Can Broad City Make Us Laugh at Rape Culture?
What happens when the guy you’re trying to get some with passes out during sex?
Tina Fey and Amy Poehler may have taken the first jab at rape culture at the 2015 Golden Globes ceremony with their Bill Cosby joke, “I put the pills in the people,” but it was Broad City’s Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson that took it to the next level with their dyslexic version of “consent.”
In the first episode of Broad City’s second season, “Heat,” we find Abbi and Ilana suffering through a New York summer without air conditioning. Abbi has dinner plans with a new flame, Stacy, played by Seth Rogen, who she refers to as “male Stacy.”
Spicy fajitas soon pack enough heat that the two find themselves in Abbi’s bedroom sweating even more—so much that male Stacy passes out, while Abbi finishes. Abbi recounts her sticky night to Ilana, who looks confused after she mentions that male Stacy wasn’t exactly conscious.
Ilana: So to clarify, you raped him?Abbi: No, he passed out from the heat. He seriously wanted it. Ilana: That is literally what "they" say. Abbi: Yeah but I really mean it. Ilana: So do they. Dude, did you finish? Abbi: OMG dude, I raped him. I raped Male Stacy. I'm a monster. I need an air conditioner immediately.
Whether the lack of air-conditioning or fajitas are to blame, Abbi’s night with male Stacy raises the question of what constitutes rape, and how it is easily dismissed when one might not be the victim, but the perpetrator.
High-profile cases of rape have vaulted it into the spotlight this year, making it a frequent topic of conversation from the sexual assault allegations against Bill Cosby to the botched Rolling Stone article on an alleged gang rape that took place at the University of Virginia in 2012. The take-away: men are dangerous and women are vulnerable.
But what happens when the gender roles are reversed, and the men are vulnerable and the women are dangerous?
Broad City, which is the brainchild of Glazer and Jacobson, who met during their time at the Upright Citizen’s Brigade in New York, has been praised for its “sneak-attack feminism.” And Season 2’s first episode is just that, showing off Glazer and Jacobson’s ability to play with gender hierarchies between men and women and expose how the media and society shape conversations about rape to the extent that young women, such as themselves and the characters they play, should react to real-life encounters of sexual assault.
The winsome duo are exploring rape at the ground level, upending stereotypical reactions to male on female assault, in a comical way (i.e. sweaty hairy Seth Rogen being “accidentally” raped by Abbi who is just trying to get some).
The beginning of the episode foreshadows the theme ahead, and we find Glazer and Jacobson on the metro, shuffling their way to the front of the train—in order to end up closer to the exit. They end up in a car full of Hasidic Jews who give them blank stares. Ilana, is in booty shorts—not exactly the most conservative of outfits. When the train pulls up, Ilana slaps one of the Hasidic Jews on the behind, only to realize they were on the wrong end of the train.
They’re back at square one—still sweaty and farther from their destination. This is a common theme of Broad City, and Glazer and Jacobson, often, illustrate the highs and lows of New York City living—failed attempts to cut corners in order to some silver lining or vindication.
Ilana plays to this theme at a birthday dinner for her pseudo-boyfriend, Lincoln. Imitating the self-righteous girl who sees the media as evil and Hollywood as all pornography, Ilana’s character pantomimes her reactions to the insidiousness of the Internet and Hollywood culture and how both breed sexism.
As viewers, we know Glazer is mimicking the kind of misplaced resentment that finds shelter at dinner parties, amongst people who generally hold the same high-minded liberal views. Her character is convinced that she understands the dangers of the media and Hollywood and how it creates a distorted world-view for young adults, such as herself. But, the irony is lost on her and as viewers we sense it.
As for male Stacy, there is no evidence of victim-speak on his end, and as viewers we’re unsure if he knows what exactly happened to him in the heat of the moment. Towards the end of the show, he shows up again for another romp with Abbi—this time with air conditioning, leaving the question of rape or male consent open-ended.
Glazer and Jacobson have used satire to re-shape the conversation on rape in a provocative and comical way, as well as reveal how the casual and seemingly-innocent circumstances can sometimes lead to unfortunate incidents. The verdict is still out. After all, they’re comedians, not judges, and it’s hard not to laugh at Seth Rogen passing out in a pool of sweat, reeking of chili and green peppers as Abbi gets some.