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How Rewrote My Headline and Turned Me Into an Internet Troll

By Dustin Rowles | Think Pieces | April 25, 2014 |

By Dustin Rowles | Think Pieces | April 25, 2014 |

A couple of days ago, I wrote a think piece that I headlined: Walter White, Jamie Lannister, and How We Morally Process Murder and Rape Differently. In my mind, this wasn’t a think piece about Game of Thrones per se (I enjoy the show passively, but I have not read the books, and there are plenty of others who write about Game of Thrones much better than I). It was designed — and whether or not this translated well onto the web page is up for debate — as a piece about how we treat violent and sexual crimes differently.

In other words, audiences are willing to forgive their anti-heroes their violent, drug-fueled, and murderous transgressions as long as they are not of a sexual nature. Hannibal is an excellent illustration of this: Most people who watch the show love Hannibal Lecter, think he’s smoldering and sexy, and in some ways, root for his character, despite the fact that Hannibal Lector is a cannibal who murders people and turns them into delicious meals. We overlook that because Hannibal is played by Mads Mikkelson and wears nice suits. But if he’d raped someone, then all bets are off.

The distinction I was trying to make between Jamie Lannister and other anti-heroes is that his was a moral crime that we could not overlook because most reasonably-minded people are incapable of overlooking sexual crimes. I am one of those people. I found the act to be reprehensible. I also understand that it’s particularly problematic because that character was in the midst of a redemptive arc, and the sexual crime made it far more difficult for the audience to accept his redemption.

I had seen many comments to the effect that the rape did not happen in the book, and if we are to allow ourselves to root for Jamie’s redemption, we would need to completely ignore the fact that Jamie Lannister raped his sister. Why? Because, as we have with Dexter, Boyd Crowder, Hannibal, and Walter White, we can forgive his other transgressions — murder, incest, general douchebaggery — but we cannot forgive rape.

That was the point I was attempting to drive home — how audiences make a distinction between violent crimes and sexual ones.

However, we have an arrangement with Salon of dubious value. They post select pieces of ours, and in exchange, we get a trickle of page views in return and some exposure. The other trade-off is that they reheadline our pieces. Headlines are meaningful. They turned my headline — Walter White, Jamie Lannister, and How We Morally Process Murder and Rape Differently — into this headline: Why the “Game of Thrones” rape scene caused fans to respond in the worst possible way. As of this writing, it’s the most read piece on Salon.

That’s quite a different take. Salon took a minor throwaway point that I was making about how we would HAVE to ignore the rape IN ORDER to accept his redemption, and turned it into a headline that suggested it was wrong for the Game of Thrones viewers to become outraged by the scene.

Now, when I saw that headline, I didn’t even realize it was my piece at first, and I was pissed before I’d even read it. I was like, “Who the fuck are you to tell me how I’m supposed to react to a television scene?” Then I saw my name, and I was like, ‘Wut?” I suspect a lot of people felt the same way, and that many of those people barely read the piece, misinterpreted it, and/or interpreted to fit the narrative that the headline had created in their minds, i.e., that the Internet shouldn’t have gotten outraged about a rape scene.


The outrage was perfectly appropriate. I was merely suggesting that we do not express the same outrage over incest, drugs, or serial murder — even of a child. Why? Because, as I wrote in my piece, “Sexual crimes are just worse, that’s why.”

Jezebel naturally also picked it up, and took issue with my analysis of Game of Thrones, but again: The piece wasn’t meant to be about Game of Thrones. It was meant to be about the distinctions we make in our minds between sexual crimes and violent crimes, and I think that my headline at least made that a little more clear, while the Salon headline made it all about the Game of Thrones’ rape scene, which I wasn’t trying to deconstruct (Cindy did a nice job of that earlier this week). I stipulated in the piece that — for the purposes of this piece only — that there was no ambiguity about the scene (at the time, there was some question in the director of the episode’s mind about when and if consent was given). I think that those who had become outraged by the headline took that to suggest that outside of the context of that piece, then maybe I thought there was ambiguity. However, I was merely trying to suggest that the “did he or didn’t he” was not germane to my thesis, which had nothing to do with the particulars of the scene (of course, I thought he raped Cersei, and 98 percent of rational thinking people thought he did, but it was simply irrelevant to my thesis, which was — again — that when it comes to our anti-heroes, we appropriately treat rape differently than murder).

But that point, of course, was lost in the outrage that the headline alone had triggered.

Anyway, I felt compelled — because of the negative reaction the piece had generated over on Salon — to at least explain myself. I doubt that any of the people who become outraged by it are going to notice, or care, that I wrote a response piece, and Salon may in fact end our arrangement after this, not that I have any ill will against that site. I’m a publisher, and I understand the need to drum up page views by highlighting a particularly divisive point, even if it’s a small one, and not at all relevant to the thesis of the piece, and Salon has their own narrative that they’re trying to create on their site. I get it, and hey! Hundreds (more) people loathe me, and they got a shit ton of page views. Win win, right?