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Kotaku, Max Temkin and The Question of Rape Culture
A few days ago, Max Temkin, co-creator of the popular party game Cards Against Humanity, wrote a blog post detailing an apparent rape accusation made against him on Twitter. Temkin alleges the accusation is “totally, patently false”, and goes on to talk on a very personal level how this affected him, offered his version of the truth and ended with his plans moving forward. Basically, he was going to try to forget this ever happened, take a little break from the Internet and presumably continue living his life regardless of what the public forum thought about it. He ended with the request that nobody harass or go after the woman in any way, as he was not interetsed in “a mob of people carrying pitchforks on my behalf”.
I am not trying to create a conversation on what rape is, how you handle an accusation like that, or whether he is innocent or guilty. Of course the truth of the matter colors the facts: if he is innocent, then we can take his statement for exactly what it is. If he is guilty, obviously that changes everything. We can only deal with the current facts, which are: A) Max and the woman did have some sort of relationship in college, B) there is some misunderstanding between the two of them as to what exactly went down and C) he has not been convicted of any crime, or even had charges brought against him, as of the time of this writing. By every legal metric we have, Max Temkin is an innocent man, but public accusations have a way of turning into public condemnations, and one in particular caught my eye, in the worst way possible.
Yesterday, Kotaku writer Patricia Hernandez wrote a story entitled A Different Way To Respond To Rape Culture, which was originally titled Cards Against Humanity Creator Said The Wrong Things. I’m paraphrasing a bit there, as I don’t have a screen grab, but you can still see the original title in the URL. In her piece, Hernandez argues that Temkin went about this the wrong way. She argues that, while she understands the impulse to defend one’s self, it was disappointing that Temkin didn’t use his forum to start a conversation about the idea of consent. She goes on to call parts of his response “gross”, and brings up statistics that say that between 1.5% and 8% off rape accusations are fake, leaving them overwhelming majority of them as true. I should note that the statistics she links to is a single Wikipedia page.
But that’s not the issue here, and I’m not interested in innocent vs. guilty stats. The legal system isn’t a lottery, where you play your best bet against the odds you are facing, and the implication that he is statistically guilty based off one Facebook post is troubling, to say the least. Nobody would argue that getting raped isn’t a traumatic experience. I don’t want to sound dismissive. I had a good friend in high school confide to me about their own sexual assault, and I have seen the damage it can do. But what doesn’t often get talked about is the effect a false accusation can do to someone, especially in this age of instant social media and “click to share” culture. Again, I am not pointing fingers, and I want to stay as far away as possible from the question of actual guilt here. Neither am I comparing the damage a rape does to a person against what a false rape accusation does. Those things are apples and oranges, but they are both injustices. We cannot, or should not, be able to make an implication based on our current knowledge of the sitatuon, which in this case boils down to he said/she said, albeit on a much larger scale than most of us are used to.
What I take exception to is Hernandez’s assertion that Temkin should have approached this differently. I thought he responded as well as one could have under the circumstances, but that is a difference of opinion I can handle. However, she brings up the fact that she is disappointed he didn’t make his statement about the issue of consent instead, going so far as to say “he’s not willing to really contemplate the possibility he might’ve messed up, nor does he do much to further a crucial conversation about consent that everyone should think about.”
I want you to read Temkin’s post thoroughly before we go any farther. Here is a man accused of a crime that he says he didn’t commit. He defends himself, expresses no desire to bully or go after this woman, though he does say after talking to his lawyer, he has a case for libel, which he has decided not to pursue. But the overwhelming tone of Hernandez’s post (and this one she links to) is that Temkin won’t even admit that he could be wrong, and that, even worse, he is putting the blame on the woman for their encounter. Just another variation of “she had it coming’, which in the history of reasons for anything, has to be among the most vile.
Both of these posts imply that he did something wrong, regardless of what actually happened. Again, it is important for me to say that I don’t know if he did anything wrong. But to imply that he did, on such a public forum, seems wrong to me, especially in light of the facts that we do have. Who out there, in the face of being accused of such a heinous crime, would have their first thought be “I should turn this into a conversation about why this crime is bad.” That’s ridiculous. It is not Temkin’s job to respond to these allegations with thoughtful prose on the issue of consent. He simply wanted to give his side of the story, and he did.
That’s not to say that isn’t a conversation worth having, nor is it a commentary on the nature of the woman’s remarks. Of course we must consider the fact that she is telling the truth, but I leave that to the parties involved, and the law. As of right now, he is an innocent man, one being lambasted for defending himself in a way other people didn’t like. That is fine. Take exception with his words, but if that is true, how can you not consider the opposite possibility? How can you not consider the the girl in question is the one who needs to have a moral conversation. Equality works both ways, and I would go so far as to say viewpoints like Hernandez’s do more damage than good to the idea of gender equality. Being equal means taking the good with the bad, and that includes the inherent viewpoint that one party is to blame here.
I don’t mean this as an attack on Kotaku, Hernandez or any group in general. While the absence of evidence is hardly evidence of absence, to imply that he should have made this into a conversation about women and rape culture is absurd. If he had, we could just as easily be looking at opinion pieces talking about his arrogance and hypocriticism. This is not a perfect world, and there are no catch-all solutions in an unfortunate situation like this. But it isn’t fair to assume their is, and even worse, that that solution involves him apologizing, and worse, rationalizing, for what may or may not have happened. If he is guilty, who wants to hear him start a dialogue about the nature of consent? If he is innocent, why is it his responsibility to start that conversation based on a false report?
Much ado has also been made about the nature of his game Cards Against Humanity, and some of the sexist cards it contains, including, yes, themes of rape (which were removed before the allegations even came to light). To me, that argument holds no water. Do we really need to prove that people can create a work of fiction without separating themselves from it? I don’t think so.
So, take this for what it is. Not an ultimatum argument or a rallying cry, but merely one person’s opinion of a story, which in itself was one person’s opinion of a story (confusing, I know!). There was an injustice done here, that much seems clear, but it is not yet sure just who exactly the guilty party is. And that is something we would all do well to remember.