I really should be getting work done right now, but as with various other topics that have popped up on here today’s Twitter feed has me distracted. That distracted has reached a point where it must be vomited forth from my brain or I’m not going to get anything done. In this case that distraction has to do with the “dickwolves” strip that Penny Arcade did back in August. For those of you that don’t know, the comic in question can be found here: The Sixth Slave. The comic mentions rape. For those of you that don’t want to read it the comic basically deals with a videogame hero who is on a quest to rescue five slaves. A sixth slave begs the hero to take him with him, and among the horrors he describes enduring is being raped to sleep by dickwolves on a nightly basis. This strip made a lot of people, people who felt like Penny Arcade was trivializing rape and rape culture, rather angry. In their next strip Mike and Jerry (the people behind the characters of Gabe and Tycho) released an “apology” done in their usual caustic style; they also, at a later date, released a “Penny Arcade Dickwolves” T-Shirt. Both the follow-up strip, and the T-Shirt were also upsetting to various individuals.
I’ve read a fair bit of what’s been posted about and around this issue. If you’re interested for yourselves there’s a Debacle Timeline and over here a blogger and rape survivor who works in the industry talks about her response.
I’ll be honest: when I first read the joke I did not read it as a rape joke. That’s not to say I didn’t read it as a joke involving rape, but that I did not regard it as a joke about rape.I read it as a joke about the way videogame quests, particularly MMO quests, are structured, and the way in which once you’ve accomplished the immediate goals the problem is “solved,” even when the problem obviously still exists.
Had I read it as a rape joke I suspect my reaction would not have been as blase as it was. I’ve known at least four women who admitted to being raped, and I’m aware that it is entirely possible, even likely that other women I have known have been raped or sexually assaulted in some way and I just don’t know about it. Two of my philosophical mentors are women, and while I don’t always agree with them (and sometimes go out of my way to bust their chops because that’s just how I do) I respect them both a great deal.
I don’t think rape is funny. Quite honestly I find it, like slavery, to be significantly more abhorrent than murder in that I regard it as a type of crime that is intended to infringe upon, and strip away the basic humanity of a person. These are crimes that are as existential as they are physical, and leave victims feeling violated on a fundamental level long after the physical scars have healed. Yet at the same time I have made rape jokes. Generally toward other men, and specifically men who happen to be friends of mine (one caveat being that I did once make a sex trafficking joke in mixed company; it was likely done in poor taste regardless, but was done in a room of people I presumed knew me well enough to know I was just trying to get their goats, as it were). I have said that I was going to make things, or people, my bitch.
Some of these things were said when I was less… self-reflective than I am now, but in truth some of them were said well after. I didn’t mean any harm by them, and it certainly wasn’t my intention to perpetrate rape culture or opression in general. It’s just the way we talk, right? Except that’s part of the problem, innit? It’s one of those things we don’t really reflect on; for that matter, it’s one of those things we don’t even think require reflection. For someone who is more Nietzschean than not that’s a pretty big oversight. Philosophy is a mirror. Right now looking in that mirror I have to confront some things I’d rather not see; the same sort of things I had to confront when reading through George Yancy’s book on race. In particular Yancy poses a hypothetical question about the race of the person you are likely to marry, and the way that most white students answered “white” without even thinking about it. Setting aside the fact that while I’m perfectly okay with committed relationships I will never, ever actually marry, my response to that was basically “Well… fuck.” I asked myself a lot of questions about whether I tended to be more attracted to white women for self-determined aesthetic reason, or because there was some deep seated conditioning in there that had been going unquestioned (or maybe a mix of both). I still can’t provide myself with an answer I find entirely satisfactory.
That said, I still don’t find the original strip particularly offensive. I can certainly see where some folks would have a problem with it, but I think where the issue really becomes problematic is when people started responding to it. If my foul fucking mouth hasn’t clued people in yet, I am not a big believer in maintaining a “G-rated environment.” I also believe that there’s really no way to avoid offending someone, somewhere, and that too often trying to do so simply results in speech that, much like the invisible gardener, is rendered unintelligible. This doesn’t mean you get to be a fuckwad, and when you go out and start telling people who were offended by the strip that kicked this all off that they need to be “raped,” “raped again,” or “raped to death,” you’ve crossed the line from voicing your dissent and trying to articulate a position straight into fuckwadville. When folks like @HoodedMiracle start launching ad hominem attacks about someone’s status as a rape survivor… not only have we come to fuckwadville, but I think we well and fucking truly found ourselves a prime candidate for mayor.
That said, I have criticism for some of the folks on the other side of the debate as well. Some of your responses have been well reasoned, and even when I do not agree with you I understand and empathize your point of view. However, there are also people who have referred to Mike and Jerry as “rape apologists” and claimed they’re not engaging in ad hominem attacks because it’s true. Still an ad hominem attack, folks. More to the point, this type of issue runs straight into one of the same problems that Yancy runs into. Sometimes you need to call people out, right? However, sometimes when you straight up call people out you’re not going to get a positive response. Even if you’re right, people just don’t want to see that kind of shit about themselves. Privilege does play a role in it, but even placing privilege aside we’re not really that reflective by nature, and most of us don’t really want to consider that we might be bad people, or even if not bad people as such, that we are doing bad things. That’s one of the reasons I right this blog, eh? I would like people to be more self-reflective, and to live their lives in a philosophically engaged fashion.
Ultimately, I do think Mike has not really handled this situation in the best way possible. I would like to assume good faith, based on things both Mike and Jerry have said over the years on various topic. I would like to think that some of how this situation has been responded to is a guy who has admitted to suffering from a pretty severe anxiety disorder trying to handle the situation, and that some of the comments he has made recently are a result of frustration. Which doesn’t get him entirely off the hook entirely, but it makes things more understandable. It also doesn’t let him off the hook for not speaking up more, and putting his foot on the neck of some of the assholes decided to move into fuckwadville. Yes, I know that in at least one case he did do exactly that, but one visible case isn’t really enough. The one thing I think absolutely must not be done in these kind of situations (other than not going to fuckwadville, obviously) is trying to shut down dialogue. I know how absofuckinglutely frustrating it can be to try and have a productive dialogue when it seems like the other side wants to do the exact opposite. The problem is, when we don’t have that dialogue no one on either side of any issue has an opportunity to learn anything; sometimes it’s less about right or wrong, and more about trying to have an ounce of fucking understanding. Understanding and empathy are pretty important things. We’re not autonomous actors, but are all bound together in a web of intersubjectivity.
I feel like I’ve already said too much, and yet feel like I haven’t said enough. I feel like there’s the opportunity for some important shit to be said here, while feeling that we’re doing more talking at each other than talking to each other.