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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 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.)
Feb. 21st, 2011 10:52 pm (UTC)
Alright so by that logic this whole things is a moot point. If webcomic writers can't get upset when people are mean to them online (basically calling them rapist apologist), then people shouldn't be offended by said comic strip.
Heck I still think the comic strip does not deserve this level of wrath. It was funny, but not that funny. It was offensive but definitely not that offensive.
Feb. 21st, 2011 10:56 pm (UTC)
Who said they can't get upset when people are mean to them? They can bawl all they like about it. Doesn't mean they're entitled to my sympathy.

What's your investment in this?
Feb. 22nd, 2011 07:06 am (UTC)
You aren't the one who gets to decide how offensive something is to other people, however. It's very clear that you weren't bothered or hurt by the strip, but the fact that you weren't doesn't negate other people's feelings or their right to express them.

Had the makers of the strip simply apologised and not created the shirts, etc, any number of decisions, then people would not be having this reaction to them. They are the ones who made the decision to react the way they did, they can now reap the consequences. No-one else is obligated to forgive them when they a) hurt and triggered people and b) then proceeded to make light of it and hurt and trigger those people all over again.
Feb. 22nd, 2011 12:56 pm (UTC)
Actually, they didn't get called rape apologists for the initial comic, they were called people who used a not-funny rape reference in poor taste, and possibly contributors to rape culture, but that's not the same thing.
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.
Feb. 21st, 2011 10:45 pm (UTC)
"Have you?"

Are you asking if I've seen one in person? No. What does that have to do with anything?

"Clearly this comicstrip has hit on some public nerve--"

You're still focusing on the comic strip.

"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"?"

Well, I'd start by not trying to apologize with emoticons. Beyond that, it almost sounds like you're asking for an example of how a webcartoonist could make a web joke and then come back with an apology that indicated they were taking it seriously and listening to their fans. Better still, what about a blog post that compared and contrasted two webcomic creators, both of whom made jokes that referenced rapes, but who handled the resulting fallout in rather different ways? Would that give you what you're asking for here?
Feb. 22nd, 2011 01:02 am (UTC)
I find it interesting that I keep reading this phrase essentially copied in various comment threads at various sites: "They aren't minimizing rape, but recognizing that it is the worst possible thing to a person could suffer." followed by a variant on "what *would* satisfy you?" I find it interesting, and I wonder who originated and promulgated the wording. As for the "nothing will satisfy these complainants" approach...I think that can very easily become an excuse to not modify offensive behavior.
Feb. 22nd, 2011 01:50 am (UTC)
The shirts were on sale for two months, not two days. Timeline fail.

Also, the final "apology" that they gave was pretty much ruined by a follow-up tweet from one of them saying he was going to wear his Dickwolves T-shirt to PAX anyway. That's not an apology. That's a fuck-you.
Feb. 22nd, 2011 04:45 pm (UTC)
I could be wrong, but I thought it went: twitter comment about dickwolves shirt, twitter threat to Gabe's family, Tycho's final word on the matter three weeks ago (which I would still not call an apology exactly, though it does point out that he, at least, is deeply flawed).
Feb. 22nd, 2011 04:30 am (UTC)
Agreed the Tshirt was douchey and childish, but they existed for like 2 days

Wrong. It was sold for four months. It was announced two months after the original "6th Slave" comic and the follow up "Breaking It Down".

efore their sense of decency kicked in they took them down.
It wasn't until several industry members, plus all of the emails they received, plus the blogs and controversy continued that they finally, four months later, decided to take the shirt down while grousing about caving to a vocal minority.

And then Gabe saying on Twitter that he would still be wearing his shirt to PAX.


Jim C. Hines


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