Okay! Again, thanks to everyone who is continuing to engage this issue, and doing it with civility and care. Some of that seems to be breaking down in the later parts of the page, so please, please – tell me how PA offended you or how I’ve offended you or whatever else you think of my post, but if you need to say how offended you are by each other, discuss that with each other off-thread. And I urge you to do it civilly there TOO.
I’m going to look at some of the points raised in this thread.
First, let me point out (this is not so much an admission as a reminder of what ought to be obvious) that as a non-survivor CIS-male-presenting middle-class honkey, I stand at the very apex of privilege and safety in the western world, and consequently I am not the very best person to explain to anyone what’s up in the realms of feminism, queer and trans issues, equality, or justice. I like to imagine that I have thought seriously about these things and that I have some liberal cred, but like all cred, that has to be evaluated by outside observers while they’re deciding how to value my positions, opinions, and feelings. And if you wish I’d shut up based on my locus in these intersecting identity spectrums, then I can understand why you might wish that. I mean, I will often exercise my boundless privilege to NOT shut up, but if you think I’m doing that at the expense of hearing you or letting you be heard, please call me out on it. I grew up in Berkeley, CA, and I try to take Being Called Out as a baseline for political discussions instead of a personal slight.
Second, let me assert that in the original post on this thread, I’m not trying to tell anyone how they have to feel about dickwolves or about any of the mistakes, apologies, or non-apologies that Mike has made. I wrote it to try to suss out my own feelings on the matter, and to present my own perspective which I hope my fans will consider when they are forming their judgments about my continuing association with PA and PAX. It remains, of course, up to each of you: whether to give Mike some forgiveness (however grudging or wholehearted), to deem him beyond forgiveness, to wait with great trepidation to see how his awareness and contrition continue to evolve, or to vow never to waste another moment thinking about him. Also entirely your own: any predictions about how included (or safe!) you would feel at the next PAX, and how well you are going to sleep at night if you support anything like PAX or Child’s Play that has Mike’s face on it. I’m sad to hear your decisions in some cases, but glad at having learned how you feel. Naturally, I’d love to have you all alongside me to try to serve as a collectively pro-sensitivity, anti-ignorance influence on PAX as an environment. But if you can’t, or won’t, or just don’t want to, I’ll think no less of you. We’re all trying to follow our hearts here.
Anyway, some of what you people have said upthread:+Case Hawkes
“Just to be clear, Mike has said that being overly broad with their responses to the Dickwolves strip was the mistake. He still thinks that the detractors should have been targeted directly.”
I wrote and posted this long-ass thing thinking that PA was dead-set on their “non-engagement” policy on controversies, which seems to me like a bad idea generally and an untenable one in this case, but it appeared to be their stance. Anyway, I didn’t expect anything coming so soon from Mike and a lot of what I wrote was just wishing that he’d start making motions in the right direction. I posted it and then immediately saw (from Joel Johnson’s twitter) that Mike had addressed the panel incident, and I was very glad (see first post under original, above). I re-read that PA news post just now, and while it falls heavily on “I regret” instead of the more direct “I was wrong to do this” or the ideal “here’s how wrong I was to do this, and here’s exactly why it was wrong, and here’s a believable pledge to never let it happen again,” I do read it as an apology and I take it at face value.
Mike wrote: “There are people who were offended by or hurt by the joke in the strip and rather than just let it go we decided to make a second strip. That was a mistake and I apologize to this day for that strip. It was a knee jerk reaction and rather than the precision strike back at our detractors that we intended, it was a massive AOE that hurt a lot of innocent people.”
I took this to mean that he thought a valid defense of the original joke was possible, at least at the time (he also says it hurt too many people and he wouldn’t draw it again, knowing that now). Regarding the second strip, he brings up their intent (“precision strike” vs “AOE”) in a way that suggests a) the 2nd strip WOULD have been a good idea if it were built differently and b) that the strip’s critics deserved targeting. Yeah, not what we wanted to hear. But maybe he doesn’t believe either of those things, based on the preceding paragraph, where he writes, “I absolutely regret everything we did after that comic. I regret the follow up strip, I regret making the merchandise, I regret pulling the merchandise and I regret being such an asshole on twitter to people who were upset.” Maybe I’m being too generous, but it seems to me like he understands that none of his reactionary behavior was any damn good, and maybe he’s lumping the (NOT regrettable, rather vital) merch discontinuation into the list of regrets as a sort of a verbal tic. I hope he can be more explicit in saying that the shirt was the biggest mistake and that pulling the shirt was the only decent thing to do. Whether that cuts muster will keep being up to each person who got hurt to decide.+Justin Winzey
“Internet confession: I was the one who yelled "bring them back". I didn't do it because I hate feminists. I didn't do it because I hate women. I did it because I felt like those shirts were a justified "fuck you" to a section of humans that were rallying, unnecessarily, against a good joke. I didn't know how wrong I was until right now.
Thanks for helping me straighten that out in my head.”
Wow, well, that’s something I didn’t expect, and I’m glad to hear it. I hope that everyone who I classed as spiteful, shitty children realizes that they can escape that designation by changing what they think and how they act. This is exactly the kind of thing that makes me hopeful about PAX’s future, and if everyone who cheered in that crowd could engage in this kind of self-examination, we’d be well on our way.+Sophie Hirschfeld
“As a survivor and as someone who is a peer counselor to victims of sexual violence, your comment that the dickwolves statement was toxic, but wasn't the overall environment is a little bit misleading. While I'm sure the whole of PAX has a very positive feel, to someone who is threatened by reminders of sexual assault, at that moment, when so many expressed that they wanted the dickwolves shirts back, that moment mattered far more than any other.”
I know. Some poisons are so potent that the whole body cannot recover, no matter the size of the dose. We’ll see if the right medicine is getting administered, and whether full health can ever return. I’m hoping.+Shawn Struck
(I want to quote all of it, but it is too long. Please scroll up and read Shawn’s several posts. Bits quoted below.)
Shawn, you’re presenting a very heartfelt and cogent illustration of how and why so many survivors and people who care deeply about survivors have written PA off. I can’t fault you for any of it, but I’m going to try to answer some of the things you ask and say.
“…your silence for so long on this really hurt.”
I am sorry for that. We all draw lines between Problems and Problems We’re Willing To Get Involved With. I don’t want my drawing of that line to injure anyone, but if problems are serious then it always might. I wish I could say that I didn’t realize there was a real issue until this Tuesday morning, but that’s not really true. I knew there was trouble when news appeared three years ago that Mike was getting into fights on feminist message boards. Like I said, I was embarrassed – that my friend didn’t have good political awareness, that any of my friend’s fans were behaving like rotten little monsters on social media, and that any feminists, with whom I want always to see eye to eye, had placed these two people who I think of as caring, anti-bullying, anti-victimization dudes into the True Enemies Of Justice category. And when I caught wind of the shirts, somewhat after the fact, I thought they were an unbelievably crass and destructive stunt, but they were rightly pulled and I took Mike’s explanation (here: http://www.penny-arcade.com/2011/1/28/dickwolves/
) that he’d listened to people who wanted PAX to feel safe, and Jerry’s explanation (here: http://penny-arcade.com/2011/02/02/on-the-matter-of-dickwolves
) that he’d learned something about rape culture, as a positive if not ideal resolution to the issue. PAX wasn’t going to become terrible and I didn’t feel implicated. Does that make me cowardly? Maybe. I really didn’t think that inserting myself would do any good. I still don’t know that my weighing in will/has helped anything, but the realization, after seeing the panel footage, that the awfulness of those shirts was somehow still up for debate, and worse, that men in a crowd would cheer for the wrong side of that debate, seemed way too much to leave unremarked. Plus, the issue is credibly threatening to take the tone and tenor of PAX down with it, and I don’t want that to happen. PAX means something to me.
“There’s no “reforming” the parts of PAX that are bad, because the parts of PAX that are bad are the owners of PAX.”
Again, I want to affirm your right to deem them irredeemable, but I am not on the same page with you there. I think of Jerry as eager to widen his understanding of the world, of diversity, and of other humans’ feelings. I think of Mike as stubbornly resistant to that but not at all immune. You feel they’ve proven themselves incapable. I want them to keep trying.
“There are the cover-ups of multiple incidences of sexual assault at PAX by enforcers.”
This is the very first I’ve heard of this. I am friends with tons of enforcers, and I adore them all, so I desperately hope this is not accurate. Please point me toward exactly what you’re talking about.
“These horrible reactions are coming from tone of the main people behind the PAX convention, torpedoing the claims of wanting it to be an inclusive space with their very actions.”
They do want it to be inclusive. I know they do. And I know how proud they are to have built an environment that enforces a much lower tolerance for sexism and harassment than all the other big conventions. I hear from the kids who attend that it Just Feels Better there than at Comic-Con, BlizCon, DragonCon, etc. And you’re right, all the mistakes stemming from the dickwolves comic serve to degrade that feeling, compromise the safety of the environment, and potentially lower the sensitivity of the attendees. It was the exact wrong direction to go. I hope we’re pushing back onto course now.
“Front, you do what you gotta do, I guess. I can't say that I'm not a little heartbroken about choosing to give them legitimacy and perform there again.”
Technically, I don’t GOTTA do NOTHIN’. But I’m part of a community, and I value it, and I’m going to keep being there for as long as I feel I’m helping to make it a better place for my compatriots.+Todd Simmons
“Mike had 3 YEARS to learn from his biggest public mistake, but no, he regrets not belittling rape survivors ENOUGH. And no, he NEVER apologized for his Trans comments. He gave the "sorry you feel that way" non-apology and used the old "but I have friends who are <blank>" dodge.”
RE: the transphobic twitter spew, it took him three tries, but this by my reckoning is an actual apology: http://www.penny-arcade.com/2013/06/21/going-one-step-further
. I’m not the biggest fan of the I’ll Put My Money Where My Mouth Is maneuver, but until we get it together to dismantle capitalism, this is how well-to-do people show they mean it.+Amy Burek
“Perhaps it should give you pause that it took you 3000 words to justify why you will continue to support PAX. It would be one thing to simply say "I think the controversy is overblown" or "I've decided to keep going to support my career" but all of the hand wringing above suggests that you are either making a decision you are uncomfortable with or you want to somehow keep your relationship with PAX without seeming like a "bad guy." It is okay if you think the environment is not toxic "enough" to warrant any sort of change (some will disagree), but I wonder where you think that threshold is?”
Perhaps it SHOULD give me pause! But I do not think the controversy is overblown, which is why I’m trying to address it so thoroughly. And I have decided to keep attending/performing for a few reasons, the least of which – believe it or not – is my career. I would have made ten times as much money and played for twenty times as many kids if I had opted to do the direct support slot on the mc chris tour instead of doing PAX prime this year. But PAX is a part of me and I’m a part of it, and the notion that it has become a toxic environment makes me feel terrible. I don’t want that written in stone. If you think I’m wrestling too hard with myself to believe that it isn’t true, or doesn’t have to be, well, maybe I am. I don’t have the distance or perspective to tell you that you’re wrong about my process. But I’m doing my best to lay it out honestly.
And a change is vital: PAX needs to be a place where people don’t fucking cheer for dickwolves shirts. Mike can help make it like that, if he pushes hard enough. I think I can help make it like that if I talk to the gamers who have never considered it, and present the issue in a way that they are able to hear and absorb. I’m doing my best on that one, too.
“It was hugely disingenuous of you to try and tar both sides here with the same brush, and to suggest that escalation came from the "feminist side".”
In my characterization, the initial progressive stance (as relating to the strip, not to Mike’s subsequent behavior) was ‘ungenerous and incorrect,’ while the PA fan response was ‘appalling and indefensible.’ I don’t see that as tarring with the same brush, though I guess your mileage may vary. And I think I am taking some care in my opening paragraphs (way up at the top of this page) to point out that the critiques of the strip were not censorious and should never have been dismissed outright. I still disagree with what I understand to have been the premise of the first Shakesville post, that “I don’t find rape funny” is a fitting damnation of the strip in question, since by my (perspective-limited! privileged!) analysis, that strip does not contribute to the perpetuation of rape culture, and in essence is not a joke about rape. Again, your mileage may vary, and not giving a fuck about MY idea of what is and isn’t contributive to rape culture is also a valid option for everyone.
I do remember there being outlandishly nasty social media coming Mike’s way on that first day, but you’re right that the timeline matters and maybe I am clouding my mind with the much more heavily publicized Krahulik family death threat tweet that came later. Maybe Mike and Jerry were reacting, in that second strip, entirely to their own straw man and not to some handful of twitter users who called them rapists. In either case, their responses were big mistakes, particularly Mike’s in picking a fight on the Shakesville comment thread. I don’t think he was made in any way righteous by his (probably very pressing) feeling that it was THEY who picked the fight with HIM. I tried to unpack the feelings and leftover hurt that might lead him into those mistakes in my original post, not to suggest that his hurting excuses his mistakes, but because I need to understand why people fucked up when I want to forgive them.
I want to figure out how to forgive Mike. I don’t want to suggest that you have to too.+Stephanie M. Clarkson
“I am sad, and angry, that so many of the people who wouldn't listen to a woman saying, "This is a problem," will probably listen to a man saying the same. […] Nonetheless, thank you for being an ally here.”
I hope that I can be an effective ally on this topic. I fear that most of the respondents are finding me too much friend-to-PA and too little ally-to-the-injured. I wish I could stand as both in fewer than 3500 words. And it is not at all lost on me, the sad reality that my male voice gets better traction than a woman’s does on this, an issue that is commonly about justice for women. QUAKE BEFORE THE POWER OF THE MANSPLANATION. Eughfpth.+Thomas Bushnell
“Whether a joke is funny has absolutely nothing to do with whether it's harmful. Being funny is not a defense against being damaging of others.”
This is absolutely true. But whether a joke damages others is not always an important consideration for those who make jokes. A lot of jokes aren’t safe, and I don’t want them to be, because they can affect me more powerfully by being dangerous. That’s the secret to “dark humor.” At the same time, I don’t want unsafe jokes to harm innocents – I’d never show Penny Arcade or Citizen Ruth or World’s Greatest Dad to a little kid, for instance. PS I am not comparing women or rape survivors to little kids, I’m just saying that sanitization of culture is never the answer, while taking care of ourselves and each other in practical ways probably is.+Paul Meier
“You can't pretend that feminists fighting the patriarchy too stridently and people making rape and death threats to people who are open with their history of abuse are in any way a comparable class of morons and assholes, just on different sides.”
I don’t pretend that. I don’t even believe that there is such a thing as “too stridently” in the battle to unseat the patriarchy. I DO believe that my comrades in progressive thought can be ungenerous (pretty often, and sometimes through conditioning – it is, after all, a difficult and endless battle) and that like all armies, this one contains humans, and humans make mistakes. It embarrasses me when justice-seekers make the mistake of jumping down a throat that didn’t entirely deserve it. But more embarrassing is the however-few supposed progressives not critiquing but screaming ‘monster’ or ‘you are why rape’ on the immediate heels of the initial strip. I don’t have the screen shots to back up their existence, and (see above) I am no longer sure I have them placed on the timeline correctly. But those are the fucking idiots I refer to who I see as coming from the left.
The rape-and-death-threat morons from the Team Dickwolves side are comparable ONLY in that both kind of moron succeeds in precluding extramural discussion of: the strip, rape culture, privilege, humor, and regrettable behavior by artists. Obviously, being a violent psycho shit is orders of magnitude worse than merely being a shit.
“You also can't pretend that the distress suffered by privileged multimillionaires with an audience of millions getting criticized on the Internet is at all comparable to a group of triggered rape and sexual assault survivors and their allies. There's hardly a middle ground here for anyone who doesn't have their head up their ass.”
I can’t pretend that, and again, I don’t. There’s one party to this conflict who I see as injured, and it’s rape survivors. There’s a lot of fallout from that injury which ends up also affecting PAX-goers who care about rape survivors, who care about safe spaces for women, and who care about social justice and whether or not the artists they support behave decently.
In a sense you’re right that there is no middle ground, in that there is never any middle ground on the question of justice. You support it or you defy it. Thus, having decided that PA defies justice, you might not be able to tolerate even my basic curiosity about their feelings or motivations, much less my saga of attempted Empathy For The Monster Man. And that’s why I’m trying to move the issue away, in my own mind at least, from staking any ground at all, and move it into the realm of: who got hurt, how and why did it happen, how can healing occur, and is forgiveness possible?
“Great, then you go on to attack a bunch of conveniently nameless and unaccountable fans who you're sure are in the minority, but never, in the ensuing paragraphs, mention that Jerry & Mike did shit little to rein them in. Where is that in your narrative?”
You’re right, except I never said I was sure they were in the minority. I think I said I hoped they were, and I do keep hoping that. From my unscientific anecdotal evaluation of the thousands and thousands of PA fans who I’ve met at my booth in the last 10 years, I think I might be right that the vast majority of them are wonderful, open-hearted kids who couldn’t make the world worse if their lives depended on it. But I can’t be SURE that they aren’t all waving dickwolves pennants behind my back when I turn to dig out a XXXL shirt. Now I’m gonna get nightmares.
And you’re right about the reining. I believe you can’t MAKE anonymous internet children behave like acceptable members of society, but you can post regularly about how you WISH THEY WOULD, and that’s what Mike & Jerry should have done. They should NOT have given them fuel, and then uniforms. I think we all agree there.
“I don't get the feeling you're working so hard to persuade the general public as you are continuously trying to persuade yourself.”
Hey, that’s what I meant by “trying to sort this out for the sake of my own sanity” way up at the top.+Joleen Flasher
“Your "overall toxicity" comment doesn't really address the issue of with PAX. It doesn't matter if only 2 or 5 or 10 people in the room cheered. What matters is that Mike didn't tell them to shut up, right then & there.”
I agree that that matters, and watching the video of that whole moment is what pushed me from hoping this issue would/had resolve(d) itself into trying publicly to help it find a resolution that I can feel okay about (which is important to me) and that everyone who cares about PAX can feel okay about (which is gigantically more important than how I feel, but also a lot farther outside of my influence). As you point out, it “completely poisons PAX for a lot of people.” I still think it’s worth trying to develop a cure.+Mallory D
“The apology read as "I regret having done this thing...I regret that you people got mad" instead of "I realize now that, while the original strip wasn't intended to hurt people, that our reaction to it absolutely was a slap in the face to survivors and we should have never created the shirts".”
I think you’re right on the money about what an effective version of his apology would have sounded like, and it should be clearer and clearer that there’s more for PA to do and say on the road to making this right. I hope Mike reads this whole thread, takes this in particular to heart, and then speaks what he feels in a way that lets those who’ve been injured hear.+Paul Butler
“Patton Oswalt reconsidered his position and decided he was wrong.”
You’ll see that the Oswalt essay I linked WAS the reconsideration, in which he realizes that his earlier blanket defense of the use of rape in comedy was wrong. And still he writes, “[…]attempting to find humor in the subject of rape—again, a horrifying reality that, like other horrifying realities, can sometimes be attacked with humor? I defend that. Still defend. Will always defend.” He goes on to explain about kicking upward instead of down, which is what I think the original dickwolf strip manages to do. You don’t have to agree with Oswalt or Lindy West that rape does work within certain jokes, or agree with me that the PA strip passes muster. See +Heather Petty
’s comment for someone who absolutely doesn’t agree.+Yook Pereyra
What if this was about Team Lynchwolf shirts? Or maybe Team (SomethingMoreDirectlyTargetingCisWhiteMen)wolf shirts? Am I being silly? Maybe. But I bet it would have been more difficult to dismiss the cheers as something that didn't represent PAX were they aimed at a minorities or, well, you.”
Well, the rape victim in the original strip presents as a white CIS male (I hope I’m using CIS correctly – the term was not around I was doing gender studies in college), which might have seemed like a mitigating factor to the authors at some point, though it clearly doesn’t ease anything having to do with PA’s reactions, shirts, etc, and rape is rape regardless.
Our culture has come so much farther on racism than it has on rape, that I think a team Lynchwolf shirt would be a lot more shocking than the Dickwolves shirt is, just on the face of it. I find it nearly plausible that some set of PA readers could labor under the delusion that “Dickwolves” just means a wolf made out of dicks (a funny image) and that it doesn’t have anything to do with sexual assault at all. Just another random obscenity for a distant gang of moral crusaders to be up in arms about. In my most generous possible hypothesis, that’s what I want all those voices in the toxic panel moment to have intended to support. Even if that were magically true (and we know can’t be true of all of them, having seen the Team Rape kids spew bile online, or even many of them since the Dickwolves issue has gotten a lot of air), the crowd’s ignorance would stand in desperate need of repair. Anyway, it would be harder for me to find plausible that a wolf made out of nooses where black people hang had escaped a whole crowd’s comprehension. And to hear cheers for THAT merch, outside of maybe a Tea Party rally, is beyond my imagining. Furthermore, it would have taken THE most sophisticated anti-lynching joke on earth to invent a Lynchwolf monster and still not be a racist joke… more sophisticated than the PA strip which I see as accomplishing its equivalent feat, even though clearly it is a problematic accomplishment. I don’t know that I got anywhere with that, but thank you for the thought exercise.
….okay. I have an airplane in the morning, and there’s plenty more in this thread that I find challenging and totally worthy of both consideration and reply, but I have to call it for time. I don’t know if I’ll be able to spend another whole day on it soon, but I’ll try to get to some more eventually. I think everyone should take a close look at +Aoife Harte
’s post for a beautifully written trans perspective, and at +Heather Petty
for the no-rape-in-jokes-ever perspective (with which I can't agree) along with her many excellent reminders about how deeply rape culture thrives among the young gaming audience, all of which is important to keep in mind.
Thanks for participating, folks.