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Wednesday, March 9, 2011


Sadly, a lot of internet nerd culture — hell, CULTURE — is preoccupied with establishing ideas of masculinity in the crudest and dumbest ways possible.-- Heidi McDonald, THE BEAT, 3-8-11.

Heidi McDonald's latest foray into the matter of "nerd gender relations" (her words) can be found here.

Though her post splits itself between two topics-- that of the representation of female critics in the world of High Comics Criticism, and that of a controversy involving a rape joke in the webcomic PENNY ARCADE-- the "glue" binding the two topics is masculine crudeness. Heidi only touches on the "echo chamber of jackanapes" that was the TCJ message board at one point, and devotes more time to the webcomic (which most would consider a better gauge of "nerd culture"):

Short version (as best I can make out) — the immensely popular comic strip Penny Arcade made a rape joke last year. Some objected. An then somehow this got turned into people calling themselves “rape culture” and wearing t-shirts that referenced the rapers — “d*ckwolves” — and a woman who had actually been raped and suffered PTSD not wanting to go, and then people claiming she had never been raped and… well it’s stupid and ugly. You don’t need a degree in psychiatry to know that there’s an aspect to video game culture that’s totally aggro and brutish, and it’s behind a lot of the casual misogyny of various parts of the internet.

Heidi also quotes someone whose name I wasn't able to learn because the link didn't work:

when feminists (myself included) say that making a shirt or a comic about rape contributes to rape culture, it sounds a lot like the above argument. What the other side doesn’t understand, however, is that there is a critical difference between the argument of feminists and the argument of anti-violence video game censors. For the most part, our argument is not that a rape joke is going to make someone go out and rape. Our argument, instead, is that rape jokes, and allowing people to indentify themselves with a shirt promoting a fictional rapist character, contributes to a culture where rape is accepted, tolerated, and the impact of it diminished.

This, however, is specious. If a feminist is concerned that rape jokes contribute to a culture where rape is accepted and tolerated, this concern does not exist in an intellectual vacuum: she/he is obviously concerned that greater tolerance will lead to a greater incidence of real rape-attacks. When the speaker says that "our argument is not that a rape joke is going to make someone go out and rape," she/he is being disingenuous. Anti-violence censors, whether of video games or any other entertainment, don't universally believe in a direct "monkey see monkey do" effect, in which a viewer sees rape depicted in a video game and then immediately quests forth in search of a maiden to ravage. Their entire argument hinges upon the phenomenon called "desensitization," just as much as feminists opposing rape or related forms of misogyny-- and, somewhere down the line, the result of this desensitization is going to be real violence, if not specifically male-over-female violence.

As I've no interest in gaming-culture whatever, I don't have a specific dog in the fight, so I wouldn't precisely go to the wall to protect the rights of gamer-nerds to wear T-shirts alluding to rape. Were I to meet such a T-shirted nerd in the street, knowing what "dickwolf" means, I might well cross to the other side of the street to avoid him-- especially since the original context of the PENNY ARCADE comic was male, not female, rape!

Still, it's also specious to label as "aggro and brutish" an aspect of entertainment that's been with us long before the first video-game-- which aspect is not specifically rape, but human cruelty.

Paging Friedrich N.:

Almost everything we call "higher culture" is based on the spiritualization of cruelty, on its becoming more profound: this is my proposition. That "savage animal" has not really been "mortified"; it lives and flourishes, it has merely become—divine. What constitutes the painful voluptuousness of tragedy is cruelty; what seems agreeable in so-called tragic pity, and at bottom in everything sublime, up to the highest and most delicate shudders of metaphysics, receives its sweetness solely from the admixture of cruelty.

Of course the dopey PENNY ARCADE strip does not approach "higher culture," but as I've pointed out over and over, "lower culture" has its own aesthetic, and that often includes the crudest forms of aggressive entertainment. Moreover, women are not immune to the love of cruelty in either crude or "spiritualized" forms, even though it's probably true that the majority of them don't enjoy watching the depiction of rape.

Even so, the problem of sexual fantasy in women has consequences for any attempt to portray "aggro" fantasies as exclusively male-centered. To a board-poster who seemed unable to validate female-on-male rape as actual rape, I wrote:

Your posts assume that a male's genital rape by any woman who doesn't gross him out must be a sexual fantasy. It can be, just Scarlet O'Hara's rape (admittedly within the context of marriage) was clearly a sexual fantasy for the predominant female audience that read the book. But a male rape by a sexy woman can, depending on execution, still be dispiriting and unsexy.

I didn't bother to point out that GONE WITH THE WIND was not only written for women, but by a woman: one assumes that the poster would simply have considered both author and audience to be complicit in a "rape culture." (She never responded and was banned from the board shortly thereafter.)

What we have here, in essence, is yet another chapter in the Hume-an comedy called "the *is* and the *ought.*" The gamers conceive that the alleged prevalence of rape in their entertainment as an immutable "is:" rape is in the stories because rape existed in the reality on which the stories are (very roughly) based. For their opponents, rape ought not to be in the stories because it may have repercussions for current reality.

Next up, I'll get away from rape and talk about something pleasant--

Like pornography.

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