There is little doubt that rape has become an everyday threat in American culture. If you ever read blog comments or even newspaper comment sections, then you notice that "she ought to be raped" is thrown around as if sexual assault is an acceptable response to someone with whom we disagree.   Threatening rape is so common that it really comes as no surprise.

What is still somewhat of a shock, however, is the use of rape as source of humor. "Accidental butt sex" is a Facebook meme where presumably straight men pretend to have sex with other unwilling men in photos. Comedians insist on their right to turn rape into a joke. And now even political campaigns are using rape humor in the hope of convincing young people to not sign up for Obamacare. 

Generation Opportunity, which is funded courtesy of the ultraconservative billionaire Koch brothers, is running two ads on college campus in an effort to convince young people that signing up for Obamacare is the same as asking to be raped. In the first ad, The Glove, a very blond and innocent young man comes in for an exam and when the doctor finds out he is part of the Obamacare program, he tells him to drop his pants, lie on the table with his knees pulled up to his chest, and wait. Next an Uncle Sam figure appears and slips on a blue latex glove as the young man realizes he is about to take it in the proverbial.

In the second ad, The Exam, an equally innocent and blond young woman arrives for a gynecological exam. In a similar fashion, the announcement of her participation in Obamacare leaves her alone in a room, this time with her legs spread wide in stirrups. When creepy Uncle Sam appears he lifts a speculum in the air and the young woman screams and tries to move away.

Sometimes a pipe might just be a pipe, but the use of imagery here to scare white people into rejecting Obamacare is nearly as overburdened as D.W. Griffith's "Birth of a Nation." The pure and innocent white youth violated by an Uncle Sam puppet as a stand in for our first Black President's health care plan is not just creepy, it's also a reinvigoration of the figure of the Black male as "beast" and "rapist" who is always coming for the pure flower of youth.

The fact that this racist imagery is mixed with rape imagery is not new. In Birth of a Nation, the character Gus, playbed by a white actor in blackface, tries to take the innocent and lily white purity of Flora, who would rather die than be ravished. It's just that Birth of a Nation was a serious film based on a serious book. Gus and Flora were tragic, not comic.

Now of course, in our "post racial" and "post feminist" world, the myth of the black male rapist is just funny since racism and rape are not to be taken seriously. Get it? It's funny because it's rape? Heh, heh, and racist?

The real comedy, or at least irony, lies in the accidental fact that the things creepy Uncle Sam is trying to do to the innocent white youths are things that any doctor would do in the course of a normal exam. Women really do go in for gynecological exams where a speculum is inserted and rectal exams happen during the course of a thorough physical. These viral videos were made to spread the message that the government should not be providing anyone with healthcare because federally funded healthcare is akin to rape and loss of innocence. Instead, the message seems to be that the government can and will provide medical exams. And probably at more or less the same cost but with much better coverage for the young people targeted by these ads.  

About the Author

Laurie Essig, Ph.D.

Laurie Essig, Ph.D., is a professor of sociology and women and gender studies at Middlebury College.

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