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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. 22nd, 2011 04:29 pm (UTC)
Gabe's post on the forums explaining why the shirt disappeared was:
"It was a small group of very vocal people. Not tens of thousands by any stretch. More like a couple dozen. BUT they were very upset and taking the shirt down made them happy. I would never remove the strip or apologize for the joke but if not selling the shirt means I don’t have to fight with these people I’ll do that.
I’m not super happy about it but it was the path of least resistance."

And in his post on the main page:
"You think we've caved into to pressure from a vocal minority and you're not wrong."

The anti-booth babe cards I made up for other conventions, especially the depressing MacWorld (http://www.appletell.com/apple/comment/macworld-2011-booth-babes/ is pretty representative). There aren't booth babes at PAX, though last year that was stretched a bit (I only saw one real booth babe, who was wearing a super-low cut tank and applying temporary tattoos. Ironically they also had an awesome female dev at their both who was super-knowledgeable and willing to discuss their modeling approaches. She was a much better advertisement.) This led to a survey of PAX goers that reaffirmed "no, really, no booth babes."

I don't care what their reaction is to being called an asshole; it's part of why I want cards. That way they aren't getting more than four seconds of my time, it's just a passing observation. And I find that people may think they want you to think they are an asshole, but actually only a few of them don't blush funny colors when they know they are being judged by everyone who sees them. I guarantee you that if everyone walking past handed them a card, so they knew that they were ostracized from the community rather than rewarded by it? They wouldn't wear the shirts. I don't know if most of community supports them, but I don't want to let them assume it does just because no one says anything.
Feb. 22nd, 2011 05:30 pm (UTC)
I stand corrected on the T-Shirt decision. It seems to me that Gabe and Tycho are talking at cross-purposes, to some degree. Which, I guess, is not surprising.

The problem I see with the cards, in my opinion, is that it doesn't make the person honestly consider whether they're actually an asshole - I think it make them think about what -you- are. While I'm sure you don't care about their opinion of you... that's clearly identical to what dicwolf-shirt-wearing people feel about those who don't like it, so I don't see the point unless it is to attempt to provoke them in some way.

I totally agree that if everyone at the convention were to turn and say "you're an asshole for wearing that", they would stop, but I don't think getting a stack of cards would mean much of anything.

One step further, I think handing someone a card is avoiding actually engaging in conversation about it. It's 'easy'.

I'm not trying to say I know what you should or shouldn't do, I just think handing out cards saying "You're an asshole" will only do one thing - make you feel better.
Feb. 22nd, 2011 05:57 pm (UTC)
Well, if they really didn't care, they wouldn't wear the t-shirt. Or rather, the probability of them having spent money on a t-shirt designed to troll people and then happening to grab it out of the laundry that day is diminishingly small. Clearly, they care about someone's reaction, and I doubt the reaction they are looking for is casual dismissal by others in the community.

I could hand out cards saying, "Your t-shirt leads me to assume you are overcompensating for feeling enormously lonely due to your personal failings. It still makes you a trolling asshole." Or a t-shirt sticker that says, "does this t-shirt make me look insecure?" but those ideas are way more engaged than I want to be and no one is actually going to change their mind at a conference about anything other than the conference.

My goal is something that refuses to give them the attention they seek, while still forcing them to confront the fact that people think their behavior is unacceptable. If this were medieval Britain I'd probably spit on them as I went past; cards are far more modern and civilized.


Jim C. Hines


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