Cultural Traditions: Sports, Humour, …Rape?

11 05 2008

While we’re talking about awful British comedians, I had to write about this incident I just read about—because it’s the closest I can get to screaming it from the rooftops. Basically, a comedian named Johnny Vegas brought a woman from the audience up on stage, sexually assaulted her as part of his “act” (and she wasn’t planted), and no one in the audience did anything (though some laughed). I’ll let the article speak for itself (note: the link goes to a blog post quoting the article because the article itself has been taken down due to, surprise, surprise, a libel suit by the comedian):

Once she was on stage, Vegas told her to lie very still. She couldn’t stop her nervous giggling; he threatened to kick her in the ribs. It didn’t come across to me as a joke – and near to where I was sitting, no one was laughing. Eventually Vegas crouched down beside the nervous girl and started stroking her breasts while repeatedly saying, “don’t fucking move”. Then he ran his hand up her leg and began pulling her skirt up. Every time he looked up to address the audience, she would reach down and pull her skirt back down, but he kept pulling it back up. According to Williams, who had a different view of the stage from me, Vegas ended up “fingering her through her clothes for a second or two”.

Although certain facts about the incident are currently in dispute—like whether there was actually, um, penetration, or not—there are still no words. Shame on headline writers posing the issue as a question (“Did he cross the line?” “Did he go too far?” PORRA, uh, YES!).

There are so many things wrong on so many levels with this issue that it seriously makes you want to cry or throw your hands up in the air and turn your back on humanity.

Things wrong with this issue:

1. The comedian thought this would make good comedy in the first place.
2. Members of the audience actually did find it good comedy.
3. The ones who didn’t did nothing to stop it.
4. There are people defending the comedian for his actions.
5. There are people trying to put it all on the victim. (e.g. “She should’ve known better than to sit in the front row.”)
6. Some people think if she didn’t actually get raped that somehow makes it more okay/acceptable.
7. There are debates focusing more on how violating it was (e.g. “It’s not like it was ‘real’ rape.”) and ignoring the fact that she was violated, period.
8. The comedian will face more or less no consequences whatsoever from his crime, let alone actually be charged; and in fact earned money off of it (from the original show), and may earn more in the future due to this spike in publicity or if he wins the lawsuit (god forbid). This speaks volumes about British authority, the press, public opinion, and modern-day culture and society in general.
9. The fact that this is now actually considered and being treated as an “issue”, as if there is another “side” to sexually assaulting someone or being sexually assaulted.

The whole entire thing, the original incident and its aftermath, is an epitomizing example of today’s rape culture. What is it? Wikipedia sums it up pretty comprehensively:

Rape culture [describes] a culture in which rape and other sexual violence are common and in which prevalent attitudes, norms, practices, and media condone, normalize, excuse, or encourage sexualized violence. Acts of harmless sexism are commonly employed to validate and rationalize normative misogynistic practices; for instance, sexist jokes…foster disrespect for women and an accompanying disregard for their well-being, which ultimately make their rape and abuse seem acceptable. Examples of behaviors said to typify rape culture include victim blaming, trivializing prison rape, and sexual objectification.

This is our culture. Just to make sure you really get it, a few concrete examples:

This is rape culture. [“College student sexually assaulted while crowd cheers”]

This is rape culture. [“U of O shuts down paper for misogyny”]

This is rape culture. [“At Jets Game, a Halftime Ritual of Harassment”]

This is rape culture. [“White Sox blew it by allowing sexist shrine”]

This is rape culture. [“Facebook application: It’s not rape, it’s surprise sex”]

Also, the jokes you and your friends make/laugh at, the comics you see, the hip-hop/rap lyrics you hear or listen to, the funny articles you read…all those ones that somehow endorse rape, make fun of rape, or use rape to make fun of something/someone? That is rape culture. And though they in themselves may not seem like such a big deal at the time (and I can attest to that), they’re still horrible in the ideas they promote and are based on, and more importantly they contribute to the bigger picture and general attitude (that is, the sexist/misogynistic one) of how women are seen.

So, unless you’ll find it just as funny if your friend, girlfriend, sister, or mother were to be raped for real…then, why is it so funny in imagination?

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