Whether you're a poltician or comedian, rape is seriously unfunny business
PUBLISHED August 25, 2012
I think it was in 2007 that I first noticed something newly abhorrent happening with regards to society's attitude to rape. It was the casual shattering of a taste barrier. The film-maker Quentin Tarantino, a man whose idea of feminism is to give a bloodied, beaten woman in a bikini top a scene where she gets her own gun, had taken a cameo role as "Rapist No 1" in the film Planet Terror, and then created and marketed a little plastic action figure of the character (whose "fun quote" on the online Quentin Tarantino Archives is: "Don't taunt me, tramp. I am not one to be taunted").
That's it, I thought: the screwed-up little weirdo's gone too far this time, and there's going to be a backlash. But there wasn't. A few websites sharply noted the crassness, but it blew over, and his favourite actresses continued to laud Tarantino for supposedly writing "great parts for women".
Sometimes, the attitude shift seemed more subtle. Richard Curtis - by all accounts a kind, public-spirited man - wrote and directed a 2009 comedy called The Boat That Rocked, loosely based on the heyday of Radio Caroline, in which a DJ playfully invited a young, virgin friend to take his place in bed in the dark with the DJ's unwitting girlfriend. The plan went awry, but watching its exposition was a bit like biting on a shard of glass in a blancmange. What was being proposed was clearly uncomfortably close to rape, as several male critics noted, yet no warning bell had apparently gone off in the director's head.
And then, quite recently, I turned on the television to hear the comedian Jimmy Carr saying: "What's the difference between rape and football? Women don't like football." Again, I was a bit surprised - was that television humour now?
Actually, it's a well-worn line of Carr's. He has a whole wardrobe of rape jokes, including: "What do nine out of 10 people enjoy? Gang rape." As he told an interviewer: "I do a lot of jokes about rape, but it's not a discourse on rape. I do jokes to get laughs."
In the first joke, the laugh is that Carr thinks women secretly like being raped. In the second, the laugh is that whoever is being gang-raped doesn't like it, but the rapists do.
If - upon hearing them - your response is not to cackle along, but to feel slightly nauseous as the mental image flashes up, just for example, of those numerous women in the Congo who have suffered crippling internal injuries after being gang-raped by militias, or some crying teenager in a run-down London estate, then you're obviously taking this stuff far too seriously. You need to loosen up and get a sense of humour. It's not real, bloody rape that Carr and co are talking about: it's joke rape, which is somehow comically sacrosanct and special.
That was how the American comedian Daniel Tosh evidently felt when an indignant woman dared to interrupt his well-practised routine on rape recently by heckling: "Rape jokes are never funny!" and he responded: "Wouldn't it be funny if that girl got raped by, like, five guys right now?" That shut her up.
Now, the rape rows have moved into politics, with the US Republican Todd Akin overshadowing Mitt Romney's presidential campaign with his medieval notion that victims of "legitimate rape" (by which I expect he means involving a forcible struggle) hardly ever conceive as a result. In Britain, George Galloway has chipped in on the Julian Assange case - even before we hear the evidence - with the view that what the two Swedish women have accused Assange of doing is merely "bad sexual etiquette".
In all of this, something has been forgotten: that real-life rape, unlike sex, is always a serious business. If a man is falsely accused, it has the power to wreck his life. If a woman - or indeed a man - is the victim, it can do the same thing. We certainly hear a lot about "free speech" from those who will go to the wall for their right to make light of sexual violence. But rape is the opposite of freedom: it means that the victim wasn't free to say "no" and be heard.
I'm not arguing that people should go to prison simply for saying ignorant or unfunny things about rape. Yet free speech also means you can openly deride certain comedians or directors; you can choose not to buy a DVD or go to a show; you can walk out, turn over, or heckle. On this at least, we've all got the freedom to decide when it's time to stop. Maybe it's time more of us started using it.
Fortune continues to smile on Tony
Even those who did not admire Tony Blair during his time in office were compelled to acknowledge that he had an elusive quality that is an immense advantage in politics: luck. Time after time, when Blair was in a sticky spot, some other news event (not always engineered by Alastair Campbell) would come along to knock the existing embarrassment off the front pages.
Now, it would appear that Mr Blair has been blessed in retirement, too. He claims his full pension, as a former prime minister, of an estimated £75,000 a year, on which he was required to make no contributions. (One might usefully recall his government's punitive tax raid on other people's pension funds.) He is believed to claim the maximum of £115,000 per annum allocated to former PMs for "public duties". And he makes use of a publicly funded security team, at a cost of £250,000 a year, as he pursues the round of engagements which has made him a multi-millionaire since departing Downing Street.
As I said, lucky: I just wonder why the invariable effect of Mr Blair's luck is to make the rest of us feel so desperately unfortunate.
We're dragging our houses down
A child's messy bedroom can reduce your house price by an average of £8,000, it was reported last week: a sum which, if threatened as a long-term extraction from pocket money, might prove a strong incentive to tidy the place up. The cost of an adult's messy bedroom is probably even higher (not many of us like our own untidiness, and our reaction to other people's is even less favourable, which perhaps explains why Charles Saatchi is at present having a difficult time finding a prominent home for a collection which includes Tracey Emin's famously squalid unmade bed).
We should, of course, approach a house purchase with an air of visionary efficiency, perfectly able to see past the broken bathroom lock and tangled laundry, already mentally stripping back and knocking through to create something from the pages of House Beautiful. But many of us can't: instead, w
e inhale the dismal scent of the current owner's apparent failure to get a handle on life and subconsciously fear that it might come with the property.
The flipside, of course, is that when messy people such as myself spruce our own places up for sale, right down to the smell of coffee brewing, it can make them seem so charming that the desire to move almost evaporates. The real reason why so many of us crave new homes, I think, is simply in the vain, secret hope that we can leave the worst of ourselves behind in the old one.