“Rape jokes are never okay, but jokes about AIDS are hilarious!”—a stupid reaction to Cards Against Humanity that needs to stop

Trigger warnings for everything.

The bulk of this post is adapted from something I posted to Fetlife awhile back. I decided to post it here after seeing a story about the games creators apologizing for an allegedly transphobic card and removing it from the game.

The original impetus for the post though, wasn’t an online story, though. As I’ve talked about recently, I try to avoid being influenced much by online controversies. The original impetus was first-hand experience.

Since moving to the Bay Area, I’ve twice been involved in conversations where someone has suggested that some of the cards in Cards Against Humanity are really offensive and need to be removed from the deck.

To which I say: huh?

Not that some of the cards aren’t offensive—they are. I love the game in spite of this fact, but I totally understand if some people aren’t in to the game’s brand of humor and don’t want to play. What baffles me is the suggestion that it’s just some of the cards, and if you removed them the game would be fine.

Cards Against Humanity is a game that I usually hear described as Apples to Apples’ evil twin. Like Apples to Apples, it involves a judge reading a card and everyone else playing a card they think goes well with the judges card.

Unlike Apples to Apples… well, notice how the name of the game sounds like “Crimes Against Humanity”? If you go to the game’s website, one of the first things you will see at the top of the page is the tagline, “A free party game for horrible people.”

If that’s not enough of a hint, here are some of the cards from the very first twenty-card sheet found in the free PDF:

  • Not giving a shit about the Third World
  • A windmill full of corpses
  • Bingeing and purging
  • The hardworking Mexican (subtly suggests most Mexicans are lazy)
  • The gays (which I’m pretty sure is not how people who are sensitive to LBGT issues refer to refer to gay people)

If you’re going to remove the offensive cards from the Cards Against Humanity deck, you’re easily removing 30% or more of the deck. And there are lots of cards that may not be offensive at first glance, but are clearly designed to be combined with other cards in offensive ways.

For example, the “African Children” card (also on the first page of the PDF) only sounds innocuous if you’ve never actually played the game before. It suddenly becomes very offensive if someone plays it in response to the question “How did I lose my virginity?” (which happens to be the very first black card in the PDF). Similarly with playing the “Racism” card (also on the first page of the PDF) in response to a question like “What’s a girl’s best friend?” (also from the first page of black cards.)

Examples could be multiplied endlessly, especially because all the examples so far have been from just two of the card sheets. Dig deeper into the deck, and you will find references to AIDS and the Holocaust. There’s the “Two midgets shitting into a bucket” card, which I’m pretty sure would be demeaning even if it said “Two little people shitting into a bucket.”

And then there’s the “A big black dick” card, which has become something of a mascot for the game, insofar as expansions have included “A bigger, blacker dick” and “The biggest, blackest dick,” in addition to there being a storage box for the cards called “The bigger, blacker box.” (In case you didn’t know, some black men don’t like the “big black cock” meme, since it kind of reduces them to one part of their anatomy.)

I find it ironic that the article linked at the beginning of the post mentions that “some of the newer cards have a decidedly social-justice-friendly edge.” Because from the moment I saw those cards, their offensive-joke-making-potential was obvious. For example—question: “What’s a girl’s best friend?” Answer: “The patriarchy.”

I repeat that I love Cards Against Humanity, and none of this is meant to make anyone feel bad about enjoying the game. I don’t laugh at jokes about racism, AIDS, and the Holocaust because I think they’re great things, I laugh at them because they’re horrible things and it’s part of the nature of humor that a lot of it is about really horrible stuff.

I could philosophize about why this is, spout some bullshit about how laughter is essential to coping with the bad stuff in life, but I really don’t know why so much humor is horrible. It just is.

The people who talk about removing the offensive cards from Cards Against Humanity don’t, as far as I can tell, actually want to thoroughly sanitize the game to remove any possibility of some incredibly offensive jokes. They just want to remove the cards that joke about certain subjects.

Rape is one I’ve heard mentioned. Now, I understand that some rape victims have PTSD triggers around discussion of rape, and I can understand someone in that position saying, “I enjoy lots of offensive humor, but jokes about rape are something I, personally, can’t handle.” I certainly wouldn’t recommend telling rape jokes to random strangers you meet on the street.

But when people complain about rape jokes, that’s rarely all they’re saying. Instead, the line is “rape jokes are never okay,” which I find a little hard to accept, especially when the context is Cards Against Humanity. Like, do they really think rape jokes are inherently morally superior to jokes about AIDS and the Holocaust?

Let me make a proposal: if you’ve enjoyed playing Cards Against Humanity (and haven’t repented of your offensive humor enjoying ways and sworn never to play the game again), you really have no business moralizing about what kinds of humor other people enjoy.

Though I normally avoid writing about internet social justice nonsense, I don’t feel the least bit bad about this post, for a couple of reasons. On the one hand, the “Cards Against Humanity is great, except for certain cards” is something I’ve encountered offline, rather than something I only know about because a bunch of people on the internet have gone out of their way to find the most ridiculous social justice meme they could possibly find.

On the other hand, it’s never that big of a deal in real life. And this—combined with the fact that I’ve never met a social justice type willing to take the step of refusing to play Cards Against Humanity at all—actually helps give me faith in humanity.

Yes, social justice types can seem incredibly invested in their ridiculous self-righteous notions online, but meet them in person, and they’re not going to let that get in the way of having a good time. Something to remember next time you’re freaking out about people being silly on the internet.

Edited to add: When I originally wrote this, I was mostly thinking in terms of people objecting to references to rape in Cards Against Humanity. Hence the emphasis on the analogy between rape jokes and AIDS / Holocaust jokes.

The original version mentioned the “roofies” card, which has apparently been removed. Apparently, there was also once a “date rape” card, which has also been removed. Oddly, as of this writing there are still cards for “pedophiles,” “altar boys,” and “surprise sex.” (“It’s not rape if you yell surprise first!” is a popular joke in some corners of the internet.)

But since the story I linked at the top of the post focused on the “passable transvestite” card, maybe it’s worth mentioning that as a male-identified person who enjoys cross-dressing, I don’t find the card particularly offensive (especially not by Cards Against Humanity standards).

Yes, it’s wrong to conflate cross-dressing and transsexuality. They’re different things. “Transvestite” has a bit of a medical ring to it, much like “homosexual,” but like “homosexual” I don’t think it’s a slur. As for “passing,” there’s been a fair amount of discussion in the trans community about passing getting too much emphasis, but I don’t think the term itself should be banned. How else do you talk about the concept?

In fact, in some contexts something just feels right about the word “transvestite”:

  • Tova Rischi

    Philosophers on Fetlife? What’s next? LessLonely – the dating sight for the paralyzed victims of Roko’s Basilisk?

    On topic, I feel some compassion to the kid who lit the card on fire starting this craze because it’s just that. He’s a kid or barely not (19 I think?), he can miss a few points now and then. The reaction has just been stupidity though.

    • staircaseghost

      You never read Yudkowsky’s OKCupid profile?

  • jjramsey

    My reaction to people being offended by Cards Against Humanity is pretty much, “You knew the job was dangerous when you took it.” If you can’t tolerate pitch-black humor, that game is not for you.

  • http://skepticsplay.blogspot.com/ trivialknot

    From the moment I learned about “ironic sexism/racism/etc” aka “hipster sexism/racism/etc” it seemed obvious that you can’t make an absolute rule against it. Even people who say or imply that it’s absolute clearly don’t apply it as an absolute rule. But the thing is, “it was just a joke” is used as a defense so often, and so often it’s just bullshit. I think we need a more nuanced rule, but I haven’t quite figured out what that rule is.

    I’m surprised to hear you take the position that people who like Cards Against Humanity shouldn’t moralize about humor ever. Honestly that’s the view I would have attributed to a strawman. Did you really mean that?

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/hallq/ Chris Hallquist

      I’m surprised to hear you take the position that people who like Cards Against Humanity shouldn’t moralize about humor ever. Honestly that’s the view I would have attributed to a strawman.

      Well, you can point to counter-examples like old-timey, non-ironically racist humor, but in practice about 0% of the moralizing about humor I hear makes any sense. For example, I don’t think I’ve once heard a rape joke where the point was that rape is actually awesome.

      • Sam Mulvey

        I have. I don’t hang out with that guy anymore. He was one of those people that as he got comfortable with me, he got creepy. I don’t want to say that I’m a magnet for that kind of thing, so I’ll just think it very loudly.

        For me, humor is a coping mechanism as much as it is anything else. I laugh at horrible things because the personal alternative is debilitating. In some cases being able to laugh about something is signpost that I’m well along in healing.

        But I think there’s a difference in laughing at something and attempting to craft a joke about it. And frankly, if (hypothetical) you are going to craft a joke that includes rape or racism, it better be worth it. Frankly, most of the time, it isn’t.

        Too many times (and this is especially the case for hipster racism) it’s an attempt at edginess because the humor isn’t there. In a very concrete way, that’s using social inequality to make yourself look better, and pretty much removes the “ironic” from “ironic racism.”

      • http://skepticsplay.blogspot.com/ trivialknot

        Did you ever grow up with older siblings? They will make fun of you, and it seems straightforward to me that this humor can be morally condemned.

        I’ve seen rape jokes where the point is that people who don’t like rape jokes are over-sensitive. It’s pretty similar: humor as a bullying tool.

  • L.Long

    Jokes are OK about anything. BUT…it is not that good to do really funny jokes about really bad stuff. But ALL jokes that are falling down laughing funny are about pain, suffering, embarrassment, etc. And yes if the joke is just right to the right person they will be hurt by bad memory, but it is still OK just that when you are sensitive about it then don’t watch comedians that are that bad at jokes.

  • http://www.Kamenriderrecap.com Sneezeguard

    I have a particular dislike for people who are offended by just cards in the game that reference their subset of the population. If you object to the whole game because you don’t like offensive things, that’s fine. If you like the whole game then all the better (as I’m quite a fan.) But if you are only offended by the things that directly affect you and groups you belong to then you should step back and re-evaluate your empathy. Why do you think it’s okay to laugh at others but not yourself?

  • guest

    I would never play Cards against Humanity and I think people who do play it are worthless assholes. None of your examples are funny. They’re just stupid.

    Making jokes about rape is not ok. Making jokes about the holocaust is not okay. Making jokes about AIDs is not ok. The fact that you think these things are funny shows you have no moral integrity whatsoever. The real joke is that you think you’re fit to pontificate about morality to the rest of us.

  • UWIR

    To be consistent, shouldn’t it be either “binging and purging” or “bingeing and purgeing”?

  • DJMankiwitz

    The beauty of a card game, unlike video games, is how easy it is to modify it.

    To that end, an intentionally offensive game (one that appears to not actually be promoting any of it’s horrible potential, but just going in it for the shock value), is an easy one to make work for people who have a deep personal reaction to certain subjects. That is, someone who knows that person can take the initiative and remove the problematic cards for games played with that person.

    So if someone personally had a terrible experience with rape, a friend who wants to play the game should take it upon themselves to remove the rape cards in advance. They could tell them they’ve done so, in the interest of full disclosure, or not as the situation dictates.