I watch Adult Swim on a regular basis, usually from start to finish. I enjoy some of the programming; other parts are really just filler for the hours that I spend awake while my husband snores in the bed beside me. In those hours, I read, write, and play games. I’ll occasionally look away from the computer to huff a laugh or grimace at whatever is on the television at that point.
Recently, I’ve noticed that I’m grimacing more than I’m laughing. And sometimes, I’ll laugh, then really think about what I’m laughing at, then feel bad about myself because it isn’t funny beyond the shock factor.
One show that I’ve noticed this about is Robot Chicken, a stop-animation show that often takes advantage of the existence of popular culture and action figure merchandising. Some of the jokes are cute or amusing, other times, they cut quickly to the obvious bullshit of movies, pop-culture, politics, etc.
Other times, though, the jokes are just sad and sick. Many revolve around sexual assault as the premise. One such joke, uses a fabric softener and bear mascot as the vehicle for delivering a dark sketch about a many raping the plush bear, which sounds somewhat like a child. It end on the note “Cuddles-When your clothes need to be huggably, rapably fresh.’
It’s disturbing, and it’s wrong, but it makes some people laugh. I’ve laughed at it before. My laughter was mostly out of shock, but it was still there. And it makes me wonder, especially as a woman who has been assaulted before, how I can I be so accepting of this?
I think a lot of it does have to do with being uncomfortable. Humans tend to laugh when they are made uncomfortable or when stressed. It is a natural reaction that can be involuntary. Laughing can also release endorphins, making a person feel better, and can help lower blood pressure, which can rise when a person is stressed.
Then there is just dark humor and schadenfreude. As much as we humans love thinking that we are evolved, we still laugh when our friends drop cans of sodas on their feet, or when someone trips. “It’s all fun and games until someone loses an eye, then it’s just hilarious!” While rape and assault is much more extreme than that, I think that it fits in that same mentality for many people. ‘This hurts and we don’t really know what to do with it, so we are going to pretend like it doesn’t hurt.’
I know that I could make all kinds of arguments about rape culture, and what it means that television producers thinks of joking about rape as ‘edgy’ instead of repugnant. I also could make all sorts of feminist arguments about the rights of a patriarchal society/business to comment on what is thought of as ‘women’s issues’. But I’m a woman. I still laugh. And I need to make peace with that for myself.