The Rape Joke Hollywood Was Always Weirdly Okay With

Some of you grew up with “sure seemed squeaky clean at the time” comedies like Sixteen Candles. Watch it today and you’ll see Caroline get so drunk that she ends up passing out at Jake’s party, whereupon he says that he could “violate her ten different ways if I wanted to.” Instead Jake lets the Geek drive her home. She wakes up the next morning saying she can’t remember what happened, but she feels like she enjoyed it. You know, because by drinking, she chose to let herself be used, and the script made the character just come out and say she was fine with it.

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Did you feel that? That weird feeling in the pit of your stomach? Yeah, so did I. But apparently, nobody did in 1984?

I mean, it’s not like we didn’t always know it was wrong on some level. In 1978, Animal House showed the character Larry caught between an angel and a devil on his shoulders (literally) when a young woman he’s in bed with passes out. The Devil relies on the same kind of logic actual date rapists use, like “You know she wants it” and “I mean, come on, when am I gonna get the chance with someone this hot again?” But Larry eventually decides against it.

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And the movie implies that we’re supposed to be proud of him. Good on him for, you know, deciding NOT to sexually assault an unconscious person. When Monica and Chandler hooked up on Friends a couple of decades later, they had this exchange:

Chandler: “How drunk are you?”

Monica: “Drunk enough that I wanna do this. Not so drunk you should feel guilty for taking advantage.”

So … she’s clear-headed enough to know that she’s impaired enough to know that she wouldn’t want to do this if she were clear-headed? At least the joke acknowledges the moral complexity instead of assuming that “sex while too drunk to say no” is automatically a knee-slapper.

It’s clear there are conversations happening today at the script stage that apparently didn’t happen just a few years ago. Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising, for example, focuses on young women who are forced to attend frat parties, instead of the young dudes throwing them. Revisiting the party scenes depicted in the original and showing them through the eyes of women apparently gives the filmmakers the chance to reflect and say, “Yeah, OK, rape is very, very bad.” In Blockers, the female characters are allowed to actually want sex without being drunk, and their male counterparts actually understand how consent works.

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If we’ve finally gotten there as a culture, well, better late than never. It’s coming after, oh, several thousand years of reinforcing the behavior. Is it any surprise that many college students often don’t recognize acquaintance rape as being rape if alcohol was involved? Other studies show that male college students, in particular, consider women who drink in bars to be better “targets” when they’re looking for sexual partners.

But if Hollywood has in fact moved on from the easiest and oldest rape joke out there, it’ll probably be a long, long time before the rest of the culture catches up. If it ever does.

When Joe Oliveto isn’t writing about real-life horrors, he publishes scary story books inspired by childhood classics. You can tell him he’s an SJW on Twitter. He will ignore you. Also, if you’re the victim of sexual assault (or want to help those who are), learn more about support resources and how you can get involved with RAINN.

Write some better jokes (can’t be that hard) with a beginner’s guide to Celtx.

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For more, check out 4 Questions People Debate Rape Jokes Should Ask Themselves and 4 Jokes No One Should Tell (For Good Reason).

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