For the past two days, one young Pennsylvanian man has found himself facing hours of celebrity-endorsed cyberbullying on Twitter after telling Family Guy creator and Twitter favorite Seth MacFarlane his rape joke wasn't funny.
MacFarlane had tweeted "The lyrics to "Call Me Maybe" sound like the prelude to a horrific date rape," a joke that saw more than 5,000 retweets. Christian Steinbacher quickly noticed the joke, and responded with "That's not funny." This is not the first time MacFarlane has been criticized for his rape jokes, but what transpired on Twitter following the joke is indicative of the darker side of celebrity.
Steinbacher's response to MacFarlane was subsequently retweeted by the comedy writer. Within minutes, Steinbacher found himself facing and defending himself against MacFarlane's personal digital army of 2 million-plus followers.
Users questioned if Steinbacher did not chuckle at the witticism because he was a victim of rape himself, while others wondered how Steinbacher became the funny judge or as one called it, "the feel good police." Steinbacher was taking things too "seriously," "sucks at life", is "ugly," acting like a "douche" and needs to "develop a sense of humor."
Others took it further and called for Steinbacher to be raped himself, the most common being with a chainsaw, as Steinbacher holds one in his Twitter picture. One MacFarlane fan even had the audacity to claim that MacFarlane’s tweet wasn't "trivializing rape" in any way. At the same time, many fans pointed out that Steinbacher essentially saying "no" made the MacFarlane joke "funnier."
Steinbacher's inadvertant activism for victims of sexual assault and rape was relatively short lived. Steinbacher, who stressed he's "no victim" but "the people affected by 'jokes' about rape are," changed his mind about being interviewed for ReadWriteWeb in a private message:
"I'd like this to die off so I can back to tweeting about my pets and such, so I think I'm going to pass on answering any questions."
Steinbacher was effectively silenced on social media, but he doesn’t blame MacFarlane.
Celebrities unleashing their personal armies on social media is nothing new, and celebrities certainly cannot be held responsible for the actions of their often unruly fanbase. However, MacFarlane's retweeting of Steinbacher's simple words of protest, and his subsequent silence in the matter in the wake of his harassment, comes across as explicit support whether he meant to or not.
Even more troubling is MacFarlane use of rape jokes in Family Guy. Over the last three years, he's repeatedly dodged answering questions about those jokes. Pop culture magazine Vulture wrote in 2009 Macfarlane's rape jokes are "not unfunny because they're shocking, they're unfunny because they're unoriginal and hack." In 2010, Feministing wrote essentially the same thing in regards to MacFarlane's rape jokes: "There isn't anything edgy about rape jokes" because "[r]ape jokes and mocking violence are mainstream."
In addition to the negative press, MacFarlane and Family Guy have both been the subject of several online protests. "I was both gang raped and raped by my former fiance and neither one of those times was it funny" wrote Nebraska resident Alexis Warman on a Change.org petition this year titled "Seth MacFarlane: Rape is Not a Punchline!"
So what is one to make of MacFarlane's latest jerk move on Twitter, besides MacFarlane being his typical jerk self?
Besides the obvious - that violence against women is still overwhelmingly humorous to the masses- is that if a powerful comedian retweets your criticisms, be prepared to be cyberbullied.
As recent Twitter controversies, from Rob Delaney and Bill Murray show, comedians have the most powerful and active of Twitter fans, and with that power comes responsibility they don’t always wield properly.