This summer saw the release of the much-anticipated quasi-prequel to Ridley Scott's horror masterpiece Alien, titled Prometheus. Alien, and Prometheus to a much lesser extent, are deft explorations by male moviemakers on a very alien concept to them -- bodily invasion. The first Alien explores what it means for a male's body to be invaded by a foreign object, leading ultimately to a gruesome birth scene where the man is forced to propagate the alien race and give his life for an alien baby. Prometheus explores this theme to a much lesser extent, but it does have a scene in which the protagonist, played by Noomi Rapace, tries to use a technological machine to abort an alien baby only to realize that the machine is programmed strictly for male bodies. No, health care disparities will not be solved a century in the future, either.
Many people believe that, unless a person has experienced some kind of physical or sexual abuse, they should keep mum on the subject. But there are successful ways for men to discuss rape. This is not to say that males do not experience rape -- they do, and probably more often than you would think. Alien and Prometheus show that there is a way for men to talk about rape by putting the experience back onto themselves. The rape metaphor in Alien is successful because it uses its imagination on its male characters. It doesn't attempt to answer questions about female bodily invasion, rather it is a horror movie that shows the horrors of bodily invasion -- written, experienced, and felt by a man. In embracing and understanding its politics, Alien still stands as one of the most mainstream feminist films of all time.
Yes, speaking about rape as a male takes much finesse and forethought. Hence, when Daniel Tosh joked about rape at a comedy club on July 6th, after cajoled to by a heckler, his assertion that it would be a hilarious if a female clubgoer were gang raped by five men on the spot did more than fall flat -- it ignited a media and blogosphere firestorm after the girl posted an angry rant on her Tumblr. In crafting good stand-up, comics often labor over their jokes, hoping to inch them ever more toward perfection. In that sense, making good stand-up is not very different from writing a movie script. The essence of the writing is in the rewriting. When a writer writes a poor script, they are criticized. Reviewers malign the film, and maybe people don't go to see it. In a similar fashion, stand-up comedy is not immune from criticism.
Much has been made on the Internet over the past few days about whether his statement was right or wrong. A line has been drawn in the blogosphere between pro-Tosh comedians who misunderstand free speech and venerate comedy as a modern God, while on the other side lie angry feminists, teeth gnashed, swords unsheathed, waiting to hop on anyone who hope to defend this pro-rape entertainer. And both have missed the point.
First, Tosh's apology, and defense of his comedy, severely misses the point. Frankly, he is not sorry about what he said -- he is sorry that it is now turning into a wildly expanding brushfire. And, rather than apologizing, which helps no one, he should own his statement and acknowledge the real, tangible harm that rape language has in a culture that does little to fight the real threat of rape. That he has not owned his joke does speak volumes about his character -- he's an immature frat boy with a fat paycheck who probably hasn't taken responsibility for a thing he's done in a long time. His inability to own his statement doesn't necessarily make him a bad person, just an immature one who doesn't fully comprehend the subject at hand.
Second, people need to get a better understanding of free speech. When people invoke freedom of speech, they are really talking about the wording of the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits the government from limiting your speech. That is one type of contract. The ticket you buy to a comedy club show is a different kind of contract. And, if you do not like the product you purchased, you have the right to say so.
People think that if he were to be fired from Comedy Central that it would be a censoring of free speech. Sorry -- bullshit. Far be it for me to spout some Republican far-right capitalist politics, but in this day and age, where corporations have just as much right to free speech as the common citizen, the ability for Comedy Central to fire Tosh comes down to one simple statistic: the amount of revenue he gathers.
Comedy Central is a company, and if consumers fight back enough against him, Comedy Central's going to protect its coin purse and cut him off. By monitoring their brand and making sure each of their commodities stays on message, the American brand of freedom of speech continues to thrive -- the consumer gets to speak about the product, the corporation can cease and desist.
While I don't think Tosh is anti-woman, he definitely has yet to confront his own privilege, whether it is his white, male, able-bodied, or heterosexual privilege. His comedy is part of a cornerstone of American comedy that is swiftly dissolving -- that of the all-powerful, American white, heterosexual male. His comedy is offensive not because it is charming, racist snark, but because it is so unthoughtful, so behind that it's almost quaint.
He thinks his brand of humor pushes the envelope, but it just keeps the envelope unopened -- and white. Comedy, at its very, very best, incorporates self-reflection, and Tosh's inability to confront himself in his comedy -- he aims at others, and leaves himself mostly unharmed, a spectator in his own sport -- will leave the concept of rape a continually alien one to him and the people who enjoy his lazy brand of comedy.
Mathew Rodriguez is a graduate of Fordham University, where he majored in English and Comparative Literature, and minored in Women's Studies and Creative Writing. Mathew is a published essayist, new media journalist, and academic. He plans to pursue a PhD in English with a concentration in gender studies. Mathew is also a social activist who embraces the tenets of feminism and works for LGBT rights. When not writing, he currently works for the LGBT health/ medical services nonprofit APICHA Community Health Center as their Program Assistant. Follow him on Twitter @mathewrodriguez