A ranty, funny, dead-serious intersectional feminist blog.

And the Award for the Most Vile Piece of Crap on the Internet Goes to…

Trigger warnings for rape, rape apologia, victim-blaming, and general rape-culture fuckery.

This week, two popular Internet publications—The Onion and The Daily Beast–apparently engaged in a competition to see who could publish the most disgusting piece of rape-culture-perpetuating clickbait on the whole entire Internet. It was almost as though TDB saw the steaming pile The Onion excreted on Tuesday (in which they appeared to be competing with their recent Chris Brown piece for some sort of internal fuckwit prize) and thought, “You know, I’ll bet we can get something out by Thursday that gives them a run for their money.”

I’m not linking to either of these pieces, but I will tell you a bit about each and how you can let these pubs know what you think, if you’re so inclined. We’ll start with The Onion’s attempt to point up the tragedy of child rape. Here’s the headline:

Adolescent Girl Reaching Age Where She Starts Exploring Stepfather’s Body

When I saw this, I tweeted something about finding a way to get their attention and make them aware of the damage they’re doing with this type of piece. Predictably (and I predict this will happen here, as well) I almost instantaneously got a reply from a guy who didn’t get what the big deal was. “IT’S SATIRE!” he explained. “Where’s the damage?” he wanted to know.

Many if not most of my readers will not need to read past this headline to understand—if only at a gut level—what the problem is. But here are just a few of the ways I and two fellow feminists attempted to clarify it for him.

The headline is probably the worst thing about this piece, second only to the image choice, which I’ll cover below. It tells a story not of a predator and a potential victim, but of a young girl “coming of age” and getting ready to explore sex with an adult. It practically makes the victim the aggressor, for Christ’s sake. I just can’t believe I have to explain to anyone why this is a problem.

Satire is meant to point up: to sting the people in power—the ones who perpetuate the problem the satire is spotlighting. Satire should sting the perpetrators—not the victims. This is what I call lazy or just plain bad satire: it points in the wrong direction and makes its point at the expense of the people it claims to want to help.

As was the case with the Chris Brown/Rihanna piece they did a few months ago, they made the victim the punchline. I have been a professional writer for 25 years, and I know that there’s always a way to write around a problem. There was a way—there were multiple ways—for The Onion to make the point they wanted to make—that child rape is tragic and sick and all-to-prevalent—without making the victim the joke. Why not write from the POV of a child rapist? Why involve the victim at all? And tell me why in the name of all that is good and holy you would lead with this image?

700

Seriously? My brain is just a whirlwind of everything that’s wrong with this, from what it does to my insides seeing it in this context, to the fact that there is an actual little girl out there to whom this face belongs. I just can’t even with this shit. FUCK.

And finally, survivors of rape do not benefit from satirical stories that make light of their pain and terror and trauma and abuse.

Again, predictably, we got nowhere. I don’t know how to make it any clearer: This type of piece perpetuates rape culture and hurts the people it purports to help.

You can contact The Onion at publicfeedback@theonion.com. Let them know what you think. I personally think they are a) failing at satire, b) whoring for links, c) becoming no better than their hack competitors, d) perpetuating rape culture and violence against women by trivializing same and making victims the punchline.

On to The Daily Beast. When Chelsea Manning announced yesterday that she was a woman, the Internet exploded. I watched as the press flubbed pronouns and terminology left and right, as folks on Twitter corrected one another, got angry, called for calm, asked questions, learned things. Then TDB published a piece of rape apologia that made my hair stand on end, and if I thought the tweets had been flying before, well…it wasn’t long before TDB issued a Twitter fauxpology (and I mean a SEVERELY weak thing of weakness) and posted an editor’s note at the top of the piece pointing out that the original draft had been even worse. Then they quietly began editing out the most outrageous bits, like this:

Indeed, the vast majority of experienced convicts know that “true” rape is not a common occurrence in prison. That doesn’t mean that homosexual sex doesn’t occur—it certainly does. But it’s really not that unusual for a new prisoner to show up on the compound and begin walking around the yard in pants far too tight. Before long they drop the soap in the shower, get a little close to another naked man, and then— simply because they’ve never been able to come to terms with their own sexuality—tell anyone who will listen (but, interestingly enough, they usually never complain to the guards) that they were “raped.” And a week or two later it could happen again, and then again.

Quiet as it’s kept, this is one reason for high recidivism rates. In prison, closeted homosexuals can receive what they desire but are able to maintain to the world they really find such behavior disgusting; in this manner they don’t have to take responsibility for what happened to them.

I can only imagine that the editor had an emergency root canal and this piece somehow slipped by without anyone with the words “fact-check” in their job description laying eyes on it. And if that was the case, removing the piece and issuing a sincere apology for publishing it would probably have meant that by now, we’d just be shaking our heads wondering how such a thing could happen. But removing what they perceived to be the “offending” chunks of the article without making note of the fact is sneaky as hell and this purposeful attempt to rewrite history has stripped TDB of all credibility with many of us. They’ve got a lot of work to do to fix this mess.

Prison Culture has published an article containing contact information for TDB and a list of demands they need to meet in order to start making things right. Please take a moment to let TDB know what you think about their rape apologia and utter lack of journalistic integrity.

And the winner is…The Daily Beast because they’re actually supposed to be journalists and they have failed at that in a major way. But The Onion is a very close second for learning absolutely nothing this year when they’ve had so many opportunities.

Let me know what you think in the comments (but if you’re considering explaining satire to me, please fuck right off).

Update:

The Daily Beast has issued an apology acknowledging how wrong they were to publish the piece in question. On the other hand, they have opted to leave the piece up, and have so far not edited the note at the top to include this acknowledgement. I really hope they do, and that they apologize to Chelsea Manning.


PS/Update: Here’s a video by The Onion showing that they do know how to do satire that sheds light on a problem without perpetuating it–instead ridiculing rapists, rape apologists, and rape culture and leaving the victim the hell out of it:


Respectful discussion is welcome and encouraged. When in doubt, see the Comment Policy.

15 responses

  1. Ignorance and maliciousness bring the same result,unfortunately. When you have a writer who loses the plot and worse, who has some personal issues or other things that force an aggressive,nasty and misleading article out you use your editor to send it back. Poor professionalism,or total lack of it.

    August 26, 2013 at 4:42 pm

  2. Reblogged this on The Free.

    August 26, 2013 at 3:37 pm

  3. Bravo for bringing attention to this.
    -L

    August 26, 2013 at 12:32 pm

  4. Natalie

    That’s one of the problems with trying to stop the perpetuating of rape culture. People hide behind “humor” and don’t bother to understand how horrible some experiences are, just because they haven’t had them.

    “do not try and take away the humour others get from it”

    Um, the correct comment is, do not take away from the seriousness of traumatic experiences. Just because you don’t know what it feels like, doesn’t mean you should dismiss it. Everyone has a moral responsibility to be respectful. And you know, what you find humo(u)r in and find acceptable reflects on your character.

    August 24, 2013 at 2:51 am

  5. There is a right way and a wrong way to do satire. The Onion and TDB did it vastly wrong in these cases, as they so often do. Very well put in this post.

    August 24, 2013 at 12:21 am

  6. There is so much in this world to poke good fun at and even be haughtily laughed at, but there is a godawful lot that just isn’t, no matter how satirically presented. I suppose my point of view differs, obviously—it’s anatomically biased and even oppressed at times.

    Thanks for writing, as always.

    August 23, 2013 at 4:18 pm

  7. Here’s an fantastic example of The Onion itself satirizing and spotlighting rape culture in a way that stings rapists and rape apologists and leaves the victim alone.

    August 23, 2013 at 12:58 pm

  8. Also, THE PROPHECY HAS BEEN FULFILLED. #thatisall

    August 23, 2013 at 10:57 am

  9. Alan

    On the subject of the Onion’s piece, do you really feel satirists and comedians have a moral responsibility to help and positively contribute towards the situation they are discussing? Is it not enough for them to bring the issue into the limelight. They have riled the author enough to write about it. I don’t believe anyone actually meant that paedophillic relationships are acceptable.
    ‘survivors of rape do not benefit from satirical stories that make light of their pain and terror and trauma and abuse’. From where is the societal compulsion to pussyfoot around any sensitive topics, coming from?
    Comedy comes from surprise, and it wouldn’t be surprising for a newspaper to lambast the actual criminal.
    I understand you do not find this humerus but please do not try and take away the humour others get from it, because they aren’t actually hurting anyone. If people choose to be hurt it is because they are perhaps too sensitive.
    Thanks

    August 23, 2013 at 10:29 am

    • Did you happen to read the last line in this piece? I understand you don’t see the damage, but please do not try to tell me that it doesn’t exist just because you think this piece of garbage was funny. It actually does hurt people. It hurt me to see it and read it. It hurts victims of these crimes because it paints a picture of the victim as the aggressor and makes her the punchline. Just because you don’t feel the pain or the damage doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

      People who come to blogs where someone says that something is damaging and use the words “too sensitive” are perhaps not sensitive enough to experiences of the world that differ from their own.

      August 23, 2013 at 10:32 am

    • “do you really feel satirists and comedians have a moral responsibility to help and positively contribute towards the situation they are discussing”

      I think that a publication like The Onion has a responsibility not to perpetuate societal ills, yes. They’re entire platform is pointing up societal ills and abuses of power. When they do it right, they rock it. But when they ridicule the powerless, when they use the victim as bait, when they point their satire down instead of up, it fails. When they referred to a little girl as a “cunt,” they failed. When they made light of Rihanna’s abuse, they failed.They stung the victims rather than the perpetrators. They have become part of the problem.

      August 23, 2013 at 11:26 am

    • Yes, we REALLY feel that satirists and comedians have a responsibility not to make the world a shittier, meaner, stupider and more evil place. It’s the same moral responsibility that all human beings have, regardless of their line of work. Comedy is just another job. It’s not a sacred cow.

      August 23, 2013 at 2:10 pm

    • “If people choose to be hurt it is because they are perhaps too sensitive.”

      I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more heinous example of victim blaming than this right here. Besides the point that people may be hurt by this because abusers will read it and add it to their list of evidence that sexual abuse isn’t really a big deal because look everyone’s joking about it! – If someone is triggered by this piece because they already have been abused HOW IN THE FUCK IS THAT THEIR FAULT, EXACTLY?

      Have you suffered any trauma? Have you ever been triggered? Ever had a panic attack? Trust me, absolutely no one in the universe chooses to have these reactions. No one would.

      August 26, 2013 at 12:07 pm

  10. Every time I think that we’ve reached the pinnacle of stupid, rape-culture perpetuating bullshit published on the internet…someone comes along to surprise me!

    I wish they’d stop.

    August 23, 2013 at 10:25 am

Chime in:

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 5,003 other followers