Lindy West probably isn't the first person to block Roseanne Barr on Twitter for “unhinged abuse,” but she may be the most famous.
West, a Seattle-based writer for Gawker Media’s Jezebel, tweeted on Wednesday that she was forced to block the former sitcom queen following a series of erratic tweets in which Barr was ostensibly debating the merits of rape jokes in professional comedy. Roseanne’s rant came just days after West appeared on FX’s “Totally Biased” to debate the issue of rape humor with the comedian Jim Norton.
In the wake of the #FBrape boycott that came to a boil last week, forcing Facebook to reevaluate its policy toward graphic content that makes light of rape, West and Norton argued over what place, if any, rape jokes have in modern comedy. West, who is also a comic, has written about comedy’s “gender problem” before, posting an open letter to male comedians on Jezebel earlier this month.
"Comedy clubs are an overtly hostile space for women. Even just presuming we can talk about comedy gets women ripped to shreds by territorial dudes desperate to defend their authority over what's funny. ‘Jokes’ about rape and gendered violence are treated like an inevitability instead of a choice; like they're beyond questioning; like they're somehow equally sacred alongside women's actual humanity and physical sanctity."
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West repeated that stance on “Totally Biased,” although Norton came back with some good points of his own, essentially sticking to the traditional comics’ credo that nothing is off-limits in comedy.
“There’s nothing I’m comfortable saying you shouldn’t make fun of,” he said on the show. “I think if your intention is to be funny, we all go into a comedy club knowing that.”
West countered, meanwhile, that words do matter, and that joking at the expense of rape victims perpetuates a culture that marginalizes the victims.
“You don’t get to say that comedy is this sacred vital thing that we have to protect because we speak to truth and power, and then say, well, it’s just a joke, and language doesn’t affect our lives at all,” she told Norton.
So far, so civil, as debates on rape humor go. (West herself noted that Norton was "thoughtful and fair.") However, in an age when every interview finds an afterlife on social media, civility perhaps never had a chance.
On Wednesday, after a clip of “Totally Biased” had been on YouTube for a few days, West took to Jezebel and posted a rundown of some of the loathsome comments it had been getting. Comments like “no need for you to worry about rape uggo,” “Kill yourself, dumb bitch,” and “not even a prison escapee would want to rape her” are just a few examples (and among the few that were suitable for reproduction). West has collected screenshots of many of the comments.
Since the debate erupted, Twitter has been lighting up as well, with high-profile personalities weighing in on both sides. Lena Dunham, star of HBO’s “Girls,” had this to say to the nothing-should-ever-be-off-limits camp:
Anyone who thinks @thelindywest is advocating censorship isn't using their ears. She is advocating an examination of the power of our words.
— Lena Dunham (@lenadunham) June 4, 2013
But it was later that afternoon that Roseanne, the former sitcom star turned social media oddity, began sounding off on the topic, tweeting repeatedly at West and even posting a photo of her -- accusing her of advocating censorship. The rant, comprising several tweets over the course of two hours, was reposted by Jezebel’s Laura Beck here.
Back on Twitter, it finally seemed as if West had had enough.
I think I need to block Roseanne. This is weird.
— Lindy West (@thelindywest) June 4, 2013
West’s decision to block Roseanne attracted some criticism from the Twitter faithful who seem to believe that no conversation of value ever took place without the whole world listening in.
— daisy barringer (@daisy) June 5, 2013
Blocked or not, Roseanne wasn’t finished debating. The comedienne posted the following tweet on Wednesday morning.
in this day& age, only jokes about kitteh cats r acceptable, really. Hurting ppl's feelings is wrong. We have a humor problem, ppl! #sowrong
— Roseanne Barr (@TheRealRoseanne) June 5, 2013
The irony here is that all this rampant incivility was spurred, at least in part, by a surprisingly civil bit of discourse -- a rational debate on a prickly topic around which intelligent people fiercely disagree. Watch the full “Totally Unbiased” clip below and decide for yourself.