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Penny Arcade, T. Hunt, and Rape Jokes

I want to preface this post by saying everyone messes up.  We all say things without thinking.  We say things that are hurtful, offensive, or just plain stupid.  To me, what’s important is what happens next.  Do we try to listen and understand and decide whether or not to be more mindful in the future?  Do we get defensive?  Do we go on the attack?

Last week, Tarol Hunt (creator of the Goblins webcomic) posted on Twitter:

I’ve gotten laid before, but I’ve never gotten laid using only the power of hypnosis. But one day I will. Oh yes, I will.

As most anyone could have predicted, there was backlash to the idea — even in jest – that gosh, wouldn’t it be nice to have sex without having to worry about that silly old consent business?  Because a disgusting number of people genuinely believe consent is nothing but an obstacle to be overcome by any means necessary.

Hunt followed up by explaining how it was just a joke, and you can’t really hypnotize someone to force them to have sex against their will.  Also, “…hypnosis + sex = rape. This is true in the same way that killing NPCs in WoW = murder.

My clueless.  Let me show you it.

The thing is, pretty much everyone got that this was meant as a joke.  I don’t think anyone believed Hunt was seriously planning to become a hypnorapist.  The fact that it’s a joke isn’t the point.

From what I can tell, he did start listening and trying to understand.  He apologized to anyone he offended in a blog post a few days later, and acknowledged that he was being insensitive.  But he also kept up the defensive “no person on the planet has ever been forced into sex via hypnosis” bit, and brought up questions like why his hypnosis joke was triggering but not the rapist character from his comic?  (Answer: the rapist character doesn’t make rape into a joke, or feed into the attitude that consent is an irksome obstacle to be overcome.)

His second blog post suggests, to me, that he’s working on it.  He’s still stumbling, but I think he’s trying to listen and understand.

Penny Arcade posted a comic last August in which they referenced slaves “being raped to sleep by Dickwolves.”  Once again, there was backlash.  Once again, the immediate response was, “It’s just a joke,” with an added helping of “You’re stupid to be offended” as seen in their follow-up comic: It’s possible you read our cartoon and became a rapist as a direct result…

They didn’t get it.  Unlike Hunt, Penny Arcade had zero interest in understanding why people were upset.  Instead, they promptly turned around and began selling Dickwolves T-shirts and pennants.  Essentially, they declared open season on those who felt offended by humor about rape, and their supporters gleefully jumped into the fray.

Folks like TeamRape on Twitter were upset that the mean people were trying to censor Penny Arcade’s Freedom of Speech.  (A PA blog post notes that this is bullshit.  “[S]he is not censoring us, she has not stripped away our freedom of speech.”)  DickWolvington (account now deleted) attacked rape survivors, demanding proof they were really raped.  PA continued to make a joke of it all, on Twitter and elsewhere.  There’s more.  Timeline here if you’re interested.

I don’t believe PA intended to offend or hurt anyone with the original comic.  But once people began saying, “Hey, this isn’t cool,” PA’s response was a big old “Fuck you.”  Having been told that people were upset by the comic, PA deliberately set out to do it again.

Everyone messes up.  Everyone, sooner or later, says something that offends another person.  When that happens, you have choices.  You can assume that person is an idiot who just likes being offended, and mock them for it.  Or you can try to listen and understand why this person took offense.  Maybe you’ll agree with them, maybe you won’t.

Personally, I find Hunt’s “joke” more distasteful than PA’s original comic.  But PA’s response has been despicable, ignorant, and deliberately hurtful.

If you’re talking about rape, even as a joke, and someone confronts you about it, you might consider:

To Penny Arcade, I say no, your comic did not magically transform readers into rapists.  But your actions did encourage people to mock and disbelieve rape survivors.  You encouraged people to joke about rape, about the concerns of people who have been raped and people fighting to end it.  You belittled people who are damn tired of rape being treated as nothing but a joke.

Thanks for making things that much harder for rape survivors, and for those of us doing our damnedest to try to put an end to rape.

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.

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( 175 comments — Leave a comment )
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graymary
Feb. 22nd, 2011 01:04 am (UTC)
long time reader of PA -- long, long time. a lot of our injokes around the house are PA jokes. but this busted me up. i was so /furious/, and upset, and -- all sorts of things. it really drove home just how clueless people can be. it really showed me how callous people can be -- people are suppose to BE like me.

at some point one of the pro-Dickwolf side reported someone's rape for her. and it was just awful awful awful.

so this post, the fact you weighed in -- amazing. thank you. how cool are you.
jimhines
Feb. 22nd, 2011 04:04 pm (UTC)
"...at some point one of the pro-Dickwolf side reported someone's rape for her."

I missed that. Dear God. Way to strip control away from someone working on recovering from being raped. Ugh...
(no subject) - sylvanstargazer - Feb. 22nd, 2011 04:51 pm (UTC) - Expand
(Anonymous)
Feb. 22nd, 2011 02:53 pm (UTC)
Social Priorities
"But your actions did encourage people to mock and disbelieve rape survivors. You encouraged people to joke about rape, about the concerns of people who have been raped and people fighting to end it."

It's odd how many people are unable to comprehend the awfulness of rape. It's almost as if the act is SO horrible that people's minds just can't encompass it.

Still, I haven't heard anyone make a joke about the Holocaust for a long, long time. Some things are just not fit subjects for humour. Eventually, God willing, the same will be true for rape.

notphil
Feb. 22nd, 2011 03:06 pm (UTC)
This whole PA thing has just been a disaster, and I've found it very upsetting to discover that people whose work I generally enjoy and who I admired for their charity work and their efforts toward making an inclusive, welcoming gaming convention that I hoped to attend someday have now essentially put up signs saying "but you are not welcome in this community." What bothered me the most in all of this was the PA creators denying the existence of rape culture after watching their supporters publicly attack rape survivors as though demanding that a rape survivor furnish them with proof of his/her own rape wasn't an utterly reprehensible thing to do. If that isn't rape culture at work, then I don't know what is.

Thanks very much for your weigh-in on this. I have a lot of respect for you, and it really means a lot to me to see you addressing this so thoughtfully.
atdt1991
Feb. 22nd, 2011 03:39 pm (UTC)
I continue to think that their original comic used rape 'humor' in a way that is appropriate (believing that it is possible) - they were using it to highlight the absurd lack of morality of most player characters in MMO video games, where you save some people, but not others. Torture of NPCs does happen, and we do save some but not all NPCs, but that is "good enough" for the game. The fact that they were "raped to sleep by dickwolves" instead of just raped seems to be something people focus on, and I am not entirely sure why it makes a difference (though I see it does). It's supposed to be funny, and I think the dickwolves are supposed to mitigate the rape comment, but it is also a valid criticism (similar to Daily Show criticism-through-comedy) of certain kinds of gaming.

The first strip can be misunderstood, and whether misunderstood or not, can be triggering, but I believe it supports the same things that anti-rape people are in support of, including heros who are not rewarded for ignoring the suffering of others.

Everything they have done beyond the first comic strip, I heavily disagree with, and I think it was a foolish reflex of theirs that cost them a great deal of good will, myself included.
bearpaw9
Feb. 23rd, 2011 05:58 pm (UTC)
** The fact that they were "raped to sleep by dickwolves" instead of just raped seems to be something people focus on**

Yeah. I think you spotted the center of the first controversy.

I think we get some divergence on the interpretation of this phrase because for people who are more aware of the horrors of rape, a little thought shows that being raped to sleep would take a long time. People who find rape more abstract and impersonal (due to lesser exposure to it), might just roll right past that sentence, without dwelling.

And now for more dwelling...

Complete the following phrases with the most common idea that comes to mind (like on Family Feud).

"_____ed to sleep"

and

"raped to _____"

My brain connects "____ to sleep" with rocked to sleep. I connect "raped to _____" with raped to death</u". Because of the dissonance in my mind between "rocked to sleep" and "raped to death", I find the phrase "raped to sleep" pretty disturbing. I understand that other people's mileage may vary. I would ask them to understand that sometimes people have different interpretations. Mine isn't automatically wrong, and for damn sure I don't think "you" (generic PA fan) are always automatically right. In the matter of opinions, opinions vary.
(no subject) - atdt1991 - Feb. 23rd, 2011 06:22 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Feb. 23rd, 2011 06:34 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - atdt1991 - Feb. 23rd, 2011 06:47 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Feb. 23rd, 2011 07:30 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - atdt1991 - Feb. 23rd, 2011 07:42 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Feb. 23rd, 2011 07:47 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - atdt1991 - Feb. 23rd, 2011 08:29 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - bearpaw9 - Feb. 23rd, 2011 06:46 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - atdt1991 - Feb. 23rd, 2011 06:47 pm (UTC) - Expand
kmarkhoover
Feb. 22nd, 2011 04:25 pm (UTC)
I like Hunt's work on Goblins, and have even linked his comic to my LJ. But I was very sorry to hear about this. :(
genarti
Feb. 22nd, 2011 09:35 pm (UTC)
You continue to be a reasonable voice, and I respect and appreciate that a lot.

And I entirely agree with what you've said here. There are jokes it's in poor and offensive taste to make, but once you've made one of those (especially if you don't realize it at the time, and have to have it pointed out to you), there are good and bad ways to go about reacting to it. Everyone's learning experiences come with some stumbles and mistakes, no matter what it is they need to learn, but actually, genuinely trying to learn counts for a lot. Not everything, but still, a lot. Actively refusing to learn, apologize, or take other people's feelings into consideration while continuing to disagree -- well, that counts for a lot too, but in the opposite direction.
(Deleted comment)
jimhines
Feb. 23rd, 2011 01:29 pm (UTC)
comrade_cat goes into the scenario a bit more in the comments upstream, at http://jimhines.livejournal.com/556143.html?thread=14294895#t14294895
a_proxy_for_my_thoughts [yahoo.com]
Feb. 23rd, 2011 05:23 pm (UTC)
The boat is over there...
Jim, I appreciate your article. At one point I agreed with you, but I later came to understand that I, like you, had made some big, big mistakes in analyzing what PA did:

1) This happened on the internet, which is a MANY TO MANY place.

2) You can't honestly judge or discuss PA's actions without addressing the actions they were responding to.

Others have made more detailed timelines, but I'll break it down for you:

a) PA put out a comic
b) They got responses from MANY people.
c) They responded to SOME of those people directly (we don't have this correspondence, but we have a few quotes out of context from both sides)
d) They got more responses in reply.
e) They made a 2nd comic in response to SOME people
e.1) They didn't need to misunderstand rape culture to make this comic
e.2) They had been accused of "Contributing to rape culture (which they didn't do) which leads to more rape"
e.3) When someone says A => B and then accuses you of A, it's not ignorant to say "I did not do B"
e.4) Again, people had accused them of 'encouraging rapists'.
f) Mike went over to shakesville to try to engage. It was a shitfest, first on shakesville's side, and then he got sarcastic.
g) MORE people see Mike's comic and misinterpret it.

Let me make this clear: you say that Mike and Jerryr "had zero interest in understanding why people were upset"

That's bullshit. They understood. The people who were upset were wrong.

Period. The end. They were wrong. They were wrong about the comic being a part of rape culture. They were wrong in the way they used the term rape culture. They were wrong in saying that you can't address topics like rape or murder in humor.

So Mike and Jerry gave them the same treatment they gave everyone else who has been so wrong: they made fun of them.

They made a comic aimed at the most idiotic of their detractors. It's pretty damn clear that that's what it was. Other people said "oh, what a bunch of ignorant assholes! They' don't get it!"

They got it. They weren't talking to you.

Then mike made a crack on trigger warnings. Honestly, I think that was stupid. There's no relevant context there. It's actually the kind of thing that DOES marginalize victims, though I don't think that was his intent.

Then he made a t-shirt that "declared open season on those who felt offended by humor about rape, and their supporters gleefully jumped into the fray."

My question to you is, so what? So Mike can't encourage people to fight against that brand of ignorance? It's perfectly clear to anyone who considers the evidence for 5 minutes that the shirt is not about saying "rapists are OK".

You say that "If you’re talking about rape, even as a joke, and someone confronts you about it, you might consider..."

And then what? OK, I've considered all that. I'm still going to make satire about rape. I'm still going to make this comic. Aaaaaand....?

"PA’s response has been despicable, ignorant, and deliberately hurtful."

Despicable? no. Deliberately hurtful? I guess. They mocked people they thought were ignorant and wrong. They meant to hurt their feelings. And?

Ignorant? Not nearly as ignorant as you appear in this article. You don't even address the many-to-many issue of posting on the internet, which is a central part of this debacle. You don't acknowledge that Mike and Jerry communicated with their detractors. Jerry even explained in plain English that he tried to understand where they were coming from, and determined that his world view and theirs were just too incompatible (he was right).

So, Jim. You were ignorant. You misrepresented events and motives. What are YOU going to do about it?
jimhines
Feb. 23rd, 2011 06:08 pm (UTC)
Re: The boat is over there...
"You don't even address the many-to-many issue of posting on the internet..."

I don't even know what that means. Yes, I get that they weren't talking directly to me. I'm not sure what your point is. Am I only allowed to respond if addressed directly? Or is it that I'm only allowed to respond if I read each and every post, by everyone remotely involved, so that I'm sure to have 100% of the context?

"My question to you is, so what? So Mike can't encourage people to fight against that brand of ignorance?"

He has the right to say whatever he likes. Where did anyone say he wasn't allowed to do that? He's allowed to sell his shirts. Of course, I'm also allowed to say that I believe it's a dick move, no pun intended.

"What are YOU going to do about it?"

I read your comment and responded. I thought about what you're saying, and decided I didn't agree with you. I'm going to point out that it's the height of arrogance for you to judge who has the right to be upset and who doesn't. And then I'm going to walk away.

Edited at 2011-02-23 06:08 pm (UTC)
Re: The boat is over there... - jimhines - Feb. 23rd, 2011 07:15 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: The boat is over there... - effervescent - Feb. 23rd, 2011 07:51 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: The boat is over there... - jimhines - Feb. 23rd, 2011 08:07 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: The boat is over there... - effervescent - Feb. 23rd, 2011 08:15 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: The boat is over there... - jimhines - Feb. 23rd, 2011 07:56 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: The boat is over there... - jimhines - Feb. 23rd, 2011 07:58 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: The boat is over there... - jimhines - Feb. 23rd, 2011 08:52 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: The boat is over there... - bearpaw9 - Feb. 23rd, 2011 09:36 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: The boat is over there... - (Anonymous) - Feb. 23rd, 2011 06:53 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: The boat is over there... - ladenedge [google.com] - Feb. 27th, 2011 01:45 am (UTC) - Expand
https://me.yahoo.com/a/HZgb_OAak_u1VT7cdyknU2QIKTPeZQ--#4dda7
Feb. 23rd, 2011 05:57 pm (UTC)
"But your actions did encourage people to mock and disbelieve rape survivors. You encouraged people to joke about rape, about the concerns of people who have been raped and people fighting to end it."

And why do they matter more than ALL the other vocal minority advocacy groups? Do you have any idea how many there are covering how many subjects?

You can't just ignorantly home in one one subject and consider it off limits, doing so would trivialize every other group, only fair way is to ban all or nothing, which would leave everyone unoffended yet severely restricted.

If you think a judge is going to throw out a rape case on the grounds that a rape joke convinced him rape isn't serious, you have no idea how the legal system works.
jimhines
Feb. 23rd, 2011 06:10 pm (UTC)
"And why do they matter more than ALL the other vocal minority advocacy groups? Do you have any idea how many there are covering how many subjects?"

I have no idea what point you're trying to make. Who said that rape survivors mattered more than ALL other advocacy groups? Why is it relevant exactly how many advocacy groups there are?

"You can't just ignorantly home in one one subject and consider it off limits..."

Huh? Wait, what's off limits? Please tell me you're not trying to make the tired old "You're censoring us!" argument here.

I have no idea what you're trying to say with this comment.
(Anonymous)
Feb. 24th, 2011 12:55 am (UTC)
Penny Arcade might actually 'get it'
I've seen a lot of people on the internet talking about Penny Arcade "not getting it" (I've been following this thing pretty closely) and I want to offer up the following alternative:

Assume, for the moment, that they do "get it." That Penny Arcade understands that rape is a real, horrible thing. That mention of rape can trigger some people. That some people find jokes about rape offensive, no matter how rape was treated in the joke. Now assume Penny Arcade makes the same two comic strips - how do we make sense of this?

Maybe, even though they know people get triggered by the very mention of the word rape, they don't think this is enough to avoid ever mentioning the subject. Triggers come in infinite variety (I once triggered my boss by mentioning magic markers) and it's impossible to take responsibility for every possible response someone might have to your comic (it's possible, for example, that a rape victim, somewhere, somewhen, has been triggered by Family Circus).

The first Penny Arcade comic did not make light of rape - it did not present it in a context where there was any doubt whether they could be condoning the behavior; in fact, the joke doesn't work unless you think rape is a terrible crime. They were still accused of supporting a rape culture. So maybe, the second comic was not directed at people who were offended by the first, but only at people who felt that the first condone, normalized, or trivialized rape, and helped create a society where etc etc, see definition of rape culture.

Now, they've heard similar things before. They've heard that videogames (and a number of their comics) desensitize us to violence. That they normalize, condone, even condition violence. And they reject that argument outright (doesn't matter what you think of the argument, just know that they reject it.) So, they hear exactly the same argument being made about rape culture, and they reject that argument just as strongly as they reject the first. They take the views of the group that says that any joke that mentions rape supports a rape culture, and they exaggerate those views to mock them, in comic strip form.

Why does this situation need to be about Penny Arcade not understanding the concerns of rape victims, or mocking rape victims? Why can't it be the situation outlined above? I know that if someone said to me that I, by reading that comic, had helped support a rape culture, I, as a feminist, would react much like Gabe did on twitter ("of course I know what Rape Culture is. Saw them once live. Mostly covers but a few new songs.") This would not decrease my empathy towards rape survivors, but I don't believe that because something is horrible that means all jokes about it are off limits forever (I heard some fantastic Holocaust jokes from a Holocaust Survivors conference once - I'd love to tell them to you sometime.)
(Anonymous)
Feb. 24th, 2011 12:56 am (UTC)
Re: Penny Arcade might actually 'get it'
Sorry, forgot to sign this post. My name is Kai Samuelsen.
Re: Penny Arcade might actually 'get it' - jimhines - Feb. 24th, 2011 01:11 am (UTC) - Expand
(Anonymous)
Feb. 24th, 2011 08:13 pm (UTC)
Gabe and Tycho were being bullied from the get-go.
For all the talk of Gabe and Tycho’s responses to this issue being insensitive, there has been some zealous effort put into ignoring and even completely denying the remote possibility (read: actual set of circumstances) that Gabe and Tycho were being bullied by Internet trolls from the very moment they posted the comic “The Sixth Slave." They’ve been attacked by bullying Internet trolls before, and the “blow them off with a sarcastic response that shows them and everyone else just how ridiculous their claims are” methodology has always worked before. The sad thing is that in this specific case, the bullies attacking Gabe and Tycho get to hide behind a big old shield (which they did) by saying “we’re rape survivors, by disagreeing with us you’re persecuting rape victims!” And it worked. Half the goddamned Internet threw a hissy fit and descended on Gabe and Tycho to extract vengeance for those guys standing up to bullies.

Now we’re at a point where some of these groups who jumped on the “crucify Gabe and Tycho” bandwagon have gotten apology and gracious gesture after apology and gracious gesture, and nothing the guys from Penny Arcade do seems to be good enough. Enough is enough – the spate is over, just let it die already. The individuals still demanding more humility and seeking to extort more gestures of good will and even specific sums of money before “granting” forgiveness need to realize that they are swiftly becoming the villains of this story.
(Anonymous)
Feb. 27th, 2011 10:33 pm (UTC)
Re: Gabe and Tycho were being bullied from the get-go.
"specific sums of money" -- citation needed, my good sir. Where did someone try to extort money from them? (An "I would need to see them donate in good faith to X Y or Z charity" doesn't count. Go look up what extort means, if you think that's extortion.)

I don't see any gracious gestures--show me those, too, because all I saw was the middle finger being given, and a tacit okay to pile onto people's blogs and troll them.
Re: Gabe and Tycho were being bullied from the get-go. - (Anonymous) - Feb. 28th, 2011 07:34 pm (UTC) - Expand
ravensilver
Mar. 6th, 2011 08:43 pm (UTC)
Coming in a little late on this, mostly because I couldn't find the post that I was looking for.

Took me ages, but I finally stumbled over it again:

http://shakespearessister.blogspot.com/2009/10/rape-culture-101.html

I don't know whether you've seen this before, but I think it's definitely worth reading and thinking about. It's right in line with your post(s) about rape.
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