I’ve been getting into Natasha Leggero and Riki Lindhome’s Another Period on Comedy Central. If you haven’t caught it, it’s basically Keeping up With the Kardashians if it took place in Downton Abbey. Leggero and Lindhome play turn of the century rich women who are hilariously over-the-top caricatures of wealth and privilege.
In short, it’s a raunchy reality show that mocks modern opinions of fame-hunger through the lens of a time when women couldn’t vote and class elitism was seen as a divine right. If you’ve seen any of Drunk History – created by Jeremy Konner who directs Another Period – you know what you’re getting into. In general it’s pretty great.
On the other hand there was a really, really unfunny bit about male rape last week on the episode “Divorce”.
The plot of the episode was that divorce was the new trend among society ladies and Lillian and Beatrice decide to try and get their husbands to leave them so they can share the popularity. This is all sparked by a visit from Pussy Van Anderstein (Jessica Chaffin), a popular society divorcee and sexual adventuress who comes to call under the pretense of perhaps marrying their brother Frederick (Jason Ritter). However, the first thing she does is insist on a male attendant, Garfield (Armen Weitzman). The second they are behind closed doors she forces him to the floor and rapes him over his protests.
The rest of the episode has Garfield basically crying in his room or moping about his duties in complete PTSD-mode. Rumor among the staff is that someone on the house was ravished, and when Garfield steps forward he is instantly berated because he should be honored that a woman like Van Anderstein had ravished him. This devastates him even further.
I really can’t express how not played for laughs this was nor how loooooooong it goes on in the episode. There’s not a joke attached to it anywhere; it’s just about five minutes of a man who was raped being ignored and brushed aside. No payout. No punchline. Not even a pie in the face. In fact, it’s not even really technically a joke at all. It’s just one, awkward terrible thing that happens.
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One of the things that makes Another Period run well is the fact that it can ratchet up bygone norms and attitudes for comedic effect. Watching Lillian scream that she doesn’t want the hassle of voting or getting Helen Keller drunk on cocaine wine work because they’re safe bits that feel naughty.
The thing is, though, the kind of rape Garfield undergoes isn’t an artifact like buggy whips. It’s the sort of rape that men experienced when they are raped by women now. Like in the military for instance, where position is as rigid and unassailable as that of people in service to these households. Women can use positions of power to coerce men into serving them sexually against their will, and like Garfield they have little recourse and rarely see their rapists punished.
In essence the punchline of the whole thing amounted to “let us laugh at the weak lady-boy who couldn’t fight back”. It’s punching down of a very mean sort. Another Period is best when it mocks the vapidly clueless privilege class with all the power, not by highlighting the manner in which they can use that power to escape punishment or even notice of awfulness they may do. It wasn’t funny. Not at all.