Was the 'Broad City' Rape Joke Offensive? Some Fans Are Upset, But I Think There's More to It
I hate rape jokes. If you were to tell me, "No really, I've got a really great one," I'd probably tell you to take a hike. But the thing about comedy is that blanket statements don't always work. Sometimes you hear a joke and think, Oh, damn, that actually made me laugh. Enter the Season 2 premiere of Broad City on Comedy Central, in which the first big joke happens when Abbi discovers that she accidentally "raped" her new sex friend, Male Stacy (Seth Rogen) — spoiler: she didn't really.
The entire point of the episode is that Abbi and Male Stacy are hooking up (rather consensually, I might add), but while Abbi is in reverse cowgirl (or what I like to assume she calls "The Full Oprah"), Stacy passes out from the mid-summer-heat-in-New-York-with-no-AC situation. And for a portion of their encounter, Abbi is having sex with an unconscious man, truly accidentally, even if Ilana points out that "that's what 'they' say," referring to people accused of sexual assault. This experience prompts Abbi to finally get an air conditioner.
I've got some mixed feelings about it, don't get me wrong. But what I will say is that as far as rape jokes go, this is one that doesn't make me want to pull a bench out of the subway concrete and throw it across the third rail, Hulk-style.
I know what you're thinking: "How the hell is rape, accidental or otherwise, an acceptable joke?" Well, because there's more going on here than just "here's a rape joke."
It was a brazen joke choice, but some fans were thoroughly unamused:
Now, this isn't exactly like Daniel Tosh's "Wouldn't it be funny if I just raped that girl" moment, where the word rape was served up like some talisman of hilarity: rape is so ridiculous, so laugh at the funny joke. This was a joke that included "rape" — which I understand is triggering for some folks and I'm not about to police reactions to a trigger word — and played with gender roles as they generally apply to jokes in that genre.
Some viewers did feel that the Broad City joke also trivialized rape, but I think it's more of a commentary on the messy sexual politics that accompany the often blurry line of consent. The show created a rape-like situation (in which, again, there was no actual rape) in order to build out this joke about how completely misunderstood the lines of consent are. It's not mocking rape; it's mocking people who don't understand rape. These writers know their audience. They know that their viewers are made up of largely cosmopolitan men and women who've likely educated themselves on rape culture and can see the absurdities in Ilana and Abbi's lines of thinking in this bizarro conversation. It's not about hurting or making fun of victims; it's about asking us to use our brains to call bullshit on Ilana and Abbi's oblivious conversation. That's why, in my book, this joke passes the test.
When Ilana says she's not scared to walk around a neighborhood because "I'm with a stone-cold rapist," the joke isn't just in that line. It's in the entire series' premise, which is this warped version of reality where Garol polices the mail and Abbi and Ilana are hilarious caricatures — this is Ilana we're talking about, a character who takes three-hour naps in the bathroom stall at work and thinks that going into anaphylactic shock is a totally normal reaction to a little shellfish. Broad City isn't about a hyperrealistic set of young women kinda-sorta getting it together in the big city; it's a warped comedy from warped minds that created characters who are sometimes kind of despicable, and often totally clueless. It's this cluelessness that plays into the series' reverse playbook on male-female interaction, or at least the stereotypes that seem to guide it. Look at the way Ilana acts around men, in general:
Making plans with Lincoln:
Technically making light of respect in sexual situations? Sure. Is that the point? Not really.
Hitting on dudes at a bar:
This is the female equivalent of a man making a blowjob gesture at you across the bar, which would be awful. Why is it funny? Because if it's ridiculous when Ilana does it, guess what, dudes: It's ridiculous when you do it.
Dudes comment on the color/condition/etc. of lady parts constantly, and it is the categorical worst. What gave them the right to assess our down unders like a judge at the Purina Dog Show? Funny story: It sounds just as unnecessary when some dude says it as it does when Ilana discovers her own hookup's undercarriage.
And then there's this Season 2 promo:
Which I think speaks for itself.
In all of these instances, Ilana and Abbi are turning the constant objectification women face back on those who perpetrate it most often, men, and applying a layer of the best defense, cluelessness, before completely blasting that defense out of the water. Does that mean Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson are saying, "Hey, it's not cool if guys comment on the condition of your lady parts, but it's okay in reverse because feminism definitely means crush all men. Who cares if they have feelings or the desire to be treated with decency?" I'm going to go with a big ol' "no."
I'm not inside the heads of these two funny ladies, but my experience of Broad City has been one of catharsis. Catharsis upon seeing jokes that make sense of the near claustrophobic connection women have with their friends; catharsis in knowing that everyone has a Bevers in their lives; and catharsis in finding humor in that which often starts out as painful. To me, Broad City's comedy has an element of reclaiming male privilege, of taking things we are told are trivial complaints, reversing them, and blowing them out of proportion to the point where there's no way we could deny that some stereotypical male behavior that makes us cry "sexism!" isn't just "women being sensitive." When you put the shoes on Abbi and Ilana's feet, the result is this absurd sort of empowerment: Oh yeah, dudes? You think we're out of line? Well here's what you really look and sound like in spectacular comedic relief.
Luckily, some people seemed to agree, with regard to "In Heat":
Essentially, when Ilana took Abbi's rape situation to the next comedic level by saying "It's reverse rapism. You're raping rape culture, yass!" I didn't see it as a dismissive view of rape. In fact, it seemed to be the opposite. Much like the rest of the show, this whole string of jokes and this particularly obviously absurd Ilana-ism seemed to mock the rampant lack of understanding of rape culture rather than rape culture itself. By the end of the episode, we learn that Ilana had no idea what she was talking about, and I'm fairly certain that was the entire point.
Image: Comedy Central; Giphy (3)