Complete subjectivity is not a victimless crime
You probably remember Emma Sulkowicz, who carried her mattress around Columbia University to protest her alleged rapists presence on campus. Sulkowicz’s “Carry the Weight” project was an act of “performance art” (her term, not ours) that resulted in college credit.
Her alleged rapist, Paul Nungesser, was later cleared by Columbia and has since filed suit against the university. Sulkowicz graduated with her mattress in tow. Wasting no time, Sulkowicz released her latest piece of performance art — a sex tape.
“Ceci N’est Pas Un Viol” or “This is Not a Rape” is Sulkowicz’s latest endeavor. Titled to imitate Rene Magritte’s “Ceci N’est Pas Une Pipe,” Sulkowicz’s project begins with a trigger warning, and includes a critical thinking guide.
From the entrance site:
Trigger Warning: The following text contains allusions to rape. Everything that takes place in the following video is consensual but may resemble rape. It is not a reenactment but may seem like one. If at any point you are triggered or upset, please proceed with caution and/or exit this website. However, I do not mean to be prescriptive, for many people find pleasure in feeling upset.
Ceci N’est Pas Un Viol is not about one night in August, 2012. It’s about your decisions, starting now. It’s only a reenactment if you disregard my words. It’s about you, not him.
Do not watch this video if your motives would upset me, my desires are unclear to you, or my nuances are indecipherable.
You might be wondering why I’ve made myself this vulnerable. Look—I want to change the world, and that begins with you, seeing yourself. If you watch this video without my consent, then I hope you reflect on your reasons for objectifying me and participating in my rape, for, in that case, you were the one who couldn’t resist the urge to make Ceci N’est Pas Un Viol about what you wanted to make it about: rape.
Please, don’t participate in my rape. Watch kindly.
A special thank you to everyone who made Ceci N’est Pas Un Viol possible, especially my actor (*********), my director (Ted Lawson), and those I love who have guided and supported me.
Crazy? Compelling? Artistic? What is this?
So far, Sulkowicz has succeeded — at least to some degree. I’m writing about Ceci N’est Pas Un Viol and you’re reading about it.
For a moment, let’s assume her intentions were truly pure and that she hoped to spur collective consciousness. Even if this were the case, I have to wonder how a sex tape (aside from the obvious attention that Sulkowicz drew by getting down and dirty on camera), particularly a consensual sex tape, is supposed to change the world. Surely there are other ways for you “to see you” without watching a sex tape.
Also blurred in Sulkowicz’s odd artistic paradigm is the “yes means yes” mantra. Passed in California last year, “yes means yes” doesn’t really mean that saying “yes” is consensual. “The proposal requires all colleges taking student financial aid funding from the state to agree that in investigations of campus sexual assaults, silence or lack of resistance does not imply a green light for sex, and that drunkenness is not an acceptable defense,” wrote USA Today.
Sulkowicz affirms not only “yes means yes” but that quite literally anything could be rape, even in instances where a willing participant willingly participates.
It’s an incredibly fantastical world view — what one imagines actually is.
Perhaps the largest problem with complete subjectivity, particularly as the Sulkowicz’s of the world attempt to define it, is that it renders horrendously traumatic offenses like rape, undefinable. Beyond the legal troubles with undefinable crimes, the innocent get caught up in the semantical confusion. Just ask Paul Nungesser.
If the goal is a social plain that allows for perpetual victimhood because there’s no way to convict thought crimes (at least not yet), then Sulkowicz is leading an incredibly successful movement.
But to borrow a libertarian phrase, complete subjectivity is not a victimless crime.
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