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There isn't a little bit of Salman Khan in all men

June 25, 2016 12:25 IST

A rape victimI fear for our collective inability to wrestle the plague of rape in this nation, says Prathmesh Kher.

My colleague Prasanna D Zore posted an interesting column on Salman Khan and his analogising his pain of making a motion picture to that of a raped woman. But certain charges in it were disturbing and cannot be left uncontended.

A part of the charge does hold true, but the one part that did offend me (a wasted claim that has many prospectors these days) was the attribution that a rape joke somehow normalises the use of the word.

Prasanna argued that Salman would have shunned using the word had men not laughed boisterously over the 'balatkaar' speech in the movie 3 Idiots, adding that he stopped enjoying that scene thenceforth. That is a call of the writer's conscience; one that I commend, but do not share.

In the opinion of at least one individual the suggestion posits a false equivalency between people who find rape jokes funny and those who find funny the violation itself.

It seemed that in condemning Salman Khan, who deserves it, the writer also condemned the humour that mocks such gross violations and society's lassitude in responding to them.

The 'rape joke' is a common thread in many a comic's repertoire. Although its efficacy is irrelevant, it is nonetheless evident in many an audience's catharsis.

Sarah Silverman, one of the finest comics working this dissolute joint, said in one of her acts (external links): 'We need more rape jokes. We really do. Needless to say, rape, the most heinous crime imaginable, seems it's a comic's dream, though. It's because it seems when you do rape jokes, that the material is so dangerous and edgy, and the truth is, it's like the safest area to talk about in comedy 'cause who's gonna complain about a rape joke? Rape victims? They don't even report rape. They're just traditionally not complainers.'

What is she really joking about? Rape! But she is also carefully trajectorising the audience toward a realisation that the real problem with rape cases in any civil society is the gross underreporting and the atmosphere of shame that is perpetuated around the act.

Her act reminded me of Dr Nicholas Groth, who whilst recounting the experience of raped women in the book Men who rape -- The psychology of the offender, quoted a victim as saying: 'Not enough people understand what rape is, and, until they do, not enough will be done to stop it.'

In any event, Silverman has joked about (external link) rape more than once.

The raconteur Dave Chappelle also makes a rape joke (external link); this deals with a minority of rape victims as he points out.

Chappelle turns the punch line towards the lethargy with which society often deals with male rape.

Even the inimitable George Carlin joked on the subject (external link). In his acclaimed album (there are many), Doin' It Again, Carlin jokes: 'Some people don't like you to talk like that. Some people like to shut you up for saying those things. Comedians run into that shit all the time. Like rape. They'll say, "You can't joke about rape. Rape's not funny." I say, "@$#& you, I think it's hilarious. How do you like that?' I can prove to you that rape is funny. Picture Porky Pig raping Elmer Fudd. See, hey why do you think they call him 'Porky,' eh? I know what you're going to say. 'Elmer was asking for it. Elmer was coming on to Porky. Porky couldn't help himself, he got horny, he lost control, he went out of his mind".'

'A lot of men talk like that. A lot of men think that way. They think it's the woman's fault. They like to blame the rape on the woman. Say, 'she had it coming, she was wearing a short skirt.' These guys think women ought to go to prison for being teasers. Don't seem fair to me. Don't seem right, but you can joke about it. I believe you can joke about anything. It all depends on how you construct the joke. What the exaggeration is. What the exaggeration is.'

Don't get me wrong. I don't mean to suggest that we must all be on the same page on every front.

Prasanna doesn't find rape jokes funny in the least and that's fine. We both hate rape. That matters.

But perspective matters too.

After all, we live in a nation which has its legislators charged with the very sort of crimes they are supposed to legislate against.

That is a real tragedy; the joke in 3 Idiots, not so much.

I am often reminded of an anecdote about Samuel Johnson, whose Dictionary of the English Language is among the first comprehensive documentations of the English lexicon.

Soon after the publication of his immortal dictionary Dr Johnson was paid a visit by some ladies who wished to give him due compliments on his achievement. While praising the book they commended the omission of all the naughty words. 'My dears!' replied Dr Johnson, 'Then you have been looking for them?'

I fear that our collective inability to wrestle the plague of rape in this nation might make us like those women; looking for bad things to point out all while Dr Johnson does his job.

When black comedian and social activist Dick Gregory wrote his memoir he chose to title the book Nigger. His mother, who had lived in the Deep South, felt offended at the expression. To that, Gregory said something along the lines that 'Momma, whenever you hear the word again, remember they are selling my book.'

The implication was self evident. That as long as the word carried the weight of its past, it needed to be used.

Writer Jerome Bixby once wrote: 'Piety is not what the lessons bring to people; it's the mistake they bring to the lessons.'

Perhaps, that lesson is what our generation needs.

Prathmesh Kher
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