A joke is a story or a question punctuated or answered by a surprise or an exaggeration. That’s all it is. In the recent case of the Daniel Tosh rape joke controversy, it’s important to keep that in perspective.
I’m always eager to rise up in the defense of free speech. You cannot purport to defend free speech if you want to silence everybody who says something you don’t like. I’ve defended people I loathed in the past (Rush Limbaugh), people I’m ambivalent toward (Don Imus), and now I get to defend someone who has made me laugh. And it’s important to do, because the PC media is all over Tosh for his joke about rape.
While it’s easy to admire the media pundit-sphere’s courageous stand against rape, they’re missing the point entirely. You don’t have to think rape is funny in order to find a joke about rape funny. Remember George Carlin? He did an entire bit on rape. First he made fun of the “She was asking for it” mentality amongst men. Then he said, “Imagine Porky Pig raping Elmer Fudd.”
“Hey, he was asking for it. Elmer was coming onto Porky. Porky got a hard-on, couldn’t control himself.”
Tosh’s offending comment came not in the midst of a cartoonish routine, but as a response to being heckled over a routine about rape. The offended woman’s version of the story is being reported now without sourcing as if they were the actual words, as in this article by Elissa Bassist. It’s too bad that she, as she wrote, “felt that sitting there and saying nothing, or leaving quietly, would have been against my values as a person and as a woman.” This is not anyone's place. You don’t go to a music concert and shout down the band. If you paid to get into a club and don’t like the act, tough luck. It’s still their stage. Write a bad review of it, but don’t interfere with it.
There are a few cold, hard facts society has to accept. Rape is a brutal crime. And there is no way to stop it. You can kick away the assailant or call the police, but like terrorism, it’s an idea that floats in the ether. You can’t wage a war on it; it’s never going away completely.
So what’s the next best thing? To, as Bassist wrote, “mark these verbal assaults to manage them”? Frightening to note a woman with such a callous attitude toward curtailing speech is editor of a Funny Women column.
There is no reason to pick on her over the others writing about the incident on the Internet. They’re all missing the point. Comedians have a built-in defense mechanism against heckling that is needed to survive. To take Tosh's words as an actual incitement for the raping of a woman is ludicrous. Would it have been better if Tosh said he wants the woman to be murdered on her way out? Might that have been sufficiently exaggerated that people understood it wasn’t to be taken seriously?
Stand-up comedy is the last holdout for free speech in this country. It doesn't exist in print anymore. While Tosh is far from the most cerebral or groundbreaking of comedians, he is frequently funny. I’m much more interested in defending his right to defend his show from hecklers than in joining a witch hunt against him. And in any case, the story’s over - the woman wrote her article and Tosh apologized. What more is there? Legislation? A code of censorship over comedians?
No one has a right not to be offended. This country is a monumental offense of gross overconsumption in and of itself. I assure you, petitioning for Tosh to be taken off the air or writing extensively about how tasteless he is are going to do nothing constructive for anybody anywhere, and certainly won’t have the vaguest trace of an impact on rape. Any argument against him boils down to, “We want to control people who say things we don’t like.” And I’ll stand against that ridiculous declaration any day.