In the media business, the pressure for commentators to gain attention is both immense and fundamentally unfair. Working in an atmosphere where web traffic rules supreme and byline-building is a contact sport, commentators are routinely pushed to make the boldest possible pronouncements on hot-button issues.
The folks at the Huffington Post know this game full well. Almost every day, the Post's bloggers obscure political issues with their sanctimonious personal confessions -- ones that would seem right at home in an undergraduate creative writing seminar (next up at the HuffPo Word Slam: Rich Rose will read from his bold personal essay "Why I Accept Trans People").
HuffPo blogger Eve Ensler -- an undergraduate-level playwright responsible for The Vagina Monologues -- sank to a new low in her August 26 "V-Report" column for Huffington on the aftermath of Dominique Strauss-Kahn's dismissal on rape charges. "The day DSK was dismissed I sent this out via Twitter:" opens Ensler, "'I am so OVER women being put on trial when they get raped.'"
Instead of discussing the facts of the DSK case, Ensler sticks to her personal narrative, laying out a series of anecdotes like a presidential debater trying for populist appeal:
Within seconds, emails, tweets and Facebook responses began to pour in. Women sent me stories about cases reported and unreported. One woman pressed charges against a younger male student who stalked and attempted to rape her at Seminary school. She wrote to the Dean and a church district Superintendent. She was told no one could help her… A 12-year-old in Missouri is for reporting a rape and forced to write a written apology to the boy who raped her and deliver it personally. She is accused of filing a fake report and thrown out of school.
After needlessly associating Strauss-Kahn's three-letter nickname with incidents that occurred many miles from his Manhattan hotel, Ensler goes even broader: "What happens to women who come forward to press charges against rape and battery? They are often told it's because of the way they were dressed, they wanted it, they are making it up. Their own histories are put on trial."
So naturally Ensler doesn't mention the history of DSK's accuser Nafissatou Diallo. She doesn't mention that Diallo "contradicted key details of her original story, ultimately providing investigators with at least three versions" or that Diallo admitted to lying about a previous alleged rape. Nor does Ensler mention how important Diallo's history proved to DSK's dismissal. "The nature and number of [Ms. Diallo's] falsehoods leave us unable to credit her version of events beyond a reasonable doubt, whatever the truth may be about the encounter," wrote the office of Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. "If we do not believe her beyond a reasonable doubt, we cannot ask a jury to do so."
Perhaps Ensler is so OVER our constitutionally protected right to a fair trial? Should every rape accuser instantly see vindicated in a court of law, no matter how many times she has lied to authorities? Does Diallo automatically then deserve a payday in her related civil suit against multi-millionaire Strauss-Kahn?
Instead of addressing these concerns, Ensler builds up to her shameful and negligent crescendo.
Here's where I pause and consider another media phenomenon: the cannibalistic practice of monitoring our peers' articles and throwaway blog posts on the off-chance that they cross some kind of P.C. line. The Huffington Post is one of the loudest policers of the free speech of those falling outside their trust-funders-with-problems genre. So, lest I be run out of media on a rail, I proceed with caution.
Ensler ends her piece emphatically with a personal anecdote. She ties it to the completely unrelated DSK case as though her personal experience validates some kind of point about Strauss-Kahn:
Let the DSK dismissal be our call to rise. Something has shifted with this case, let's seize this moment. Let so many of us speak out that it's a landslide and it turns the tide and the courts and the method of justice.
So, I'll go first:
My father regularly beat me senseless and sexually abused me. He gave me bloody noses in restaurants and smashed my head against walls and whipped my legs with belts. There was no one to turn to. I am reporting it here and now. He has passed on, but I want it on the record.
This is the point in the seminar where we're all supposed to nod our heads hiply and feel enlightened for having heard that (organic snacks and Kombucha are on the table, help yourselves).
Ensler's closing paragraph reminds me not of the work of other writers or intellectuals, but rather of the actors Corey Feldman and Corey Haim. When the two Coreys both "confessed" on their reality show in 2008 to being molested as teenagers, their cable-TV ratings went up (when Haim died in 2010, Feldman eulogized him by writing,"I wish you could see your face finally filling the cover of People magazine and Entertainment Weekly!"). Welcome to Post-Dignity America, where if you starred in bad '80s movies or went to the right liberal-arts schools then your childhood traumas will get you better seating at the next benefit dinner.
Eve Ensler's childhood abuse is already "on the record." It has been for years. She discussed it in her books Insecure at Last and The Good Body and in 2006 interviews with Time and feminist.com.
And now it's on the record next to the name Dominique Strauss-Kahn -- a man that Ensler evidently never met. And that's shameful.
But don't quote me on that.