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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