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Rape Joke
July 25, 2013 12:40 PM   Subscribe

Rape Joke, a poem by Patricia Lockwood (previously).
posted by mahershalal (87 comments total) 105 users marked this as a favorite

 
I had to stop for a few minutes and kind of gather myself after I read this earlier. It's amazing.
posted by mintcake! at 12:43 PM on July 25, 2013 [12 favorites]


Shattering.
posted by sweetkid at 12:44 PM on July 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


Patricia Lockwood is pretty much always great.
posted by Nomiconic at 12:51 PM on July 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


No words.
posted by Omnomnom at 12:54 PM on July 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


The real rape joke is that we keep thinking rape jokes are acceptable to tell.
posted by jenlovesponies at 12:58 PM on July 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yikes.
posted by hal_c_on at 12:59 PM on July 25, 2013


Wow, well done. So wrenching.
posted by ldthomps at 1:02 PM on July 25, 2013


I can't praise this in a way that at all gets across how I feel.
posted by A god with hooves, a god with horns at 1:03 PM on July 25, 2013 [15 favorites]


Holy shit.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 1:08 PM on July 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


The real rape joke is that we keep thinking rape jokes are acceptable to tell.

That's not true at all.

One of the things I recently learned about humor is that it's inappropriate. Something is out of place, something is wrong, or is juxtaposed in such a manner that we find it odds. Humor is also often aboiut pain (something I first read in "Stranger in a Strange Land").

By the nature of the medium, a joke takes something and points out the absurdity and asks us to take pleasure on another's misfortune. The slipping on a banana peel is the best example of this. We're to laugh because the other person fell down and was embarrassed.

Anyway, this is a long way of saying I think it's possible to tell a funny rape joke. I think it's possible to tell an unoffensive rape joke. I don't though. Why? Because it's a low bar. Even if you manage to achieve it, at the end of the day, what did you succeed at? Making a rape joke.

I'm pretty sure this wasn't how I felt even a decade ago. I've always liked edgy humor. I like humor that stretches the boundaries of what's acceptable. I often do think, "Fuck 'em, if they can't take a joke." Generally, I'm usually more offended by the people telling me I shouldn't be saying something than I am by the people who say these things.

I don't tell rape jokes. I don't find them funny. I don't fine them acceptable.
posted by cjorgensen at 1:10 PM on July 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


(mefi's own), and a personal favorite of mine, though not so active any more. Twitter appears to a natural habitat for her. If you're reading, Tricia, thanks for your thoughtful contributions here, and I'm so sorry.
posted by Kwine at 1:13 PM on July 25, 2013 [11 favorites]


Wow. That was fantastic writing.
posted by cashman at 1:15 PM on July 25, 2013


I burst into tears at the end so I think it is good.
posted by annathea at 1:20 PM on July 25, 2013 [4 favorites]




That is great and terrible.
posted by psoas at 1:24 PM on July 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Very much like life itself. And great poetry I guess.
posted by hat_eater at 1:25 PM on July 25, 2013


Very good, in a put-you-through-the-grinder kind of way.
posted by ambrosia at 1:26 PM on July 25, 2013


Devastating.

Why'd you do it?

I dunno, you were the one that was drunk.


I mean, that kind of says it all right there, yes? Just a lark. A thing to do. He was bored and she was there. The utter carelessness with which he caused such pain really underscores how rapists really don't think women are people.

It's horrifying.
posted by Space Kitty at 2:09 PM on July 25, 2013 [17 favorites]


I cried too, and I'm not sure what else I can say.
posted by Akhu at 2:27 PM on July 25, 2013


Too difficult to read in one go.
posted by painquale at 2:32 PM on July 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


That's powerful stuff. Thanks for posting.
posted by Too-Ticky at 2:37 PM on July 25, 2013


I, too, had to split it up into parts--too intense for one go. Good post.
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 2:40 PM on July 25, 2013


Damn.
posted by MartinWisse at 3:08 PM on July 25, 2013


One of the things I recently learned about humor is that it's inappropriate.

One thing I learned recently is that it is a push and pull between inappropriateness, but safe inappropriateness. We had a marvelous post about it a short while back that linked to an essay called The Benign Violation Theory of humor.

If the humor is too threatening, people don't find it funny. It should transgress, but not in a way that makes people actually feel unsafe. That's a hard sell in comedy. You're likely to alienate your audience, and that's a fail when you're trying to be funny.

And one thing I learned recently is that men and women have different senses of the how benign rape is. That for many male comedians, rape is a benign transgression, because their experience of it is limited to an intellectual experience of it. They typically haven't experiences, and don't really risk experiencing it. So, to them, it falls into a "tragedy is when I stub my toe comedy is when you fall into a open manhole and die" area, where its a safe transgression, because they don't experience it the way many women experience it -- for some, it's a sort of ongoing terror, a knowledge that there is a real statistical possibility they will be subject to sexual violence in their life. And for others, it's a flashback to a trauma they have already experiences. It's not benign.

And a lot of men don't get this, because the fact that the think of rape in a different way than many women do is invisible to them. They think comedy must somehow necessarily be a free-for-all, because they are somehow all Lenny Bruce's, walking on comedy's razor edge. But they aren't; not here. They are well within their comfort zone. And they are within the comfort zone of about half of their audience, but outside the comfort zone of the other half.

And that's what privilege looks like. It looks like finding somebody else's pain funny, even when that other group represents half your audience, because you do not share it and do not understand it and don't know this to be the case.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 3:09 PM on July 25, 2013 [114 favorites]


Her twitter postscript linked by Greg Nog above is perfect. (So is the piece itself but so is the postscript.) Jesus, it feels shivery-powerful-good to read an anti-rape piece as a rape survivor and feel like the "you" of her address instead of weirdly elided, as in so much anti-rape writing I have read.
posted by bewilderbeast at 3:13 PM on July 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


Bunny Ultramod: at a TEDx event in Brooklyn earlier this week, they showed us Bob Markoff's application of the "Benign Transgression Theory" to selecting New Yorker cartoons, and I too sort of have to look at rape jokes through that lens. I'm not entirely sure it's accurate, but it's definitely worth thinking about.

And this poem was astoundingly good and powerful.
posted by Navelgazer at 3:30 PM on July 25, 2013


The rape joke is you were wearing a pretty green necklace that your sister had made for you. Later you cut that necklace up.

I kept feeling like it was successful at pulling me in, bit by bit, and then this... this was the direct nerve for me, I guess. This line is what captured for me that sense of how pervasive the loss and pain and fear is. That sense of how it finds every crack and crevice and seeps it's way in. The way it seems to have unending power to turn yourself against you.
posted by BigHeartedGuy at 3:34 PM on July 25, 2013 [5 favorites]


Fantastic.

Lots of thoughts about this but I feel like this isn't a thread to go blabbering on. This is too good a piece to spoil with commentary.
posted by Rory Marinich at 3:37 PM on July 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Bunny Ultramod, thanks for expanding on my comments. That was actually the essay I was referring to, but couldn't remember where I read it, so no link.

I'm not sure I always agree with the benign part, since some comedians make me feel pretty uncomfortable (Lisa Lampanelli, Louis C. K.), but others find them hilarious. I'm not trying to invalidate their audience. I think there can be humor that is funny and malicious, but that doesn't necessarily make it appropriate.
posted by cjorgensen at 3:58 PM on July 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think another thing about rape jokes is that we use humor to distance ourselves from things that are scary and upsetting. And that can be a good thing.

The problem is it's very hard to do that with humor in a way that doesn't also distance ourselves from people who have been hurt by rape. When we use humor to belittle and deny the power of rape, it's very easy to belittle and deny the suffering of people who have been raped.
posted by straight at 4:07 PM on July 25, 2013 [4 favorites]


This is a powerful and evocative piece of writing, and it doesn't have a ton to do with "rape jokes" if you actually read it, so personally I hope this doesn't become yet another thread examining the role of rape in humor from the perspective of XY MeFites.
posted by cribcage at 4:16 PM on July 25, 2013 [10 favorites]


straight: The real trick with humor about rape is that if you joke about the physical act of rape but try to ignore the consequences of rape – agonizing internal conflict, people who will blame you/side with your rapist/argue with you about the definitions of rape/casually make jokes about rape – then you're contributing to the consequences yourself. And our cultural response to rape is wrongheaded as shit.

One of the things that most disturbed me about reading this poem, as a guy who has zero firsthand experience with rape but knows many (too many) rape victims, is that a small part of me read this and tried to find rationalizations, explanations, reasons to sympathize with the poem's rapist. Ways to think to myself, "Well, this was horrible, but this guy was trying to X and he probably believed Y and besides there's Z to think about" and come away telling myself that the real human tragedy is lack of understanding yadda yadda yadda bullshit bullshit bullshit.

That's not an instinct that's unique to me, by any means, though that doesn't make it any less disturbing. I dunno if this is the thread to talk about why so many people I know have been reared to think this way specifically about rape, but I do think it's a thing and I think it ties in with why so many people not only support rape humor but find it hard to imagine that it can be hurtful, and even get frustrated when people claim that it is.
posted by Rory Marinich at 4:31 PM on July 25, 2013 [4 favorites]


Rory, no, that's not uncommon, even among women.

I don't doubt, for one second, that there will be people who read this poem and blame the writer for "getting herself raped" and then for making a big deal out of it..or even for "profiting" off of it, by the praise she's getting. I feel it myself, when I hear other women tell their stories, and I hate that I do, but I do.

It's weird, isn't it? So many of us, all with this urge to believe that what happened wasn't a big deal, or wasn't really a crime of violence, just a tragic misunderstanding. I'm not sure what the exact root of that desire is; mistrust of women's truthfulness? Not wanting women to have value or matter? The desire to turn away from something ugly, to will it out of existence?

I don't know. Whatever it is, we have to fight it, because it's what allows this shit to keep happening.
posted by emjaybee at 4:53 PM on July 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Thanks for posting.
posted by Gorgik at 5:32 PM on July 25, 2013


Hmmm. Would you find bodies mangled by a traffic accident still humorous if you had been one of those bodies yourself, and was permanently disabled in consequence, or at the very least carrying scars and experiencing nightmares? I don't think so.

Rape is something that has actually happened to many women. It's not an abstract thing. Try to imagine that you were in the audience, in your wheelchair, and a guy on stage made a mangled-bodies traffic accident. And then your friends wondered why you weren't laughing.

Um, responding to comment which looks to have been deleted. Mods, feel free to clean up as necessary.
posted by jokeefe at 6:18 PM on July 25, 2013


I don't think this is very good writing. In fact, it's sentimental and precious, which, along with message-bearing, are probably the worst things that writing can be. And I hate that having said that, I now have to say that I don't support rape and I don't think rape is funny. However, jokes with rape as the subject matter -- just like jokes about 9/11 or mothers-in-law -- can be funny, too. Laughing at a rape joke does not mean that you support rape or think it's light and airy. I laugh at fat jokes and Newfie jokes and librarian jokes all the time, and I am all of those things.

I just happened to be researching recently a quote from an interview of Nabokov for a book I am working on. Nabokov said in a letter to Robert Hughes, an interviewer for National Educational Television: "I am terribly sorry if my extensive cuts are causing you any disappointment, but I am sure you will understand that after all I am almost exclusively a writer, and my style is all I have." What does this have to do with anything? Just that it is not the content that really matters in any creative work: the style is everything, and if that is done well, if that excels, then the audience is allowed to appreciate that no matter what the subject matter.

I haven't written this very well, sorry. (Just like Patricia Lockwood.)
posted by anothermug at 6:36 PM on July 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


I have seen and noted that weird rape defense thing on metafilter before. I don't know how that gets transmitted down in culture but I thank god I never (was socialized to) think that. I don't know what I'd do if I read that and felt anything but horror for her and anger toward her attacker and the reactions she described.

it's sentimental and precious, which, along with message-bearing

I guess I don't get this, but it seems she knew it was coming and already rebut it with that tweet.
posted by cashman at 6:39 PM on July 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


That's not an instinct that's unique to me, by any means, though that doesn't make it any less disturbing.

I think it's natural to try to identify with and understand the actions of horrible people. I think this allows us to believe that they are not as monstrous as they are, then we can continue to feel safe and not get upset. This is a sort of suspension of disbelief type thing. People think most people are good people, because that's mostly true. The exceptions are monsters amongst us and they are scary and we'd rather they not exist.

I don't think this is very good writing.

I had the same reaction when reading it. I read the poem and came here and saw the comments were overwhelmingly positive, so I went back. I get your criticisms, but I think you are wrong. I guess it depends on how you define "good" writing. I found it to be a bit repetitive and the convention of calling the rapist "the rape joke" was annoying to me. I also thought it was "sentimental and precious" as you did (these are generally literary studies/writing terms for writing that is too close and too clever or sweet). This said, you only need read this thread to realize you are wrong. Bad writing does not resonate. Bad writing does not engender discussion. Bad writing seldom elicits an emotional response (unless it is targeted at a teenager). You can say this writing isn't to your taste, and you can say it falls into a lot of literary traps, but you can't really call it not good. (Just my take.)

However, jokes with rape as the subject matter -- just like jokes about 9/11 or mothers-in-law -- can be funny, too. Laughing at a rape joke does not mean that you support rape or think it's light and airy. I laugh at fat jokes and Newfie jokes and librarian jokes all the time, and I am all of those things.

Sure, they can be funny. (In isolation.) Once you look at their greater impact beyond the momentary chuckle though they quickly lose their humor. They perpetuate the culture of rape, they are at the expense of a victim of a horrible crime, etc. Sure, you can make this funny, but at the end of the day even if you are successful, what have you managed? Nothing worth writing to mom about that's for sure.

9/11 is different because it's not an ongoing event. Your other examples aren't really good comparisons. Those groups aren't exactly lacking in power and they are also not something that generally causes shame to admit. There's no cultural negativity to being a librarian.
posted by cjorgensen at 6:59 PM on July 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


one of those bodies yourself

Uhm, of course there are counterexamples like me. Well written jokes about traffic accidents are *hilarious*. I have a plate in my arm, I have PTSD from treating lots of traffic accident victims as an EMT. I have scars. My arm doesn't work as well as it should. I have lost friends in accidents.

I think the most useful, interesting thing to do with a horribly tragic ongoing source of pain in society is to try to cautiously contribute to the conversation as you can. I hope that our society grows to a point where problematic elements in jokes and poetry can be discussed more openly and constructively.

Open and honest dialog about traffic accidents (including tasteless jokes) has had a wide range of impact. The good far outweighs the bad, at least in terms of the increased survivorship and reduced trauma. I don't know that the metaphor can be extended this far, but I'm hopeful.

This poem is a very good thing, and I hope it provides solace for some survivors and food for thought for others. I think it reinforces the notion of a victim gender and a violent gender a little too much. I think that there are elements in it that are tied to class (at least in my upbringing) that trouble me as well. Those elements might be inseparable from an honest retelling of the experience, so I don't think they devalue the piece.
posted by poe at 7:28 PM on July 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


This is what poetry is for.
posted by odasaku at 7:34 PM on July 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


I have nothing to add but a need to affirm what an amazing work this is.
posted by meinvt at 7:35 PM on July 25, 2013


I think to make it comparable, instead of accidents, imagine the dead friends as a result of a driver out to kill people. Planning it in various ways. Blaming it on the person afterward. And then getting no sentence, serving no time, getting no punishment.

I found it to be a bit repetitive and the convention of calling the rapist "the rape joke" was annoying to me.

Funny thing, I enjoyed that part. So when I went back to look at it again, I realized how that part struck me as being used a lot. But looking back at it, she actually didn't do that much. She used the phrase rape joke around 50 times, but only used it in that way about 8 of those times. And she weaves it in so that 'rape joke' is about the poem, the rapist, the proverbial rape joke and the components of the rape itself, all the while making a commentary on rape jokes using a personal experience of rape. Just so powerful.
posted by cashman at 7:43 PM on July 25, 2013 [6 favorites]


Well, this wrecked me for a week.

Why surround yourself with others when they have the potential to cause to much harm? Why trust others when they can shatter that trust in an instant? Is it not better to be a hermit, better to never trust, than to have the potential to that trust broken, your mind violated, your self-concept destroyed?
posted by banal evil at 7:58 PM on July 25, 2013


I found it to be a bit repetitive and the convention of calling the rapist "the rape joke" was annoying to me.

It's a pretty standard rhetorical technique, quite common in poetry, called Anaphora. Some examples of it include Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech, the opening of "A Tale of Two Cities," and Abraham Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address.

it's sentimental and precious, which, along with message-bearing

"Sentimental" and "precious" are not useful critical terms, but expressions of taste (they're about as useful as the dismiss-all phrase "pretentious") -- they are words of opprobrium that merely express that the content and its expression was not to the reader's idiosyncratic sensibility about how intense the emotion of a piece should be and how dainty or overrefined the reader finds the language (in my case, not especially; the language is surprisingly blunt to be labeled precious).

I am not sure this discussion benefits from readers acting like pedantic English composition teachers who are blinkered by their own sense of how a story should be written. This is obviously an effective piece of writing, based on how people are responding to it. If you have issue with its content, that's a useful discussion. I am not clear on how "it doesn't suit my tastes" is a useful discussion.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 8:03 PM on July 25, 2013 [30 favorites]


The rape joke is if you write a poem called Rape Joke, you’re asking for it to become the only thing people remember about you.

I saw this being passed around earlier today, and I knew it was going to be big. Lockwood apparently did too. She built its enormity right into the poem.
posted by to sir with millipedes at 9:52 PM on July 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


it's sentimental and precious

What? No.
posted by Segundus at 11:46 PM on July 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


This appears to be confusing the rape joke with the rape. My word, people really do struggle with the concept of the joke these days.
posted by Decani at 12:55 AM on July 26, 2013


Forgive me if this is just you doing the tiresome gadfly thing, but.. I don't see at all how it does confuse the two?
posted by ominous_paws at 1:26 AM on July 26, 2013 [5 favorites]


What I took from this is that she understands that the rape joke, per se, is a mediating tool that we use in society to protect ourselves from the reality of rape. By toying with the meaning, and the import, and the tone and ... affect, I guess ... of the term rape joke she forces us to examine how it is used to mediate this experience from the outside, by making us see how it looks from the inside. I think it's devastating and incisive precisely because it's couched in a casual, conversational mode.
posted by dhartung at 1:28 AM on July 26, 2013 [7 favorites]


Just that it is not the content that really matters in any creative work: the style is everything, and if that is done well, if that excels, then the audience is allowed to appreciate that no matter what the subject matter.

Apart from anything else, this just isn't true at all. There are schools of literary criticism and writing that privilege style over content (substance), yes, but even there it's not as baldly put as that.

It is in any case a fallacy to think that it's natural to respond to style first, rather than content. That's a lit 101 mistake, when you're taught to look beyond story to the artifice of storytelling and you've not yet learned to see this as a tool, rather than as Truth.

And yes, there is room in literature for works that are pure style, no substance, but it does take a genius like Joyce to make it work and there is much less room for error than there is in just using style as a tool to tell a story, as Lockwood does here.

And you call it sentimental and precious, but without even attempting to prove why think this is.

I'd say the form in which Lockwood put her poem is simple, yes, repetitive and those are its strenghts. That drum beat of "the rape joke is", followed by things that are banal "you were nineteen years old" "you drunk wine coolers", even cliche ( "The rape joke is you were wearing a pretty green necklace that your sister had made for you. Later you cut that necklace up." that is what makes it work.

Because rape is a cliche and banal and an everyday occurence, to the point that a female comedian can do a whole monologue about "oh hey, here's my rape" and almost every woman in the audience (and some men) can know exactly what she's talking about, recognising that feeling both intellectually and emotionally.

A more flashy, a more interesting style of poetry would perhaps distract from this message, would make it dishonest

and Lockwood knows this:

The rape joke is that this is finally artless. The rape joke is that you do not write artlessly.

She knows she can't help but write badly about her rape, though this is not what she's like, because that's the only way she can talk about it. (The various asides scattered throughout the poem are another clue there, as if she's talking to a friend and scared or nervous about their reaction.)

For me personally, which in the end is the only way you can judge any writing, especially poetry, with only an intellectual knowledge of rape, this was a punch in the gut nonetheless. I would hate/love to see it spoken because I think it would be devastating.
posted by MartinWisse at 2:53 AM on July 26, 2013 [5 favorites]


Quoting Nabokov to argue that the style of a poem about rape is lackluster strikes me as particularly obnoxious. Nabokov is a gifted writer, but he's somewhat of an extremist, and his style is by no means the standard for good writing. If you judge all writing by his perspective, you get a very skewed idea of what writing ought to be.

He's like Joyce and Beckett in that regard, though he's by no means as good a writer. For what it's worth, I bet Beckett would have loved the repetition and banality in this poem.
posted by Rory Marinich at 4:19 AM on July 26, 2013 [3 favorites]


Also, ending with Pet Sounds is like a slap in the face, since the two best-known sentiments off Pet Sounds are "Wouldn't it be nice if we were older, then we wouldn't have to wait so long" and "God only knows what I'd be without you."

Decani's flat-out wrong (unsurprisingly) about this poem's being confused about what a joke is. This poem wouldn't work if it wasn't funny. And it works so damn well because it's aware of how cheap, shallow things can mask an underlying brutality and horror. Just like appreciating Pet Sounds doesn't make you any less of a rapist after you've, you know, raped somebody.
posted by Rory Marinich at 4:24 AM on July 26, 2013 [8 favorites]


I also look at the purpose of a piece of writing. What is it setting out to do? This allows me to evaluate it's effectiveness. An opinion piece doesn't have to change my mind, but if it doesn't make me think about the topic then I consider it a failure. A humor piece needs to at least make me smile or appreciate the cleverness. A human interest piece need to make me care about the subject. Fan fiction needs to be fun. Etc.

I think here the intent is fairly obvious. I think it's a cathartic release for the author, it's a bit of poetic blog-style writing. I don't think she is going after high literary praise and a shot at becoming a poet laureate. She is addressing a painful topic in a manner she hopes will resonate with others. She's engendering discussion, and hopefully drawing some small amount of additional attention to the topic of rape and how we treat it.

I go to a lot of art museums. I don't get 90% of what's in them. Sometimes I question that someone actually paid money for things I wouldn't allow in my house, but I can still appreciate the fact that others find value in these pieces. I find it hard to argue that these pieces of art are crap art when I hear others discussing how much they are moved by them or having arguments over what they mean. This poem is this way to me. I think it impossible to call it a crap, bad, or worthless poem. You may not like it, but I think it accomplishes what it set out to do.

I could be wrong.
posted by cjorgensen at 6:56 AM on July 26, 2013


I think Tricia Lockwood is wicked smart and frequently hilarious. But I've always thought that her weird twitter persona was kind of a wallowing in inconsequentiality and, frankly, a waste of talent.

This poem has literally completely turned that opinion back on itself. This line in particular is so brilliant it's breathtaking. It's almost like her entire twitter oeuvre is leading up to it:

The rape joke is that for the next five years all you did was write, and never about yourself, about anything else, about apples on the tree, about islands, dead poets and the worms that aerated them, and there was no warm body in what you wrote, it was elsewhere.

The rape joke is that this is finally artless. The rape joke is that you do not write artlessly.

posted by R. Schlock at 9:24 AM on July 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


My word, people really do struggle with the concept of the joke these days.

Because there's one, simple concept that explains everything about anything anyone might refer to as a "joke"?
posted by straight at 9:47 AM on July 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


A couple of nights ago, I was sitting on a patio with three women friends, downing all the wine and cigarettes, when the conversation got around to rape culture and then to their stories. As I sat there, listening to each of these smart, funny women talk about what happened to them, it occurred to me again that it would be easier for me to count the number of women I know who haven't been sexually assaulted, because that number is zero. I'm very fortunate to be trusted in those conversations and extremely glad that my friends can speak about their experiences, but man, there's something really terrible in how casually they talk about this, like being raped is as common a milestone topic as a first concert or latest movie watched.

I'll tell you what, though, dudes: try being enough of a friend to the women in your life that they talk about their experiences with you as openly and honestly as Tricia Lockwood does here, and then try listening to those rape jokes you used to laugh at, when rape seemed exotic or unusual and before you understood how depressingly, stupidly, stultifyingly common it is. I think there is a high likelihood that they won't be as funny anymore.

One of the things that most disturbed me about reading this poem, as a guy who has zero firsthand experience with rape but knows many (too many) rape victims, is that a small part of me read this and tried to find rationalizations, explanations, reasons to sympathize with the poem's rapist. Ways to think to myself, "Well, this was horrible, but this guy was trying to X and he probably believed Y and besides there's Z to think about" and come away telling myself that the real human tragedy is lack of understanding yadda yadda yadda bullshit bullshit bullshit.

I'll reiterate my current theory about the banality of rape culture: I think we are taught that rape is a matter of perception and not an objectively differentiated event. I think we are taught that it's only rape if she says so, and that we should be afraid of women who cry rape because they'll get you in the night and gobble you up. I think as long as we hold on to that idea, that there's some murky grey area between consensual sex and rape, instead of understanding that they are completely different acts, we are encouraged to try to see the putative rapist's side, because what did he think was happening? How did he feel about it? We think rape is a matter of perspective, instead of it being a criminal act.

We don't think robbing a bank and using an ATM are perceptually similar, and we don't wonder to ourselves if the bank robber thought he was just making a withdrawal, and if we discover that he did think that, we would consider him quite deranged and wouldn't think that that excused him of culpability. But we wonder if the rapist really thought he was committing a crime, because we're taught to think that rape is just sex with some post-facto regret, and because we're taught that women are not to be taken seriously. A person who kills someone else without meaning to is still guilty of manslaughter. A person who rapes someone else "without meaning to" is just a victim of shifting and fickle perceptions, and we should feel sorry for his falling afoul of some moody bitch, because there but for the grace of God go any of us.

The very moment we understand that rape and sex bear only the vaguest superficial resemblance, and that we internalize that rape is a crime committed by a person against another person, the urge to sympathize with the rapist dissipates quite rapidly.
posted by Errant at 12:20 PM on July 26, 2013 [30 favorites]


cashman: And she weaves it in so that 'rape joke' is about the poem, the rapist, the proverbial rape joke and the components of the rape itself, all the while making a commentary on rape jokes using a personal experience of rape.

What this poetic device does is compress everything into one point: the rape, the rapist, the rapist's personal history, the raped person's personal history, the chain of events that led to the rape.

And I think one of the messages this poem sends is that a rape joke evokes all of this. It's not just a joke, it's everything.
posted by Kattullus at 1:33 PM on July 26, 2013 [7 favorites]


In fact, it's sentimental and precious, which, along with message-bearing, are probably the worst things that writing can be.

dumb
posted by Greg Nog at 1:33 PM on July 26, 2013 [3 favorites]


writing can't be "message bearing" what is this I don't even
posted by sweetkid at 1:49 PM on July 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


"I laugh at fat jokes and Newfie jokes and librarian jokes all the time, and I am all of those things."
Yeah. And all those things are EXACTLY like being a survivor of sexual assault.
posted by hellameangirl at 2:03 PM on July 26, 2013 [5 favorites]


Bad writing seldom elicits an emotional response (unless it is targeted at a teenager). You can say this writing isn't to your taste, and you can say it falls into a lot of literary traps, but you can't really call it not good. (Just my take.)

I disagree with that -- almost any writing, no matter how bad it is, can elicit an emotional response in someone or even in a lot of people. So IMO you can't say that writing is of high quality just because a lot of people respond positively to it.
posted by anothermug at 3:01 PM on July 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


Once you look at their greater impact beyond the momentary chuckle though they quickly lose their humor. They perpetuate the culture of rape, they are at the expense of a victim of a horrible crime, etc. Sure, you can make this funny, but at the end of the day even if you are successful, what have you managed? Nothing worth writing to mom about that's for sure.

I really strongly disagree with this. Where is the evidence that telling rape jokes contributes to a culture of rape? It reminds me of the arguments against violent videogames -- that watching them desensitizes you, makes you want to kill, and so on.
posted by anothermug at 3:04 PM on July 26, 2013


Violent media does desensitize people to violence. That is a scientific fact replicated in study after study. It doesn't "make you want to kill", but exposure creates acclimation. But, to answer your question:

Alleged Attempted Rapist Tells The Ultimate Rape Joke.

There's your evidence.
posted by Errant at 3:31 PM on July 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


I laugh at rape jokes, and I have been raped.

This discussion keeps coming up, and I continue lurking, because I feel like a mythical unicorn who shouldn't exist, who's experience as a victim of sexual assault couldn't possibly happen, because I wouldn't feel the way I do if I had actually been raped.

I laugh at rape because it reminds me that I'm larger than one trauma that happened to me. I laugh at rape jokes because I refuse to say that I can't find humor in the world, just because it's full of horrible things that a lifetime of work will only make the smallest of dents. I laugh because there's only so much I can tolerate of the inevitable pity that rushes into conversation when I wander too close into the story of how I lost my virginity.

Other people are welcome to deal with the trauma life deals them in the way that they see fit. But for me, dark humor is not a guilty pleasure or something I throw out it ignorance. It's a way that I've been able to transcend from a survivor of life to someone who is capable of living and enjoying life.

I'm not writing this to exact pity or guilt from anyone. But this piece spoke to me so much because I did laugh at the end. This is a piece of history you need if you want to know her. And she doesn't want you to feel pity or that irrational guilt you couldn't stop it. She doesn't want to remember her as this one poet who got raped once. So she throws a halfhearted joke. To remind you she's gotten through it enough she can laugh in the face of the brutality of it.

That interpretation could easily be a lot of projection. But that is how I read it, and I was happy to feel understood in a way that Metafilter has not been able to do in any of the site's discussions of rape.
posted by politikitty at 3:49 PM on July 26, 2013 [8 favorites]


It's almost like there's no single way to respond to being raped. Weird.
posted by scrump at 3:53 PM on July 26, 2013 [3 favorites]


I don't think she is going after high literary praise and a shot at becoming a poet laureate.

While I agree that discussing this poem's literary merit mere hours after its publication is extraordinarily goddamn stupid, it's worth pointing out that this is an instance of a powerful emotional poem written in a manner that lets it be published on the Awl, dissected into tweetable short sentences, and reach different audiences in different enough ways that each person sees something different in it, but something striking nonetheless.

I'd more expect a future poet laureate to be hanging out with Weird Twitter than I'd expect her to be doing the sort of pretentious bullshit most wannabe poet laureates I know occupy their time with. It is a fun and exciting space where people from around the world meet to play with language.
posted by Rory Marinich at 4:06 PM on July 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


It is in any case a fallacy to think that it's natural to respond to style first, rather than content. That's a lit 101 mistake, when you're taught to look beyond story to the artifice of storytelling and you've not yet learned to see this as a tool, rather than as Truth.

And yes, there is room in literature for works that are pure style, no substance, but it does take a genius like Joyce to make it work and there is much less room for error than there is in just using style as a tool to tell a story, as Lockwood does here.

And you call it sentimental and precious, but without even attempting to prove why think this is.


I have no idea what that first sentence means, but I will try to say why I found the poem sentimental and precious ... No matter if you think style rules or not, in order for writing to be of any kind of literary value -- and I don't mean the exalted heights of Nabokov and Joyce and Beckett -- it has to marshall language and rhetoric and the like in some sort of sophisticated way. As I read this, Lockwood just uses a couple of pretty superficial rhetorical techniques on top of a fairly simple story: the use of the phrase "rape joke" as a substitute for rapist, which is also a nod to the whole rape-joke debate itself; and the repetition of that phrase.

For me, anyway, those techniques are not sophisticated enough to make this any more than a recounting of a story of the narrator having been raped. And I think it's a bit of a cop-out to tell it like that, and then to just admit at the end that you know that's artless. That's what I mean by "precious" -- techniques that are not that imaginative, that are even a bit ham-handed in places, that are trying to make the piece more than what it is. (It may have been more effective to simply strip away all the amateur rhetoric and tell a raw story.)

There's preciousness also in the choice of significant details IMO. Many of them have the feel of a creative-writing exercise, rather than being well-observed, truly evocative details that bowl you over. The Mountain Dew bottle, the wine cooler names, Gunter Grass.

As an example of a creative work which tells a harsh story without ever being sentimental, I would cite the movie "Red Road," directed by the great Andrea Arnold. There are scenes and details in it that are very affecting, and never do you feel that the work is simply a means of conveying some kind of message (however important that message might be).
posted by anothermug at 4:31 PM on July 26, 2013


"I laugh at fat jokes and Newfie jokes and librarian jokes all the time, and I am all of those things."
Yeah. And all those things are EXACTLY like being a survivor of sexual assault.


I never did say that: I was just trying to make the point that just as if you laugh at a rape joke you may not support rape, then when you laugh at a Newfie joke, it doesn't mean that you necessarily think Newfies are stupid.
posted by anothermug at 4:35 PM on July 26, 2013


One of the most striking things for me in the wake of telling my brother I was raped (to, ironically, semi-win an argument that he is not aware of how many of the women he knows who could have been raped, so maybe he should not doubt that one on four of us have been sexually assaulted) was the simultaneous bemusement and humor I found in the fact that his first response was to ask if I was safe.

And I'm still trying to figure out how to express that I made myself safe - e.g. removed the man who raped and then sexually assaulted me from my life - before I ever admitted he raped me. That the reason I made myself safe that way was because I blamed myself for being raped. I mean... that's Grade A irony there, sharp enough to slice through bone.

And it was partway through trying to figure out how to say that that I realized that if I had called it rape when it happened, I wouldn't have been subsequently sexually assaulted because I definitely would have cut him out of my life, instead of just choosing to never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever be fucking alone with him again.

And the irony that after he sexually assaulted me, "Never be alone with him" became "never be within arms reach of him"...

There is a lot of humor around being raped. It is a funny thing; it's funny how it changes you, the little compromises you make - most of them stupid and ineffectual. It's funny how it generalizes. I sometimes set traps between my door and my bed to make me feel safer, even though I was one of the lucky (?) rape victims who knew my rapist and loved him.

I think different experiences of rape have different cleavages of humor, though - my non-violent rape by an ex-boyfriend lends itself to a very different graveyard humor than other people, like the women who dated their rapists to try to make it not rape, or the women whose rapists vaguely got the idea what they did was wrong so maybe they should give her a present to make it better, like in this poem.

They cut in different ways.
posted by Deoridhe at 7:28 PM on July 26, 2013 [3 favorites]




the use of the phrase "rape joke" as a substitute for rapist

See, that right there shows you haven't understood the poem at all, cause that's only one way she uses that phrase.
posted by MartinWisse at 9:12 PM on July 26, 2013 [3 favorites]


Rape jokes don't always contribute to a culture of rape, often they lampoon it or draw attention to it. For example, the ones riffing off or mocking the ubiquity of rape prevention efforts being aimed at victims instead of perpetrators.
posted by anonymisc at 3:37 AM on July 27, 2013


the use of the phrase "rape joke" as a substitute for rapist

See, that right there shows you haven't understood the poem at all, cause that's only one way she uses that phrase.


I guess all I would say is that you haven't understood my comment at all either, because I never said that that was the only way she uses the phrase in the poem. But it is one of the ways.
posted by anothermug at 5:49 AM on July 27, 2013


I went back to look at the poem and I can't find a place where she uses "rape joke" as a synonym for "rapist". The time it seems closest is here:

"Imagine the rape joke looking in the mirror, perfectly reflecting back itself, and grooming itself to look more like a rape joke. “Ahhhh,” it thinks. “Yes. A goatee.”"

But that's a joke - that actually made me laugh - about a personification of the rape joke thinking a goatee just makes it look more rape-jokerly.

The rape joke repetition is always outside of the action, looking in and finding the incongruities and stereotypes all bound up in two people, rapist and raped. If you look carefully at each sentence, the rape joke is never the rapist - and the rapist is never called a rapist.
posted by Deoridhe at 12:44 PM on July 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Bad writing does not resonate. Bad writing does not engender discussion. Bad writing seldom elicits an emotional response

That's not true at all. What bad writing doesn't do is awaken new thoughts and change perspectives. But it's very easy for bad writing to encourage or confirm feelings and opinions that already exist in the audience.
posted by mdn at 1:00 PM on July 27, 2013


(I'm not saying this is bad writing, though, just that the key can't be whether people find it touching.)
posted by mdn at 1:07 PM on July 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


I went back to look at the poem and I can't find a place where she uses "rape joke" as a synonym for "rapist".

Look again.
posted by cashman at 3:54 PM on July 27, 2013


Yeah, burden of proof is yours. It's not that long a poem - you can quote.
posted by Deoridhe at 4:18 PM on July 27, 2013


Critiquing the writing on style grounds reminds me of the David Sedaris piece written from the perspective of a professional drama critic reviewing a grade-school production. You can be both right and staggeringly oblivious of the whole point of the exercise at the exact same time.
posted by Halloween Jack at 4:20 PM on July 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


Wow, "burden of proof"? Is this a discussion of a poem or a murder trial?

Anyhow:

I can't find a place where she uses "rape joke" as a synonym for "rapist".

"The rape joke said YOU were the one who was drunk, and the rape joke said you remembered it wrong, which made you laugh out loud for one long split-open second."
posted by cashman at 5:20 PM on July 27, 2013


"I never did say that: I was just trying to make the point that just as if you laugh at a rape joke you may not support rape, then when you laugh at a Newfie joke, it doesn't mean that you necessarily think Newfies are stupid."
I had to Google 'newfie' because I have never fuckin heard of the term, and I would never call anyone stupid that I didn't know personally, nor would I claim to relate to whatever it means to be a fuckin 'newfie', BECAUSE I HAVE NO IDEA!! And so I would never tell a 'newfie' how they are supposed to feel about a joke made at their expense.
Yet, everyone seems to have an opinion on how a rape survivor should feel about a rape joke, despite not going through it themselves. Shit, why do you feel the need to have an opinion on this??? You guys don't let us own our own BODIES nor our own SOULS. Why is this so hard for you guys??
Please let us fucking have our catharsis without butting in with 'oh rape jokes are funny you just don't have a sense of humor' or 'oh this poem is poorly written because there is a message'.
FUCK YOU.
pS...Its not that there can't be any funny rape jokes. Ever Mainard's rape joke is hilarious to me, because I did have a have that disgusting out-of-body moment myself, and I guess it is barf-worthy comforting that so many of us had that shared feeling.
posted by hellameangirl at 10:02 PM on July 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


"I think different experiences of rape have different cleavages of humor, though - my non-violent rape by an ex-boyfriend lends itself to a very different graveyard humor than other people, like the women who dated their rapists to try to make it not rape, or the women whose rapists vaguely got the idea what they did was wrong so maybe they should give her a present to make it better, like in this poem.

They cut in different ways."


this.
posted by hellameangirl at 10:07 PM on July 28, 2013


"The rape joke said YOU were the one who was drunk, and the rape joke said you remembered it wrong, which made you laugh out loud for one long split-open second."

We obviously read this line differently, as I remembered the many, many, many rape jokes (actual rape jokes) that hinge on the woman being drunk, and thus she deserved it, or somehow being mistaken, and thus she's a false rape accuser, and ha ha isn't it funny she got what she deserved before "regretting" it in the morning.

But, of course, your reading of it must be the only possible one.
posted by Deoridhe at 7:23 PM on July 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Take it how you want to take it. If we really want to know how the author intended it, we can contact the author. The "which made you laugh out loud for one long split-open second" part implied a specific instance to me, but whatever. You take it how you thought it was meant, I'll do the same. Peace.
posted by cashman at 10:11 PM on July 30, 2013


Today on The Awl: How People Responded to My Poem "Rape Joke"
posted by troika at 10:16 AM on August 1, 2013


Today on The Awl: How People Responded to My Poem "Rape Joke"

Ah yes. Comments exactly what I expected.
posted by sweetkid at 10:25 AM on August 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, just ridiculous.
posted by cashman at 10:46 AM on August 1, 2013


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