Angry Robot

Penny Arcade and the Dickwolf Saga

I’ve always loved black humour, and have run up against people taking offense before. So my initial reaction was in support of the comic. If rape jokes are not allowed, are then murder jokes forbidden? And then jokes about old people, men, women, Jews, Asians, etc. etc. Better to live in a world where anything can be made fun of. Humour isn’t something we use to escape from reality. It’s something that should actively criticize reality.

But then, I’ve also been aware that power is an issue with comedy. As with any exercise of power, it’s different to make fun of the powerless vs. the powerful. Context, and nuance, are important. Imagine a Jewish comedian making self-deprecating jokes about Jews. Now imagine an anti-semite making horrific jokes about Jews.

There are a lot of interesting points being made in criticism of the comic, Penny Arcade, and those who defend it. The concept of rape culture figures prominently. Also, the context of gaming is important to understand. I don’t play against online strangers because I do not wish to hear constant rape, fag and n-word talk. And as for the murder comparison, the specific thing the offendees are bringing up is that rape jokes are a trigger, and no murder victims are likely to be triggered by murder jokes. Furthermore, as this astute comment points out, “most conversations about murder trials don’t begin with speculation about whether or not the victim might have faked their own death.”

My dad died recently, and from having spent so much time in nursing homes in the year leading up to his death, I find myself getting prickly when I hear jokes about dementia or even old people in general. But I reserve the right to make jokes about it myself – I still need humour to help cope with big, scary things in my life.

It’s clear at this point that the reaction is worse than the initial incident. This is so common that I’d love to make a larger point about it, but I’m afraid it’s out of scope at the moment. I don’t think I’ve made up my mind which “side” is “right”, and I really hope not to (reducing things to sides and assuming only one is right is the beginning of a whole ball of hurt). That’s perhaps the takeaway point – use things like this as an opportunity to better understand issues from different perspectives, rather than a chance to get angry because of one’s principles. (As I write that I become aware that it is clearly targeted at one group and not the other – the idea of telling a rape victim not to get angry makes me sad.)

I sent this draft to my friend Ÿ and he commented, “it seems like so much of this action on the internet arises from people not being able to see the hurt in other people’s eyes.” We should remember that.

UPDATE This post, summarizing an older version of the “pratfall” timeline, originally stated that speakers had pulled out of PAX. This is incorrect. I’d also like to point out this post from Geek Feminism Blog as a good defence of the original comic.