We all have our triggers — something that hits close to home, sinks deep, and kindles a primal reaction that overrides our logical faculties, causing us to “snap.” Maybe it’s the idea of a kid or an animal being abused, or maybe it’s an especially pernicious microaggression about race, gender or religion. For me, one of those triggers is prison rape jokes.
What horrifies me most about prison rape jokes is how socially acceptable they are. Movies and TV shows are riddled with them. Whenever a character in a comedy gets locked up, there is almost always a quick cut to a burly inmate making a suggestive expression, or some kind of reference to “dropping the soap.” This trope persists even though no socially aware, well-adjusted person in their right mind would suggest that rape, outside of prison, is funny. It’s obviously always violent and traumatizing.
And on social media, where people are hardly being their most well-adjusted selves, prison rape memes are even worse, and they find abundant routes into pop culture. For example, there is a well-known meme of Lord of the Rings actor Sean Bean, saying his line “one does not simply walk into Mordor,” while making a circle shape with his hand. In the prison rape version, the text says: “One does not simply walk out of prison with an anus smaller than this.” (Poor Sean Bean. He did not choose to be dragged into this depravity.)
As much as prison rape jokes always sickened me, I used to be able to tune out their awfulness — at least until Sept. 13, 2017. That was the day when Martin Shkreli, the vastly hated “Pharma Bro,” lost his bail over a weird Facebook post encouraging people to steal hair from Hillary Clinton, and got sent straight to a federal lockup. That night, Twitter erupted into glee — and prison rape jokes.
“Martin Shkreli sent to jail for offering $5k for Hillary's hair. Ironically his ass was just sold for a pack of Newports,” a comedian posted that night. After he apparently got a small amount of pushback over his comment, the comedian added: “Sorry…Nothing is funnier to me than Martin Shkreli getting raped in prison.”
Those tweets came amidst a flood of gifs having to do with dropping soap and even more loathsome imagery. Enticed by all the engagement the rape jokes were getting, a reporter who had been covering Martin’s trial jumped into the mix, too.
Referencing testimony from a wealthy gay investor who appeared to have a crush on Martin, the reporter made a crack about an inmate looking longingly at the young drug company founder’s “soft skin.”
It made me want to vomit.