In Defense Of Offense

Use the words “long,” “hard,” or “meat” in a carbon dioxide sentence and you’re likely in store for an ear full of phallic allusions. But is it worth it? The emissions, I mean. Of course, no topic is inherently flawed, but if you find yourself and half of your friends all racing to the same punchline, please stop. You are not thinking, nor are you clever—you are being pushed on by the social inertia that mindlessly devours all things penis. Anyone who winks, “Yeah, you like that meat?” at the mention of a local deli should be drawn, quartered, and then literally made into quarters for kids to sneeze on as they play boardwalk Skee-ball. It is a prime example of lazy humor, the type of cheap shot backed by no creativity, wit, or greater truth. However, dick jokes are generally benign. No one’s definition of self has ever been shattered by a dick joke (I hope). They do not truly offend.

Victims: who they are, and why, is important to keep in mind when dealing with offense. People claim that offensive jokes, even those that have been well-crafted, are insensitive and belittle serious issues, which—in the presence of intelligent design and virtuous intent—is unwarranted. Offense is a weapon, and, when used properly, diminishes the power of rape, racism, and death in order to conquer them. At those mentions, I’m sure some of you are warily proceeding into this column with a chip on your shoulder.  If so, please dip it in some queso and try to relax.

There are often two arguments against offensive humor, the first of which surrounds the personal effect it has on the receiver. However, this argument is found to be hollow when taken to its logical end. If even the mention of evil shrieks so loudly in our minds so as to render us piles of quivering flesh, then the mere syllable “rape,” for example, should be banned in any context. Rape support centers, Rape Awareness Week, and counseling—the lot should be buried deep below the social consciousness to prevent pain and the past from welling up.

This is, of course, ridiculous, as the only way to overcome our fears and insecurities is to expose and confront them.

Secondly, people claim that offensive humor belittles the issue concerned. Yet, if mentioning rape or racism in a humorous context trivializes its gravity, how have Dave Chappelle and Louis C.K. not drowned in God’s Eleventh Plague of hate mail? Well, Chappelle’s humor succeeds because it satirizes our country’s racial inequity and at its foundation promotes harmony by exposing the absurdity of the alternative. Similarly, Louis C.K. jokes about how, if he could travel back in time, rather than kill Hitler, he would rape him. “If he had been raped by me, he wouldn’t have pulled any of that stuff, man. Should we invade Poland? ‘No …  I’m just gonna take a shower, I don’t feel good…’.” He continues, “I’m not condoning rape, obviously. You should never rape anyone, unless you have a reason … like you want to f—k somebody and they won’t let you.”

In the first joke, victimization is problematized, because he does make fun of the victim, yet we must remember that the victim is also Hitler. When distilled down to its purest essence, the joke’s thesis states that rape is so dark, so dreadfully powerful, that it could have prevented one of the most evil and headstrong men to have ever lived from starting World War II and committing genocide.

The follow-up joke further explores rapists’ monstrous rationalization: it’s not even a joke, but we find humor in the twisted outrage of rape’s raw truth and motivation. While a cursory glance at this bit offers a man normalizing sexual violence, a deeper look displays how incredulously warped the world appears to him.

Allow me to stop here for a moment to emphasize that my goal is to neither change hearts nor convince anyone that such topics are funny. Objectively, they are not, and these comedians realize this—more than most, in fact. By profession, a comedian journeys through the world as a depressed cynic, lifting up the societal surface to expose its grimy underbelly, and returns to relay to the audience his findings. In the face of such nonsense, filth, and sadness, it only follows that he, the comic, would bemoan the state of the world—yet once the veil has been torn, he cannot but see reality’s horrid face, and thus he must create his own veil to shield himself from what he has uncovered. In the comedian’s case, he chooses to alchemize his surroundings through comedy.

Make no mistake, comedy is not CARE Week—in a grim twist of irony, comedy is less “voluntary” and participatory. The audience exists to laugh, not to dredge up humanity’s evil, but the two are actually not mutually exclusive. Catharsis is gained through a pouring out of emotion, whether through discussing the struggle, burning the old pictures, or laughing at the hatred. Laughter is a visceral, instinctive reaction—a bullet aimed at the mind’s conception of the joke’s truth. Prayer, laughter, solidarity—they all offer catharsis, the origin of which should not matter. If you can laugh in the face of darkness, are you not more powerful? Is its force not diminished?

Granted, humor is not action, and listening and chortling does not necessarily translate to tangible world-betterment. Well-crafted comedy, though, resonates. In Talking Funny on HBO, Seinfeld acknowledges this power of resonance and claims that a good bit can press itself into one’s identity forever. CARE week and similar events are indispensable, but they presuppose interest in the issue.

The indelible impressions and wide-reaching influence of comedy have no prerequisite care, and thus it has the ability to spread and instill that care necessary for action. I heard Louis’ bit months ago and it has stuck with me since, essentially forcing me to write, research, and discuss rape, through which I have grown.

If comedy opens the door, CARE week furnishes the house, but only you decide how you live. I will leave you with this: If you’re trying to make a rape joke, think, because you are probably going to unjustifiably offend a lot of people. But if you’ve thought long and hard about its virtuous rigidity—well, let’s be honest, this sentence is just one big cop out of a dick joke.

Featured Image by Francisco Ruela / Heights Graphic