steepholm (steepholm) wrote,

Jimmy Carr and Rape Jokes

Not many weeks go by on 8 Out of 10 Cats without some kind of joke aimed at trans people, usually emanating from Jimmy Carr or Sean Lock. I've not seen anything there to compare with the Moving Wallpaper episode of a couple of years ago, or Russell Howard's Good News sketch about a budget airline staffed by trans women from earlier this year (both of which were declared just good clean fun by Ofcom/the Beeb, and not offensive at all), but they usually manage to slip in some casual trans bashing. A few weeks ago, for example, when Tim Minchin was a guest, there was an extended bit of banter between the panellists as to which of them would make "a good (or bad) tranny".* Last night was relatively mild, with Carr just making a throwaway remark about Lady Gaga being an attractive bloke. (More an intersex than a trans joke, in fact, not that Carr is likely bothered about this.)

I've never found Carr funny, but Sean Lock has had me in stitches in the past. Of the two, Lock seems more clearly to have a stage "persona", which it's easy to believe differs from the off-stage man - although it's also easy to believe that it differs largely in being an exaggeration of traits that he actually possesses, rather than in being a satirical inversion on the lines of, say, Al Murray. Comic personae are of course slippery things, and can easily be used by comedians to give themselves an instant out for anything they may say or do - "It wasn't me, it was him!" Nevertheless, I gave Lock quite a lot of rope, to begin with. Carr's rather unpleasant sneering at everyone less privileged than himself never seemed exaggerated or ironic. Or, indeed, funny.

Anyway, last night was Jimmy Carr night on Channel 4, and I happened to catch the end of it - a transmission of a stage show from Glasgow. By this time, only die-hard Carr fans and a few accidental viewers such as myself would have been watching, I suppose. Carr finished by saying a few things about comedy, and told his "favourite pub joke" - which was a rape joke. "What's the difference between rape and football?" "Women don't like football." The audience (both women and men) laughed a little nervously, then thought better of it - as Carr pointed out himself. He went on to suggest (not quite in these words) that what made comedy powerful and interesting was precisely its ability to make us recognize our own darker impulses, the ones we would rather disown. Now, a lot of that laughter came from a totally different source, I would guess - discomfort and embarrassment on Carr's behalf rather than self-recognition - but let's grant that there's some truth in that idea. Some women and some men do fantasize about rape. What do we do with that recognition? Carr didn't say, but, bearing in mind (frightening thought!) that at one time he considered become a psychotherapist, my guess is that, in his view, forcing the conscious mind to acknowledge the existence of those darker impulses makes them easier to confront and control.

In the context of a psychotherapy session, that observation may have some validity. In context of a stand-up act performed to a thousand people in a theatre, it's bullshit. Rape culture works precisely by normalizing and trivialising rape in this way, and telling a rape joke is no more likely to prevent rape than airing a sketch like Russell Howard's is likely to increase understanding and acceptance of trans women. It's hard to see why that isn't obvious to Carr, who's not unintelligent - but I suppose that if he acknowledged it he would have to ditch much of his act, and face up to his own misogyny. It's a classic case of repression.

* After the show, Minchin was called on his use of "tranny" on Twitter, and after a brief bit of bluster took the chance to educate himself a bit about trans matters - something for which he was widely applauded. The frequency with which the word's since been used on My Transsexual Summer has tended to undermine the effect of this, but the writer of "Prejudice" will understand that questions of language and reclamation are complicated. (What was more offensive than the word, in my opinion, was the idea that trans women could be rated as "good" and "bad", depending on their resemblance to cis women.)
Tags: gender
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