Mar 18th, 2018, 05:30 PM

The Death of Comedy

By Sophia Foerster
Image Credit: Pixabay/Wokandapix
Are Instagram comedians enforcing rape culture?

Since the shutting down of the ever-so-popular social media app Vine in January of 2017, Vine-based comedians went from being in a state of panic to migrating to other existing applications. Most of them made their debut as newfound Youtubers, while others focused on Instagram as a replacement for their outlet. Problems with Vine originally started with Instagram's release of its video feature, with the purpose of competing with Vine (as it has also tried to do with Snapchat). With the new video feature, Instagram was the natural choice for comedians to take over when Vine shut down as it was the most similarly-styled platform. While scrolling through your explore page you've probably fallen victim to "click-bait" videos promising top-notch quality comedy familiar to that of Vine. But because of Instagram's innate superficiality of its user-based culture in comparison to that of Vine's, the comedic narrative within these short videos has changed. 

There are hundreds of videos on Instagram that range from underlying harassment-type vibes to straightforward references to committing sexual assault. One of the main perpetrators of this type of comedy is Instagram "comedian" Steven Spence who uses his character named Esteban as an excuse to make jokes about sexual assault. Esteban is a con artist who pretends to be several different people in order to get closer to women and essentially trick them into potentially dangerous situations. The message portrayed in this character shows that tricking women for sexual purposes is equal to comedy. Linked below are two examples of Spence's character Esteban:

Now, many people do think videos like these are harmless, sure of the fact that no one actually believes it to be true comedy. The sad reality is that Spence has approximately 1.4 million followers on Instagram and plenty of support for his work. Albeit hundreds of comments on his videos are against his promotion of sexual harassment, there are just as many comments from his fans that fight back:

Image credit: Instagram/@iamstevenspence


Image Credit: Instagram/@iamstevenspence


Contrary to what many believe, videos making fun of sensitive topics (like that of sexual harassment and sexual assault) have a negative effect on society as a whole. A CNN report on how social media affects adolescents described an experiment. Participants were "shown a range of 'neutral' photos showing things like food and friends, and 'risky' photos depicting cigarettes and alcohol. But the type of image had no impact on the number of 'likes' given by the teens. They were instead more likely to 'like' the more popular photos, regardless of what they showed. This could lead to both a positive and negative influence from peers online." The experiment shows that popular messages spread throughout social media are absorbed by the viewers and therefore have a serious impact on our ideologies. The worst example of this "comedy" was made by former Vine star King Bach. In it, the punchline is blatantly sexual assault itself:

King Bach did, however, remove this video from his Instagram feed after having serious backlash for its content. Yet tweeted: "Ever watched a movie about murder, theft, assault? As a writer/director/actor, I can create whatever I want. Don’t limit me, thank you" But also eventually deleted his tweet also due to backlash.

Former Vine star Cody Ko refers to these videos as "pepper spray comedy," to which Remy DeJoseph wrote an article on his Medium blog in response saying: "These videos are normalizing sexual assault and making a joke out of it so men could laugh and relate. As if men need to be laughing at it." The desensitization of sexual harassment and assault spread across one of the most used social media's globally is contributing to the real-life problem of its existence in society. While it may be a "joke" to some, sexual assault is a reality that is suffered by one person approximately every 98 seconds in the U.S. alone, (according to RAINN's statistics). Grace Peak from Affinity Magazine says: "These videos purposes are to be comedic, and in this case to use rape as a tool to get views, to cater to his audience with the type of crude humor that he believes will elicit a reaction. He and many others with platforms of this kind are making light out of sexual assault and rape for their own benefit." 

While not many studies have been made connecting Instagram "comedy" and the spreading of rape culture in society, it is still offensive to those who have or will suffer from harassment and assault in their lifetime. Despite the rise in awareness with the #MeToo movement, these Instagram "comedians", as well as several other internet influencers, continue to make money from brand deals who want to reach their audience. Not only are they making sexual harassment into a joke, but into a career. How can current and future influencers take a stand against this ideology when brands are paying for their spotlight to continue?