Rape Poem: The Banned Essay Htmlgiant Doesn’t Want You To Read 5

Recently I was solicited by the popular literary blog, Htmlgiant, to write an essay regarding Patricia Lockwood’s poem, ‘Rape Joke.’ I worked tirelessly to articulate my thoughts on the poem, and I produced the essay you see before you today. Gene Morgan, Editor-in-Chief of Htmlgiant, gladly accepted the essay, praising it as ‘solid and respectable discourse.’ Needless to say, I was shocked when, one week later, he went back on his word and banned the essay from Htmlgiant forever. I was stunned, but when I prodded Gene for a reason, he provided me with a familiar one: “The problem with your essay is not the viewpoint, but who it comes from.” It appeared that Gene judged my character without considering my heart and thus decided the essay should not be read. However, due to an overwhelming response from readers like you, I was compelled to publish the essay myself, which very nearly never saw the light of day. Without further ado, I present to you, ‘Rape Poem,’ by the Barred Bard himself, Ted Hash-Berryman.

Ted Hash-Berryman, Htmlgiant, Gene Morgan, Banned Essay

Rape Poem
by Ted Hash-Berryman

The rape poem is a joke.

The rape poem is hardly a poem at all.

The rape poem is way too long. Way too long.

No offense.

–Excerpt from Ted Hash-Berryman’s Journal

Approximately one year ago, the first truly viral poem self-replicated throughout the immunocompromised literary bloodstream and forced its way into our hearts. Many people lauded the poem in question for its direct confrontation of the taboo subject of rape. These people latched onto the poem for its easy accessibility and youth appeal. Other people* found the poem offensive on many levels. Yet, these people were forced to the fringes of the mainstream discourse, where their dissenting voices echoed off into the uncharted valleys of obscurity, until today.

One year later, the rape poem feels as outworn and dusty as its author’s Twitter feed. The rape poem, authored by internet poet Patricia Lockwood, was entitled ‘Rape Joke’ in order to provoke exactly the viral response it received; this accounts for the rape poem’s success as a moderate flash in the internet’s electric wok. Taken as a marketing strategy, the rape poem is undeniably great, which is the last positive thing I’ll have to say about the poem.

It goes without saying that any act of violence is despicable and counter to everything that makes human existence divine and beautiful. Rape is a particularly egregious kind of violent action that is a physical and psychological torture nothing less than a form taken by the shadow of pure evil.

That being said, there is nothing brave or visionary about writing a poem decrying the act of rape. It is tantamount to slapping a ‘Rape’ sticker on the bottom hemisphere of a stop sign; awareness is raised momentarily, and then quickly forgotten, since no sincere incitation to action has been proffered.

What is brave about the poem is the willingness with which it confronts and presents an act of rape in a way that flies in the face of the moral turpitude of such an act, i.e., by being tonally cool-headed, class-clownish, and honest, and by dispersing the grim pall that often consumes any conversation regarding this act of wicked villainy.

My intent is not to dismiss Lockwood outright, but, in part, to question and ultimately undermine the protected status of anything that’s been unduly labeled a ‘great work of art.’ Because of the rape poem’s provocative nature, the responsibility for it to attain greatness is even higher; as such, the poem’s failure to achieve such greatness must be identified and displayed. For accepting mediocrity simply because good writing is challenging is doing the greatest of all disservices to art.

Ted Hash-Berryman, Rape Joke, Patricia Lockwood

The profound and balanced discussion that appeared in the comments section following the publication of ‘Rape Joke.’

Unfortunately, Lockwood has attempted to pass off a stream of sentences as a legitimate poem. Her writing is undoubtedly poor in quality; it is unevocative, flat, callow, and basic; it is the crudité to great writing’s soupe à l’oignon gratinée des Trois Gourmandes. The rare moments of poetic diction in the poem are impossibly vague and therefore maintain no relevant immediacy. Had Lockwood written the poem about rape that the subject deserves—a poem with force, sense, soul, music, agility, mystery, purpose, compassion, awareness, high-minded presence and cosmocentric thought—a rapist would have no other response but to burst into tears and beg immediate forgiveness from God.

The rape joke is that you were 19 years old.
The rape joke is that he was your boyfriend.
The rape joke it wore a goatee. A goatee.

If I was handed ‘Rape Joke’ in a first-year poetry workshop, I would give it a sympathy A because it’s such a difficult subject to write about; however, because Lockwood is one of the most widely publicized poets of today, I must look into the poem rather as if a microbiologist delving beyond the felt presence of immediate experience and into the unseen bacterial realm of the cosmos. With this mind, I will present three arguments against the implications contained in the rape poem. These arguments will be laid out logically with the acknowledgement that rape as a subject often understandably dusts up a whirlwind of painful emotion and must thusly be handled with compassionate care.

Imagine the rape joke looking in the mirror, perfectly reflecting back itself, and grooming itself to look more like a rape joke. “Ahhhh,” it thinks. “Yes. A goatee.”

The first dangerous aspect of Lockwood’s poem is one which is so deleterious that she could not have been cognizant of it, yet so glaringly obvious that she must have been aware of its implosive presence within a poem that rests on its plain language. That is to say, Lockwood has made a specific technical decision while being unaware of the full gamut of implications that decision presents. The maneuver of referring to the poem’s rapist solely as ‘The rape joke’ strongly suggests a direct A=B relationship between these two entities; i.e., one who recites a rape joke is equivalent to one who rapes another human being. The unstated corollary to this A to B relationship, therefore, is that C=D; i.e., the resulting harm of the telling of a rape joke is equal to the resulting harm of an act of rape. Such a suggestion is patently absurd. Without question, this means the rape poem’s implication is far more disrespectful, destructive, dismissive, and outright offensive than any one rape joke could aspire to be.

The rape joke is that his best friend was named Peewee.
OK, the rape joke is that he worshiped The Rock.

The rape joke is that his bookshelf was just a row of paperbacks about serial killers. You mistook this for an interest in history…

The second, similarly dangerous, aspect of the poem is the black and white paradigm in which Lockwood traps the rapist, and therefore the reader of the poem. In other words, because of the way the rapist is presented, no reader is allowed to offer him empathy without raising alarms of infinite contempt from the majority of opinion-holders. Let me be clear: It would take no one short of a Buddha to truly forgive the perpetrator of his or her rape, and of course such forgiveness is expected of no one; but, to relentlessly dehumanize a rapist does little more than perpetuate the cycle of hatred that gives birth to heinous acts of evil in the first place. The rape poem is teaching that vitriol is the appropriate response, rather than compassion and empathy, which are exactly all that is needed to begin down the necessary path towards the extermination of rape culture. Once again, the paradigm Lockwood has sold us is far more damaging than the rape joke that she is so fearful will be told.

Can rape jokes be funny at all, is the question.

The above is an example of a stupid question. The simple answer: Of course rape jokes can be funny. How often they are funny, or in what contexts they can be funny, are different questions entirely.

The sheer implication that a rape joke can never be funny and therefore should be off limits is closed-minded, intellectually stifling, and socially irresponsible. In a sense, such con trolling roots the meek seed of free expression in the shadowed soil gathered beneath the rank monstrous tree of authority to wither and die before it can grow to flower; that is to say, categorically outlawing a specific way of communicating, e.g., a ‘rape joke’, reinforces an environment in which oppressive perspectives stifle progressive objectives.

Most people would likely agree that a rape joke in which the survivor is being mocked is probably going to be in poor taste. But what about jokes in which the aggressor, the rape denier, the stereotype perpetrator, or the culture of rape itself is what is being lambasted? Indeed, these would be categorized ‘rape jokes,’ but, Patricia, would you really stand by saying that these jokes can’t be funny, and even more that they are not actually necessary in actively addressing the issue of rape?

Let’s you and I take a look at a couple of ‘rape jokes’ that I’ve selected at random from Twitter, which address some of the issues stated above.

Rape Joke, Patricia Lockwood, Ted Hash-Berryman

This joke, written by poet and popular Twitter personality Ted Hash-Berryman, indemnifies an agent of, which is itself a product of, rape culture. So, is this joke evil?

Rape Joke, Patricia Lockwood, Ted Hash-Berryman, Megan Amram

This joke, by comedian and writer Megan Amram, copies Hash-Berryman’s formula by mocking the culture of date rape, while coincidentally being a much funnier joke than my own. For this, does Amram deserve to rot in Hell alongside Jack the Raper?

Maybe Lockwood would think these jokes are off color and that they have no place in our society, despite their meanings and intentions. So let’s take a moment to consider a world in which no jokes of this nature are allowed to exist. First off, by adding rape jokes to the banned list, rapists and rape abiders gain more power and impunity at the expense of an impactful discourse (Consider the Voldemort Theory.): The current power structure is reinforced by giving rapists more space to hide, when the opposite is what is needed—more fingers pointed and more veils lifted. Second, banning rape jokes strips women comedians like Amram of a unique power to be able to address the topic of rape on stage in a positive atmosphere. Because of the intertwined natures of the system of patriarchy and the culture of rape, a woman’s unrestricted voice is more contributive to progress in these areas than a man’s.

Additionally, what about jokes involving other terrible or despicable acts such as murder, torture, war, terrorism, and slavery? Is the stance that rape is categorically and definitively worse than these other atrocities philosophically defensible? I can’t imagine that anyone is prepared to decree the order in which we must rank vile action, and less so that there is anyone with the wisdom or moral authority to do so; yet, this is the position that Lockwood is tacitly asserting by implying that jokes about rape are a special case.

“It is the duty of the comedian to find out where the line is drawn and cross it deliberately.”
–Ted Hash-Berryman

Comedy’s power lies in its ability to force people to confront difficult realities in the context of something inherently positive—laughter. A good joke, as with a good poem, is a force of expression capable of discreetly opening a person’s mind to the higher perspective presented within it. A comedian, working within an atmosphere in which laughter and joy are of prime concern to the audience, is able to approach and parse ideas that would otherwise remain shrouded in the collective’s fear fog. A joke, properly deployed, invokes a hypnotic state of being that allows people to open to ideas moreso than in any other context; therefore, to say a subject is outside of the bounds of comedy is to actively stilt human progress in a most disturbing way.

So let me ask you, can we afford to demonize the ‘rape joke’? To seal off a door in the house of humor? To force ourselves to enter a field of negative light in order to confront this nearly incomprehensible act of violence? I have no more wisdom than the lowliest of thinkers, but I do have an idea: Maybe the things that we are quickest to censor are exactly the things that deserve the longest look, for they may very well hold the key to a more effective, honest, and harmonious realm of human thought.

*Ted Hash-Berryman

5 thoughts on “Rape Poem: The Banned Essay Htmlgiant Doesn’t Want You To Read

  1. Reply Matthew Dinaro Sep 22,2014 1:16 pm

    I was definitely curious about this and I’m glad you went ahead and published it, but I don’t agree with it at all. I think you really misunderstood this poem.

    First off, I’d defend Lockwood’s choice of an anti-poetic style in this piece. The subject is ugly as sin–really, the subject IS sin. It’s about a gross, awkward, painful, evil corner of reality. Atonality suits it. This isn’t “Leda and the Swan” by William Butler Yeats. This is about an actual rape, in all its un-poetry, not some mythical tale or psychological allegory. I suppose it could’ve been just as effective as a lyric poem, but it’s fine as it is. If there’s any subject in poetry that befits an atonal style, it’s this one.

    Second, the rapist is not referred to as “the rape joke”. That’s just a misreading, and a rather strange one. The “rape joke” is the rape itself, how stereotypical it is, how much of a stereotypical rapist type the rapist in the poem is. One the one hand, he seems constructed entirely of red flags. He feeds her wine coolers. He’s into serial killers. He’s the kind of guy whose idea of a “date” is forcing her to sit around while he plays video games stoned with his boys. He feigns sensitivity to get her to like him. He’s just the kind of idiot, braindead faux-macho man we all imagine the typical rapist to be.

    And yet he is a real person who really raped her. Something has happened to her right out of a date rape narrative so played it’s lost all of its power to warn us. But it’s really happened. It’s a joke of a rape and yet it’s a rape. She actually bleeds. This thing, rape, that hovers in our culture like an urban legend, something we almost believe doesn’t actually happen, or at least won’t happen to ourselves–maybe somebody else, somebody who’s “asking for it”–suddenly this thing is happening to us, is real.

    It’s crucial, for Lockwood to make this point–that rape is not just a statistic–that she should have such a stereotypical figure commit the rape in her poem, in such a stereotypical way. This comical figure is the clown of rape–he allows us to think of rape as the act of a stupid caveman, something almost silly in its primitive masculinity. But how unfunny he becomes when he finally actually rapes her!

    To criticize Lockwood for making the rapist stereotypical is completely missing the point. She knows very well he’s stereotypical, and so does her protagonist. But he’s also a human being who we get enough details of to realize the rape is not the only thing he’s ever done–I strongly disagree that he’s “relentlessly dehumanized” by Lockwood. You’re confusing the protagonist’s anger and confusion with Lockwood’s own feelings. The protagonist has known him since childhood, we’re told. She tried to see past the stereotypes, see the lovable side of him. She knew he was kind of a loser, but there was something adorable about that. And she feels, now, as if she was punished for her affection.

    Lockwood plays these two dimensions of the rapist against each other–on the one hand, he’s a stereotypical rapist moron asshole, on the other, he’s a person who the protagonist loved. Here’s another dimension of the awful joke–that this act was NOT perpetrated by a doofus who “turned out” to be a monster, but by a plain old doofus who’s done lots of other things in life aside from rape. We expect to be raped by monsters, and they turn out to be feeling human beings, who we know and trust.

    Then you go into a discussion of whether or not rape jokes can be funny. I agree, I think it’s possible to make funny jokes even about the most obscene subjects. But what does this have to do with the poem? Lockwood isn’t making the argument that rape jokes are never funny. She uses the word “Joke” here primarily in the sense of a practical joke, a joke on someone. The joke, here, is existential–it’s the trauma survivor’s sense of being mocked by life itself. This is what you get for trusting someone. Ha ha! She plays this practical joke off the idea of a rape joke, just a ha ha funny stand up comic joke. The funny joke comes to life and in life it is a very unfunny joke, a very cruel joke. That’s the whole turn of the poem.

    That is a bleak outlook and this is a bleak poem, but I’d still defend it on the basis that this sort of nihilism is just how a person would feel after such a demoralizing experience. You could argue maybe that it’s sadistic on Lockwood’s part to subject her reader to this experience, even by the proxy of the poem. Should poetry be doing this? Should it give us a buffer? That’s a different set of questions.

    Though I was really disappointed with this essay, I still think HTML Giant should’ve published it. It would have started a very healthy debate. Perhaps the site’s editor was particularly squirrely due to the recent revelations about Janey Smith. Again I do appreciate that you had the gusto to write this and try to publish it.

    I think you’re totally wrong about “Rape Joke”. Your essay seems more like a reaction to the poem’s popularity than the poem itself, and I think your points do have merit as a critique of the uncritical, superficial way this poem has been received in many quarters. I think you dislike it for the same reason many people like it, and it’s the wrong reason on both counts.

    • Reply Ted Hash-Berryman Sep 23,2014 4:51 am

      The teaching of a God who has descended to earth in order to instruct people cannot be interpreted in different ways because this would be counter to the very goal of descending. If God descended to earth in order to reveal truth to people, then the very least he could have done would be to have revealed the truth in such a way that everybody would understand it. If he did not do this, then he was not God.

      –Leo Tolstoy

      You missed the point: she’s saying rape jokes can NEVER be funny.
      You missed the point: she’s saying that the rapist is himself a joke.
      You missed the point: she’s saying it’s OK to use humor when dealing with the topic of rape.
      You missed the point: she’s saying that rape is a kind of existential practical joke.

      –People who have responded to me

      Hello Matthew. Your reading of ‘Rape Joke’ is one way to understand it, and it’s one of a varied and disparate many that responders to my essay—and to the poem itself—have insisted is the ‘true’ way to interpret the poem.

      You are right, I’m responding to the way the poem was received by the majority, so I thank you for realizing my points have merit based on the majority reading. Your academic reading of the poem would be interesting to a critical theorist; however, this poem was clearly designed for mass consumption by the masses themselves. One difference between your analysis and my own is that I’m not making any claims to the internal workings of Lockwood’s mind; I’m merely addressing the most forthright implications of the poem based on the words that have been selected. If you read my essay closely, you will see that.

      Since there are so many interpretations of the poem’s message, do you think Lockwood’s writing is ambiguous on purpose? The alternative is that the writing is sloppy, which I don’t think you would want to agree with, so the former must be the explanation for the many multiple interpretations that Lockwood’s fans have given in defense of the poem.

      Truly, Lockwood doesn’t have the luxury of being purposefully vague in this poem. Not when it was designed to reach a mass audience, and not when it so forcefully implicates that a message must be taken away.

      The true brilliance of this poem, which I’ve purposely waited to mention until the hatred for my essay accumulated sufficiently, is that Lockwood has written a poem that the world is too afraid to criticize. Do you not see the terrible danger in allowing something which is universally lauded to remain that way?

      I see how you could so misunderstand me, since this is the only work of mine you have read, and for that, I forgive you. I use incendiary language to provoke an emotional response because that is where our true humanity resides, not in the bleached-white academic, safe, and reasonable responses like the one you’ve provided me.

      I’ve stated that I only attack causes against which I would not find allies, so that I compromise myself alone. After the response I’ve received for this essay—the many personal attacks against me—I feel more vindicated in that stance than ever before. And if I have to go up in flames in order to introduce viewpoints to the conversation that others are too afraid to address, I will be proud to swallow the gasoline and light the match myself so that I burn into obscurity, so long as the brief light I produce sparks the desire for truth in the mind of only one other.

      I tread a dark path that no one should follow; there is no hope for me. But I believe that the message I carry can only be transmitted from a place of self-sacrifice, that the light that message emits can be seen more clearly from the dank caverns of the underworld than against the daydream illusion of a summer sky.

      The fact is, I am a naysayer and hatchetman in the fight against hegemony. I pride myself on taking a punch and I’ll gladly take a blitzkrieg of others. I reject absolutely rancor, aggression, and revenge. The foundation of such a standpoint is love.

      I have no personal quarrel with Patricia; the truth is, I love her. I love her because she is my sister, as you Matthew are my brother, and it is out of love that I wrote this essay, and it is it out of love that I write these words today. At the very least, I’m glad you see there is value in opening the debate, even if you believe that I am “totally wrong.” I thank you for your thoughtful response, and I look forward to further discussions in the future.

      Ted Hash-Berryman

      • Reply Damn dude Dec 1,2016 12:42 am

        I tread a dark path that no one should follow; there is no hope for me. But I believe that the message I carry can only be transmitted from a place of self-sacrifice, that the light that message emits can be seen more clearly from the dank caverns of the underworld than against the daydream illusion of a summer sky.

        Damn dude

  2. Reply Jefferson Carter Sep 22,2014 3:53 pm

    Ted needs to work on his usage (let’s you and I) and his stuffy diction. He’s right about one thing though: equating telling a sex joke with committing rape is one of those exaggerations beloved by self-righteous hysterics of all political stripes. I remember Sarah Silverman telling a rape joke: “my dentist raped me; it was a bitter-sweet experience.” I laughed at the time. Now, I’m vaguely ashamed of my laughter.

  3. Reply Liz Dague Jul 8,2015 2:43 pm

    I think Hash-Berryman completely missed the mark. He interpreted Lockwood’s poem as “demonizing” the rape joke. There is much evidence to the contrary. Nearly every line in Lockwood’s poem IS a rape joke, which shows that she believes there is a time and place for rape jokes. For the speaker of the poem, turning her rape into a joke was a way to heal. So NO, Lockwood is not saying all rape jokes are inherently bad. She is saying that, yes, they can hurt, but they can also be a tool for survivors to heal, and especially in the case of this poem, they get people talking about a taboo topic that must be discussed. This poem opens that discussion, creating an atmosphere that both makes us uncomfortable enough to be careful with what we say about rape and comfortable enough (because of her humor) to actually add our two cents to the conversation.

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