Thanks to the internet age, most of us have heard about the recent controversy over Daniel Tosh’s remarks to a young woman in a comedy club. There are people who side with the comedian, suggesting that the woman was heckling and that his response was fine, reasonable, or not a big deal. And then there are those who take umbrage with the notion that a woman expressing her displeasure at rape jokes should be then subjected to suggestion that she be gang-raped by five different men.
And of course, there are those who think this is a non-story, who don’t have strong feelings either way.
I don’t think it should be any surprise this story has taken off the way that it has. Anyone keeping up with the news has seen the onslaught of sanctimonious white politicians explaining, as condescendingly as possible, how women should and should not use their bodies. Anyone can understand how intelligent, thinking women would feel outraged at legislation taking away our sense of autonomy. And thanks to the information age, we intelligent, thinking women have discovered that there are many, many of us who feel this way. We feel empowered enough to stand up to these individuals, to jokes that women should put an aspirin between their legs for contraception (SHUT YOUR LEGS, WHORES). And we are putting our foot down against the rhetoric of “rape awareness” that engages in victim-blaming. Don’t wear this. Don’t walk there. Don’t imbibe even a little alcohol. Or you deserve what you get.
So it’s really up to you if you think Tosh’s comments are a part of this onslaught. But it shouldn’t be a surprise that they ignited a storm of controversy at this particular moment in time.
What I find a little concerning, however, is the attempt by both sides to silence or censor the other. Some people suggest that rape should be off-limits as a topic for comedians. And other people suggest that if the young woman went to see Tosh perform, a comedian notorious for his troll-like incendiary comedy, that she has no right to complain.
Obviously, I don’t agree with censoring comedians or any other artists. If Tosh wants to suggest that all his female audience members get raped, then that’s his business. But it works both ways. Neither should she or anyone else be censored from their reaction simply because “that’s his brand of comedy.” Unless we’re going to start banning all negative reviews, that’s simply unreasonable. And to me, it sounds a little bit too much like the rhetoric of rape awareness.
Now, there is the matter of how and when she chose to voice her displeasure– in the middle of his act. Would it have been better to wait until after the show? Yes, I think so. But neither does this so-called “heckling” (which, if we’re being honest, is a far cry from throwing beer bottles and yelling obscene language or even talking/texting throughout his show) mean that she deserves what she got.
This notion of “if you don’t agree with what I’m saying, don’t bother to read/watch/comment” is one that I think is especially pervasive lately and really egregiously wrong. I’ve read it in numerous articles from people I both agree and disagree with on all sorts of topics. And suggesting that the only people who can or should read one’s thoughts be those that agree is silly. It is akin to shouting into a megaphone and then plugging your ears before you hear a response.
I understand the feeling, certainly. The comments section of many websites quickly turns into a den of slathering morons and internet trolls. But that doesn’t mean that we should strive to eliminate all discourse entirely. It doesn’t mean that I can’t or shouldn’t read an article from a Tea Party Republican or that I should refrain from voicing my disagreement. It does mean that I should avoid the foul mouth-breathing mentioned above, and it does mean that in a comedy club or on a website, the administrator can decide on appropriate rules of engagement. But if the only things we were allowed to read or watch were those that we automatically agreed with, we would all be calcified, one-sided stumps. And I think we can all agree that there is enough shouting from opposite sides of the fence going on in our culture already.
Of course, it is probably better for my blood pressure if I don’t watch Fox News all day every day. But it is my personal responsibility to decide what to read, what to think, what to say, what to wear. You are always free to disagree with me. I have several friends who do, and our debates can get really interesting. But suggesting that I am not allowed to read certain things or say certain things or wear certain things misses the point entirely.
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