So I was having a casual bull session with some friends, late at night, beers were being passed around, and we start trading offensive jokes. Stuff you wouldn't say in front of anyone but your friends, because you know that if anyone but your friends heard you tell a joke like this, they would take it badly. Jokes about rape, racism, and dead babies. If anything offends you, we probably told a joke about it.
Now, I say "stuff you wouldn't say in front of anyone but your friends", but that can't be entirely true, because this stuff comes in from outside somehow, someone thinks it up and laughs and decides to pass it on. And it filters into your group of buddies somehow, and someone gets a couple beers in them and passes it on to the rest of you.
And so one guy, when we prompted him to tell a joke, screwed his face into an indecisive grimace, saying "I dunno. This guy told me this one joke, but it's just kinda sick, not really funny..." But, after some cajoling, this is what we got:
Q: What's the worst thing about sex with a seven-year-old?
A: Having to strangle her afterwards.
Now, if you're like me and my friends, you didn't laugh. The lot of us just kinda went "eeyuhh" and there was a brief, uncomfortable silence.
"Huh, you're right, that... wasn't actually very funny."
"Yeah, I know."
The secret of a "good bad joke" is that the wit or cleverness of the joke overwhelms the inherent badness of the sentiment, and that did not happen in this case, at least not for our group.
Failed joke or not, nobody jumped on the guy who told it and accused him of being a killer pedo, or implied that the joke he told was in any way a reflection of his real-life wishes and intents. And, I'm assuming that the majority of the people reading this are reasonable enough that no such charge would be leveled at me, for relaying that awful joke to you. (However, the small percentage of you who are not at all reasonable are why I remain anonymous when writing potentially contentious things like this.)
What assurance, then, what inner certainty of knowing someone else's mind, prompts some people to declare that comics creator X is definitely sexist or misogynist (racist, Republican, add your own) for writing or drawing a scene that offends them? And what jump of logic makes creating such a scene equivalent to having the same desires and intents in real life?
Relating this back to my column a couple months back, "Ban the Soul, Eh", it's much the same as assuming ads for tanning lotion are promoting necrophilia and/or pedophilia.
Which leads me to another line of thought, since the SAFE Act is making the rounds in the blogosphere. Steven Grant has a pretty good analysis of the situation, and I'll cut to the chase and quote from his closing paragraph:
But I do know another standard misconception in our society is that having fantasies – and everyone has fantasies of some sort, whether they admit it or not, though hopefully most of those fantasies don't involve sex with children – means people want to play out those fantasies in real life. I suspect most people don't, and wouldn't if they could, the same way most people who dream of flying don't jump off cliffs. Fantasy is pretty much the ultimate in safe sex. But colonizing fantasy has always been one of the great fantasies of western civilization, especially among those in power, because we have always basically mistrusted fantasy, and imagery/iconography. Legislating behavior is one thing, legislating fantasy is another, and if nothing else Freud demonstrated pretty clearly that sexual repression has consequences. Often unpleasant and violent consequences. Maybe visualizing aberrant fantasies helps stave off aberrant behavior, and maybe it doesn't, but study, not half-assed legislation (which will almost certainly get thrown out by the courts, like almost all porn legislation that tries to extend its grasp via vagueness) and citing "common wisdom," seems appropriate. Of course, this is one of those hot button issues where even suggesting alternatives will have the frothers (of both ilks) thinking you're some kind of sympathizer, so open discussion of the problem seems to be at a minimum. I'm all for rooting out pedophiles but casting an inordinately broad net creates the most harm for the least results (and in this specific instance forces an entire class of people to be unpaid cops, or suffer the consequences) when what we need is a practical solution.Some may note that he echoes what Mad Thinker Scott's been saying for a while: That there's no real strong correlation between porn and sexual assault, and in fact, there's some evidence that more porn somehow encourages less rape.
"Common Wisdom" would seem to be far less wise than the credit it receives in Congress, in activist groups and so forth. And I wonder how many causes and viewpoints are espoused that, if analyzed fully, would break down to no more than "I just think it's right (or wrong), and that's enough proof for me"...?
Do I really trust someone else to judge me by a bad joke I tell, without consideration of the situation, or context?
Do I trust the values of the guy who has to filter my ISP? Is someone going to fix on some keywords in this post and set up a red flag: "potential child-murdering molester on Blogger.com"?
Do I trust some ad-watching activist group to have clear and rational standards when determining which ads send bad messages?
Do I simply accept that some comics creator is a misogynist, because someone else has convinced themselves they are?
I could... but that's a leap of logic I'm still not willing to make.
Merry Christmas. Happy New Year. See you in '08.