Students running the Exponent, Purdue’s daily independent student newspaper, clearly didn’t know what they were in for when they ran a cartoon depicting a sex position called “the Prestige.”
The panels show a couple having sex in the position known as doggy-style before “the partner standing behind the other trades with a friend.” The woman continues kneeling there (you know, like an unconscious, passive receptacle) until she sees her original partner pop up in the window in front of her. Apparently, “the receiving partner will be astonished as if a magic trick has just occured. Tah dah!”
Astonished, indeed. I’m not interested in discussing the implications of such a cartoon. The comic is obviously rife with objectification and other chauvinist themes, and I would be deeply depressed if I had to explain to anyone why that’s the case.
What really interested me was people’s responses. Readers who commented on the cartoon seemed cleanly divided amongst two camps — those who were outraged by the supposed condonation of unconsentual sex, and people irked by the former group’s supposed overreaction to what was meant as a harmless joke.
Clearly, the comic was meant to be funny and not literal — I seriously doubt anyone on the editorial board of the Exponent published the cartoon with the explicit intent of condoning rape. Yet it’s still worth asking, where do we draw the line when it comes to taking a joke too far?
Being an Asian woman, I’m subject to a lot of jokes that harp on racist or sexist stereotypes. Maybe I’ve been desensitized — much thanks to my friend Brian, who addressed me almost singularly as “Catherasian” for the duration of my high school experience —, but I can usually turn the other cheek to this type of humor.
When I do start to take offense is when the comment is made by someone I don’t consider close enough of a friend to do so. Making that personal of a joke to someone you don’t know very well is extremely assumptive, and that’s usually the crux of the problem when coarse humor is poorly received.
A large part of the debate generated by “the Prestige” cartoon argues whether or not sexist humor should be considered funny or acceptable — a fruitless discussion considering that humor, at the end of the day, is always just a matter of preference.
The real question was whether or not this type of humor was appropriate for this specific outlet — it’s the difference between showing a racist spoof on a campus news channel and on showing it on Family Guy, and that difference broils down to a difference of audiences.
But Raymond, the obnoxious devil’s advocate in my life, would probably brush off this situation entirely, insisting that, “the cartoon is only an issue for insecure feminists and extreme chauvinists.” He’s also right in a way.
After all, rude comments about sex and race usually say more about the people promoting them than about the people who are made the subject. That’s a fairly common take. But even beyond that, such jokes are also totally vapid more often than not.
Oh, did you just say that I should make you a sandwich? What a refreshingly innovative and clever comment! You should really patent that joke before — oh yeah, wait, it’s actually been told three billion times already.
When it comes to racist and sexist humor, just about everything is old news, and that includes “the Prestige” cartoon — peruse the Internet, and you’ll find that the joke is certainly not original to the Exponent.
I’ll concede that sometimes, given the right lead in, context and audience, a jab at stereotypes can be funny. Occasionally, they have merit in calling out the foolishness of certain mindsets and attitudes — Brian began calling me Catherasian in high school ironically, to point out the absurdity of how much attention others put on my race.
Following that thought process, I can see how some people might find “the Prestige” cartoon amusing in an off-color way: because they realize how inherently unfunny the actual subject matter is.
But as this type of humor becomes increasingly widespread, it’s lost its shock value, and it fails to retain that original satirical quality that justified it. Making cracks at sex and race has become a paint-by-numbers approach to being “witty” — I can no longer even estimate the number of times someone’s said, “it’s because you’re Asian” in response to some banal and unrelated comment that I made.
And in each instance of the three billion times this has happened to me, everyone else erupted in laughter as if this trite remark were some comedic gem to be preserved throughout the ages. Is our collective sense of humor as college students really that underdeveloped?
To be blunt, racist and sexist humor has become utterly mainstream at this point. It’s not edgy or fresh anymore — the jokes just seem like weak attempts to mask how unoriginal and uncreative your sense of humor really is. It’s likely the same reason that anyone with taste hates the comedians Carlos Mencia and Dane Cook.
We can shrug off sexist jokes like “the Prestige” cartoon as innocuous humor, but we should also recognize that if an obviously sarcastic tone fails to be established, then what’s left is ultimately sick and disturbing.
It’s a fine balance, so I think it’s simply time that we move on and find some new material for to work with. After all, no one wants to be like Dane Cook, right?
Editorials Editor Catherine Cai is a College junior from Atlanta.