Who would think that a little comic strip that offhandedly uses rape in a joke about MMO questing could possibly face controversy in our newly hypersensitive reality?
After a recent slew of comments from the creators of the initial controversy at PAX Prime this past month, it emerges once again! Honestly, Penny Arcade took a surprising stance here. Originally, they tried to run a line of t-shirts and pennants out of the controversy. and what good website/business doesn’t abuse controversy for the purpose of money? As the artist Mike Krahulik himself says:
If jokes about violence, rape, aids, pedophilia, bestiality, drugs, cancer, homosexuality, and religion bother you then I recommend reading a different webcomic…We want PAX to be a place were everyone feels welcome and we’ve worked really hard to make that happen. From not allowing booth babes to making sure we have panels that represent all our attendees. When I heard from a few people that the shirt would make them uncomfortable at PAX, that gave me pause…You know that I don’t hold grudges, like I can be incredibly mad and then fine the next minute, as long as I get it out. And I feel like we got this out, so I’m not mad about it anymore, but, I think that pulling the dickwolves merchandise was a mistake…Clearly it would have been better to just not say anything, and that’s sort of our policy on all these types of things now, where it’s just better to not engage, and in fact pulling it was a way of engaging
On the one hand, tolerance for everyone. On the other hand, there’s a staunch refusal to apologize for the comic strip and its content. One side places the situation in the view of censorship, while the other sees it as a hateful slur and a defamation.
The creators feel no shame, no possibility of apology? Heck, even Daniel Tosh apologized for his infamous rape joke. In all fairness, Tosh’s joke looked and felt little more like offense for the sake of offense. Furthermore, the details of the case looked somewhat suspect in the first place, as later reports noted (she apparently took compensation in the form of…more tickets to comedy clubs where she can find more things to offend her). More to the point, she spoke up in a comedy, and then he made a rape comment in response (not actively calling for it, as the blog reported). Surprise: comedians don’t take kindly to hecklers or people who disrupt the mood of their set! Some, like Michael Richards, went straight over the line, bowling over the cliff and into a lake full of vicious piranhas. Others, like Tosh, merely apologize and then (because the offended person never returns, or a new one emerges to take their place), everyone goes back to doing exactly what they did before. Or, as he said:
the point i was making before i was heckled is there are awful things in the world but you can still make jokes about them. #deadbabies
Of course, I am a Christian and this is a Christian website. I shouldn’t defend any of these men, right? Wrong. Of course, I could feel offended when Penny Arcade makes a shirt like this:
I find that far more offensive, and yet you don’t see me up in arms about it (not that they would know any better). No controversy over demeaning my Lord and Savior, right (not that they would know better, of course)? So how, then, do we respond to the controversy of the dickwolves in a Christian way? The greater issue comes from this: can we make fun of horrible things, or do we simply recognize their horrible nature? If so, for what purpose?
The Bible, at first glance, does not say much about humor. Depending on the genre, we see history, poetry, parables, treatises, letters, theology, and who knows what else rolled into a single library. However, our displacement from the cultural context allows us to push our own illusions and agendas onto the text. We see it as a holy document, and that remains a truism of the faith, but the language used to convey God’s ideas comes from a place of human inspiration. Paul, supposedly a trained Pharisee, uses rather dirty and vulgar language at times. Most know of Paul’s use of skuvalon in Phillippians 3:8.
More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ…
Rendered in the most non-offensive way in most Biblical translation, we read “garbage” as the term. While it may constitute a true rendering, it lacks the emphasis of calling everything, other than gaining Christ, a bag of shit. The latter obviously makes the contrast much more accurate and clear than garbage. Sanitizing life, though, remains a sort of fetish for the Church. Many refuse to deal with the muck and grime of life itself, and continue to present a “holy” facade while Church members continue to leave. Don’t think people refuse to use common sense: they see a Church more infatuated with ideas than with people. The “holy” life does not speak to them, for the idol does not exist, and does not speak back. Hence, they leave, unfortunately. American Christianity gives me great sorrow sometimes. Paul provides us with many other examples, like Romans 6:1-2 (more like “hell no!” than “by no means, little doves”). Clearly, Paul provides a precedent to using this sort of language – yet, we also know that Paul says in Ephesians 5
But immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints; 4 and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. 5 For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.
Of course, Paul uses offensive words rarely so that they shock in the proper way. Just spouting said words repeatedly without any context or actual need goes against a proper use of said terms. We need reason, and GOOD reason, for shocking someone out of their intellectual slumber; to hear some suddenly curse after years of hearing them talk like a normal human being sounds much more convincing as to their conviction than otherwise, right?
Still, we need to touch the subject of humor, and not merely coarse language. In the process of sanitization, we miss jokes like the one in 1 Kings 12:10, wherein Rehaboam asks his advisors what he should tell the people. So, they say this:
10 The young men who grew up with him spoke to him, saying, “Thus you shall say to this people who spoke to you, saying, ‘Your father made our yoke heavy, now you make it lighter for us!’ But you shall speak to them, ‘My little finger is thicker than my father’s loins!”
Yes, you just read a penis joke, about size no less, in the Bible! Clearly such a thing does not constitute a normative mode of speech…or is it? Rehoboam spurned the advice of his kingly advisors and listened to his friends, and this did not work out well (when did Israel separate into two kingdoms? Right here, of course!). However, our Bible contains many examples of outright mocking used for righteous means. Take Elijah’s competition against Baal worshippers. The well-known “troubler of Israel” (1 Kings 18:17) said this:
7 It came about at noon, that Elijah mocked them and said, “Call out with a loud voice, for he is a god; either he is occupied or gone aside, or is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and needs to be awakened.
Clearly, that isn’t nice or friendly on his part. In fact, he mocks their religion in the most intolerant way we could imagine. Our society would certainly spurn Elijah, a prophet of God, like it does to so many people for the tiniest transgressions. Elijah, however, had the truth of his convictions; he knew God’s mandate, and he knew the Baalites would never summon anything compared to the One True God. He mocks their arrogance, their lack of humility towards God. The methodology of humor, specifically satire, transforms into an effective weapon for Christians.
Humor simply for the sake of shocking offense usually does not fall under this category. The dickwolves, for their part, honestly exist as a byline to the main joke, showing how MMO players basically ignore anyone but those who give them quests in an online world. Players want to gain experience and gain it quickly (in general, of course), not listen to the woes of the questgiver, regardless of how many horrible actions the fiction of the game world inflicts on him. Penny Arcade uses something offensive to demonstrate this point, and it works (EDIT: And apparently, I am right). Tosh makes fun of horribly offensive ideas and realities of life to lighten the mood and actually converse about these things without immediate fear of scorn or ridicule.
The problem comes when a preconceived narrative of reality barges in, expects all comers to submit, and meets opposition. Hence, the culture of offense we see today. Narratives shut down conversations, and they certainly make any exchange of opinions difficult, what with the mob protest and the closing cupcake shops down. It’s a bit of a shame that we, as a people, cannot find ourselves having a conversation. More often than not, the browbeating and the strawmen inevitably follow.
Many comedians, however, use the shock value and the trangressive nature for conveying a greater truth. The incongruous nature of the speech, or its wit, or even its irony all provide different means by which to provoke the person in laughter, but also to teach them something. Otherwise, why would a comedian do what they do? The method offends! Of COURSE it DOES! That, by its very nature, defines good comedy. Subtle (Horatian) or lacking tact with a baseball bat (Juvenalian), both find their place in the Bible.
Jesus doesn’t pull his punches often! He calls the contemporaries arrogant and prideful ones out on their issues, calling them blind men, fools, serpents, vipers, white sepulchers, gravestones, and all other manner of offensive things in the most harsh way possible. For whatever reason, we see Jesus’ “love” as a one-sided idea. We like soft love, as when Jesus talks to the rich young ruler without the heart to give away his possessions. We don’t, on the other hand, like harsh love, as when Jesus layeth the smacketh down on somebody’s candy ass (see? Effective use of swearing right there). Or, at the least, we don’t imagine it applies to us.
Hence, we fear reactions. We fear results. We fear consequences. We don’t want to get our hands dirty, and either we sit in fear of the end, or we don’t say much at all due to the terrifying burden of freedom. Yet we find in the Bible that God’s servants speak out with wild abandon. They speak with strength of conviction, fully confident that God remains behind them. When they doubt, they still place confidence in their God, against all circumstance. The method isn’t the issue, but the purpose behind the method, as Pastor Douglas Wilson makes clear:
Instead of seeking to learn our paradigms of behavior from the Scriptures, we tend to bring our assumptions, learned elsewhere and from others, and view the Scriptures through those assumptions.”l’his is not a superficial problem; it goes down to the bone. Prophets, the apostles and our Lord Jesus all exhibit a vast array of verbal behavior, including tenderness, love, insults, jokes, anger, and more. What standard do we use to sort this material out?
When this standard is a scriptural one, the same range of expression will be found in those who imitate the Scriptures, and that range will exhibit scriptural proportions. But when the standard is nonscriptural, and has excluded a certain type of expression as being a priori un-Christ-like, it then will not matter how many passages arc cited which show Christ being un-Christ-like. And at that point we may take a jibe from Christ’s arsenal and say that wisdom is vindicated by her children.
Douglas Wilson, A Serrated Edge: A Brief Defense of Biblical Satire and Trinitarian Skylarking