Friday, January 24, 2014

Americans for prison rape

A Canadian teenager was arrested in United States due to alleged (but disputed) driving under influence and speeding. The teenager spent one night in county jail in Florida. Meanwhile, social media was ripe with comments and jokes about how this teenager ought to be raped while detained - by a black man.

This teenager was, of course, the 19-year-old singer and pop star Justin Bieber.

I blurred the face of the inmate - he is not accused of raping Justin Bieber
On Thursday evening (Jan 23, 2014), the Wisconsin radio station 95.7 The Rock posted this image on their Facebook and Twitter profiles. It shows Bieber's official mugshot combined with an unknown inmate's picture, with caption humorously suggesting that Bieber is going to get raped by this fierce-looking black inmate.

The picture has been "liked" by roughly 400,000 people and shared close to 150,000 times on Facebook. In the comments section thousands of individuals expressed happiness about how gangs of black men will now rape the pop star and how he deserves it. Many of the commenters also uploaded manipulated images featuring black men raping Justin Bieber.

Assorted comments

There are about 17,000 comments to this image. Here's a very small selection of them.

  • Matteo Paola: "I still wish that  upon him. He is one of the worst human beings ever. And he gets away with it all because of his stupid idiotic fanbase."
  • Jeremy Sxe Jagoda: "who cares its still funny"
  • Fernando Chali posted an image showing Justin Bieber pregnant after said prison rape.
  • Rhys Chalmers posted a picture suggesting that the rapist will not use lubricant, thus causing more pain.
  • Jordan McElhinney, among others, posted pictures suggesting that big black men tell Bieber to drop the soap before raping him.
  • Eru Electroboy: "respect this comment, hes gona get raped in jail"

Several people also suggested that Bieber deserves to get sexually abused because a girl committed suicide after Bieber had taunted her publicly. This story is, of course, a hoax.

Several commenters also said that others should not call for raping and mutilating other people just because they don't like them. Brian Klipp answered  "Found the butthurt Biebs fan" - and many others said "Welcome to the Internet", suggesting that on the Internet it is customary and permissible to say anything. Sorry guys, that is 4chan, not the whole Internet.

You are on Facebook, showing your real names and photos of you smiling with your kids, with your professors and friends, saying how happy you are that another person gets raped in prison. By a black man.

Rape shame

Of course, we know that rape is mostly not about sexual intercourse - it is about shame, humiliation, degradation. That is why it was so common during the French revolution in 1792 and Soviet occupation of Berlin in 1945, for example. Even though Bieber is a popular recording artists, his music and image irritate many so much that they want him to suffer the ultimate humiliation. Which, to many, is being raped by a black man in prison.

Now, in many cultures, homosexual intercourse is a shame by itself. A true man will only show his worth by having sex with women, and others are "faggots". Even worse is being raped, because then a man is lowered into a "bitch". This is precisely the situation where so many individuals want Justin Bieber to be.

Feminist activists often mention "rape culture" - idea that quiet acceptance of sexual abuse, humiliation and harassment is integrated to the society so much that we don't even recognize when we support abuse of women. While I don't agree with the prevalence of this type of "culture", the idea still makes sense on some level. However, I do not often see people openly claiming that some certain woman (celebrity or not) should be raped, to "teach her a lesson" or to just to humiliate her. I didn't see it even when Paris Hilton or Britney Spears were jailed, even though they were also disliked by many. Yet now I can see thousands of people publicly fantasizing about sexually abusing Justin Bieber. Is this rape culture? Or just light-hearted Internet humor?

Black man, the rapist

People openly fantasize about what kind of sexual violence they would like Justin Bieber to experience while detained. All of these fantasies have one thing in common: the rapist being a black man.

So, it's not just that people claim they want Justin Bieber to get raped, the idea is that the rapist is the worst of all - a big, mean, dumb black man, who is apparently the lowest of all lowly creatures. Somebody who has no value, and will probably be executed soon anyway. He probably doesn't even have a name, or if he does, it's "Bubba".

I don't exactly like calling all stupidity "racist" but this consistent use of black men as stereotypical prison rapists is getting a little racist.

It's humor, right? The idea that a rich pop star would be raped by another man is funny because it plays with taboos and shame. It is so funny that almost half a million people have "liked" this joke - probably more than any other picture I have ever seen on Facebook. It must be the funniest joke ever! If the rapist was a white guy, or a female guard, it wouldn't be that funny any more.

Sexual abuse in prisons

According to Just Detention International, estimated 200,000 inmates are sexually abused every year in United States alone while in detention. Only a very small minority of the cases is reported to authorities, and of them only a small number leads to disciplinary action.

From their website: "For its victims, prisoner rape is a nightmare that does not end. Most survivors are sexually abused again and again. Abusive staff and inmates target people they see as most vulnerable, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender detainees and those who survived sexual abuse prior to being detained."

Prisoners, those lowly rats. Criminals who deserve to be humiliated for their crimes and never forgiven?

Sometimes there is news about prisoners complaining about abusive guards, lack of protection and violations of their legally stipulated rights. In the social media you see commentary saying that they deserve whatever they get in prison because they are criminals and this is their punishment. In the case of people convicted of violent crimes, especially sexual and especially committed against children, there are even calls for lynching. I've seen people say guards should be encouraged to beat up, mutilate, rape and even kill these prisoners.

Oh, and suspects are the same thing. Some years ago there was a Finnish Facebook group distributing personal information of people who are or have been suspected or convicted of rape or violent crimes against children. This group was public and there were hundreds of ordinary-looking citizens there. The group had many photos of (alleged) rapists and scans of court documents. The comments in the photos were very much like what the Justin Bieber picture had - people fantasizing about what kind of sexual violence the alleged criminal should experience while detained. Some commenters said they would personally want to commit these acts of abuse, as a revenge and humiliation that the (alleged) criminal deserves, and invited others to join their manhunt to kill these people. These were ordinary mothers and fathers, posting their comments with their real names for the world to see.

Thanks, Justin

Thanks to Justin Bieber we have once again witnessed the rage of the Internets. Bieber is, of course, a celebrity and icon instead of a person to Internet commenters - just like a black man in prison uniform is a symbol of crime and sexual violence to these commenters. Combining these is almost innocent - and natural, and if you don't understand this, then you are a butthurt Bieber fan, like Brian Klipp said.

If these are normal and natural expressions of (justified?) rage, then perhaps calls for lynching and killing alleged rapists and other criminals are, too. You can always say that it was a joke - on the Internet - and you didn't really want to kill that guy, even though you said you wanted, and you offered your help, with your own name, to kill somebody, and even described how you would do it.

Just yesterday I saw a Finnish far-right political activist post an image of two female politicians of the Left Alliance on Facebook, with the comment "leftist lesbians should be shot". That was, of course, just a funny joke, suggesting that he does not approve of their political views, right? Just as innocent as saying that because you do not like the music he makes, Justin Bieber should be raped. By a black man.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Ronald McNair, astronaut

It was announced today that several old, previously unpublished photos of the space shuttle Challenger disaster had been found and put online. I have always been interested in spaceflight and astronomy and STS-51-L - among other fateful flights - remains in my mind as a great engineering failure and terrible loss of brave astronauts and scientists, and a reminder of how modern technology sometimes fails us. Inspired by the surfaced photos, I took a new look at the Wikipedia article about the disaster.

The Challenger accident happened when I was only 8 years old. I remember looking at the famous group photo of the crew and thinking that they looked very "American": of the seven crew members only three were white men - there were also two women, one Japanese-American and one African-American man. Also, one of the women was not a career astronaut but a school teacher. In this sense, the crew looked very much like the United States I knew. I also thought Judith Resnik's large hairdo was very typical for Americans in the 1980s!

The crew of STS-51-L in November, 1985
Ellison Onizuka (in the photo the first from the left in the second row) was the first Asian American in space (he had flown to space before), and apparently also the first Buddhist. Christa McAuliffe was also probably the first astronaut of Lebanese roots.

Ronald McNair was the second African American in space (he had flown before, too), if Arnaldo Tamayo Méndez of Cuba doesn't count. He would probably have been the third, if Robert Lawrence had not been killed in an aviation accident in 1967.

It turns out that my university (University of Illinois) has a minority student scholar program named after Ronald McNair. I did notice the familiar name when I visited the Turner Student Services Building the first time two years ago, but the people at the program office I talked to were not sure if it had been named after the astronaut or somebody else.

Dr. Ronald E. McNair, NASA astronaut
When I was a kid, I remember thinking that McNair looked very "American". In 1986, I had not yet met any non-white people but I recognized many African American politicians, athletes, actors and musicians. McNair's wide smile somehow reminded me of some people I knew, but I didn't research the crew's biographies much further. I did remember the smile, though.

Today, I read out the Wikipedia article about him and it looks like that he died younger than I am now - he was only 35 at the time of the Challenger disaster. He had received a PhD degree from MIT when he was 26, becoming a known expert in laser physics. By the time of his death, he already received three honorary doctorates. He was also the first astronaut of the Bahá'í faith, and quite possibly the first saxophonist in space. Jean-Michel Jarre's The Last Rendez-Vous (Ron's Piece) is dedicated to him - McNair was expected to record the solo for this track in space, and later perform it live at Jarre's concert in Houston in April, 1986.

In United States, there seems to be an obsession to name everything after famous people (military heroes, politicians, rich donors, astronauts). Often it feels unnecessary, sometimes even ridiculous, but sometimes it makes you think about and reflect on stories behind renowned, accomplished and exceptional individuals.

It's interesting to think that in 1986 I noticed McNair not because he seemed different but because in the diverse crew of STS-51-L, he did not seem different. The days of all-male, all-white and all-military crews of Gemini and Apollo programs were long gone - it was now time for all-American crews.

The shuttle flights resumed in 1989 and increasing international cooperation was notable in flight crews - astronauts from Canada, Germany, Russia, Japan and other countries flew on Shuttle flights before the program ended in 2011 - including the first (enrolled) member of an aboriginal tribe in space, John Herrington (of Chickasaw First Nation).

Sure, my observations of the STS-51-L crew in 1986 were somewhat naíve but I'm only happy that my belief (or hope) in space belonging to a more diverse group of travellers than just American and Soviet/Russian fighter pilots did become true.