Trigger warning for graphic reference to rape and rape culture.
STEUBENVILLE ISN’T ABU GHRAIB.
I came to relate this to Steubenville through that post where Steubenville is compared to Abu Ghraib which is getting so much attention – and it’s right that an article rejecting rape culture and holding the guilty individuals to account for their actions and deflecting from Jane Doe who is a victim and a survivor should be getting all that attention.
It happens I almost always disagree with Laurie Penny who should on paper be an ally of mine because of matters of delivery; her writing tends to go for the big image, losing loses the specificity. And that’s the criticism that I have here: it’s probably not a political one, except we can’t frame the political debate if we haven’t properly located the problem.
Steubenville isn’t like Abu Ghraib because the psychosis of war spaces is totally absent. These people haven’t been conditioned for violence in any unusual ways. Only strictly usual ways: seeing videos out of Columbine and school shootings since; having the distinction blurred between that work of fiction on a screen, and that thing you just framed with the screen of your phone.
At the moment I can only think about it as subject and object: we’re mediating our experiences through screens and so we’re coming to think of ourselves as objects, curated, perfect in the sense of being complete. Lives as the actions in the movie rather than the actions between humans who touch and breathe. And fucking cry out and fight back til they can’t and feel and hate and fear. And as subjects who are accountable and recallable and who can be punished because we do stil live in societies of other flesh-wearing humans. You know, IRL.
I don’t want to get into theoretical abstraction with this but that was a useful clarifying device for me.
Someone posted that picture the other day that went semi-viral among people who like to think they’re Not Guilty on a cultural level, of a crowd watching a live event through their tablet/ phone screens. Mediating it. Making it real by translating it technologically: making it “real” by making it object, weirdly. And we keep coming back to that, “how much do we really mean the things we say on the internet” conversation where our avatars go out and do business for us. A really great way to lose Twitter followers is to be vulnerable in front of strangers.
We make mass entertainment out of out ordinary lives and these boys made mass entertainment out of brutal rape. We’re trying really hard to cry “aberration” at something that is a pretty clear manifestation of a dominant cultural trope that we all participate in to some extent every day. And it happened first in America because America is at the forefront of popular culture at this time, is the grandaddy of Late Capitalism and has the strongest historical culture of framing-as-distancing I can think of even if you come at it through outsider art: Dos Passos’ Camera Eye // Kerouac’s Windscreen // Movie theatres in Richard Wright, Nabokov, a thousand others.
This isn’t the argument that says, by exposure to violence on The News we become inured to it. I like the news to talk about what happens in the world – and what happens is mostly violence and horror. But it might be at least partially the argument that says, we don’t have the psychological capacity to deal with the internet and instant information transfer and we haven’t totally understood the role of this mediating… what, service? Is the internet a “service”? In altering and defining reality.
Rape by footballers isn’t new, isn’t new to Steubenville – go back to that FUCKING BADASS Traci Lourdes video in my last post to see – and cults of masculinity leading to violence against women is basically the oldest fucking story. But instantly relaying brutality as mass entertainment, not feeling that violence need be hidden, that’s kind of new. And we’re all doing it: I’m not putting a fucking pixelated picture of Jane Doe’s body up here because actually I trust my readers to feel only revilement at such an image, and also because I think pixellation – making something look MORE LIKE A COMPUTER IMAGE – is precisely counter-productive to humanising what happened and subjectifying all of us. That’s still a woman’s body that you’re looking at, whilst she’s being tortured, right while you’re condemning people for taking pictures of her torture. It was too gross for me to handle from a strictly personal perspective.
We need to be specific in our approach to horrors like Steubenville or we will fail to develop the aparatus to respond to them. My immediate thought has been, “try to use The Internet For Good.” But we also need to understand that it’s becoming possible for people to film brutal rapes and share them widely and make their victims vulnerable long after the physical acts that they performed against her.
I don’t feel sorry for any rapists and view the act as unforgiveable, but I am TOTALLY terrified at this new development in violence against women that I perceive as people managing not to feel the reality of their actions because of the technology through which they mediate it.
I’m not the person who’s going to come up with some definitive here and I probably haven’t fully identified the problem. It’s too soon to know what to do anyway. All I really wanna do is shout WHAT THE FUCK and then run and bury my head someplace the hell else, and cry it out. But dear fucking everybody: we need to talk about what just happened, and talk about it as it really is.