So, the other day, I was deplaning (oh, how I love that word) from a Southwest Airlines flight when I opened the overhead compartment and my friend’s burrito flew out (contents may have shifted during flight) and made a beeline for the poor innocent woman sitting next to us. Only the quick action of another friend prevented the burrito from slamming into our seatmate.
“Surprise burrito!” my friend exclaimed.
“Welcome to California!” I said, thinking with excitement of an imaginary world where burritos just rained out of the sky (I'm pretty sure most of the xoJane editorial team is with me on thinking this would be the greatest thing ever).
The woman was very nice about it. We for some reason found this incident hilarious and now periodically shout out “surprise burrito” and collapse into giggles, much to the confusion of everyone around us.
Jokes are a strange, fun, fascinating, amazing part of being human. We use them as in-group humor as seen here, acknowledging a “you had to be there” kind of incident, a sort of shared experience. We use them to establish cultural dominance -- or to fight dominant cultural groups. We use them to break the ice when we meet people, to lure people into businesses, to remind each other that we are all at heart humans, even if we’re all our own special snowflakes.
Not all jokes are to my taste, not just in the sense that “surprise burrito!” just really isn’t very funny if you weren’t there, at that precise moment, in the same sleep-deprived, giddy state we were, but in the sense that I find them gross or offensive or irritating.
Such applies to the vast majority of rape jokes; while I don’t think it’s impossible to tell a great joke about rape (I can think of a few, and I’ve made a few), they’re the kind of jokes that require extreme caution and a certain shared experience on the part of the teller.
Like, my Jewish friend tells amazing Jew jokes. She has me rolling on the floor thinking I’m going to pee myself at times.
I can’t tell those jokes. I mean, I physically can; I could get the inflection and the intonation and the gestures down pat, but I couldn’t actually tell them and have them be funny, because I’m not Jewish. What from her mouth is a hilarious reclamation of her heritage and experiences and a sendup of her culture is just antisemetic from mine. Jokes, in other words, are hugely dependent not just on content but also on context.
Which is why I and other survivors can tell rape jokes and a lot of other people can’t.
A bar in Philadelphia has apparently not learned this lesson, however, as we discovered via our friends at The Frisky. Its little schtick is to post a pick up line, joke, or some sort of comment on its chalkboard to draw in customers and create kind of a cute, folksy, in-group feel. If you’re a patron of the establishment, you know to check the chalkboard to see what the funny is today. It’s a scheme a lot of businesses use, and I’ve seen the chalkboard trick used to hilarious effect throughout the US; I’m sure we all have, whether we’ve walked by a funny chalkboard or seen a picture circulated around.
For the most part, I guess its chalkboard is just your garden-variety bar chalkboard, but every now and then, the staff really outdo themselves. This week, the “Thursday pickup line” was “Does this rag smell like chloroform to you?”
HAHAHAHAHAHA. Ha. Ha. Ha. Excuse me while I wheeze quietly behind the dumpster as I am overcome by laugh—oh wait, I mean rage. Seriously dudes? Like, in what century is this funny? First of all, who the f*ck uses chloroform these days, and second of all, could you get any more creepy and rapey?
This is apparently not the first time the bar has let its gross flag fly, as, according to The Frisky, it once decorated the board with “I like my beer like I like my violence...domestic,” which happens to be a “joke” I’ve heard before. Repeatedly.
Oddly, unlike “surprise burrito!,” it doesn’t get funnier every time you tell it. It just gets more and more gross, the kind of gross that makes you wish you were a tortoise so you could crawl up inside your shell and pretend the world isn’t happening. (Not, though, the kind of tortoise that gets hit by a car while trying to cross the road at age 200-something, because, man, what a way to go.)
Remind me not to go to Smith’s Restaurant and Lounge when I’m in Philadelphia. Or maybe I should thank the bar staff for being so up front about who their customers are -- I appreciate knowing where I won’t be safe as a patron, where I’m likely to be assaulted without comment or intervention from staff who apparently find that sort of thing funny. Hey, maybe if I go there and then get raped, they could make a chalkboard joke out of it!
That would be, like, so awesome, dude.
At least they’re equal opportunity promoters of violence -- just this week they were exhorting patrons to never hit a man with glasses when you could hit him with a baseball bat. Ohohoho! Chuckles! No seriously, don’t hit people, it’s mean.
The bar has naturally swung into the defense on Twitter now that the internet has exploded with discussion over the chalkboard sign; it’s apologizing, promising this won’t happen again, and working to cover its bases, but the whole thing raises a lot of questions for me. Once again, we have a single incident at the heart of yet another storm of internet outrage, but what is actually going to happen and change?
They say these kinds of signs won’t happen again, but how can they guarantee that? Staff members clearly don’t see the problem with them and thus can't really be trusted to make responsible decisions on their own; is the bar going to, say, vet the witty sayings by a panel of experts to determine if they’re offensive? How will this panel be assembled? Who will be on it? Am I just yet another hysterical fusspot free speech suppressing hairy-legged bra-burning freakazoid for thinking that maybe there’s a larger problem here than one joke on one chalkboard?
How many bars and other businesses across the US have similar sayings advertising themselves, and what are people doing about them in their hometowns? Has everyone who’s yelled at this place on Twitter also gone around to their neighborhood watering holes to see if they’re making rape jokes to draw in customers?
The internet provides this great opportunity for getting all fired up and spitting out a parade of Tweets or Facebook posts or whatever, but what it often makes people forget about is the need to get boots, wheels, or whatever on the ground. I see this sign and I think about the role bars play in rape culture and how we need to combat the idea that women at bars are easy prey for rapists, and I think about what I can do to make bars in general safer for women.
I’m glad to see people holding Smiths (no relation) accountable, but what next?