THOSE PEOPLE
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THOSE PEOPLE

Rape Culture on Vine

One of Vine’s biggest stars was charged with raping another of Vine’s biggest stars. The accused vowed on Vine to have his story heard. In the comments section of that Vine a back-and-forth ensued about what rape and rape culture is.

Backstory:

TMZ reported yesterday that Vine “celebrity,” Curtis Lepore, “was in court Tuesday . . . facing charges of raping Vine star girlfriend . . . while she was sleeping.

If you have never heard of Vine, it is a site where you can create short six-second videos and share them via Vine’s social network. Some truly funny and incredible work has come from Vine. However, Vine can also be an incubator of micro-aggressive sexist and racist videos—there are plenty of videos of white people acting out what they think “black people be like . . .” and men acting out what they think “girls be like . . . ” in gross stereotypes. If comedic effect based on racism and sexism is your thing, you might like it. It is not my thing.

Lepore and his accuser shared a brief Twitter/Instagram/Vine romance, before eventually breaking up. Gawker reports that the two have over six million followers on Vine and they engaged in a long distance romance via Twitter, Instagram, and Vine before meeting in person and dating. TMZ reports:

“We’re told [she] flew to see Curtis in L.A. last August but things didn’t go well and they broke up. [She] stayed in L.A. and a few days later got a concussion while shooting a Vine video. Sources close to [her] tell TMZ . . . Curtis then called her and offered to help her while she was recovering. The victim claims Curtis came over, [she] fell asleep and that’s when he allegedly raped her”

That is as much as is really known right now publically. I have no idea if Lepore is guilty, all I know about this case is what has been shared by two sites that are not in a position to know anything about the case. This is not about that. (As a disclosure, I used to follow Lepore on Instagram and Vine because he posted pictures and videos of his Boston Terrier. Sadly that is really all I use Instagram for.)

Why does this case matter? Vine’s sexism exists, but sexism exists structurally in society. Lepore has been charged, but not tried, and he has not spoken publicly about the accusations (likely on advice of his attorney). Lepore posted a short Vine (video) assuring his fans that there are two sides to every story and he would speak when he could. What happened next matters.

Rape Culture on Vine:

Gawker notes “Naturally, Lepore’s fans have also had their say, and, needless to say, they have been less than compassionate . . .” I was on Gawker when I first got the idea to see what Lepore’s fans were saying. “Less than compassionate” is an obvious euphemism for participating in rape culture.

Marshall University’s Women’s Center defines rape culture as:

“Rape Culture is an environment in which rape is prevalent and in which sexual violence against women is normalized and excused in the media and popular culture. Rape culture is perpetuated through the use of misogynistic language, the objectification of women’s bodies, and the glamorization of sexual violence, thereby creating a society that disregards women’s rights and safety.” [emphasis mine]

Rape culture, or a culture that supports rape as an acceptable and normalized act, is perpetuated when perpetrators are excused. This occurs by making excuses for why rape occurs, blaming the victim, and engaging in sexist langauge. In response to Lepore’s Vine, emphasizing that there are two sides to every story, many of Lepore’s followers took two rhetorical strategies that reflect rape culture:

  1. Excusing rape if it did occur; and
  2. Using misogynist language to blame the victim.

Below I will explore the use of each of these strategies in more detail as examples of rape culture in action. Four important caveats before I begin:

  1. Lepore has been accused, but not found guilty. This is important. However, many of the comments take the rape as a matter of fact, both in support of Lepore and in attacking him.
  2. Plenty of comments attack Lepore in harsh language. This language should be acknowledged, but is a different phenomenon from rape culture.
  3. The larger comment thread has, to some small degree, worked to address and respond to the ways some of these individuals contribute to rape culture. Individuals have defined rape and sexual assault, they have pushed back against misogynistic language, and refuted some of the language that participates in rape culture.
  4. These comments are not about Lepore. We do not know what happened. We only know a little about the accusations. These comments are really cultural attitudes about rape and sexual assault that are given voice in this specific case. Rape culture is allowed to speak and flex here; otherwise it lingers in the background.

Excusing Rape:

“no matter what happens”—? What if he raped her?
Excusing rape as females taking advantage.
By placing raped in scare quotes, he softens the nature of the crime. Moreover, he suggests that any depiction of them as happy would mean non-consensual sex is impossible.

Blaming/Shaming the Victim:

Misogynistic language attacking the accuser.
Suggesting the accuser wants attention or publicity this puts the blame on the victim. Thomas Hugo’s comment actually fits both categories as he suggests that “Dating for Christ sake” somehow makes rape impossible.
She suggests that the accuser’s infatuation diminishes the rape charge.
Direct attack on the accuser.
Attacking the accuser
This is a reference to a Vine video series Lepore produces with a praying mantis that prays to Jesus. Rape joke.
Let’s recall what fuck means colloquially.

One last comment reiterates how many feel about accusations perpetuating rape culture:

Sorry Joe, you are part of the problem.

Conclusions:

If you look at the timestamps I sampled, the comments occurred over a one hour time period. As of writing this, there were 4,979 comments on a video that was thirteen hours old. The further back I scrolled, the more I saw of this same phenomenon. Lepore’s guilt or innocence will be a matter for a court to judge. However, in reaction to his short six-second video promising to clear his name (something that may or may not happen), Lepore’s fans demonstrated with ease the existence of rape culture. This is especially troubling because the victim is also well known on Vine and was tagged (linked to) in many of these comments. These comments establish a narrative that excuses the alleged perpetrator’s actions, and makes fun of and blames the victim of a serious crime before it has ever been ajudicated. That is rape culture.

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A black magazine for people too hip for black magazines. Get at us: stopthosepeople@gmail.com

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AcaGuy

AcaGuy

204 Followers

Associate Professor in Communication Studies. Rhetorical Critic.