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Penny-Arcade Steps In It

On Wednesday, Penny Arcade published this comic.

Now, I don’t play WoW, but I understood the general jist of the joke. In a game like WoW, there are going to be quests of the “Do x to y number of z”. Because there are millions of people playing, the number of z in the world is going to have to be much greater than y. So, in a case like this, it’s funny because as a player, all you really care about doing (and in fact, often all you can do) is help one small portion of the group. It’s the callous disregard for a clearly over the top horrible situation that’s funny.

Or is funny for some people. Others, apparently, are not amused. For instance, check out this article.

Or don’t, we’ll just excerpt the important points anyway. First up:

Rape isn’t a part of the game, so for the slave to explicitly state he is being raped is a “humorous” exaggeration. When he hero tells the slave his quest is complete and instructs him not to make it “weird,” we’re meant to laugh: “Haha, what a strange underreaction!”

The author seems to at least understand some of the idea of the joke, though I would argue they’re missing a vital portion of it. It’s not that the rape is a “humorous exaggeration”, it’s that the combination of being “roused by savage blows” and being “raped to sleep by dickwolves” is humorously over-the-top in terms of how horrible it is.

Years ago, I was watching the commentary to the unedited version of Robocop. This scene came up:

In the unedited version, the shooting was considerably longer and gorier than what is shown there. Verhoeven explained that the censors made him cut out the extra gore, but that he believed that the change had the side effect of turning a comedy scene into something more horrific. Watching it, I agreed with him. In its longer form, the image of ED-209 pumping thousands of bullets into an executive was much funnier than just seeing him shoot the guy a few times.  In a way, the shortened version was also more disturbing, because it didn’t allow the scene to transform into something funny and over the top.

I mention this because it’s the same principle as this comic operates on. If the slave simply said “help us, we’re being raped!”, well then that’s not very funny. It’s the embellishment that makes it funny. Not only are they being beaten, they’re being raped … to sleep … by dickwolves.

When I have a sense of humor, it is a little offbeat. I have liked, for example, Penny Arcade’s comics about the numerous times they’ve killed each other. I have a dark sense of humor, and I’ll admit it.

But unlike Gabe killing Tycho so he doesn’t have to share a video game, a slave being raped is a real thing that happens in the world every day. I don’t find this “joke” funny because, unlike characters cartoonishly killing each other repeatedly and coming back to life, just as in video games, rape isn’t a central feature of (most) games—at least in the actual gameplay, totally aside from the language used by players.

The fist part of this argument makes no sense. Yes, a slave being raped is a real thing that happens. So is, say, murder. This doesn’t stop the murderous lengths to which Gabe and Tycho go to gain possession of a watch any less funny. Again, it’s not that murder is funny, it’s that ridiculously gruesome elaborate murder for something as mundane as a watch is funny, especially when drawn out over long periods of time.

Additionally, slave rape might be something that happens, but I suspect slave rape by dickwolves is not. I may be wrong about this, however, as I am admittedly not a biologist.

As for the second point, I have no idea what it has to do with anything. Yes, rape is generally avoided by video games, but I’m not sure what bearing that has on the comic. Penny-Arcade is often about video games, but it’s not like they restrict themselves solely to concepts covered by video games.

This is why I avoid comedy. I don’t go to comedy movies, I rarely watch comedians, I avoid sitcoms like the plague. I’ve started to develop a Pavlovian response, cringing preemptively, to things I do find funny, because if somebody makes a dark joke, I’ve learned it won’t be long until the rape jokes show up.

This is why I’m a humorless feminist. Because rape jokes killed my sense of humor.

I used to be married to a woman who worked for a rape victims advocacy group. She was, understandably, very sensitive about rape and wouldn’t watch anything that made jokes about rape. I mention this because I am hard pressed to remember many (I would say any, but I don’t have that perfect of a memory) sitcoms that we had to stop watching over this issue. My point, I guess, is that I think this is a massive overstatement of the “rape joke” problem (if there is such a problem). I’m not saying rape jokes are never made, just that assuming that because something has some dark humor rape jokes are inevitable is maybe a bit of an overreaction.

Today, Penny-Arcade responded with this comic.

Now, they don’t mention anywhere in the comic or the attached newspost that they are reponding to the article I linked to explicitly. In the newspost, they say they’re responding to “… those who felt that we were somehow advocating the actual rape of human beings”.

The website that wrote the previous article decided to respond to this response with this. Here’s the meat of it:

Quite a pithy—and familiar—reaction. It encompasses the three same old tired strategies that defenders of rape jokes typically employ:

1. Misrepresenting critics’ primary objection as the assertion that rape jokes “create” rapists and/or “cause” rape.

2. Summarily treating that idea as absurd.

3. Concluding that critics are thus hypersensitive reactionaries with no legitimate critique.

Most critics of rape jokes object on one of two bases, neither of which are “your rape joke will directly cause someone to go out and commit a rape.” (That idea is absurd—which is why it’s so appealing to defenders of rape jokes to deliberately misrepresent critics’ arguments in such a fashion.) One criticism is that rape jokes are triggers for survivors of sexual violence (and/or attempted sexual violence). The other is that rape jokes contribute to a rape culture in which rape is normalized.

First, they’re only really responding to the last panel. For my money, the real meat of the comic is in the first panel, to wit: “We recently made a comic strip where an imaginary person was raped imaginarily by a mythological creature whose every limb was an erect phallus. Some found that idea disturbing.”  This is not only funny (because, you see, that idea is disturbing, especially when spelled out that way), it also points out the inherent ridiculousness of the original idea (because, you see, creatures with erect phalluses for limbs are relatively uncommon).

See, here’s my real problem with most of these arguments: the comic did not show rape. It didn’t show anything that could suggest rape. Instead, it used the word “raped” in a shocking and over the top way. It, as the recent comic points out, referred to an imaginary person being imaginarily raped by a ridiculous creature (I mean, come on, the word “dickwolves” is kind of funny just in and of itself).  It didn’t say rape was okay or normal or to be expected.  It presented a ridiculously horrible situation and made a humorous comment about how the rules and conventions of video games often leads us to actions that would be horrifying in real life.

Now, I understand that there’s a possibility that a survivor of rape might see this comic and have a painful and terrible reaction. That would be a terrible thing. However, I submit that a victim of a particularly violent crime might have a similar response to a violent comic or a violent scene in a movie. In both cases, the people’s response is totally valid. The problem is that this argument seems to say that because this possibility exists, the comic should not.

The author of the article directly draws the link between survivors of rape and former soldiers in terms of suffering post-traumatic effects. It would seem, then, that they should complain equally vociferously about all depictions of war meant for entertainment. Surely, they have the same problem with those, right?

Anyway, that’s too many words on the subject, and they’re probably not that well thought out. As a final point, I’d like to say that rape jokes aren’t anything new for Penny-Arcade, so I’m unclear why there’s uproar now and not years ago.