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Cult of Outrage: Brittany Furlan and the Rape Joke That Was Either In Poor Taste or Genius

Brittany Furlan is a comedian who found her fanbase on the social network Vine, shooting and starring in seven second videos. Furlan and a number of other “vine famous” people she often films with have made their names with irreverent comedy, often with little context.

So Furlan was working the red carpet with Lauren Elizabeth (who found her fame on YouTube) and interviewing some handsome actor from a soap opera that is somehow still on the air. After generally fawning over his handsomeness and making suggestive jokes about “backstage” Furlan ended the interview by saying “Let’s get you away from us before we rape you.”

And cue Twitter outrage. According to Mediaite.com, not only were people actually watching the red carpet for the Daytime Emmys but some of them were actually willing to admit it by tweeting their disgust for Furlan’s joke.

Most notably, some other actor from the same soap opera (there can’t be more than one still on, right?) tweeted, “Hey #daytimeemmys maybe hire some red carpet “hosts” [with] a little less black and rape jokes next year. These girls have the verbal runs.

For fans of Furlan’s previous work, the edginess doesn’t come as much of a surprise. Yet is it fair to give more famous comedians who have done “questionable” material in the past a pass, but excoriate Furlan? Was her joke tasteless or was she cleverly subverting traditional stereotypes? The immediacy of Twitter doesn’t allow much time for reflection.

Maybe this wasn’t a high-minded bit that sought to subvert the traditional male-on-female violence paradigm (although, you could argue that it does that if only inadvertently), but an off-the-cuff remark that was, at worst, in poor taste. Yet, the outrage machine loves victims like Furlan, because while Patton Oswalt can take time off from social media without negatively impacting his career, a comedian like Furlan cannot.

While it is remarkably well-intentioned, as always the outrage is misplaced. Yes, Furlan’s joke played on the old stereotype that rape happens when someone “gets too excited” about how the victim looks. The fact that a woman saying that to a man is noticed this way, suggests that perhaps the stereotype that men are always the perpetrators and women always the victims is falling out of fashion.

Yet “taking down” Furlan neither advances the cause nor does anything to help the actual victims who are being let down by the system. Of course, trashing a comedian – especially one who is not an established brand – is far easier than addressing the substantive problems affecting rape survivors.

Instead, activists of all stripes seek to imbue “their word” with the same kind of fearful power as the name of the main villain in Harry Potter. Spoiler warning, but at one point the eponymous character tells his friends that by referring to the villain as “Voldemort” rather than “You-know-who” gives him an added power he doesn’t really have. That is what is happening with words today. People hear “rape” and regardless of the context, fire off their outrage into the ether.

Rape is a serious social problem across the world and one that is not likely to go away because of some miracle legislation or great awakening in society (although one can hope). Hiding the word away, especially absent of context, will make it easier for society to forget about the real problem and take satisfaction in the false victory of “banning” the word.

Hashtag activism isn’t always lazy and unproductive, but this kind almost always is.

Photo via Facebook

About the author

Joshua M. Patton is a father, veteran, and writer living in Pittsburgh, PA. Along with news and current events, he writes about parenting, art, and personal stories. His serial fiction story "The Prophet Hustle" is available at JukePop.com and a forthcoming independent ebook about the cam-modeling industry "Dirty Little Windows" will be available later this summer.