For anyone who thought that Penny Arcade and their lovable firebrand Gabe had learned anything from Dickwolves, Tentacle Bento, Gabe’s most recent outburst, or anything ever at all, news out of PAX yesterday should set you straight. In a Q&A, Mike “Gabe” Krahulik said he believed the company made a mistake in removing the “Dickwolves” merchandise they created not only to celebrate a rape joke but to ridicule critics (many of whom are rape survivors). If this is all new to you, you can read the whole sad, sorry timeline and catch up. The kicker? This time it wasn’t just Gabe talking out his ass. PA’s business manager backed him up.
Here’s yesterday’s entry from the Dickwolves Debacle timeline (emphasis mine):
On stage at PAX, Mike Krahulik (Gabe) says he regrets removing the Dickwolves merchandise from the Penny Arcade store. Robert Khoo, Penny Arcade’s business manager, agrees that those who were offended by it should have been ignored rather than engaged.
There’s video if you have the stomach for it. So far, I do not.
And from Alex Hern at The New Statesman this morning:
Today, that excuse is not available. These ideas have been mainstreamed to the extent that Krahulik and Holkins cannot get away with pretending that it’s only a vocal minority who see problems with using rape as a punchline which don’t extend to problems with using murder in the same way. But the last three years have not seen the pair toning down the rhetoric. From Holkins writing about the “censorship” of criticising a game’s exaggerated female characters to Krahulik being dismissive of trans people (leading to a $20,000 donation to the Trevor project), there have been no end of sub-dickwolves controversies, causing one prominent indie developer to pull out of their shows entirely. The Financial Post’s Daniel Kaszor summed them up in an article titled “Penny Arcade needs to fix its Krahulik problem“.
I’m going to say this again for anyone who didn’t hear me the first couple of times: Penny Arcade and Gabe/Tycho are major game industry influencers and as such, they have a responsibility to Not Be Dicks about stuff that affects a large portion of their audience and their community. In Gabe’s last apology for being an ignorant ass, he said he was going to keep his mouth shut to avoid doing any more damage to the PA/PAX brand. Apparently he forgot to do that. Now he’s doubled-down on his rape-apologist bullshit, and his BUSINESS MANAGER BACKED HIM UP. And I imagine Tycho is doing his ostrich act as usual.
Please don’t tell me this is “just Gabe,” and that “Penny Arcade does Childsplay” or “look, Tycho defended a rape victim the other day!” because none of that matters in this context. You don’t get to do Bad Things and get off the hook because you also do Good Things. Gabe just told a room full of fanboys (like the ones who supported PA’s original rape joke by dubbing themselves “Team Rape”) that Penny Arcade’s mistake when it came to the Dickwolves Debacle was NOT SELLING T-SHIRTS. If you’re still willing to give him a pass–to give Penny Arcade and PAX a pass–then please at least examine and acknowledge the fact that you are doing so despite the fact that they repeatedly shit on rape survivors and anyone else who calls them out on their shit.
I understand that some of my friends have to go to PAX for work. I get that some people feel that they don’t have a choice. I’m not judging them. I’m judging Mike Krahulik, Robert Khoo, and Penny Arcade and finding them rape apologists with no remorse. And considering how many people are rape survivors, they are apologizing for the perpetrators of rapes committed against a significant percentage of their audience and the games industry/community at large.
I’m not launching a campaign–not today, anyway. I’m just asking each of you to really stop and think about this if you’re in any doubt–about costs and benefits and consequences and influence. I’m asking you to speak up about this. Talk to your friends and colleagues. Have a conversation about how industry influencers who spread the message that rape is funny and rape survivors need to “get a sense of humor” are doing damage to our society. How rape culture is a real thing and Penny Arcade are currently its standard-bearers in the games industry. And then let’s come up with a way to either counter that influence or get them to once-and-for-all denounce all this bullshit and take steps to make it right.
Clever closing here. I’m just so sick of this shit. I’ll leave you with another line from Alex Hern’s piece in The New Statesmen (emphasis mine):
But by reopening the wound that first suggested that all was not well at Penny Arcade, Krahulik has also firmly reopened the debate about whether the pair can be trusted with the power they have in gaming.
Update: Because I wasn’t there and haven’t watched the video, I was not aware that the audience cheered these remarks. I am just sick.
Update 2 (9/4): I just learned about this. From what I understand, a member of their Enforcer staff accused another of repeated incidents of sexual harassment, they quietly got rid of the guy, and PA mods shut down the forum thread where people were discussing the incident/issue, offering support and corroborating stories of harassment. I don’t know about you, but I feel kinda like putting another tick in the “Ways Penny Arcade Perpetuates Rape Culture” column.
Update 3 (9/5): Gabe has published a response to the Internet response to his comments at the Q&A. I think he has a lot of good things to say, but I do not think he has adequately explained why he thinks continuing to sell the shirts would have been a good idea. He has listed it among several other “mistakes” that fueled the fire, when the only fire removing the merch fueled (that I know of) was that of Team Rape’s entitled rage. He is still saying that NOT selling t-shirts that ridiculed survivors was a mistake. And that tells me that even though he’s sorry he hurt people on some level, on another level he still doesn’t get how selling those shirts would have hurt–and kept on hurting–those very same people. What do you think?
Update 4 (9/5): Here is my response.
- “Resolutions”: Penny Arcade rewrites history in its latest “Dickwolves” apologia (Media Darlings)
- Dear Gabe: I Don’t Hate You, but We Need to Talk (makemeasammich)
- Moving Forward With PAX (Gamers Against Bigotry)
- How PAX Broke My Heart (Video Games Quality Snark)
- Why I’m Never Going Back to Penny Arcade Expo (Wired)
DO NOTENGAGE: Dickwolves, Again. (Gamers Against Bigotry)
- I Can’t Go Back, or Why I’m So Bent Out of Shape About Penny Arcade (A Dream Come True)
- Pax, You’ve Gone And Done It: An Open Letter (Shoshana Kessock)
- Why I’m Quitting PAX (Lillian Cohen-Moore)
- An open letter to Jerry Holkins (Love Conquers All Games)
- Penny Arcade and the Slow Murder of Satire (Mammon Machine)
- Download Code: Penny Arcade needs to fix its Krahulik problem (Financial Post)
- Penny Arcade reopens the “dickwolves” controversy (The New Statesman)
- Quit Fucking Going To PAX Already, What Is Wrong With You (ElizabethSampat)
- Penny Arcade Artist: Pulling Dickwolves Merchandise ‘Was a Mistake’ (kotaku.com)
- Penny Arcade’s Gabe is Willfuly Ignorant (Again) (makemeasammich)
- No Sacred Cows (makemeasammich)
Respectful discussion is welcome and encouraged. When in doubt, see the Comment Policy.
I’ve been at this blogger-activist thing less than a year, but I know I’ve said it more than once: I strongly believe we have to hold ourselves and our allies to the same standards we do our opponents. This means we can’t allow ourselves to place anyone on a pedestal where criticism can’t reach them, and we can’t sweep bad behavior under the proverbial rug. It means we don’t let one another off the hook when we slip up and contribute to the problems we’re all trying to fight.
It means no sacred cows.
It doesn’t mean we have to point fingers and assign blame—at least not in my personal best-case scenario. To me, it means we point out the problems we see with what someone said/did/wrote, and then we stand back and let the person respond, hopefully taking some time to consider and form a thoughtful rebuttal or explanation or mea culpa. I know this can work—I see it all the time. But people have to be willing to ask the uncomfortable questions, like “Did you mean to say X? Because that’s what I heard.” And then follow up with “Here are all the ways that’s problematic.” And that’s difficult to do. But I think there’s too much at stake not to at least try to do it more often.
Lately, I’ve had a number of encounters with people who are fairly hardcore about responding when a stranger or celebrity or faceless entity they care nothing about says or does something out of line, but seem very reluctant to call out people (or entities) they consider allies even if they behave really badly. And some of these folks can be extremely critical of those who do call out bad behavior from people (or entities) they deem “good.” For example, some critics point to a given target of my activist ire and a) tell me all the things to like about them and b) draw comparisons among the issues I could be focusing on and finding my choices lacking—particularly in the face of how awesome the target is if I could only see all the good they do. But the fact that a person or company or organization might be otherwise awesome is precisely why I have to speak out when they do something less-than-awesome. If I let someone off the hook for bad behavior because they also do good, I’m making a conscious decision to condone that bad behavior under certain very particular circumstances (i.e., ones that suit me in a given situation). There’s a word for someone who does that: hypocrite.
Sacred cows are everywhere, even in our social circles. Like that one guy people apologize for because he’s a “good guy” who goes to church or gives to charity or volunteers with underprivileged puppies or whatever even though he did something really awful to another member of your social circle (this probably sounds like I’m talking about someone specific, but it happens all the time—see Captain Awkward #322 & #323 and #393 for examples). Or that woman who really is a great person who helps people and does all kinds of good, and when she says or does something really awful, no one will call her on it because she probably didn’t mean it the way it sounded, or she was just having an off day, someone provoked her, or don’t pick on her because look at all the GOOD she does. When we let these people off the hook, we’re sending a message that they can behave as they wish without consequence. We’re sending a message to anyone these people have wronged that the wrongs they suffered don’t count. And that can be pretty harmful. I’ve seen it with my own eyes. (In fact, Sid wrote about it here.)
So what is at stake? Because we’re all tacitly condoning it, the behavior will very likely continue. Within the framework of activism, allies may decide to adopt the behavior and perpetuate the problem, while opponents will certainly make as much hay out of the offense as possible—especially since we’ve chosen to ignore it and laud the offender’s accomplishments instead. These are just some of the risks we take when we apply a double standard.
But the most important thing at stake here for me? My integrity.
When I do this thing I am describing—when I choose to apply my standards to only those unfortunate enough not to be among my sacred cows—I compromise my principles. And what value is there in anything I do or say if I don’t defend my principles with everything I’ve got?
The most high-profile sacred cow we liberals hold dear is President Obama. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am happy as hell that he became president and that he got reelected. But there are things he does that have me scratching my head and I have spoken out about them in the past (not here I don’t think, but on my previous blog for certain). I had a (very unrealistic) hope that we would get modern-day equivalent of a fireside chat out of this guy where he loosened his tie, rolled up his sleeves, parked his butt on the corner of his desk, and leveled with us on the day-to-day struggles of governing this country. I want to understand why we’re killing civilians with drones, why Gitmo can’t be closed (yes, I’ve read the reasons), and why the HELL he thinks fracking is a good idea. I wanted him to explain how he didn’t agree with some provisions of the NDAA but had to sign it into law anyway (for reasons I’ve also read). And that’s just for starters. The President of the United States is the very LAST person we should be letting off the hook.
Penny Arcade, PAX, and front-men Gabe and Tycho, are sacred cows in the games industry where I’ve mostly made my living for the past 25 years. When I asked friends recently whether PA had ever acknowledged what the real problem was with the way they handled what’s now known as the Dickwolves Debacle (i.e., did they ever apologize, or did everyone just sweep it under the rug and keep going to PAX?), I heard two things: 1) No, they haven’t done anything to illustrate an understanding of what they did wrong. 2) PAX is too important a networking opportunity for some folks to miss, especially given the current economic climate. I sympathize, but I think we have to demand better from people with as much pull in the industry–especially among youth–as Penny Arcade enjoys. But we don’t, and so Gabe goes along his merry way being a rape apologist (he recently decried the unfairness of Kickstarter’s decision to pull a game called “Tentacle Bento”–in which the player’s goal was to accost as many schoolgirls as possible as an alien tentacle monster) and all around ignorant ass, and steadfastly refuses to hear anyone who attempts to help him understand people whose experiences differ from his and correct his course to avoid causing harm in the future. He consistently trivializes issues people ask him to take seriously, poking fun at or even ridiculing critics (and thereby encouraging his followers to do the same). And anymore, Tycho just seems to pretend none of it is happening. PA continues to be a major influencer, with the industry flocking to PAX where a lot of people still think Dickwolves was a kick in the pants because PA never stood up and said “We were wrong–here’s what we learned.” They have explicitly chosen not to use their influence to help solve the problems they continue to help perpetuate. And frankly, too few in the industry have asked them to.
The rape joke that got Penny Arcade into trouble in the first place (but was ultimately minor compared to their handling of the fallout) fell into that oh-so-holy space just outside reality where people are supposedly allowed to say and do anything: comedy. I’ll let Lindy West speak to that (via Jezebel):
But it’s just a joke. Calm down.
Yeah, dude, but this shit isn’t magic. It’s not a game. It’s not like you get to declare the comedy stage “base” and the rest of the world “hot lava” (spewing from the vaginas of feminazi gargoyles, I’m sure) and everything you say on the stage exists in some sacred loophole that’s exempt from criticism and the expectation of hard work. Rape, domestic violence, brutalization, marginalization, the struggle to make yourself heard—all of this shit is REAL to a lot of people. They’re not cute little thought experiments for you to mess around with without pushback. You can lie to yourself all you want, but if you say something awful to somebody in the course of your regular day, it is exactly the same as if you say it on stage. If anything, its emotional impact is magnified.
And anyway, anyone who says “but it’s just a joke” has never had their life profoundly changed by a joke.
In the same article, Lindy has this to say about sacred cows:
But Louis CK!
Ugh, this part is so boring. Okay. Do you know what else Louis CK does? He changes. He evolves. He thinks. And when he fucks up, he gets criticized like crazy, and some of that criticism makes it into his brain—and, eventually, his act. Also, just because one of comedy’s sacred god-kings manages to be funny and smart when broaching certain sensitive topics doesn’t mean they can’t also be harmful. You know, Thomas Jefferson owned slaves. Etc. Just because Jeffrey Ross can (debatably) pull off a “haha, faggot” once in a while doesn’t mean that identical “haha, faggot”s aren’t actively moving gay kids to kill themselves all over the fucking country. It’s real, and it deserves critical thought, not kneejerk defensiveness.
Also, you’re not Louis CK. Maybe don’t invite the comparison.
It’s not easy to realize your behavior might be contributing to the very problems you claim to want to solve. But if you’re lucky enough to reach a certain level of self-awareness, you realize that you’d rather be right—really right—than be wrong and defend your wrong position like a stubborn jackass. I have been known to say you can be Jesus H. Christ and heal the sick all day long, but if you’re an asshole, I’m going to say, “Jesus! Don’t be an asshole!” But even I didn’t want to heap criticism on the president at election time in 2012. And that made me a hypocrite. A well-meaning hypocrite with what felt like good reasons for being so, but a hypocrite nonetheless.
So, this is my mea culpa for that and for how hard it is for me to call out my sacred cows when I think something they have said or done has caused harm. I can’t say it will never happen again. I’m not going on a witch hunt; believe it or not, I’m actually non-confrontational by nature. But I want to do better. I’d like to call on anyone reading to consider joining me in making a commitment to hold ourselves and each other to the highest possible standard so we all strive to do and be better. At the very least, we’ll give our opponents less ammunition. At best, we will raise the level of discourse, which is always worthwhile.
Either way, we’ll have our integrity.
Respectful discussion is welcome and encouraged. When in doubt, see the Comment Policy.
Seriously, it’s time to stop pretending he gives a shit.
Gabe gives a shit: Here’s what I think is a lot closer to a real apology for “being an asshole.” Your thoughts are welcome (but insults and telling me to shut up aren’t, so don’t bother).
Also, The Fullbright Company pulls out of PAX.
Respectful discussion is welcome and encouraged. When in doubt, see the Comment Policy.