Date Rape is Funny?

Last week’s story about one of Time magazine’s “best inventions of the year” brought a mixed reaction. Let’s start with the story, from True‘s 1 December 2002 issue:


Time magazine dubbed a cardboard cocktail coaster one of the best inventions of the year. Women are instructed to put a few drops of their drinks on the 40-cent coaster; if it turns blue, that means the drink has been spiked with either of two “date rape” drugs. (Time) …Next year: one for men that detects silicone.

The story brought a dozen or so responses, most of which were either suspicious of the tagline or outright hostile to it. As a representative response, I’ll choose Lloyd-Ellen in Maryland:

I’m one of those readers who just reads, comments to myself, and more than occasionally shakes my head at the foibles of the human race that you report to us so well. Because I enjoy the column so much I hate for my first correspondence to be negative but I really must register my protest at your attempt to be funny with BUSTED in the last issue. Equating sexual assault with *false advertising* is really not funny, and it’s demeaning to your women readers to suggest that date rape is something to laugh about. Next time, ask your wife first if the manner with which you’ve treated the subject is tasteful, okay?

As it happens, my wife does read every column before anyone else — she’s the first wall of protection against typos, incomplete thoughts, and other writer gaffes.

First, as I’ve said many, many times, not all True stories are meant to be funny. I indeed specifically pointed “Busted” out to her, and apparently she “got it” right off. We found it pretty surprising that the people who wrote didn’t quite see it the same way we did.

The point of the tagline is to demonstrate that women are worrying about rape, while men merely worry about fake boobs. We often hear men whine about that, and rarely hear women complain about such drugs. Thus the point of the tag is to show how trivial men’s whines are in comparison to the much-more-serious things women have to worry about.

As I said, I’m quite surprised that a number of readers aren’t grasping just how much I slammed men’s often repeated — and, in comparison, really pretty trivial — concerns.


Meanwhile, a Premium subscriber who wishes to remain anonymous writes:

The coasters that supposedly detect date rape drugs are not very accurate. I work in a state forensics lab that has researched them. The way I understand it from the scientist who did the research, the levels that are typically used are far below the levels the coasters are designed to detect. [Thus] it is quite easy for them to give a false negative. Please do not supply my name or the agency — these are the results of state research and I would probably need their permission to publicly associate the agency with the results.

So there you go: hard-hitting social commentary and useful editorial information, all in one publication!

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3 Comments on “Date Rape is Funny?

  1. Isn’t it odd that so many people assume that your role is to be ‘funny’? I thought your focus was to be ironic, which often IS funny.

    “Irony can be pretty ironic sometimes.” ~ Buck Murdoch, Airplane II

    This site and a large portion of the descriptions say the taglines are “humorous, ironic or opinionated.” With luck, I achieve some combination of the three. -rc

  2. The best social commentary will shoot right over the heads of part of any population (even a generally intelligent population such as much of your readership must be, due to your excellent social commentary) simply due to their personal biases.

    You seem to manage to get most of your comments to be both ironic and opinionated. The humor sometimes stems from the readers who expect humor from a serious topic.

    Indeed, part of what I’m trying to do is remind people that they do have biases that really twist meanings, and to get them to step back and see that sometimes, they fight with their allies because of it. -rc

  3. To be honest, when I first read the story, I felt like Ellen. Specially the part about “Equating sexual assault with *false advertising*”. Of course, I can also see the logic of your explanation of the tag, but if the tag needed said explanation… Maybe if you had added to the tag something along the lines of “since that is all they care about”, then all misunderstandings could have been avoided. Although it’s not like you expected any, you were just surprised to see them in the readers’ feedback.

    “[B]if the tag needed said explanation…” is a false argument. As Mati insightfully observed in the comment immediately above yours, “The best social commentary will shoot right over the heads of part of any population” — which speaks intelligently to the same concept, as opposed to this story or even my work in general. Your implied suggestion actually means that I should dumb down every tag to compensate for every possible reader bias so there cannot be any possible misinterpretation — which is not just impossible, it caters to stupidity. If there’s one thing that TRUE isn’t setting out to do, it’s catering to stupidity. -rc


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