(To anyone asking “why no trigger warning?” Well, if you found this, surely you know what follows.)
Right, the saga is long, but there is a summary. That isn’t what this post is for: this is to get it out of my head, sum it up for me, and move on.
Right, from the top: why this has happened, as it has.
The start point is the comic. I’ve not met anyone, outside the main PA detractors, who doesn’t get the strip. It’s about the callousness of MMO plotting, how nobody cares for the plight of the NPCs; you have a quota, you get it. Screw any left over after that. From this, though, sprung forth detractors.
Now, just to comment on this: look, rape isn’t a new plotline in Penny Arcade. Gabe himself pointed on a myriad of times they’ve touched on rape, murder, bestiality, child molestation… It’s in the timeline. But what gets me, here, is the crux of her complaint: that we’re supposed to laugh at the exaggeration that the slave is being mercilessly assaulted by dickwolves. No, no you’re not. That bit, panel two, is to highlight the fact that the hero is saving 5 of them for a reason; there’s always a reason being in need of rescue is bad, and this is his. There is no humour to be taken from the rape; the concept of a dickwolf, maybe, and the fact that the hero is made to feel awkward by his outpourings of woe, but not the rape part. It’s an example of an awful thing, and could have been anything.
And the idea you avoid all humour in case there’s a rape joke… wow. Look, rape isn’t just brought up in comedy; it features as a plot in Twilight, even (proof). This is because a lot of artists across various media use it as a plot point; it is a powerful motivating background for a character, of either gender. Like many major concepts that can be reduced to a word, it’s a relatively fast way to clue in a viewer/reader/whatever about a character. To try and act like it doesn’t exist, and avoid all media containing it, is surely to avoid the subject? That never helps a subject. Concepts should as these should be spoken about, debated, taught. If you drive them underground, bury them, they get worse. It is, to steal from your own vernacular, a rape culture inverted - and it’s just as bad. Rather than diluting it, making it no big deal, you make it the grand taboo, and people will wield it triumphantly against it. To paraphrase Kevin Smith, when shit hits the fan, you need to own it, so others can’t use it against you. The more shame you show, the more people wield it as the cosh to keep you down.
Anyway, the problems begin with this strip. This was a bad, bad idea. To the people offended by the strip, it’s further vindication of their viewpoint of both strip and makers; it shows a flippancy, a dispassion for taking them seriously. To the people who didn’t find it offensive, it’s a waste of the strip; this is a discussion that would have better been served by a blog post. Which it sort of was, for a line or two. Criticism, again, from a familiar source, followed. In that same article, Gabe posted a list of previous comics with similarly racy topics. This was met with bewilderment by commentors, who simply “didn’t get” why he posted that: so they could be more offended?
So, pause two for my personal opinion. The commenters have missed his purpose:he simply doesn’t get why they’re so far bent out of shape this time. As he points out, they’ve covered many subjects, many times, and I expect the reaction was never this strong. He doesn’t get how it’s suddenly a massive problem, and hasn’t been in the past, or indeed for any of the other subjects. The strip, a bad idea in my opinion, also drives this point home: why suddenly so much anguish? It’s not a new reference. It isn’t making light of rape, it isn’t glorifying it; it’s just a plot point, like it is in a lot of media. Have they reacted like this in those cases too? Why are they suddenly being singled out over this? It’s a shock reaction, something you’d expect a group about people needing trigger warnings for sensitive subjects would recognise, I’d have imagined.
It all went quite quiet, after that; it blew up again in October, when they announced the Dickwolves merch. A new objector arrives, and makes their own merch, profits to charity. It goes quiet, again, until said objector reveals they were approached to speak at PAX, and refused on the grounds they have still not apologised for the strip. From there, we get the new snowball; where we stand now.
Now, Break 3: Why didn’t they just apologise, and take it down? Simple answer: because they still don’t get why this one strip is so wrong, and if they take that strip down, surely they have to take down all the others too. I mean, it’s not the only strip about that, so surely they’d all need removing. In their entire time, they’ve only removed one: American McGee’s Strawberry Shortcake, taken down after Hallmark got incredibly litigious over their copyright. So, the idea of having to go through the archive, and pull anything related… nightmare. So, it’s just not an option. It would be a mass censorship of their work, a betrayal of the idea of freedom of speech.
And that’s a key part of this: freedom of speech. One of my favourite quotes of all time is:
I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it. - Evelyn Beatrice Hall
The thing about freedom of speech is, it’s freedom of speech. You are free to say what you want to say. The only control put on it, usually, is societal acceptability; that saying something generally accepted as wrong will lead to ostracising at best and violent anger at worst. That doesn’t mean, however, it can’t be said, merely that you should be aware of the possible consequences. It’s words having power, and having consequences. But, throughout this, people voicing opinions has been met with some crazy rhetoric. There’s been death threats, ridiculous statements - and it’s not just been from where you would think. Here’s some good examples of what I mean:
At that point, it’s no longer about freedom of speech: it’s about raging out of control, and needing to be put back in your place. So, my closing statements.
To the people still driving for more from Penny Arcade: stop. They won’t give you it. You have to understand, they are not going to self-censor, they are not going to remove the offending strips, they are not going to do any more than they have. Pour that energy into a more worthy cause, continue to fight the real issue: that rape is still one of the least solved crimes, and yet one of the most damaging. And, please, shut this stupid blog, it makes your cause look incredibly hypocritical.
To the people attacking those who fit in the above: stop. What are you going to get out of it? They’re offended, and they would say rightly so, by the casual use of rape as a plot point. To them it’s another example of how culture doesn’t take the issue of rape seriously. If, like me, you don’t believe that at all, fine; keep that to yourself, rather than tell them. All that can achieve is make you a target too, and make them think you too think rape is cool. I know, you don’t, most likely, but they will think that.
And, in general…