Dear Miley: Reminder, Rape Jokes Are Never Funny

Miley Cyrus is a performer who’s always looking to push boundaries. She runs into real trouble, though, when she rams herself into a boundary that exists for A VERY IMPORTANT REASON.

This past Friday night, Miley performed a concert at London’s G-A-Y club. In between songs she bantered with the crowd:

“You know, everyone’s a little bit gay,” she told her audience. “It’s the truth. Everyone’s gay, all it takes is one cocktail. And if that doesn’t work, sprinkle something in their drink. That’s what I always do.”

She’s now coming under fire for what essentially amounted to a date rape joke. We’ve been through this so many times with so many celebrities and comedians. A rape joke is made, the public reacts, the celebrity joke-teller either completely ignores the controversy (which, scrolling through Cyrus’ Twitter feed, seems to be what she’s doing) or defends his/her freedom of speech and right to make jokes about whatever button-pushing topic that person wants to make jokes about. It’s rare that a person in power apologizes and attempts to make amends. Patton Oswalt is a rare example of a comedian who publicly changed his stance against rape jokes, which impressed my socks off. It’s hard to say you’re wrong. It’s REALLY hard to say you’re wrong in front of millions upon millions of people.

The problem with rape jokes is multifold. It makes a monstrous act seem mundane. We live in a rape culture in part because rape is normalized in our society, and one way people normalize rape is by making it the subject of jokes. True horror is not meant to be trivialized. Laughter can be a powerful weapon against real evil. Humor can heal and comedy can teach. The rape joke isn’t humor being used to explore the honest human response to sexual violence. It’s the exact opposite. The rape joke refuses to acknowledge the true darkness and depth of its subject matter. It’s shock value at its cheapest. Those who defend the rape joke defend their right to joke about anything and everything, but what they’re really defending is their right to speak ignorantly rather than think deeply.

Miley Cyrus’ date rape joke didn’t fail because it was about date rape. It failed because it was shamefully disingenuous with how it treated its subject matter. Comedy only works when its foundation is honest and real. A person who has been affected by sexual assault using humor to process her pain would be a powerful thing. Rape would be the subject, but it wouldn’t be the joke. Cyrus’ joke failed because she so clearly had no idea what she was really joking about and since has made no public attempt to understand and learn.

But I do hope she makes the attempt to understand. I do hope she tries to learn. We need our artists and public figures to be pushing boundaries. We also need them to know what those boundaries ARE and WHY they exist, and why sometimes, a boundary is best left exactly where it is.

Image via Instagram

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