Tuesday, August 17, 2010


So, I've been reading Penny Arcade for a long time. Not since the very beginning, but I've been following it off and on for years.

And then there was this comic. Warning, if you click that link you will find a rape joke.

Frankly it's blue humor in the same vein as lots of stuff they've done before. I thought it was funny. I still do, though now I feel guilty about it. Apparently a lot of people found it really offensive and wrote in to complain. The PA guys were less than sympathetic because, as they pointed out in a blog post, this isn't new humor to their strip. Then they did a follow up strip here.

That second one did actually bother me. I didn't think it was funny. But even though it offended me, I didn't dwell on it particularly.

But then today I stumbled on this blog post, at a site called Shakesville that is pretty cool. The thing is, the author is correct about our culture, about the fact that this one rape joke does not exist in a vacuum, etc (just read her post, it's good and I'm not gonna rehash it here). Also thinking about it, how do justify defending yourself for making an offensive joke by mentioning that you've made lots of similar jokes?

I've never really subscribed to that weird theory that stuff like South Park is somehow not offensive because they strive to offend everyone equally. Less is more, but more is never less.

But here's my real dilemma. I consider myself to be conscientious about various civil and human rights issues. But I also like Penny Arcade, at least most of the time. And it's not just PA. I have watched and enjoyed Family Guy, South Park, Drawn Together and plenty of other really reprehensible and entirely offensive shows. Now there are some episodes of all of those that I won't watch because they are too gross, violent, or offensive (usually a combination of all three) but I still watch the new ones. Maybe it's because with their scattershot approach to humor and that striving to be as offensive as possible, the odds are about 50/50 that I'll agree with whatever tack they've taken today. Making fun of organized religion? It's pretty likely I'm gonna laugh at that shit. Non-stop diarrhea and vomit? Yeah, I'm probably gonna change the channel as soon as it becomes apparent that this is a running gag. So I keep watching.

But here's the thing, I watch these shows and I know that what I'm seeing, even as I'm laughing at it, is offensive. It's racist, it's homophobic, it's sexist, these are jokes that I would never ever make. But I have this little brother. He's a teenager. Actually he's almost not a teenager anymore. He's going off to college this fall. And he makes repeats the shit he hears on South Park. The last time we were in Vegas he had just seen the episode of South Park where Cartman gets HIV and whenever he's asked a question he answers along the lines of, "Am I sure? I'm HIV positive."

So we're in Las Vegas at...the Mirage, standing in line to see a drag show (because my family loves drag), and he keeps repeating this joke. I am hissing at him trying frantically to get him to shut the hell up. I said, "Look I don't have the time to fully explain to you why that joke is particularly inappropriate at this venue, you just need to take my word for it and stop." Didn't do much good.

He and his teenage friends are constantly making racist, sexist, and homophobic jokes all the time, and god forbid I should take offense. To be fair, they are teenagers. Teenagers are stupid. Also I'm the big sister, and he knows this shit bugs me, and it's in his genes to bug me as much as possible. But I worry that he really doesn't get it. Maybe he really doesn't understand how damaging this kind of humor is, and maybe it's my fault. I watch this stuff and laugh and he watches it with me. There's a caveat in my brain that says that outside the context of this show this stuff is wrong. If someone came up to me on the street and made a comment anything like the average gag line in an episode of South Park I would let them have it. But in the comfort of my own home I laugh.

Do I have a moral obligation to stop watching these shows, stop reading this comic, stop consuming stuff that is only funny because it is self-admittedly as offensive as possible? I've occasionally referred to these shows as a "guilty pleasure." But today it's too guilty.


  1. It's a complicated topic and I know exactly what you're going through. The thing is you have to find a balance between what you can feel comfortable with for yourself and what you can't. It's not something you need to justify to anyone, unless you want to, but tv is full of problematic shows. They cover the landscape and you can't escape them. You just need to decide for yourself when something becomes too problematic.

    Maybe you should stop watching in order to set an example for your brother. Would it work? Maybe you should stop watching for yourself. It's not a question I can answer and we both know I watch more than a few problematic shows. You just need to figure out where your line is and what mitigating factors there might be.

    It's a hard question.

  2. As far as the shows themselves, I ditto what Amaresu said.

    But as far as the teenage brother, teenagers are, as you stated, stupid because their brains aren't fully developed and sometimes I think a major oversight is empathy. Empathy would've made your brother stop with the HIV jokes when you told him to, even if he didn't fully understand why this was extra inappropriate at a drag show. I also think it's hard to explain privilege to someone and make them understand just why repeating the joke from South Park (or what-have-you) is not funny or why people just might be offended.

    With my own brothers, I definitely kept at them to show some respect for other people. And a tide did turn. At some point, my brother Cameron's friends made a gay joke and he told them that wasn't cool. And when his friends did the obvious knee-jerk of calling him gay, he informed them that he wasn't, but his sister was. Still to this day, I can't believe Cameron did that and I'm really proud that something did get through and he not only didn't display homophobic behavior in a crowd, but corrected his friends. I always try to remember this when he starts repeating offensive jokes from the TV.

  3. lack of sensivity
    That second one did actually bother me (you).
    YOU didn't think it was funny.
    The first is boring and the second is hilarious
    I did

  4. The other is that (rape)every joke contribute to a culture in which "peculiar" behavior is satirized and coined as "abnormal"

    nice links
    full of american trivia....

  5. how damaging this kind of humor is....and wath kind of humor is free of any negative perspective

    homer simpson is stupid,is funny because it'a a representation of the best human qualities?
    humor is allways negative
    and all american cartoons are violent