WARNING: This post contains explicit language and graphic discussion/depiction of rape.
Wouldn’t it be funny if that girl got raped by, like, five guys right now? Like, right now?
This is a response that comedian Daniel Tosh had to a female heckler that took issue with his penchant for rape jokes at one of his comedy shows in 2012. This little incident got Tosh a wave of backlash and he eventually apologized for making that joke. But I would dare say that Tosh’s remark would not have caught so much flack if he had aimed this remark about a male heckler.
Now don’t take me as spouting some kind of petulant “women have it easier than men” rhetoric you might find on some “red pill” sub-reddit. Rape culture is something that disproportionately affects women and one wave of backlash against one comedian that has joked about it more than once is a drop in the bucket compared to how it is perpetuated by the rest of society. But what many people may not know is that rape culture affects men as well and I would like to take this time to discuss how.
Which brings me to the fifth episode of The Boondocks’ first season, “A Date With the Health Inspector”.
To begin, allow me to introduce you to the “health inspector”.
This scene is based off of the sarcastic warning men who go to prison are given, “don’t drop the soap”. This phrase jokingly makes light of rape that occurs in prison, as does the previous clip. Despite the nightmare scenario of the scene, it plays Tom Dubois’ potential rape for laughs. The title of the episode sardonically downplays the act by referring to it as a “date” and milks more humor out of the brutality of the act by giving the audience a good look at the “health inspector’s” very long penis that hangs down to his knees. Tom’s fear of being raped in prison would be a running gag throughout the series until he overcomes his fear in the third season episode “A Date With the Booty Warrior” (subtle name as you can see). This episode is mostly one long rape joke. Here’s a tiny glimpse of it.
Notice how Riley is giggling the whole time that convicts are talking. His reaction is an encapsulation of how our society views rape in prison. This attitude doesn’t exist in a vacuum or only in the world of The Boondocks. Rape jokes are quite ubiquitous in adult animation (but it’s certainly not limited to older audiences). There is occasionally controversy over them, but generally speaking rape jokes in which the victims are male go off without a hitch. Look, I completely understand dark comedy and finding catharsis in something horrific, but it’s another story entirely when jokes like these are so common.
In the Sam Witwicky episode of the online series Folding Ideas, the host Dan Olson (as his avatar Foldy) talks about the ways in which our popular media and our reality intertwine, which is often the point of contention between two polarized sides in a debate about something considered controversial (examples include violent video games, gangsta rap, or *ding ding ding!* rape jokes). Olson explains that the popular media is generally bad at influencing a person’s behavior, but decent at influencing the way they think about things, and good at changing their values. In regards to this discussion, hearing a bunch of rape jokes is likely not going to make a person who has no interest in raping a man do it, but they have a pretty good potential of downplaying the severity of the act in the person’s mind by constantly framing it as something funny or not a big deal. Which brings me back to the ubiquity of the phrase “don’t drop the soap”. This phrase refers to the fact that rape in men’s prison is so common, but little to nothing is done about nor are there massive rallies calling to put a stop to it. A big part is because we collectively see prison rape as a joke. Another big part of it comes from the dehumanized way we view people locked in prison, especially in the US, where incarceration is treated as something more punitive than rehabilitating. The attitude is that people in prison are bad people anyway, so fuck them (literally). Except prison isn’t only filled with murderers and rapists, a high number of people are locked up for non-violent crimes. And since the US prison system is privatized, there is a financial incentive to fill up their prisons so they collude with government officials in order to pass more punitive crime laws that makes it easier to lock up more people, keep people already locked up imprisoned longer, and get people that have already served prison sentences back in prison. The cruel irony of all of this is that The Boondocks completely understands this.
So what does it say about The Boondocks when it chooses to be complicit in continuing the perpetuation of this perverse system while clearly knowing about the system and how it’s perpetuated? Especially considering that The Boondocks has a reputation for being savvy towards African-American issues, in particular the disproportionate incarceration of black men (I hope y’all noticed that all of the convicts in these Boondocks clips have been black)?
Rape culture doesn’t just affect incarcerated men however. It affects boys too and it’s not taken seriously when it happens to them either. A running gag in the anime series Mahoromatic is that the teenage protagonist Suguru is constantly lusted after and sexually harassed by his teacher, Ms. Shikijo. One of Ms. Shikijo’s earliest scenes in her premier episode was her fantasizing about Suguru sucking on her breasts. Most physical gags between the two involve Ms. Shikijo plunging Suguru’s face into her cleavage. Here’s one example:
The only person that takes issue with Ms. Shikijo’s behavior is Suguru’s maid/love interest Mahoro. In other episodes, when other men see Suguru being harassed by Ms. Shikijo, they call him lucky. Just like with the prison rape jokes in The Boondocks, this attitude doesn’t only exist in the world of Mahoromatic. The overall sentiment is that an adult woman having a sexual relationship with an underage boy isn’t really rape because obviously, the boy wanted it (especially if the woman is seen as physically attractive). To its credit, an episode of South Park called out the absurdity of this attitude in their episode “Miss Teacher Bangs a Boy”. This episode is about the doomed sexual relationship between Kyle’s little brother Ike and his kindergarten teacher. While the episode makes comedic fodder of this statutory rape by juxtaposing the highly sexual nature of the relationship with Ike’s infantile appearance and behavior, it also ridicules the permissive attitudes society has about relationships like this when Kyle’s attempts to tell authority figures about what’s going on between Ike and his teacher go nowhere when all they do is compliment Ike or complain that no teachers ever made passes at them when they were in school.
But alas, South Park is not above using rape as nothing more than a cheap gag.
Or channeling the pain, severity, and trauma of rape to make a joke about how a bad a movie is.
In a society where men being raped in prison are openly ridiculed, boys being raped by grown women is envied or praised, and boys or men being raped in other situations are shamed into silence, perhaps once in a while we should take a higher priority than finding catharsis or engaging in dark comedy.