My Penny Arcade Moment

Last night, I was talking about 80s TV shows with my kids, and my daughter started mocking Voltron. She was laughing, and asked if there were robot pigs to go with the robot lions.


So I posted to Twitter/Facebook, “My daughter is mocking Voltron. This is how child abuse happens.”

Had I been thinking, I could have anticipated what came next. I wasn’t thinking.

The majority of responses were amused. But there were a few who said it wasn’t funny, or that child abuse is never funny/should never be joked about.

Before I go any further, let me make one thing clear. I do not want this to be about taking sides. And I don’t want to see words like “oversensitive” or “overreacting” in the comments, ‘kay?

With that out of the way, the fact is, many people did find the comment funny. People who specifically identified as child abuse survivors said they were amused/entertained. They talked about the ability to laugh as a coping mechanism, and perhaps as a way to reclaim some power.  Elizabeth Bear commented, “When we can’t joke about awful shit, the awful shit has won.”

All of which would make it pretty easy for me to say “Well, most people weren’t upset,” and to ignore those few who were. That would certainly be more comfortable for me. The trouble is, the majority isn’t necessarily right. (They’re not necessarily wrong, either.) One of my goals as a writer is to entertain, and I think I did that for most of my readers … but there were questions I needed to ask myself:

  • Did that joke minimize or belittle what abuse survivors go through?
  • Did it encourage people to take child abuse less seriously?
  • Could it be personally hurtful to survivors of abuse?

Note that “Did my joke make people run out and abuse their kids?” is not one of the questions. That’s not what anyone was saying, and me framing it like that would be a pretty obnoxious strawman.

For the first two questions … I don’t know. I’d like to say no, because I’d like to think of myself as someone who would never say or do anything to minimize that kind of abuse. But the sad fact is, I’m human, and sometimes I screw up.

I think a more honest answer would be … maybe? One joke by itself probably won’t make much difference, but every rainstorm is made up of individual droplets. I don’t know.

As for question number three, let me put it this way. One response came from someone whose father used “watching a cartoon he didn’t like” as an excuse to beat them. Meaning I lobbed a grenade directly onto one of their triggers. And of course, I have no way of knowing whether others might have felt hurt or angry, but — understandably — chose not to tell me.

It’s not my place to say what people can or can’t joke about. But I’m the one choosing what jokes I make, and one thing I’m taking away from this is the need to be more mindful of who might be hurt by them.

*The title refers to this post from last month.