In a rambling attack on Daniel Tosh’s supporters, Lindy West makes a point:
If people don’t want to be offended, they shouldn’t go to comedy clubs? Maybe. But if you don’t want people to react to your jokes, you shouldn’t get on stage and tell your jokes to people.
Tosh â€“ whose shtick consists, by and large, of saying amazingly offensive things with all the charm of a drunk college student â€“ is being both tarred and feathered for telling “rape jokes” at a comedy club in L.A.
West’s attack on Tosh is vapid, at best. She simultaneously denounces Tosh’s sense of humor while championing comedians who’ve told jokes of the same kin; the likable get a pass. Silly, though perfectly aligned with the general stupidity of the contravesary it decries.
But barely lit in her screed is a great notion; we are just as free to be offended as we are to offend.
Do I find Tosh’s joke offensive? No. I’ve heard worse. I’ve said worse. Had I been in that club, I’d probably have laughed. I see Tosh’s point. Rape is never funny, and that makes it hilarious. There’s a discomfort and disquiet discussing it; there’s tension in the evocation of the word, of the act, the taboo of changing its context â€“ of one’s reaction to it.
But nor am I offended that people are offended.
Performers make a contract with their audience. They will say something, and the audience will react to it. If you’re good at your art, you get the reaction you expect; someone laughs, someone cries, someone listens.
If the audience doesn’t like what you have to say, they are not “silencing” you. They are not censoring you. They are disagreeing.