Bettakultcha IX June 2011


Right, before we start, let me make clear that this post deals with content that you could find *triggering*. I will discuss-

  • pornography,
  • misogyny,
  • PTSD,
  • violence
  • sexual assault, and
  • feminism

Please take care of yourself and avoid reading if you feel you will be triggered.

For some people, Occupational Therapy can be said to be something that we can share with the individual to facilitate Recovery. For me, it is wider than that, it also addresses environmental and social justice aims, as we attempt to create a human environment that facilitates the highest expression of each individual’s function to the benefit of all. So I will make no apologies for stepping into this territory with this post.

Bettakultcha caused a bit of a stir in Leeds this week.

I didn’t attend, but gathered the following sequence of events. There was a film (“Killing Amy”) presented, it seems roundly acknowledged that this was misconceived without a trigger warning, due to the theme of sexual violence and murder. There are reviews a-plenty on teh internets now, including this one from Kate Fox, which succinctly documents the contribution of the physical and social environment to the showing of this film and the audience reaction. However, the surprising thing was the Twitterstorm afterwards, where people who were distressed seemed to have their distress denied- it seemed like playground bullying at times.

Exploring Leeds covers the event by describing the scenario, and contains comments both from people who didn’t feel the film exposed them to worse images than they see every day, to people who were upset by the film.

Other blogs landed squarely on the side of “who the hell thinks porn and nudity and females being killed is shocking or offensive anymore?” and seem to miss the point of triggers which can affect people’s mental health, cause flashbacks in people with PTSD, and which in any case have been the subject of extensive deconstruction by feminists such as Andrea Dworkin and others.

Is it really necessary to go over this ground again, and again, and again? Clearly it is, as the response of many who attended will show.

This presentation was somewhere in between

  • an artist’s attempt to subvert our acceptance of online exposure, and show the dangers that lurk in wait for us around every corner through the medium of shlock horror (scaring those with triggered memories/flashbacks/any women walking home alone), and
  • an example of patriarchal cultural fodder with the express or covert aim of ensuring the responsibility for sexual assault and murder is laid squarely at the door of women/victims, rather than men/perpetrators.

So, what’s new? Just in case, here are some handy tips on avoiding sexual assault, that actually work.

It’s a shame that this, the worst presentation of the night, has dominated the discourse regarding the event. But it’s hardly surprising. It is important to remember that most people don’t complain, they just stop coming. And it would be a shame for up to 51% of your potential audience to feel uncomfortable about attending your event, or walking home after it. It also highlights the potential of Social Media for enabling us to hold up a mirror to ourselves, and grow as people and as a society.

The “press release” from the evenings facilitators, @ivortymchak and @richardmichie is available on The CultureVulture’s Blog, and strikes an appropriately considered and apologetic tone, whilst appealing for understanding from the immediate and social media audience for the way the evenings are organised and the presentations shown. They manage to concede the necessity of developing a strategy for dealing with potentially offensive trigger content. Because although free speech is important, it comes with responsibility for the impact of that speech on the audience.

And given that 1 in 4 of your potential audience is managing mental health difficulties at any time, it makes sense not to alienate them. Increasingly, we feel able to deal with stigma and discuss mental health. Hopefully, events like this will help people to realise how to care for each other’s mental health when planning events such as this.

Next Bettakultcha is in September and tickets are available here. Let’s ensure this remains a force that combats consumer culture and commodified sexual mores, found so easily in popular culture. Let’s make a better culture. A Bettakultcha.

About

I am an Occupational Therapist, who writes about health, particularly mental health. I am interested in social media and Web 2.0, and where these technological advances can support wellness and health.

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Posted in Bettakultcha, Blogging, Leeds, Occupational Therapy, PTSD, Recovery, Social Inclusion, Social Media, Society, Stigma, Twitter
12 comments on “Bettakultcha IX June 2011
  1. Thanks for your post it raises many interesting questions. We are learning as we go and this did take us by surprise. One point in your blog I’d challenge you on is that Rob’s presentation was the worst one. At every single Bettakultcha everyone has ones they love, ones they hate and ones which just bore them. I’ve not met anyone who has the same list yet. Also by your own admission you weren’t there on the night.

    We promote an open forum where anyone and everyone can put themselves forward to speak, it’s been our goal from the very begining to do that. We’re looking forward to the what the next event brings as we’re pretty certain ther’e’ll be some kind of follow on from the events of Tuesday.

    • Claire says:

      Richard,

      Thanks for commenting. I concede that I shouldn’t have judged the presentation as the “worst”, especially since I didn’t see it (as you point out, quite rightly). Additionally, it’s such a subjective judgement that it seems rash to have posted it. I meant “distasteful” or “unpleasant” or “misogynist” and I think I chose my words badly.

      In fact, on reflection, I am considering the fact that through showing this film the conversations that have been facilitated have been enlightening, and I am sure that the event (and the audience?) are going to grow as a result of considering these issues. So, it may turn out to have been a fantastic opportunity for all of us to consider what it is about it that we liked/ defended/ disliked/ were triggered by/ found offensive. I have certainly found benefit from examining my own feelings about it. I believe in the importance of ensuring safe space, a supportive atmosphere, and of validating the experience of any audience member who has courage enough to voice discomfort in such a forum.

      Since we are meant to be challenged at Bettakultcha, perhaps it was therefore the most successful presentation yet?

      I appreciate the nature of the event, and think your response to what has been a “curve-ball” has been appropriate. I do not advocate censorship, merely that content that could reasonably be expected to be triggering for audience members should be signposted as such. Thank you for a valuable conversation.

  2. Futher to what Richard said, I challenge any presenter to perform well, after the setback with the technical difficulties, and then being heckled during the presentation (especially with the format of Bettakultcha with the slides being timed @ 15 sec, there is no opportunity to respond to heckling)

    And, re: your two bullet points – er, no. It was a presentation about making a film, and getting up off your behind to make it happen, rather than just sitting there and going “Ooh, I wish I could make a film”. The film itself was inspired by Bettakultcha, and a sort of spoof of Bettakultcha, which would have become apparent if it had been watched to the end. People are reading waaaaay too much into it. How on earth did you come up with those, without even having seen the presentation?

    I see your point about the triggers, but there is only so much one can do about that – would anyone think of warning ahead of a presentation about, say, the joy of cupcakes, just in case a former bulimic got triggered? A warning should have been given due to the film being a horror short of sorts as that would have been a more obvious potential trigger – and that is agreed on by everyone, as far as I can tell.

    • Claire says:

      Hi Mazz,

      Thanks for leaving a comment. You’re right, in that in a way I am responding to the audience response to the presentation more than the presentation itself. After all, I didn’t see it. And it must have been awful for the presenter to have to stumble through the sort of technical hitches that are the stuff of public speaking nightmares!

      In terms of triggers, you’re right that absolutely anything could, in theory, trigger someone. I am not advocating making blanket warning statements before all art or presentations “just in case” someone is triggered by a cupcake (mmmm….cupcakes….) but in this situation, a topic of murder and sexual assault can be reasonably expected to trigger members of the audience. Remember that many women and not a few men have been sexually assaulted (statistically 1 in 6 women). Or may have known someone who was. I think that a warning that the film contained shlock horror and scenes of sexual violence would have been appropriate. I think that we agree on that.

      Thanks for reading the blog and taking time out to comment, it is appreciated.

      • Oh, I’m not arguing that there shouldn’t have been a warning – not of sexual assault though, as there wasn’t any in the film! Our serial killer was kind of vanilla, no James Patterson-style shenanigans ;-)
        Everyone has agreed there should have been a warning, the only mistake was that no one thought about it beforehand. Seems obvious now the horse has bolted… Lessons learned!

  3. Dan Ladds says:

    Firstly, thanks for the link, even if you disagree – I respect your right to do so.

    I do however feel that ‘“who the hell thinks porn and nudity and females being killed is shocking or offensive anymore?”’ is a slightly blunt interpretation of my argument. My points were primarily:

    – The film was no more distressing than regular evening television.

    To which your main counterpoint was:

    “seem to miss the point of triggers which can affect people’s mental health, cause flashbacks in people with PTSD”

    I understand and entirely accept this point. The issue is where we draw the line. How far do we go in restricting anything which might be a potential trigger for certain people? If we take what might be allowed on normal evening television as a reasonable standard, then I believe this film is no worse. Is that not an acceptable standard to go by? (genuine question)

    I *do* believe the film should have had a warning. That was the main mistake.

    – The film in question is not misogynistic, or pro sexual violence.

    I maintain this as true. The protaganist of the film even said that “it’s not sexual, if that’s what you’re thinking”. I reject that the film can be called anti-women because it featured a female victim. It could quite easily have featured a male victim – would that have been anti-male? (again, genuine question, but if not, why?)

    Again, it’s not that I believe discrimination against women is okay. I certainly don’t. I just do not believe that this film, either deliberately or accidentally, is anti-women.

    With regard to your two potential interpetations (“an artist’s attempt to subvert our acceptance of online exposure…” and “an example of patriarchal cultural fodder with the express or covert aim of ensuring the responsibility for sexual assault and murder is laid squarely at the door of women/victims”), I must reject the latter. I understand why it might be possible to interpret the film like that if you were inclined to do so, but this is a forced interpretation. It’s the conclusion you might reach if you were seeking to answer the loaded question “In what way is this film’s message anti-women?” rather than the neural “What is this film’s message?”. I certainly did not get the impression that a murderer standing up and saying “Hey, I randomly picked someone average off Facebook to kill” is in anyway blaming the victim.

    Once again, I respect and to a degree, accept your points. I do believe however that we need to strike a pragmatic balance and I would not like to see that balance tipped towards censorship. I believe a brief warning should have been in place, but that doing so would be sufficient.

  4. Claire says:

    Hey Dan,

    Thanks for stopping by- I welcome the chance to talk with you about this, because I don’t feel our positions are actually too far apart.

    I agree, TV shows all sorts of terrible stuff, and I’m sure there are plenty of shows that showed or implied worse violence and more sadistic assault. However, Bettakultcha differs from TV in several important respects.

    Firstly the watershed. Quaint as it is in the days we live in with on demand and iPlayer services, the traditional 9pm watershed is still there as a rule of thumb for programme makers and viewers alike. Additionally, programmes that show (for example) surgery, or distressing images in the news, are signposted so that the viewer retains the choice about consuming those particular images. Similarly, films are distributed with age ratings and warnings.

    My objection in this case is that the audience members were not warned- and really that could have avoided anybody getting upset. I do not want to see people censored in their free expression. But I would like to see acknowledgement of potential distress, and a strategy for allowing the viewer to choose to take a break during presentations that may trigger them. I think we’re in agreement in this.

    I think we differ about the second part of your reply, about whether this film is or isn’t misogynistic. I’m afraid that you could argue that I hadn’t seen the film and therefore didn’t understand the plot devices sufficiently to comment. I would disagree, and say that I didn’t need to. Please stay with me, I’ll try to explain.

    Your comment quotes the protagonist, who said that “it’s not sexual, if that’s what you’re thinking”. But I would argue that Rape and Murder aren’t about sex, but about power and domination. I don’t believe sex is the “ends”, rather the “means”. This is why rape is used as a weapon of war, for example the recent reports in Libya, the atrocities in Eastern Congo, or any other war you care to mention.

    Dworkin (linked within the post) in her seminal work “Intercourse” posited that

    “Dworkin argued that depictions of intercourse in mainstream art and culture….often united it with male contempt for, or even murder of, the “carnal” woman.
    She argued that….combined with the material conditions of women’s lives in a sexist society, the experience of heterosexual intercourse itself becomes a central part of men’s subordination of women,…that is nevertheless expected to be pleasurable for women and to define their very status as women”

    Although some people wrongly interpret this as “all men are rapists”, Dworkin herself was clear that

    “Since the paradigm for sex has been one of conquest, possession, and violation, I think many men believe they need an unfair advantage, which at its extreme would be called rape. I do not think they need it.

    She was saying that if society was more equal, women and men would still be having sex, but on more equal footing and without some of the damaging role-play which both sexes are subject to under sexism. She is saying that we live in what has become known as “Rape Culture”.

    This blog discusses Rape Culture further. It defines it thus:

    “Rape culture is the way in which the constant threat of sexual assault affects women’s daily movements. Rape culture is telling girls and women to be careful about what you wear, how you wear it, how you carry yourself, where you walk, when you walk there, with whom you walk, whom you trust, what you do, where you do it, with whom you do it,”

    And it doesn’t just affect women,

    “Rape culture is 1 in 33 men being sexually assaulted in their lifetimes. ”

    So, by this analysis, it can be seen that the victim in the film could be a man, and the perpetrator a woman, and it would still reflect “Rape Culture” and misogyny, or perhaps better, patriarchy. Feel free to disagree with me on this, I’m just laying out my opinion and where it came from, because I do understand that your blog reflects genuine confusion about why people would consider the film to be sexist.

    I wrote that the film sat between “an artist’s attempt to subvert our acceptance of online exposure…” and “an example of patriarchal cultural fodder with the express or covert aim of ensuring the responsibility for sexual assault and murder is laid squarely at the door of women/victims”. By this I meant that our analysis of the film could lie anywhere on the continuum between these two positions, not that I expected anyone to simultaneously believe both of them. You are leaning more towards the first, and me to the second, but that’s okay, neither is right and neither is wrong- they’re our own analysis and I’m comfortable with the idea that we don’t have to all think identikit thoughts!

    My original link to your blog was through this statement:

    “who the hell thinks porn and nudity and females being killed is shocking or offensive anymore?”’

    In your post you described the debate as between divided between two camps:

    “what I’ll call the “OMG HOW SEXIST!” camp and the “wtf lol?” camp.”

    I felt you laid yourself open to my blunt summary by your depiction of the objections to the film as “wtf lol?”, which I think was a dismissive way to describe them. But similarly, my summary of your argument was blunt and lacked the nuance of the rest of the post. I apologise if you felt that I misrepresented you, it wasn’t my intention to upset you in any way by this.

    I’ve really enjoyed considering all of this over the past few days, I am so proud of our City that we can both develop such a fantastic event, and create a community that can openly debate the creative tension between sometimes diverse opinions!

    I hope we can continue to support each other in creating a safe and welcoming space for the conversation in the future. See you at the next Bettakultcha?

    • Dan Ladds says:

      Thanks for replying Claire.

      To be honest, I think we have a reasonable middle ground on the first point – there should have been a warning.

      I completely understand your points about rape/murder based on power and rape culture. I think while you might argue that the protaganist does blame the victim in this way, I don’t think the film shows him positively as a character and it’s therefore the message to the audience is different.

      “So, by this analysis, it can be seen that the victim in the film could be a man, and the perpetrator a woman, and it would still reflect ‘Rape Culture’ and misogyny” – I agree that the film would represent rape culture in the same way, but would it not then be misandry? In which case I’d argue, the film maker has to pick *some* combination of sexes, and doing so doesn’t make him sexist in either direction.

      I can see how you might interpret the message of “be careful on social networks” in the same light as “One of the safety tips was for women not to dress like ‘sluts.’” (quoting a certain Toronto cop that’s caused a bit of a stir recently!). I think a key difference is that the social network argument is far more gender neutral. Again, you could apply rape culture, but I don’t think it’s misogynist in this case just because a women was chosen.

      I think you have to separate rape culture and misogyny into two separate issues here (especially, since as you said, 1 in 33 men are sexually assaulted). I maintain that I do not believe the film is misogynous.

      I think the character may be interpreted as a portrayal of rape culture, but I think our key difference on this point is that, from watching the film, I don’t believe it supported the character. Arguable, the character does kill for power, he does blame his victim… but I don’t think the film jumps out an says “Yeah, this guy’s right!”. I understand however that this is very open to interpretation. I disagree, but I do understand the basis of your argument.

      Anyway, it’s been good to talk about it in a sensible manner.

      See you at the next Bettakultcha!

      • Claire says:

        Hi Dan,

        I’m so glad we’ve found so much common ground on this. It shows me that even when people say things I may not agree with, sometimes it can just come down to semantics and it’s always good to remember how much we all have in common with each other. Thank you.

        I didn’t see the film, but I’m going to take your word for it that the protagonist wasn’t shown sympathetically. However, I do think an argument can be made in any case that simply be showing scenes of the acts committed, or implied, that this reinforces the Rape Culture that I was talking about. I don’t think the protagonist has to be directly sympathetic for this to happen. A bit like after watching Dr Who with my daughter, we tend to jump at doors banging or strange noises for an hour or two, although the Daleks aren’t shown sympathetically in the programme.

        The argument of misogyny and misandry does come down to semantics, I’m afraid. Yes, misandry is an irrational hatred of men, as misogyny is an irrational hatred of women. However, the point I was trying to make was about reflecting misogynist cultural norms- in this case of male sexuality as existing on a continuum with rape at one end (as in Dworkin’s analysis). That men are subject to the distortions of the cultural norming of misogyny and that it warps their sexuality such that some may, in certain circumstances, rape. Note: I don’t believe this holds true for all men, and I like men an awful lot. But I do believe the discourse about men not being able to control themselves is as damaging for men as it is for women. So please feel free to disagree with me on this one, I’m not looking to convert you to my way of thinking. I just hope I’ve made myself a little clearer in terms of what I was trying to say.

        I think we understand each other’s points well, but just happen to disagree. I’m fine with that- wouldn’t it be boring if we all had the same response to a piece of art? Thanks for the conversation, I’ve really enjoyed it.

        Look forward to seeing you at the next Bettakultcha- come up and introduce yourself- I’m easy to spot being a woman in a wheelchair!! Looking forward to further debates soon.

  5. [...] – CultureVutures Bettakultcha IX – So what was the drama about – Exploring Leeds Bettakultcha IX June 2011 – Claireot’s Blog The Feeling of Bettakultcha – Kate Fox News In defence of Bettakultcha and Killing Amy [...]

  6. [...] Bettakultcha IX June 2011 – Claireot’s Blog [...]

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Claireot

I'm an OT called Claire. I write about health, particularly mental health, and also about Social Media and Web 2.0 technology. I am particularly interested where these two fields overlap.
I believe that we all hold the potential for Recovery- let's grow together.

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