Making it Worse

Aug 22, 2013 | Video Games

I’ve long held a belief that talking about inequality in video games and pop culture matters, even though it seems like a relatively trivial thing in comparison to, say, world hunger. Mostly I believe that the narratives of culture – the greater stories and tropes told by us and for us and to us – shape how people think, and much of the other problems of the world stem from stories that are harmful.

It becomes very easy to be racist, for example, if the only narrative you’ve ever heard of people of color paints them as being lazy savages. Likewise it becomes very easy to be sexist when the only narrative you’ve ever heard of women paints them as weak, sexless objects.

Which brings me to my current irritation.

Everyone’s heard the story of Mark Millar by now, but here’s a recap for the curious: Mark Millar is sexist and seems to think that using rape to showcase a villain’s evil is somehow edgy or shocking. Here’s what he had to say

“The ultimate (act) that would be the taboo, to show how bad some villain is, was to have somebody being raped, you know? I don’t really think it matters. It’s the same as, like, a decapitation. It’s just a horrible act to show that somebody’s a bad guy.”

All I can really muster up to this is a giant ‘FUCK YOU, YOU FUCKING FUCK”, but thankfully, other more sensible people have responded in a far more rational manner. Suffice to say, I’m just enraged by this. And I’m further enraged by the artist who drew Millar’s rape scene in the latest Kick-Ass comic, John Romita Jr. Here’s what he had to say about it, when the interviewer asked him about said rape scene…

Wait a minute, there was no rape scene in the book. There was an intimation of what could happen and what happened but you never saw a rape scene. It was foul language and it was violence to a lady, she gets hit. But there was no rape scene. I get a kick out of having been sent emails that said I can’t believe you depicted a rape scene in your book [because] it never happened. So I need to clarify that, yes we touched on it, and we came close to it. But we didn’t show it and we would never show that.

Not so fucking fast, Mister. You do not get a free pass because you didn’t show the actual act itself. So let me spell it out for you…

You. Depicted. Rape. In. The. Comic.

You do not get to run right up to the edge and then throw up your hands and say ‘Nope, didn’t happen!’ just because you pulled the very worst punch you could throw. You still did that. You still drew it. You drew something that makes me sick to my stomach, that was undeniably sexist, and that uses the trauma and fear that women go through every day as a convenient plot device, and none of your protests will change this or absolve you of it.

The Rage-Inducing Bullshit

The reason why I want to talk about this now is that I am sick to the back fucking teeth of two particular things – in comic books, video games, whatever:

  1. the willingness of male creators to use the trauma of anyone who isn’t a white, straight guy as a cheap plot device, and
  2. the absolute REFUSAL of those creators to own their shitty practices.

As an example, I give you Exhibit A above.

So Mark Millar, being sexist, decides to throw in this rape shit because it’s shocking or whatever – newsflash, it’s not, it’s been done to fucking death (literally) in pop culture. It’s a stereotype, a cliche, to have the love interest of the hero raped or killed in order to piss off the hero or give him a reason to exact revenge. It treats women as disposable things, only there for as long as it takes to use them to get the plot moving or to give the main male character a motivation.

It’s especially enraging to have Millar compare it to someone being decapitated, because the two things are not the same however you cut it. Are they both horrible? Yes, undoubtedly. But there is no major fucking epidemic of people being decapitated going on right now – and there IS a major epidemic of rape going around, to the tune of one in four or five women and one in ten men. So, if you had an actual conscience, you’d think that maybe using severe trauma as a throwaway plot device is kind of horrible when, conservatively, ten percent of the population has suffered from it!

And now we come to Romita Jr, and his bullshit excuse. Here’s the second part of my problem with all this – that the guys who perpetrate it just will not own up to what they do. They make excuses. They deflect. They ignore or cut off criticism of their sexism. See the Dickwolves shitstorm from Penny Arcade, for example, when Gabe treated critics of his frankly fucking horrible comic as shrill harpies looking for a reason to be offended. And then he went on to mock rape victims. And then he let his enormous fan following harass and abuse rape victims over social media.

But he’s not sexist, oh no.

They do anything but admit that maybe, just maybe, they have a tendency to be sexist and that is a bad thing. The sheer arrogance that it takes to be so unwilling to perform any self-examination is incredible. And believe me, it is a huge problem if the guys – and it’s overwhelmingly guys, though some women do it too – think that their intent to not be sexist somehow excuses them from having to change their behavior, or even consider the possibility that they might be sexist.

The Obligation

And now we come to this, the point. I’m sure some of you may be asking ‘Millar’s a shock-jock, why do you expect anything better from him?’

Think about it this way – has Millar ever written about, say, cancer victims in a way that throws their trauma in their faces or makes it seem cartoonish? Somehow I doubt it. Even though he wants to be controversial, he knows that some shit is just too vile to contemplate. Due to the cultural narrative surrounding rape, he’s a-okay with using rape like it’s a cartoon, but he won’t even think of something similar with cancer victims for fear of being ripped apart by everyone with a functioning brain.

The sad thing is that he’s just perpetuating the same tired tropes, instead of doing something truly radical and breaking out of them.

It’s all about the narratives, my friend. And what Millar does is perpetuate the tropes and stories that equate rape with cartoon violence and turn women into objects. He’s popular enough that his work, his stories, have had a profound influence on comics. Millar, and every shitty writer like him, are failing in the one obligation that we all should follow:

You may not have to make the world a better place, but you better fucking well try not to make it any worse.

This trivialization of rape? It makes the world worse, for rape victims, because the cultural narrative swings towards dismissing their trauma. Turning women into objects makes it worse for women everywhere, when the narrative of the whole culture leans towards treating them as such in real life. Constantly casting people of color as villains changes how people view them when they walk down the street. And, if for one second you want to make the claim that grown adults are not influenced by the media that they consume, excuse me while I laugh my lungs out at your naivety.

We have an obligation to not make the world worse than it already is for the most vulnerable among us. Anyone who has a major part in shaping the cultural narrative has a much stronger obligation because their reach is a hell of a lot farther, and that is why feminists and activists and anyone like me makes such a big deal out of shit like video games and comic books. And so, I hear of shit like this from Millar and Romita Jr and any number of high profile male creators, and I rage that they think it’s okay to keep perpetuating the same narratives that are routinely fucking over the lives of women and people of color and minorities. I rage that they are making it worse and they don’t seem to care.

I expect better of them. Change is not impossible, if Jim Sterling is anything to go by. I expect better of comics, and video games, and movies, and I will shout it to the fucking mountains until my voice is lost that the world deserves better than this godawful crap.

It deserves better creators than an unrepentant douchebag like Mark Millar.