“It’s just a joke” is a joke of an excuse

Matthew d’Ancona has seen through the game and noticed that the excuse of “satire” is a hollow shell of a rationalization, especially when listeners know that the plain, literal meaning of the “joke” is what’s actually intended, and what they find most amusing is that you’ll actually be flustered and unable to cope if they say their horrible statement was “just a joke”. It’s the tool that Carl Benjamin, Nigel Farage, and Boris Johnson have used to crawl to prominence.

In what moral universe is the statement “I wouldn’t even rape you” categorised as “satire”? For this is how – in an interview on Sunday with the BBC’s Andrew Marr – Gerard Batten, Ukip’s leader, described a tweet sent to the Labour MP Jess Phillips in 2016 by Carl Benjamin, now one of his party’s principal candidates in the European elections.

According to Batten, Benjamin is a “classical liberal”, “not a bad person”, “a proponent of free speech” and “wasn’t actually making a literal statement”. And there we were, thinking that he was just a vile misogynist, using social media to declare whether, in his opinion, a member of parliament should be raped or not.

In this universe, let’s assume that everyone is of average intelligence and able to comprehend their native language. The Benjamin rape “joke” is a gimmick that is read by everyone for what it is — a statement of misogyny and cruelty and contempt. The “it’s satire” claim is a pretense that everyone can see right through, but that defenders of misogyny, who are also intelligent enough to know it is socially unacceptable, can use to argue to their mothers that they don’t really think about harming women, while they can simultaneously snicker with the lads down at the pub about judging women on their fuckability.

d’Ancona and many others can see right through the rhetoric, and the people who pretend they can’t simply don’t want to.

Benjamin was invited to an atheist conference (a damning fact in itself), and the audience cheered and whooped when he repeated that remark. Don’t ever try to tell me that your typical atheist is gifted with greater intelligence and insight into reality — I’ve seen the fact that they’re just as susceptible to self-delusion and ignorance put on display. And also just as easily manipulated by terrible people who reassure them that their prejudices are righteous.


  1. says

    Note that Orange Julius does this all the time, makes an outrageous statement and later he (or a flunky) claims it was a “joke.” Never actually funny.

  2. Dunc says

    If it’s satire, what is it satirising?

    These people don’t even know what satire is.

  3. ajbjasus says

    Hmm when I read the headline I was about to leap in, as I think the ability to make jokes and be the butt of them when done properly is a valuable characteristic.

    This, though, is horrible. Even if one was to accept tha\t it was ajoke (which I don’t) it’s a terrible joke – deriving its “humour” from the notion that someon is too ugly\unpleasant even to rape. Uck – what unpleasant twat.

  4. Saad says

    Calm down, bro. We were just joking that a black person should be Bond.

    Dry those tears, dude. An all-women cast in that remake of your favorite sci-fi film is just satire.

    Easy with those Nike kicks, buddy. Kaepernick was just doing it for the lulz.

  5. Curious Digressions says

    I prefer to respond to “jokes” with, “Why is that funny?”

    If they says nothing or respond with, “Geeze, get a sense of humor”, as per usual, I’ll say, “Oh, I get it. It’s funny because you think women are only good for sex and ugly women aren’t even useful for that, so you’re saying she’s ugly, worthless, and should be grateful for any sex she can get, even if it’s rape. See, it’s only funny if you agree with the premise and I don’t agree with it/ I think it’s a horrible thing to imply.” Then, the joker and people who laughed with him or her get to huff and squirm uncomfortably. If they deny it’s the reason, ask them why it’s funny until they go away.

    It gets me a reputation for being a (A) raging feminist, and I lose any (B) “not like other chicks” cred, but (A) accurate and (B) gross. It also cuts down on how comfortable jerks are about “joking” when they know they’re going to get called out.

    Idris Elba would make an amazing Bond and an even better Bruce Wayne. I doubt white-Hollywood’s ability to handle the subtext well, or even acknowledge it.

  6. Beatrice, an amateur cynic looking for a happy thought says

    Curious Digressions,

    I don’t care much about Bond, but Idris Elba as Bruce Wayne? Wow.
    I would watch that.

  7. Acolyte of Sagan says

    Hmm, yet still no condemnation of Dr. Rachel McKinnons ‘I’m more specific, I want to see women die in a grease fire’ ‘joke’ on Twitter.
    Odd, that.

  8. says

    #8: I did not see McKinnon’s comment, which explains why there hasn’t been a condemnation. But I think you’ve already seen how people would respond to it in this thread.

    “I don’t think you are joking, I think you’re afraid to say what you mean.”

    “If it’s satire, what is it satirising?”

    “Why is that funny?”

    What? You think we’d all agree that women should die in a grease fire?

  9. llyris says

    Building on Curious Digressions ” Why is that funny?, in the case of “I wouldn’t even rape her” there us definitely a case for “Why do you think you’re a rapist?” and “How many people have you raped?” Maybe followed up by “How does your mother feel about you being a rapist?” because there seems no faster way to ick these guys than to mention their mothers when they’re thinking about sex (or what passes for sex in their minds).

  10. blf says

    llyris@11, That reminds of something which happened to James Randi on some TV show: Randi had done his usual through demotion job on some woo-woo fraud, who eventually resorted to saying something like: “Mr Randi, I understand you prefer little children.” Randi, the host, and the audience were all shocked. From my recollection, other than the audience booing, neither Randi nor the host had a comeback to her insinuation.

    I’ve always wondered if Randi should have replied: “Only those you send me, M’am” — which is true (she is extremely unlikely to have ever sent Randi anyone for anything) — followed by “and I ensure they always receive professional and caring consoling.”

  11. woozy says

    Saying “it’s a joke” can explain something but doesn’t excuse it. “I wouldn’t even rape you” is not satire (it’s not satirizing anything). It is a joke. The explanation of the joke is precisely as Curious Digressions @6 explained it. It is a joke because it has odd syntactic and unusual logistic juxtapositions. That doesn’t mean it’s valid or acceptable. And it’s still offensive. That it falls under the category of a joke is about as relevant as whether it was typed on a laptop or a smartphone.

    I’ve heard Dr. McKinnon’s. It was taken out of context but in my opinion it was mean (but not as mean as Benjamin’s comment) but not literal. For that matter Benjamin’s comment wasn’t literal either but it sure was ugly and mean and vile.

  12. says

    @#7, Beatrice, an amateur cynic looking for a happy thought:

    There’s a really excellent and well-known Twitter thread about the idea of a black Batman and possibilities of the story. There’s no way I can do it justice, so here’s a link. Personally, I’d rather watch the hypothetical movie discussed than any of the actual ones with a white Batman, but then I don’t like most superhero nonsense anyway. (I agree with the old article from Cracked that superheroes are an inherently fascist idea.)

  13. Ichthyic says

    see, what Acolyte of Sagan is lying about in this case, is the fact that indeed, McKinnon was LITERALLY satirizing the standard male rapey joke crowd. It really was a case of satire, which anybody can see when it’s in context.

    they then quote mine it to try and create a sense of false equivalence.

    it’s very, very dishonest and sleazy.

    so, yeah… fuck off you goddamn asshat, so tired of your lies.

  14. Ichthyic says

    also? a big difference is that McKinnon wasn’t trying to get laughs with that satire. not at all.

  15. llyris says

    @blf, concerning “Mr Randi, I understand you prefer little children” Perhaps the answer could otherwise have been ” They’re more sensible and rational than you. I would much rather discuss this topic with them than with you”.

  16. says

    Also, while I dislike the “die in a fire” thing, can we for a moment remember that it is a very rare thing to happen which is even more rarely dealt out as a punishment (outside of war), while rape is horribly common and super often used as punishment and a means to punish and control the victim?
    To compare those remarks, especially when one of them is made by a member of a dominant group against those of a marginalized group while the other one is vice versa is extremely dishonest and bigoted.
    Acolyte has now reached “cracker is racist” levels.

  17. leerudolph says

    Like you, I “dislike the ‘die in a fire’ thing”. Unlike you (at the moment you used the word), I don’t find (at the moment I’m writing this reply) that my dislike/abhorrence is at all tempered by the relative infrequency of death by fire. In fact (after further introspection) I find that, whereas I don’t imagine myself feeling particularly guilty about wishing that someone in particular should die immediately, I do want to think that if I wished someone in particular should die very painfully, I would feel very guilty. (Maybe that’s just my personal feelings about my own death and my own pain.)

    As to “even more rarely dealt out as a punishment”: just this morning a (small) headline on the Washington Post’s front page (off to one side) is “She made an assault allegation against a teacher. Then she was burned alive.” In this case (as in almost all the others I have read of—very rarely) it’s men empowered by the misogynist patriarchy dealing out the “punishment”, to a woman (for acts, or status, that no decent morality would deem worthy of any punishment); very, very occasionally (cf. The Burning Bed) it’s a woman.

    None of this is meant to criticize you (or anyone else in particular) or defend Acolyte (or anyone else in particular) for your or their ideas or words. Mostly I’m exploring my own reactions to find out what they are, and doing it in public for no particularly good reason.

  18. Acolyte of Sagan says


    PZ Myers
    18 April 2019 at 4:26 pm
    #8: I did not see McKinnon’s comment, which explains why there hasn’t been a condemnation. But I think you’ve already seen how people would respond to it in this thread.

    Yes, starting with #9

    18 April 2019 at 4:16 pm
    Please ignore the transphobe @8.

    Because objecting to somebody wanting people to die in a grease fire is an act of transphobia!
    Maybe Anna’s response was atypical. Oh, hang on..

    18 April 2019 at 5:09 pm
    ..I’ve heard Dr. McKinnon’s. It was taken out of context but in my opinion it was mean (but not as mean as Benjamin’s comment) but not literal.

    First, are you really sure that claiming to want people to die in a grease fire is NOT as mean as claiming to not want to rape somebody? Well, fuck!
    As for ‘out of context’, well, here’s the context. A Dr. Rohl tweeted a ‘fyi’ list of 4 items, of which #4 was ‘[most of us transwomen] don’t literally want [cis-people] to die in a fire’. Nikky Haruki replied ”for #4 im (sic) not included in the most of us’. Now the important part. McKinnon replied to Haruki and Rohl ‘I mean, I’m more specific and want them to die in a grease fire…’
    There’s your context. No wriggle-room, no ambiguity. Replying to one person who does want people to die in a fire with a very specific ‘I want them to die in a grease fire’ can only be taken one way.

    18 April 2019 at 6:59 pm
    see, what Acolyte of Sagan is lying about in this case, is the fact that indeed, McKinnon was LITERALLY satirizing the standard male rapey joke crowd. It really was a case of satire, which anybody can see when it’s in context.
    they then quote mine it to try and create a sense of false equivalence.
    it’s very, very dishonest and sleazy.
    so, yeah… fuck off you goddamn asshat, so tired of your lies.

    1) How the fuck is that satirizing rape jokes? Where in that tweet is satire even hinted at? 2) I have given the full context in my response to woozy, above. Show me how I quote-mined, given that I quoted the entire fucking exchange, from the list item #4 to McKinnon’s agreement with Haruki and elaboration on the fire theme.

    18 April 2019 at 7:00 pm
    also? a big difference is that McKinnon wasn’t trying to get laughs with that satire. not at all.

    Really? Funny how, after a lot of pushback, McKinnon felt the need to tweet

    Dr. Rachel McKinnon
    · Mar 29, 2019
    Pretty nifty how transphobes piled-on and mass reported a joke about transphobes dying in a grease fire such that I deleted it to mollify Twitter

    See, it was a JOKE! And aren’t jokes told for laughs? Oh, wait a minute, what’s the title of this post again? Oh yes, “It’s just a joke” is a joke of an excuse.
    But then, according to Giliell at #19, wanting people to die horribly is ok when it’s a member of a minority doing the wanting, and it’s doubly ok because death by fire is pretty rare anyway! Giliell, you are one fucked-up individual.

    Leerudolph, #20. I’m not criticising your comment but offering a correction. That poor young woman who was burned to death (no biggie though, eh Giliell?) was set on fire by a group of female pupils from her school who tricked her into going onto the school roof with them, where they tried to get her to agree to change her statement about the headmaster’s assault on her. When she refused, they doused her with a flammable substance and set her alight. On behalf of, and no doubt ordered by a man, but carried out by young women.

  19. vucodlak says

    I was going to say “can’t we have just one post about transgender people without raging transphobes coming in and shitting all over everything?” but then I remembered that this is a post about shitty people saying shitty things as a “joke.”

    @ Acolyte of Sagan
    So, thanks for playing, Acolyte of Sagan! You are indeed a shitty person, but I’m afraid that you’re disqualified.

    I would like to remind our shitty contestants that the shitty things they say must be phrased in the form of a “joke.” After all, if you don’t follow them up with a “it was just joke!” then people might think you really are a talking mound of turd.

  20. says

    As someone who worked in a sexual and domestic violence shelter, I can tell you that at least once a week a couple (or more) residents would make comments about wanting their abusers to die horribly, and pretty often the heterosexual residents would make comments about wanting all men to die horribly. The majority of time they fantasized these deaths they didn’t fantasize them just happening: they fantasized that they caused it.

    We didn’t call the cops. We didn’t kick them out of shelter as a safety risk. We had rules against using threats of violence in the shelter, but we had separate rules and procedures for this kind of thing. Why? Because we as feminists who actually do the work to fight violence recognize that there’s a cathartic blowing-off-steam when you’ve been controlled, violated, assaulted and hurt. This is a normal response to ongoing oppression, control, and violence.

    Is it good? Fuck no. Did we try to counter that behavior? Absolutely. Did we shut it down immediately if any kids were in ear shot? Sure enough. If kids weren’t present, did we let it play out to see how the conversation resolved without intervention before saying a few words? Yep.

    Sometimes they would, on their own, laugh a laugh of release. When they laughed they were much more likely to end the conversation with some version of “we really shouldn’t be saying this stuff”. In those cases there was hardly anything for the staff to do at all save the gentle reminder that 1) we discourage it but understand where they’re coming from, and 2) we might have to interrupt the conversation if kids are present, so just be aware that could happen.

    Overall, it was much healthier for those conversations to resolve on their own. The more they resolved on their own, the fewer of those conversations people ultimately had and the fewer of those (admittedly horrifying) statements they ultimately made. Why? Because they served a purpose, and the purpose was a just one: the purpose was a catharsis that made moving into a new way of being easier. It is the very possibility of uttering such things without facing violent reprisal that helped our residents see that things had truly changed. And it was the fact of that change, the fact that they realized they had the power to create a new safe life (and were well on the way to doing it) that dissolved the calcified resentment and anger.

    You can actually read about techniques to help survivors of oppression and violence that include this sort of information. Nowadays we call this “trauma informed counseling”. You can search the professional and scientific literature and find empirical evidence for the benefits of minimally interrupting these conversations. (In other words, you don’t have to take my word for it.) It’s also important to note that this behavior on the part of people, mainly women, escaping violence is qualitatively different from the way abusers, harassers & stalkers use threats to control others. Both the purpose and the effect of “I wouldn’t even rape you,” are different.

    I didn’t witness the “die in a grease fire” conversation, and I don’t know any of the people involved. But this comes across as analogous to the conversations I observed in shelter (and in queer-only spaces, and in other women-only spaces, and in certain other contexts where venting about violence or oppression was either the intended purpose or uniquely enabled). If that’s true, then both purpose and effect are different from the threatening “jokes” of abusers and oppressors and people who use violence.

    But you, Acolyte of Sagan, are more likely to view trans* people as the oppressors of cis* people, and especially of cis* women. Having prejudged the speaker of “die in a grease fire” as an oppressor, judging the comment as analogous to “I wouldn’t even rape her” is inevitable.

    I don’t judge the “die in a grease fire” comment as acceptable, but the reason it’s not acceptable is different from “I wouldn’t even rape her”, and the harm is not remotely comparable. Going by best practices of trauma informed counseling, it is likely the most positive outcome would be gained by gentle reminders about the effects on those who overhear the conversation. Aggressive responses are more likely to perpetuate the feelings of ongoing, inescapable control and threat that cause the urge to vent in this way. If you don’t want this kind of thing on planet earth anymore, and I certainly don’t, your aggressive response is counterproductive and best changed.

    But, again, you probably view trans* people as oppressors of cis* people, so you’ll probably go right on with your less-effective (and less empathic) strategy. And the kyriarchy continues for another year…

  21. secondtofirstworld says

    This must have been talked to death as nobody mentioned it, the term “classical liberal” is an obvious ruse, meant to play at the fact that most Enlightenment thinkers were white land owning men or were sponsored by them thus in practice they never meant civil liberties to be held by others but white (land owning) men.

    They posit it’s the “crowd that came after” were the ones putting a spin on that, these guys are just poor, misunderstood traditionalists. Of course, it’s poppycock, since nationalism has started in 1848, as did liberalism and feminism, so if one genuinely believed to be that, one can’t be a nationalist as that was, by their logic, a spin off idea.

    As for the “die in a fire comment”, the only thing I have, want and will say is that #19 put it at best, since what happened in Bangladesh was in practice, not in theory, what we largely talk about here.

  22. says

    @21 Acolyte of Sargon
    My comment had nothing do with the comment made by Rachel McKinnon. When I called you a transphobe it was because you have appeared in 3 different threads I have seen (and I haven’t really seen you appear in any others). In those three thread you have always brought up a ‘just asking questions’ type of question that was not on topic but designed to start an antagonistic debate about trans persons. You are trolling to start a fight about trans persons every time. Thus you are quite clearly a transphobe. A quick google search also found you bragging about trolling on this site on Ophelia Benson’s site and how you haven’t got banned yet.

  23. says

    How about “Go step on LEGO” instead of “DIAF”? Stepping on LEGO is excruciating, but not lethal, and not — to my knowledge — used as a method of punishment or execution.