but afraid that it might just encourage more of the same if I paid money for that. I'm a guy who had enough of a problem with a PG dating sim - this is well beyond that.

I'm reminded of the Custer's Revenge fiasco, and whether I really want to see another. Let alone whether I want to potentially put myself in the middle of it.

Comment from: gwalla posted at July 13, 2005 1:44 PM

Merus: I agree. "Rape", in fact, once simply meant "carry off" and was more or less synonymous with "kidnap".

Wednesday: Actually, I didn't miss your point, I just felt like commenting on part of it.

Boy, is this thread full of semantic excuses or what? Somebody call Umberto Eco!

Comment from: RoboYuji posted at July 13, 2005 1:47 PM

I'D probably play Battle Raper 2, and I'd probably find it totally hilarious due to the shear ridiculousness of the concept. Does this make me a bad person?

Comment from: HamsterFreak posted at July 13, 2005 1:53 PM

Siwangmu, is the word you're looking for 'anachronism'?

I was actually much more uncomfortable with Randy's arc about it than with that little McDonald's comic. That didn't bug me, I mean seeing the word generally throws me for just a second...but it's just a quick defensive response, then my mind kicks in and says "no, that word is not a threat"...even if the reminder is unpleasant and for a moment feels threatening. But I laughed. It's funny! "Y'ever rape anything"? To me, it conjures images of "Um, well, y'see there was once this tree in my back yard..."

Randy's arc, on the other hand, made me very uncomfortable at the time...but I wasn't about to send him hate-mail for it. I could still see the humor, even if it hurt, and I laughed a little just the same...even though that hurt, too. Frankly, I'm with Suzanne; I think that was good for me, even if it's just a small step. Small steps are all I've got, I don't know the person I would have become...I can see and yet don't really understand my goal; I won't until I get there. But it can be healthy to laugh along the way.

Randy knows this. He will pretty much mock anything. He even pokes at horrible things that have happened in his own life, things that could be painful to him.


You learn to laugh about these things, about life and all that goes with it; you have to. It doesn't mean you think the reality is in any way funny, it doesn't mean it doesn't still hurt. But eventually you look for the humor around it if you can't find any in it, and you laugh. Otherwise you'll have an unecessarily tough time of things....

That seems to be Eric's point, no matter what he personally finds to be the most horrible. The point he made is still very general, it can still be applied to all the various words and concepts relating to the rotten things that people do, and even more to those things that just...happen.

Comment from: miyaa posted at July 13, 2005 4:26 PM

As an aside, if comedy can be equated to military weapons, puns are often like grenades. Really good (or bad) puns are more like land mines that you don't see until it hits you. Some of my friends are like pun ninjas.

(Do they do puns in other langauges? Just wondering.)

Comment from: SeanH posted at July 13, 2005 6:38 PM

Do they do puns in other langauges? Just wondering.

Sure. German is a good language for it, I find. The German band Rammstein use double meanings extensively in their lyrics. Germans tend, as a people, to be a bit too direct for puns, however (I remember a government anti-alcoholism campaign consisting of posters proclaiming Too much alcohol makes you fat and stupid).

Comment from: 32_footsteps posted at July 13, 2005 6:48 PM

Not only are puns in multiple languages, but they're generally held in about the same regard in each one - most groan at them, but some are addicted to them.

The Japanese tend to be a bit more tolerant of them, in my experience - mostly due to a love of word games (haiku is derived from one). I recall having to sit through a ton of them when I watched Fushigi Yuugi - The Mysterious Play. Video games have a ton of them too - the most popular VG one of all time has to be the chocobo.

The French are slightly less likely than Americans to use them, but that's mostly because the French prefer to find humor in the most absurd situation possible - farces always do well there.

Comment from: gwalla posted at July 13, 2005 8:10 PM

Puns are certainly used in other languages. Japanese comedy in particular (e.g. the traditional manzai act) depends on it. This is partly because the Japanese linguistic situation (a wealth of homonyms, kanji that can be read several different ways, and foreign lonawords) lends itself very well to puns.

Urusei Yatsura, for instance, is very pun-heavy. The title itself is a pun: urusei is a slangy way of pronouncing urusai (meaning "annoying" or "noisy"), but when written in kanji can mean "outer space", and "yatsura" means "those guys"; one way of translating it (while losing the pun) is "those obnoxious aliens". Takahashi's Ranma 1/2, although not as heavy on verbal of visual puns, still uses them, as in the Chinese characters, who are all named after beauty products: Shampoo, Mousse, and Cologne, when pronounced in Japanese, sound like they could be Chinese names: Shan-Pu, Mu-Su, Ko-Ron.

Comment from: larksilver posted at July 13, 2005 9:06 PM

Well, one thing's for sure: the group of readers and commenters on this site can blather on about inconsequental details with the best of them. Yep.

Comment from: SeanH posted at July 13, 2005 9:22 PM

larksilver: Hallo, and welcome to the Internet! Nice to have you with us.

Comment from: siwangmu posted at July 14, 2005 12:05 AM

First of all:

"Of course, you could argue that murder is no longer such a taboo subject, given how flippant you can be about the topic and few, if any, bat an eyelash about it, but that's a topic for another day."

Yay! I could be totally wrong, but I think this debate just got a lot easier to clarify, because as far as I can tell, that is exactly the topic Eric meant. If so, then yay, hopefully we understand each other. I'm going to go ahead and respond to a few more things from your response, and I don't think you're a poophead yet so I think it's still okay to discuss this here.

"

siwangmu, if you really want to mince that many hairs and say we're just juggling with the English words "rape" and "murder,," alright, but I think that's a very narrow interpretation. The words exist pretty much on an equivalent level in many languages, so we're not discussing something that can vary depending on cultural context. We're talking about very basic words here.

"

I think you have a good point about the concepts being universal, but I'm not sure I'd agree with the same words existing on a similar level, and I can't agree that it's not important, because, well, I'm unreasonably fascinated by the very complicated workings of language. For instance, according to my Ancient Greece and Rome professor, the Roman word for rape was almost exactly like ours--except it inherently meant rape of a citizen. You literally could not talk about the rape of a slave; it would have no meaning linguistically and people would look at you like you just said, I dunno, something that didn't make sense.

"

Beyond that, though, you're putting a very modern frame of reference onto the words. Jump back a hundred years or so, and do the words carry the same weight and shock that they do today? Perhaps, but I suspect not. Like it or not, Eric's phrasing was quite far-reaching, and I don't think he can make that statement apply for anything beyond the last 50 years or so.

"

I realize that my post was huge and bloated, so please believe that I'm not trying to be sarcastic when I say this, but I actually took that into account when I said "Now, if you were to argue that at a past point or many past points ... the word "murder" carried more shock value or what have you than "rape" did, then we could have a discussion."

"And if you want to suggest that I'm being prejudiced against non-western societies, then I'd like to turn that back around and point out that you're assuming that no "western" cultures would be more shocked by murder. "

I'm sorry if I implied (and if you felt like I did, then I probably did whether I intended to or not) that I thought you were, as an individual, prejudiced. As for the second part... I haven't actually stated any opinion at all about the matter of where and when which word was more shocking, as far as I can remember. That's why everyone's complaining about this debate, isn't it? Because it isn't about the content? I can't recall any place where I made any statement that would lead one to believe that I'm assuming no Western countries would be more shocked by murder. I was responding solely to the part where you seemed to categories some current cultures as modern and others as not (when you said "a modern sentiment"), which is a way of thinking encountered frequently in traditional history, and which was almost invariably divided between "Western"/"modern" and "Non-Western"/still in the past. That's why I started in on the Western/Non-Western thing.

However, I've just gone back and reread another of your comments, which said

"In fact, it possibly is to some in our culture today - if nothing else, compare the punishments for each crime in most First World penal systems."

I should apologize, I think, because this statement obviously implies that you're including many different cultures within the "today" definition, i.e. not subscribing to the way of thinking I talked about, and this most likely means that I misinterpreted what you meant by "modern sentiment" in the first place. I think that perhaps all you ever meant to say was that Eric's statement only applied to the constrainedly here and now--but I will submit that although I seem to have grossly misinterpreted you, it would seem to weaken your criticism of Eric's inclarity that your post could be taken so wrongly (just the whole "where does responsibility for "correct" interpretation lie" question). I'm sorry if that's an overcritical thing to say; perhaps I'm making the same mistake I accuse you of, since obviously even with way too many words I haven't been able to be very clear and I just called you on being unclear while criticizing inclarity...

and with that, I may be convinced that this is too many levels of he said you thought she said and I should give it a rest. I'll keep the rest as brief as I can manage.

"I'm making no geographical distinctions here. Keep that in mind next time you think I'm assuming something about a given region."

Ah, but the assumption that I should keep in mind a certain set of assumptions you hold in order to realize what you do and don't mean is the exact sort of "you can't require people to assume a certain context" problem you had with the original phrase way back in that post that actually has content.

"Oh, and for the record, you'll have to actually link to a comic in question when you want me to look at it. I don't particularly care for GC either way, so it's not on my usual reading list.

"

Okay, good point, it was shortsighted of me to assume you'd know what I was talking about, and linking would have been more polite. I hope you were able to follow my point even without the textual reference.

For the record, I am enjoying this exchange and the opportunity to discuss something like this, and that's the only reason I continue it. If my fun is causing annoyance to others or if you, 32, are simply annoyed by this back-and-forth, I am entirely willing to drop it.

Comment from: Eric the .5b posted at July 14, 2005 3:26 AM

The thing that gets me is that it's not "Y'ever raped anyone?", which would be creepy (in a mood-setting sense) and kinda lame. It's "Y'ever raped anything?"

Micky-D's has to keep the delivery trucks and those all-beef patties safe.

Comment from: Eric the .5b posted at July 14, 2005 3:27 AM

The thing that gets me is that it's not "Y'ever raped anyone?", which would be creepy (in a mood-setting sense) and kinda lame. It's "Y'ever raped anything?"

Micky-D's has to keep the delivery trucks and those all-beef patties safe.

Comment from: Paul Gadzikowski posted at July 14, 2005 10:35 AM

There's a Latin pun in I, Claudius.

(I'd like to have more to contribute to this discussion but I just don't. I know more about puns than rape.)

Comment from: neongrey posted at July 14, 2005 3:27 PM

What about puns involving rape?

Comment from: mckenzee posted at July 14, 2005 4:10 PM

"Fork the canoe!"

Greatest punchline ever!

Comment from: Coralie Coelsch posted at July 14, 2005 5:54 PM

On the issue of puns: I myself enjoy good and silly puns in both German and Norwegian. I don't think German or Norwegian people in general are less accepting of puns than Americans; I'm convinced that the enjoyment of puns (or annoyance by it for that matter) doesn't know linguistic bounds. Not that I have any proof...



I also think that you cannot generalize rape victims. Some may find humor helpful in order to copy, while others may find it offensive no matter what. And I've dealt with rape / sexual assault / abuse victims of different sorts. Some will react offended by the mere mention of the word "rape" in a comedic context, and it doesn't matter whether the joke has nothing to do with the actual act of raping. It doesn't matter at all.
Some people are just more sensitive than others.



Personally, I never thought any jokes about rape were particularly funny, be it jokes about men, prison, your worst hated enemy, butts... whatever. I detest the idea of a fruit raper. I didn't enjoy this Gin and the Devil strip either, but then I guess "Good old fashioned cancer jokes" just aren't my type of humor.



Dude, I sound awfully serious, don't I. *sigh*

Comment from: 32_footsteps posted at July 14, 2005 8:07 PM

To continue pounding on the dead horse...

Hey, if you did suddenly think I was undesireable, then this wouldn't be anything new. I've actually been somewhat alarmed because it's been a while since anyone has said something nasty out of genuine spite (as opposed to a joke).

Now, it's quite likely that Eric actually meant that "murder" has lost its shock, and that it's safe (relatively) to joke about it. However, if that's what he meant, then he shouldn't have said the word "ever" - because if "murder" lost that shock, that means it once had that shock. If he had said "'Rape' is shocking in a way that 'murder' isn't nowadays," then I'd have no problem with the statement. The word "ever" is what really makes it problematic.

Well, on your point about Latin... you realize that even in English, the concept has evolved? The feeling and reaction of the word "rape" in the modern day is heavily influenced by the feminism movement. I'm all for this, but this evolution proves one of my points - there was a time in which "rape" was not as loaded as today.

Now, I didn't take any offense or anything... but if anything, my statements actually suggest that "western" civilization as a whole finds murder more reprehensible - certainly, the penalties for murder are more serious than the ones for rape fairly consistently in First World countries. So, I'm not trying to make this a "west" vs. "east" issue, although comparing past and present is something I've done (again, because of that pesky "ever").

Actually, I'm specifically asking you to not have any assumptions about me. My request of you to not assume a given thing about my beliefs is not, ipso facto, a request to assume the opposite. It's merely a request to not assume. Similarly, I'm not assuming anything about what Eric believes - I'm just saying that while he may mean one thing, the post certainly reads another way.

And in case nobody caught this a while back, I live for stuff like this.

Comment from: gwalla posted at July 14, 2005 11:54 PM

BTW, it's the Fruit Fucker, not the Fruit Raper. Kinda same difference, being that fruit is incapable of consent, but not quite. And more alliterative.

Comment from: Thomas Blight posted at July 18, 2005 12:53 PM

You know, one of the things I've noticed in these comments is the use of the word "bias" which is used wrong almost all of the time.

Well, not quite wrong, per se, as redundant. Of course someone living in our day and age in western society is going to be biased towards modern western society. It just doesn't need to be said.

It's like Michael Moore. People always say, "He's full of ---- because he's biased against the US government" (to use Farenheit 911 as an example) He makes these documentaries to prove his point; his opinion even. Each of them is like a persuasive essay. You're not going to get someone discrediting their own cause in a persuasive essay. So why do people expect it from Micheal Moore and Eric Burns?

With freedom, you also have to accept that people will have differing opinions than you, and different ways of seeing things. Freedom requires tolerance.

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