The Daily Show on the sacrifices being asked of Teachers and Wall Street.

Ever since the last election the Republicans that have come to power seem to be hell-bent on doing everything they can to undermine the middle class while protecting those for whom the phrase “well off” doesn’t begin to describe how rich they are. If you were to believe the news items coming out of FOX News you’d think that Public School Teachers are spoiled fat cats who earn way more than they should while the uber-rich are struggling to make ends meet what with all the taxes they have to pay.

A point driven home by this segment from a recent episode of The Daily Show:

When you see these segments played side-by-side like this the blatant hypocrisy of FOX News and the Republicans stands out in stark relief. The fact that so many less-than-well-off Republicans buy into this bullshit is the part that truly amazes me.

Thoughts on “rape humor” and “rape culture.”

I’m probably going to stir up a shit storm with this entry, but, what the hell, It’s been awhile since I’ve done that.

I’ve been following the uproar over a Penny Arcade comic strip that appeared back in August with some interest. For those of you who are not fans of both video games and webcomics, Penny Arcade is a webcomic (natch) by and about gamers that is often crass, crude, offensive, and hugely popular with its target audience. In the 13 or so years it has been around it has grown into a new media phenomena that has spawned a twice-a-year video game convention that regularly sells out and a children’s charity that raises millions to provide sick kids in children’s hospitals toys and games.  Love it or hate it, what writer Jerry Holkins and illustrator Mike Krahulik have accomplished is damned impressive when most webcomic creators are lucky just to make a living at it.

Personally, I’m not a huge fan of Penny Arcade in part because I often don’t understand the joke being made — probably because I’m getting old and crotchety — but with as influential as it is I make a point to follow it just the same. Which means that on August 11th last year I saw the following strip, which I’m reproducing here for convenience:

Penny Arcade comic The Sixth Slave.

Copyright 2010 Penny Arcade, Inc. - Click to embiggen.

Being a big MMORPG player myself I easily “got” the joke in this strip, which is that the quests in many MMORPG games have arbitrary goals when you consider the gravity of the subject at hand. In this case the player has been tasked with freeing five slaves and, having done so, is callously apathetic about the plight of the sixth slave who is pleading for his freedom from what is a truly horrible situation. This is something I’ve actually thought about while playing World of Warcraft as there are a number of “free X number of slaves” type quests spread throughout the game. The practical reason why there are always a ton of slaves left in servitude when you finish such a quest is so that other players can also complete the quest at the same time without having to stand around and wait for the slaves you just freed to respawn, but the knowledge of the practical reason for it doesn’t stop you from recognizing how odd it is that you just saved X slaves while leaving the rest to their fate. As an aside, one of the goblin quests in the new expansion is quite similar, but involves you trying to douse the flames of fellow goblins that have been set ablaze. When you reach your goal there are still lots of goblins running around on fire screaming their little goblin lungs out, which is even more disturbing to ponder. Given that context, I found the above strip to be not only funny, but pretty spot on.

If you’ve not taken the time to read the strip then you may be wondering what the uproar might be about. The catalyst is in the second panel wherein the slave is explaining to the player his horrible situation with the following text: “Every morning, we are roused by savage blows. Every night, we are raped to sleep by Dickwolves.” This caught the attention of self-described feminist Shaker Milli A who proceeded the next day to write a post titled Rape is Hilarious, Part 53 in an Ongoing Series. I suggest reading the whole entry, but here’s a snippet:

When I have a sense of humor, it is a little offbeat. I have liked, for example, Penny Arcade’s comics about the numerous times they’ve killed each other. I have a dark sense of humor, and I’ll admit it.

But unlike Gabe killing Tycho so he doesn’t have to share a video game, a slave being raped is a real thing that happens in the world every day. I don’t find this “joke” funny because, unlike characters cartoonishly killing each other repeatedly and coming back to life, just as in video games, rape isn’t a central feature of (most) games—at least in the actual gameplay, totally aside from the language used by players.

The problem is, I just don’t find rape funny. Because rape survivors exist among us, and after being victimized by rapists, they are revictimized by a society that treats even real rape like a joke, forced to live in a culture that actually has a lot of rape jokes, including those about rape victims being actively denied justice for no other reason than because people don’t take rape seriously. I don’t find rape funny because rape victims are often doubted, mocked, and insulted openly.

I’ve mentioned before that I grew up in a family where humor was a big coping mechanism and I can’t recall ever being told that any particular subject was taboo. Which isn’t to say that there weren’t any jokes that ended up being awkward or cringe worthy, just that there wasn’t anything explicitly beyond making an attempt at humor about. If someone’s feelings were hurt by a joke we’d apologize for it as hurting feelings was never the intent. Given that you can probably see why I didn’t have a problem with the PA comic when I read it. That said, I can also understand why someone who has been a victim of rape would find the joke offensive. It is my understanding that many victims suffer from PTSD which can be triggered by being reminded of their ordeal.

The above two events are the beginning of a months-long back-and-forth between Penny Arcade and a number of feminists and rape survivors that is documented with links at Debacle Timeline – The Pratfall of Penny Arcade if you want to read up on all the gory details. In short, the guys at Penny Arcade found themselves being taken to task on Twitter, in emails, and on various blogs and forums over the rape reference in their comic. Their initial reaction was to be defensive and they put out a comic in their usual sarcastic style that apologized if anyone had been turned into a rapist by the previous comic. Needless to say, that didn’t help. Melissa McEwan at Shakesville, where the original complaint was posted, fired back with an entry titled Survivors Are So Sensitive:

Most critics of rape jokes object on one of two bases, neither of which are “your rape joke will directly cause someone to go out and commit a rape.” (That idea is absurd—which is why it’s so appealing to defenders of rape jokes to deliberately misrepresent critics’ arguments in such a fashion.) One criticism is that rape jokes are triggers for survivors of sexual violence (and/or attempted sexual violence). The other is that rape jokes contribute to a rape culture in which rape is normalized.

It’s that second objection that tends to get repackaged as “your rape joke will directly cause someone to go out and commit a rape,” which is, of course, a willful and dishonest simplification of a complex argument. The rape culture is a collection of narratives and beliefs that service the existence of endemic sexual violence in myriad ways, from overt exhortations to commit sexual violence to subtle discouragements against prosecution and conviction for crimes of sexual violence. The rape joke, by virtue of its ubiquity, prominently serves as a tool of normalization and diminishment.

No, one rape joke does not “cause” someone to go out and commit a rape. But a single rape joke does not exist in a void. It exists in a culture rife with jokes that treat as a punchline a heinous, terrifying crime that leaves most of its survivors forever changed in some material way. It exists in a culture in which millions and millions of women, men, and children will be victimized by perpetrators of sexual violence, many of them multiple times. It exists in a culture in which rape not being treated as seriously as it ought means that vanishingly few survivors of sexual violence see real justice, leaving their assaulters free to create even more survivors. It exists in a culture in which rape is not primarily committed by swarthy strangers lurking in dark alleyways and jumping out of bushes, but primarily by people one knows, who nonetheless fail, as a result of some combination of innate corruption and socialization in a culture that disdains consent and autonomy, to view their victims as human beings deserving of basic dignity.

That is the environment into which a rape joke is unleashed—and one cannot argue “it isn’t my rape joke that facilitates rape” any more than a single raindrop in an ocean could claim never to have drowned anyone.

I apologize for the length of that quote, but I thought it was important to provide as much context as I could. At this point I think it’s clear to see why this blew up into such a firestorm. The folks at Penny Arcade don’t consider the comic to be a rape joke because rape was never the point of the strip, it was just something horrible they tossed in to highlight the absurdity of the arbitrary goal of freeing only 5 slaves. Meanwhile, the other side — and this is entirely my impression here — seem to feel that any joke that has the word rape in it is a “rape joke” regardless of what the point of the joke happens to be.

As someone who has been guilty of being insensitive and offensive himself, my initial reaction is to come down on the side of the guys from Penny Arcade. While I can see how their reaction to the complaints was probably not in their best interests, I can also understand their defensiveness over it as I’ve been there myself. But I will also admit that this is the first time I’ve come across the concept of “rape culture” so I took the time to read what Melissa McEwan had to say about what rape culture is. It’s a long entry that appears to implicate pretty much every aspect of popular culture as being part of Rape Culture, but the part that’s most applicable to the discussion at hand is this:

Rape culture is rape jokes. Rape culture is rape jokes on t-shirts, rape jokes in college newspapers, rape jokes in soldiers’ home videos, rape jokes on the radio, rape jokes on news broadcasts, rape jokes in magazines, rape jokes in viral videos, rape jokes in promotions for children’s movies, rape jokes on Page Six (and again!), rape jokes on the funny pages, rape jokes on TV shows, rape jokes on the campaign trail, rape jokes on Halloween, rape jokes in online content by famous people, rape jokes in online content by non-famous people, rape jokes in headlines, rape jokes onstage at clubs, rape jokes in politics, rape jokes in one-woman shows, rape jokes in print campaigns, rape jokes in movies, rape jokes in cartoons, rape jokes in nightclubs, rape jokes on MTV, rape jokes on late-night chat shows, rape jokes in tattoos, rape jokes in stand-up comedy, rape jokes on websites, rape jokes at awards shows, rape jokes in online contests, rape jokes in movie trailers, rape jokes on the sides of buses, rape jokes on cultural institutions

Rape culture is people objecting to the detritus of the rape culture being called oversensitive, rather than people who perpetuate the rape culture being regarded as not sensitive enough.

In short, if you try to be funny about rape you’re a rape apologist. As far as Melissa is concerned, it is a taboo topic for joviality.

Now the reason this got me to thinking is because, as I said previously, I didn’t have a problem with the PA comic when I read it. It never occurred to me that the slave saying he’s “raped to sleep by Dickwolves” was meant to poke fun at being raped, and I still don’t think it was meant in that manner. I am painfully aware, on this issue as well as many other sensitive topics, that I am very much the “privileged norm” in terms of being a Middle Aged White Heterosexual Male which instantly makes my opinion on any of those topics subject to dismissal by default by some factions. I am also not a rape victim and even though I have people very close to me who are, that doesn’t mean I understand what it’s like to live through.

I find myself pausing to consider: Am I a rape apologist because I didn’t have a problem with the PA comic? I consider rape to be vile and repulsive. An act I have trouble fathoming how someone could commit on another human being. I believe rapists should be treated as the predators they are and punished accordingly. I have similar beliefs and feelings in regards to torture, murder, and any of a number of other heinous acts. Does the fact that I sometimes find amusement in jokes about torture or murder make me an apologist for those terrible crimes? If I am to accept the reasoning of Mellisa then it must be so.

So what, then, should I think of this bit by The Daily Show on the Republican attempt to redefine rape to eliminate taxpayer funded abortions:

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Rape Victim Abortion Funding
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor & Satire Blog</a> The Daily Show on Facebook

Unlike the Penny Arcade comic, the folks at The Daily Show are clearly joking about rape in an effort to highlight the absurdity of the Republican legislation. You can clearly hear that more than one of the jokes makes the audience uneasy and they’re not sure if they should laugh or not.  Quite a few of the statements made by Kristen Schaal are easily way more offensive than the Penny Arcade comic, but does anyone really think she’s seriously advocating the position she’s parodying?

I also found this bit to be both funny and strong denunciation of the attempt to change the law regarding abortions for rape victims, but if I am to accept the logic being made against the folks at Penny Arcade then Jon Stewart is easily deserving of the same condemnation. More so, in fact, as rape was the punchline to many of the jokes whereas it was not in the PA strip. Yet there isn’t any word about the bit over at Shakesville. I suppose it’s possible it just hasn’t come to their attention yet.

In the end I will say that I think the guys at Penny Arcade did dig themselves a hole with their responses to their critics. While I understand their initial defensiveness,  they did move into the realm of complete assholeness by putting Go Team Dickwolves t-shirts and sports pennants in their store. It’s probably not the move I would have made, but then I’m not them. They have a lot they’ve built up over the years that could be affected negatively by such tactics, but that’s a price they appear willing to pay. That said, I did find the t-shirts funny.

As for the folks that are upset over the comic, while I can sympathize that it’s probably very painful to be reminded of what they’ve been through, I still come down on the side that no topic is taboo for attempts at humor. Perhaps that does make me a Rape Apologist, but given how expansive their definition of Rape Culture is, I don’t see how it’s possible not to be. That said, they have every right to be heard and their opinions considered. They have some valid points and I think we would all do well to stop and consider the topic. It would probably have helped their cause, however, if their initial reaction hadn’t been so hostile. I understand it’s a highly emotional topic, but that approach is just going to result in the targets being defensive as they were in this case. Clearly the PA guys were not advocating for rape and to insist otherwise does nothing to win them over to your side of the argument.

Jon Stewart on the Republican “Pledge to America.”

If you’ve been paying attention then you know the Republicans recently unveiled their “A Pledge to America” as an outline of what they hope to accomplish if they manage to regain control of Congress in November. If you’re old enough to remember when the Republicans unveiled their “Contract with America” back in 1994 then you may be thinking that the title of this new plan sounds eerily familiar.

As Jon Stewart points out there’s a good reason for that feeling:

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Postcards From the Pledge
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor Tea Party

Meet the New Republicans. Exactly the same as the Old Republicans. They have nothing new to offer. They only have the same old bullshit that got us into this mess to begin with. As unhappy as I am with the rate of progress and just plain-old general pussy-ness of the Democrats, the Republicans are only offering to go back to fucking us over every way they can if we’re stupid enough to put them back into power. They even admit that they’ve not changed one bit since they got their asses handed to them in 2008. Not only to they intend to continue with the same stupid policies, but they’re bringing their crazy Tea Party friends along for the ride this time around.

Is that really what you want?

Jon Stewart on the Tea Party primary wins and how the Dems will fuck it up.

As per usual The Daily Show pretty much nails it:

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Tea Party Primaries – Beyond the Palin
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor Tea Party

Over on Google Reader on one of the news items I shared about the Tea Party victories and how it’s made Democrats more optimistic I helpfully suggested a potential new slogan for the DNC. Picture, if you will, the latest DNC election ad showcasing all the crazy Tea Party candidates that ends with the following:


If nothing else, it would be one of the most honest bits of political advertising we’ve ever seen.

The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart does Chatroulette.

If you’ve never heard of Chatroulette then this will be a pretty good primer, as well as uproariously funny:

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Tech-Talch – Chatroulette
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political Humor Health Care Reform

I’m actually quite surprised at all the attention Chatroulette is receiving. As soon as I heard of it I knew there’d be tons of guys broadcasting their dicks to the world — a phenomena I’ve never really understood — because it happens on just about every other video chat network out there as well. For awhile Microsoft’s Netmeeting was a fairly popular avenue for dick broadcasting and that was years ago. I suppose the one big difference here is that you can surprise random people with your schlong for the lulz of seeing their reactions. (I find myself amused that I don’t have to link to a definition of “schlong” but felt the need to link to one for “lulz”.)

I often wonder if there are females out there who do anything similar. On those rare occasions that I’ve ventured into a video chat room of one kind or another I came across lots of guys proudly displaying their wangs for all the world to see, but I can’t recall ever coming across some random female broadcasting her hoo-ha to whomever happened along. Occasionally I’d happen upon boobs, yes, but never a fun basket. Is it just too scary looking at the low-bandwidth resolutions afforded by a webcam or is there some line that most women have decided they won’t cross that most men have long ago left behind in the dust? A question for the ages, I’m sure.

All that said, there are some folks doing some interesting and amusing things with Chatroulette out on the net. Like the guy who dresses up as Cobra Commander from G.I. Joe and tries to find a Valentine:

Then there’s the woman who decided to see what would happen if she fed the incoming video feed from Chatroulette back into itself so when you connected with her it looked like you had connected with yourself. She condensed some five hours of amused, surprised, and confused reactions down into this video:

For those wondering, it took a couple seconds for the feed to cycle back which is why the reactions are a tad delayed.

So obviously there’s more you can do with Chatroulette than just prove to the world that you have a cock and it’s these other experiments that I find much more interesting. Any douchebag can drop his pants in front of his webcam. These folks are being creative.

The Daily Show on the latest Wall Street bonuses.

Jon tries to explain why it seems like the only people to have recovered from the economic collapse of the past year are the people who caused the problem to begin with:

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Clusterf#@k to the Poor House – Wall Street Bonuses
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political Humor Health Care Crisis

The most upsetting part is that this all seems to be happening with Obama’s blessing. Sure, he’s making some noises about taxing the banks now and the banks are basically telling him to go right ahead and they’ll just pass the cost onto their customers.

Next time one of these too big to fail banks gets itself into trouble, let the fuckers fail. Yeah, it’ll probably leave us in a fucked up position, but at least they won’t be around to fuck us over a second time later.

Jon Stewart rips FOX News a new asshole.

Which is an impressive feat when you consider how many assholes FOX News already has.

It seems the Obama administration has been pointedly not talking to FOX News due to the fact that they’re basically the unofficial PR wing of the Republican party. Needless to say this has everyone at FOX News stamping their feet and crying censorship and whining about how the Obama administration is too dumb to tell the difference between the News side of FOX News and the Opinion side.

The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart helps to explain that difference for us:

Once again the hypocrisy displayed by Conservatives, in this case the Cons at FOX News, simply takes one’s breath away. It really is hard to imagine that it isn’t a cynical ploy on their part because they assume their audience is too stupid to remember how they praised the Bush administration for doing to MSNBC what the Obama administration is doing to FOX. Then again given the average intelligence level of a FOX News fan, that’s probably a safe assumption to make.

Even with both houses and the presidency the Democrats are still pussies.

You’d think that with a 60 vote Super Majority in the House and control of the Senate along with a Democratic president sitting in the oval office that the Dems might finally grow some testicles and get some shit done. You’d be wrong as Jon Stewart points out in this segment from The Daily Show:

It really is pretty fucking pathetic that not only can’t they get their own bills out of committee, but that the Republicans can. Not only are the Republicans able to drive policy while being in the minority, but they get to whine about how badly the Democrats are supposedly treating them. Yeah, it must totally suck having the majority roll over and give you everything you want while gutting their own initiatives.

Worst of all a fair amount of criticism has to fall on President Obama for not whipping his party into shape. Fuck bipartisanship. The Republicans have already shown that no matter what concessions you make, no matter how much you gut the legislation, they’re not going to vote for it and allow you anything that could remotely be claimed as a victory. It’s simply inexcusable that a robust health care reform with a public option, if not outright switching to a single payer system, hasn’t already been passed and put into effect. The only reasonable explanation is that the Democrats are a bunch of pussies who enjoy being fucked repeatedly by the Republicans.

Update: There’s at least one Democrat out there who has some balls and it’s Rep. Alan Grays. Check it:

We need more like him.

The Daily Show reveals The New Liberals: FOX News.

It’s always fun when Jon Stewart does a side-by-side of FOX “News” reporting:

But I’m sure our own resident Jon will be able to explain how the Republicans aren’t wallowing in their own hypocrisy quite easily. Probably by just asserting they’re not and the rest of us are STUPID AND WRONG!

The Daily Show on Republican fear mongering over health reform.

It’s hard to watch news reports on the disruptions of town hall meetings by the bat-shit insane bloc of the Republican party without shaking your head in despair. As per usual the Conservative pundits have been hard at work honing their hypocrisy into a razor sharp edge that can cut through cognitive dissonance in a single slice as this report from The Daily Show reveals:

When the Left do it, which we really haven’t on the scale we see today, we’re called Nazis. When the Right do it they’re merely expressing their First Amendment rights.

It should come as no surprise that since Walter Cronkite passed away a recent Time Magazine poll listed Jon Stewart as the most trusted newscaster, but it is rather sad. Not because Stewart doesn’t do a good job of presenting news, but because The Daily Show is a fake news program that was never meant to be anything other than funny. That a humor program does a better job of presenting the news than most of the major news programs/channels shows just how fucked up things have become. Not to mention that it takes a fake news program to hold the likes of FOX News accountable for their blatant misinformation and propaganda. Something you would expect the other news operations to undertake.

I suppose that would be difficult to do, however, when the corporations that own the major news channels are declaring truces that force their anchors to censor themselves. Keith Olbermann of MSNBC was doing a fairly decent job of taking FOX News in general, and Bill “Douche Bag” O’Reilly specifically, to task over the idiocy they put on the airwaves. Granted it wasn’t exactly hurting Keith’s ratings to take on the stunningly popular O’Reilly, but at least someone besides Jon Stewart was calling out their bullshit. All of that came to an end recently when the heads of both networks got together at a meeting mediated by Charlie Rose to agree to reign in their attack dogs:

It was perhaps the fiercest media feud of the decade and by this year, their bosses had had enough. But it took a fellow television personality with a neutral perspective to help bring it to at least a temporary end.

At an off-the-record summit meeting for chief executives sponsored by Microsoft in mid-May, the PBS interviewer Charlie Rose asked Jeffrey Immelt, chairman of G.E., and his counterpart at the News Corporation, Rupert Murdoch, about the feud.

Both moguls expressed regret over the venomous culture between the networks and the increasingly personal nature of the barbs. Days later, even though the feud had increased the audience of both programs, their lieutenants arranged a cease-fire, according to four people who work at the companies and have direct knowledge of the deal.

In early June, the combat stopped, and MSNBC and Fox, for the most part, found other targets for their verbal missiles (Hello, CNN).

“It was time to grow up,” a senior employee of one of the companies said.

That’s how the companies are spinning this agreement, but what it’s really about is the corporate owners censoring the news because it was rocking the boat. The New York Times article I quoted above totally fails to highlight that simple fact. Something which Glen Greenwald at was stunned by:

According to the NYT, both CEOs agreed that the dispute was bad for the interests of the corporate parents, and thus agreed to order their news employees to cease attacking each other’s news organizations and employees.

Most notably, the deal wasn’t engineered because of a perception that it was hurting either Olbermann or O’Reilly’s show, or even that it was hurting MSNBC.  To the contrary, as Olbermann himself has acknowledged, his battles with O’Reilly have substantially boosted his ratings.  The agreement of the corporate CEOs to cease criticizing each other was motivated by the belief that such criticism was hurting the unrelated corporate interests of GE and News Corp.

[…] So here we have yet another example—perhaps the most glaring yet—of the corporations that own our largest media outlets controlling and censoring the content of their news organizations based on the unrelated interests of the parent corporation.

Greenwald goes on to point out the hypocrisy of Charlie Rose’s involvement considering statements he made back in 2003 in which he claimed the news organizations ABC, NBC, and CBS “are not influenced by the corporations that may own those companies.” Apparently a lot has changed in the six years since. Greenwald goes on to point out that MSNBC isn’t above using a corporate lobbyist—former Newsweek reporter Richard Wolffe who now works for Public Strategies, Inc.—as a “guest host” and “political analyst” on their network. Public Strategies, Inc. is a corporate communications firm run by former Bush White House Communications Director Dan Bartlett and it touts Wolffe’s frequent appearances on NBC and MSNBC in his bio to their clients. They don’t specifically say that if you hire them you’d have access to someone who frequently appears on a major news network as a supposedly objective analyst, but the implication is certainly there. Which just goes to show that you can’t even necessarily trust the news network that supposedly leans to the left to be honest with you. Though, if you were to believe the Conservative pundits, all American news shows outside of FOX are so far left they make Pravda look like it’s objective and impartial.

So we’re left with the host of a fake news program as the most trusted anchor in America since Cronkite kicked the bucket and the continuing need to seek out multiple sources of news to try and separate the wheat from the chaff. This is less of a problem with the Internet these days though it is a lot more work to take in the multiple sources and figure out what’s being influenced by bias and what is plain old factual. I would guess the extra effort is what contributes to the ability of news organizations like FOX to make shit up and present it as fact and have most of their viewers swallow it without question. It’s too much work to get to the truth and it’s so much easier to have your own prejudices and preconceptions catered to from a single source.