Rape is Hilarious: Jerry Seinfeld Edition

And not just hilarious, but sophisticated:

Jerry Seinfeld is busy building buzz for his “Bee Movie.”

… “Bees have the only perfect society on earth,” he told us at a sneak preview of his film. “Other insects are just kind of crawling around. They don’t have the sophistication of the bee.”

“They have no crime, they have no drugs, they have no rape. A little rape, but it’s not that bad.”

Before we move on, I want to note three things: 1. This is a children’s movie he’s promoting, so general WTF to rape jokes. 2. Seinfeld anthropomorphized bees and equated their society with our own the moment he noted they have “no crime” etc. Any claim that he was “only talking about bees” is bullshit. 3. I heard this line before, when I watched him receive the “Comedian” award on HBO. At the time, it kind of made my skin crawl, but I thought it seemed like an ad-libbed line and figured maybe he didn’t realize how it sounded. It happens. In other words, I gave him the benefit of the doubt. I didn’t think it was “a bit.” Chalk it up to the fact that I’m a huge Seinfeld fan reluctant to condemn a guy I admire(d), and/or internalized fears about being seen as humorless and over-reactionary. They’re both just as applicable as my general willingness to try to be fair. It was fair to give him the benefit of the doubt. Now it’s fair to call foul.

The problem with a “joke” like “This perfect society has no rape. A little rape, but it’s not that bad.” is that, if it’s intended as a straight line, it’s playing on a very active and functioning narrative in our culture that rape really isn’t all that bad, and, if it’s intended as an ironic line, that makes the punch line: “Rape really is bad.” Which is funny…how?

This is one of those jokes that really tends to highlight what a different life one lives as a man in our culture than one lives as a woman. “A little rape isn’t that bad” might seem uproarious if you essentially never, ever have to worry about being raped. But if you’ve spent your entire life being told to be careful what you wear, how you wear it, how you carry yourself, where you walk, when you walk there, with whom you walk, whom you trust, what you do, where you do it, with whom you do it, what you drink, how much you drink, whether you make eye contact, if you’re alone, if you’re with a stranger, if you’re in a group, if you’re in a group of strangers, if it’s dark, if the area is unfamiliar, if you’re carrying something, how you carry it, what kind of shoes you’re wearing in case you have to run, what kind of purse you carry, what jewelry you wear, what time it is, what street it is, what environment it is, how many guys you sleep with, what kind of guys you sleep with, who your friends are, to whom you give your number, who’s around when the delivery guy comes, to get an apartment where you can see who’s at the door before they can see you, to check before you open the door to the delivery guy, to own a dog or a dog-sound-making machine, to get a roommate, to take self-defense, to always be alert always pay attention always watch your back always be aware of your surroundings and never let your guard down for a moment lest you be raped, “a little rape isn’t that bad” doesn’t seem all that funny. Maybe.

And the other problem with it is that it plays either way on the presumption that rape is so inevitable even the most perfect society man can imagine includes at least “a little” rape. Which, again, might be funny to someone who has almost no chance of being a rape victim, but not so much to people who do.

Naturally, not all humor is universal, and not every joke is going to appeal to every person, but there’s something rather despicable about a man who has an infinitesimal and continually diminishing chance of being raped in his lifetime telling a rape joke that can best be appreciated by other men who have infinitesimal and continually diminishing chances of being raped in their lifetimes, without regard for the reality that rapists are usually drawn from the same pool in which they’re lazily paddling, yukking it up and enjoying the sunshine of shared privilege.

Bluntly, Seinfeld has told a rape joke to rapists at which they can laugh without reservation.

It’s not so very different from the problematic Stop Rape. Say Yes. shirts about which I’ve written before, which a rapist could wear without the merest trace of irony.

If you’re going to make a joke about rape, it’s got to be funny to rape victims. And yeah, it’s possible. I got more approving emails about my “Soberest Fuckhole” trophy than any other graphic I’ve ever done. That’s some serious gallows humor, wickedly subversive, and it made a hell of a lot of survivors of sexual assault and their advocates laugh and cheer, because it played on all the stupid bullshit surrounding victim-blaming and rape. It’s a rape joke, but it didn’t treat rape like a joke. And that’s what most “rape jokes” do—including Seinfeld’s.

Nothing’s off limits. But let’s not pretend that “A little rape, but it’s not that bad” is “edgy.” In fact, there’s almost nothing less edgy than minimizing the seriousness of rape. Hacksville, dude. You want to say something shocking? Try telling a joke that would make a rapist squirm instead of his victims.

[Radar has reactions from anti-rape advocacy groups, who are also not amused. Thanks to Todd at Article of Faith for passing that along.]

56 Comments

Filed under 01_shakespeares_sister

56 responses to “Rape is Hilarious: Jerry Seinfeld Edition

  1. I wonder if Letterman will now have Michael Richards on as a guest while they watch Jerry apologize via satellite.

  2. nightshift66

    I am a huge fan of gallows humor myself, and cannot go a day without telling at least 3 jokes or anecdotes of some sort. I figure that means I make over 1,000 attempts at humor a year, and have for over 20 years. (It was how I came out of my shy-shell.) 20,000 tall tales, sea stories, drunken escapades, knock-knock jokes, you name it. And I seriously don’t think I’ve ever told a female-victim rape joke. (Hey, I was in the Navy, so ‘don’t drop the soap’ lines were pretty standard.)

    I think I would file such attempts under the ‘only pick at your own’ rule.

    Of course, I never liked Seinfeld in the first place, so didn’t have that to overcome.

  3. Melissa McEwan

    I seriously don’t think I’ve ever told a female-victim rape joke.

    You know, thank you for saying that. One of the things that always drives me crazy about discussions of this subject is the presumption that “every guy tells rape jokes.” I really appreciate men who just shoot a hole right through that shit, because every time I say, “I know men who don’t tell rape jokes,” the response is, inevitably, “Not around you they don’t.” And how can I argue with that? Even though I do believe I know plenty of men who don’t tell rape jokes, whether women are present or not.

  4. Jerry Seinfeld = jerk.

    A member of my family used to date him. He was a complete asshat to her.

    I’m one of the few Americans who have never, not once, watched an episode of Seinfeld. That was my revenge on him.

  5. I’m with nightshift. To me there is no way rape can be funny. anything is bullshit with a capitol B!

  6. nightshift66

    Well, you’re welcome, but I don’t know that I deserve any credit for it. I just never heard one I thought was funny. How would one frame such a joke to be funny? Maybe if the rapist is the butt of the joke, but I can’t see it. Even your ‘soberest’ joke struck me as being too sad to be funny. But what do I know, eh?

  7. how about “Anything else is bullshit.” It’s late and I’ve just been to dinner with friends and mucho vino. (My excuse and I’m sticking with it.)

  8. Melissa McEwan

    How would one frame such a joke to be funny?

    I don’t know, but I’m guessing the vagina dentata would be involved.

  9. As far as I can remember, I never heard rape jokes from male family members or close male friends of mine, so the excuse that every man tells them is definitely nonsense.

  10. rslux: I, too, have never seen an episode of Seinfeld, though I have seen some of his standup. I’ve just never thought he was funny. His onstage presence made me think that he was just the type of guy to be… well, just like he was to your family member.

    This info in this post lowers my evaluation of him even further.

  11. But let’s not pretend that “A little rape, but it’s not that bad” is “edgy.

    Oh dear god, yes.

    It’s not as if rape jokes weren’t bad enough to begin with.

    Sexualized violence against women as a punch line is so overused that even misogynist comedians should take a break from it for no other reason than on account of it being done to death.

    It’s sad to think that you can do worse than telling a rape joke (of the kind that tends to get told), but I think that telling such jokes and then claiming to be ironic, edgy, clever, or any combination thereof has got to get you even more extra special minus points than just telling the joke in the first place.

  12. Oh, and I am a lover of the joke in all forms and have never recounted a rape joke.

  13. Brynn

    I really dislike Seinfeld. I’ve always found him to be too smug, conventional and comfortably mainstream for my tastes. Kinda like the Jewish boy who tailors his jokes to be sure to get invited to the frat parties. His humor on his TV show reinforced cultural values and misconceptions around race, gender, and sexual orientation. I prefer my comedians to be subversive, to threaten the powerful not convince them they’re right to feel and believe the way they do.

    That’s a long way of saying, I’m not surprised to hear he made a rape joke.

  14. Brynn

    (And btw, I haven’t been here for a couple of days so it’s the first time I’ve seen your new photo: it’s great!!!)

  15. Fritz

    He’s probably been influenced by the movie Blazing Saddles.

    In one scene, a criminal is asked what crimes he’s committed:

    “Rape, arson, murder, and rape.”

    “You said rape twice.”

    “I like rape.”

    Ii is very likely that he is familiar with this Mel Brooks bit.

  16. Ugh.

    I’m really reminded of this early episode of Scrubs, where J.D. meets one of the other people in the hospital, who’s just chattering on and being nitpicky, and all J.D. hears him saying is, “I’m a tool. I’m a tool. Tool, right here. Yep, I’m a tool.”

    I do believe that’s going to be my mental soundtrack from now on whenever I hear Seinfeld speak.

  17. What everyone else said.

    I actually addressed this issue on my blog last month:

    http://diaryofafreakmagnet.blogspot.com/2007/05/laugh-it-up-mr-sensitivity.html

  18. I have to say, every time I see a “Rape is Hilarious” post here, I wanna jump out the window, because while the form of the “jokes” may change, the message never does. It’s so relentless and demoralizing. But your lucid writing, Melissa, always gives me a little hope that our culture will one day be even slightly less stupid.

  19. Kate217

    Other than one really early stand-up bit about dogs, I’ve never really cared for Seinfeld (something about him strikes me as smug, and I can’t stand smug). I never watched the show.

    It did strike me that the joke might supposed to be that bees “rape” flowers, but that’s “not too bad.” If true, it’s a stretch for a joke, and not funny, but I can see him stretching that far.

    It still doesn’t excuse him from thinking about how his words might wound real rape victims.

  20. Jovan1984

    rslux, that makes two of us. I never watched Seinfeld’s episodes, either.

    Nowadays, I hardly ever find anything funny. But the fact that Seinfeld said that rape is hilarous made me infuriated. :mad: Sweet Machine, our nation has been celebrating stupidness for much of the last six years and I am appalled. And I hope that Melissa, Pamela, Amanda, et. al. continue to write about our cultural ills so that we will become wiser and better as a whole.

  21. Winchell

    I’d be a better judge if I actually heard Seinfeld say it, because tone and inflection count for alot. But from the vantage point I’ve got, it doesn’t sound like he is saying “rape isn’t all the bad”. Rather, I think what he was saying was that this fictional situation of rape in this fictional bee culture wasn’t very widespread. In other words, he is not negating the seriousness of the act, but the amount of acts that occurred. So, when I read, “There is rape, but it isn’t that bad.” I see, “There is rape, but it isn’t that widespread.” I do not see, “There is rape, but rape isn’t a very serious thing.” I am pretty confident he meant it the first way, not the second.

  22. I don’t think rape is funny.

    Just saying.

  23. Winchell – your logic does not resemble our earth logic.

    Rather, I think what he was saying was that this fictional situation of rape in this fictional bee culture wasn’t very widespread.

    One would hope that in this fictional world for children that rape doesn’t exist at all.

    In other words, he is not negating the seriousness of the act, but the amount of acts that occurred.

    Seinfeld:

    Bees have the only perfect society on earth….They have no crime….A little rape, but it’s not that bad.

    The statement that a perfect society would include “a little rape” and the obvious implication that rape =/= crime suggests that your reading of “it’s not that bad” could give Mister Fantastic a run for his money.

    The issue is not whether “a little” means the number of instances or the extent of the violence involved; the point is that if one thinks (or jokes) that burglary doesn’t exist in perfect society but rape does, then then one must also think that not all rape is bad at all – or at least be enough of a dick to find kicking innocent people when they are down to be an entertaining pastime.

    I am pretty confident he meant it the first way, not the second.

    Reread paragraphs 3, 5 and 8 of Melissa’s post. Repeat as needed.

  24. You can add me, my dad and my youngest brother in the list of guys who don’t tell rape jokes. It would never even occur to us to go there.

    Which begs the question, for me, why the hell would Seinfeld even bring it up? He should be reading your posts, Liss, and getting a clue.

  25. "Fair and Balanced" Dave

    Actually there is no rape whatsoever in a bee colony. This is because the population of a bee hive is overwhelmingly female. A typical beehive has a population of 60,000-80,000 bees; of these only 300-3,000 are males.

    Male bees (more formally known as drones) serve only one function: To mate with the queen bee. The male bees have a barbed sex organ so when they have completed mating with the queen, their organ is rather unceremoniously ripped out of their bodies and they die.

    BTW, during the winter, when hive activity is reduced, all of the males are expelled.

    Source: Backyard Beekeepers Association

  26. Melissa McEwan

    Actually there is no rape whatsoever in a bee colony.

    Jebus. That makes the “joke” even more awesome.

  27. oddjob

    Honey bee hives are strictly amazonian societies, as are all ants, all social bees (that I know of), and all social wasps. Males are reared to serve stud and for no other purpose. Consequently there are few of them and usually they are only around when the colony is mature.

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  29. Never watched Seinfeld at all because I thought it was moronic and unfunny.

    Thanks for proving my point for me Jerry, you asshat.

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  33. Bob the Chef

    “…Shakesville’s blogmaven Melissa McEwan will get off her fat arse…”

    Hah, I knew it! Only fat and ugly chicks are dumb enough to bitch about rape. You’re just so good, and the world is just so bad. I recommend locking yourself up in your house. You’d be doing you and us a favor: you, because that way you’d have almost 0% chance of being raped, and us, because we would never have to see your hideous visage and disgusting body arrogantly rolling around Main Street ever again.

    BITCH! YOU SMELL LIKE CABBAGE!

  34. Hai

    Hai ladies and people who hate rape jokes.

    First of all I am gay, and I would like to say I understand how women would feel about these kinda jokes really, I definetley don’t like saying them and if I do laugh I do it with a lot of guilt and a reminder that this isn’t so funny

    HOWEVER!!!
    This is what I know that I can honestly say all straight men across the world are so shallow when they talk about sex/molestation/rapes they really just find it funny and they really joke about it all the time even saying ‘ima rape you’ to his other straight friend…I mean lets take seinfeld if you watch many of the shows bloobers he ‘george/kramer’ all do alot of ‘jerking around’ jokes pretending they raping or whatever sexually offencive joke there is..

    Bottom Line is…Seinfeld and men in general are indeed kinda jerks, and yes men cannot relate to the fear of getting raped, since they are just too sexually obsessed that they dont understand what does it mean to be ‘violated’, it takes a certain case or a story to wakem up, but in the end of the day its just how they joke, they just dont know any better….:/

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  36. everstand

    He’s a pratt – rape jokes not withstanding.

  37. Pingback: What is Rape Culture? « Dr. Kathleen Young: Treating Trauma in Chicago

  38. lauren

    I am one of the few americans without television (perhaps), but once at a friend’s he turned on Seinfield and only 20 minutes of watching made me sick – the horrible debasing women characters, the roles and lines they were given.

    What TV shows or movies made by men are feminist?

    My guess is none.

    I found this late, but this is a great blog :)

  39. For Christ’s sake, grow up. You know what’s funny? Whatever makes people laugh. Starving Africans (Sam Kinnison), murder (which is WAY worse than rape and a very common subject of jokes and kiddings), all kinds of racial stereotypes, crack cocaine, anorexia (George Carlin). Even the Holocaust has spawned plenty of hilarious jokes, many of them by Jews.

    You’re an idiot if you take this stuff seriously. Anyone who gets ‘offended’ by comedy routines deserves to be offended.

  40. D.

    Chu-hua Zhu: I don’t think you’re qualified to tell anyone to grow up. I would hope part of being grown up is NOT telling people that their feelings don’t matter just because you, personally, aren’t offended by something. Just because people have made jokes about rape, racism, murder etc. doesn’t actually mean they were funny, or right, or should be allowed to spout out offensive shit masquerading as jokes but not take responsibility for what they have said. If you don’t mean it, then don’t say it. If you can’t make a joke without resorting to that type of “humor”, then really, you just aren’t very good at being funny…And no amount of privileged, insensitive internet commenters defending you will change that.

  41. “I would hope part of being grown up is NOT telling people that their feelings don’t matter just because you, personally, aren’t offended by something.”
    I never said your feelings don’t matter. I said they were engendered by bogus ideas.

    “Just because people have made jokes about rape, racism, murder etc. doesn’t actually mean they were funny”
    If someone laughed at it, it was funny. That’s pretty much the definition.

    “or should be allowed to spout out offensive shit”
    People should be ‘allowed’, or rather have a right, to say any damn thing they please, and if you don’t like it, that’s your problem. If course, you can say the something back if you please, but they can shrug their shoulders and carry on. It’s not a comedian’s business to please you, it’s to please his audience enough to make an income.

    “but not take responsibility for what they have said.”
    I don’t think George Carlin or Louise C.K. have ever failed to take responsibility for what they said. Some of it was funny, a lot of it was true, all of it was meant for entertainment. If it doesn’t suit your taste, fine, but frankly PC obsession is far more irritating to me than someone making jokes about asians.

    ” If you don’t mean it, then don’t say it.”
    Inane. You’ve basically ruled out satire, subtlety, fiction and the use of rhetorical devices. Basically, what you don’t like is that they tread on your precious Feminazi PC-dogma. I certainly don’t think actual rape is funny, any more than I think actually shooting people is cool, but I still love edgy comedians and action movies.

    “If you can’t make a joke without resorting to that type of “humor”, then really, you just aren’t very good at being funny”
    Pure assertion. In fact I would say that if you let overly-sensitive dogmatism hem in the range and content of your comedy you’re a pretty poor comedian, or any kind of writer for that matter. In fact, anything that’s poignant and pointed enough to be incisively funny is bound to offend some jackass. For example, jokes about Christianity. Should we toe the line for all those poor, poor Katholiks? Or is it just your dogma that’s sacred?

    Also, what is ‘funny’ is just as subjective as what tastes good. I happen to like jokes about Hegel, but I suspect most people would find them totally boring. That’s their affair.

    “And no amount of privileged”
    Lol, wtf does this even mean.

  42. PedoBear

    Wow, rslux. You sure showed him. Bullshit about one of your relatives dating him, but I have an interesting statistic for all of you. Did you know that 9/10 people enjoy gang rape? I agree that rape isn’t funny. I’ve always found it to be both pleasing and exhilerating, but never funny. Now everyone reading this reach behind you and pull the giant stick out of your ass.

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  49. Well, I do not know if that is going to work for me, but definitely proved helpful for you! :) Excellent post!

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