Once upon a time, many years ago, it was acceptable to be blatantly, nakedly racist, sexist, or homophobic. You didn’t have to hide it.
Times changed and naked bigotry ceased to be publicly acceptable. Authors, journalists, directors, and video game creators stopped creating works that were nakedly bigoted, because otherwise they would get fired.
But many members of the public still loved them some bigotry, and some of the writers and directors did as well. So they searched for ways to write bigoted stuff without having to admit that it was bigoted. One way was to tone down the bigotry. They didn’t say outright ‘women are objects’, they just wrote books or screenplays in which the female characters happened to behave like objects. They didn’t say ‘whites are superior’, they just wrote stories in which all the most heroic characters happened to be white. Etc. etc.
But for some the subtle approach didn’t really hit the spot. They wanted their bigotry thick and un-subtle. They wanted to wallow in it, to wriggle around in it, to squeeze big gobs of warm greasy hatred against their skin.
But they didn’t want to think of themselves as ‘bigots’ even though that’s what they were. They wanted to think of themselves as “artists”.
That’s where irony comes in. You can write something that is blatantly, gobsmackingly sexist or racist, as long as you add a layer of irony on top. Then it magically ceases to be hate speech and instead becomes “satire”. Whenever anyone complains you can just say, “Didn’t you realize that I was being ironic?”
This is one of those things where we see it so often that we stop being able to see it at all. A couple of examples come to mind, from things I happen to have seen recently (I focus on misogyny rather than other kinds of prejudice, because that’s the one that jumps out most for me):
Snakes in a plane
I only got through the first 5 minutes of this, I turned it off at the point where a sexy woman asks a rap star for an autograph, he (uninvited) gives her breast a squeeze, and she responds by giggling. Message: women just love being sexually assaulted!
The thing that really fills me with rage is that when I’ve tried to tell my friends how angry this makes me the response is always, ‘well OF COURSE it’s going to be that way, it’s just that kind of film, it’s not meant to be taken seriously’. No, actually, a pro-sexual-assault message is not OK ever, EVEN IF IT IS NOT MEANT TO BE TAKEN SERIOUSLY. Between 5% and 20% of British women will survive rape or attempted rape in their lifetimes, depending which statistics you believe, and even more than that survive other types of sexual assault. There is no situation in which it is OK to portray sexual assault in a positive way, ever. Fuck off. Really. FUCK OFF.
Duke Nukem (and, come to think of it, about 50 other video games)
There is a macho male hero and some sexy babe-objects who even when they wear armor, wear bikinis. Armor bikinis. But it isn’t sexist. OK, yeah, it is sexist, but, it’s not really sexist. It’s not intended to be taken that way. It’s ironic.
I got through about 30 minutes of this one. All the women in this film are walking-stereotype-beautiful-slut-babe-objects who give blow-jobs to not-particularly-attractive men they don’t know for no apparent reason.
The particularly angry-making thing here is that it’s by Werner Herzog, who is smart and has made lots of good films, and he clearly thinks his over-the-top misogyny is part of some both hilarious and intelligent critique of the action film genre. It isn’t. It’s just plain old misogynistic hatred, it isn’t even particularly clever.
Every Adam Sandler film ever made
I don’t think this needs any explanation.
In all of them the extreme misogyny is clearly intended to be understood as funny or ironic, but at the same time you can “appreciate” the misogyny in a totally straight up way, ignoring the thin and unconvincing veneer of irony. The irony is not really there to thoughtfully examine and criticize misogyny in society, it is just a pretense, a thin veneer whose only purpose is to excuse what lies beneath: a straight-up, old-fashioned, celebration of bigotry and stereotypes.
Well, I’m declaring the concept of irony to be over as of now. It used to be good, but somehow along the way it ceased to be a tool for genuinely sharp and clever criticism of society, and instead became twisted, debased, and evil. I’m very sorry. Many of us will miss irony, but we have to face the truth: it was already gone.
Also being taken out of service: “sarcasm”, “satire”, and “edgy humour”.
Finding Nemo, or, why the universe is so irrevocatively fucked I can’t even find the words to talk about it reason number 500 quatrillionPosted: March 21, 2011
I suffer from insomnia, which makes watching DVD’s basically a necessity for me. I haven’t slept in days, I can’t do any work or even think straight or concentrate on anything, I’m exhausted but I can’t sleep, there’s no-one else around, so I’m going to watch a DVD. No other option.
The only DVD I happen to have that I haven’t watched a billion times is Finding Nemo. Not one I would have chosen myself, it’s one of a stack of DVD’s I borrowed from a friend. But I’m thinking actually in my current sorry state a cute kids’ film is a good idea.
So I’ve just watched the opening scene – the bit before the opening credits. The scene goes like this: there are two cartoon fish, a heterosexual couple. The male fish is showing the female fish their new ‘home’, actually a clump of seaweed, which they have just moved into. The female fish is seeing their home for the first time: apparently the man fish is the one who chose it. The male fish is enthusiastic about the new home while the female fish has reservations about it. It is obvious from their conversation that the male fish has final authority to decide where they will live, and the female fish expresses her reservations in a wheedling, supplicating tone, apparently afraid or unwilling to contradict the male fish in any way. There is a brief flashback to when the couple first got together, which consists of the male fish chasing the female fish saying ‘give me a kiss’ while the female fish swims away from him. All this is clearly intended to be seen as heartwarming.
To sum up, after watching the first approximately 3 minutes of this supposedly heartwarming kids’ film I have absorbed the following patriarchal bullshit messages:
– In a heterosexual relationship the man should get to make all important decisions, and the woman shouldn’t challenge him.
– Women’s opinions are not important and should be ignored.
– If a woman says ‘no’ to a man who who wants to initiate sexual touching, he should attempt to touch her sexually against her will. If she runs away he should pursue her.
– If you want to kiss someone and they say ‘no’ you should sexually assault them: this shows that you’re really interested.
– When women say ‘no’ they really mean ‘yes’.
– Women don’t have agency. In romantic dealings between a man and a woman only the man’s desires are important.
Holy shit that was just the opening scene.
I don’t want to be looking at this shit. I really don’t. I don’t want to absorb all this sexist bullshit. I don’t want to be reminded of all the other sexist bullshit I’ve had to put up with in my life. I just want to watch a freaking film.
Actually, there’s no help for it, even if I watched another film instead it would probably be just as bad, because that is what Patriarchy is like, you never can get away from it, even if you are feeling kind of tired and psychologically broken due to lack of sleep. Oh bloody hell I am going to watch the rest of that film. I’m glad I took a couple of minutes to write an angry rant about it first.
It’s become fashionable both in the mainstream press and among activists to make fun of slacktivism (or, clicktivism). It’s true that some types of “action” are genuinely pointless – I’m thinking of petitions to stop climate change or Facebook groups against breast cancer – but some of the criticisms are seriously misdirected. For instance, political blogging is almost the definition of slacktivism, but every week we hear about some blogger in Libya, China or Russia who got arrested (or worse) for writing a blog post that criticised their government. I think it’s safe to say that when you are putting yourself at risk of arrest, your activities have long-since gone past the bounds of slacktivism.
Another example that comes to mind is #mooreandme, a Twitter campaign that ran a few months back which took documentary film maker Micheal Moore to task for verbally attacking two women who had made rape accusations against Julian Assange. The campaign resulted in Moore making a statement on the Rachel Maddow show about the seriousness of rape. For many feminists and rape survivors, #mooreandme represented a refusal to accept a culture in which rape survivors are dismissed, ignored, or punished for daring to speak up. This is a campaign that could only have taken place on the Internet, since it depended on mobilizing a group of people who were spread out all over the world.
More generally I’m thinking of feminist blogs such as Shakesville, I Blame the Patriarchy and Tiger Beatdown, which are run by volunteers and which provide a message of women’s resistence to sexism and a forum for discussion which otherwise simply wouldn’t exist, anywhere.
I’m also thinking of a recent UK campaign called One Month Before Heartbreak, in which people with various types of disabilities wrote about how planned drastic cuts to disability benefits would affect their lives. For many of them it must have taken an enormous amount of courage to write about something so personal and painful, particularly since people who are disabled are often discriminated against, falsely portrayed as “scroungers”, and told that they should fade into the background rather than participating in public life. They had to overcome all of this in order to tell their stories, which makes One Month Before Heartbreak a genuine act of courage and resistence which should not be dismissed as “slacktivism”.
Of course there is a huge amount of quasi-political time-wasting nonsense on the Internet. Nevertheless blogs and social media are becoming the tools of choice for activists who are fighting for change under the most difficult or dangerous circumstances. They deserve respect, especially from those who are lucky enough to live in generally less challenging situations than they do.
A lot of my friends think it is OK to like porn films, mainly because they like sex, and they think that porn films are about sex. They aren’t. I’ll make this really clear, and I’ll start a whole new paragraph to emphasize the point:
Porn films are not about sex.
So what are they about then? Heterosexual porn films are graphic depictions of sexual violence against women. They portray sex that is exclusively for the man’s pleasure, in which the woman is treated as an object with no agency of her own. As a woman watching porn films, what I see resembles rape a lot more than it resembles consensual sex. The porn industry has a long history of abuse of vulnerable women, so sometimes what you are watching really is rape caught on film. Other times the actress in the film was working voluntarily, but nevertheless what you are watching is a portrayal of misogynistic violence against women.
Because porn films celebrate violence against women, they are a form of hate speech.
I love sex by the way, and I would really love it if there were films that graphically depicted consensual sex from a woman’s point of view. I’ve looked around and I don’t believe that such film’s exist, but I wish they did.
Many feminists promote the idea of active consent or enthusiastic consent – basically, the idea that you can’t have sex with someone, or touch someone in a sexual way, unless they have said that they consent to this. One of the commonly-heard arguments against this is: “But you’d need a legal contract to have sex!”
This is a (deliberate?) misrepresentation of the idea of enthusiastic consent, since no-one is suggesting that you’d need a legal contract, merely verbal consent. But let’s go with this silly idea: let’s image an alternate universe in which a law is passed making it illegal to have sex without both parties signing a legal document expressing their consent. Let’s look at the advantages and disadvantages of this.
The disadvantages are obvious: people would have to carry a pre-written contract everywhere, just in case. If you think having to remember to bring condoms with you is annoying, just imagine having to carry a 20-page legal document. And, in another similarity with condoms, a lot of people would find that having to stop what you’re doing, get out the contract and sign it (two copies, I suppose, one for each person) would spoil the mood. (On the other hand perhaps some would find this process to be a turn-on).
But suppose that, along with being generally a hassle, the contract system lowered the overall incidence of rape. This seems likely: after all in the real world many people are raped by a friend, date, or boyfriend while they are unconscious or too drunk or drugged to talk, and these rapes are often treated as if they weren’t “really” rape. Often the victim doesn’t come forward, thinking that they won’t be believed. In the sex contract universe it would be very clear: there’s no contract, so it’s rape. Furthermore, in the real world many people are told that their rape wasn’t “real” rape because they didn’t say “no” or didn’t fight back (often out of shock or fear). Again, in the sex contract universe it would be clear: the victim didn’t sign the contract, so it was rape. It would be much harder for rapists to rape someone and get away with it, and so the rate of rape would go down.
So, cost-benefit analysis: the cost is that you have to carry a contract everywhere which is annoying, and before having sex with someone you have to get out the contract and sign it, which is even more annoying and spoils the mood. Benefit: fewer people get raped.
Conclusion: holy shit, we need sex contract legislation right now! Feminists: I know we never said people should need a contract to have sex, I know that idea was made up by trolls in order to make us look stupid, but this idea is seriously awesome! Look at the cost-benefit analysis: fewer people get raped, and the only downside is that people are inconvenienced. We need to start the Make Sex Without A Legal Contract Illegal campaign right now!