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Death by 1000 Tweets

I first saw the story of August Ames last week and figured I’d like to write about it. But I was busy doing dissertation stuff and didn’t get around to it at first. Plus I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to say. And then after a couple days I decided, “eh, she isn’t famous enough for people to have a really good idea of who she was and care, maybe I won’t bother.” Then, a few days later, I saw my friend Liz post about her and said “Well, maybe I’ll do this anyway” but didn’t get around to it because I was still busy. I’m still busy, but now I’ve had a bit to think about it and there’s sort of an angle that I want to address with her. But more on that later.

Yep… that’s right. That’s the tease. See, I figure some people are going to read this post just because they see the thumbnail of the sexy girl in the tiny dress attached. And it is relevant. But I’m going to make you wait for that part. I’m going to go into something else entirely, talk through a whole bunch of things that seem completely unrelated at first, and then loop back around to it at the end and tie it all together. In other words, I’m gonna Pulp Fiction this motherfucker.

A few days ago, my friend Jameel posted a link on Facebook to an article about Woody Allen written by Dylan Farrow. The premise of the article being that Farrow wants Allen to be in the conversation of #MeToo abusers that have been all over the news lately. Farrow maintains that Allen molested her once as a child and she wants everyone to know. Allen, of course, denies this and unlike the Kevin Spacey or Harvey Weinstein in recent days, Allen’s career has been relatively unaffected by this. Farrow, unsurprisingly, wants this to change. I’m not really looking to litigate that case here. The important point here, is that my wife, Stephanie, happens to not believe Farrow’s account of events. She apparently used to and no longer does. Now Steph will be the first to tell you that she doesn’t know what happened. She wasn’t there. Much like in any of these cases. She’s also not really a Woody Allen fan. In fact, in the nearly 20 years we’ve been together, I can’t recall her every voluntarily watching one of his movies. Mostly she has issues with the way Farrow’s story is presented and the nature of implanted memories. And she explained as such. See, Stephanie is a cognitive psychologist. She has a phd and is an authority on thought and memory and learning. She’s a scientist. She does it for a living. I don’t pretend to understand all of her issues with the story here or the science and I don’t really have to. I’m not an expert and that’s not what I was really talking about.

What I am interested here is in the way that people who disagreed with her attacked her position. She was told repeatedly that she didn’t have respect for “science” and that she was just being contrarian or that she wanted to defend a filmmaker she liked. Even though she doesn’t care about Allen’s films at all, I’m pretty sure it was the former complaint that really irritated her. So she ended up in a conversation going back and forth about how she wasn’t a real scientist because if she did she would agree with “the facts” and see how wrong Allen was. Steph accused her attackers of not actually following the facts and engaging in groupthink. Things snowballed from there with someone telling her that it wasn’t “groupthink” its just that all the reasonable people (i.e. not her) actually understand the situation and came to the only reasonable conclusion, and if they were wrong, then that was okay because “better for everyone to shun an innocent, rich white man than take a chance at supporting a child molester.” But uhh… not group think. Or something.

And there’s some logic there. Sure. People like to point out that the court of public opinion is not the same thing as the legal courts. And they are right. The burden of proof on no longer supporting a Weinstein, Spacey or an Allen is NOT the same as convicting them in a court of law. Not wanting to support an Al Franken or a Roy Moore with a vote is much the same. Is it group think? It absolutely is. The thing is, people hate the term, but it’s not actually a bad thing. “Groupthink” is how culture is formed. People get to a similar mentality and then it becomes part of the general tone and direction of the culture — the “cultural climate” if you will. The entire reason the #MeToo campaign was successful is that the culture mutated to where it had a general consensus of how it wanted to treat certain claims. And for the most part that’s been good. The problem is that doesn’t mean that someone who doesn’t buy into the standard is bad. It also doesn’t mean they’re wrong. In fact, it’s the discussion… the exchange of the ideas.. that actually makes the “groupthink” do the right thing. The dissenters are necessary. And in fact, one would hope that there are intelligent dissenters like Stephanie.

Let’s look at another recent example. Perhaps you’ve heard of the story of Keaton Jones. He is a kid who was bullied in school and his mother filmed crying about it and posted it to youtube. The post went viral and the kid quickly became internet famous, with a barrage of celebrities asking to meet him and showing their support. Most notably, Chris Evans, who plays Captain America in Marvel movies, tweeted his support and has invited Jones and his mother to be his special guests at the premiere the next Avengers movie. All very good. And really, all groupthink, in a sense. It’s all about us deciding, as a culture, that bullying is bad.

But then there’s a flip side. In a twist first brought to my attention (again on Facebook) by my cousin Ashton. It turns out that there’s a bit of a controversy because a picture surfaced of young Keaton and his family raising a confederate flag. You see, it turns out Keaton’s mother Kim (and by extension him, he’s only 11 and so it’s unsurprising that his political opinions are more or less what his parents are) is a huge supporter of confederate flag rights. In fact, she’s been very vocal on the issue. But not just vocal. She tends to lambast people (or as she calls them “butt hurt americans”) who don’t support the confederate flag. And there’s some unverified reports that maybe, just maybe… young Keaton has a habit of liberally using the n-word to tease other students at school. So you know… arguably… he and his mother ARE FUCKING BULLIES! And racist ones at that.

So who’s right here? Who’s wrong?

The answer? Everyone is both. It’s “wrong” for Keaton and Kim to be racist. It’s wrong for the other kids to bully an 11yo boy. One does not preclude or excuse the other. Is Evans a racist for supporting a kid who is maybe a racist? What about the black athletes and hiphop stars who went out of their way to support him? Not really. They almost certainly didn’t check. What he did was take a stand against bullying. Just like everyone else. Groupthink!

Our culture likes to believe in simple dichotomies. Good vs. Evil. Gay vs. Straight. Democrat vs. Republican. Liberal vs. Conservative. Right vs. Wrong. None of this is true. Life is complicated. There are many many layers on most issues. It’s entirely possible for there to be varying degrees of rightness and wrongness… I mean, both of those are only social constructs anyway. They’re only what we believe in.

Should Evans rescind the invitation. I’m not sure. I mean, really, it’s kind of up to him. But it’s complicated. Does a kid deserve to be bullied because he has some racist views? And if the answer is yes, doesn’t that make things worse? If every celebrity in Hollywood including Captain Fucking America says “oh we were with you. We were behind you, but it turns out you’re a racist motherfucker, so fuck you!” that’s going to destroy him. And… well… maybe they should. Sure, it probably is going to hurt having celebrity America turn on you far more than having some other 11 year olds pour milk in your hair at the lunch table. And if the kid is a racist, well, maybe some people just deserve bullying… except….

Let us now return to the example of August Ames. See, I told you we’d get there. Well, if you don’t know who she is, August Ames is a porn star. Or she was. Back on December 3rd, Ames tweeted that she was dropping out of a porn shoot and said she wanted to warn whoever was replacing her that the reason she was doing so was because the male costar she was supposed to shoot with also did gay porn. The internet flipped out against her. She was called homophobic and berated for the next several days. She attempted to defend herself under the argument that she wasn’t homophobic she was just worried about HIV. This, of course made things worse because people told her that was even more homophobic. (Note: To be fair to Ames, an important issue that most people probably don’t know is that HIV testing standards are completely different in the gay porn industry than the straight one.) This back and forth went on between her and several thousand tweeters for four days. On December 7th, August tweeted a final “fuck y’all.” She was found dead in her home the next morning.

Did the internet kill August Ames? I wouldn’t go that far. She had previously admitted to having a history of mental problems, substance abuse problems, depression, and sexual molestation in her past. And of course, most people in the porn industry will tell you there’s a lot of stress and no shortage of dark stories that go with it. No, the internet didn’t kill her. But it certainly didn’t help.

Was Ames a homophobe? I don’t know. I mean, she certainly performed as a bisexual and claimed to be in her own life. That doesn’t mean anything. The LGBTQ+ community certainly isn’t a pure homogenous family. There’s lots of prejudice and bias within it from one group to another. And in a sense, yes… there was some validity to her fears about sexual health in that industry. Is that good enough? Who knows.

Was the Internet trying to kill August Ames? Of course not. Or at least, I don’t think so. We, thankfully live in a world which has become far more tolerant of non heternormative sexualities. It certainly isn’t equal. But it’s become more accepting. That is undoubtedly a great cultural shift (much like being against bullying… or being against sexual assault). But the way that we got there, is largely through the culture banning together and smacking down people who didn’t agree with them. Groupthink by proxy. And that’s what the internet was trying to do here. The internet was telling Ames that it’s okay to be gay.

Well, sort of… The other way of looking at it is that several thousand people online decided that they wanted to turn on a young woman and bully her because she decided that she didn’t want to fuck a stranger!

Maybe Ames was a homophobe and maybe not. She has every right to decide not to fuck someone. Her being in the sex industry doesn’t change that. She can decide she doesn’t want to fuck someone because they’re gay or bi. She can decide she doesn’t want to fuck someone because they’re black or hispanic or asian. She can have the most sexist, or racist reason in the world. Or she can just not like the person. No one owes anyone sex. That’s kinda one of those cultural touchstones we worked out quite a while ago. And no matter what her reasons were or the reasons of the people debating her… at the end of the day, their main point was that she wasn’t allowed to decide to not fuck someone because of their sexuality. In other words…. that her sexual choices are irrelevant or wrong.

And that’s kind of not ok.

And therein lies the danger. Sure, you absolutely want to move the social needle. Everyone does. At the end of the day, there are very few people who really are looking for absolute evil. Even the people who might have diametrically opposed political views to mine… who are actively campaigning against abortion, or marriage equality… who are praising religion, building walls across Mexico, or trying to ban Sharia law… who actually think that trickle down economics are a good thing… who are voting for Roy Moore because “well at least he’s pro-life”… those people for the most part THINK they’re doing the right thing. They’re wrong! But their motives are generally altruistic. Facts don’t really matter with morality, as I have said before.

And it’s important to have these conversations, and understand these differences, wrong or right, rather than attacking those who don’t conform. Because that’s the way to move the cultural needle intelligently… rather than just being moved by it.

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