Trigger warning: explicit discussion of child abuse, rape culture mentality
(This post is not strictly related to a metal artist, but it concerns an article published on a metal site, so I’m going to say it still counts.)
I often find myself wondering why I keep reading the MetalSucks blog. The site has introduced me to great songs and artists in the past, but its focus on controversy-seeking clickbait, gossip and rumour-mongering, not to mention its frequently juvenile writing style, has gotten very old very fast. And while I realise that what goes on below the line isn’t the editors’ responsibility, the comments section is mostly filled with that mix of exclusionary elitism and macho posturing that makes metal fandom, and indeed internet-based fandom in general, such a frustrating space. It’s better than Youtube comments, but not by much.
Last night, though, I came across an article that was even worse than usual, that has made me decide to swear off the site for the foreseeable future.
Readers might already be aware that Ian Watkins, former singer for the godawful rock band Lost Prophets (who were in no way metal, but received enough coverage in Kerrang and similar rags in the last decade that MetalSucks presumably felt the need to cover the story) was charged last year with conspiracy to engage in sexual activity with a female under 13 and possession/distribution of indecent images of children. Watkins has now pleaded guilty to a list of charges related to child pornography and child abuse, both planned and carried out. I am not often squeamish about descriptions of crimes, however horrific. But the details of the abuse carried out by Watkins and two young women, and the callous manner in which Watkins spoke about his intentions in evidence presented to the court, are truly stomach-churning. I don’t wish to list the charges here; anyone interested can read the PRP’s report here. (I don’t want to boost the traffic of an offensive article, so I won’t link to the MetalSucks post on the guilty plea; it can be easily found on the site if you want to read it for yourself).
Ian Watkins has admitted to being a child molester. The quotes attributed to him at the trial make it clear he feels entitled to use children to fulfil his own desires, which is the disgusting end result of a patriarchal culture that sends men the message that women are there for their sexual fulfilment. Obviously not all men who absorb this message of entitlement will go on to abuse children, but I believe that message forms the kernel of the justification child abusers, and rapists and abusers more generally, use to excuse their crimes*. It is near impossible to muster any sympathy for the man, and as poorly suited as our current prison system is for rehabilitating criminals and preventing recidivism, I hope he is kept away from society for a long, long time.
This does not mean it was OK for MetalSucks writer Axl Rosenburg to end his piece on Watkins and his female associates by saying: “I hope they all get sent to jail for a very long time, during which they are raped. A lot.”
The article in question made its commitment to bad taste clear early on, poking fun at the perpetrator’s mugshot: “his (Watkins’) new look makes him far more readily identifiable as a scum-sucking pedophile”. Because clearly the most important thing here is that our preconceptions about what a child molester is “supposed” to look like aren’t challenged, so we can continue to call these people aberrant monsters instead of examining how patriarchal society encourages them to commit abuse. But joking about anyone being raped in prison, even those who have themselves raped or abused others, is more than just “bad taste”. It helps to reinforce the very rape culture that emboldens people to commit these crimes.
My guess is that the thought process behind the crack, if indeed there was any, was something along these lines: “Watkins and his conspirators have done unspeakably awful things. (True enough.) Rape is an unspeakably awful crime to commit against someone. (Again, true.) Therefore, it’s OK to wish for these awful people to have an awful crime committed against them.” It’s in keeping with the would-be edgy, confrontational tone of much of the site’s content. But prison rape jokes don’t actually confront preconceptions or challenge the status quo at all.
It’s not hard to understand why people feel enough fury against Watkins and the women also being charged to wish this against them. Doubtless some readers might interpret this criticism of a joke at their expense as a defence of people who no one in their right mind would want to defend**. This goes beyond this individual case, though. When you joke about rape in prison being committed against someone you think “deserves” it, you are implicitly stating that you believe there are situations where rape is justified. This is part of what Zoe Stavri talks about in her Independent piece on the case, where she notes that “we see people decrying Watkins yet continuing to perpetuate other myths that make it easier for rapists to get away with it”. Whether intended or not, the message sent by prison rape jokes helps to reinforce a wider cultural conviction that rape can be acceptable. It helps reinforce the justifications used by rapists when that girl needed to be “taught a lesson” for dressing so slutty. When that lesbian woman needed to be “cured” by a “real man”. When that trans woman needed “correcting”, and perhaps even murdering afterwards, for being “misleading” about their gender.
“An eye for an eye” might have been an acceptable basis for a justice system thousands of years ago, but not today. The appropriate punishment for rape or child abuse is not rape. And if we genuinely want to help prevent rape and child abuse in the future, jokes about “corrective” prison rape will not help erode the patriarchal culture of entitlement that emboldens perpetrators in the first place. MetalSucks can either apologise for the Watkins piece, or they can continue to be part of that culture, and help ensure that cases like this will keep on happening.
* This is not to suggest women don’t commit rape and abuse, against adults or children. They do, but as far as I am aware women are not told, to the same degree as men, that other human beings exist purely for their sexual gratification.
** Of course, it’s a depressing inevitability that there are fans continuing to root for Watkins, even after his admission of guilt. I have seen it argued, for example, that he lied to the court to secure a lighter sentence, which is so stupid a statement I cannot even begin to wrap my head around it.