Wednesday, July 16, 2008

On McCain, and Bad Jokes

Warning: This post contains some adult content and language, so you may wish to skip it.

The gemara in Bava Kamma 82a details some of the institutions of Ezra. One of them is:
That a woman must wear a sinnar — out of modesty.
A sinnar, according to Jastrow, is a sort of petticoat or breech-cloth.

Meanwhile, the gemara in Yerushalmi Megillah 29b goes into more detail on this account:
הוא התקין שתהא אשה חוגרת בסינר בין מלפניה בין מלאחריה א"ר תנחום בר חייה מפני מעשה שאירע מעשה באשה שבעלה קוף מכדרכה ושלא כדרכה
Thus, the institution of Ezra is to gird herself with this sinnar both before her and behind her. Rabbi Tanchum bar Chiyya explained that this (the entire institution, and/or the aspect of in front and in back) was because of an incident in which a woman was violated (against her will) by an ape in both ways.

Thus, incidents like this either happened, or were imagined to have happened, for quite a long time.

And 20 years ago, there is a possibility that McCain repeated a tasteless joke about gorilla rape, in front of a reporter. He denies this. She admits that she may have the joke wrong, but this is how she told it over:
"Did you hear the one about the woman who is attacked on the street by a gorilla, beaten senseless, raped repeatedly and left to die? When she finally regains consciousness and tries to speak, her doctor leans over to hear her sigh contently and to feebly ask, “Where is that marvelous ape?”"
This telling makes it extremely mean. But according to an update at the original site:
"Huffington Post's Sam Stein spoke to reporter Norma Coile, who wrote the original article. Coile told Stein, "I'm not sure exactly what the wording was of the joke, but something was said. Some joke involving a rape and ape was said.""
A lot of nuance can go into the retelling of a joke. As I commented over at DovBear:
It is a sophomoric joke, but I think that it was told over here incorrectly. From the joke I remember, the girsa goes something like this Unix fortune, with a play on a question whether she was "hurt". Various other factors might also "mitigate" it, as she is the one who initiates the contact in the joke: o

" One of my favorite Zoo jokes has to do with a woman who, while visiting the zoo, desided to have a little fun with the Gorilla. She walks up to his cage, reaches in, and begins to fondle the beast. Needless to say, the animal becomes quite excited, and as he tries to reciprocate in kind, the woman steps back and gives him a raspberry...!
The gorilla becomes enraged. He rips the bars from his cage, grabs the woman, drags her back into the cage, and ravishes her. While doing so, he inflicts a great deal of harm upon her person.
Later, at the hospital, a neighbor of the woman visits and exclaims, "Oh, you poor dear...! Are you hurt?"
"Hurt!", "Hurt!?" the injured lady sobs, "He doesn't phone. He never writes..."
This would still be an extremely tasteless joke, but people are sometimes sophomoric. What is different here is that there is the "mitigating" factor (if you can call it that) that she initiates this type of contact. And that it is possible that she is not dreamily savoring the incident, but that rather than being upset about her horrific ordeal, she is acting like a woman being ignored by her boyfriend after he gets what he wants. This is obviously not what one would expect, and the disconnect is a large part of the humor. It is not claiming that women in general love rape and bestiality.

There are other versions of this joke. One commenter there (credited upon request) notes that the joke appears in The Bonfire of the Vanities, by Tom Wolfe, in the form as it appears to the right. And the italicized words are supposed to be said over in a sing-songy voice, as it is about a Jewish woman.

I would also add the following point, again from a comment I made there:
"Regardless of the correct version of the joke, or whether McCain said it, this will not change my vote. There are critical issues, and real differences between the candidates in terms of policy, that ought to outweigh whether at some point in the past he told a tasteless joke."


SJ said...

read my blog XD

joshwaxman said...

I did. Are you referring to the post on the number of limbs? I don't find it very insightful. Terms have different definitions at different times. That has a different classification scheme than a literal translation to modern English, or that modern science has a different classification scheme, is of no importance.

For example, I can classify animals into different categories based on whether their meat goes well with white wine, red wine, both, or neither. And that classification is just as valid.

This is coming from someone (me) who agrees that Chazal relied on Greek science ("yesh chochma bagoyim"), and that at times that science was wrong. But the approach you take there is not, IMHO, a valid one for proving what you want to prove.

All the best,


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