The Worst People in the World?

In case you hadn’t heard (I’ll admit, the hype around the latest incident is a lot less than it was 3 years ago), Mike “Gabriel” Krahulik has re-opened the “Dickwolves” controversy a few weeks ago at PAX Prime when he said that pulling the Dickwolf merchandise was a mistake. In case you were unaware, nearly 3 years ago, Penny Arcade made a joke about poor villagers being raped to sleep nightly by dickwolves (not to be confused with Law & Order creator Dick Wolf). They then made some merch about it. Then, everybody got really mad at them for making a joke where rape was part of the punch line and ultimately profiting from it.

This happens only a few weeks after Mark Millar came under fire for his use of rape within his own comics (aka Wanted, Nemesis, Kick-Ass 2) as a plot device. To Mr. Millar, rape can be used as a plot device insofar as it is up there with the worst thing a bad guy can do. Murder and torture have grown pretty commonplace in pop-culture these days. Comic books and video games are just chalk full of murder. Often at the hands of the good guys even. So if murder, torture, kidnapping and general bodily harm are par for the course, how do you make your villain stand out as a really, really terrible person? You make them rape someone.

Unsurprisingly (but, possibly erroneously) people are calling for the boycott of Penny Arcade, PAX, Kick Ass 2 and anything Krahulik and Millar might represent in their separate careers. Can you imagine if these two got together to make a comic? The polarizing effect on geekdom would be astounding. If you bought the comic, you would be a rape advocate. At least you would be in the eyes of some people on the internet.

We talked about this at length in the last few episodes of 9ES and yet I still find I have stuff to say about it.

Here’s where I have a problem, a big problem with all the denouncers of these two works. Both of these creators have a long history of using incredible violence in their works. Penny Arcade has featured a ton of violent outbursts in its past; people have been decapitated, disemboweled and worse all in the name of comedy. I don’t even really have to expand on how comics like Wanted and Kick Ass are overly violent. Both Krahulik and Millar have routinely used violence to get their point across, comedic or otherwise.

So why is murder ok, but rape isn’t?

Short answer: it’s not. In fact, it is easy to argue that murder is much worse than rape (in that there is a chance of recovery from rape, no such luck with murder). So why do we get up in arms about rape used in fiction and we just let murder be? Modern society doesn’t murder each other that often and it is easy to figure (especially taking into account the number of unreported cases) that rape (ie: non-consensual sex) happens a lot more.

Maybe that’s why people are more sensitive to it? We’re confronted with it on a far more regular basis. Just about everyone I know is only a degree or two removed from someone who has been put into non-consensual sexual encounter of some degree of severity. Men (usually, but let’s be clear, it is not an all-male issue) have shown a far greater tendency to justify away that it’s “ok” to be sexually aggressive where they would never try to justify a cold blooded murder.

How do you think people feel reading a book like Kick Ass in a war torn part of the world? Where grizzly acts of violence are common place? Some kids dress up in costumes and engage in horrific violence for almost no reason! I’m sure these people are like “That’s not entertainment, it’s part of our life and here you are reveling in it.”

But hey, you don’t know anybody who was brutally decapitated with a machete so it’s fine to have in the funny books.

Personally, I have no problem with either of those things being used in creative endeavors, comedic or otherwise. Why? Is it because I am some sort of rape apologist? No. It’s because both murder and rape are horrible atrocities that should never be committed. Artists are free to use those actions as plot devices in whatever means they see fit to get their art across. It’s the nature of art. It might be shocking, it might be in poor taste. It doesn’t mean however, that they’re endorsing those actions.

If it’s not for you, then by all means you should avoid it. There are some things that I find offensive that are just not for me. That’s ok. I won’t force you to read these comics. I won’t judge you if you think it’s not funny. I will however have a problem if you accuse these artists of being part of rape culture or are somehow making it ok to rape.

That is the same argument that Right-wing news outlets use against violence in videogames. Play violent games will make you violent. It’s just as stupid here as it is there. If you read a comic that has rape in it, you’re not about to head out and start raping. If you do, there are deep terrible issues inside of you in the first place. Not being able to discern that comics, video games and movies are fiction and not actually life guidebooks is not the creators’ problem, it’s the viewer’s.

I honestly believe that we have a long way to go in terms of properly educating men and women about consensual sexual behavior. I think that rape is a serious problem our society has a tendency to brush under the carpet and not address properly in both our social and judicial systems. I also believe in freedom of speech and the right of creators to tackle any subject matter they so choose, even if it’s in poor taste.

So, what’s the point here?

I think that what these creators (Millar and Krahulik) do might not be for you, I think it is almost certainly offensive depending on your tastes. They take things like rape, murder, violence towards children (remember that time they talked about punching a baby?) and a host of other offensive material and largely make light of it. It is just as much their right as creators as it is your right to complain about it and sound off that it is offensive to you. That’s how freedom of speech and expression works. That’s the thing though, saying it’s offensive is not the same thing as saying these people are rape advocates. They’re just not. No more than they are murder advocates.

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