A rape joke is still a rape joke.
Now that a recently unsealed 2005 deposition revealed that Bill Cosby indeed admitted to drugging women for nonconsensual sex (read: sexual assault), the conversation about Cosby’s allegations has resurfaced in the least savory of ways. Although some previous Cosby defenders such as R&B songstress Jill Scott have offered mea culpas in their own way, others, including “The View’s” Whoopi Goldberg, still stick by the “innocent until proven guilty in a court of law” argument, even though Cosby put himself on blast in an actual court document.
But almost as bad as people defending the man previously known as “America’s Dad” are the memes that make light of the situation. Here are but a few examples of them:
— Rusty Redenbacher (@rustymk2) November 10, 2014
The original #CosbyMeme, as the Daily Dot’s Miles Klee wrote last November, was born of a social media disaster started by Cosby’s PR team. In a now-deleted tweet, users were asked to submit memes via BillCosby.com — an ill-timed request, given that it came at the height of a media fiasco about the allegations, shortly after comedian Hannibal Buress referenced them during a show.
As the controversy intensified, more and more women spoke up with stories of their own. More than 25 women in a 40-year time span allege that Cosby sexually assaulted them.
But as CNN political contributor Sally Kohn recently noted, the fact that, as of January, almost half of Americans didn’t believe the women who made allegations — despite the sheer volume of claims and the common narrative of drugging — was indeed rape culture at work: “[T]hat dozens of women reporting similar experiences was not enough to conclusively condemn Cosby precisely reinforced the ‘no one will believe you if you tell anyone’ threat that keeps victims silent.”
The memes, in themselves, are part of this troubling dynamic, one in which a survivor must constantly contemplate how others will react if she shares a story of experiencing sexual assault. Survivors must often wonder whether or not they’ll be called liars or “attention whores,” or become punchlines for quips about rape. Indeed, while some of the memes satirically critique the nature of Cosby’s celebrity status, and how apologists’ arguments completely miss the point, many others make Cosby’s alleged survivors the focus of the joke.
— Keep Diddy (@WaymoTheGod) November 10, 2014
No survivor deserves this kind of treatment: not the women who have come forward saying that Cosby sexually assaulted them, nor any others. And for survivors who see the Cosby rape memes circulating again in the wake of the unsealed deposition, the jokes may very well reopen old wounds — wounds that took years of therapy, reflection, familial support and prayer to heal.
As a survivor of sexual assault myself, the sight of the Cosby memes made me hearken back to when I narrowly escaped an attack during my adolescence. For years, I was scared to ever say a word, because I thought I’d be subject to having my experience minimized by homophobic stigma, or because I thought I’d be mocked and ridiculed for having been violated in such a terrible way. I can’t help but look at memes of Cosby, a man who we now know drugged at least one woman for non-consensual sex, with phrases like “pudding popped right in her p****” and think to myself: How on Earth could anyone who knows a survivor find this funny?
Even if it’s a clear quip rooted in Cosby’s now-infamous role as Jello’s spokesperson, it’s one tied to the violation of a woman who did not desire his advances — a woman who wasn’t given chance to say no. A woman who did not consent. A woman who, as court documents revealed, Cosby admitted to drugging with quaaludes.
As Lindy West wrote at Jezebel during the controversy over Daniel Tosh’s rape joke in 2012, it is indeed possible to include the subject matter of sexual assault in satire, but the approach and positioning matters.
“[T]he best comics use their art to call [BS] on those terrible parts of life and make them better, not worse. The key … is to be a responsible person when you construct your jokes,” West wrote. “Nobody is saying that you can’t talk about rape. Just be a … decent person about it or relinquish the moral high ground and be okay with making the world worse.”
It’s important to remember that every survivor’s experience is different, and that each person is on their own journey of coping, including the women Cosby allegedly harmed. A joke translates differently to different audiences, based on the subject matter of the joke and the people they’re based on. But by engendering a culture where a rape joke, with a survivor as the punchline, is deemed okay, we’re reinforcing a system where sexual assault is normalized.
And that is no laughing matter.
This article originally appeared on The Daily Dot. More from The Daily Dot you might like: