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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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Comments

jimhines
Feb. 21st, 2011 03:56 pm (UTC)
I'm not sure I understand your second point. The internet certainly makes it easier to confront, or to complain about things that one finds offensive. What does it mean for people to be too easily offended, and how does one make that call without crossing over into "I'm going to judge what you should and shouldn't take offense to"?
(Deleted comment)
jimhines
Feb. 21st, 2011 04:40 pm (UTC)
On the other hand, if all someone sees is the "reasonable" response, there's a good chance they'll never recognize or realize how much anger and hurt their words have actually generated.

I personally get very uncomfortable with the idea that people aren't allowed to be angry, or that expressing anger puts them on the same level of acting like a jerk as the original commenter. I'm not sure if that's what you mean to say, but I think people have the right to be angry, and to express that. Does that make sense?
(Deleted comment)
trinker
Feb. 21st, 2011 06:53 pm (UTC)
Hypothetical:

Is it okay to say, "knock it the fuck off!", or must it always be, "please, I would prefer it if you would stop doing this..."

beth_bernobich
Feb. 21st, 2011 08:36 pm (UTC)
Yes.

The assumption, however innocent, is that the recipient of such clueless behavior has only a few incidents to deal with and *of course* they should be polite and quiet. Privilege never seems to take into account how many times (each day, every day) the recipient of racism and sexism has to deal with this shit. Of course they are angry!

I'm a rape survivor and I am tired of explaining. I am tired of being polite.
trinker
Feb. 21st, 2011 09:37 pm (UTC)
*nod*

I have a related discussion that I started last night in my own journal...
theotherbaldwin
Feb. 22nd, 2011 04:24 am (UTC)
Saying someone's gotta change their tone, though, actually switches the topic from the points being made to how someone is now making them. Then all of a sudden everyone is then talking about how someone is supposed to speak in order for you(that's a generalized you, no you in specific) or an assumed audience to listen, rather than talking about the points that were first raised in the first place.
ex_kaz_maho
Feb. 21st, 2011 04:53 pm (UTC)
Sorry to jump in, but I was reading this thread and I agree with Jim here:

I personally get very uncomfortable with the idea that people aren't allowed to be angry, or that expressing anger puts them on the same level of acting like a jerk as the original commenter.

In both of the possible scenarios mentioned above, the level of offence taken by the offendee could very well be exactly the same - it's the response to the offence that is different. (i.e. outward expression of anger vs. calmly putting a point across.)
peri_peteia
Feb. 21st, 2011 11:13 pm (UTC)
You're making the Tone Argument and it's an extremely fallacious one.

When someone does something offensive, to put the onus on the person who has been hurt by their actions to remain "calm" and not get angry or tear them a new one is unfair and unreasonable. One would hope -- though it's rarely true -- that the thing of primary importance to any feeling human being would be the fact that they hurt someone and need to repair that, not how nice that person is about the hurt that has been inflicted upon them.
elialshadowpine
Feb. 22nd, 2011 01:29 am (UTC)
Aside from the tone argument link that someone already posted (and please do go read it), there's also the fact that some people just will not listen, no matter how politely you word it. The most extreme example I can think of is the woman I politely argued with over her statements that men should be able to force the woman to carry to term if he wanted the baby. She could not understand why this was capital-W WRONG. I came at it from multiple angles, finally mentioning my own personal experiences and why such a thing would be traumatizing for me beyond belief, and her response was basically, "What's wrong with you!? It's a baby! How can that be like rape!? Ugh you shouldn't even call yourself a woman."

Now try dealing with that type of person again. And again. And again. And again. And sometimes, it just seems pointless to be polite when people are spouting clueless or extremist BS.
effervescent
Feb. 22nd, 2011 06:59 am (UTC)
I'd like to add that quite often, even when people do point out quite politely that someone else is being offensive, they are met with derision/ignored/told to get over it.

And there's only so often that that can happen before those people, who used to try politely, start reacting angrily instead.

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