TODAY’S REQUIRED READING: a look at Steubenville by Laurie Penny

Steubenville: this is rape culture’s Abu Ghraib moment, by Laurie Penny.

“The pictures from Steubenville don’t just show a girl being raped. They show that rape being condoned, encouraged, celebrated. What type of culture could possibly produce such pictures?”

[…]Susan Sontag observed of the Abu Ghraib atrocities that “the horror of what is shown in the photographs cannot be separated from the horror that the photographs were taken – with the perpetrators posing, gloating, over their helpless captives. If there is something comparable to what these pictures show it would be some of the photographs of black victims of lynching taken between the 1880’s and 1930’s, which show Americans grinning beneath the naked mutilated body of a black man or woman hanging behind them from a tree. The lynching photographs were souvenirs of a collective action whose participants felt perfectly justified in what they had done. So are the pictures from Abu Ghraib.”

The pictures from Steubenville don’t just show a girl being raped. They show that rape being condoned, encouraged, celebrated. What type of culture could possibly produce such pictures? Only one in which women’s autonomy and right to safety counts for so little that these rapists, and those who held the cameras, felt themselves ‘perfectly justified’. Only one in which rape and sexual humiliation of women and girls is so normalised that it does not register as a crime in the minds of the assailants. Only one in which victims are powerless, silenced, dismissed. It is impossible to imagine that in such a culture, assault and humiliation of this kind would not be routine – and indeed, the most conservative estimates suggest that ninety thousand women and ten thousand men are raped in the United States alone every year. That’s what makes the Steubenville case so very uncomfortable – and so important.

Here we have incontrovertible evidence of happy young people not only hurting and humiliating others, but taking pleasure in it, posing with their victims. The Abu Ghraib torture pictures were trophies. The Steubenville rape photos are trophies. They’re mementoes of what must have felt, at the time, like everyone was having the sort of fun they’d want to remember, the sort of fun they’d want to prove to themselves and others later. The Steubenville rapists had fun, and they broadcast that fun to the world. They were confident that nothing could touch them, so baffled by the idea of punishment that they wept like children in court.

Pictures don’t just record reality. They change it. They change us as we take them and consume them. It matters not just that we have photographic evidence of a girl being raped, but that someone took pictures of the assault happening to send to their friends as memories of a jolly night gone a bit hairy. The Ohio teenager who is now receiving death threats for reporting her rape is far from the only young woman to have her assault recorded for posterity. In the past five years, rapes and sexual assaults involving one or more attacker or involved bystander stepping back to pull out a smartphone have proliferated. What makes these men so sure of their inviolable right to stick their fingers and cocks into any part of any female they can hold down that they actually make and distribute images of each other doing so? Rape culture. That’s what rape culture is. The cultural acceptance of rape.

Silence, the geography of detachment, so sympathetic, so absurdly bloody. There is no justice.

The Centrifuge Brain Project, by Till Nowak.
Also visit the homepage of the Institute for Centrifugal Research.


Our plan, once we had settled into the room, was to find our way to dinner then the Penn & Teller show at The Rio. Google Maps claimed it was twenty minutes away on foot. Rookie mistake, though, to walk anywhere off-strip. Simply making our way from our room to the street turned out to be our first challenge. Oh Google maps, if only your maps contained the inside of the labyrinthine buildings that make up the cold heart of Vegas, as well as the eerily simplistic grid it’s built upon! Second mistake was to try and cut through Ceaser’s Palace, which looked simple from the outside, but as all roads lead to Rome, so do all halls lead you in intricate twists designed to drag your wallet past as many opportunities to spend money as can be engineered by the human mind. Thirty minutes later it was a victory to find ourselves precisely where we started.

Things became easier once we were back outside, especially once the Rio came into view. The walk was ugly, a rough, isolating half hour along a gritty highway, but any concerns we may have had about finding the place were squashed as soon as could see around Ceaser’s Palace. The building is not quite as large as many of the megaliths, but for what it lacks in overwhelming scale, (and do not mistake me, the Rio could still dwarf almost any building in Vancouver), it makes up in pure, unhindered tacky glam neon straight out of Tron, with external, glass walled elevators and racing stripes of hot red and blue lights that run the entire height of the building. Also featured: a ten story poster advertising Penn & Teller. I’m not sure I’ve ever been so happy to see an advertisement in my life.

The theater was small, a simple black box set-up, with a plain wooden crate open on stage and a steady trickle of people walking up from the audience to inspect it. There was also an easel set up with an envelope on it, (pens provided to willing participants), the most traditional prop for a cold-reading trick. Penn stood to one side, playing jazz on an upright bass, riffing with a piano player who wore large plugs in the lobes of his ears and tattoos on both arms. It was unexpectedly casual. I liked it immediately and our seats were near perfect, centered in the room and close to the stage.

Absurd, political, sublime, or a prank, it didn’t matter, every trick was expertly executed with the same enviable dedication, the same graceful madness. It was an honor to be there, audience to masters of the craft.

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