Modern Primate on the “Gray Areas” of Rape Culture

March 18, 2013 § Leave a comment

My fiance is the best. Video description:

Before the verdict of the Steubenville rape trial, the defense and other witnesses demonstrated a lack of knowledge that what they did was rape. And we shouldn’t be surprised, given how violating the body of someone who is passed out is such a common occurrence. Certain forms of bullying, hazing, and practical jokes all contribute to normalizing rape culture.

TL;DR New Pope

March 13, 2013 § Leave a comment

In case you’ve been away from your computer for the last hour, Chris and I put together a helpful synopsis of the internet’s reaction to NEW POPE, which is like New Coke except [insert joke here]. You’re welcome!


The Heartbreak of the Friend Zone, and also NERD ALERT

March 3, 2013 § Leave a comment

you dont know how i'm feeling

Pretty much everyone who knows me even slightly knows that I treat television the way normal people treat comfort food. When I am grumpy or buried in a research project or seasonally affected, I have a few old friends I can always count on for a pick-me-up. Not meatloaf, not cookies, but The X-Files (just the first 6 seasons, obviously), Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Arrested Development, and 30 Rock. Arrested Development and 30 Rock are relatively new additions to my repertoire; I’ve probably only watched each series from start to finish about four times. X-Files and Buffy have been with me much longer. I was a VHS hoarder of X-Files episodes by the time I was 10 (I distinctly remember speed-rollerblading home from swim practice so I could re-watch Eve; at one point in the episode, a 10 year-old girl who also happens to be a homicidal clone discovers the dead body of her father –her handiwork, of course– and when asked what happened, states simply that “he was exsanguinated” — to this day, one of my favorite lines of dialogue), and have probably watched each episode at least ten times, some episodes (like Eve) even more. The same holds for Buffy; once every few months I feel the tug of nostalgia and start plugging away.

So — as a superfan, I have opinions about the following video. Like, Xander falls in love with Cordelia before he meets Anya, and eventually Xander and Willow do get together, precipitating Xander’s breakup with the aforementioned Cordelia, and Spike is king of the embittered friend zone and especially during seasons 5 and 6 exhibits Twilight levels of stalkerish fuckery, so much so that he ends up trying to rape Buffy because he loves her so much and she keeps leading him on (read: talking to him) after she died and went to hell heaven that one time which……I just can’t with that plot line, but I digress, the point is that this video should have a superfan trigger warning, but other than that is pretty great.

Mass Murder and Men: Modern Primate talks Gun Violence & Gender

February 25, 2013 § Leave a comment

My fiance Chris Menning just posted a video that addresses the connection between violence, particularly gun violence, and gender, particularly uncompromising smear-the-queer type masculinity. This is smart, and you should watch it. Also I have two cameos in this video, so that’s fun (fun is the wrong word).

About That Public Shaming…

November 15, 2012 § 1 Comment

Following last Tuesday’s election, a number of American teenagers took to Twitter and began spewing racist invectives against President Obama. Jezebel blogger Tracie Egan Morrissey found these tweets and, in the name of teaching a lesson about accountability, contacted the teens’ high schools and athletic directors. She then published a long article in which she posted the teens’ personal information alongside their offensive (and I mean offensive) tweets. Chris Menning of Modern Primate has some things to say about the story, most notably the fact that Jezebel unfairly implicated an innocent teen in their expose, acknowledged their mistake in an @-reply tweet, but did not issue an apology to Zoe Kimball, a long-suffering victim of trolling and online harassment, or address the fact that Jezebel’s editorial staff unceremoniously changed their header graphic after realizing what they had erroneously posted.

Setting aside the implications of sloppy journalistic practices (it’s called reverse Google image search, and it takes 30 seconds; that’s probably a good place to start when you decide to plaster some kid’s face front and center in an article accusing said kid of calling the President the N-word — at the very least, to see if there’s an Encyclopedia Dramatica article written about the target, as was the case with Zoe Kimball), and tabling the fact that the bigots in the Jezebel article are underage (I am not a developmental psychologist, do not know these kids, and can only speculate about whether or not any or all of them are mature enough to fully grasp the concept of “public” expression, or consequences generally), the Jezebel story poses another, and as far as I can tell, mostly unacknowledged problem — namely, the ways in which public shaming risks replacing one form of problematic online expression with another, and arguably worse, form of problematic online expression.

Some background: the implicit argument of the Jezebel article is that racism is alive and insidious as ever and that we need to do something, anything, to show that this sort of behavior will not be tolerated, and furthermore that you should watch what you say, because someone could be watching and go all Adrian Chen on your ass. As a friend of mine convincingly argued, Jezebel’s approach to racists can therefore be likened to a university’s zero-tolerance approach to smoking on campus (which is its own form of public shaming). These kinds of campaigns, whether anti-smoking or anti-racism, convey the message that THESE BEHAVIORS ARE NOT ACCEPTABLE, which ultimately (ideally) translates to behavioral change.

I don’t disagree with the basic premise that practice (“you’re not allowed to smoke here, because it’s a public health hazard”) impacts ideas (“I don’t want to be a smoker anymore”). But in the case of shaming racists on the internet, at least in the context of the Jezebel article, I wonder if the message conveyed to those who have/would post racist messages online isn’t “you shouldn’t be racist” but rather “you shouldn’t be racist…under your real name.” A surprising percentage of Jezebel’s reader comments seem to (inadvertently) argue as much, and provide slight variations on the assertion-cum-justification that “look, the tweets were public, if you post this stuff publicly prepared to be publicly shamed!!!!” –as if the kids’ misstep was to post their bile under their real names, and not the bile-posting itself. This isn’t to say that commenters on Jezebel are somehow complicit in the kids’ racist statements, but that their reactions give other racist kids (and adults) a compelling reason to create pseudonymous accounts on Twitter or elsewhere.

My issue with the Jezebel article, then, isn’t that I think people have a “right” to be terrible on the internet. In fact if one more person starts bleating about how they have a right to say whatever they want on Twitter because of free speech, I will throw my computer in the toilet (YOU GUYS, THAT’S NOT HOW FREE SPEECH WORKS). But I am wary of the implicit (again, if inadvertent) incentivizing of anonymous racist expression. Because the thing about anonymity is, once someone becomes anonymous, you lose them. You can’t appeal to their better nature because you don’t know whose nature it is. You can’t remind them of the real world implications of their speech and behavior, and can’t force them to confront the repercussions of their actions, because where would you even start? By pushing the behaviors underground, you risk creating a whole new, and arguably worse (at least trickier to handle), beast. Furthermore, and ironically, the very possibility of online shaming comes under threat. After all, you can’t shame people who can’t be found, and who therefore can’t be held accountable.

This doesn’t mean I reject the idea of exposing bigots on the internet. I actually think that public online shaming, if done carefully, may prove to be a better and more effective alternative to various censorship measures, which are more problematic than they would be helpful. But public shaming poses its own set of problems — problems Tracie Egan Morrissey tripped over when she didn’t double and triple and quadruple check to make sure the minors she was shaming weren’t themselves victims, as was Zoe Kimball (because even if it turns out that shaming a group of racist 15 year-olds is worth it, and will ultimately reduce the overall frequency and ferocity of online racism, you had better be damn sure you’re shaming the RIGHT 15 year-olds). The difficulty of getting one’s facts straight isn’t the only complicating factor, as even the most well-intentioned attempt to expose existing bigots might just be a catalyst for emboldening groups of even bigger (and more smugly entitled) bigots.

In the end, then, my argument is that the jury is still out, and that we should think a bit more about the ethical trade-offs of vigilante justice before we decide that public shaming is the best way to deal with problematic online behaviors. It may be that shaming is our best option, but it might not be. It would, I think, be best to proceed with caution.

“The Front Page of the Internet,” You Say?

October 13, 2012 § Leave a comment

Yeah, about that whole “running for President of the internet” thing…

My partner Chris Menning just posted a response piece to the Violentacrez creepshot controversy, which everyone should read. As Chris explains:

Yesterday was one hell of an interesting day in regards to Reddit’s public image. In the morning, BuzzFeed ran a glowing profile piece on founder Alexis Ohanian, “Why is this man running for President of the Internet“ lauding him for his efforts in helping squash SOPA. Ohanian stood infront of a podium adorned with the motto “Making the World Suck Less.”

It’s not clear how Ohanian was making the world suck less when encouraging, benefiting from, and ultimately protecting the actions of a man who posted photos of underage girls for perverts to leer at. And that’s a fact that Gawker’s Adrian Chen raised loudly and clearly when he published what is, in my opinion, the best depiction of Reddit’s success to date: Unmasking Violentacrez, the Biggest Troll on the Web. If you read nothing else on Gawker, let it be this.

Now, in case you haven’t been following along prior to today, many Reddit subforums had already begun banning Gawker links days in advance, in preparation for Chen’s article. In fact, their was an outpouring of support for Violentacrez, real name Michael Brutsch, despite his habit of posting 14 year-old girls their bikinis. Apparently creating and moderating boards like /r/creepshots, /r/jailbait, and /r/picsofdeadjailbait were just fine but when a journalist chose to reveal VA’s identity, this was somehow a gross violation of his privacy.

With how much work Reddit staff goes to portraying themselves in a humanitarian light, calling themselves “the front page of the internet” and “a force for good in a bad world,” it’s important that we all remember that they knew of Violentacrez’s habits of posting exploitative photos and simply looked the other way as long as they could benefit from the traffic he brought to the site.

The full article is here; seriously, read it.

Regarding Romney’s “Passionate” Debate Performance

October 4, 2012 § Leave a comment

My partner Chris Menning just published an article over on Modern Primate that is well worth a read. Of Mitt Romney’s blustery debate performance, Chris reminds us:

As a white man, Mitt’s allowed to be as emotional -aggressive, rude, even angry – as he wants to be. All of those qualities make him strong. But as a black man, any of those qualities would hurt the President. The same goes for other historically underrepresented groups. If it were either Hillary Clinton or Sarah Palin, getting angry would have people accusing her of being too volatile to hold such an important position. Really, the only way you can be aggressive and rude and have it perceived as a strength is when you’re a member of the group who makes and universalizes the rules — in other words, the white majority.

More on this depressing reminder here.

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