Dealing with the Tosh rape-joke incident is incendiary, but it shouldn’t be, Jamie Woo explains precisely why we can’t obliterate the topic from comedy, but also why the Tosh incident was so unforgivable. He mounted the comedy defence to justify an act of victimization.
The absence of context is what makes the Tosh joke indefensible. You can’t label anything a joke with the expectation of quieting all opposition—it just doesn’t work that way. A joke about rape that has no context is not a joke at all, it becomes a threat. An act of silencing.
Assuming the account of the incident is true (Tosh has apologized, but claimed he was misquoted), Tosh wasn’t skewering the vicious rape culture that shifts blame from the perpetrator to the victim. He wasn’t using humour to help “deal with things,” as Rivers put it. He didn’t shine a new light on the idea of women being sexually assaulted. Instead, he taunted her from the comfortable distance of the stage to turn the audience against her, because he didn’t have (or didn’t bother with) anything smarter to say.
And this is the crux. The power of comedy is its ability to render structures of power into objects of ridicule. What Tosh did according to his victim amounts to bullying at best, incitement to harm at worst. That is not deconstruction, nor is it pushing boundaries. It is a perpetuation of a set of values that includes telling women who stand up to object to systems of abuse and disempowerment to sit down and shut up. Tosh appologized, but one is left wondering if he – or indeed the rest of us – understand the nuance between speaking truth to power, and reinforcing that power.