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:
- Rape is one of the most common and most underreported crimes.
- Most people don’t choose to take offense just for the fun of it.
- Our society treats rape survivors like shit.
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.
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February 21, 2011 @ 11:58 am
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February 21, 2011 @ 12:52 pm
Thanks for this post, Jim. I don’t know if it’s just lack of interaction with/exposure to real women, but I have definitely noticed how objectified and de-humanized women are in a lot of geek fandom. As a female geek, it’s definitely annoying and definitely makes me feel a bit alienated from this fandom I’d otherwise really enjoy. I wish more guys (especially the fetish-loving among the geek-kind) were like you.
February 21, 2011 @ 5:13 pm
I personally wasn’t offended by Penny Arcade’s original comic, since they were saying that rape is bad and leaving someone to be raped is not at all heroic. (Though I can understand why others were offended that they chose this particular bad thing to make their point.) But their response blew me away. The sheer amount of vitriol, sustained over a period of months, points to some deep set issues that I want to steer far away from.
Yet one person involved (possibly the PA guys, more likely someone else, my memory is hazy) seemed genuinely surprised when a woman declined an invitation to the PA convention, pointing out that she didn’t feel safe attending when many people including one of the founders would be wearing a Team Dickwolf (aka Team Rapist) shirt. Because who would ever have thought that a t-shirt advocating rape might make a woman feel physically threatened in your presence?
Hunt’s response isn’t perfect, but he at least seems to understand that he screwed up and want to avoid that kind of screw-up in the future. And since before he didn’t get the difference between mentioning rape and joking about rape and now he does, I’m willing to cut him some slack for a learning experience.
Jim C. Hines
February 22, 2011 @ 8:15 am
Cy – Do you think geek fandom is any worse than other groups? This doesn’t strike me as a problem that’s limited to any particular group, but as a guy, I know there are things I just don’t see.
Jim C. Hines
February 22, 2011 @ 8:16 am
That was my sense too. Whatever my feelings toward the PA comic, it was the follow-up that pissed me off.
February 22, 2011 @ 2:49 pm
Ah yes, the old you using your free speech right to say that you think what I said stinks is oppressing my free speech routine. They’re the victims because other people have opinions too. The smart thing would have been to say, well it was a badly done joke and we shouldn’t have gone there and moved on. But instead, they’ve made it their calling card. Which means that it wasn’t a joke after all. A lot of groups and publications mistakenly think that these sorts of controversies build their profile. Instead, it just makes them look like Dickwolves. 🙂
February 22, 2011 @ 5:14 pm
I’m not Cy, but I’m a female geek so I’ll take a stab at it.
Most guy geeks are okay people, no more sexist than anyone else. But there are some who have a lot of resentment tied up in their geek identity. They feel that since in high school the jocks beat them up and walked away with the pretty cheerleaders, now the universe owes them a chance to outshine the jocks…and walk away with with the pretty cheerleaders.
The real problem comes when you get a geek community that says, “We know what it’s like to be excluded from social groupings, so we’re not going to be clique-ish. All geeks are welcome here.” Then when the troll geeks start harassing the girl geeks, the geeks who have a normal amount of sexism see the complainers as breaking the status quo and tell them they should be nice to the guy because he’s a fellow geek. I vaguely remember a story (I’m sure someone else will remember) where at a convention some men started grabbing random women’s breasts, and even men who might otherwise agree it was harassment were telling the women that it was just a game everyone was playing, they should lighten up. You get this in-group mentality that all insiders = good automatically, and all conflicts are just misunderstandings.
This happened to me in my Dungeons and Dragons group. One of the guys was convinced that “girls can’t do math” and would re-check my every dice roll. This flustered me so I started adding them wrong, confirming his statement that girls can’t do math, and none of the guys at the table would stand up for me. Fortunately, the old dungeonmaster retired after a few sessions and our new DM was a woman. She made him cut it out and everything was fine.
It happened in my Battlestar Galactica group. One of the guys kept hitting on the girls and weirding us out, even after we’d all said no multiple times. His buddy (whom I’d previously respected) kept telling us to take a compliment, it’s not the troll’s fault he’s bad at flirting and we should be nice to the poor guy. He even said it “wouldn’t kill us” to take a second look at him romantically and implied we were shallow for not being interested. The argument lasted for weeks.
Finally the troll took it to the next level and told our hostess she should dump her boyfriend for him because he deserved a girlfriend more than the other guy did. She banned him from her house outright, ending the debate. The buddy tried to agitate for a second chance and the hostess told him, “You don’t get to argue with where I draw my line.” It left a bad taste in everybody’s mouth, destroyed at least two friendships (the buddy & me, the buddy & the hostess) and the group ended up dissolving after a few more weeks.
My advice to girl geeks is to find other girl geeks. I know it’s hard to find each other sometimes, but I’ve NEVER had a guy geek stand up for me. All of my conflicts, it’s been other women standing with me and telling the troll that his behavior is unacceptable. I’ve had men try to be peacemakers, “Yeah, that was a little over the top, he should tone it down a bit, but you were a little hard on him too, can’t you let it go?”, but only other women have stood behind me and defended me.
And just in general I’ve found that there’s less harassment in groups that have more equal gender ratios. Partly because the women can take turns slapping down the jokes and rude comments and back each other up. Mostly I think because the kind of guy who can hang out with multiple women and not be threatened is just a less sexist guy.
Jim C. Hines
February 22, 2011 @ 6:47 pm
“I vaguely remember a story (I’m sure someone else will remember) where at a convention some men started grabbing random women’s breasts…”
Are you talking about the “Open Source Boob Project” at Penguicon a few years back?
“And just in general I’ve found that there’s less harassment in groups that have more equal gender ratios. Partly because the women can take turns slapping down the jokes and rude comments and back each other up. Mostly I think because the kind of guy who can hang out with multiple women and not be threatened is just a less sexist guy.”
I suspect there’s also the fact that it’s easier to be the bully when you outnumber your victims. And I do think what you’re describing is a lot like bullying, if not just a flat-out form of bullying.
February 22, 2011 @ 8:01 pm
I knew someone would remember it! I thought they were actually touching; skimming an overview it looks like they were asking to touch, which is somewhat less harassing but still creepy.
My instinct is to say that bully is too mild a word for the BSG creeper, but then I remembered that in recent years bullying has driven teens to suicide. *sad* So yeah, bully about sums it up.