'Law & Order: SVU' delivers their verdict on the Daniel Tosh rape joke controversy

jonathan-silverman-svu-nbc.jpgAt what point must we hold art accountable for whatever dangerous ideas or actions it may incite? It's a question that's plagued artists and consumers of art since time immemorial -- and "Law & Order: SVU" tackled it head-on on Wednesday (Feb. 26).

In the episode, titled "Comic Perversion," "SVU" did that "ripped from the headlines" thing they do so well, taking on the 2012 controversy surrounding comedian Daniel Tosh and his ill-advised rape jokes -- making clear where the show and its writers stand on the debate that's troubled the comedy world ever since.

Standing in for Tosh in the "SVU" world is Josh Galloway (played to the sleazy hilt by Jonathan Silverman), a hack frat comedian who we meet during his set at TSU. As the drunk bros in the crowd eat up his every misogynistic word, Renee ( Skyler Day, a familiar face from last season's "Girl Dishonored" episode) and others from her S.T.A.R. (Students Together Against Rape) organization begin to heckle Josh once he segues into his icky rape jokes.

Though he doesn't lose control over the crowd as in the Tosh incident -- Here, everyone, other women included, have his back -- Josh brings Renee into his act, leading to his saying that it would be funny if she wound up raped.

This being "SVU," Renee is, of course, very nearly raped on her way home by two of the meatheads in the crowd at Galloway's show. Luckily, she's able to get away and seeks help from Sgt. Benson ( Mariska Hargitay). She insists the guys were spurred into action by Galloway's taunts. (She's right -- they basically admit as much during their thwarted assault.)

Knowing there's nothing they can do legally, but their interest piqued, Liv and the squad begin looking into Galloway, who continually reveals himself to be the ultimate creep: He strips naked in front of Liv and Nick ( Danny Pino) in his hotel room, he taunts them when they attend his show -- where he also brags about "banging one of TSU's finest trash s***s." He's a jerk, but does that make him a criminal?

However much we may wish otherwise, it, of course, does not. So, "SVU" again does what it does best and turns him into one. That girl he slept with, Carly ( Laura Slade Wiggins) -- the drunk one who taunted Renee the night prior -- she's pretty certain he raped her.

And here's where the writers step away from any reasoned discussion about where comedians must draw the line when it comes to controversial material and, instead, make their stance on Tosh and his ilk very clear. By making Galloway an out-and-out villain, it's not hard to infer how they feel.

The case against Galloway goes exactly as a habitual "SVU" would expect. He's brought to trial because of an old, dismissed rape charge, his lawyer does some epic victim-blaming by ripping Carly apart for her drunken antics that night, and he tries to defend his material on the grounds that he's a "social satirist" and not a hack creep.

Eventually, Liv proves to be the prosecution's own undoing by being tricked into admitting there's a possibility Carly was so drunk, she didn't remember consenting. However, Barba ( Raul Esparza) is still able to get Galloway to settle and become a registered sex offender for 10 years by a ridiculously dangerous stunt a dissatisfied Renee undertakes on her own. With justice sort-of served, Liv walks away from the debate and so too does the show.

But by entering the fray, what did "SVU" really say with this episode? It's obvious the writers don't support the idea that free speech ought to let Tosh and his colleagues shine a light on the most uncomfortable problems in our culture, which seems fair because, like, why should anyone joke about anything as heinous as rape?

But does a show that, in essence, uses crime against women for much of its material really have much of a leg to stand on when condemning the offending comics? Their use of the topic is hardly similar, but, in the end, "SVU" and shows of its kind are profiting from it just the same.

The questions surrounding controversial art, and the people responsible for creating it, will likely never be fully resolved. In the end, it's up to each of us to decide for ourselves what we'll tolerate. The people behind "Law & Order: SVU" sure have.

What did you think about what "SVU" had to say tonight? Which side do you fall on in this debate? Sound off in the comments below.
Photo/Video credit: NBC
SHARE IT ON: