How My Well-Meaning #MeToo Art Project Unintentionally Misled People
How Much Control Do You Have Over How People Receive the Information You’re Sending Them?Art by Jamie Loftus Comedy Features #MeToo
“The Advent Calendar of Recently Disgraced Men” was originally a project I conceived in the weeks following the first surge of the #MeToo movement, and carried out through the following twenty-four days. The name was self explanatory—every day I’d illustrate a grotesque-looking portrait of one of the many men that had recently been exposed as predators, along with the news clipping that detailed their behavior. It was fun to do, operating on the raw catharsis of being able to speak about predatory behaviors in entertainment and providing the context people needed to understand what the men in question were accused of or confirmed to have done. There was some clickbait written about it, and then the month ended (with a big splash when Weinstein predictably made the top spot).
I was hesitant to do it this December—something about the project felt less fitting this time around, but I couldn’t put into words exactly why. It wasn’t a lack of enthusiasm for embarrassing abusers with stupid cartoons or for the values at the core of the #MeToo movement at its inception. In the ensuing months, I was more committed to and felt I had a more full understanding of the system the project aims to dismantle. Still, December 2018 lacked the catharsis and unbridled enthusiasm that the previous year had.
#MeToo had experienced a number of hiccups, from some faulty, overeager reporting, to pillar Asia Argento coming under fire with accusations of sexual abuse against her, Rose McGowan revealing herself as a fucking TERF, founders of the Women’s March found to have anti-Semitic ties, and increased fracturing within the community of what sides were performatively woke and which were done in good faith. In other words, things had splintered.
But. People asked for the Advent Calendar of Recently Disgraced Men, and I’m as addicted to the social media dopamine as the next person, so I got my information together and started making the illustrations. Like the previous year, the qualifier for inclusion on the list was being in professional disgrace because of some abuse of power. This could mean any number of things—where Les Moonves stands accused of the sexual abuse of women in his industry going back decades, Daniel Handler (aka Lemony Snicket) stood accused of a pattern of being dismissive and making lewd comments to those less powerful in his industry. They’re both upsetting courses of action whose effect on the women they were leveraged at can’t be overstated, but they’re not the same thing. In the context of my Advent Calendar, it’s on me to make these things clear.
While all the illustrations of the disgraced men (and occasionally women) were stylistically similar, the details of what they’d been accused of varied. I included those in each post, both in the caption and in screenshots from reputable news source detailing the accusations and story included. This was how the second year of the project went for the first eleven days—Larry Nassar is convicted of child abuse, Luc Besson is accused of multiple assaults, Allison Mack assisted in running a sex ring, Neil DeGrasse Tyson is accused of harassment by four women, and the parade of abuses and misconduct went on as planned.
On the twelfth day, I saw a friend in passing and the topic of Lemony Snicket came up. I mentioned that I was excited for the new season of the Netflix show, even though I was frustrated at how he treated women.
“Yeah, he’s what, a rapist, right?”
Shit, shit, shit. Had I missed a report?
“Is he?” I asked.
My friend shrugged. “He was on that rapist calendar you do, right?”
This wasn’t the only time something like this happened. And no he’s not a rapist, and I didn’t say that. But maybe I did? But I didn’t mean to. But does that really matter when that’s what someone who trusts you takes that away from what you’ve written?
Using the same visual codifier to depict rapists, harassers, and the disgraced of all degrees was what people remembered, not the context that I had provided to go with them. Frustrating? For sure, but how many times a day did I look for shortcuts like that myself? On paper, I’d done my job in providing the necessary information, but that barely matters if it doesn’t match up with the way the people around me are consuming that information. There’s too much to take in, and everyone has their own strategy on how to consume information and who to consume it from while still making time for working, sleeping, and jerking off to childhood crushes.
All that to say, the calendar was cut short after that.
The easy conclusion is that no one reads anything but headlines, but unlike every Gen-X edgelord has frantically assured me about my generation, this isn’t the case. The American Press Institute released a report last summer detailing the current state of the American news consumer—four out of ten Americans do both a headline scan and some in-depth news reading every day. What this indicates to me is that there’s enough news and skepticism around the reliability of press outlets that even the most enthusiastic news consumers need to pick and choose the stories they go in depth with carefully, because the concept of complete coverage is an impossibility. The solution? Find a news outlet or person you trust for the in-depth reading, and scan the rest from people you don’t think are lying, like a friend who, let’s say, happens to be making a series about what you thought were exclusively rapists.
And then there’s the headlines themselves. Most media consumers will recognize the two-headline dichotomy—the one that pops up in your feed to get you to click, and the one that appears when you click through to the piece. “How Instagram Enables FuckJerry’s Success,” the tile that entices users to click a New York Magazine piece, abruptly changes to “FuckJerry’s Success is Instagram’s Failure” once clicked through. One headline is always more manipulative, regardless of how responsible the reporting is, and this happens at every contemporary news outlet.
This is how the Advent Calendar ended up working out. The image served as the manipulative headline, and not everyone had the time to piece through the context that came afterward. People took incorrect information away from the project even if I did my due diligence, and so I stopped. How the fuck are we supposed to talk to each other?
I don’t know. People are more likely to look at the news that the people they like and trust recommend, but that’s no guarantee that that will actually happen. I am no exception to that. Saying nothing doesn’t feel like an option, living in an increasingly active dystopia, and we’re close enough to the little robots we share our lives with that a blanket logout is most unlikely and requires just as much privilege as it once took to be able to log in.
I’d ask you to help me figure it out, but if you’ve read this far, I guess you’re not who I should be talking to.
Jamie Loftus is a comedian, writer and social media victim of the International Olympic Committee. She’s the creator and star of the Comedy Central online original series Irrational Fears. You can find her some of the time, most days at @jamieloftusHELP or jamieloftusisinnocent.com.