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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.



Feb. 21st, 2011 04:18 pm (UTC)
some of my words may be triggering to others, although I hope not offensive
It's curious, one of the first reactions I had to the initial tweet (just now, this was not on my internet radar at all otherwise) was, "hey, I know some people whose kink interests include hypnosis, I wonder if he'd consider sex with someone who identifies as a hypno-submissive and who's therefore already interested in having sex while hypnotized to fall under 'only with the power of my mind' or if he was thinking of something ickier, like Owen's creepy pheromone spray in Torchwood?"

And then I thought about the historical accounts of Mesmer and women's reactions to him, and wondered if he was thinking about that, too. Or Rasputin. Or Svengali.

I do like that he seems like he's trying to get it, and trying to consider his future behavior from a place of compassion. I do wish that, in addition to getting why jokes about rape contribute to a culture in which rape is too easily dismissed, he'd pick up on the nuances between "censored" and "criticized."

He's reacting a lot more thoughtfully than the PA guys, that's for sure.
Feb. 21st, 2011 04:33 pm (UTC)
Re: some of my words may be triggering to others, although I hope not offensive
Reading your comment, I had the following thoughts...

1. I hadn't realized there were people whose kink included hypnosis, though it shouldn't surprise me. Interesting.
2. I've got the first season of Torchwood, but haven't started watching yet.
3. Need to read up on Mesmer and the historical references you're talking about.

My guess -- and this is just a guess -- is that he probably wasn't thinking about it that much. It was just a "funny" comment he tossed out there, thinking it would entertain folks.
Feb. 21st, 2011 04:37 pm (UTC)
Re: some of my words may be triggering to others, although I hope not offensive
My guess -- and this is just a guess -- is that he probably wasn't thinking about it that much. It was just a "funny" comment he tossed out there, thinking it would entertain folks.

This is my guess, too. It's one of the truths of my life that I overanalyze things that weren't meant to be taken seriously. (Which also applies to #2. How concerned are you about spoilers? I can discuss it in general terms.)
Feb. 21st, 2011 04:42 pm (UTC)
Re: some of my words may be triggering to others, although I hope not offensive
Just from what you've described, I think I get the gist. I've seen that trope before, the character who has the magical ability to influence people into finding them sexually attractive or acting on their sexual urges.

It's actually something I brought up in a review of one of Jackie Kessler's books a while back. She and I had a good conversation about that.
Feb. 21st, 2011 04:48 pm (UTC)
Re: some of my words may be triggering to others, although I hope not offensive
Yeah. The gist is really all you need, except to know that the show presented it as humorous, but it had the effect of making me HATE the character, which I'm pretty certain the writers didn't intend, and it made my viewing experience somewhat strange for the rest of the narrative.
Feb. 21st, 2011 05:05 pm (UTC)
Re: some of my words may be triggering to others, although I hope not offensive

I was uncomfortable with it in Kessler's book, but she knew what she was writing, and was deliberately trying to make readers uncomfortable with the character.

Writing that sort of thing to be funny ... no. Just no.
Feb. 21st, 2011 05:48 pm (UTC)
Re: some of my words may be triggering to others, although I hope not offensive
That's the thing where it makes me have trouble interacting with the narrative the way I think the writers would have wanted; I THINK it was meant humorously, and MAYBE also to say that the character is on the unscrupulous side, but given the rest of the context I think they were going for "likable rogue," but I reacted to it so emphatically negatively that I couldn't see why the rest of the characters were tolerating him at all, let alone trusting him to the level that I perceived them trusting him. It was akin to an obvious technical error killing my suspension of disbelief, but with an extra layer of icky on top.

And it's in the first episode.
Feb. 21st, 2011 09:01 pm (UTC)
Re: some of my words may be triggering to others, although I hope not offensive
I think actually they weren't going for likable rogue, I think they really did want to make Owen a bastard. The good thing about that show was that no one was truly a "good guy," and even Owen wasn't wholly a "bad guy," but was truly an unlikable person. There's someone in every organization like him, and that creepy pheromone spray/sci-fi roofie was the direct key for us to hate him.
Feb. 21st, 2011 09:13 pm (UTC)
Re: some of my words may be triggering to others, although I hope not offensive
Maybe I'm just worse than usual at interacting with stories containing non-villain characters I hate. I'm actually used to the Ken Follett suspense-novel formula, which alternates chapters between heroes and villains, and in the villain chapters they're pretty damn sympathetic and you're sort of rooting for them, even though you KNOW you don't want them to achieve their overall goal.

I don't like hating protagonists or supporting characters to the protagonists; if I hate them, they had better be villains like Dolores Umbridge.
Feb. 22nd, 2011 03:11 am (UTC)
Re: some of my words may be triggering to others, although I hope not offensive
I'm in between. I think they wanted you to grow to dislike Owen, and realise he's a jerk through and through, but I've also seen from their responses in interviews that they didn't think it was nearly the issue it is. Also, I think different writers had different ideas how much you were meant to dislike him (The writer of Out of Time clearly wanted us to like him, or at least feel for him, the writers of other episodes clearly wanted to play him for some level of rogue, whether likeable or not.

(I admit, though, I took their word that it was meant for laughs, and not really the same as a roofie, until someone more clueful took my justifications for brushing off my own discomfort with the 'joke' to pieces.)
Feb. 22nd, 2011 03:06 pm (UTC)
Re: some of my words may be triggering to others, although I hope not offensive
I, among others, complained to the BBC about that episode of Torchwood when it first aired in the UK and the response we got made it clear that they did not believe that they were endorsing non-consensual activity. I've just found the original reply I got:

"We establish very early on in 'Torchwood' both the adult nature of the subject matter and the fictional conceit that the items used in the show - such as the pheromone spray used by Owen Harper - are alien in their nature. We feel it is made clear in the programme that the effect of the alien spray is to enhance the sex drive for both recipients which made them more attracted to each other. This is clearly shown in their performance - which is both light-hearted and demonstrates the consensual behaviour of
grown adults. In no way is the programme or the BBC condoning the actions of using real drugs to the same effect."

We then pointed out that if we had found it offensive then, going by their last sentence, they had completely failed. There were no further replies from the BBC regarding the programme. I was so disgusted with their attitude that I stopped watching it and haven't bothered with the show at all since then. I do know that, amongst my wider social circle, the episode was referred to ever after as The Rohypnol Episode and Owen became "Rohypnol Boy".
Feb. 21st, 2011 06:20 pm (UTC)
Re: some of my words may be triggering to others, although I hope not offensive
Many of those sorts of "funny" comments are actually quite revealing. People do so get annoyed when you dismantle them to their component parts, though.

Someone I knew tweeted "no man has ever been killed by his wife while doing dishes". I considered breaking down the problems with the sexist assumptions the joke A) relies on and B) doesn't do anything to challenge, but I settled for providing a counter example of a guy who had been stabbed by his wife while doing the dishes. It took less energy.
Feb. 21st, 2011 09:15 pm (UTC)
Re: some of my words may be triggering to others, although I hope not offensive
And now it's making me think of that song from "Chicago." "He ran on my knife. He ran on my knife TEN TIMES."
Feb. 22nd, 2011 12:21 pm (UTC)
some of my words may also be triggering to others, although I also hope they are not offensive
As a kinky hypnotist, my first reaction was the same as Rikibeth's.

Mesmer apparently induced orgasms in several married women he hypnotized. I haven't read enough to know whether it was intentional (hypnosis at that time involved a lot of hands passing closely over the body, which can be intimate, and always involves openness to the other person) but he was expelled from the French court for it.

As a bit of public education, you can't be made to do something you really really don't want to do under hypnosis. But inhibitions definitely go down. I don't drink and have never experienced being drunk (whereas I have been hypnotized a number of times), but I imagine hypnosis could be considered in a class with alcohol in that respect. In other words: *don't take advantage of your subject unless that has been agreed upon beforehand.* As in all bdsm, communication is the most important thing.

It's important that kinky people get space to express themselves. But we also have the responsibility to not hurt others if we present ourselves in their space. I remember back before I understood what I wanted and how to do it safely I was extremely grossed out and frightened by bdsm, and I imagine a lot of non-kinky people feel that way all the time. It's not a pleasant feeling. That is why I don't do kinky things in public except at play parties.

And yeah, I hated Owen for being a rapist too.


Jim C. Hines


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