I was vaguely aware of the Oatmeal as one of those sites people share on Facebook that consists entirely of ruefully amusing charts. Not hilarious charts – just the kind of charts that make you go “Oh ho ho, so very true.” There was one on how to use an apostrophe correctly I quite enjoyed, and another on how to use the word “literally” properly. (Apparently I find grammar and punctuation mistakes hilarious. That’s because I’m old. And pedantic.) I can’t remember any of the other charts.
But thanks to a tip from SW reader Amy, I now know that the guy who does The Oatmeal is kind of a jerkypants. As Buzzfeed recently recounted, Oatmeal creator Matthew Inman published a comic called “The Delicate Relationship I Have With My Keyboard,” about how he visualizes different keys (ESC is his savior, backspace is the janitor, etc.). In the final panel, he called the F5 key “the rape victim.” “I MUST VIOLATE YOU OVER AND OVER AND OVER AND OVER AGAIN!” an unnamed rapist creature yells, pursuing a fleeing, weeping F5 key. (You can see the panel in question at Buzzfeed.) When some people on the Internet expressed their thoughts about this not being, you know, funny, Inman responded by taking down the final panel and adding a comment:
This is not an apology. Inman cycles rapidly through several popular non-apology tropes: “Sorry you don’t get that it’s a joke,” “sorry you’re so politically correct,” “sorry you’re so sensitive,” and “I am an awesome human being,” but dispenses with the “sorry” part of the non-apology. Hey, it’s more honest, since he’s actually not sorry. And in saying that anyone who did not find his rape joke funny must prefer he “adhere strictly to a G-rated vocabulary,” he shows that he thinks the problem is in his word choice, not in his subject matter.
I can’t speak for everyone who found the joke unfunny. But as someone who does not have a problem with R-rated motherfucking vocabulary, I can say that for me, vocabulary was not the issue. Inman says that Daniel Tosh’s unfunny rape joke ruined rape jokes for everyone, but Inman’s own problem was that like Tosh, he told an unfunny rape joke. Sorry, dude.
Because guess what? Rape jokes CAN be funny! Maybe not funny to everyone, but no joke is funny to everyone. (I am not a huge fan of Monty Python or the Three Stooges over here. I KNOW, CRAZY.) Brilliant writer Kate Harding (an online friend, full disclosure), who is currently writing a book about rape culture, did a piece a few months ago (back when Daniel Tosh was being unfunny about rape) about funny rape jokes. What all the jokes Harding shares have in common: Their point-of-view is that of the VICTIM (or potential victim), not the rapist. Inman and Tosh, on the other hand, joked from the perspective of the rapist. (Louis CK seems to, in the clip Harding features, but he’s actually joking about a rapist’s delusional, power-tripping mindset…as the last line in particular makes very clear.)
Inman removed the panel and published his defensive diatribe on Monday, December 3. On Tuesday, December 4, he removed the diatribe and tweeted that both the comic and the defense of it were “fucking stupid,” adding “Sorry if I upset anyone” [sic].
Feh. “SORRY IF” IS NOT SORRY. Inman already knew people were upset, so there is no “if” here. He also replaced the panel and the diatribe with this:
The final panel to this comic has been removed, and so was my “defense” of it. Neither one was particularly clever. I make comics to make people laugh, not to upset them. To anyone who was upset by it: I’m sorry.
Also not great. The apology should be to everyone, not just “anyone who was upset.” Inman squandered an opportunity to show that he understood what he’d done wrong. He could have said, “I get that the joke wasn’t funny,” not “I’m sorry some people didn’t laugh.” Most of the Interwebs, unsurprisingly, is angrier at the non-laughers than at Inman. Comments on Inman’s web page right now include “People get so damned butt hurt (pun intended for obvious reasons) over trivial shit” and “Nobody should be able to demand that an artist censure himself. And before anyone tries to claim that it isn’t censorship, i don’t care about semantics and textbook definitions.” And “This is why nobody likes feminists anymore. Go tackle actual problems.” And “it’s just a joke. Care about actually important things for once.” (The feminists, between bouts of weeping about the fact that a guy on Facebook doesn’t like them anymore, tend to care about actions and words and see connections between them. Objecting to unfunny rape jokes is not mutually exclusive with other kinds of anti-rape advocacy. Also, saying “that’s not funny” is not censorship. Just as saying “sorry if” is not saying “sorry.”)
As Jezebel’s indispensible Lindy West points out,
The world is full of terrible things, including rape, and it is okay to joke about them. But the best comics use their art to call bullshit on those terrible parts of life and make them better, not worse. The key—unless you want to be called a garbage-flavored dick on the internet by me and other humans with souls and brains—is to be a responsible person when you construct your jokes.
West assures male comics that they are not being oppressed when someone objects to a bad rape joke. “You guys know that ‘thought police’ isn’t a real thing, right?” she asks rhetorically. “I mean, not anymore—it was the first thing to go in the recession.” Hyuk.
Seriously, though – many women have been raped. Having that experience trivialized, whether by Katie Roiphe or some guy on the Internet, isn’t funny. Lazy shorthand humor that replaces any bad word with “rape” (why is it that straight guys love to say “ass-raped” about prices and football scores?) is, well, lazy. Rather than working up your ire about people who tell you your rape joke isn’t funny, why not try writing something funny? It could even be a rape joke.
ADDENDUM: A lovely commenter just informed me that Inman just posted a response to the Buzzfeed article. Oy vey. See the comments section for further oy-vey analysis.