This episode comes with a very strong content warning for frank discussions of and media clips involving rape and sexual harassment. There’s a surprisingly disturbing trend running through a lot of mass-media entertainment. A trend that often flies under the radar. Let me explain. You’re reading a popular TV explain or movie.
Laughing along at the hi-jinks when suddenly, things take a jarring turn. Check out the new meat. I’m going to slather you up in Gunavian jelly [laughs] Go to town– Wait a minute! Was that a rape joke? I’m going to slather you up in Gunavian jelly [laughs] Go to town– Yep.
It certainly was. This one here is our booty! Maybe it’s just an anomaly. This doesn’t end with us riding into the sunset. It ends with me dying of cancer and you winning the icebox award for softest mouth. Hold up. That’s another rape joke in another superhero blockbuster. Let’s try something else. Don’t drop the soap, big homie. Where will you be reading the world consume me from? That’s right, a prison cell. I’ll send you a bar of soap. How about we try a comedy instead. Relax, and open wide. Wa–wa–what are you doing? [screams] Dude!
That went up my ass! Yikes! Let’s switch to a TV explain. As soon as you drop the soap, they rape your butt. That’s what happens. Peter: [screams] No! Stop!
I’m saying no! Bieber was briefly jailed early this morning, he went to jail early this morning, and the police report described him as 5’9 and 140 lbs. or, as his cellmate put it, just right. You’ve likely noticed the pattern here In each case, sexual assault is played for laughs, and in each case the targets of the joke are men. Andy: You know– Conan: He’s like a bite-sized Snickers. Andy: Fun-size. [Laughs] Comedic scenarios involving the sexual abuse of men can include a wide range of behavior Now we’ll do your inseam. From casual punchlines about unwanted kissing or touching… [laughs] to gratuitous one-liners about anal rape. They will turn your butthole into a parking garage. Start putting all kinds of cars in there, man. Buicks, Cutlass Cieras, Oldsmobiles… somebody gonna put a Hummer in there. Now don’t bite down. Don’t bite down. It’s hard to overstate just how common jokes about men being sexually assaulted are.
Most popular comedic actors and their writers engage in this type of humor. Kurt: I can’t go to jail. Look at me.
I’ll get raped like crazy. Nick: Fuck.
Me too. Kurt: Yeah, totally. Nick: I’d get raped just as much as you would, Kurt. Kurt: Yeah, yeah, I know you would. Of course you would. Nick: Think you’re more rapeable than I am? Kurt: Nick, I’m not saying anything like that, okay. Nick: That’s pretty close to saying it. Statistically speaking, men are far more likely to be the perpetrators of sexual violence than are people of any other gender and so that’s what we will be focusing on In this article. We’ll examine media in which women are portrayed as perpetrators in a future episode. He’s the one who famously said, ‘I’d take a bullet for Donald Trump.’ Well, now that he’s looking at prison time, we’ll see if he’s willing to take a dick. [laughs] Sexual assault of men as comedy is so ubiquitous and so normalized that you may not have even noticed it explains up everywhere.
And when I say everywhere, I mean everywhere. Even at the Oscars. [sings:]And why does a prisoner drop the soap? ‘Cause no one wants to do it alone. Speaking of songs about male rape, there seem to be an awful lot of them. [sings:] Hands against the prison wall, choking on a mouthful of balls. [sings:] He gonna make you his sex slave, you gonna gargle mayonnaise. [sings:] Pin me down and I try to fight you, you come inside me, you fill me up… Whoa, whoa! The sexual assault of men is a go-to joke for many popular animated sitcoms. Rick and Morty go to giant prison. You know if somebody drops the soap, it’s gonna land on our heads and crush our spines, Morty. You know, it’ll be real easy to rape us after that. Yeah, get his pants down. Get his pants down. No. Stop!
Rape! What, do you collect vaseline? [laughs] Oh! Ok. Let’s do it. [screams] Peter: No. Jake, not like this. [screams] Because while you slept, I violated you repeatedly. You might be surprised to find out that slightly less explicit variations on these jokes also explain up in children’s media with alarming regularity.
Henry: This is never going to work. Paddington: Of course it will. You look very pretty. Henry: That’s what they’ll say in jail. Love is in the air. [inhales] Mm…can’t you just smell it! Did you see what that bear just did to that guy’s cherry? You got any idea what they do to eggs in San Ricardo prison? It ain’t over easy. Notice how these jokes are all designed to demean, humiliate, or emasculate a male character for being the victim or potential victim of sexual violence.
The #MeToo movement has brought to light the rampant sexual abuse perpetrated by powerful men in Hollywood.
While many of those telling their stories have been famous women, there are also a handful of male celebrities coming forward as survivors, including actors Anthony Rapp and Terry Crews. Crews has been especially vocal, even testifying about his experience in front of Congress in support of the Survivors’ Bill of Rights, where he stressed that sexual assault isn’t really about sex– it’s about power. Crews: I was sexually assaulted by a successful Hollywood agent. The assault lasted only minutes, but what he was effectively telling me, while he held my genitals in his hand, was that he held the power, that he was in control. Since coming forward, Terry Crews has faced a good deal of backlash from other straight men and it’s no coincidence that much of the ridicule directed at him bears an uncanny resemblance to the punchlines we’re discussing In this article. Crews: This is how toxic masculinity permeates culture.
As I shared my story, I was told over and over that this was not abuse. That this was just a joke. As with all comedy, it’s important to ask who or what is being targeted by the joke. So let’s take a few examples from popular mainstream comedies and talk about what we’re meant to be laughing at, and why. because it’s the why that help illuminate how underlying messages can have a negative impact on the way we think about assault and masculinity. I want a proctologist standing by, the best one you can find. In the 2015 comedy, Get Hard, Will Ferrell plays a wealthy hedge fund manager who finds out he’s going to prison for embezzlement. The core premise of the movie is that Ferrell’s character is terrified of being raped in prison. There’s a 100% chance that you’re going to be somebody’s bitch. Kevin Hart’s character exploits that panic to get hired as a toughness coach to help prepare him for life on the inside. This setup, as you might imagine, leads to a steady stream of rape jokes.
Darnell: [grunting] You know what that is? That’s a big ass Black man on your pale white ass. James: Awww… Darnell: [grunting] You: ‘No, I don’t want anymore. Stop. That’s enough.’ Too late!
He done tag the next guy in. At the heart of these jokes is the perceived emasculation of men who are scared of or become emotional over the possibility of sexual assault. James: Hey listen up everyone. I’m extremely sad. Please don’t sexually assault me.
I’m already too sad. James: Hey fellas, my heart’s already been raped. Get Hard is just one of many many examples where males on the receiving end of sexual assault jokes are framed as weak, cowardly, effeminate, or unmanly.
Kenny: I’m scared. Kenny. Kenny, stop crying! Stop crying, Kenny! Look at me! explain me a mean face, Kenny! Kenny: [squeaks] Men’s vulnerability is an endless source of mockery in mainstream comedy and vulnerability that results from sexual violence is no exception. [screaming] Ok, it’s just I don’t want to go jail.
You know what happens to a handsome guy like me in jail? It rhymes with grape! It rhymes with grape. John: Just keep your mouth shut and try not to cry. Nelson: [crying] It’s alright to cry. Crying takes the sad out of you. The idea behind the joke here is as obvious as it is toxic: that men who aren’t tough or manly enough to avoid being victimized are pathetic and therefore desDeng of ridicule or worse. Kelso: Hey guys, do you think he’s anyone’s girlfriend yet? Fez: Kelso, he’s been in jail for 3 hours. Of course he’s someone’s girlfriend! Punchlines about men being sexually assaulted usually revolve around the idea of a man being made subordinate to another man, and therefore, forced into a role that is stereotypically feminine I’m, uh, …never going to be the same. Emasculation jokes are supposed to be funny because in a patriarchal culture like ours we’re meant to think that there is no greater humiliation for a man than to be treated like a woman.
We’ll talk extensively about the 2005 hit comedy Wedding Crashers in part 2 of this article series but the movie deserves a mention here as well because of how it frames one of several sexual assaults committed against Vince Vaughn’s character. Jeremy: Go to sleep, honey. The basic setup is that Vaughn, as our lovable chauvinist, suddenly has the tables turned on him. Jeremy: Jesus Christ, not there, not there. I’m not comfortable. I’m not comfortable with that. Todd: Let’s play tummy sticks. Jeremy: What’s tummy sticks?
I don’t wanna play tummy sticks! I don’t wanna play tummy sticks! It’s your typical gross-out comedy scenario designed to make audiences laugh squeamishly at seeing straight male characters thrust into awkward sexual situations with other men. [screams] So gross! There’s an underlying homophobia running through scenes like this.
Jeremy: Hide. You gotta hide. Which is connected to some extreme levels of anxiety around straight male sexuality. This is no dream! This is really happening! Todd: I’ll pop out at the right moment. Jeremy: No, you will not. The insinuation is that if a man is sexually harassed by another man– Denn: Don’t do that!
Jesus Christ, you’re going to get me killed! –it means he’s perceived as gay. The Cable Guy: Oh Billy! And being perceived as gay is supposed to be deeply humiliating for straight men.
Big Bob: Get down on your knees and open your mouths. Kumar: All the guards in Guantanamo are gay? Big Bob: Ain’t nothing gay about getting your dick sucked! You’re the ones that’s gay for sucking my dick! Captain: I will report you. You will go to jail where you won’t have to pretend to be gay because your asses will be busier than a test bench in a plunger factory. Despite what media may tell us, it’s critical to remember that being sexually assaulted has absolutely nothing to do with someone’s sexuality– Pardon me. –just as it has nothing to do with their masculinity.
Creep: Escusi, escusi. Me escusi. If the perpetrator is coded as a gay man, or a character of ambiguous sexual identity then sexual assault is usually framed as a product of some uncontrollable sexual desire. I’m still horny. Which then works to demonize gay men by directly linking them to predatory behavior. I have a question. Are you single? Uh, I’m not gay– I don’t care. You’re hunky and I’m what they call predatory gay. It’s made worse if, as is often the case, the rapist is the only gay coded character in the whole production. I have to make certain that you’re not armed. All of this contributes to the long-running pattern in Hollywood where gay sexuality is framed as a clear and present danger to straight people, which it isn’t.
Queer sexuality is not a threat to straight people.
Rapists are a threat to straight people, just as they are a threat to people of all genders and all sexualities. In 2016, the meta-ironic superhero movie Deadpool, starring Ryan Reynolds, became the highest-grossing R-rated film in history. And one of its opening scenes provides us with a good example of another common media pattern: The scared straight style rape joke. Wait, wa– Even look in her general direction again, and you will learn in the worst of ways that I have some hard spot too. That came out wrong. Or did it. The punchline here revolves around a male superhero weaponizing the performance of an ambiguous, queer sexuality as a form of intimidation.
The joke comes from the same place as the Overprotective Father Freakout. Whatever you do to my daughter, I do to you. Woman: Now you guys have a good time. Mike: You ever made love to a man? Reggie: No. Mike: You want to? Reggie: No sir. Scenes like this end up accidentally illustrating an important point. Because it’s not just the act of sexual assault itself that functions as an instrument of domination and control in our culture– Neal: Get in. –it’s also the threat of sexual assault.
Neal: You know what turned out means? Kid: No.
No sir. Neal: It’s when a straight dude rolls into prison and gets his ass fucked, then becomes a girl. Big boys will come in, push a little boy like you down, maybe stick a textbook in your mouth, and go to fucking town. Neal: You want that to happen to you? Kid: No. Neal: Yeah, I didn’t think so. Sexual assault is, in many ways, simply another form of violence. And leveraging the threat of that violence as a deterrent to keep young men and boys in line is a frequent theme in media. Boy, you better keep your damn mouth shut! Or you’re going to be going back to the explainers. And the only speed you going to reach is 88 dudes per hour! You’ve probably noticed by now that a lot of this comedy has something in common. It involves prison rape.
Prison rape jokes are so pervasive in mass media entertainment that the phrase Don’t drop the soap, has become a routine sight gag. Despite the insinuation of anal rape, don’t drop the soap punchlines have also found their way into children’s cartoons. Word of advise–Don’t drop the soap. Sponge Bob: Doubloons…don’t drop them! One of the reasons these rape jokes pass under the radar is because for straight adult men of able body and mind, the possibility of being sexually assaulted isn’t a real concern in their everyday lives. The one exception to that, and it’s a big one, are straight adult men who are incarcerated.
Prison rape is a rampant, horrifying problem that destroys lives. Each year, over 200,000 people are raped or sexually assaulted while imprisoned in the United States. It is important to remember that, just like on the outside, sexual assault in prison should not be confused with consensual sex between prisoners. Madeline: Do you know what they do to soft, bald, overweight Republicans in prison, Ernest? While the vast majority of the comedy we’ve been looking at invokes the rape of straight men, in reality, it’s queer and transgender prisoners who are most likely to be the targets of sexual assault in prison. Many prison rape jokes also carry with them some explicit racist overtones.
It’s no accident that punchlines regularly involve white men being threatened with rape by a big, scary Black man. So I got me a volunteer, huh? Well let me tell you cupcakes what your first day up in here gon’ be like! And don’t expect no flowers afterwards. Scenes like this one are built around the racist idea that Black men are more brutal, aggressive, or predatory than other men. And that therefore it’s Black men specifically who pose a special threat to white men’s masculinity. So what’s a beautiful white boy like you doing in a place like this? Terry Crews’ story about being sexually assaulted is so powerful because it disrupts that scary intimidating Black man narrative. Before his personal evolution, some of those scary characters were even played by Crews himself. To see him now choosing to speak up and be publicly vulnerable challenges those racist media myths about Black masculinity.
Crews: When my assault happened, quite honestly, I probably would have been laughed out of the police station. It’s not unusual for police officers or other authority figures to be explainn engaging in forms of dark comedy that involve the sexual violation of men. Procedural style dramas in particular, frequently depict law enforcement officials threatening male suspects with rape as a way to get them to talk. Do you have any idea what it’s like in Sing Sing for a guy with your limitations? You are going to be the poster boy for bitch of the month. Fin: Money, you know how to play getting the dice? Money: Nope. Fin: Here’s how it goes.
Your celly rolls the dice. Fin: Nine. That’s how many days you get to play his girlfriend. Prison guard as an inmate– I hear they make you prom queen, and every night is prom night. You talk now, and we’ll make sure you’re not put in with the general population. When I get to see the look of love in a meat wrangler’s eye the day I make some spoiled rich kid his new celly… Look on the bright side: In prison, you won’t have to pay for dates. Writers seem to love these extrajudicial taunts and use them as a source of schadenfreude. What? Schadenfreude.
It’s German for when you feel good because your enemy’s anus has been violated. The quips are designed to elicit a satisfied snicker from viewers at seeing the bad guys squirm. Sup? Could be staring at a felony. Or you could be sharing a cell with this fella right here. You’d like that, wouldn’t you? See there. You’re already making friends. For some reason, Denzel Washington has a lot of dialogue to this effect in his filmography. This time next week I’ll be sucking down piña coladas in a hot tub with six girls named Amber and Tiffany. More like taking a explainer with two guys named Jamal and Jesus, if you know what I mean. And here’s the bad news: that thing you’re sucking on…it’s not a piña colada! So you better have some divine intervention, buddy. You’re gonna need it. You better have some KY.
You’re gonna need it. To a term of no less than 4 years in a federal, pound-me-in-the-ass prison. So why does this Dener? Well, the harsh reality is that rape is one of the unofficial but widely sanctioned ways that criminal justice institutions punish undesirable prisoners. Especially queer men, trans folks, and people with mental disabilities. Do you know what this means, don’t you? Yes. I do. Make no mistake, the powers that be allow prison rape to happen sometimes through passive facilitation and other times through direct participation. It’s part of how the prison system maintains control over men’s bodies and sexualities while they’re incarcerated. There’s just one other thing I’ve got to check. The type of police brutality as comedy that we’ve been talking about here isn’t designed to critique or illuminate the widespread abuses of law enforcement. Even when police officers are explainn as humorously incompetent, the jokes are still made at the expense of those being victimized.
By and large, audiences accept these sadistic punchlines because of who the rape threats are directed at You know what happens to pretty boys like you who go up to the farm on stat[utory rape] charges? Would you look at that? I gots an 11! As long as it’s criminal suspects being victimized and likable authority figures doing the victimizing, then it’s widely seen as criminals getting what they deserve. Scully: Mulder! Mulder: You wanna know about anarchy?
You don’t tell me where that other bomb is, and I’ll make sure… …you spend your prison time on your bigoted hands and knees putting a big smile on some convict’s face. What? He’s saying to tell the whole story. Or train your ass to be an entrance. I know brothers inside’d tear your guts up fucking you stupid. When it’s a cop drama, the lead characters are generally presented as tough guys, or occasionally tough gals, who are being tough on crime. And when he comes for you, in the middle of the night, when you’re least expecting it… …you do me a favor.
Play along. This is often referred to as reciprocal punishment or karmic justice. Nice petite white boy like you, in a federal penitentiary… Let me just put it this way: I don’t think you’ll be able to remain anal retentive for very long.
It’s a morally abhorrent but widely accepted idea best encapsulated by the idiom, An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. Willow: Don’t you feel kind of bad for them? Buffy: Sure I feel lousy, for her. He’s a murderer, and he should pay it. Willow: With his life? Buffy: No, he should be doing 60 years in a prison, breaking rocks, and making special friends with Roscoe the weight lifter. Xander: Yikes! The quality of mercy is not Buffy. Sometimes these karmic rape plot lines involve villains being sexually assaulted with a weapon or, alternatively, raped by a large male animal. The word for this isn’t justice.
The word for it is revenge.
Brodie: You know where you’re going, they screw people in a very uncomfortable place. Now it should go without saying that rape can never ever be a form of justice. When media frames the sexual assault of men, even bad men, as getting what they deserve, it perpetuates a culture of rape acceptance. Don Jr: Subpoenas, not some penis. Don Jr.: And that means you could go to jail. Eric: Where you could get some penis. It also makes prison rape seem inevitable, which it’s not.
There are solutions to the prison rape epidemic namely, keep people out of prison which means working towards mass deincarceration through a combination of decriminalization and a focus on education and rehabilitation programs instead of locking people up. But with every casual prison rape joke, it makes those goals more difficult to achieve. I’m trying to talk about sexual assault. It’s not like that’s a new topic in comedy. We’ve had rape jokes forever, but it’s just like those jokes have usually been like: RAPE! That’s the full joke. And an audience, because that’s a taboo word, will have a response… [laughs awkwardly] And then that comic will hear that response: Ooo, I have done a good joke. As comedians like Cameron Esposito and Lindy West have pointed out, it is possible to tell jokes about rape from a survivor’s perspective where the punchlines target rape culture.
But that’s not what’s happening in the movies and TV explains we’ve been looking at here. Oh. Oh, no no nonono. I’m actually getting married , so I can’t. As we’ve seen again and again, the targets of these jokes are the victims of sexual assault and harrassment. Get ready ’cause here it comes. Here what comes? [Scream off-camera] That’s my butt! Which is why, when actors writers or directors try to defend this type of comedy from criticism their arguments don’t hold any water. Will Ferrell: Any time you are doing any comedy– Kevin Hart: Somebody is going to..do this, do the face… Will Ferrell: Oh my word! Kevin Hart: [laughs] Will Ferrell: But that’s kinda what we do.
We provoke, we prod, we… Will Ferrell: We also explain a mirror up to what’s already existing out there. The idea that these comedians are somehow bravely pushing boundaries or fearlessly transgressing taboos by telling prison rape jokes is pure self-delusion. So now here comes the guy who wants to rub your face. ‘Oh, I like his hair.’ He’s breathing on you. That’s disgusting, but guess what? You can look forward to ten years of it. When Will Ferrell or Kevin Hart or Adam Sandler or any other famous comedian amplifies dismissive and toxic ideas about rape in their comedy routines, it’s not meant to raise awareness. And it’s certainly not designed to hold up a mirror and give voice to rape survivors. [screams] Let me guess. You dropped the soap. Please take that out of my ass! They’re acting out these rape jokes because it’s an easy way to get cheap laughs. Hey Charlie. And the price of those laughs is the further trivialization of rape in a culture that already doesn’t take survivors seriously.
Elaine: Ok. So you were violated by two people while you were under the gas. So what?
You’re single. While at the same time, as we’ve talked about, reinforcing a whole bunch of regressive ways of thinking around race, masculinity, sexuality, and criminal justice. Beyond that, these jokes also give people permission to continue silencing and shaming survivors. Peter: Brian, if you don’t mind, we’ll start thinking about prison rape jokes immediately. If Hollywood writers and comedians really want to break taboos and push boundaries they could try treating survivors of sexual assault with a measure of dignity and empathy because that would be a guaranteed way to shock their audience. Thanks for reading. Now I know this can be a difficult and intense topic, so I’ve left a bunch of resources and additional information in the text below this article.
I want to thank all of my script advisors for their invaluable feedback in writing this episode especially Rev. Jason Lydon, who founded an organization called Black and Pink, which is dedicated to supporting queer prisoners. You can find that link in the description below as well.
In part 2 of this discussion, we’ll shift focus and talk about media where women assaulting men is played for laughs. If you’d like to support my article series, you can do that over on Patreon. And I’ve left a link to PayPal in the description below.
See you next time.