Tag Archives: culture

‘Dickwolves’ cheered at Penny Arcade Expo

Life, it may be said, is lived in fiction. If you got up and went to a job today, odds are that you did it for the money – itself a fiction, but backed by the government, which is another fiction. Your house and car physically exist, but your loans on them constitute promissory notes – financial fiction – owed to a corporation – a legal fiction. Somewhere in all this fiction we write narratives that explain what kinds of people we are, who we talk to, what we find good and evil, and how we live our lives.

The Penny Arcade controversy may be said to be the clash of competing fictions. What is Penny Arcade’s identity in the yet-ongoing ‘Dickwolves’ fight? Are they rabble-rousing hatemongers hell-bent on pushing a pro-rape agenda? Are they freedom fighters, trying to cling to their own ways of thought in an increasingly pressurized society? Or are they merely two guys who made a dumb joke? Twitter was ablaze yet again as this clip from PAX 2013 circulated (click to open video):

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“I think that pulling the dickwolves merchandise was a mistake.” – Mike “Gabe” Krahulik, artist of Penny Arcade

“One of these days he’s going to say something wrong to the wrong person and then suddenly, PAX won’t be a thing anymore.” – @DanielBriscoe, Fandom Press, a sentiment echoed by many online.

Perhaps it’s impossible to be for free speech – whether caricatures of George Bush, graphic violence and gore in anime and manga, girls with improbably large breasts, or Serrano’s Piss Christ – and to turn around and be for the censoring of speech and thought because one particular group of people you like is sacrosanct. The basic concept of free speech in art is: whether an artist’s speech is distasteful or tasteful should not control whether we as a society permit it to exist.

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“If jokes about violence, rape, aids, pedophilia, bestiality, drugs, cancer, homosexuality, and religion bother you then I recommend reading a different webcomic.” – Gabe

To Penny Arcade, it appears this is more or less a straightforward free speech issue. From their point of view, they say stupid stuff but they don’t mean harm by it; some of it is hilarious and some is offensive, and some might even be both. They’re crass and careless, but they are equally crass and careless with each other. In the above PAX 2013 panel video, they publicly joke about how if one of them dies, the other already has plans to spend the life insurance money! Sensitivity is clearly not something they are any good at.

Penny Arcade’s fans cheer them because they are cheering the idea that in a complex world of disproportionate reactions – a scary world where kids get in trouble for chewing pastries into the shape of guns – it’s okay to be yourself. It’s okay to break the rules of politeness, it’s okay to say socially unacceptable things, and it’s okay to make a comic about utterly juvenile humor juxtaposed with gaming references. They don’t understand what all the fuss is, and they don’t accept that a joke about the absurdity of RPG questing that uses rape as its “BAD END” has anything to do with real life rape. They want to live without having to worry about consequences for every dumb thing that comes out when they open their mouths.

Set against this are those who believe that culture is deliberate. To them, every word and thought must be carefully measured for fear of contributing to one repressive culture or another. In this particular case, that’s “rape culture,” and all of Penny Arcade’s bluster is nothing less than horrifying. This is the other story; the other version of events; the competing fiction. Those who believe in rape culture believe in a sort of semiotic butterfly effect, whereby constant mention of rape as a laudable act (“we raped the other team in LoL last night”) or as an item of humour desensitizes people and eventually contributes to the incidence of actual rapes.

It would be easy to call this difference one of liberalism vs. conservatism, but that would be false: the Dickwolves argument is a clash between one liberal paradigm (third-wave feminism) and another liberal paradigm (free speech)! To third-wave feminists, it is utterly shocking that someone would willingly choose to wear a Dickwolves shirt after the backlash. After all, even if others don’t agree with their way of looking at culture, it’s obvious they are horrified by it. Why would anyone willingly offend them?

“A moral panic is a public panic over an issue deemed to be a threat to, or shocking to, the sensibilities of ‘proper’ society… Where the moral panic involves a group whose members are conscious of their subordination, the denounced behavior may become a symbol of opposition and rebellion.” – RationalWiki

It has to be noted that third-wave feminists do not form a majority consensus in society at large; only in educational institutions and on the Internet – where liberalism holds sway – are they taste-makers. “Rebellion” against any standards they impose may therefore also be understood as a clash between online and offline standards.

Of course, moral panic in the abstract is regularly derided in the gaming community, because of its associations with video game censors like Jack Thompson. Penny Arcade itself publicly feuded with the now-disbarred lawyer in 2005. Perhaps this illustrates a valuable lesson about how people apply ideals. People get that moral panic is absurd when applied to something they instinctively find harmless or positive like gaming, but change the bugbear to something like hurtful speech, and suddenly they’re all in. After all, stereotypical video game nerds and anime otaku have a long and storied history of being verbally abused.

Will Penny Arcade spawn more controversies in the future?

“With me not being able to keep my mouth shut – I’m trying very hard to be better about that . . . When and where it’s OK to say the things that I think. When I do things or say things that hurt not just me but fourteen other people who rely on Penny Arcade for their livelihood, when I say something dumb to make somebody mad . . . that I can see happening again. I hope it doesn’t, but I know who I am.” – Gabe

There you have it. It looks like it will happen again, and they are aware of it to the point of being fatalistic. While Gabe and Tycho are incredibly crass and offensive, perhaps we can at least say that they are also incredibly honest about who they really are. Time will tell whether they are remembered as hatemongers, advocates of free speech, or guys making dumb jokes.

Compensated Dating in the USA

As part of a series on getting by with little money, Business Insider ran an article detailing how a Manhattan twenty-something uses dating website Match.com to get free dinners and booze. Jessica Sporty’s progression from merely being frugal to using sex appeal to obtain material goods unleashed an utterly predictable storm of reactions from all corners of the political spectrum.

Really, though, this isn’t anything new. Putting aside invocations of “the oldest profession,” the more moderate phenomenon of compensated dating has been around for quite some time. Called “enko” in Japan, or “enjo kosai,” it involves paying for a woman’s company more than her body, though depending on where the buyer and seller fall on the spectrum of sexual permissiveness, sex is not out of the question. Naturally, a “reverse” version exists as well: in The Great Happiness Space, a male host at an Osaka club describes the emotional toll of having sex with several paying women each week.

Perhaps the telling part is that unlike in Japan, most of the US seems to labor under the illusion that such practices are a thing of the past.  “What woman does this sort of thing?”  America had compensated dating in the 1920s, along with flappers and financially liberated women, but it just as surely had attempts to legislate these out of sight and out of existence.  According to an ABC News survey, 30% of single men above the age of 30 have paid for sex.

And yet this sort of thing is distasteful to us now.  Tokyopop cut the entire enjo kosai subplot, a valuable cultural nuance, from Initial D‘s American localization.

The original author at Business Insider has since complained that people were overly sensitive about Sporty callously playing with peoples’ feelings for fun and profit.  She rebuked readers for making value judgments about a woman who just wants to live the good life at the expense of others.

Sporty kept things simple—no more than five dates with the same guy.

Perhaps the largest difference is that in Japan, there is necessarily a certain tension: whether drinking with a man at a host club, or going to karaoke with a high school girl, the client knows they are paying for the illusion of good times with the opposite gender.  In Jessica Sporty’s outings, only one side is aware that it’s all a show.

Meidonomics

Pat Galbraith has an interesting article about how maid cafes are a bulwark of stability in these troubled economic times.

He dryly notes, “Maids in the original sense are not sex workers, though this is perhaps not always the case at the 200-plus cafes around the country.”

This I find interesting. Though it may be a one-sided perception, there has long been a sense of exotic sexuality tentatively attached to cosplay in the West. It’s not new; as far back as Richard Feynman’s 1985 autobiography, Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman! one finds a well-educated Westerner at a nice Japanese inn uncertain as to whether or not the kimono-clad attendant is going to provide sexual favors. How much more confusing, then, would one find it at what is often translated into English as a “fetish cafe”?

It’s not hard to think of the supply of willing maids in familiar terms: just as waitresses in Los Angeles are often aspiring actresses, Galbraith writes of the maids, “most do it because they enjoy it, but a lucky few can become cosplay idols.”  Given that this fits the mindset so well, is it any surprise that Los Angeles has its own maid cafe?

For the Japanese otaku, perhaps personal interaction is at the heart of it. In an increasingly isolated society, people are starved for personal interaction. Japan, with its workaholic culture leading to deaths of karoshi, can only feel this problem more acutely.  Twitter, Facebook, and all social media – including, yes, blogs – aim to provide people with regular interaction. This would seem to be confimed: Galbraith reports that many customers are regulars.

Is it really very different from going to Starbucks because you chat with the barista, or going to the local pub where the bartender knows what you like? The more people hold up these behaviors as examples of how otaku differ from normal society, the more apparent it is that they see differences primarily because they want to see them.

Civil Liberties Continue to Crumble

Recently a Filipino ban on hentai manga/anime followed a vaguely worded, proposed UK law that would make all sexualized, simulated depictions of minors illegal (possibly making all fanservice legally problematic.) Now, there have been rumors that all games referring to sexual assault are to be banned in Japan, in the light of campaigns by international watchdog organization Equality Now and other womens’ rights organizations. Obviously, this rumored ban would spell disaster for an already troubled Japanese adult media industry. ANN reports that industry executives have already gone on record to reassure their fans that nothing has been decided yet.

Fanservice.

It is terribly ironic that this censorship occurs even as historic progress is being made in many societies against the repression of women, minorities, and those of various sexual orientations. While prior bans against child pornography cited the harm done to the children appearing in the work, bans against the sexualized appearance of young girls in anime or manga are simply done to uphold a public sense of decency. No actual person is being harmed; rather the harm is presumably done to community standards. This movement in jurisprudence has led to some bizarre outcomes, such as the 14-year-old who was arrested as both sole perpetrator and sole victim of a “sex crime” wherein she photographed herself in a state of undress.  Under US law, she may be forced to register as a sex offender for the remainder of her life.

Continue reading Civil Liberties Continue to Crumble

On Kannagi and Virginity

For those of you who missed it, there was a big to-do at the close of 2008 over the fact that Nagi of Kannagi might not be “pure.”

Not a vampire.

It’s fascinating to me how so much of the international anime community took the Western perspective and applied it as if it ought to be universal.  Sankaku Complex was flooded with hate in the stories it ran. Darkmirage’s popular take on the subject garnered forty comments and not one mentioned how cultural expectations of women are different in Japan vs. in the West. There was not one reference to Yamamoto Nadeshiko, that ideal of self-sacrificing femininity that was inculcated in the Japanese in WWII and whose specter still discourages modern Japanese women from marrying.

Continue reading On Kannagi and Virginity

Arthur Kirkland hates lolis

Images that depict underage girls and boys are about to be banned in the UK.

Pic related

First, some context (quotes from experiencefestival.com:)

“The United States Supreme Court decided in 2002, and affirmed in 2004, that previous American prohibition of simulated child pornography under the Child Pornography Prevention Act was unconstitutional.”  The main issue was that there was no harm to any actual children, and the court found that viewing of this material had no causative link to harming children.  True, someone sexually attracted to children would enjoy this kind of pornography, but the converse was not true: someone who enjoyed it would not necessarily harm, or have any feelings for, real children.

“UK law has dealt with simulated images quite differently since 1994, when the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act introduced the legal definition of an ‘indecent pseudo-photograph of a child,’ which is prohibited as if it were a true photograph.”  This act was originally interpreted to apply only to photorealistic images; drawings that were clearly not based on any real children were permitted.

Now, however, things may be changing.
Continue reading Arthur Kirkland hates lolis