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Seattle writer Lindy West: Rape jokes may be powerful tool

Jezebel writer Lindy West made a video reading some (not all) of the horrible comments directed at her after her appearance on Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell.

In case you haven’t spent much time on the Internet this week, there has been some controversy brewing about rape jokes.

The bottom line: some people think rape jokes are offensive, some people think they can be funny, and some people say they are always funny.

The topic rose to an overwhelming troll-dom fever pitch after Seattle-based writer for Jezebel (and former Stranger writer) Lindy West went on Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell with Jim Norton and debated the value, consequences and place in our culture of rape jokes.

While the show started (or refueled) the discussion, it’s what’s happened since that’s drawn the majority of the attention. Rape threats, er jokes, aimed at West have taken over Twitter and Facebook. And then her supporters lash out at the rape-joke makers, and the value of the debate was lost somewhere in the shuffle.

You could spend hours going back over all of the comments that have been made since the show aired – by West, Norton, their fans, and everyone with an opinion on comedy. It’s truly overwhelming. West even had her Facebook fan page hacked. A fake account was set up by someone who she believes may be a prominent male comedian not particularly pleased by her message.

So she made a video reading some (not all) of the horrible comments directed at her, out loud. It’s a little jarring to listen to them (and probably not safe for work), but she brings us around to her original point. The point that probably made her an interesting debater for Bell’s show in the first place: you can make a rape joke. She wrote a whole “guide” on how to make a rape joke. And surprise! The rape “jokes” being directed at her could largely be described as not funny.

Somehow, her message was misconstrued as one about censorship. But really the repercussions that she expects for a bad rape joke would be that she, with her freedom of speech, is able to say that said rape joke is terrible.

“(Tons) of people on the Internet are claiming that Lindy West wants to ban rape jokes. Lindy West thinks that rape is never funny and that no one should ever make a rape joke and that is actually the complete opposite of what I’m saying,” West explained on a recent episode of TBTL. “I actually think we could use more rape jokes. I think there should be more rape jokes because I think comedy is incredibly powerful. And what I’d like to see is all of these comics, getting on board and skewering and dismantling rape culture and shaming rapists. Instead of using rape as a cheap shock term and re-traumatizing victims […] Comedy is a powerful subversive force and I think that it could be used to take this problem apart and to diffuse this problem to make people feel less alone.”

So while Internet trolls may continue to send West appalling messages, it should at least be known she doesn’t advocate their censorship. And more rape jokes! But West clarifies, “just the good kind.”

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