Storytellers tread on thin, scary ice when they make light of heavy situations. Our thresholds as listeners are dependent on our personal biases — this was discussed in a recent MR round table on the gravity of our words: jokes about race, gender and sexuality affect each individual differently.
“Rape jokes” are at the top of my limits. They’re never funny. They stir physical reactions like a clenched jaw or tightened fists. But comedians make them. Strangers make them. Friends make them. I remind myself that they’re in it for a punchline; that they’re telling a story with humor as opposed to malicious intent. And I have a choice: to tolerate it, or leave the room — because people are going to say what they want to say, right? Freedom of speech.
Where this important freedom clouds the water is when the media argues that such jokes proliferate rape culture. Whether this is true or not is widely debated, and can be likened to the correlation struck between video games and gun violence. Or music and crime. And somewhere in the crowd, someone is always shouting, “It’s a joke! It’s art! Lighten up!”
But my point here is not to argue. It’s to highlight that sometimes jokes — humor — change the conversation.
In a skit that’s making waves across the Internet, Amy Schumer parodied Friday Night Lights while fearlessly hitting the notion of rape culture. The original show was about a community obsessed with football. In Schumer’s version, it’s about a football team obsessed with rape and the community that supports it. Then a new coach comes to town with a game plan. He writes it down on a dry-erase board before a roomful of young men: “No raping.”
“You might look at this scene and think we’re making light of something serious, but we really are trying to educate,” Schumer said at the Tribeca Film Festival, per Time.com. “We know what message we want to send, and then we also think the premise is funny, and then we go to town.”
The skit is important. It makes a statement. It is funny and it is well done (Josh Charles as Coach Taylor!). If it gets shared because the “jokes” landed, and the message was heard loud and clear: that rape is never okay, you can consider this a coup for Schumer and frankly, the rest of us.
If it gets shared because someone hates it, that’s fine too. The skit deserves to be seen. It should be traded and talked about because as women and men who believe in free speech amid a reality that rape in our society is prevalent (whether we want to blame the culture or not), we have to do two things: 1) reject the overarching level of political correctness neutering our opinions, and 2) shout from the rooftops that our bodies, and our voices, demand to be protected. So, let’s do that.