Tag Archives: feminism

‘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.

Aku No Hana, final ep, Kasuga should be kimo-ota.

Hentai note.
Nakamura’s Hentai note.

Aku No Hana final episode… Crap, so this is not the end. I have to wait until there’s Part 2?? This cliff hanger certainly sucks. A thought of “what’s gonna happen next?” can’t make me sleep. Continue reading Aku No Hana, final ep, Kasuga should be kimo-ota.

Upotte: Put ya Guns On

It will come as no surprise to the reader that Upotte objectifies girls.  That is, after all, literally the premise of the show: that girls can actually be guns.  But perhaps the truly artistic element of its premise is that statement in reverse: that guns – inanimate objects – can be girly.

Perhaps the teacher’s dilemma is that these guns cannot be treated as such – they have feelings of shyness and inadequacy, and are embarrassed easily, just like ordinary girls.  Rather than showing the girls responding well to being treated like guns, the lesson of Upotte seems to be the backwards implication that guns ought to be treated more like girls: given leeway for their unique personality quirks, handled with care and delicacy, and generally treated with respect.

Continue reading Upotte: Put ya Guns On

The Feminism of Prince Zuko

Zuko is the most feminist character in Avatar.

Sure, there are a lot of other contenders – a fact which reflects well on the show. Katara’s competence at waterbending, her slight motherly bent, and her suffer-no-fools attitude combine to make her the most obvious choice. But while Katara has power, it also comes with a distinct “horror show” streak, as shown in the episode about bloodbending. Ultimately, the implication that fully exploring her power is morally dangerous undercuts her purity as a vehicle for a feminist message – if her power is tainted, is female power itself then tainted by association? If Katara must limit herself to be decent, does that mean women should limit themselves?  Is there something sinister about a woman behaving at her full potential?

Suki, the Kiyoshi Island warrior, must be rejected for different reasons. Despite a promising start proving herself the equal of any other warrior, she manages to get knocked out and captured – off screen, no less – and then plays only a small part in the episode dedicated to her escape from prison. In between telling the compelling story of Sokka and his father, and introducing the plight of the other prisoners in the Fire Nation maximum-security prison, the writers sideline and diminish her to the point where she is less a character than a plot device.

Suki’s most heroic moment comes when she states that she is willing to return to captivity to help Sokka get another shot at freeing his father; aside from this one difficult decision, she is reduced to being another damsel in distress until near the very end of the escape. Even Suki’s decision is not given the weight it deserves; her suffering and emotions after being a female, mistreated prisoner of war for months are not really explored. No doubt much of this is to spare kids watching it the horrors of war, but the result is an unfortunate glossing over of Suki’s feelings and burden, as if they don’t really matter next to the great and glorious task the males are fixated on.  She doesn’t even get screen time to agonize over the decision, which would at least make the audience stop and think about just how much Sokka asks of her.

While we’re on the topic of women in the story, Azula has to be mentioned. Here is someone who ostensibly fills the role of a powerful woman, but she is repeatedly presented as so reprehensible and out of touch with humanity that she seems more like a parody of feminism set up by its critics than any kind of advertisement for it. Azula is less a human character and more a devious, malicious spirit wearing a villain suit that happens to be female. She is not shown wrestling with serious urges to be more feminine, difficulties with social pressure, or desire to find a man mingled with resentment that people would assume such. (She does attempt to become better socialized in one episode, but fails horribly and brushes the matter aside in favor of burning down the house in revenge.)  Azula’s psychosis alienates people, but while she uses social pressure as a weapon, she doesn’t really allow herself to care all that much about it, and that’s where she goes wrong as an exploration of the dialectic between women and power. Her gender, much like the spectacular self-destruction tacked on to the end of her story, is an afterthought.

Zuko? Zuko wanted something so badly that he betrayed himself to try to make it happen. He’s insecure and repeatedly undercuts his own intentions to try to please a distant and uncaring authority figure. That’s something teen and preteen girls in Western society can instantly relate to – certainly better than most guys of that age. While Ozai sacrificed his own family members for the throne, and Azula goes to great lengths to torment people because she’s a catty bitch, what Zuko seeks above all is a happy and harmonious household. He wants a nice, domestic scene.

It might seem odd to say the best story in Avatar about the female experience is that of a male, but if we accept that the world unevenly applies rules, that there is nothing inherently wrong with women wielding power, and that women often start from a position of being socially disadvantaged and must work harder to prove themselves, Zuko’s tale is the one that fits.  Zuko’s ultimate lesson is to learn to be true to himself despite what the world thinks, and as Liz Phair once said: “Be yourself, because if you can get away with it, that is the ultimate feminist act.”

B Gata H Kei: the Fifteen Year Old Virgin

Is virginity a character flaw?

Traditionally in Japan young girls were assumed to be maidens, to the point where the terms were at times used interchangeably. Perhaps in today’s sex-positive, metropolitan world, it’s assumed that youngsters of both genders will fool around.

In that light, B gata H kei appears to be something of a deconstruction of high schoolers’ attitudes towards sex. The details strain credulity (aiming for 100 casual sex partners in high school? Really?) but the overall idea that impressionable and insecure teens feel obligated to put on airs is dead on. It’s interesting that so much of the main character’s insecurities rest on the gross physical details of her anatomy, but what better symbol for the teenaged preoccupation with sex?

Continue reading B Gata H Kei: the Fifteen Year Old Virgin

Aika Zero: Yielding to Victory

Stop it before it penetrates the sky!

What defines Aika Zero? The fact that it deliberately imitates fetish porn? The fact that the overarching target for the first story arc is a giant phallus, which must be destroyed before it succeeds in emptying its fiery load? The fact that the show goes further than the original Aika, blurring the line between titillation and parody of pornographic content?

Continue reading Aika Zero: Yielding to Victory

Shitsurakuen: A Tired Argument

Shitsurakuen-cover

Shitsurakuen is metafiction. However, rather than metafiction that cleverly employs existing genre tropes to make an argument, it is metafiction that simply arrives back at the starting point. Both visually and narratively, it borrows heavily from classics such as Revolutionary Girl Utena and Sailor Moon, yet fails to do anything new with the material.

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The protagonist Sora is an innocent, strong-willed girl who believes in truth and justice. This essentially makes her a female iteration of the typical good-hearted male lead in shounen shows – not very smart, but with a good heart and a strong sense of right and wrong. From the get-go, she is contrasted with her more mature friend Tsuki. Tsuki has learned to accept the wickedness of the world and not fight back against it, thereby becoming a collaborator in her own oppression.

Continue reading Shitsurakuen: A Tired Argument

A Brave New Divergence

I have seen the future, and it is fantastic.

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These bounce each time she gives a status report. No joke.

Multicolored hair!  Massive oppai¹!  Quantum everything!  Cool robots!  Just ignore the bizarre displays of objectum sexual² behavior that accompany all these things in Divergence Eve, and we’ll proceed.

DivEve

Continue reading A Brave New Divergence

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