I wasn’t bullied a lot in high school, but I remember what it was like when I was. Being violated makes you into a different person, a person who cannot control, cannot be sure, cannot feel safe. Again, this didn’t happen to me very much, but I remember what it was like. And I remember just as vividly what it was like when a guy on the high school basketball team, a popular person, told the guy who was picking on me, in gym class of all the cliched places, that I was “cool.” It was in a stairwell. “Bady’s cool,” he said. “You’re not.” That was the day the bullying stopped, because it had stopped being “funny.”
The point of Judith Butler’s argument about “grievable life” is actually pretty simple: when violence happens against some kinds of living beings, it’s a big fucking deal. When it happens against other kinds, it isn’t. She has examples. You can come up with your own. New Yorkers on 9/11. Pakistani males “of military age” who happen to be somewhere where they might get hit by a drone, like Pakistan. Palestinian children and Israeli children. One kind of death matters a lot, another kind somehow seems to not matter so much. I don’t need to tell you which is which. The only question worth asking is this one: what makes some kinds of life more grievable than others?
You might say that Judith Butler is theorizing a kind of marketplace, or a stock market: the value of some lives rises, while that of others falls. Between 1970 and 1990, the value of prison life fell, as mass culture became less and less interested in “correcting” and rehabilitating, and more and more interested in punishing. Today, we make jokes about people getting raped in jail, in “pound-you-in-the-ass” prison. It’s a way to not think about the kinds of violence people condemned to that life have to endure. If it’s funny that people get raped in jail, after all, then you don’t have to think about them as people, you don’t have to take their pain into consideration. They’re nothing to you. Their degradation makes you laugh.
The phrase “rape culture” describes the way people don’t get too upset at the thought of a woman being raped. They might even laugh at it. It might seem funny, such a funny word. But nothing about this is just a joke. It’s about devaluing the sanctity of certain people’s security in their person, about refusing to feel bad about it, about taking a pride in it, even. Saying “wouldn’t it be funny if a violent act happened to this person” is almost the definition of how that works. If a terrible thing happened to a person, you say, I would not grieve. I would laugh. Their pain is not worth my empathy, or yours. Their pain makes me stronger, bigger, more important. Their pain is worth nothing.
[…] rates of rape apologism and mansplaining. Two more good pieces on the subject: zunguzungu’s (…) and Student Activism’s “Goddamn it, Louis.” Here’s Aaron: The phrase […]
Well, I *was* bullied–severely, and for three years, at a boarding school, so there was no escape. I was chubby, unathletic, brainy, nerdy, and queer. Finally I turned on my tormentors in a berserk fugue state and almost killed one by cutting his throat with a piece of broken glass–I literally came within millimeters of being locked up for the rest of my life in a hospital for the criminally insane. Four decades I hate the boy I tried to kill, and his fellow tormentors, with the same passion I felt then. I tell myself that those boys are ghosts–they became men and lived their lives. And it\’s true that after that, the bullying largely stopped. But if I had a time machine I would go back and beat them into bad health.
On the up side, the experience combined with the unstinting love of my parents and their commitment to social justice to give me a visceral commitment to fighting oppression. On the down side, I have difficulty regarding bullies and exploiters as equally valuable, \”grievable\” human beings. I despise them with a passion that makes my hands shake even now. I\’ll take that rage with me to my grave.
Of course, CK fails your own tests, on simple grounds of homophobia and misogyny, and yet the horde never descends, for the simple reason that they like CK and not Tosh. If the purpose is to limit bullying, then the actually principled thing would be to stand against bullying when it happens from comedians who they actually like, such as CK. (CK, for example, attacked the gay community for reacting negatively to Tracy Morgan’s offensive routine.)
But of course they don’t do that. They choose instead to attack Tosh, who is comfortably outside of their cultural sphere, rather than CK, who is comfortably inside of it. They sacrifice nothing in attacking Tosh because it isn’t cool to like Tosh; they won’t risk attacking CK because it’s cool to like CK.
There is literally nothing that the digital literati will not reduce to pure cultural and social signalling, most certainly including protest against offense.
(followed your link from Alyssa Rosenberg)
[…] how funny it would be if five guys gang-banged her right there (here is a good meditation on how funny). The internet has its laws, and I hereby dub this the Tosh Theorem: if there’s an article about […]