The Soapbox: Would You Rather Not Mock Survivors, Tina Fey?
It’s not that I expect much at this point. The “Three Rape Joke” episode of “30 Rock” that Tina Fey wrote in 2010 was what pushed me to tear up my fan club card. And not just because my abusive ex used to do the exact thing Pete (Scott Adsit) describes doing “with” his wife that morning — also depicted on the show via unapologetic visual flashback.
“This morning I made love to my wife,” Pete tells Liz (Fey). “And she was still asleep, so I didn’t have to be gentle.”
Maybe because that was five years ago, maybe because even to a rape survivor a fictional character feels less consequential, maybe because I’ve since watched as people laughed off dozens of accusations against a real person with real live survivors — for whatever reason, even with past disappointments and outrage, I was super not ready for this tweet to come through my feed, courtesy of Esquire:
Esquire was reposting from Time.com which reported the unfortunate back-and-forth, during on an onstage conversation at New York’s 92Y, this way:
“When presented with a ‘Would You Rather’ between Donald Trump and Bill Cosby, Kaling paused to think it over, while Fey quipped: ‘With Bill Cosby you could sleep through it.’”
Sleep through it.
I was never able to sleep through it. Cosby’s accusers clearly didn’t sleep through it entirely as they — despite his preference for preying on people through knock-out drugs — managed to remember enough of it to tell their stories even years later.
Forty-six women, Tina. Forty-six. And those are just Cosby’s accusers who are willing to go on the record. Eleven of them haven’t allowed their name to be released — leaving an#EmptyChair in the iconic New York Magazine photo to represent those victims as well as the ones who remain completely silent.
Gosh, Tina, I wonder what would make anyone think coming forward publicly as the rape survivor of a celebrity would be a rough experience, staying silent rather than seeking justice or retribution? Maybe they’re not down to play along and laugh when friends post your drinking game fave impossible decision proposition on their social media feeds. I find that shit triggering enough and the man whose name you casually wield for a cheap laugh didn’t personally assault me.
My assailant doesn’t even have a Facebook page. The experience of being out as the survivor of someone people couldn’t search if they tried has been peachy — as long as I don’t read comments, email, Facebook tags, or notifications on Twitter. As I write this, my feed is full of rape threats and rape apologies because I wrote about being a survivor and a conflicted, disappointed fan of the Chicago Blackhawks, who’s star is being investigated on rape charges. And he’s sure as shit not beloved by generations of Americans the way Bill Cosby is or protected by the same kind of money and power.
Tina, WHAT WERE YOU THINKING?
I went back and forth about your Golden Globes “joke” (above). Maybe because I still had hope for Amy Poehler who was standing next to you; maybe because I got how some people thought that was aimed at Cosby even if it was too flippant for me. Maybe because the situation with Cosby was new and I got that in our entertainment and comedy culture something had to be said. I cringed, but I didn’t throw my phone across the room when I saw it.
When you suggest someone opting in to a sexual encounter with Bill Cosby, however, you are spitting in the faces of real, live human beings — at least 46 of them. He is a SERIAL RAPIST. You thought through your “joke” long enough to have a setup — “Would you rather” — and a punchline — “With Bill Cosby you could sleep through it.” At any point, did you consider the nearly 18 million women within earshot who are the survivors of sexual assault? How about the 2.7 million men regularly erased by jokes like yours? Twelve percent of high school girls say they’ve been sexually assaulted — think any of them are your fans because of movies like “Mean Girls”? How likely are they to see a story reported in multiple pop culture outlets with a picture of you attached to it?
What’s so awful about this, Tina, is that you’re seen as a smart comedic writer. You were practically a prodigy with the pace of your rise through Second City, “Saturday Night Live” — on stage and in the writers’ room, and into writing hit after hit for the big screen. I still love “Mean Girls.” I know you can discard the lazy joke, the hack bullshit and churn out engaging, funny work. You could have written a funny rape joke — it’s hard, but it’s doable and you should be up to the challenge.
After Daniel Tosh lost his shit on stage three years ago, Lindy West wrote a breakdown of what can make a rape joke funny — and I would go further and say it’s a primer on what makes JOKES funny period: hold to the basic comedy rule that punching up is funny and punching down makes you an asshole. You asked Kaling on stage to not just consider having sex with a serial rapist, but shrugged off your punchline in which she would be a rape victim.
When it comes down to it, it’s just not that complicated. May the gods of good taste forgive me for this reference, but even Dane Cook has a funny rape joke in his repertoire. DANE COOK. If he can pull it off, certainly someone as smart as you could do it if you wanted to.
Katie Klabusich is a writer and host of The Katie Speak Show on Netroots Radio. You can find her work at Rolling Stone, Truthout, Mic, and Bitch Magazine. Follow her on Twitter: @katie_speak.