Cue whining: “But it was just a JOKE!”

So, apparently Damon Wayans is working with handpicked young artists to “develop innovative television shows for the internet.” And apparently their idea of innovation is making fun of violence against women and children. (Warning: the video is potentially triggery, as is the rest of this post.) For those of you who would rather not watch the video and possibly generate ad revenue for its creators, here’s the rundown: a woman calls her boyfriend to tell him she’s pregnant. He pretends to be happy about the news; she’s thrilled that he wants the baby, and starts making plans for their new family life. When he gets off the phone, he calls for help, and “Abortion Man” answers the call. Abortion Man accosts the young woman as she’s walking down the street and beats and kicks her. Miscarriage hilarity ensues.

I really hesitated to post this, because I know that giving the creeps who made this video more publicity is exactly what they want, and will let them claim they’re “edgy”. But we need to speak up and let them know that they’re not edgy or funny or clever; they’re just misogynistic bullies.

This isn’t funny:

At 1:15 in the morning a pregnant woman is beaten in her apartment on Hickory Street. Police say the suspect, who’s apparently the baby’s father, repeatedly punched the woman in her body, face and head. He reportedly told her he was going to “make her lose that baby.”
[…]
According to the Centers for Disease Control, some 324,000 pregnant women are hurt every year by an intimate partner or former partner. And a study a few years ago that found homicide was a leading cause of death among pregnant women.

This isn’t edgy:

Excited by the ultrasound Jan. 7, [Ashley] Lyons made plans to show the fetal pictures to her ex-boyfriend, Roger McBeath Jr., 22. She left her family’s home, telling her mother she would be back for dinner. But when her father and brother found her, she was sitting in her parked car — with the car engine running and the headlights on.

She had been shot twice in the head and once in the neck. In her lap was her handbag — half opened — with the ultrasound picture inside, her father said.

“He knew that if she had that baby that she would be in his life forever, and he didn’t want that,” said prosecutor Shawna Jewell.

On a cold Kentucky afternoon four days later, Lyons was buried with her tiny baby tucked into her arms.

And this is the work of monsters, not superheroes:

[Roxanne] Fernando was pressured to terminate her pregnancy and initially agreed. She later had a “change of heart” and that set in motion a chilling chain of events, he said.

“It would be the fetus that would drive the planned and deliberate killing of Ms. Fernando,” Davidson said.
[…]
Fernando was hit with a wrench up to 20 times, bound with tape and wrapped in a blanket before being stuffed in the trunk of the car.

It was thought she was dead. But as the car began driving away, sounds could be heard coming from the rear.

“There was a realization Roxanne Fernando was still alive. They could hear moaning,” Davidson said. […]

Fernando was taken to a remote area near Mollard Road and Ritchie Street in northwest Winnipeg and repeatedly beaten with a broken hockey stick until she was obviously dead.

I’ll update this post with contact information for Damon Wayans or wayouttv.com as soon as I find some — it’s surprisingly difficult to come by. I left a comment on their web site, but you have to create an account to do that. (On the bright side, you can use Mailinator to create a throwaway email address for your account.) If anyone finds a better way to contact them, please let me know.

(ht: feministing)

10 thoughts on “Cue whining: “But it was just a JOKE!”

  1. Not really.

    There will always be people who say “That’s not funny” based on exclusive personal interpretations, quite besides any particular group or political affiliation.

    So it isn’t about feminists lacking humor, but human behavior in general — note some of the other groups I point out in the article.

    I’d be happy to discuss that issue either as a broad generality or in terms of the specific complaint above either here or on my blog.

  2. Well, project’s done, for better or worse.

    I’ve re-read your post, and I’m not sure how far discussion can get us. You’ve already stated that calling something unfunny is “tyranny” no matter what the reasoning. But what the hell, I’m free tonight.

    I do think that you’re missing the point of my objection. I don’t believe that the people who made this sketch are advocating the type of violence they portrayed. It’s more complicated than that.

    Picture a sketch called “Hang Up Man”. A motorist is stuck in traffic behind
    someone who’s chatting away on her cell phone. He appeals to the skies
    for help, and “Hang Up Man” answers the call. HUM runs the driver off the road, knocks her out with a well-placed punch to the head, and grinds her cell phone into the pavement with the heel of his boot.

    Now, that’s not satirizing people who hate drivers talking on cell phones, as some people are claiming that “Abortion Man” is satirizing men who won’t take responsibility for their children. It’s not satirizing anything. It’s wish-fulfillment with fantasy violence.

    “Abortion Man” is structured exactly the same way. In this case, though, the offense isn’t talking on a cell phone — it’s being pregnant and actually wanting to keep the child. I think that reveals a disturbing attitude toward women and babies. And the “fantasy” violence isn’t fantasy — it happens all the time (minus the guy in the cape). But we’re invited to laugh at it just the same.

    Where is it written that everything intended as comedy has to be funny, anyway? Sometimes it’s just thoughtless, mean-spirited, and kicking people when they’re down (a metaphor concretized in “Abortion Man”, btw). None of which means people won’t laugh at it, of course.

  3. Apologies, I ended up being very busy the last few days myself and hadn’t noticed your response.

    So, am I a bad person for thinking that cell-phone sketch you describe would be very humorous?

    And that’s the thing: you can explain why something means such to you until the sun goes down and the cows come home, and in the morning, it’s still just your subjective interpretation of what a thing means.

    Every single group I mention in my post can (and do) logically argue why their interpretation of some statement or event is the correct interpretation of such, from the folks decrying “The ‘Virgin’ Mary” as sophomoric and insulting, to those who claim “Suck it, Jesus” is vulgar, bigoted hate-speech, or “Hitler as Doctor Who” is an inappropriate and insensitive joke and so forth.

    Every single one can and does competently argue why “this is why this is that” and stand behind their rationale as the clear truth in the situation, and especially that there is something wrong with those who make such jokes, who do laugh at such, that those folks are hostile or uncaring or somehow in-some-way wrong.

    But how we react to and see other people and their actions often tells a lot more about us than it does the other person (fortunately or unfortunately as that may be). If I perceive other people as being hostile or uncaring, it doesn’t mean they are (though they may be!), it means that I am a person who, for some reason, is prone to seeing actions or words as displays of hostility. Why do I see hostility around me? What is it, in me, that makes me see it that way? Why do I react this any given way?

    Hence the statement in my post you refer to above: too many vocal liberals these days are or become tyrants. An Orwellian future isn’t just something the conservative right is dreaming up or capable of: the thought-police come out in force on the left as well as the right, claiming they know how you should think, what things should mean, and what you really mean when you say or do something. And what it is is always bad.

    Look carefully at your statement about the Abortion Man sketch: you state “it reveals”. That’s an interesting statement because…are you a mind reader? A professional and skilled profiler? Are you certain that is what it really means and where it is really coming from? How do you actually know and who are you to say it does for anyone else?

    The fact is, I (or you, or anyone) can play Devil’s Advocate for any side.

    I can make a supporting argument for why you should or should not personally take offense to that sketch (or a hundred other things). I can characterize it and spin it in a half-dozen different directions based on a few starting premises and some seemingly reasonable suggestions. Does that mean my argument is correct? Does it validate my point-of-view as the only correct view or as a more-correct view?

    For example, I could say, no one says absurdism doesn’t happen in reality: in this kind of humor the reason something is absurd is because it isn’t normal, acceptable, or rational. You have to laugh at dictators to dis-empower them. It is absurdist comedy, certainly on the dark side, and that just because you want to categorize it as thoughtless, repressed fantasy violence doesn’t make it so.

    Just look at the pro-choice/pro-life impasse, and the treatment of pro-life liberals such as ourselves. You can’t be liberal and pro-life, right? That’s what they all say; that if you are pro-life, it reveals you are clearly against a woman’s rights. You HAVE to be, you MUST be. The impeccable logic of their argument demands that to be the case. Yet here we are.

    Thankfully, you do say “I think” before you say “it reveals”, and that’s just it. You think. It is your own interpretation.

    I’m saying: Don’t make it more than that.

    “This isn’t funny” is a long way from “I don’t find this funny.” Just as “I found it funny” is a long way from “It was just a joke.”

    There are huge differences.

  4. I hope you’re still reading this; I’m sorry about the delay, but as you can see from the main page I haven’t had time to write much of anything lately.

    So, am I a bad person for thinking that cell-phone sketch you describe would be very humorous?

    Nah. But then again, the annoying person on the cell phone has actually done something to deserve a revenge fantasy (not to deserve an actual beating, mind you, but maybe a little revenge fantasy), and there aren’t hundreds of thousands of beatings of cell-phone users per year.

    The thing is, this discussion reminds me of the many instances I’ve seen where people of color will bring up something that bothers them. And the person who hurt them — who didn’t even intend to hurt them, who is not consciously racist — gets defensive, and almost invariably will say that, well, if only the POC had brought up the subject in a reasonable tone instead of getting all angry, they might have taken their points into consideration.. (The actual tone taken by the POC has no apparent effect on this reaction, as I’ve seen it happen when the POC was as polite as anyone could possibly be.)

    You’re not the person who made the skit, and I’m not saying you’re sexist at all, but why do people who have been hurt always have to be the ones to watch their tone when addressing the people who hurt them?

    Are you certain that is what it really means and where it is really coming from? How do you actually know and who are you to say it does for anyone else?

    All I can do is employ my understanding of writing, of comedic timing, and of the culture we live in. Those lead me to the conclusions I formed, and I stand by those conclusions. Certainly, nobody’s given me any reason to believe that I just didn’t get the subtle humor of the skit. Nobody’s given me any reason to believe that there’s a more plausible interpretation. This isn’t like the people who thought the Onion story about Harry Potter promoting witchcraft was real news.

    And obviously, other people are free to see it as satirizing the deadbeat father, or whatever interpretation they find. And I’m free to say that their interpretations are a stretch, and there’s more evidence for mine. I’m also free to say that anyone who interpreted the sketch the way I did, and thought it was funny anyway, is someone I don’t want to know. (Check the comments on YouTube, those people are out there.)

    You have to laugh at dictators to dis-empower them.

    Who’s the dictator in this scenario?

    It is absurdist comedy, certainly on the dark side, and that just because you want to categorize it as thoughtless, repressed fantasy violence doesn’t make it so.

    But, again, something can be “absurdist” or “comedy” and still be hateful. If you want to argue that I’m missing something, I’m open to hearing what I’m missing.

  5. I’ve been checking back regularly because I know you’re busy. And, hey, I prefer writing at the speed of human, rather than the speed of thoughtless two-second comeback that the internet tends to prefer.

    That said, I’ve been swamped with work myself, so I haven’t had a chance to compose a proper reply. Hopefully this week.

  6. Greetings, Jen, and thanks for your thoughtful reply above.

    Nah. But then again, the annoying person on the cell phone has actually done something to deserve a revenge fantasy (not to deserve an actual beating, mind you, but maybe a little revenge fantasy), and there aren’t hundreds of thousands of beatings of cell-phone users per year.

    Ok, so would I be correct in assuming you view the skit as “revenge fantasy humor” and are basing your view of the skit upon that? I ask because my view of the skit was not of “revenge fantasy humor”. Importantly, had I read it that way, I would certainly agree with your analysis.

    Taking that into consideration, I don’t think you’re so much “missing” something as you are interpreting the material differently for personal reasons. This is similar to any instance of one person being offended by something another person finds innocuous, because a thing can be more than one thing to different people.

    (After all, the idea that Harry Potter teaches kids witchcraft sounds insane to you and I, but a local church had multiple sermons and serious discussions on the issue of fighting the occultism of Harry Potter and keeping their children safe.)

    And I think, perhaps, that is the sticking point: an idea that “my interpretation of the skit is not only valid, but the most reasonably valid” as here:

    Certainly, nobody’s given me any reason to believe that I just didn’t get the subtle humor of the skit. Nobody’s given me any reason to believe that there’s a more plausible interpretation.

    But can I not say the same? That I honestly see your interpretation as a stretch and not as feasibly supported by the evidence (actually, we wouldn’t be having this conversation if I didn’t, right?).

    I agree one can argue the skit is hateful — but only if the underlying message of the skit is portraying a desired event.

    If we read the skit in a manner of “funny because it is so very wrong” then there is no “hatred” involved but a very open and vicious mockery of certain attitudes. Which is certainly the way I read it, feeling confident that is a reasonable view, because any mentally healthy individual recognizes beating a pregnant woman is simply and flatly wrong.

    To have a superhero dedicated to “righting” such a “wrong” is nonsense, crazy, absurd. So the only conclusion I feel I can draw is the skit is making fun of the moronic deadbeats who really do fantasize about a superhero coming down to “save” them from having to man up and be an adult.

    As such, the skit laughs at the sad thoughts of the pathetic losers, because anyone who would say, “Man, I only wish that would happen!” would be someone we would immediately distance ourselves from as clearly not rational, stable, or moral.

    Whether or not the skit hates women or encourages abuse comes down to whether or not the skit is viewed as “I wish that would happen” or “Anyone wanting that would be insane”.

    Thus, I imagine (and please correct me if I’m wrong) part of the issue regarding criticizing the former view of the skit is that “the injured party being told to watch their tone” is equivalent to any given offended party being told not to be offended. That is, “That makes me feel bad, and telling me it shouldn’t is the equivalent of you telling me to watch my tone.” Would that be a correct reading?

    Which would be especially aggravating when there people out there who interpret the skit as revenge fantasy and still laugh about it, and then also use the “it’s just a joke” defense? Wouldn’t the problem be with those people rather than the skit itself?

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