Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Curt Schilling is Not the Victim - the limits of shame in the fight for public civility

First off, I apologize to any of my fans for being away from this space for so long. As you all know, these have been trying times for me and my family; My lovely wife Karine had major back surgery just over a month ago, and is now convalescing in our home on Long Island. It's been a very difficult road in terms of her immediate recovery and hospital stay (including a long stint in the ICU), continued post-surgical pain, and the challenges of caring for two young children with one parent out of commission. I'll thank all of you who have offered kind wishes and who have supported our ongoing fundraiser to help cover expenses (special thanks to Gary Kayye of Ravepubs, Tim Albright of AVNation, and Corey Moss et al of the cAValry Rides show for lending their respective platforms to help spread the word. Thank you, AV friends!). It seems thematically fitting that my return to blogging will touch on the theme of family. Worry not, there will be more to say about the world of AV, fiction, and other thoughts. I'll start, however, with recent events involving former pitcher turned semi-professional loudmouth Curt Schilling.

Say what you will about him - we'll never forget Schilling's
performance in the 2004 ALCS.
Image courtesy of CNBC
For those living under a rock, Schilling posted a simple message on Twitter congratulating his daughter for getting into her college of choice where she will pitch on the softball team. The reaction - as it too often is when a woman is involved anywhere on social media - turned misogynistic and nasty including rape threats, reference to very aggressive sex acts, and overall nastiness. Schilling responded on his blog with a rant about civility, about how people need to learn that their actions have consequences, and included the names of some of the worst offenders. Two were students who were promptly suspended for their conduct; one was - in a poetic twist - a ticketseller from Schilling's old rivals, the New York Yankees. They fired him, along with a statement that they have zero tolerance for such conduct.

At a glance, everything is as it should be; a man defended his family from verbal bullying, the bullies paid a price. Nobody innocent was hurt, and we were given an example as to why we need to treat people civilly. The global community shunned these miscreants as a local village would have in times of old. Yet part of me can't help but feel uncomfortable, for a number of reasons.

First and foremost is the emphasis on Curt Schilling. He's famous, his daughter Gabby is not.  Yes, he chose defend his family and to name and shame. What he has not done, as of this writing, is direct any of that attention to those bullying women NOT related to famous baseball players. In his blog post, he said the following:

I mentioned being a Republican, being a Red Sox and all that other stuff. I didn’t insert politics to make a point, I did so to make sure if you read it you knew that I KNEW people hate me for one or more reasons.


I look at it like this. If someone walked into your house and punched your daughter square in the face, what would your reaction be? You and I probably are thinking the very same thing. How is that different than what happened to my amazing Daughter?

This, to me, can be read as framing the bullying as a crime against him, Curt Schilling rather than against his daughter Gabby. At best, it puts the focus on him. At worst, this and the mention of Gabby's boyfriend paint bullying of a young woman not as a crime against her, but as a property crime against the men in her life to whom she belongs. Was this Curt's intent? That I can't answer, but even if we give him the benefit of the doubt it's hard to not see that as a message. In the meantime independent computer game developer Zoe Quinn continues to receive rape and death threats, Anita Sarkeesian is forced to cancel a speaking engagement due to death threats, Brianna Wu faces literally two years of harassment and threats from a man who later claims that it was some kind of elaborate performance art (and no, I'm not making that up. I wish I were). What makes the latter cases different? Wu and Sarkeesian and Quinn don't have powerful men to speak on their behalf; All they have are their own voices against the small, pitiful, but loud "GamerGate" movement dedicated to attacking outspoken women under the guise of "ethics in video game journalism". Their own voices aren't enough to have us listen.

That brings the bigger problem; there is no systemic way to deal with things like this. "Name and shame"  favours the loudest voices, those who already have power. Gabby Schilling's harassers were punished not because of what they said, but because of who their victim's family was. Schilling is not only famous and wealthy, he's a loud, polarizing figure who knows how to get our attention. A similar attack on, say, my family would get zero public attention. I'm one hundred percent in favor of platforms such as Twitter allowing anonymity; there are many legitimate activists and members of marginalized groups who depend on it. That said, they need to take a more active role in stopping this kind of behavior. I'm not such a free speech fetishist that I'll accept harassment as the price of doing business.

Even those of us who dislike Curt Schilling will fight for his daughter. We feel as if we know him and, by extension, her. Sure, he's the crazy uncle with reprehensible political views and a shaky grasp - at best - of science. That doesn't make him any less OUR crazy uncle with reprehensible ideas.

Finally, there's the issue that absent legal remedies we've resorted to the extralegal weapon of shaming. This is open to all kinds of abuse, both intentional and subconscious. Consider the following thought questions:
  1. Is it likely that the same swift response would meet a victim of color?
  2. Is the response equal across the board, or is it arbitrary?
  3. One harasser lost a fairly low-paying entry-level job. Should a repercussion to such things be an inability to work? If so, how is he expected to feed himself?
  4. One harasser was suspended from college. Is an inability to get an education a reasonable repercussion? How will this benefit society?
  5. How does your response to Item 4 blesh with the fact that prisons often offer educational programs to inmates? Could this be seen as worse than a prison sentence, for either the harassers or for society?

I won't lie, I'm a primate just like you are (I assume all of my readers are primates. Apologies to any uplifted dolphins reading this on waterproof smartphones). My first reaction was satisfaction that justice was done; someone did something bad, and we hurt them. Stepping far enough back, I don't see this as a solution. I see one very powerful man throwing around his muscle against some nobodies without moving to take any steps to solve the bigger issues. I see the community reading about this brushing its collective hands together, muttering to itself "good job" while higher levels of more persistent harassment continue. I see an emotional response, not a logical one. Judicial approaches have a fixed penalty, standards of proof, and - at best - a path to post-penalty rehabilitation and reintroduction to society. This kind of ad hoc shaming has none of that. Can we do better? I want to believe that we can.

As always, thanks for listening. I'll be back soon with something on the world of audiovisual technology.

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