Punctuation wrangler and orthographic enforcer, feminist, atheist, glutton, geek, scatterbrain, and Seattlite.
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  • Deciding whether to boycott PAX just got a lot easier

    Sunday, January 30, 2011

    Trigger warning for discussions of rape.

    A couple days ago the dickwolves shirt disappeared from the Penny Arcade store. The shirt provided PA the opportunity to make money off of a running joke they have about rape survivors, so its removal was a commendable action. (See this post and the links therein for more background.) Today Mike Krahulik, AKA Gabe, offered up the reasoning behind the shirt’s disappearance in a forum post and later a news post on the PA site:

    It was a small group of very vocal people. Not tens of thousands by any stretch. More like a couple dozen. BUT they were very upset and taking the shirt down made them happy. I would never remove the strip or apologize for the joke but if not selling the shirt means I don’t have to fight with these people I’ll do that.I’m not super happy about it but it was the path of least resistance.Source.

    It’s true that we have decided to remove the Dickwolves shirt from the store. Some people are happy about this but a lot more of you are upset. You think we’ve caved into to pressure from a vocal minority and you’re not entirely wrong. let me at least break down why we did it though.

    First of all I would never remove the strip or even apologize for the joke. It’s funny and the fact that some people don’t get it, or are offended by it doesn’t change that. People complained about the strip and that’s fine with me, my response as always is “if you don’t like it don’t read it.” It is very easy not to log on to Penny Arcade and read our bullshit. We’ve always made offensive comics and that’s not going to change anytime soon. If jokes about violence,rape,aids,pedophilia,bestiality,drugs,cancer,homosexuality, and religion bother you then I recommend reading a different webcomic.

    PAX is a different matter though. We want PAX to be a place were everyone feels welcome and we’ve worked really hard to make that happen. From not allowing booth babes to making sure we have panels that represent all our attendees. When I heard from a few people that the shirt would make them uncomfortable at PAX, that gave me pause. Now whether I think that’s a fair or warranted reaction doesn’t really matter. These were not rants on blogs but personal mails to me from people being very reasonable. It’s how they feel and according to them at least, removing the shirt would make them feel better about attending the show. For me that’s an easy fix to the problem. I really don’t want to have this fight and if not having it is as simple as not selling a shirt then I’ll do it. Contrary to what they might think I’m not a complete asshole.

    Now for some people removing the shirt isn’t enough. They don’t want to come to PAX or support PA because of the strip or because they think Tycho and I are perpetuating some kind of rape culture and that’s a different matter. First off it assumes a lot about us that simply isn’t true but more importantly it’s not something I can fix. I’ve gotten a couple messages from people saying they are “conflicted” about coming to PAX. My response to them is: don’t come. Just don’t do it. In fact give me your name and I’ll refund your money if you already bought a ticket. I’ll even put you on a list so that if, in a moment of weakness you try to by a ticket we can cancel the order.

    So there you go. It’s not a simple decision. No matter what we do we’ll have people mad at us. If you want to talk more about it we can chat at PAX.

    -Gabe out

    Source.

    “Not tens of thousands by any stretch” likely refers to this tweet. The passive aggression of the forum post is stunning. He was in no way censored and removed the shirt of his own will. And he did a good thing. But he makes it very clear that it was not his decision and makes sure to blame this so-called “vocal minority” (AKA “these people” and “some people”). He is making full use of the First Amendment: No one has the right to censor you, so you are completely free to be an utter douchebag.

    I’m not upset about the fact that PA makes offensive jokes. I stopped reading it long ago because, even though it has keen and clever commentary on the games industry, it is plagued with the frat-boy humor Krahulik clings to as if PA were nothing without it. As if his jokes weren’t the kind of rotten filth you could find anywhere. The dickwolves joke crossed a line for many, prompting the PA writers to post a comic in which they took the opportunity to repeat the joke, belittle those triggered by it by insisting the rape in the joke was only imaginary, and demonstrating their total lack of understanding and empathy for victims of sexual abuse1. Krahulik mocked trigger warnings in a news post. They later started selling the shirt.

    His news post explains how removing the shirt is “an easy fix to the problem,” the problem being (a) it might make people feel uncomfortable—and it is perfectly believable that this is a new fucking concept for him, and (b) pressure from people important enough (not the “rants on blogs” (very important for him to point that out) or presumably the couple-dozen-or-tens-of-thousands). He’s just like a little puppy, learning that shitting on the rug is bad not because humans don’t like to step in it, but because he’ll get tapped on the nose with a newspaper.

    Now, I’m a straight white cis-male who has never been the victim of sexual abuse. The token rebuttal I hear most often is “what right do you have to be offended for someone else?” Well, I do it with my powers of EMPATHY. I’m that infrared “& Friends” wavelength of the LGBT spectrum. The second to last paragraph applies to me more directly: “My response to them is: don’t come. Just don’t do it.” Let me summarize what he is saying: If you object to our mockery of rape victims, you are not welcome at our convention.

    PAX is fantastic. I had a wonderful time last September wandering the floor and chatting with game developers. There is little that can compare to hearing them gush about how much they love the game they have made. It is indeed “a place were everyone feels welcome,” especially compared to other conventions for the reasons Krahulik mentions. Why on earth he would suggest someone doesn’t come, even offering them the convenience of a refund, because of their objection to his sickening behavior is baffling. It’s just as baffling as why people go out of their way to defend their right to cause misery for others with their words, even as far as to claim victimization. Mike, it is not for you to decide what offends other people; it is your duty as a decent human being to apologize and better consider your behavior in the future.

    Here’s the totally-not-cream-cheese-frosting icing on the cowpie:

    @Cozmicaztaway: @cwgabriel If people already have the shirt and wear it to PAX, then what?

    @cwgabriel: @Cozmicaztaway I’ll be wearing mine to PAX.

    Source.

    “Contrary to what they might think I’m not a complete asshole.”


    UPDATE Aug. 21, 2011

    So, PAX. I’m still not going, but looking back on my blog post on the subject, I don’t feel I explained my position well. The post is ranty and reactionary and I’m not all that proud of the tone. So let me just clarify a few things.

    If you’re unfamiliar with the controversy, here’s a summary: http://debacle.tumblr.com/post/3041940865/the-pratfall-of-penny-arcade-a-timeline

    Krahulik and Holkins never showed any indication that they understood why people were upset. Their attempts at an apology were half-assed and disingenuous and made it clear they were just waiting for everyone to shut up and let the issue slide. That’s what happened under very horrible circumstances, when Krahulik’s family received a death threat. So people did stop talking about it, or at least it left the public spotlight. I had begun writing emails to my favorite game developers, asking them to make it known that this was not the games industry we want; I dropped the effort after the death threat because the public conversation had changed dramatically. Yet, the painful thing about the issue being silenced is that silence is rape culture’s greatest ally.

    So where the issue stands is that the creators and personalities behind PAX have supported, actively in some ways and complicitly in others, the culture of sexism and harassment from which their convention hoped to be a haven. Not to mention that Krahulik threatened to blacklist anyone who objects to their handling of the issue. Regardless of whether PAX truly is a safer, more comfortable place (if harassment happens, it happens—and it happens), what now sets PAX apart is that its most visible personalities have played a part in promoting the culture of harassment.

    What good is there in my not going? None. I’m missing out on some really exciting things, specifically the Guild Wars 2 panels and chance to attend a party at ArenaNet HQ. That’s my choice though. I don’t believe that I personally am under any danger at all of being harassed. I don’t believe that my not going is any sort of effective protest (my talking about it is, but I could do that and still go). I do believe that by going, I could help contribute to the atmosphere I (and Holkins and Krahulik, I really believe) want PAX to have. In that way it’s selfish of me not to go. But given the words and actions of Holkins and Krahulik, PAX is even more tailored to the privileges of heterosexual men, at the expense of those who don’t share those privileges. When I consider going, enough of me feels complicit that I’m disgusted at the thought. That part of me feels that, if I went, I’d betray the people I know who have been assaulted.

    1. The following is quoted verbatim from Kirby Bits’s blog post of her reaction to today’s drama:

      “Something you may not know about Mike Krahulik – he actually has some feelings he can’t “choose”. (The subject comes up around the 8:00 mark.) The quote that I found extremely moving was, and still is, ”There’s things that happen in your brain, like, connections, that you just don’t have any control over.” That’s Mike, talking about his feelings surrounding drug use/abuse. His description is pretty close to how I’d describe my (rarely triggered, thankfully) PTSD. That came out in May, 2010.”

      Source. []

    Comments:

    1. Beth (January 30th, 2011 12:02)

      Wow.

      I went to PAX a few years ago with Joe. I’m not a survivor of sexual abuse, but like you I have empathy for those that are. If I saw a bunch of guys walking around wearing those shirts I’d get out of there as fast as I could, after telling each one of them what assholes they are. Because as a decent human being who is not a rape survivor, I would feel extremely uncomfortable. They should feel extremely uncomfortable about what they are doing.

    2. Ed (February 6th, 2011 17:06)

      The implications of what you people here are saying makes me shudder. It’s a mixture of anger, incredulity and disbelief.

      Not at PA at all- but at people who have managed to get so worked over something so ridiculous. Including the writer of this article and the one other comment, who freely admit having no frame of reference to it but being offended anyway.

      If this bothered a rape victim, that’s too bad. But the suggestion that the word or phrase suddenly made them remember it is ludicrous. You don’t forget you got raped until somebody says the word. It’s horrible, but many things in life are horrible. Black humor exists. If you can’t handle it, well, don’t go to places it’s likely to be. Many people CAN handle it just fine- the problem is with you, not them. Seek therapy and help for it, work through it if you can.

      I haven’t been through anything as awful as rape, but I’ve been through plenty of bad things, and routinely laugh at jokes about all of them, and even make them. It’s how I deal with it.

      If somebody wants to condemn me for that, well they can go right ahead and fuck themselves at their earliest convenience. They don’t know me and have no right to tell me what I can or cannot say. Just like you have no right to tell Mike and Jerry what they are wrong for saying.

      I would advise you both to get some kind of counseling, because hypersensitivity like this- well, life can’t be very enjoyable for somebody with a mind like that. And it’ll only make you miserable everytime reality rears its head and somebody mentions something that’s not good.

      I wish you both the best, but when you start suggesting that the world should change to suit you- well, that’s the day I tell you what I said above. The problem lies with you.

      No doubt you disagree, but that’s the beauty, here- we’re free to never hear from each other again!

      Of course, you wouldn’t have heard from me to begin with had you simply ignored the comic you found objectionable and found some other place with safer jokes that don’t bother you. There is a lesson there.

    3. Lucas (February 6th, 2011 21:29)

      You are severely mistaken about how trauma can recur. Please take the time to read this: http://fugitivus.wordpress.com/2009/06/24/a-woman-walks-into-a-rape-uh-bar/

      I’ll get that hypersensitivity looked into. I’m sure there’s a cream for it.

    4. Denny (September 2nd, 2011 13:17)

      First of all, the Sixth Slave comic was NOT a rape joke. But even if it was,

      Penny Arcade has given a disclaimer. If you are offended, by anything, don’t read the comic. The thing is, every joke ever has the chance to offend somebody. Phobia jokes, murder jokes, bestiality jokes, they all exist, and they all have existed in Penny Arcade.

      People have had loved ones murdered that might be just as offended by the multiple (and very graphic) murder jokes on Penny Arcade. You think having a loved one murdered is lesser than being raped? Can you even compare the two?

      It’s a dark humor site, it has been for years, and people who read it like dark humor. If you don’t, don’t read the comic, but don’t push your dislike for that level of humor on me, on the fans of penny arcade, on the writers of penny arcade yourself. Yes, you have a right to, but realize that doing so makes you a hypocrite.

      Every joke has the potential to offend someone. All of them. Think about it. Even the tame jokes that you think are kid-friendly, at their bare bones, is a personal defense where you laugh at someone’s misfortune to make you feel better about yourself. As a child we laugh when someone slips and falls. Either you learn to live with jokes that offend you, or you support a humorless world.

      The thing that always gets me is that there are loads of people with blogs all across the internet who have dedicated hundreds of hours of their time to exposing ‘rape jokes’ all over the internet and just how big of a meanieface some people are. Guess what. I’ll even quote Tycho on this. Telling someone on the internet to stop talking about something will rarely, much to your surprise, result in the cessation of the behavior.

      Take a look at what happened just because someone blogged about The Sixth Slave. It caused multiple other blogs, lots of arguing, etc. etc. etc. Did it even, for a moment, detract from Penny Arcades’ growing fanbase? Nope, it did not. If anything, it increased it. Did it detract from what you consider “The Rape Culture”? Nope. If anything, it increased the number of people who made “Rape Jokes” in order to grief other people on the internet, so it made it stronger.

      Is my point not to speak your mind? Heavens no, but be aware of the consequences of doing so. Note that not everyone agrees with you, quite the opposite, as for every one person you convince, two people will find The Sixth Slave hilarious and may even consider going to PAX because of how Penny Arcade handled the controversy. I know that I’m in that group.

      My point is that the hundreds of hours spent by people complaining about the rape culture, could have been dedicated to making more private investigators that actually look for real rapists, finding them, and preventing rapes from actually happening. Giving that fighting the rape culture actually contributes to it, that would be a bit more useful, no?

      In conclusion, the Sixth Slave was pretty funny. My personal favorite is this one though:

      http://www.penny-arcade.com/comic/2009/4/22

      That was two years ago and we don’t see a “Penny Arcade Pratfall” site that references hundreds of blogs of the internet exploding. Tell me. Why is that?

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