Filminism is a bi-weekly column dedicated to representations of women in cinema. It runs every other Friday.
Hey. Trigger warning, spoilers and adult words ahead.
"How do women still go out with guys when you consider the fact that there is no greater threat to women than men? We're the number one threat to women. Globally and historically, we're the number one cause of mayhem and injury to women. We're the worst thing that ever happens to them." – Louis C.K.
Last weekend, I was at a bar with some friends putting together the Star Trek Enterprise in Legos (as you do), and we got to talking about the recent rape/comedy fracas on Jezebel.
Something Matt Patches said about a "rapey" joke in "This Is The End" (read our review of the film here) piqued my curiosity, although I assumed he was simply referring to the scene I'd already heard about in which Jonah Hill is sexually assaulted by the devil. Or a devil. Well, it's a shadow with a schlong. I don't particularly care for jokes about male rape; I think they're generally pretty lazy and dumb, but I don't find them to be particularly shocking, especially in the context of a bro comedy. I didn't think any more of the movie's potential "rapey-ness" until I saw "This Is The End" last night in a packed house.
This week's column was originally going to be about how great Emma Watson's career is going and the great choices she's making professionally. The projects that she's been picking are interesting and edgy without going full "Spring Breakers." Like, there's establishing your adult identity apart from the franchises that made you famous as a tween, and then there's making James Franco fellate a handgun.
But wait! It's still sort of about that! But it's also how to make a funny joke about rape culture! Everyone wins.
Emma Watson's cameo was prominently featured in the movie's marketing, perhaps to attract female viewers who didn't want to see Rogen and pals do bong hits. Her scene isn't especially long, but it addresses something that lurks on the periphery of many post-apocalyptic movies but isn't always addressed: the pervasive threat of sexual violence.
You know the gist of "This Is The End." A night of partying at James Franco's ridiculously nice house turns into chaos when giant sinkholes start sucking Los Angeles into the Earth. Franco, Jonah Hill, Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, Danny McBride, and Craig Robinson play exaggerated versions of themselves, mining their distended celebrity self-importance for laughs. They squabble over water and food rations, hurt feelings, and the unfortunate destruction of a Playboy magazine by McBride's bodily fluids. At one point, Watson breaks down the door with a fireman axe in an attempt to seek refuge with the dudes, and they're extremely psyched to see her. She's a really cool chick! She's smart, and McBride wants to talk to her about "Harry Potter." Who wouldn't? Baruchel, ever the mensch, points out that she might feel … threatened, and that they should be "sensitive" to this fact. The other guys don't get it. She's in a house full of guys. What could be safer?
Finally, McBride gets it. Baruchel is accusing them of having a "rapey vibe." They're all shocked. Them? Rapists? They accuse Baruchel of being the rapey one because he's the one who brought it up. "He who smelt it, dealt it!" as Franco says. Except that's not the point.
It's not that all men are potential rapists, but that it doesn't necessarily occur to them what it's like to go through the world as a woman and deal with the threat of rape. When they do realize how pervasive it is, they're shocked and horrified. The thing is that you might think your friend is a perfectly nice dude, but given the statistics, chances are good that you know someone who has assaulted another person. Do you really want to share their end-of-the-world weed with such a person?
It's worth pointing out that later one of them describes having sex with a starlet who's so drugged up she thinks he's Jake Gyllenhaal. Which is rape. Yes, even if a starlet who's known for being a hot mess is banging on your hotel room door and begging to have sex with you, if she is too blitzed out of your mind to know your name, you shouldn't have sex with her. Perhaps not so accidentally, this character meets a rather nasty end because he's just a little too smug (and "This is the End" eventually employs an unusually literal means of illustrating a moral code).
As Lindy West at Jezebel points out, it is possible to tell an effective — and even funny — rape joke. Comedians work out all sorts of stuff on stage, and the best of them have exposed our darkest inclinations and vulnerabilities and held them up for examination. You have the right to say anything you want, and that's not what the critique of rape jokes is about, despite what Roseanne Barr thinks. (Oh, Roseanne! I love you, but you're so wrong right now.) If you're going to make a joke about sexual assault, and you'd prefer not to get called out on your BS, your jokes should aim at the system and at the perpetrators. You don't have to make a smart rape joke. Just don't expect people to let it slide. If you don't know what such a joke looks like, this is a great list of examples. I'd also recommend Amy Schumer's new show, "Inside Amy Schumer" for more on-point feminist humor.
In any case, Emma Watson doesn't need protection, especially from these five hapless dudes. She overhears them arguing over who would be most likely to rape her and takes action, fireman axe in hand. Then she steals a bunch of their provisions and takes off into the hellhole of apocalyptic Los Angeles. Even though it was a misunderstanding, she'd rather take her chances in what she thinks is a zombie uprising than a house full of dudes giving off "rapey vibes."
Yes, Danny McBride. Hermione just stole all of your sh*t. Welcome to The End.