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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 06:45 pm (UTC)
I'm not sure if anyone's mentioned this, but the initial joke of the strip from PA wasn't just rape, but that type of quest gamers get where they must rescue a required number of NPC from horrible situations (like genecide, slavery ect), but once that number is reached the quest is done. You are expected to leave behind countless (regenerating) NPCs who are, within the reality of the game, going to suffer the horrible situation forever. Or until another player comes to rescue the same arbitrary number. Yes, the phrase "raped to sleep by Dickwolves" is particularly graphic and can be triggery, but so is the visual cue of subterranian slavery. Is PA endorsing slavery? no. Nor were they endorsing, or making an explicit joke about rape. It's about the moral ambiguity that occurs to the thinking gamer. "Wait so I'm to risk life, limb and hours of my precious time to rescue 15 Gnome Slaves, but once that number is reached I can leave? ...Something is wrong here."
I admit they handled the reaction badly, but you're forgetting that they apologized and explained themselves months ago! And were v respectful to fans when it was brought up at cons. The actions of a few vile human beings can only tangentially be connected to them, and that's like saying the someone burning the house of hunter down is b/c the ASAPCA's sad commercials about animal abuse.
I think to two dudes who are on the "moderate" spectrum of Gamer Dudes in their politics and social awareness being attacked for endorsing rape in a stripe that points out the inherent problems in Rescue Quests triggered their snark. Hell this topic triggers my snark. Yes we live in a rape culture. It is a vile awful problem endemic throughout the world, but it's not because of this webcomic strip and it's not because of these guys.
I'm not dismissing or handwaving anyone's opinions or genuine reactions to this topic or comic strip. But I think many are interrogating the text from the wrong perspective. People hear "Popular webcomic Penny Arcade made a JOKE ABOUT RAPE and now we're protesting them. See the offensive strip here!" and look at the strip with their minds already made up about it's topic and content.
Feb. 21st, 2011 06:51 pm (UTC)
I'm not forgetting. However, I haven't come across any apology from PA. I have, on the other hand, come across a number of rather insulting "explanations" as to why people are wrong and/or stupid to be offended by their joke.

"The actions of a few vile human beings can only tangentially be connected to them..."

I don't believe PA is directly responsible for the actions of their fans. But PA modeled a response in which they were insulting and dismissive, and their fans/followers ran with that.

Your analogy might work better if the ASAPCA was out burning down houses and said, "Hey, come join us, guys!" PA's followers were engaging in the same sort of behavior that PA themselves were.

"I'm not dismissing or handwaving anyone's opinions or genuine reactions to this topic or comic strip."

You kind of are. I know perfectly well what the strip was about. I read it a number of times, I get the joke, and hell, I even appreciate the humor of what they were pointing out. Whatever I think of the unnecessary addition of raping dickwolves to the comic, I stand by my concluding statements about their actions.
Feb. 21st, 2011 07:24 pm (UTC)
Alright I can't control how someone takes me comment, but I can say "It is not my intention to..."

See because I've heard of many examples of the authors being rather embarrassed by the whole situation. Of course I don't read PA regularily because I'm not a hardcore gamer anymore and many of the jokes fly over my head, so maybe I've missed their more shocking and jerky reactions.
Okay if the strip featured the actual "rape by dickwolves" then yeah my analogy would be pretty weak. But it wasn't. It was one spoken example of the awful life, amongst several, lived by the Gnome slaves or whatever they were. They did not actually rape anyone, or depict anyone being raped.

Aside from the Shirt (which was stupid and mean and retracted quickly after being created) no rape-victim-baiting has actually been perpetrated by these guys. And while the shirt was classless, the "Here's why you're dumb for being offended" is them just, in their opinion, poking the Trolls. Which is like 90% of they as well as the entire Geek/fan population on the internet do with their time.

How about this: in the joke, the increase in awful abuse suffered by the Gnome Slaves until the final beat "raped to sleep by Dickwolves" shows that they aren't minimizing Rape, but recognizing that it is the worst possible thing to a person could suffer. That's how I read it, and I think that's how it was meant (ego not with standing). The flip response by the Quester is suppose to annoy and offend.
Feb. 21st, 2011 08:58 pm (UTC)
You're continuing to try to explain and defend the strip. I don't mean to be rude, but I don't care. The strip itself is not the focus of my frustration. As I wrote in the initial post, I found Hunt's original "joke" more offensive than the PA strip. It's the follow-up that I find rather disgusting.

"Aside from the Shirt (which was stupid and mean and retracted quickly after being created) no rape-victim-baiting has actually been perpetrated by these guys."

(no subject) - cat_eyed_fox - Feb. 21st, 2011 10:31 pm (UTC) - Expand
Feb. 22nd, 2011 04:33 pm (UTC)
I don't know whether you'd call it an apology or not, but the last post here is a bit of an explanation.

I think he makes a few valid points (even if there is no apology), including that people should not make presumptions about -his- experiences, to which I read "Don't think you know what my experiences with rape are, or that you know how people should express themselves regarding this experiences". I am leery of speculating myself, but it leaves the door open to the idea that we presume to know who they are and where they're coming from, as if seeing their comics every other day for a decade tells us their personal history or perspective.

While that's a little far afield from the strips and the commentary about them, I think you can see where he's coming from there.

He also, at least, tells the people who are abusing others in their name to knock it the hell off. So there's that.

(To repeat what I said in my comment, I am unhappy and disappointed in them for their various reactions since the original comment, and do not want to sound defensive of them as I am trying to clarify the facts of the matter).
Feb. 21st, 2011 07:37 pm (UTC)
Very sorry to butt in, but when you say they apologized, are you talking about the "apology" they did in a strip? Or did they actually make a real apology somewhere? I find the web of links a little difficult to navigate.
Feb. 21st, 2011 07:51 pm (UTC)
I'm okay w/ people butting in. I'm just glad you're not yelling at me.
I read it about a month ago, but it wasn't a strip apology, but like a blog post from a few months ago after someone confronted them at a con. I think? Like I said it was a while ago. If I remember correctly, it seemed genuine, although w/ the level of sarcasm and snark in their general discourse it's hard to tell.
Feb. 22nd, 2011 01:07 pm (UTC)
I can't find it. It's a shame. I was honestly hoping there was something before the earlier-this-month sort-of apology prompted when someone posted something threatening about their families. At this point its too late to salvage them for a lot of people, but it would be nice if they demonstrated they actually understood what they did wrong.

(For what it's worth, Tycho at least seemed sincere, if still uninformed earlier this month. But if they think threats are bad, they probably should have come to this conclusion over that time when the threats were being aimed at their opponents.)
Feb. 21st, 2011 08:54 pm (UTC)
I don't think it was the initial joke or even the half-assed "apology" that's put the PA guys at the top of the asshole hit parade, but the fact that they and their fans have made it very clear that they're not gonna let any whiny rape survivors be the boss of them; wearing their dickwolves T-shirts proudly is much more important than maybe shutting up about the whole thing.
Feb. 21st, 2011 10:19 pm (UTC)
Agreed the Tshirt was douchey and childish, but they existed for like 2 days before their sense of decency kicked in they took them down. Of course the .05% of the real world population who knows what that T shirt is in reference to, and would be offended by it might never see them. I haven't. Have you?
I can't imagine what I would be if I had been raped. I understand that things can be triggery that know one would think are. Clearly this comicstrip has hit on some public nerve and resulted in some great conversations about rape culture. But it was literally months ago, and I honestly want to know what the guys could do, say, that would appease the masses. Is there an emoticon that says "no seriously this time I'm super sorry. Seriously"?
Feb. 21st, 2011 10:32 pm (UTC)
I'd be more convinced that it was their sense of decency if they and their fans weren't bragging that they'll be wearing the t-shirts at the con.

As for what they could do now, an apology without weaseling, equivocating, or mealy-mouthing would probably help. But why should "the masses" be appeased? They screwed up. Even if they were genuinely, sincerely sorry (I'm skeptical), forgiveness isn't a right or an obligation. They pissed a lot of people off -- let them suffer the consequences. (Which is, what, people saying bad things about them on the internet? Boohoo.)
(no subject) - cat_eyed_fox - Feb. 21st, 2011 10:52 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - inverarity - Feb. 21st, 2011 10:56 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - effervescent - Feb. 22nd, 2011 07:06 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - lissibith - Feb. 22nd, 2011 12:56 pm (UTC) - Expand
Feb. 21st, 2011 10:45 pm (UTC)
Agreed the Tshirt was douchey and childish, but they existed for like 2 days before their sense of decency kicked in they took them down.

Can you back up that "for like 2 days" assertion, please? As far as I know, they were for sale for nearly four months.
(no subject) - jimhines - Feb. 21st, 2011 10:45 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - deire - Feb. 22nd, 2011 01:02 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - elialshadowpine - Feb. 22nd, 2011 01:50 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - atdt1991 - Feb. 22nd, 2011 04:45 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - theotherbaldwin - Feb. 22nd, 2011 04:30 am (UTC) - Expand
Feb. 22nd, 2011 04:54 am (UTC)
There really isn't a polite way to say this.

Having read this entire sub-thread, what you are engaging in here is either mansplaining or a damn good imitation of it. A polite reminder about the First Rule of Holes would seem to be in order.
Feb. 22nd, 2011 05:19 pm (UTC)
The thing is, the initial protest was primarily just Shakesville. A few people on gaming-related blogs pointed out how this was a manifestation of an ongoing issue, and also how the comic could have been turned into pure satire (because "raped to sleep by dickwolves" is not actually out of the realm of "things that might happen in a video game"; it is basically how one of the Dragon Age bosses is formed, after all), but the only people who were really upset were people who don't care about video games and only care about the prevalence and unremarkablility of this type of behavior. It is like Brad DeLong pointing out that a newspaper is repeating Republican talking points without bothering to fact check; it's not like he thinks those journalists are terrible people.

That is to say, if PA had just ignored it, instead of deciding it was super-cool and edgy to troll rape survivors, none of this would have happened. The original comic is so beside the point as to be comical. Talking about whether or not the strip is offensive is at this point just a derailing tactic; the old green tie approach.
Feb. 22nd, 2011 06:47 pm (UTC)
You're exactly right. Somehow my desire to provide an alternate view about the proceedings has ended up with me being a derailing jerk. It wasn't my intention, although I'm entirely responsible for being a shitty, uninformed debater (the T-shirt thing particularly). I was trying to present the context, as I see it, of the strip (not being a rape-joke but a joke about Video Games with the word rape in it), and therefore explain Gabe and Tycho's reaction to the complaints, but only managed to be that person everyone hates on these blogs.
(no subject) - jimhines - Feb. 22nd, 2011 06:55 pm (UTC) - Expand


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