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.