Every Thursday in LOL Interwebz, Luke T. Harrington explores the quirks and foibles of Internet culture from a Gospel perspective.
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From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so.
So, this just happened. (Note: censored version linked, but it’s probably NSFW anyway.)
If you weren’t able to watch that, here’s a quick recap: produced by FCKH8.com, that was what your dad would have called a “viral video,” where something “shocking” is foisted upon a share-happy Internet in order to sell stuff. In this case, it’s a video of five little girls in princess costumes saying “f**k” a lot. More specifically, they say “f**k” a lot in order to protest the pay gap (“I shouldn’t need a penis to get paid!”), rape culture (“Stop teaching girls how to dress and start teaching boys not to f**king rape!”), and sexual objectification (“My ass-pirations in life should not be worrying about the shape of my ass!”), before asking the audience, “So what’s more offensive: a little girl saying ‘f**k,’ or the f**king unequal and sexist way society treats girls and women?…Instead of cleaning these girls’ mouths out with soap, maybe society should clean up its act!”
And then they tell you to buy their t-shirts.
To say the whole thing is kind of terrible and embarrassing is an understatement. It plays like a Women’s Studies 101 project put together at the last minute by a Martian exchange student who skipped lecture, skimmed half the textbook, and learned about viral videos in a newspaper article from 2001. It’s a lesson in how not to be an activist, but possibly an even better lesson in how terrible a performance you’ll get out of a kid if you put a bunch of words in her mouth that she doesn’t understand.
And it’s not a failure because its message isn’t valid; nor is it a failure because it’s too “edgy.”
No, it’s a failure because it poses a question that literally no one was asking.
Before I go any further, allow me a disclaimer. It’s possible you’ve noticed the word “Christ” in the name of the site and you think this is going to be a my-virgin-ears-style rant against naughty words. Let it be known, if that’s the case, that I’m actually not above employing some profanity if the occasion or audience calls for it (check my bio below). I inhabit the German Lutheran tradition, and we’re not really happy unless we’re drunk, cursing, and making lots of fart jokes (really, it’s mostly about fart jokes). Nor do I object to the content of the message per se. Like many of the writers on this site, I have a good deal of skepticism for the idea that Jesus would be a loyal Republican. There’s room for disagreement of course, but I tend to think the Gospel is on the “liberal” side of a lot of issues — including and especially rape culture.
So I don’t object to any of that. What I really object to — and I’ll put it in words that the FCKH8 crew should have no problem understanding — is the following: Who in the f**k thinks that a little girl cursing is more offensive than rape?
Seriously, I have yet to meet an individual who clutches at her pearls (or his pearls, I guess) upon hearing a little girl say “f**k,” but shrugs indifferently upon hearing about a rape. That person does not exist. This is a video that coerces little girls into setting fire to straw men for no better reason that to drum up t-shirt sales.
It’s awfully difficult not to be cynical about this video, especially when you consider FCKH8 is a for-profit t-shirt company, not a charity, and it’s hard to determine whether they actually follow through on their nebulous promise to donate $5 from each shirt to “kick-ass [unspecified] charities.” After all, as a for-profit company, it’s in their financial interest to exacerbate the civic strife that gives rise to t-shirt sales, not to end it. And that’s exactly what you see in this video: it seems deliberately designed to offend those who dismiss ideas like the pay gap and rape culture (that is, conservatives) while stroking the egos of those who acknowledge them (with the expectation that they’ll buy themselves a t-shirt to congratulate themselves for being so enlightened).
While it’s true that conservative thinkers often fail to acknowledge the rape epidemic among us, this video is not going to change any minds.
Even if we give it the benefit of the doubt and assume it’s a sincere attempt to change the culture for the better, it still could serve as an object lesson for Jonathan Haidt’s central thesis in The Righteous Mind. Said thesis, if you’re unfamiliar with it, is that liberals simply don’t tend to understand conservative thought because they’re drawing from a much more limited palette of values. Liberals, he argues, only value equality and fairness, while conservatives are also attuned to tradition, authority, and the sacred. Therefore, liberals have a tendency to gleefully trample over conservative taboos like saying “f**k” without even pausing to ask why such a taboo might exist in the first place.
Since you’re reading a site called Christ and Pop Culture, though, I’m going to go ahead and assume you’re at least a little interested in learning why Christians try to avoid using the f-word — because there actually is a reason. Put simply, it’s profane, in the technical sense of the word: it makes light of the marital union, which is a sacred gift of God.
It profanes sexuality by treating a blessing as a curse.
Really, though, you don’t even have to appeal to religion or even conservative values to make the case that our choice of words and how we use them affects our thinking and our culture. Since at least the ’80s, feminist thinkers have been sharply critical of unnecessarily gender-specific words like “chairman” and “mankind” because they imply that women are second-class human beings and incapable of leadership. And if gendered words can lead girls to think less of themselves (and whole books have been written on that particular effect), is it really such a stretch to imagine that language that devalues sexuality tends to…y’know…devalue sexuality?
I’m not pretending to have proof of this, but it’s not hard to imagine that the sort of language employed by the video, ironically, actually contributes to the same rape culture the video decries. After all, a world where people carelessly use sexuality as a curse is likely to be a world where people are more, not less, likely to also use it as a weapon.
This is what’s ultimately offensive about the video — not that it has some dirty words, not that the people saying the dirty words are little girls — but that it asks you to take seriously a moral dilemma that was bothering absolutely nobody. It’s not a matter of “either rape is bad or the word ‘f**k’ is bad”; they’re two sides of the exact same coin. They’re both symptoms of a culture that can’t take sex seriously enough to think of any prerequisites for it other than consent. And a small pile of evil is only marginally better than a larger pile of that exact same evil.
And so, I’ll just leave you with one more question to ponder. Which is worse: that FCKH8 was willing to exploit five little girls to guilt you into buying their t-shirts, or that those same t-shirts were almost definitely made by other little girls in a sweatshop somewhere?
Think hard before you answer. You can only pick one.
I mean, y’know, apparently.