On August 14, Infinity Ward and Activision revealed that they would be adding a playable female character to Call of Duty: Ghosts, which comes out this November. For a franchise that’s been around for ten years, this may seem like a natural progression, or, if you’re like me, prompted a series of creative expletives followed by “FINALLY” and a sigh so long that I’m now 85 years old.
But, apparently, a lot of men weren’t entirely on board with this announcement. Outrage ranged from “I can’t shoot a girl! They’re all soft and defenseless, like literal babies!” to “Why do we need female characters? Most of your players are white men, and I refuse to play a game that does not EXCLUSIVELY cater to me,” to what I assume was just pounding the keyboard with a half-eaten chicken drumstick, like the neckbeard equivalent of 2001: A Space Odyssey’s opening sequence.
One response really stuck with me, though. A fan-operated twitter account, @CODGhostNews, tweeted this shortly after the announcement:
While it made me cringe so hard I needed to ice my face afterwards, what struck me was how boring it was. There is absolutely no substance behind the joke. It’s so bland and overused that I was offended by that joke way more as a comedian than as a woman. But somehow, for some reason, this joke is used constantly. Just check out the “get back to the kitchen” tag on Tumblr, or do a Google Image search for it.
Just to be clear, we are now in the year 2013, the same year that humanity started successfully curing HIV and 3D-printed a goddamn Aston Martin. I can only think of three reasons why someone might still be using the “back in the kitchen” joke. Spoiler alert: all three reasons are dumb.
“Edgy” comedy is really hard to do well. If you want to drive a car, you need to sit through a 40-hour course and get a bitter middle-aged man who inexplicably smells like coconut to sit in your car and check “satisfactory” on a plastic clipboard. Unfortunately, Monty Python’s Ministry of Silly Walks never materialized into a real legislative body so all our terrible jokes remain unregulated, putting millions of people every day at risk of hearing their coworker Steve make another “ironic” racist joke.
Since we can’t leave it to the trained professionals, here’s a simple rule to guide your forays into the art of the taboo: comedy is supposed to punch up. That is, the butt of your joke should be people with more power, and/or the people who are wrong and hurtful; your homophobic joke should be making fun of homophobes, not gay people. Does “get back in the kitchen” punch up? Does it target the systems that keep women out of positions of power, or the men (and women) who really think women belong in the kitchen? No? Then it’s not edgy, it’s awful and dumb and boring. Cut it out.
It’s Funny Because It’s True
Most comedy is rooted in a fundamental, relatable truth, and we laugh as a way to say, “That’s true! That’s a thing I recognize from my own life and experiences, and I’m grateful to have this in common with you and the people around me! Haha, I’ve ALSO observed that airplane food is generally substandard!”
Surely, some people think the kitchen joke is funny because, on some deep, horrifying level, they really do think that women should stop it with this silly job-having and get back to their primary directive of baby-making and shirt-ironing and, of course, sandwich-making. If you are one of those people, please stop commenting on youtube videos and go outside in the sunshine.
You know what’s hard? Writing jokes. You know what’s easy? Stealing jokes. This is what’s known as the Mencia Principle. And while there’s absolutely nothing wrong with not being funny, just like there’s nothing wrong with not being good at calculus or not being able to cook a good steak, some people want to be funny so badly that they’ll use other people’s jokes just for a cheap laugh. No one alive today came up with the kitchen joke; they heard it somewhere and it got a laugh, so they’re trying their own hand at it. (And if they’re using the kitchen joke, that’s probably not the only thing they have to use their own hand for. Hey-o.)
But Jesus, people. If you’re going to lean on someone else’s material, at least steal a good joke. The internet is full of them. Leave this poor, dead sexist horse alone.
Let’s make a pinkie-promise right now. Are you touching the screen with your pinkie? Good, me too. Let’s promise to never use this “joke” again. Also, let’s promise to start jogging while we’re at it. And finally take that bag of clothes down to Goodwill. Look at us, making the world a better place!
To those of you that are really, truly outraged that I’m trying to take this one thing away from you: bring it in for a hug, buddy. Sounds like you could use one.