I avidly follow Patton Oswalt on Twitter, one might say I follow him religiously.
He recently tweeted about this piece written about him on Salon, calling him out after the greatly inspirational piece he wrote about the Boston Marathon bombings, because when the whole Daniel Tosh-rape comment thing went down last year, the writer was disappointed in the usually progressive-minded Oswalt’s response.
The Salon article, I have to say was spot on. Oswalt seemed annoyed by it, and I can understand why to a degree. Though I agree with the content, the timing was maybe not the greatest. It had the effect of winning the presidential election and some heckler in the crowd going on a tirade about how you cheated on a test once when you were in high school. Or like getting a promotion at work and your lover saying, “yeah, that’s nice and all, but remember the time when we got in a fight about buying silverware, and you yelled at me? You don’t do it all the time but you did it once and it was awful.” In other words, you waited until he did something good to bring up a mistake he made, a big one though it might have been.
The guy who disagreed on the other hand is what made me want to write something about this. First, he starts off his piece by making a rape joke. I understand he’s trying to be ironical or something, but I think he’s already ruined his point.
He’s black and he says he doesn’t get upset about the “n-word.” It’s good for him that he’s able to keep a level head about that issue. But does that mean a black person who hears “n—–” in a joke that they don’t have the right to be offended? Of course not.
I mean, what if a white comedian got up in front of a black audience and opened by saying “what up my, n—–s!” Is that cool? I’m pretty sure the audience would not be cool with that. What if he did it in front of a white crowd? I bet he’d get lots of laughs, but I think many people would have a problem with it.
As I’m of mixed race — half Asian, half Caucasian (I put the Asian in Caucasian), I followed Jeremy Lin pretty closely back when the news was all about Linsanity before he moved to Houston and everyone forgot about him. I even wrote a piece about him. This was in response to ESPN using the headline “Chink in the Armor.” In case you don’t want to read all of it, the main point was that I personally wasn’t particularly offended by the word, though I understand the anger from the many people who were. I was more offended by Lin’s treatment as the Asian-American superstar. ESPN did everything they could to highlight his Asianness that they almost forgot he was only an above-average player, and they overlooked some easy Harvard jokes, since that was his alma-mater.
Point being, we know there’s lots of racism going around, we hope it’s not as bad as we think it is, but things like this just serve to confirm our fears.
It’s the same thing with women and rape and misogyny.
You can say all you want about how people should “get over it” and “can’t you take a joke?” and “I should be allowed to say whatever I want.” And on and on, and you say it like it’s some great original point that no one’s heard before, like you think they’re too dumb or “blinded by bitterness” to get it or whatever, and if you say it once more maybe they’ll get behind your logic this time.
And if you do that kind of stuff, I’ll coin a term for you. You’ll hence be known in this piece as a “Toshbag.” Don’t be a Toshbag bro.
You can say that you have freedom of speech and nothing should be off limits because that’s what comedy is about, but look at it a different way, Toshbag. Make some jokes about the Boston bombings. How about the Newtown shootings? Why not have a laugh about those women in Cleveland who were raped by that disgusting disgrace of a human being for ten years? I’m pretty sure there’s that one Toshbag in every office who’s made a revolting joke about Newtown and the Cleveland women, and people rightly revile them for it. But Boston’s pretty much off limits.
What about the Holocaust? Would you go in a room full of Jews and make a joke about taking a shower or something? What if you went up to Elie Wiesel and told a Holocaust joke? If someone didn’t shoot you, that would be career suicide, except to your fellow Toshbags who would think you are awesome for it. “That Holocaust survivor needs to lighten up and see the humor of it!”
I know anything to do with the Holocaust is always an extreme example. But what if you made a joke about kidnapping in front of one of those Cleveland women? Or what if you told that knee-slapper you came up with about Newtown in front of one of those kids’ parents. Better yet, tell a joke about the Boston bombings around that survivor who lost both his legs. Real funny stuff, huh?
Assuming there are women at your comedy show, which is a real accomplishment for most comedians (I kid … kinda), there’s a good chance one of them has been sexually assaulted sometime in her life, since academic statistics put it at one in four women having been raped. While it might not be as traumatic an experience as living through the Holocaust, a sexual assault is a victim’s own personal Cleveland experience that they have to live with every day. I know this because I know people who are survivors of sexual assault. So, I think that should be something to take into consideration.
I saw the episode of Louie, where Louis CK explains away his telling a woman he hopes she gets AIDS from someone in the audience, because she dared to be vocally upset at his telling of a rape joke. I like Louis CK, because he seems like a good guy for the most part, but his explanation of her ruining his night and telling a sad sack story about how this is the only part of his life he enjoys, and she ruined his act by talking, is just so insensitive and ignorant. It makes the woman out to be as if she raped him by daring to say she didn’t like his rape joke.
If a comedian gets heckled or someone in the audience is looking at their cellphone during the act, bomb away on that person, because that’s pretty fucking rude. But even if you tell them you hope they die, it doesn’t come off as serious because no one’s going to murder them after the show. To wish rape on someone is another story. There are enough Toshbags in the audience that chances are, one of them will find it a little too funny and later might take it a little too seriously, if not with that woman, with his own girlfriend or someone he meets at the bar later.
So, I don’t think it’s the end of the world if some things are off limits.
And I know everyone hates taking criticism, and it’s a knee-jerk reaction to defend yourself, even if you make a mistake. Even if you know you said something wrong, you’d rather save face by proving that you weren’t wrong to begin with than to admit you were wrong, apologize and move on. For male comedians, the backlash you get when you defend rape jokes might be annoying.
But for a woman who dares to speak up when she “steps out of line” to correct someone who’s being a Toshbag? Good God, it’s open season on her. She will get everything from rape threats to death threats from their fanatical, die-hard fans. Believe me, I’ve seen more than one Twitter spat between a famous person, the one who criticizes him and a rabid flock of fanboys. It is terrifying.
I’ve read enough forum comments on news stories about gender. Oh man, Toshbag commenters will literally tell the author what they want to put where, if you catch my drift. Especially if it has to do with sexual assault, double especially if it has to do with assault in the military. Believe me, I spend my day reading crappy news sites, and even though I know I shouldn’t read the comments, I have that morbid curiosity that makes me want to read them even more. I’m rarely disappointed by the lack of good taste I find.
And yes, people joke about horrible things that we shouldn’t because sometimes it’s our way of coping with it. I work at a newspaper, and it’s an endless flow of the worst things you can imagine a human might be capable of, and probably a few things even too sick for your own imagination. When a Christian heavy metal singer gets arrested for allegedly trying to hire a hitman to kill his wife, the situation is so awful that you can’t help but laugh at it. As one of my former coworkers put it, either you cry, or you laugh until you cry.
But I doubt the big ol’ Toshbag is really holding back any tears for the people he tears apart.
That’s another thing. You don’t have to look at things as totally off limits. Fresh tragedies might be taboo because generally, everyone is trying to heal by taking their minds off those terrible events. But there can even be good jokes about rape. An easy way to determine what’s OK is by who gets the shit end of the joke. If you’re shit-canning a rapist, you’re obviously much better off than if you’re a Toshbag shitting on people who get raped. That just seems simple.
The point of comedy should be that everyone can get a laugh out of it. I know not everyone has the same tastes (inexplicably, there are people in the world who don’t like Edgar Wright’s movies), but if people are being hurt by “humor,” then it’s not humorous. Despite the hilarity of Jack Black kicking Will Ferrell’s dog off a bridge in “Anchorman,” it’s not funny to actually kick puppies. Black face isn’t funny. Rape victims should have the right to go to a show without having to feel triggered by Toshbag “entertainment.”
I’m not a comedian, so I don’t claim to know where they come from. But I am a fan, and anyone in entertainment is just another person unless they have people who will pay to see them perform.
And I don’t know why, but you so rarely see a man write to condemn rape jokes and misogyny in entertainment. So, not that I don’t think women can defend themselves, because they most certainly can, and honestly, they probably don’t need me standing up for them. But there seems to be a dearth men who are willing to stand against rape jokes, so I thought I’d throw my ass out there.
Patton Oswalt is one of my favorite comedians because he’s brilliant and one of the few who gets it right almost all the time. This just happens to be one of the few times he doesn’t. I don’t think he’s a Toshbag.