Ray Rice, a verb?

I’ve never been a fan of FOX, but that simply means that I am not their target audience. In fact, FOX’s average age of viewers is 68, and a majority of them are politically conservative and white. I am far from 68, politically conservative or white.

So yes, I don’t necessary agree with every (most) perspective FOX brings to the audience. But FOX really pushed boundaries when they aired a segment from one of their television series, Empire, with:

“Are you going to Ray Rice me?”

They made a case of domestic violence a verb.

For anyone who doesn’t know the context behind Ray Rice, an NFL player was arrested and charged with assault early February of last year after a tabloid released a video of intoxicated Rice dragging his fiancee Janay Palmer out of an elevator after knocking her out with extreme violence.

What’s frustrating with this case is the responses. NFL feather-slapped Rice on the wrist by suspending him to the first two games of the NFL season. Criminal charges were dropped once Rice agreed to comply to court-supervised counseling. A TV show used the case as a joke.

Expectedly, Twitter blew up after the line aired on Empire. Many called the show out, but as many thought it was funny. A writer for ESPN New York tweeted: “Taraji drops a Ray Rice reference on Empire. Well executed. Like a verb…. I may or may not be hooked. And definitely love Taraji’s performance.”

Many thought the reference was funny.

Well, tell me if this sounds funny:

“Are you going to beat me up until I pass out, and then drag my unconscious body around god-knows-where?”

I don’t know about you, but that’s not exactly an activity I have in mind when I think of ‘funny.’

If we simply brush such trivialization of domestic violence, that gives room for trivialization of rape, murder, and other crimes. And crimes, by definition, should be taken seriously. It’s not material TV shows should be making punchlines off of. FOX made a bad choice making the situation a verb, using it jokingly. Empire is a television show. Thus, it has a wide and big audience. To belittle domestic violence, and to do that on television not only belittles the gravity and the amount of courage and fear Janay Palmer experienced, but also that of the thousands of domestic violence victims, who could’ve have been watching the show or have been exposed to Empire’s extremely insensitive decision by other mediums.

A rule of thumb I learned while being part of Peers Building Justice is to be acutely aware of word choices or ways of expression that could trigger any kind of traumatic memories of victims, whether that be of rape, domestic violence, or any other kind of violation of individual rights. Empire is an example of failing to do so.

I can already hear people say, ‘free speech is a thing, you know.” Yes, free speech is a thing. But it’s a very weak defense against jokes about domestic violence, and rape, among others. These jokes belittle the victims, and that’s who people are laughing at when they laugh at the joke. Is trying to make people laugh enough justification to feed off of and laugh at the unimaginable distress and fear victims experienced?

Jokes can be provocative, but if a person uses an image of someone being beat up, or raped,, you can’t brush off people for reacting to the provocativeness. It’s like that one girl in middle school that used to say the most offensive things and say ‘but no offense.’

So who calls the shots? Who decides that something is uncomfortable? The victims. Why don’t people in the position of privilege- the privilege of not having to have gone through such traumatic experiences- be sensitive and understanding enough to treat others who are not in that position with respect that they ask for?

This is a guest blog post by Campus Organizer, Jennifer Jun.





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