No joke

This morning MSN posted an article on its web site by AP television writer David Bauder. The title of the article is “Rape joke on Fox cartoons draws attention.” Drawing attention would be entirely understandable, in my opinion, since there is, in my humble opinion, no such thing as a “rape joke.” The two terms are mutually exclusive. It simply is not possible to joke about rape.

The article explains that there is a much-anticipated crossover episode of “The Simpsons” and “Family Guy” scheduled to be broadcast on Fox this Sunday. In the episode, Bart Simpson is attempting to teach Stewie Griffin how to make a prank phone call. Such childish behavior has long been a staple of Bart Simpson’s schtick and the local tavern is usually his chosen target–as it is in the upcoming episode. As is often the case, Bart’s prank call results in the bar keeper calling out to the crowd in the bar what he thinks is a first and last name but is actually, in this case, a bit of bathroom humor. This is childish, immature and disgusting, but the same could be said of much of what alleges to be “comedy” on television today.

But this is where the line gets crossed. Bauder explains that Stewie is quite impressed by Bart’s prowess and wants to make a prank call of his own. So, he calls the same bar Bart just did and, when Moe the bar owner answers the call, Stewie says, “Hello, Moe? Your sister’s being raped.” defines “prank” as “a trick of an amusing, playful, or sometimes malicious nature.” Stewie’s statement, however, is neither amusing nor playful and it goes beyond malicious. It is insensitive and abhorrent. There is no excuse for such idiocy and for a major television network to think that such a line is acceptable on a television show marketed at families and aired during family viewing time is likewise inexcusable. If a student at any school in the country were to use the same line at school he or she would, I certainly hope, be disciplined. I know that if a student at the school where I serve were to utter such a “prank” he would receive a swift and significant consequence.

Amazingly, Fox does not see the line as inappropriate in any way. In fact, Seth MacFarlane, the creator of “Family Guy,” said in a recent interview with Entertainment Weekly that he predicted getting some heat for the line, but, “in context,” he said, “it’s pretty funny.” Really? I find that statement unconscionable. I cannot fathom any context in which it would be funny to “joke around” about someone’s sister getting raped. Not only does MacFarlane find it funny, though, apparently programming directors at Fox do too, because the line is included in the commercial trailers for the upcoming episode! According to Bauder, Fox’s entertainment division said, through a spokesperson, that it would not comment on the line.

If what I have written above is not dumbfounding enough for you, it actually does get even more dumbfounding. Bauder also writes that Katherine Hull Fliflet, a spokeswoman for the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), “said she did not find the line offensive” (emphasis mine). Bauder quotes Fliflet saying that she thinks the show makes “it clear that rape is not funny by how they are positioning the joke.” Really? That does not even make sense. The only two ways the show could make clear that rape is not funny would be to (1) not joke about it in the first place, or (2) have Stewie be immediately and sternly lectured on the seriousness of rape and promptly disciplined for his ridiculous behavior. (I have to confess that I have never watched “Family Guy,” but my guess is that the idea of the parents on the show disciplining the children would be a foreign concept….)

RAINN’s web site touts that the group is the nation’s largest anti-sexual assault organization. It operates a National Sexual Assault Hotline. Actress Christina Ricci is affiliated with the group and is pictured on the RAINN web site homepage in front of a graffiti-style banner that says “Join the fight against sexual violence.” The site’s statistics page includes numerous statistics about sexual assault, including rape specifically, in an effort to ensure that the public is well informed about what sexual assault is and what can be done about it. How such an organization could not be repulsed by the “joke” about rape is far beyond my comprehension.

When Bauder quotes Fliflet saying that she thinks the show makes clear that rape is not funny she ends with, “It’s my hope that would be the viewers’ ‘take-away.'” Forget the take-away, here’s a better idea: stay away.

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