If you think people are responsible for their actions—especially revolting criminal acts such as rape and torture—"stop doing that."
That's the message over at the blog Feministe, which notes the case of Mohammad Hossain, a University of Illinois at Chicago student who has been arrested for "sexually assaulting a 19-year-old female student in what Cook County prosecutors say was a re-enactment of scenes from the film Fifty Shades of Grey."
Feministe blogger Caperton writes
There's no way a movie could actually inspire a person to do that kind of thing, right? I mean, we know the difference between fiction and real life, right? Like, a bio-nuclear engineering major and student ambassador and campus leader and triathlete would know better, right? People aren't stupid enough to think that a movie is real life….
Y'all, I'm not speaking out for censorship, I'm not saying this movie shouldn't have been allowed to be made, and I'm not saying that every person who watched this movie or read that book is going to go home and rape someone. But if you're clinging to a belief that stories like this can't possibly be dangerous without context or some kind of discourse or clarification, stop doing that. Because when you dismiss critics as prudish killjoys and discourage that kind of reasoned conversation, you legitimately do end up with college students beating and raping their classmates because BDSM.
So what are we supposed to make of a cultural critic who simultaneously does blame an apparent non-consensual assault on a movie and says "I'm not speaking out for censorship"?
To be honest, I don't really know.
Hossain's plea in all this seems confused and desperate, to say the least. He has argued that what happened was consensual (at least at first) but also admitted "doing something wrong." According to the Chicago Tribune's account, prosecutors agree that things started off consensually but that the victim demanded things stop after Hossain started with the BDSM. He didn't stop, hence the crime. It's not really clear what Fifty Shades has to do with any of this, other than perhaps providing some visuals Hossain tried to re-enact.
All stories can be dangerous. To cite an extreme example, Mark David Chapman used Catcher in the Rye as a justification for why he "had" to kill John Lennon. It's a shitty reading of the novel (obviously) and so is Hossain's apparent case that he was just following the lead of E.L. James' books and the hit movie based on the same. Let's assume that Fifty Shades fired his imagination with wild fantasies. The leap from that to actually forcing himself on an unwilling partner is so huge that it can't in any possible way be seen as causing much less exonerating what transpired.
The idea that somehow and if only the author of Fifty Shades or the makers of the movie supplied "context or some kind of discourse or clarification" that this wouldn't have happened makes no more sense than arguing that the "kids, don't try this at home" disclaimers before Mythbusters or Jackass are the only things standing in the way of an epidemic of people blowing themselves up. Stories are stories. They are processed by individuals, who are solely responsible not only for their interpretations but whatever actions they take after consuming a particular work of art, music, writing, film, whatever.
"The lack of context or some kind of discourse or clarification about Fifty Shades made me do it" is every bit as unconvincing as "the devil made me do it."