Rape is not funny. Yes, even when it’s George Michael. (updated)

A couple of hours ago I went downstairs to chat to my sis who is visiting with her little girl, and one of the new generation of comedy shows, Mock the Week, was on. They were talking about George Michael, the former pop star recently locked up for causing a car crash while out of his head on drugs. The jokes, and I will not repeat them (perhaps you can watch the show online), focussed on the possibility of his slipping in the shower, a place where it is commonly assumed that men are liable to get raped.

When will people get it into their heads that rape is not funny? (Perhaps when they experience it themselves.) Why do the BBC, and doubtless also the commercial British TV networks, put out pre-recorded shows containing this kind of material? Didn’t they learn from the Ross & Brand affair?

The fact that George Michael is turning into a cut-rate Michael Jackson, a once distinguished musician now known only for scandals, is not at all relevant. If what they were laughing about (and yes, the audience were laughing) can happen to him, it can happen to anyone, regardless of the severity of his offence (assuming he has even committed one). Rape is just not funny, and if comedians can’t figure this out, TV bosses should make it clear that it’s not acceptable on their time.

Update: the letter I did submit is over the fold. You can submit your own using the BBC Complaints page, by email, fax or letter. (Please don’t copy mine, as it detracts from both this and yours by making it look like an orchestrated campaign.)

Dear Sir or Madam,

I watched a brief section of last night’s edition of “Mock the Week”, in which a panellist made an offensive joke regarding the recent imprisonment of George Michael. The joke was that George Michael might get a “new entry in the number 2 slot” after slipping in the shower in prison.

This appears to be a joke about the possibility of the singer being raped, which is not a suitable subject for jokes as rape is extremely serious, given the devastating and traumatic effects it commonly has on its victims. Perhaps some people think this is acceptable given his present reputation, but if what was described can happen to George Michael it can happen to anyone, regardless of their offence, their status in prison or their guilt or innocence.

I am not interested in a personal apology from the “comedian” responsible for the joke - I would like such jokes to stop, because they trivialise a very serious subject. Anyone who has been the victim of any kind of sexual abuse, even if nothing like as serious as rape, could tell you that it is not at all funny.

Yours faithfully,

Matthew J Smith

Update 5th Oct: I had this response from the BBC this morning. Clearly, people who think rape is funny have to be catered for.

Dear Mr Smith

Reference CAS-319989

Thanks for contacting the BBC.

We’re sorry if you were offended by the content of ‘Mock the Week’ on 23 September.

We can assure you its never the intention of the BBC to deliberately upset its audience.

As the BBC is a public service financed by the licence fee it must provide programmes which cater for the whole range of tastes in humour. We believe that there is no single set of standards in this area on which the whole of society can agree, and it is inevitable that programmes which are acceptable to some will occasionally strike others as distasteful. The only realistic and fair approach for us is to ensure that the range of comedy is broad enough for all viewers to feel that they are catered for at least some of the time.

We’d nevertheless assure you your feedback on this matter is very much valued by us.

We’d assure you your concerns have been registered on our audience log, which is a daily report of audience feedback that’s circulated to many BBC staff, including members of the BBC Executive Board, channel controllers and other senior managers.

Thanks again for taking the trouble to contact us.

Kind Regards

Lucia Fortucci

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  • africana

    yes, it’s not funny….and it’s rather like calling open season on gypsies or black people, say, because of a high profile case involving someone from one of those groups. i don’t, however, see jokes about prison rape as arising from this new trend for rape jokes as they have quite a long history in british stand-up and in comedy generally. they’re of a somewhat misogynistic mindset where the comedy value is derived from suggestinging that a criminal (of whom certain types were and still are perceived to be a very macho figures)will have visited on him something normally reserved only for women and gay men.

  • Irony of Life

    It is awful that comedians can stoop to the level of using such issues to get laughs. I dont know if it was Ramadan, but for some reason, I have started detecting so much foul language (f words and worse) on TV in general but also on mock the week and similar shows. It seems some comedians are stooping to extreme lows to get laughs. I now turn the channel over immediately when these b-list comedians use such vulgar language.

    Last night on another channel there was a Comedy Roadshow on which I saw a Pakistani comedian for the first time - his name was Imran Yusuf - he was very funny.

  • Africana: I think these jokes were very much motivated by the fact that GM is gay, not that he’s a criminal. I don’t think GM did something so awful that it would make anyone say “I hope he gets raped / dies of cancer / gets hit by a truck”.

    I think it very much fit into the rape joke genre.

  • africana

    i must admit that having now read a bit of a news item about gm, you’re probably right.

    i do think, though, that in british society (or the media, at least)pop stars, footballers etc..who act in ways that the media, laughably, define as inappropriate for men of their “standing”, do get a very hard time and there is often a desire to see them further embarassed or disgraced.

    “his name was Imran Yusuf”

    since,as per certain hadiths, we’re not supposed to lie in order to make people laugh, then muslim satnd-ups have to stick to relating to real life ecvents.. which shouldn’t be a problem as there is no shortage of comedy in real life situations.

  • I watched a documentary about Tiger Woods (it is banned but husband found it on cyber space somewhere) and what these nasty jokes stem from is the fact that at the height of fame, some celebs are shielded from criticism using media blackouts (care of the promotional companies) but once that protection has gone, then they are vilified for everything. That kind of deception is rife. The stars are seen as the best of human kind, never says a bad word, has no faults etc but once a scandal does break, the “human” side of them comes out. They become like the rest of us now therefore, it is acceptable to crack nasty, vile jokes about them and there are no repercussions for it.

    When GM came out as gay, there were a few tittle tattles but not on the scale he is getting now. He is now in the league of a “has been” so his destruction in the media has started.

  • africana

    salam maryam,

    i suppose that, with these blackouts, there’s huge potential for blackmail.

    one wonders as to whether the hold the apparent hold that scientology has on a number of celebs might be more due to tommy davis et al. knowing a little too much about the personal goings-on of certan celebrities.

    there’s an intersting book, entitled simply “fame” which talks about how this idealisation of others in the public eye is reminiscient of what went on in similiar times, lacking in God conciousness.

  • africana

    yes, it’s called “Fame” by tom payne.

  • Wa Salam Africana,

    Sounds like that to me. When I was talking with the hubster on the Tiger Woods “incident”, it was pretty shocking to know just how much promoters had influence on the very lives of their celebs.

    I mean, strip clubs and high stake gambling during the night, image of perfect loving family man during the day.

    Nice picture. Minus the lewd sex stories and drug problems attached to some of these “stars”. That’s when things are really bad.

    High profile companies can virtually call all the shots on someone’s life until the next big thing comes along.

    Profit margins is a fickle wife to have.

    Oh and the paps? Wow, I can’t even begin to imagine how much some of them must be earning in back handers!

    Must see if I can find that book. Sounds interesting.

  • Did anyone watch the Panarama documentary on BBC1 on the scientology “church”?

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b00v1ykr/Panorama2809_2010/

    So creepy. I only got to watch the last half of it but the way the Scientologists were following the presenter around, recoding him and any person who had left the group, posting and releasing information on them to the media etc kind of gives an idea about how a person could be blackmailed into all sorts of situations.

    I wondered what kind of dirt they held on their most famous members?

  • Maryam: I watched the whole thing. I can’t believe how devious that organisation is — I have been hearing about their behaviour since the mid-1990s since I first got on the net, and I started reading about the methods they used to stifle criticism of them on Usenet (which was then the main discussion medium as web forums weren’t really around then). One of their campaigns led to a major anonymous mail service (called Penet) getting shut down because it was being used to broadcast their “trade secrets”. The guy who ran it was prevailed on to disclose who was disseminating the cult’s secrets, so he shut down the service. There was also a separate smear campaign against Penet, claiming that it was being used by paedophiles to send indecent images of children; ironically, Penet was also used by abuse survivors to discuss their issues anonymously.

    They behave exactly like the secret police of some banana republic dictatorships, in the way they send spies out to openly record meetings between their critics and journalists.

    By the way, I read another article the other day about another cult which extorts its members to finance its expansion (a lot like the $cientologists’ cash-for-spiritual-advancement con) — the Qadianis. Br. Shahid Kamal Ahmad posted http://thecult.info/blog/2010/09/27/the-ahmadiyya-chanda-fraud/">http://thecult.info/blog/2010/09/27/the-ahmadiyya-chanda-fraud/“>this the other day, about the “chanda” (charity) that they demand from all their members, rich and poor, which is never there when a member falls on hard times.

  • That link is a depressing read even though I do not have a full insight into that organization (The Ahmadiyya group).

    Such acts of bribery is shameful on the organisers who just seem to be lining their pockets.

    The scientology group which I am also going to read more into (rather than the dismissive stance I had before), seems a bit like the NOI (nation of Islam) with their alien life force theologies, some what like the Free Masons in their triangular ladder that larger donators (thus gaining so much power or rights over others) can climb so easily and their secrecy/ conspiracy theories etc.

    Got any info on how they established this “Church”?

    Will be watching the whole of it on iplayer. Seemed very interesting.

  • Salams,

    I am so glad you raised this point about rape being seen as “funny”. I think a lot of it probably stems from homophobia and their discomfort with GM’s being gay; I say this simply because I can’t imagine similar comments being made if a woman was heading to jail. Of course, it’s probably more complicated than that (ie, domestic abuse against men is still seen as a bit “funny”, or at least as non-existent, where as it’s generally not when it comes to women), so sexism and hegemonic masculinity probably all play a part, too.

    Anyway, I’m really glad to read your post on this.

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