Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Why Does Popular Culture Treat Prison Rape As a Joke?

From AlterNet:

"Humor is part of the cultural attitude that (prison) is the one place where rape is okay," said Linda McFarlane, JDI’s deputy executive director.

McFarlane added that, "Jokes target the pain of a particular group of people and dehumanizes them. … It layers the discourse with a veil of acceptance."

This dehumanization trades on the well-being of the thirty-some individuals that write letters to JDI each week, telling their stories of abuse and asking for help. A 2007 survey from the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that nearly 1 in 20 inmates -- more than 60,500 people -- experienced some form of sexual abuse in the previous twelve months. That’s considered a conservative estimate since many survivors prefer not to admit the abuse they’ve suffered. As well, the study did not include people involuntarily detained in juvenile facilities, halfway houses, or immigration centers.

More here.


The obvious answer to the question posed by the essay's title is the prevalent American social anxiety about male homosexuality--anxiety about male homosexual rape, on the other hand, is probably close to non-existent, if only because it is inconceivable to most American men. Nonetheless, prison rape is a very real and very disturbing phenomenon, and the jokes, as the essay asserts, do nothing but grant legitimacy to this extraordinarily barbaric aspect of American society--indeed, prison rape, and other issues, are so problematic to me that, odds are, prosecutors will always strike me from any jury panel where sending someone to prison is a possibility.

Anyway, go check out the essay. It's only marginally about pop culture attitudes toward prison rape, and much more about the rape issue itself. We, as a people, really need to confront this issue, and in order to do that, we need to know about it. Clearly, the thing that allows prison rape to continue is that it is out of sight, and consequently, out of mind.

I cannot possibly imagine that the American people would approve of this if they really understood what was going on.