Why Does Film & TV Treat Men's Sexual Assault Like a Punchline?

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Taylor Henderson

(Trigger warning: This post contains discussion of male rape and sexual assault.)

"Sexual assault of men as comedy is so ubiquitous and so normalized that you may not have even noticed it shows up everywhere." 

In their latest YouTube video, entitled "Sexual Assault of Men Played for Laughs," Pop Culture Detective is pointing out exactly how omnipresent jokes about the sexual assault of men has become in our culture's film and television. You might be shocked by how widespread the jokes are—and how many you have unwittingly laughed at over the years. 

The video catalogs various male-on-male rape and sexual assault jokes sprinkled throughout blockbuster hits like Iron Man and Guardians of the Galaxy, all the way down to late-night talk shows and the Oscars, and even children's entertainment like Paddington and The Powerpuff Girls.

"Prison rape jokes are so pervasive in mass media entertainment that the phrase 'don't drop the soap' has become a routine sight gag," Pop Culture Detective explains.

"Notice how these jokes are all designed to demean, humiliate, or emasculate a male character for being the victim or potential victim of sexual violence," says the video's narrator. "The idea behind the joke here is as obvious as it is toxic, that men who aren't tough or manly enough to avoid being victimized are pathetic and therefore deserving of ridicule or worse." 

The device is used to feminize, and ultimately subordinate men, which as the video points out, many men believe that there is "no greater humiliation for a man than to be treated like a woman." This, of course, underscores society's misogyny.

It also contributes to homophobia. "If the perpetrator is coded as a gay man or a character of ambiguous sexual identity, then sexual assault is usually framed as a product of some uncontrollable sexual desire which then works to demonize gay men by directly linking them to predatory behavior."

So how have rape jokes become so widespread? Villains receive most of the punchlines, so the sexual assault is understood as deserved by the viewer because of his wrongdoings. "Audiences accept these sadistic punchlines because of who the rape threats are directed at. As long as its criminal suspects being victimized and likeable authority figures doing the victimizing, it's widely seen as criminals getting what they deserve."

But as the video points out, no one deserves to be sexually assaulted—and it most certainly shouldn't be treated as a joke. We need to remind oursleves that survivors are watching too, and our culture's trivialization of male rape further shames the most vulnerable among us into silence.

Watch Pop Culture Detective's enlightening video below.

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