In 2009 I went to a Halloween party that I have pretty powerful memories of to this day. I was still mourning the painful death of a relationship at the time and had spent the months since that breakup turning my back on the world, so my disposition was -- to put it mildly -- horribly misanthropic. Thankfully, I fell in with a group of people at this party who made me feel better for at least a short time, mostly because their combined sense of humor was as pitch-black as mine was and, like me, they had no concerns whatsoever about who they might piss off by letting it see the light of day. For a good couple of hours, our little multi-ethnic and multi-racial conclave of guys and girls over in the corner of the room dispensed acidic judgment, shockingly crass one-liners and brutally honest self-loathing as if we were the only people on earth. It was a beautiful, cathartic experience as we laughed together at subjects we as members of polite society were expressly forbidden to find humor in. Sure, there was always the possibility that someone outside of our group would be able to hear what was going on inside our group, but at that moment nobody seemed to care. Why? Because everybody understood that it was a party, we'd been drinking, we had no actual ill-will toward anyone -- except maybe ourselves since we were willing to admit how awful we were -- and most importantly, our mini-roast was making us laugh.
This is nothing more than one person's throwaway story about the experience of making tasteless jokes in mixed company. It holds exactly zero importance for anybody other than me. In fact, I wouldn't even be bothering to share it if somebody else hadn't put a story of her own recent experience with a tasteless party joke out there into the media bloodstream.
Over the weekend, Salon published a piece by Jenny Kutner, its "assistant editor, focusing on sex, gender and feminism" -- yes, there's only one person who holds that title there -- which single-handedly proves that 2015 is going to be every bitas Salon-yfor Salonas you'dexpect. The story is a first-person account of how Kutner was at a party with people she didn't really know when someone "who seemed to be about (her) parents’ age" told a joke to somebody who wasn't her. The joke, as she describes it, was a "rape joke." Kutner of course frets over the very existence of the crack and the fact that someone felt it was okay to make it in public, but the real meat of the column is dedicated to beating herself up over the fact that she didn't give the joke-teller a piece of her mind right there on the spot but instead retreated to Twitter to complain about it to a friendly audience then accepted his personal apology to her later. That apology was accompanied by a request, basically, to hug it out -- and Kutner agreed. Hence, she's now angry at herself for not sticking to her feminist guns and the bullets made of pure self-righteousness they no doubt fire.
The fact that I am always the one to get pissed floated through my mind as I agreed to give the rape joke-teller his hug. This is why I felt like a coward: because I’m not, usually. I always make a scene, am always alone in making a scene, always alienate people around me because I can’t just chill out and take a joke. On Thanksgiving, I stormed out of the room in tears because I thought everyone around the dinner table was blaming domestic violence survivors for their assaults. My beliefs are often announced dramatically.
If you're currently writing up invitations for any event whatsoever and one of them is for Jenny Kutner, better go ahead and rip that sucker apart right now. But if you do that, know that there's a pretty good chance that as far as Kutner is concerned the issue won't be with her -- it'll be with you.
People don’t apologize to me about their rape jokes because I’m a mean person who’s prone to fits of unintelligible rage, but because they know they’ve said something insensitive, sexist and problematic. I guess that’s better than people being totally, genuinely oblivious to their own sexism, but it’s also a sign of willful stupidity. It is, I suppose, what we call “a start.” It’s OK. It’s better than nothing.
But you know what would be better than “better than nothing”? People not laughing at rape jokes or even cracking smiles.
Here's where you mark off the word "problematic" on your Social Justice bingo card and remind yourself that problems are what real people have while "problematic" issues are what sanctimonious kids have. And that's what I'm beginning to think it really comes down to with this stuff: age. While I can't evaluate the joke or the person telling it because I wasn't there, I'm inclined to think it wasn't as big a deal as Kutner is making it out to be considering her zero-tolerance policy toward anything she feels is a violation of her personal ideals and her zero-to-outrage reaction to it. Maybe the guy was a total douche, maybe he wasn't; humor's incredibly dependent on context and delivery. Regardless, only a petulant child would think that the way to make a point successfully is by hijacking a room full of random people because his or her fragile sensibilities aren't being respected. Only a dumb kid thinks the world should be forced to conform at all times to his or her viewpoint and can't accept that not everybody is going to think the same way. It's just shocking sometimes to hear the stories of activist 20-somethings who can't deal with an environment that isn't 100% safe and trigger-free -- and who can't understand why deciding for everyone that their world needs to be brought to a screeching halt until the activists' demands are met writ large doesn't win a lot of friends other than on Twitter.
I can't help but wonder how Jenny Kutner would have reacted to the group I was a part of at that Halloween party back in 2009. She probably would've lost her fucking mind. The thing is, I don't think any one of the people I was hanging out with would've given her even the courtesy of an apology. As for the apology she did get at her own party, she can punish herself all she wants for accepting it rather than refusing the silly symbolic gesture of consideration and spitting it back in the person's face. She can look at it as abandoning her principles. She can call it cowardly. Some of us will just see it as growing-up.