WORDS BY Niamh McDonnell
ARTWORK BY Alley Yochum
In recent weeks, the #MeToo movement has created this domino-effect, where more and more individuals are coming out about their experiences with sexual assault and harassment. And while it may have garnered public attention from white Hollywood stars, the movement was actually founded years ago by black activist Tarana Burke. Fast-forward to 2017, and it’s served as the catalyst for what’s now being called ‘The Weinstein Effect,’ which has rippled through news outlets and public discourse. Part of the reason the movement has garnered so much attention comes from the fact that many of the people involved are high-profile celebrities. Even though rape culture and its effects have been permeating society for as long as patriarchy has existed, there’s been steady progress in shining a light on these issues. We’ve seen Anita Hill testify in front of the world over her experiences with (can you believe it?) Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. We’ve seen countless accusers come out against Bill Cosby and Donald Trump. Yet there’s one solid difference between those events and the ones taking place now. In the case of Cosby, Thomas or Trump, their accusers were previously unknown women who had stepped into the spotlight to share their story. Now, these are women we’ve come to know and love, even if only in our own minds as their fans. There’s something personal about it. It’s almost as if we’ve come to see these women as invincible, flawless, and without a care in the world. They’re successful, wealthy women with once-in-a-lifetime opportunities and careers. The revelations about what goes on behind closed doors in Hollywood may have been a well-known fact for those inside the elite social circles, but it came as a complete shock to anyone who wasn’t somehow connected to lifestyles of the rich and famous.
It’s this sentiment of shock, dismay, and disappointment that got me feeling really down about sexism. That’s not to say that the movement hasn’t allowed for an amazing sense of solidarity amongst anyone who can claim “me too,’ because it definitely has. But the fact that it takes A-list celebrities speaking out about sexual assault for people to care about it is an issue. Why is it that Donald Trump faced a similar scandal in the most pivotal moment of the election season and he was still elected? Regardless of the fact that he lost the popular vote, he didn’t lose so badly that it kept our electoral system from declaring him president. It’s kind of a cultural phenomenon that as a society we can be completely up in arms about this issue, having just voted an even higher-profile serial sexual assaulter into the White House. That disconnect then got me thinking about the ways in which we as a society are complicit in rape culture, sexism, misogyny, and the like. And this complicity has to in some ways be connected to the overall belief that women can be treated however men deem fit. I’m not claiming to have definitive answers as to how; instead I wish to pose questions.
One moment in particular stuck out to me. Now, I’m not one of those femi-nazis that thinks it’s acceptable to generalize and say “all men do xyz.” I’m also not one to hate on comedy; I personally believe satire is one of the most appealing ways to speak about political issues. And every situation is nuanced; for the record these friends are among the closest people in my life. It’s because they mean so much to me, and because they’re the nicest guys I know that I had this lightbulb moment about complicity. I was hanging out with them one evening and we started watching one of Sam Hyde’s early videos. If you don’t know him, he’s a comedian whose show, Million Dollar Extreme was picked up by Adult Swim but later canceled for some of the creators’ alleged involvement with the alt-right movement. And while the creators maintain that the allegation was inaccurate, that fact alone indicates that much of the content I was watching was offensive on multiple levels. Hyde’s humor is apparently considered “post-ironic,” where he blurs the lines between himself and the offensive characters he portrays. And although this is an actual field of comedy, it’s that blurring of lines that worries me the most. As we sat there watching this video, said friends seemed to find it really funny. Simultaneously, I’m having this thought process about how problematic some of the jokes were: this was the video that got Adult Swim to pick up their show? That surprised me, (although maybe it shouldn’t) but at the same time got me thinking about how many of those jokes could be overlooked. As aforementioned, the trickiness over the situation, as with many, was that it is entirely a matter of the nuances. Admittedly, I found some of the jokes funny. As a fan of Tim & Eric and Eric Andre, I definitely saw the appeal. But I voiced the fact that I found some of it problematic and they agreed, especially when we came across a video of Hyde, claiming to be “in character” as he scrolls through images of overweight women and shames them for laughs. That’s where the blurring of lines becomes a real issue. Hyde posted the video with a minute and a half long disclaimer, saying “Love yourself. Now check out this parody comedy video that’s completely satire; it’s all ironic. It’s not meant to be making fun of fat people at all. Because we don’t agree with that. Goodbye.” (Also worth pointing out: every individual he made fun of was a woman. Hyde himself diminishes the inherent sexism that underlies the entire video.) Then, the video cuts to Hyde dressed in a regular tee-shirt, eating food, as he scrolls through and starts insulting fat women. There’s a couple things about this kind of video that worry me: A) anyone could edit out the initial disclaimer and let this video float around the internet. It’s not as if Sam Hyde is a widely known person; people may not even recognize him as a comedian. To a lot of viewers this could be a regular joe schmo seriously insulting fat women on the internet, many of whom would find it hilarious and pass it on. My second worry is: B) does the disclaimer even matter? What’s the real difference in telling people it’s a joke when there is essentially no indication that it is a joke in the first place? He’s not in costume; he’s not portraying himself in any way that deviates from his regular self. To me, the whole “post-ironic” label seems to just be an excuse for saying and doing whatever the hell you want and not wanting to take responsibility for it. If he finds degrading women to be a way in which he can make other people laugh, he should own up to that fact. He can claim he’s in character, but it doesn’t change the fact that his words are questionable and they have an impact. He can claim that his intentions were for his viewers to laugh at him, as opposed to these women. But are people actually laughing at him, or are they laughing at what he’s saying? Isn’t the comedic value inherently at these women’s expense? I wonder if any of them would care about his disclaimer. My guess is probably not. It hurts to have someone say awful things about you, especially if it’s for other people to laugh at.
So why is it that so many people find this guy funny? Is Sam Hyde humor perpetuating complicity in the overall misogyny women face everyday? To what extent are those who provide him with an audience complicit in the prejudice he’s (in)directly promoting? (I’m looking at you, Adult Swim). My gripe really isn’t with my male friends; in fact, I’m thankful that moment happened because they inspired me to write this. Clearly not every person who finds Sam Hyde funny actually believes in the hatred he often uses as humor. But what about the people who do? Is he not encouraging their thoughts and beliefs by packaging them with an apparently comedic bow? And while it isn’t necessarily fair to be putting Sam Hyde in the same vein as those who actually cross physical and social boundaries with women, it’s that kind of blatant disregard and disrespect for women that contributes to the overall culture of misogyny and subsequently rape culture. But will we only care about these issues when they affect beautiful, famous women? Food for thought.