Sexual Inadequacy: Taking Aim at Archer

Ray Gilette, with blonde hair, a blonde trimmed mustache, black eyebrows, teal goggles, a matching teal scarf, and a burnt orange jumper, sitting on a ski lift. The shot frames his head and shoulders, and there is snow in the background. He looks resigned, tired, and pensive.

I have been watching the FX show Archer for about two years now. Archer is the brainchild of Adam Reed, one of the creators of Frisky Dingo; the lead character, a misogynistic, callous, handsome secret agent douchebag named Sterling Archer, is voiced by H. Jon Benjamin of Home Movies and Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist. His mother, the head of the spy agency Isis, is voiced by Jessica Walter—Judy Greer, another Arrested Development alum, is Cheryl Tunt, a railroad heiress/secretary with little to no moral compass. Archer is the next in a line of shows whose comedic tension is produced by the central character's regressive belief system, bad manners, or disdain for other people, using other characters as foils. In this way Archer is Groening's Bender or Homer, Carol O'Connor's Archie, or McFarland's Peter Griffin. The show works as a critique of the myth of the globe-trotting, debonair lady killer and shows us what a dude with a hefty expense account and a belief that he's nine feet tall and bulletproof would be like to be around. To everyone else he's "the world's most dangerous secret agent" but to the people in his office and his butler he's just an unreliable asshole who has skated his entire life on good looks, nepotism, and luck. On the other side of this coin we have Lana Kane, voiced by Aisha Tyler, one of the strongest, most badass female characters in recent memory, who just absolutely hates his guts.

But then there is Ray Gilette. Ray is an intelligence analyst and he's queer as a three-dollar bill. He's a dream character for me, a queer character standing athwart of gender, expectation, and sexual determinism. He's also funny, and quick, and I just absolutely adore 99% of his character. There is a great scene in "Jeu Monegasque" where Archer, Lana, and Ray are in grand prix racing cars, chasing down a concierge who has stolen millions in bearer bonds. As the three round a bend, a helicopter with rocket propelled grenades flies into view. Ray takes one look at it, assesses the situation, and pretends his car is malfunctioning. He's not a coward per se but he does have a lovable amount of yellow belly in him, and I like that.

Which is why I was disgusted that Reed made his character a rapist. In "Blood Test," Archer is trying to beat a paternity test by swapping a liter of his blood for blood from his coworker, Cyril. He is knocked out with a bottle, dosed with heroin, and drained of blood, and both Pam, the human resources manager and Ray—both queer characters—separately take the opportunity to sexually assault him. It is true that rapists are sometimes sassy and playful, sometimes they are good family men or upstanding members of the community. The myth that rapists aren't likable or sociable only serves rapists and rape culture. But I identified so much with Gilette throughout the first season, and now I feel let down.

The idea that queers are predatory isn't a new thing, and it isn't just straight people who hold it. I remember in the Will and Grace episode "Field of Queens" that Jack asks of Karen (speaking about Andy Garcia, that episode's celebrity guest) "Does he have a gay brother? Or better yet, does he have a straight brother who drinks a lot?" At the time I thought the joke was that it was a joke, that no one would take Jack seriously because he's a generally good person and good people insist on sex with consent. But the joke—and it's along the same lines as the Archer plot—is that given the chance, he would sexually assault someone if they were incapacitated. Which isn't any kind of joke at all.

Previously: The Rawhide Kid, Body Shaming is Not Sexy

Image Credit: Kjerstin Johnson

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Comments

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not so sure

I think the joke, distasteful as it is (and as is most of Archer's humor), isn't that Ray would rape someone. The joke is that Sterling, the James-Bond-on-ecstasy caricature of a character, is so sexy that these characters "couldn't resist".

While this is a horrible concept in a literal sense, the show takes nothing literally. I think there is a distinction to be made, only in the world of over-the-top comedy, between a bad joke, and a despicable character.

Also, Pam is bisexual, at least inasmuch as she too often comments about Sterling's sex appeal.

However, I appreciate that Bitch continues to point out things like this, and to make us think about if and why we should laugh at horrible things.

Wow.

I can't believe you like Archer at all. It's pretty bad, even when I try really hard to ignore all of my feminist trains of thought. (Especially the overplayed, ever-necessary fat-and-utterly-undesirable-partly-because-she's-so-rude-and-masculine character. Ugh.)

Sometimes a Joke is Just a Joke

In all honesty, I think you're making too much of it. The joke isn't that queers are sexual predators. Almost anyone on the show could be a sexual predator, under the right circumstances -- they're all just that horrible, self-centered, and abusive. If the unconscious person were a woman, Archer would have been the one taking advantage. It just happened that it was a man, so the gay male character and the sexually desperate/voracious female characters were the ones who did it. (Couldn't have been Cheryl/Carol, because she likes to be the bottom, in an extreme way). I also don't think of Pam as being a queer character so much as a not-so-secret sex fiend who simply isn't that particular about the gender of her partner. I mean, Lana is shown engaging in lesbian sex too. But Lana wouldn't rape anybody, because she's probably the only character on the show who has something approaching ethics and standards.

Exactly

I'm an avid reader of Bitch, but I am uncomfortable with how often an issue will be fabricated solely to have something with which to take issue. Analysis of pop culture through a feminist lens is important; drumming up drama is not. It's a comedy. Taking offense against a show that expends great effort to mock gender stereotypes/norms only serves to provide fodder for haters who think all feminists have sticks up their asses/can't take a joke and makes us less effective among supporters. This article is not nearly the most egregious example of overreacting at Bitch, but I would hope that the writer bears in mind her own synopsis of the show before hurling unfounded accusations against it.

Well thanks for your two cents, anonymous.

But I not a "she" I am a "he" and I don't give a good goddamn what you think.

WARNING: "Archer" is for entertainment purposes only!

I adore "Archer," but I don't take anything on that show too seriously. For the politically correct crowd it's like shooting fish in a barrel--after all, Lana is frequently referred to as a "quadroon" and dead hooker jokes abound. Like Gyno-Star said, every character on that show is morally reprehensible. I watch it precisely because it's completely inappropriate and hilarious. I look elsewhere for my well-reasoned, feminist intellectual critique.

I haven't seen this specific episode but...

I'm really disappointed by many of the comments on this piece. How are readers of a feminist website arguing that depictions of rape are totally fine as long as they're jokes? Rape is not funny and rape should pretty much never be the subject or cause of laughter.

Nice analysis, GG, as always.

I don't agree that rape is

I don't agree that rape is off-limits for ANY humor, but I share your disappointment over the comments on this piece. "LOL U MAD IT'S JUST A JOKE" is not thoughtful critique of pop culture.

Yes, not totally off-limits...

In my original comment I went through a couple of edits actually to show that rape is not ALWAYS off-limits and then decided not to open that particular can of worms, but since you brought it up...

I actually totally agree, which I tried to reflect with the qualifier "pretty much". I think that critical jokes CAN be made about rape, but they are exceedingly rare. In my (vague and inspecific) memory, 30 Rock has joked about rape at the expense of rapists and perpetrators of rape culture in one or two instances - but they've made many many more jokes that we just like "ha, non-consensual sexual activity is hilarious". So I agree, it can be done well and critically, but not often and it's very hard.

And I do not think that the joke Garland writes about here sounds like it's at the expense of rape culture. It sounds like it's a joke about how hilarious it is to assault people who are not conscious. Which is not funny.

I Disagree

I don't think that the only appropriate or acceptable jokes about rape are ones which are at the expense of rapists and rape culture. In fact I don't think there is any topic or target of humor which is or should be off-limits.

That said, there are many ways to approach a joke which can be unfunny, and/or promote harmful ideas. I would cite Tracey Morgan's recent infamously homophobic rant as an example. That didn't strike me as funny, and it was quite hateful. But not all jokes that take an offensive stance on an offensive topic are inherently hateful. There are other messages a rape joke can convey, other than either condemning rape/rapists, or promoting rape as a positive thing.

I think feminist analysis of pop culture is crucial to the movement and to the evolution of our culture in general. But we can't be black and white about everything. Laughing at the most horrible things humans do to each other is healthy and necessary - it's called black humor or gallows humor, and I happen to enjoy it. The joke, in the case of this Archer episode, is not that rape is so hilarious that just depicting it ought to crack everybody up. The joke is that these characters are such self-obsessed, morally stunted people that they think nothing of committing an act that any reasonably decent person would find shocking. It is funny exactly because it's so shocking -- and that's true of at least half the jokes in any given episode of Archer. It's the humor of "I can't believe they went there," and "How much more horrible can they get?" I know it's not for everybody, but in my opinion, the most horrifying topics often make for the best humor.

I gotta disagree with a lot of these comments

As a survivor, a staff member at a rape crisis center, and a person who enjoys dark humor, I agree that 99% of the time it is COMPLETELY inappropriate to make rape jokes. That other 1% of the time (e.g. when it makes fun of how ridiculous rape culture is, when it mocks rapists) it is subversive and therefore permissible. The problem with making jokes about rape in general is that we currently still very much LIVE in a RAPE CULTURE. Right now. Also, we live in a heteronormative, homophobic culture too. It's not subversive to make rape jokes about queer folk, it's just regurgitating what society already tells us about these groups: that queers are predators, that survivors were asking for it, etc. I mean, people literally believe these things, in real life! To me, that isn't funny, and it certainly merits being taken down a notch on Bitch by Garland. It's fine to like Archer, but please do not try to defend the awful jokes on that show with the "it's just a joke, calm down!" defense. It's not just a joke, it hurts people and perpetuates stereotypes.

I'm interested by your

I'm interested by your breakdown of "acceptable" and "unacceptable" rape-themed jokes. Can you give an example of each? I'm not asking this to be a dick, I'm really curious about the concrete idea you have about this kind of humor, and how it holds up against your own darker sense of humor. If something is subversive, is it therefore funny/okay? Do you have this kind of rule for, say, jokes about murder? I definitely agree with you that certain jokes perpetuate problems in society, but I just don't know if things can be broken down so easily.

For me a "good" rape joke is

For me a "good" rape joke is one that mocks rapists, as opposed to one that makes the very occurrence of sexual assault the punch line. My typically evaluation method is "Who's side is this joke on? Survivors or Perpetrators"

I like these: (TW definitely)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R8FfFwtL91Q&feature=player_embedded
http://www.theonion.com/articles/raped-environment-led-polluters-on-defe...
http://www.onionsportsnetwork.com/video/college-basketball-star-heroical...

That being said, I understand if people would find them to be objectionable. But I think there is definitely something to the idea of using humor to point out rape culture.

As the long term partner of a

As the long term partner of a rape victim I say you're overly touchy and want to call attention to yourself by being offended by humor. It's a joke. My SO doesn't break down or get upset when an off collar show or movie makes such a joke, because she's not an attention grubbing, petty individual.

As the former partner of a

As the former partner of a survivor and the friend to many more, you're really self-centered, condescending, and kind of an ass.

Well, not kind of.

Let me get this straight: You

Let me get this straight:

You are NOT complaining about the violence, the racism, the stereotypes, the sexism, the homophobia, not to mention the horrific graphic detail of the deaths in this show... you complain about one scene, where first a woman (Pam) is heard saying: "Are you here?, because this is about to get weird." and then followed by Ray saying: "Hey buddy, how is it hanging?"
NOTHING IS SHOWN, ONLY IMPLIED, yet you scream "rape jokes are not ok".

You know what, watch family guy.

That's a pretty inaccurate

That's a pretty inaccurate account of what happened.

Cyril overheard Lana saying that Cyril is "totally passed out." Cyril's reaction was to say, "Really..." - and then he entered the bathroom Cyril was in.

Then, off-screen, we heard Ray say ,"Hey Cyril," and when there was no reaction, we heard the sound of a fly unzipping, followed by Ray saying, "How's it hanging buddy?"

So yes, there was every indication that he was about to rape him.

Reminder: Feminist Response to Pop Culture

Hey everyone,

Just a reminder that our mission here is to provide a feminist response to pop culture, which means analyzing shows like Archer when they include things like rape jokes. Yes, it's a cartoon, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't take it seriously, or that we'll stop taking it seriously just because some people tell us to lighten up. We criticize pop culture because we love it and because it's chocked full o' problems. Check out our comments policy (linked to in my signature) for more info.

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Great article, just a bit reactive

The web editor's comment is a very good one: the joke was inappropriate because it was a joke about rape. That it was fictional and done with the intent of humor makes it slightly more palatable, arguably, but it is still wrong and irresponsible.

However, the author's comment that it propagates "[t]he idea that queers are predatory" is why I feel some people are reacting as they are (so far). I don't think the joke was intended for the viewer to say "that's funny because gay men are rapists", I think it was intended for the viewer to say "that's funny because it IS so wrong." As other posters have stated, the show depicts all but one character (and even her too, on occasion) doing horrible things, not just a "token gay male." It's a part of the show's dark humor, or attempt at dark humor, anyway.

I think that aspect of the tone of the article has struck some as manufacturing an "extra" issue (the depiction of the gay character's morals), when one was enough to be concerned (the depiction of a rape for comedic effect).

Although I feel the article may have taken a firmer stand than was reasonably warranted, I think the article clearly did a great job of stirring discussion of jokes that may or may not go too far - and what defines the distinction between the two. Kudos for that!

The idea of "are jokes

The idea of "are jokes involving rape funny" has come up several times since I started reading Bitch online, and I'm nowhere nearer to an answer on the matter than I was at the beginning. I can't comment on this show, since I don't watch it (I stopped watching it because I found the humor in general to grow somewhat stale after a while, even before I began thinking about the socio-political implications). But I just don;t know. Like some of the other commenters, I'm loath to make one subject or another completely off limits in the humor department. Everyone has their own limit as to what is and isn't funny, and humor is so subjective that I don't know if there can be an objective set of rules placed on it. I feel the same way about jokes pertaining to race/ethnicity, which are often veiled as "Well, I'm part of that race/ethnicity, so it's okay for me to say this" or "I'm part of a minority, so I can say this," and I don't always know how to feel about it.

There are jokes and comedies made about murder, dead babies, cannibalism and about pretty much just about every gross, horrific thing you can think of. Some are funny, some are not. I really think it has to do with context and delivery. It's possible that some people will find it funny and some will be offended. People have made jokes or off-the-cuff remarks about cancer to me, for example, and I've lost a close relative to cancer. Some of the jokes are still funny. I do believe that humor is a healthy approach to negative and frightening subjects; it provides a more palatable way to talk about them and open them up for discussion. I'm not condoning rape jokes, and I'm not making a judgment about the particular one discussed here, but I think that examination of greater context is always a good idea.

It was really odd and awful.

I'm surprised this is the first time I've heard somebody mention this scene. It kind of shocked me when it occurred. It would be like Shore Leave (of Venture Bros) raping Brock. It just didn't parse. I don't think that Ray is supposed to be disliked. Like Pam he is supposed to be one of the competent agents.

If the show wasn't so good it wouldn't be so out of place.

That's a perfect analogy for

That's a perfect analogy for me as I'm a fan of Venture Bros but haven't seen Archer much. I think the oddity of it hints that Garland should maybe look at the event as shattering the myth of "all rapists are obvious and mean looking" instead of perpetuating the "gay predator" myth, if the writers really wanted to show a gay predator wouldn't they build that in his character more?

I think it's hard to read it as shatter a myth with him being such a beloved character and having him ruined feels like injustice, but that may be the point. On the other hand that does lead to the notion nobody is to be trusted, especially those nice to you, which sounds within the spy genre wheelhouse. So I agree with the first half commentators that it's about rape not just gay rape, but it should be taken seriously and not just relax, I think reading it as perpetrating "gay predator" stereotype gets personal vindication on the writers ruining a loved character but also undoes any potential positive reading of the scene.

I just...don't even.

I was so expecting everyone to criticize Garland for not being harsh enough, but on a feminist website people are instead suggesting he lighten up about a distasteful rape joke? I don't understand; he made it pretty clear that he's a fan of the show. We're all allowed to be disappointed and at no point did Garland suggest we all boycott the show entirely.

For my part, I distinctly remember my own disappointment after watching that scene. Gilette was supposed to be one of the good(-ish) ones (as almost all of them are kind of shitty people, to hilarious effect)! Pam's character can similarly be tough to enjoy at times. I find her hilarious and competent and badass, but the others take so many potshots at her for her weight/appetite/appearance/lack-of-sex-life and she is portrayed as a total glutton. But I take solace in the fact that the people who are so awful to her, including Archer and his mother, are understood to be revolting, narcissistic, petty and selfish people themselves and I can enjoy the show anyway.

Keep 'em coming Garland!

Archer is not that hip

There are no black male characters in this show. The writers obviously have an oversexualized view of blacks and a counterpart to Lana would disrupt the white male power structure as he would be fair game for the all of the female characters. Im sure this is going over people's heads. So while there may seem to be a freedom of woman expression--within Pam and others--this freedom exists only within their social confines. Meanwhile the white male characters fully express their sexual freedoms--within their white social group extending out to Lana and others. The show is edgy in many areas but has a corporate plantation feel towards the white-black dynamic. And that dynamic certainly impacts the white feminist agenda whether they perceive it or not.