THE BLOG

Don't Buy What Rape Culture Sells

09/13/2013 12:22 EDT | Updated 11/13/2013 05:12 EST

I've been trying to stay positive and focus on all the great things young people in this town are doing to end sexual violence. But lately I'm falling down. It is spilling over.

Last week, I supported a youth in speaking out to the province about her upset with the "Do Me" consent education campaign. She felt it was belittling, failed to reach youth and invalidated her own experiences and those of her peers with sexual and gender-based violence. The youth present at the table considered it to harmful. I watched government staff and the Minister responsible tell her that "No press is bad press." Even if the campaign had problems, at least people were talking about it. They considered the campaign a success simply based on the number of people who "talked about it."

Last week, I also sat trembling and speechless in my classroom at SMU where I teach on issues of youth, culture and crime. I teach about issues of sexual violence and young people. The whole campus is in crisis mode after videos of the rape chant surfaced online and received national media attention. My students cried. They feel hopeless, demoralized. They feel unsafe -- both young men and young women. Students who spoke out have been spat on and bullied by others. Students who were involved don't understand -- nothing they did is worse than a Robin Thicke video. Nothing they did is worse than prime time -- they don't understand why rape jokes are everywhere and now their lives are being turned upside down because they did it, too.

Now, this week, I find myself once again trembling, speechless and angry. A SMU student in his mid-20s has admit he sexually assaulted a 14-year-girl on the team he coached. The judge is allowing him to finish his term in university before he sentences him. This man is a student at our university. This man was also a daycare leader and looked after a young girl that I know. And now her mother has to explain to her what rape is.

Now, as St. Mary's struggles to begin addressing the events on campus -- this judge has sent a clear and direct message that the academic and career success of convicted rapists is more important than safety on our campus. This student has now been suspended.

In class yesterday, we had a discussion about Miley Cyrus. We were analyzing the role of gender, sexuality and age in pop culture. One of my students -- a male athlete in the same social circle as the students responsible for the rape chant -- expressed his problems with the music industry. He said that he won't watch the new Miley Cyrus video because he knows that the racist and rapey VMA debacle was a deliberate set up to get more viewers on her upcoming music video. And I think he's right.

While my small town is in the middle of a shit storm of sexual violence and social distress, Miley's new video is breaking records. I don't have issue with Miley Cyrus being sexual -- I have issue with her sending the message that being sexual is in the context of "blurred lines." The VMA performance WAS rape culture with a huge helping of racist appropriation. Rape culture is not nudity. Rape culture is not twerking. Rape culture is the cultural industry we have built around creating images that send the message that rape is hot.

Here's the thing; I don't support criminalization. I want an end to rape culture.

And this week, millions of YouTube and Vevo viewers told the Entertainment Industrial Complex that rape culture sells. Rape culture can turn a mediocre set of one-hit wonders with celebrity parents into a record-breaking success overnight.

The digital economy has backed into a corner.The Media Industrial Complex doesn't care if we like Miley Cyrus or not. They only care that we watch. They care about selling ad space. They sell us the most outrageous thing they can to get -- attention from believers and critics -- and all of us watch.

When we support the Miley brand by watching her new video WE ARE BLURRING THE LINES for the young women in our community. We are telling execs that if they put out something controversial enough, they can break records.

I guess the communications professionals and the Minister are right. I guess that putting out harmful images is a good business strategy.

Every time we buy into celebrity culture online, we are loading more ammunition into a gun that is pointed straight at us. The athlete in my class was all too aware of this.

There is no such thing as "just a music video." There is no difference between entertainment and reality -- not when the media industrial complex is one of the most complex and powerful social learning tools we have. ART IS ALWAYS POLITICAL.

We vote with every click. And even the feminists I know that by calling for an end to rape culture they are blurring their own ethical lines by buying into celebrity brands that make money even off our protest.

I don't want censorship. I simply want those who care about reducing sexual violence to understand that there is no boundary between our online life and our intimate lives. We cannot leave our politics at the door when we log in.

Please support arts and culture that reflects your values, that challenges you, that makes you cry and that is real and honest...

So artists/brands who produce rape culture don't skyrocket to the top of the charts so quickly.

So I can tell the youth I know who are working tirelessly to demand better from their governments and from their culture that we are behind them.

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