On t-shirts, rape and pitchforks

It takes a lot for me to fire up this blog these days. Usually only when I can’t say what I want to in a reasonable number of 140 character bites, or it’s nothing to do with London (in which Londonist gets it) and that doesn’t happen often. But. This ‘Keep Calm and Rape Her’ t-shirt thing. Right.

It should obviously go without saying that this t-shirt is abhorrent, but I work on the internet so I know I need to say it or someone will think I condone it. Phrases and ‘jokes’ that encourage rape are not funny, they are horrific. Let’s agree that we all understand this and move on.

Here’s a blog post that posits a pretty good theory about how that t-shirt came to exist. In a nutshell: there are a 500,000+ t-shirts on that store so it’s unlikely each of those was specifically designed by a human being. Instead, someone somewhere designed an algorithm to spit out phrases that can be printed onto a t-shirt if someone wants one.

Should the word ‘rape’ ever have been included in that algorithm? Of course it fucking shouldn’t. But rather than instantly assuming the intent was to make a ‘joke’ about raping women, I wonder if the word got in there as a gaming reference. It’s quite common to see gamers talking about “lol let’s go rape some noobs”. I don’t like the way ‘rape’ is used in this context, but it’s how our language has evolved and it’s where we are. (There’s a whole other discussion to be had around the normalisation of such language in boys and young men, but that’s for another day.) This is also possibly how ‘hit’ and ‘maul’ got into the mix, too. There are comments on that blog post about how there’s no ‘Keep Calm and Rape Him‘ t-shirts, but by this point there are no ‘Keep Calm and Rape’ anything on either Amazon or Solid Gold Bomb. Someone has been very busy with the delete button. Trying to look for evidence of deliberate misogyny now is very much a case of horse/stable door; omission is no longer admissable evidence.

I’ve also seen comments on Twitter about what a crock of shit it is that no human being was involved in the creation of the t-shirts. What, they’re saying, nobody listed them on Amazon, nobody printed them or shipped them? Well, possibly not; like I said, with 500,000+ designs, all automatically created and listed, it is entirely possible that nobody at the company or Amazon spotted the offensive combinations until a consumer did. And the only time anyone would have laid eyes on one in the real world is if one was ordered. We can only hope nobody ever did. Out of 500,000 products, it’s unlikely. (Of course, if someone did, that changes the game. But we don’t know.)

Clay Harris on Twitter said a very perceptive thing:

When one thinks of it, Amazon is much like a site with un-moderated comments, relying on users to call abuses to its attention

This is it. Very few people will have seen this design, one of them raised the alarm. And then social media went nuts calling everybody involved misogynist fuckwits; perhaps partly because they didn’t understand how it had happened, but perhaps partly because Twitter loves to get its pitchfork out. I work with the bottom half of the internet every day and boy, do people love to get angry about stuff before they fully understand it. I’m not saying I fully understand what happened here, but I think it’s sensible to look at a few other sides of the argument before I conclude the right one is ‘OMGZ WHAT TOTAL BASTUDS’.

Basically what I’m saying is: very few people are inherently evil. What people are, is stupid, and lazy, and not always able to see all the consequences of their actions. I suspect that’s what happened here. If this incident prompts more editorial oversight and more thoughtfulness from producers of anything, then this is a good thing. But we could have got there without the screaming. We’re reasonable people. Let’s act like it.


3 responses to “On t-shirts, rape and pitchforks

  1. Clare March 2, 2013 at 1:10 pm

    Would we have got there without the screaming? I wonder.

  2. Eldon September 6, 2014 at 4:04 am

    I was able to fknd good injfo ffrom yoyr articles.

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