Penny Arcade, Apologies, and Decency

03Feb11

(Full Penny Arcade controversy timeline here.)

Jerry and Mike have apologised. Once we acknowledge that, we can ask if it’s an effective apology. For a lot of Penny Arcade fans, Jerry and Mike have succumbed to the never-settling, ever-angry feminists. For some, the apology works. For me and others, the apology is a nice first try, not quite a strike, but a foul ball maybe. If someone apologises, even if it sort of misses the point, I believe that’s when critics need to take a hint and drop the hostility; the apology is evidence the person we’re trying to get through to is capable of some compassion and understanding of the issue and continued hostile engagement with that person is bound to turn them off the subject in time.

This is, of course, unless someone’s apology is strike one, and judging by my Twitter feed, a lot of people are seeing this as more of a fit where the player throws his bat in the air and walks off the field.

But enough with the baseball analogies.

On the matter of threats, both Jerry and Mike did right. I’m glad they called people out, though they should have done so from the start instead of waiting as long as they did. And again, those people issuing threats were on both sides, and each side needs to be deplored equally for that.

It’s not in my interests to fully dissect Jerry’s apology–I’m sure that’s coming–but there were a number of things he wrote that kept it from being even satisfactory. From claiming no conversation is possible on the subject to focusing entirely too much on the first comic, to dismissing rape culture with the statement, “the only people who are pro-rape are rapists.” His explanation of the second comic at least renders him and Mike as clueless rather than outright hateful.

Still, something noticeably absent from both apologies (though there are hints of in Gabe’s) is the responsibility they each carry now for the behaviour of their fans. The threats have been addressed, but the exclusion of critics and rape survivors from PAX, Penny Arcade’s conference, has not, and neither has the issue of the Dickwolves merchandise, specifically the T-shirts that people are planning to wear to the conference in protest.

I’m not satisfied with the apology, and there are more people who are much less happy about it than I am. I’m hopeful, though, that more is coming despite what Jerry and Mike have said, both because I believe they have capacity to be decent people, and because they have responsibilities beyond the apologies they’ve issued, and people like me won’t let them forget that.

I’d like to see Jerry and Mike encourage their fans to throw their Dickwolves merch in the trash, or give a refund for it. And because they’ll acknowledge they can do little more than ask their fans to do that, they’ll decide it would be a great idea to ban Dickwolves merch from PAX and clarify to their fans why they did it: not because it’s an issue of free speech, but because it’s an issue of basic decency.



11 Responses to “Penny Arcade, Apologies, and Decency”

  1. 1 Dan Stockton

    Help me out here. These guys have given you a solution: stop reading their comics, and don’t go to PAX.

    Penny Arcade has insulted hundreds of people over a period of many years. Have they (or any self-respecting artist) ever apologized for their work?

    If you have an issue with how they handled it, same response: don’t read their comics. If you have an issue with how some of their fanbase handled it: Welcome to the internet.

    PAX and Child’s Play have become engines almost entirely separated from their beginnings. Don’t act like attending PAX is analagous to condoning rape.

    People plan to wear the shirts for the same reason pictures of Muhammad are rampant on the ‘Net. They don’t like that expression should be curbed in anyway.

    But the part I need help with: Say I read the comic “The Sixth Slave” (which requires the understanding that rape is universally a bad thing in order to appreciate the humor), and then saw a shirt that said, “Proudm supporter of team Dickwolves” (which requires an understanding of irony and dark humor).

    How would I infer these two elements to collude to create a society ok with rape?

  2. 2 Jeff

    Lets get one thing straight rape survivors are not excluded from PAX. Everyone is welcome unless they are hostile or combative. The fact that someone has been traumatized in the past is not part of the equation.

  3. Dan,

    Jerry and Mike’s “solution” to blacklist people from PAX and to keep on acting like jerks while telling critics to just ignore them isn’t a solution to me.

    To be clear: I understand their comics have been offensive or distasteful to people at times, but that’s not the issue. The controversy around Penny Arcade right now goes deeper than offense–the fact is that rape survivors were triggered by the original dickwolves comic (which I, personally, have little issue with), and Jerry and Mike then went on to belittle rape survivors with their follow-up comic, and then created Dickwolves merch, which basically states, “we don’t care if this triggers memories/emotions/etc. about your rape, this is funny” or “we are a part of rape culture” or “rape isn’t something that should be regarded seriously,” depending on your perspective.

    I’m not sure if anyone believes attending PAX is analogous to supporting rape, and I don’t care if people attend or not. I’ve never been, but I hear it’s a really great conference. The dickwolves merch is an issue, though, because people at PAX are familiar with Penny Arcade (and, presumably, the controversy), and rape survivors might be triggered, especially if people are going to be asses about wearing the shirts, which I’m assuming some people might be from the comments I’ve read.

    As far as expression goes, people have a right to wear the shirts, sure, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t acting like complete assholes for doing it and harming people in the process.

    Again, the original comic isn’t the issue. In my mind, it doesn’t condone or take away the seriousness of rape. Period. The problem for me has been Jerry and Mike’s behaviour after the fact, and most importantly the Dickwolves merch.

  4. 4 Skrattybones

    A good piece, but I have one serious issue with it. The idea that Jerry and Mike should encourage their fans to throw out their merchandise or offer a full refund for it seems to turn the fan into the villain here. If they were to take that path of action, in light of all of this controvery (or perhaps directly as a result of it) it would be analogous to saying that the fans are rape supporters if they *don’t* destroy/refund their merch.

    That doesn’t seem fair, does it?

  5. Skratty,

    I guess my response to that is they could say they made the shirts in bad judgment, and would appreciate them being sent back (with a full refund). It’s an interesting point, but I think Jerry and Mike can claim full responsibility here. It’s entirely possible (even likely) a lot of fans who bought the shirt weren’t aware of the controversy around it; Jerry and Mike created and sold them in spite of the concerns brought up by rape survivors and critics.

  6. 6 Joe Chagan

    Rape: Basically, when you break it down, is forcing someone to do something they do not want to do and that you want them to do. Inflicting your will on someone else. Trying to use your blog here to get them to do what you think they should do, against their will, well, no. It’s not rape. But it’s still wrong. Just like everyone who calls for them to “apologize more” or “remove the merchandise” or “offer refunds”. They don’t want to do that. Stop trying to force them. Why is this not more obvious to people.

  7. 7 exhominem

    Personally, I think the solution to this whole debacle could be simplified down to a single apologetic post from Mike, apologizing for attacking rape survivors, and asking people not to wear the shirt to PAX specifically, since it’s supposed to be an all-inclusive event. Just my two cents though.

  8. I agree, exhominem, though I’m pretty easy to satisfy, and it still leaves Jerry’s inadequate apology unaddressed. But if your suggestion is what happens instead of Jerry and Mike waiting for this to all just disappear like MaCaulay Culkin’s family, I’d be glad to settle for that.

  9. 9 keates

    Joe, Joe, Joe. No one’s forcing anyone to do anything. Criticism does not equal censorship. Your logic is all kinds of twisted up. If you think expressing an opinion is ‘forcing’ someone to change something, how about you take your fucked-up opinion off of this blog that clearly doesn’t agree with you?!

    Oh, classy, by the way, trivializing rape like that. Goooooold star.

  10. 10 meltina

    I wasn’t really aware of the extent of this controversy until a friend pointed it out, and I wasn’t familiar with the original comic because I’ve stopped finding PA’s humor a match to my own long ago (perhaps I’ve grown up enough?).

    To me, the saddest part is that the original strip would have worked just as well if the words “rape” and “dickwolves” were swapped out for something less offensive (it would have been just as funny if the speaker confessed that he was brutally beaten with some unlikely object or other every night). Instead, Mike and Jerry’s refusal to acknowledge that something might be the matter, or that they indeed might have been able to remedy the original problem fairly easily actually ends up making them look a lot worse for it. It’s not like they were threatened with legal action (or perhaps that was the problem, they knew they wouldn’t be sued over it).

    The behavior that Mike has been engaging in since this all started is sadly pretty juvenile and reckless. What did he expect, that the people who were upset at him would go “aw, shucks, but he’s such a lovable scamp!” reading his tweets? Was he surprised when the threats started pointing towards his family rather than other people who participated in this (sic) debate? What did he expect to happen if he kept antagonizing those he disagreed with, and tacitly condoned the sort of language that others have engaged in on his behalf?

    Regardless of how effective his quasi-apology actually is, at this point I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s already too late for any apology that will appease everyone involved.

  11. 11 Thaddeus

    I feel like Jerry’s comment as to whether or not a conversation is possible is much more central that you’ve giving it credit for.

    As somebody who quite literally only became aware of this ongoing altercation less than twenty-four hours ago, I feel that his quote from Phillip K. Dick, highlighting how “subjective worlds are experienced too differently,” is the only comment somebody trying to stand on the outside of all this could possibly walk away with.

    Put another way, every side involved thinks that a different argument is occurring. Some see it as a discussion of casually accepting rape culture. Others, see it as a dialog on censorship and society enforcing boundaries for speech and expression. This type of perspective split (and this is by no means the only one present, but I feel like this gets closer to the supposed “core,” if there is such an animal), when left to its own devices, only serves to fuel animosity.

    People on both sides will tend to assume that everybody knows what is being discussed, and that these “other arguments” that are brought in are done so to intentionally dismiss or otherwise belittle the “real issue.”

    Each side have valid points that have absolutely nothing to do with what the other side thinks they’re talking about.

    It’s difficult to overcome this type of thing once it starts, because even when people become aware of the mechanisms involved, it becomes an argument about whose point deserves to be the center of the argument (“We’re not talking about X, this is about Y!”) when, in fact, multiple weighty issues are in contention and throwing any one of them under the bus will be a disservice to reasonable discourse.

    Add onto this the internet culture of entitled extremism (i.e. The Internet Fuckwad Theory), and you have a fine mess on your hands.

    There probably is no “right” solution.


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