“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”:

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