On jokes, “jokes,” and dickwolves

… cos you know I can’t possibly not comment on a controversy that includes the word dickwolves.

Seriously. DICKWOLVES.

OK. The short version of what went down (for a painstaking timeline go here):

Penny Arcade posted a comic months ago which depicted a slave being left behind by a wandering hero because said hero only had to rescue five slaves, so why would he rescue one more? The slave, trying to change the hero’s mind, explains the horrible tortures all the slaves endure, including being raped to sleep by dickwolves. I actually found the comic kind of amusing, in a tasteless fashion.

Not everyone did, and when some folks complained, the PA guys basically said, “OMG U R DUMB DON’T BE SO SENSITIVE” and blew them off. Lather, rinse, repeat, with both sides getting increasingly upset.

Now, in my opinion the comic itself, while tasteless, was lampooning the way our culture blows off rape survivors — doing a reductio ad absurdem on it to show how fucked up it is. That, to me, is the only way to get a rape joke even halfway close to acceptable. Somewhere in all the reading I’ve done about this over the last couple of days, someone said that gallows humor is humor that puts the comedian in the place of the condemned, not in the place of the hangman, and I think that’s very accurate. If your rape joke puts you in the place of the rapist (e.g., “I would’ve had to give her a roofie to get in her pants, ha ha ha”) then you are an asshole and your joke is not funny because it’s all about reinforcing the perpetrator/victim relationship.

If your joke puts you in the place of the victim (e.g., …. uh, wow. I can’t really think of an example. That shows you which form of rape joke is more prevalent, no?), you have a hope of not being an asshole.

Really, though? The best bet is to just not make rape jokes. And if you go out on a limb and do make one, don’t be an asshole to people who complain. Something like one in six women and one in eight men will be raped or have someone try to rape them in their lifetime. Rape is awful and widespread, and that isn’t funny.

When you make tasteless jokes, people will complain. Nobody was trying to organize a boycott of PA or of their con, PAX. People were just saying they thought the strip was offensive. A more reasonable response to that would be, “We see where you’re coming from, and we’re sorry.” They didn’t even take the comic down, just empathize with the people who were upset. It’s not hard. Letting people know they’ve been heard is a quick and easy way to defuse this kind of thing. But the PA guys didn’t do that, and now people are talking about boycotting PAX.

Unsurprisingly, one of the PA guys, after they both essentially said “nothing is off limits for humor!” got upset and declared one area off limits for humor — an area that personally offended him. It’s okay when other people get upset/offended, but not when he or his wife do. *eyeroll*

For a far more eloquent writeup about the whole thing, check out Shakesville.

By all rights, this entire Penny Arcade debacle should be eye-opening for anyone with a baseline capacity for logic. Of course it was always going to go down this way. Of course treating rape a little too flippantly was going to trigger survivors, and of course triggered survivors and their allies who asked for some consideration were going to get attacked, and of course when Mike and Jerry escalated it by mocking anti-rape advocates, those advocates were going be harassed and threatened in an attempt to silence them, and so on and so on until here we are.

It was entirely predictable—and not because, as the jaded cynics of internet battles would have us believe, that’s the way the internet works, but because that’s the way the rape culture works.

The rape culture is not just about actual and attempted acts of rape, sexual assault, and sexual harassment, but also about all the other ways in which contempt and/or indifference toward other human beings’ consent, autonomy, boundaries, and right to halt any unwanted interaction in their personal spaces are violated.

I could never have made as effective an argument for what was wrong with that Penny Arcade comic as the resulting fallout itself has made.

Imagine that—a bunch of dipshits who find a comic about rape funny have no respect for boundaries or consent.

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