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Does Penny Arcade Support Rape Culture?

(Trigger warning for graphic descriptions of sexual violence and unmoderated comments.)

I’m going to walk you through the story of an internet fight about rape, and the flame wars that have erupted.

Popular web comic Penny Arcade put out this comic last week, in which they made a not-atypical-for-them but still in-relatively-poor-taste rape joke.  

Shaker Milli A, a guest blogger at popular feminist blog Shakesville, posted some commentary on it, addressing why she doesn’t find rape funny.

Among the comments on her post was this one from Melissa McEwan, founder of Shakesville and all around feminist badass:

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And there is as fundamental a difference between a joke that reinforces the rape culture and a joke that subverts it as there is a difference between opposing same-sex marriage, say, and supporting it. One entrenches institutional oppression; the other challenges it.

To say, "everything is okay to make fun of or nothing is" is an absurd and juvenile cop-out used by people who simultaneously want to argue that their humor is important social critique but hasn't the capacity to effect change.

This is not the part that made me mad.
This is the part that made me mad.


Penny Arcade, after receiving complaints on the original comic, wrote a follow up, in which they essentially said “we are sorry that you are upset because that means you won’t stop bothering us so let’s make another tasteless rape joke because we are so edgy and you are so humorless.”  

And that my friends, is when the shit hit the fan.  

Melissa McEwan, founder of Shakesville and all around feminist badass wrote a response to the comic response.
I think the key point she is making here is this:

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Most critics of rape jokes object on one of two bases, neither of which are "your rape joke will directly cause someone to go out and commit a rape." (That idea is absurd—which is why it's so appealing to defenders of rape jokes to deliberately misrepresent critics' arguments in such a fashion.) One criticism is that rape jokes are triggers for survivors of sexual violence (and/or attempted sexual violence). The other is that rape jokes contribute to a rape culture in which rape is normalized.


Rape culture is normalized.

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Barbara North
August 19th, 2010
Barbara North's picture
Barbara works as a product manager for software companies, which has nothing to do with her M.A. in History. That may contribute to her horrible reading habit, though.  She lives in Oakland,...