On Sexual Predators and the Business of Shame

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Hello everyone. Before starting this article, which is going to be very serious, I’d just like to take a second to acknowledge that I recently hit 1000 views for 2017 on The Wooden Man, which has been a life goal I’ve been aspiring to for a while now. My aim was to reach that number before the end of the year, and I’ve hit it without even starting 2017’s Album of the Year, which is amazing. So thank you for reading, everyone.

1.) The Power of Celebrity

Now, as I’m sure anyone who has been following the news will have noticed, there have been several stories of high-profile sexual abuse, misconduct and harassment in mainstream media outlets and beyond over the past few weeks. First there was the Weinstein scandal, then the allegations against Kevin Spacey, who tried to deflect child abuse claims by coming out as bisexual.

Then there was Louis CK, and George Takei. And then, a week before me and my brother had tickets to see them live in the O2 Brixton, emo/rock band Brand New cancelled all upcoming shows following accusations of sexual misconduct against lead singer Jesse Lacey. Lacey admitted via a Facebook post he had manipulated women and cheated in the past, while ignoring (though clearly not denying) claims he solicited nude pictures from a fifteen year old girl.

That one was a particularly tough pill to swallow. Brand New were a band I, like many other people, was emotionally invested in. But listening to their music now makes me incredibly uncomfortable – lyrics that used to read as generalized relationship melodrama are now pretty plainly the confessions of an emotional abuser. Take these, from the anthemic ‘Me vs Maradona vs Elvis’, which I’m sure thousands of teenagers have belted out in their bedrooms:

‘I got desperate desires and unadmirable plans / My tongue will taste of gin and malicious intent / Bring you back to the bar get you out of the cold / My sober straight face gets you out of your clothes … You laugh at every word trying hard to be cute / I almost feel sorry for what I’m gonna do’

Perhaps we were being wilfully ignorant. If I’m honest, I knew listening to ‘Me vs Maradona vs Elvis’ that the song carried undertones of emotional if not sexual abuse, certainly a heavy dose of power and manipulation. But it’s easy to ignore when it comes from someone you admire, and that’s precisely the attitude that has enabled these men to do the things they have done, whether it was Lacey, Weinstein, Spacey, or anyone else.

The tidal wave of allegations that have been levelled against countless men in the last few weeks are a sign that sexual harassment and assault are far more widespread that many of us would dare admit, and are a chilling reminder of how celebrities can abuse the very real power we all collectively grant them.

 

2.) The Business of Shame

At the same time, the way these stories are being reported concerns me. I feel that the conversation surrounding these issues has shifted from a measured and very important discussion to a blind witch-hunt, and that respectable publications are sinking to tabloid tactics, throwing as many bodies as possible onto a funeral pyre of public shame while we all rub our hands with malicious joy.

Before I go any further, I want to share a screenshot I took from the frontpage of msn.com about two months ago, before any of the sexual misconduct stories broke. I was trying to log into Outlook and was stopped in my tracks by the page below, which struck me as hilarious and disgusting in equal measure:

msn ss

SLAMMED. Three of four top stories describe how different people are being SLAMMED, either for their appearance or their political views. Another two stories below describe people who are furious about things, while the rest are cheap attempts at provocation (Dec on holiday, the Grenfell lady). If it wasn’t already disgustingly apparent, shame and fury are the language of tabloid journalism.

But the wider media world is well versed in that language, too. In the days after the Jesse Lacey story broke, I checked the News section of music website Pitchfork regularly, and every single time I did I found a new story of sexual misconduct or harassment. That isn’t an exaggeration. Here are six separate stories in which people have been accused of sexual misconduct, and one in which Morrisey gets publicly shamed for defending Kevin Spacey:

https://pitchfork.com/news/russell-simmons-accused-of-sexually-assaulting-a-minor/

https://pitchfork.com/news/fyf-fest-founder-sean-carlson-accused-of-sexual-assault/

https://pitchfork.com/news/pinegrove-cancel-tour-after-accusation-of-sexual-coercion-against-frontman-evan-stephens-hall/

https://pitchfork.com/news/morrissey-defends-kevin-spacey-questions-accusers-motives/

https://pitchfork.com/news/backstreet-boys-nick-carter-accused-of-rape/

https://pitchfork.com/news/the-gaslamp-killer-sues-over-rape-allegations/

The story about Backstreet Boys’ Nick Carter is about twenty minutes old as of my writing this – I checked in with Pitchfork once more before finishing this article and found yet another sexual misconduct story. Two of the above stories are regarding people I’ve never even heard of, but am presumably still supposed to be outraged about. And the last one is crucial, because it details an accusation of sexual misconduct which as of writing is unverified and currently being settled in court, but which led to The Gaslamp Killer being dropped from his label and event organizer.

Now, please don’t think for a second that I’m defending the actions, proven or alleged, of any of these men. Of course I am not. Any form of sexual misconduct, anything non-consensual in any way, is deplorable and disgusting. But many publications are walking a thin line at the moment, and a lot of unverified information is being thrown around just to add fuel to the fire of this story.

And here’s something else important to think about: the front page of msn.com is full of ads. Those ads are paid for by businesses that are literally cashing in on public outrage. Likewise, Pitchfork are making money every single time anyone clicks one of the links above, and the fact that all these stories have risen to the top of the front page suggests that many people are.

Public shame is a business, one which is very cleverly able to hide its dubious motives behind a veil of righteous indignation. Yes, it is a good thing that these stories come to light if they make people step back and realize the extent of sexual misconduct. But ask yourself – do you really think publications like Pitchfork, even the BBC, are primarily pushing these stories because of a social justice agenda? Or is it because scandal sells, and sexual misconduct is a huge views driver?

I think it is the latter, and I’d like to suggest people take a step back to think about WHY they are outraged, WHO they are really outraged at, and WHICH corporations are making money from that outrage.

PS please don’t publicly shame me for writing this

The Wooden Man

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