I am no admirer of Ammon Bundy and the people he has led in their occupation of Oregon’s Malheur National Wildlife Refuge since Jan. 2. They’re poseurs who have bandwagoned onto the cause of people who don’t want their support, as well as the latest manifestation of ugly anti-government sentiments that have the potential to do real harm. But for all that I look forward to the day when Bundy and his followers are safely removed from the refuge, I’ve been disturbed by the way that some Internet pranksters have chosen to tweak the occupiers: by convincing themselves that sexual harassment is actually meaningful political protest.
I can imagine that some of these wags were inspired by the occupiers themselves, after Jon Ritzheimer, one of the men holed up in the sanctuary, posted a video referring to sexual paraphernalia and candy shaped like genitalia that they’d received as “an abundance of hate mail.”
From there, the spiral was inevitable.
GQ published a step-by-step guide to how to send sex toys to Oregon. Max Temkin, a graphic designer who worked on Barack Obama’s campaign for president and went on to design the wildly popular, darkly humorous game Cards Against Humanity, shipped the occupiers an extremely large container of personal lubricant — for use, he said, with the other mail they’d been getting. And in his column last week, Dan Savage urged a reader who was looking for environmentally responsible ways to dispose of old sex toys to send them to Oregon, helpfully providing the relevant address.
The tendency, even in left-leaning outlets, has been to cover these stunts approvingly and to mock the occupiers. “What is wrong with you people? Do you think people sent candy penises to Washington at Valley Forge?” quipped Charles P. Pierce in Esquire. Fusion covered Temkin’s gesture with an air of mock concern for Bundy and his followers.
I can imagine these sorts of stunts make for decent traffic, which is why they’ve been covered so widely. But it’s left me feeling amazed at the speed with which some liberals seem to take leave of their senses and principles when they have an opportunity to tweak people on the right and far right.
Ritzheimer may have been overstating the case when he called sexual paraphernalia “hate mail.” But this campaign to barrage the occupiers with sex toys and sexual material is definitely sexual harassment.
I mean, can you imagine what the reaction would be on the left if conservatives were sending sex toys to feminists in order to mock them? Or if conservatives were trying to tar the Occupy encampments by implying that they were the sites of gay orgies?
The outrage would be overwhelming, and it would be completely justified. Pushing sexual material and equipment on someone doesn’t suddenly become whimsical and cute rather than aggressive and harassing just because the recipient is a man or a conservative. And raising the specter of gay sex as somehow discrediting is homophobic, even if your target opposes gay rights. This isn’t cleverness: It’s thoughtless and bro-ish.
That pranksters are doing this to the Oregon occupiers at a moment when the Democratic Party is trying to respond to Republican charges that liberals don’t take former president Bill Clinton’s alleged sexual conduct seriously makes the whole thing particularly surreal. “It’s cool when we do it but gross when they do” is not even a semblance of a workable standard.
If you want to tweak Bundy and his compatriots by sending them things they don’t actually need, there are plenty of ways of doing it that don’t involve sexual harassment. How about sending them lots and lots and lots of “Portlandia” DVDs? There are plenty of those floating around Amazon.