Tag Archives: Pop Culture

Rape Jokes and Equal Opportunity Killing: Pros and Cons of Female Progress in the Macho Worlds of Comedy and Video Games

Women comedians thriving in their industry draw on a realm of issues to tickle, shock, or gross out audiences more familiar with the male-centered scene. But the racy topics rising from the likes of Sarah Silverman and Amy Schumer push more than the glass ceiling or the “taste taboo ceiling.” A recent article in the New York Times touches on rising female comics and the use of rape humor in their acts.

Jason Zinomen writes, recounting Silverman, “if you had to pinpoint one joke as a breakthrough for this new generation of female comedians, it might be this one: ‘I was raped by a doctor, which is so bittersweet for a Jewish girl.’”

Rape may fall logically on the list of things more approachable by female comics. But for my part, too many people avoid, or remain ignorant of, the realities of sexual assault. Making light of sexual violations belittles the physical and psychological trauma of the experience. That said, I am not here to criticize the risqué aspects of stand up comedy, whose primary purpose seems provocation.

I am interested in the way that women make a place for themselves within comedy entertainment. Vanity Fair, in 2008, printed the article “Who Says Women Aren’t Funny?” It covered 12 contemporary funny women, remarking on the requirement that they be simultaneously clever and sexy. The article featured Tina Fey and Kristen Wiig, whose recent movie Bridesmaids included female-centered humor, and some ground breaking gross-out scenes with women.

But female comedians aren’t the only ones breaking ground.  Female reviewer Emma Boyes touts the third installation of Saints Row, a violent, gangster genre video game, as “good for women.”

This game which features gratuitous violence and prostitution allows players to control the gender of their avatar. Within both realms (game playing and character creating) players experience gender neutrality uncharacteristic of video games in general.

Boyes writes, “the best thing about the way women are depicted in Saints Row is the fact that it never seems to occur to anyone to treat them any differently.”

The game, according to Boyes, includes a substantial number of bad-ass female characters and no diminutive language when referring to them. Male and female prostitutes are featured and objectified. Players have a great deal of flexibility when creating their avatars.

“All outfits, makeup, and hair styles are available to both genders, so there’s nothing stopping you from, say, being a girl with a beard or a fella with pigtails, lip gloss, and high heels. You can wear a sexy dress. You can wear a power suit. You can be androgynous,” writes Boyes.

Boyes’ review also includes disclaimers that the game is saucy, provocative, and sometimes immature. Gender equity will not necessarily draw a flock of female gamers if they weren’t already interested in gangster games. And the benefits, or consequences, of playing at theft and death remain debatable for all genders.

Does the new installation of Saints Row demonstrate progress? Yes, definitely. Although equal opportunity violence and rape humor still leave a bad taste in my mouth, women deserve a place  in these fields. I remain hopeful that females advance in comedy and gaming on their own terms.

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Florence + The Machine = Misinformers on Race and Violence ?

Perhaps, the optimist in me hopes, Florence Welch and her band are merely misinformed on issues of race and violence. Their prominent position in the international music industry begs a certain level of social sensitivity and awareness, neither of which seem present in their new video for the song, “No Light, No Light.” (Watch the video here.)

Some of my regular sites have been in an uproar recently about Florence + The Machine’s video for the song off their recent album, Ceremonials. I found the video lacking racial sensitivity and recycling tired primitivist tropes. The video, unfortunately, is not the band’s first demonstration of poor judgment.

One of Florence+ The Machine’s previous songs, “Kiss with a Fist,” shows a blatant disregard for domestic violence with lyrics such as: “You hit me once / I hit you back / You gave a kick / I gave a slap / You smashed a plate / Over my head / Then I set fire to our bed.”

In an interview with NPR’s Melissa Block, Welch explains she wrote the song at age 17 in an attempt to fit in with garage-rocker peers. She claims the lyrics are purely figurative, “a metaphor for first love, in all its intensities,” but she did not acknowledge the provocation in the message.

Singing about black eyes and partner violence without consequence or reflection shows a profound lack of sensitivity. “Kiss with a Fist” normalizes domestic violence, making it harder for victims of abuse to be taken seriously.

Domestic violence does not equate emotionally or psychologically to the pangs of first love. The song fails to make that distinction.

Let’s return to the more current issue at hand, racism in Welch’s newest video. In the same interview with Melissa Block, Welch expands on her musical philosophy, providing some insight into the primitivist elements in the video.

The music is a “primal and tribal bashing of percussion, mixed with the choral side of the backing vocals,” Welch explained in April of 2010.

Ceremonials was released in October of 2011, though the juxtaposition of “tribal” and “choral” elements feature prominently in the “No Light, No Light,” video.

The video grossly misrepresents race and tribalism, creating a pseudo-ritual with a voodoo doll, mask, and dancing evocative of possession rituals. The producers of the video take it a step further with a scene of the black man chasing Welch, a white woman down an alley.

The racial, primitive character does not represent any actual culture or race. He stands vilified and wild next to the purity of an all-boys church choir and Welch herself.

Blogs through Jezebel and Racialicious  analyzed and critiqued this video more thoroughly than I. Racialicious suggests that this insensitivity appears in Florence + The Machine’s video for “The Dog Days are Over” — another example that the band exhibits ignorance in their lyrics and videos.

Change.org hoped to collect 2,500 signatures to demand an apology for “No Light, No Light” but only reached 902. I think continuing the discussion about the video and the band will inform more than a petition or apology.

In any case, it remains important for viewers / listeners / consumers of pop culture to consider intentional or unwitting messages in their media. As producers of popular media Florence Welch and her band take poetic license into the realm of ignorance and insensitivity toward diversity and violence. Perhaps they should join this conversation.

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