I’m gonna do this thing where I’m not going to tell you what I’m writing about or why I’m writing it and if you’re up on current events or follow the news or read the trending topics at Twitter every morning, you’ll know what I’m writing about and why. I feel that further mentioning what I’m writing about would only draw more attention to something that has already been adequately dealt with and addressed by those involved. My best wishes go out to all who need them. However, this is still going to be a Joe-Deals-With-Awkward-Subject-Matter post, so if you need to back out from a discussion of this nature, please do so. It’s your prerogative and I will not be blamed for discussing sensitive issues.

I listen to horrorcore. Horrorcore is a subgenre of hip hop that takes the standard themes of self-aggrandizement and quick rhymes and turns them in a dark direction. It focuses primarily on violence, assault, battery, gunplay; imagery focused on gore, copious amounts of blood, bile, other bodily fluids and substances; sexual violence, sexual assault, male-on-male sexual assault, male-on-female sexual assault. Tallies are kept of murders, assaults and rapes. Sure, it sounds like the world’s most deplorable genre of music–so were the blues when they came out. They said things that are as or more violent than the very worst of horrorcore’s MCs.

The world we live in today is one where referring to sexual assault in any way with less than the utmost sincerity and solemnity “trivializes” it. As a boy going to university for the first time, I was put through two separate sensitivity seminars. One was for LGBT issues, and involved a lot of being told that gay people exist and that calling people gay as an insult was insensitive. I listened to that one, and heard what it was telling me. Can I say I have a lot of gay/queer/all-that-jazz friends without sounding like a racist who’s been called out? I respect them as human beings because they’re decent people, not because they’re gay.

The other seminar we were put through was a sexual assault seminar. It was one of the most painfully awkward and shaming experiences I’ve been through as a man, yet I know it holds no candle to the real thing. We were told that we used rape as a verb to refer to any unpleasant experience–that our last exams raped us and the Leafs totally raped the other team last night. We were told that this was who we are and that we needed to change. I’m not going to say I’d never said that before that seminar. I’ll say that to this day, I’ve never said that. It’s classless, and it indeed trivializes sexual assault. What does not trivialize sexual assault is its use in horrorcore hip hop or stand-up comedy.

George Carlin, a man who is a lot smarter than I likely give him credit, said that anything is funny. Anything at all anywhere at any time can be funny, as long as you emphasize the correct parts of it. He demonstrated this with, coincidentally, rape. I paraphrase: “It’s all in how you tell the joke. Watch. I read a story earlier this week about a young gang-banger who broke into the home of an 80 year old woman, stole all of her jewelery and valuables, and then raped her repeatedly. And all I could think when I heard this was ‘what kind of a social life does this guy have?!'” His delivery: impossible to replicate in text; funny. Very funny. He continues expressing wonderment at how sick and twisted someone would have to be to do that for any reason.

People I know would tell me that bit trivializes sexual assault. I disagree. It’s definitely humour derived from the fact that a sexual assault occurred. But to trivialize the assault itself would be to say, for instance, that the rapist then went on to have a cup of tea and live a normal day. Equally humourous, depending on your tastes, but definitely humour derived from downplaying sexual assault. Horrorcore, in this way, has sort of a zig-zagging stance on rape. Occasionally, rappers compare fictional statistics on the number of sexual assaults they’ve committed–the narrator himself has trivialized sexual assault and now uses it solely for self-aggrandizement.

However, where I’d argue sexual assault is not trivialized is in the long, detailed, horrific depictions in song. To say that music like horrorcore trivializes rape is to say that Lord of War trivializes arms dealing. It’s a frank depiction where the skill in it can be discerned easily if you’re capable of enduring it. It has more singularity and passion than all of the Southern state crunk can muster. A murder ballad such as “Kim” by Eminem delivers a blistering intensity unmatched in the rest of hip hop as a movement. Certainly it’s not blistering intensity directed toward women’s rights, but it is artistically valid. An exploration of the darker side of the male psyche is more valid than a thousand Waka Flockas.

The 21st century has left masculinity in a difficult place. I’ve heard stories of men’s group therapy where they reveal feelings of deep angst and rage toward every human being in their life. Wives, mothers, brothers, sisters, fathers, friends. Deep, inconsolable rage and feelings of endless futility. Where art is useful is in providing a safe, accepted outlet for these thoughts and feelings. However, art occasionally comes under fire for encouraging these things. Songs about violence only encourage more violence and songs about rape only encourage more rape. I don’t think that’s true. A violent society or a misogynist society encourages these things, but not frank depictions of these in songs. Fiction is fiction and it’s shown a remarkable ability to stay where it is, at least among the artists themselves.

Do I believe that? Truth is, I don’t even know. This is a troubling and confusing issue and I don’t know exactly where I stand on it. We can all agree that the problem with sexual assault is our society. We’ve built a society on shaming women for being related to sex in any way; this includes as being victims of sexual assault. What would go a far longer way to reducing sexual assault in our society is if the targets of these attacks spoke up. I’ve spoken with more sexual assault survivors in my life than I feel comfortable admitting to, and if they all told everyone they knew that they’d been assaulted–if they filed police reports–if they refused to be ashamed and stood for themselves, the fabric of our society would change. The music wouldn’t, because fiction is fiction and it stays where it is.

Which came first: the chicken or the egg? Was it the music that birthed the society or the society that produced the music? I just don’t know.

Stay strong, my friends.