The trouble with Dickwolves (has little to do with Dickwolves and everything to do with dickery).
Alternate title: Dan loses most his audience in his first post.
I haven’t blogged in a long time, and my rust is going to show here. I’m also terrified that this first post will establish me as a much more serious writer than I am. I am in truth a very silly person.
To begin, within this bit of rambling there’s going to be sensitive subjects discussed. Including: rape, violence, and labelling. Also there will be cuss words of all sorts, me telling people to quit it from no position of authority, using “their” as an non-gendered pronoun, and I get kinda bleeding heart near the end.
Now I’m going to give some more disclaimers, but these are going to be more about me than issues discussed. Firstly, I’m going to try and keep the discussion of “The Sixth Slave” to a minimum. I think there’s a lot of valid discussion on both sides of the fence when it comes to that comic. In the interest of being honest I’ll level with my opinion on that matter: I thought this comic is funny. Why I think this has been discussed to death at this time, to the point of having “Why they don’t get the joke” explained has become outright frustrating to one side. This is my first quit it: stop doing this. There are more gears spinning here than “not getting the joke”, and more to one side’s argument against the comic than “Rape is never funny”. Not to mention that that the joke has pretty much been explained the best it can be here. In the end what bothered me is that, well, other fans of Penny Arcade were being affected by this comic. Not offended, affected. Something in them was, oh let’s say, triggered. This bothered me, so I went to my usual litmus test: go to friends who aren’t as steeped in the culture as I am. The result was 50/50, and what that told me was that there was serious discussion to be had about the content of this strip. Unfortunately by that point discussion had been shut the hell down.
Here’s where I lose the other half of my audience. Everything after – the first comic, the second comic, the shirt, the newspost’s in response – I think was incredibly wrong. If this was some bizarre tally, sure I’d give Penny Arcade the first point, but I’d have to dock them for almost every action action after that. Actions that punched a hole in he HMCS Dickwolves and sank it to the bottom of a sea of brand spanking new context. Unfortunately, shackled to the deck of this ship was most of the humour in the original comic. At least for me.
I’m going to get into the context and censorship issues later, but for now I want to address general dickery. Yes, our friend Wil says “Don’t be a dick” and PA is the dick in this situation. Concerns were put forward, shut down with “if you don’t like it don’t read it”, then beat into the ground with the second comic grossly oversimplifying the concerns, and atomized by the grand fuck you of the shirt. The “I’m not listening” sentiment has since been laid bare and retracted in Jerry’s post (insert), but also laid bare in the fact he’s admitted they didn’t even try to listen from the start. That in turn galvanized the fans to do just what the sentiment instructed: not listen. “Penny Arcade has done this before” they did it to Jack Tompson, American Greetings, and all those other other censors. Well yes, and that’s PA’s superpower, disarming with humour and aiming their nerd cannon at worthy targets.
An aside for a for another quit it: A blunder, even one as drawn out and uncomfortable as this does not undo every good thing that PA has ever done (Just as how the good things they’ve done doesn’t earn them a free pass). They have been, and still are capable of pointed satire and insights. More importantly they’ve gone on record of saying long after the crude offensiveness that Penny Arcade there still will be PAX and Child’s Play as their own entities. PAX I’ll get to a bit later in this diatribe, but Child’s Play I’ll throw some weight behind now. If you’re planning on taking your ball and going home, Child’s Play is brings all sorts together and then distributes a grassroots effort with a remarkably low overhead.
Anyway, back to the frighteningly phallic imagery of a mighty nerd cannon pointed at censors. Isn’t that what they’re doing now? Taking aim at those trying to block free speech, stifle art, and stomp out the creator’s right to make something grotesque? Do not get me wrong, in my mind this is a very noble goal. The problem is that it isn’t what happened here at all. There is no monolithic entity of censors trying to prevent anyone from ever talking about rape ever, and especial not jokes. So instead of a evil entity we some fans that came forward to call attention that something they enjoyed, Penny Arcade, had done something that – not that they didn’t like, not that they were offended by – but were hurt by. Now Penny Arcade has encountered this before, be it innocents being killed in the GTA comic or the guys themselves getting into an about “love systems”. Most of the time this is dealt with in a news post, and most of the time that news post is “We’re pretty damn offensive, that’s who we are”. Reenforce in your mind that the people who were affected by The Sixth Slave were fans, and that they voiced their issues in good faith. Perhaps with the hope that this would open a dialogue about why this particular piece of art has the potential to hurt. Instead, reiterating fans of the comic, were exposed to the same treatment that those faceless jackasses were: They made their statement with a comic. Then went further by using a tool that had only been leveraged against the great foe himself: making a tee-shirt. Manifesto and uniform at the ready, the troops were ready to not listen really really hard. That’s where the line was crossed for me, perhaps with some hyperbole with the troops thing, but why you would not only ignore an opportunity to understand a bit more of your fanbase, but also be very hostile to them.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that PA has fought a lot of battles, and the battle of Dickwolf Hill seems to be one against an imagined enemy. Ghosts of previous encounters obscuring who’s actually being fired upon. Entrenching for the long haul. Or perhaps some other elaborate metaphor for being a dick to people who didn’t deserve it, because they weren’t trying to ban rape from any further discussion. Many have very correctly, in my view, pointed out that by making something untouchable you give it a lot of power. Which is why making rape an untouchable subject is a gross oversimplification of their point at best, and the exact fucking opposite at worst. Shutting up about rape or never making a joke about rape will not make rape go away. I can guarantee there’s not even a handful of people on either side of this debate that would think think it would. Calling attention to the fact that rape, even used as a placeholder for “very bad thing”, can bring up awful uncontrollable hurt in survivors isn’t trying to sweep rape under the rug. Forgive the piss poor way of wording this, but in a way it’s trying to get people to talk more about rape. To discuss the attitudes, reactions, underpinnings, and difficulties that swarm around rape and how the effect survivors. To bring the discussion beyond “Rapists rape, and I’m not raping so that means I’m doing it right”. To talk about, well, rape culture.
I’m sure there was groan there from some people, and that’s honestly upsetting. If I can express nothing else I want to express this: The fact that this whole debacle has gotten a good deal of PA fans, Core gamers, my fellow white male nerds to file the term “rape culture” away with such words as “killographic” is a goddamn tragedy. I’m going to go deadly serious and say that the idea of rape culture is not ridiculous, and there are people that have explained rape culture much better than I could. Even if you don’t agree with Rape Culture as a theory (word up people who argue against social constructivism), you can at least admit there are some fucky things surrounding how rape is viewed. Something beyond the incorrect interpretation of “If you hear a rape joke, THEN YOU BECOME A RAPIST”.
Even so I’m going to attempt my own little example. You’re playing your online game of choice and you pull some sweet ace killing action, and your mic is suddenly flooded with some twelve year old telling you you just “Raped the shit out of the other team”. Unlike Dickwolves there is no ambiguity there, the sentiment is that the fact you raped is a good thing. Does this make the kid a cog in the rapist creating machine? No, that’s where the big misunderstanding comes from. It demonstrates a very flippant attitude towards the severity of rape at a young age. But what about murder you say? Doesn’t this follow the same bullshit lines as videogame violence creates real violence? Again no, as the cultural context is different. To use a direct comparison, the violence argument assumes behaviour creates murders, where as the rape culture argument does not assume the behaviour creates rapists.
The better parallel would be: In a murder case the accused is considered innocent until proven guilty. Wherein the rape case the accused is still considered innocent until proven guilty, but somehow the accuser is also on trial (And are often assumed liars until proven otherwise). Rape culture informs how rape is treated; it is not a culture that turns everyday folk into rapists. Once again, there are people who have invested much more of their academic lives to this than I, so it’s not hard to find someone who puts it more eloquently. The good news though, is unlike Jerry’s post, I do not think the discussion is dead in the water. I think that there’s evidence that there is a willingness to listen. Most people I know, no matter what walk of life, at least have the feeling that there’s something wrong with a twelve year old screaming you just made kind of good rape. Most in the form of muting the shit out of the kid and mumbling something about “script kiddies”.
A few notes on one of the big… I’m going to say counters. “That’s such a small aspect, why don’t you concentrate on real issues?” The blunt way is for me to say “There are no small issues” and that if something is important to someone then that’s good enough. A more legitimate way for me to go about this is to hit close to home: Say that people are not focused on real issues is in line with someone saying “You shouldn’t donate money to Child’s Play, it just gives out toys. You should donate to the Heart/Lung/etc society so they can eliminate the diseases they have.” What I just presented you with is a very stupid argument, but it serves to illustrate a point. Shit is very interconnected, and your actions are bigger than yourself. Making a child happy while in the hospital goes a long way toward speeding up the treatment. Working to change attitudes towards rape goes a long way toward bringing justice to rapists. Small battles pave the way for the big wins.
An aside. I will make a point to acknowledge that in any activist movement there are people that get trapped in an echo chamber, and get so obsessed with the battle that they lose site of the reason behind everything. So here’s another quit it: Labelling and name calling. The only appropriate response to seeing someone be called a feminazi, a neckbeard, a humourless bitch, a manbaby, or something along those lines is a big ol’ AH styled “THIS IS STUPID”.
So let’s roll back to censorship and context. Let’s start with the statement that censorship is bad. There’s a lot there I can get behind. There are a lot of people in this audience that make a living off their words, and they don’t want to have that crippled. In a personal context I know that I’ve used gallows humour to cope with trauma in my life, and thus I wouldn’t want someone telling me I couldn’t do that. However I think there’s one vital bit of censorship as dictated by the fact we have to live amongst other people, and that’s self censorship. The answer to the I’m-the-last-sane-person scream of “Where do we draw the line?!” is “Well, weigh the harm”. We draw lines every day, we have to, because if everyone said every stupid thing that came to their head nothing would get done. The same thing applies to art, as any artist with an audience has to consider and self-censor as their art has power. Before you blow up at this, let’s consider that PA has done a comic on self-censorship . And this was before they had as large an audience and the convention they have now.
What does this have to do with anything? Well, I it shows the capability to recognize that there are somethings that you just need to choke back (or even re-contextualize to be appropriate in this case). In other words they know better than to answer “Hey this comic hurt me in a particular way” with “Well wait till you see the shirt!” It’s dickery, being a jerk for the sake of being a jerk, and barely supports the “artist’s rights” point being waved about. Even worse all this paved the way for a hefty chunk of their fans to treat an entire branch of feminist academia as bullshit. That, in my mind, is much worse than “offending someone” and that is why self-censorship and self-regulation is vital important (especially when you have a huge audience who are ready to defend you at a moments notice). Once again, you are bigger than yourself and . It’s being a bully, and I’d like to think as a group this audience knows something about bullies. If you’re still not on this self-censorship train, consider that when it comes to video games the community, industry, and media all rally around a form of self-censorship (Or self-regulation as you could also call it) in the form of these puppies:
At this point I’ve either put a bad taste in your mouth, or gotten you really intrigued. Bare with me, I’m rolling around to a point by bringing this up. The existence of this ratting system is an aknowldgment that content can affect a person negatively. Be it in the minor sense, where a person like me wants a heads up on gore as I’m not a huge fan of the stuff. Or the more major issue of parents making sure their kids have a good head on their shoulders before they’re exposed to some headier issues. Still these labels are a form of self-regulation that says “I understand what I make has power”, and with that understanding we can defend the content contained within.
Oh, also. If I catch one more person championing the ERSB by day, and making fun of trigger warnings by night I am going to slap the internet out of you. Thank you.
Now, back to the idea of ratings and self-censorship. Now I do believe, even though there’s no warning, there is an implicit “M RATED” stamp on Penny Arcade. Especially if someone is a long time fan. That said, for all the warnings of bestiality, violence, homosexuality, rape, and anything else they could tag next to the big M, it doesn’t change the fact they were kinda jerks to a whole group of their fanbase. That self-censoring thing I was talking about becomes even more vital when you’ve fostered an audience and community. Once again, not even with the original joke, but rather the reaction to criticism could have really be met with a “Hold on, is this a good idea”? Now, and here’s the elephant in the room of a herd of elephants, PAX is not labelled with the same M label as Penny Arcade proper. Instead it’s proudly toted as…
Something that they’ve tried very hard to maintain. Now the problem with Dickwolf shirts existing (of all kinds, not just the PA one) is that it introduces that dynamic to it. So imagine how wrong this label looks.
It just doesn’t work does it? Now, I can hear the “The dickwolf shirt has nothing to do with rape. It has to do with a silly made up fantasy animal”. Were it not for context I’d agree, as “Dickwolf” is a goddamn hilarious sounding word. Probably why it made it in the comic in the first place. However at this point it has very very little to do with the first comic, and everything to do with how the situation was handled. That second comic, which is very clearly about rape, and the posts that followed dragged the word dickwolf into the muck of rape association. I highly doubt that I could walk across the convention floor without someone looking at it and having dot A (dickwolf) be connected with dot B (rape). It would be like plopping a blue police box in the centre of the show floor and making sure I told everyone that walked by it had nothing to do with Doctor Who. The connection is there, the context is there, and for some people that will bring awful memories and emotions flooding back. It makes PAX an unsafe place for that person, it no longer makes it for everyone.
I’m going to level with you all here. I really like PAX, I really want this to be free of controversy. I want everyone to be laughing, playing, and having fun with each other. But I know if this is to happen everyone has to start working on it now. The internet doesn’t have a short memory as people want to believe. There is at least one person going with a dickwolf shirt looking to start an argument, and at least one wearing a dickwolf survivor shirt looking to track down that first person to have the argument. That won’t be constructive, and only comes to symbolize how polarized this has gotten in direct contradiction to the spirit of the event. Instead, and here’s the vital part, we open discussion up.
I guess a good jumping off point would be: Don’t wear a dickwolf shirt, of any kind really. If you want to choose a symbol, choose one that unites rather than divides. Don’t, and I’m asking this as a personal, favour, come to PAX with the intent of stirring some shit up. I’m not saying don’t talk about it, I’m not even saying don’t argue about it, what I’m saying is don’t come with conflict in your heart. Because as much as I don’t want to equate this to one side winning or losing, I have to in this case.
If PAX is consumed with a seething hostility, then everyone has lost.