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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 07:52 pm (UTC)
One of my friends complained about the Penny Arcade situation publically and got a slew of trolls saying vile things.

Feb. 21st, 2011 09:01 pm (UTC)
I do understand the cognative dissonance it can create. I like a lot of what PA has done. I strongly dislike the way they've handled this issue. That creates some internal conflict.

Unfortunately, it also seems to create a lot of mindless trolling and piling on of anyone who dares to criticize something folks like.
Feb. 22nd, 2011 04:04 am (UTC)
What was worse than the roving band of trolls, and the death threats and the horrible stuff was when a friend of mine whom I've known for a decade said that by speaking about how PA's action affected PAX for me as a rape survivor, I was bullying Penny Arcade. Yes, the millionaire white guys featured in Time Magazine's 2010 Most Influential people were being bullied by ME, the dude with a blog and writer of a handful of videogames articles. And this was a friend of mine who said these things to me.

I was reminded of Harriet J's post on rape jokes where she wrote that even when someone is told you don't find rape jokes funny because you are a survivor of rape only to have that not even make a dent, so you are "...surprised, all over again, that this does not immediately change his perspective, the way it changed yours. Realize that to him, rape is conceptual, even when it has really happened, even when it is real."

And it hurt, I won't lie.

But I hope that by speaking out, I can let others know that no, those that have been hurt or marginalized about this are not alone. Your entry does this too, and as a survivor, a writer and a video game fandom member, I want to say thank you.
Feb. 22nd, 2011 05:46 pm (UTC)
I'm glad you can at least understand that and be willing to speak up despite the silencing attempts.

I get so frustrated by people who don't want there to be terrible things in the world, and so they just pretend they don't exist and get mad at people who can't help but remind them of that existence. Like how it seems to be considered a worse offense in America to say that something someone said was racist than it is to actually be a flaming racist. "We can ignore racists," White people seem to think, "but if people can point out racism then if I say something racist they might attack me! Even though I don't want to be racist!" A similar dynamic seems to surround sexual assault.

You deserve to have people respect about you, consider you when they act, and to feel guilty if they cause you pain whether or not they meant to. You just do. If your experience means that Gabe & Tycho are acting like a jerk, your friend is right, they *should* be morally compelling to not act that way. As we can see, "morally compelling" doesn't actually do diddly, but it ought to and I am sure your friend knows that. What I hear when someone says something like that, is those people's ability to be Free As In Sexist is more important than everyone else in the world. (I notice that their Free Speech worship never seems to extend to their critics.)

The only solution I've seen address this type of prevalent denial our culture seems to thrive on is to keep speaking out until people can't put their fingers in their ears and sing "la-la-la" anymore.
Feb. 23rd, 2011 05:40 pm (UTC)
I was having the same thought about how people react really strongly to being called a racist. They act as if calling ideas racist means I have *accused* them of being the kind of sheriff that would set attack dogs on peaceful protesters, or the kind of neighbor that would look the other way at a lynching or that kind of person hates on people of color 24-7. I don't know if we need more words or more adjectives or something. If I point out a racist attitude, I'm not equating the person who said something insensitive with Bull Connor, I'm not nominating people for The Worst Racist Of All Time Hall of Fame, but OMG, they certainly seem to think that that's what I'm saying.

I wish there was a reasonable way for me to say "I don't think you are EVIL, I just think you are a little WARPED by our culture, and I call on you to straighten up."

While I won't say that making jokes about situations involving rape strongly feeds into rape culture, I will say that laughing at jokes related to rape suggests to me that the person laughing isn't thinking about rape seriously and not taking rape seriously does tend to diminish it.
Feb. 22nd, 2011 04:47 pm (UTC)
I think it knocks them off the pedestal they've been on since Child's Play took off. Strange to think of two swearing, awkward comic strip nerds being on a pedestal, but I know I looked pretty much entirely favorably upon them before this.
Feb. 21st, 2011 10:40 pm (UTC)
And that's shitty too. Unfortunately the world if full of jerks. Full of trolls. And full of people who think Freedom of Speech and online anonymity gives free reign to spread hate around. And that's what I see as the problem here too. It's not enough to say "wow that bit about the Dickwolves really offends me. Why'd you go that direction, huh?". Boycotts and blogposts and snarky twitter comments must be made and spread around too. Comments must be taken out of context. Rational discussion must be abandoned for sniping and snark on all sides.
I don't even like PA that much. What I am saying is that the vitriol seems hyperbolic and misdirected.
Feb. 21st, 2011 10:46 pm (UTC)
"What I am saying is that the vitriol seems hyperbolic and misdirected."

Are you responding to "vitriol" that you see here, or are you bringing your thoughts and reactions to other discussions into this one?
Feb. 21st, 2011 10:56 pm (UTC)
Oh good point. I wasn't referring to anything on this blog. I think the discussion here has been way more mature than other places I've seen. When the strip first appeared there was a lot wrath aimed at the creators, and viciousness on both sides.
Feb. 22nd, 2011 12:21 am (UTC)
Actually, it wasn't the original strip that pissed most people off from what I know, it was the fact that the creators were making fun of people who were triggered by the original comic and it only escalated when Gabe and Tycho did nothing to address the fans who were doing things like calling themselves "teamrape" on Twitter.

I can totally understand why people would be angry after the first comic (I just thought it was a stupid joke, admittedly, and didn't think anything about it); after the second one, making fun of people who get triggered by rape humor is an even lower blow and silencing to anyone who has had to deal with their personal triggers. Hell, even the friend I mentioned made a really well-thought out argument about why PA's actions were disappointing... and got rape threats because of it.

Saying "people are going to be jerks, let's be rational" is not a realistic thing to say when dealing with something that obviously upset people originally. The least they could have done would have been to say "Well, sorry about that, but we're not going to take this comic down." Obviously that wouldn't have made people happy, but instead they just chose to be even bigger jerkasses about it.
Feb. 22nd, 2011 04:18 am (UTC)
And the funny thing is, no one was asking for them to take the comic down! They were just writing in as long time fans and saying how that comic bothered, upset, hurt, or triggered them.

PA has been reasonable before. Responding to people that were upset after he drew a comic where Gabe accidentally killed his wife and replaced her with a cyborg (actually a washbucket, as the cyber surgeon ripped him off or something), he replied on the main site the next week in a newspost that said basically they understand if you were upset, but we joke about horrible things and are probably going to go to hell for it and that's just how they roll. When industry figures and lots of fans wrote in to them anrgy and upset about how a comic strip compared buying used video games to piracy, they responded the same day and even printed some of the critical emails.

So, the mythical pretzel-snake above here is 100% on the money. PA could have been tons more reasonable, because they have before. Yet somehow, rape survivors and thier allies were not due the same consideration as dudebro angry about used games vs. piracy.

And for all the blather from Gabe about how they decided to stop selling the shirts to make sure PAX stays inclusive, Gabe has said on twitter that he is wearing his Dickwolves tee to the convention. This has emboldened @teamrape on twitter to apparently put together Dickwolves tees-wearing flashmobs for PAX, and the CEO of Nerdfit saying For the record – I will be wearing my Rape Clock to PAX EAST as a statement against stupid people who can’t take a joke..
Feb. 22nd, 2011 04:05 am (UTC)
You have a really cool icon, but this "things were just as bad on both sides" is not true at all.


Jim C. Hines


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