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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 08:17 pm (UTC)
My only experience of Penny Arcade was in a MMO, where a group involved with them decided to grief the roleplaying community by creating characters with racially offensive names and hanging around making rape jokes and shouting racist insults at people (then posting about it on their forums, which is how we knew where they came from). I've been griefed many times as a roleplayer, but that was definitely the most extreme due to what they decided to shout.

So I can't say I'm surprised by any of this. Nor am I surprised that people think it couldn't possibly be wrong because they like the comic (because some people had exactly the same reaction when we were griefed). I don't think you'll ever change PA, but it hopefully others might listen eventually.
Feb. 21st, 2011 09:03 pm (UTC)
Oh, I doubt the PA folks are even going to notice my blog post, and even if they did, I wouldn't expect it to change their minds. But for other people reading ... well, I think it's worth it.

Clarification -- when you say a group involved with PA, do you mean a group Krahulik and Holkins were directly participating in, or was this a looser association? (Informal fangroup, for example?)
Feb. 21st, 2011 10:01 pm (UTC)
I can't answer the clarification as it was a long time ago (I don't remember the names and didn't keep records) and there were more people involved than publicly gave their names. However, whether it was officially organised or not wasn't really the make or break point for me. It was the fact it became clear it was acceptable behaviour in the community, and the people running it were cool with that.
Feb. 22nd, 2011 05:08 pm (UTC)
They were the founders of the guild (which became an alliance of guilds), and they thought that kind of thing was hilarious. Gabe's wife certainly used to be a guild leader, though I don't know if they ever were themselves. My memory is a little sketchy, but the story about the formation of Annarchy (the "girl friendly" guild in the alliance) is potentially clarifying: http://wiki.pa-guilds.org/Guild:Annarchy

(I'm on a roleplay server, personally, because while I don't roleplay I appreciate the ability of those who do to punctuate appropriately and not make rape jokes.)


Jim C. Hines


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