‘Leaving Neverland’ Sheds Light on the Insidious Process of Grooming


Leaving Neverland, the two-part, four-hour documentary detailing the accounts of two men who allege they were sexually abused as children by Michael Jackson, is a difficult film. It is also an immensely important one.

Through old home movies, archived performance footage, documents, pictures, and the men’s own words, Wade Robson and Jimmy Safechuck separately recount, in disturbingly graphic detail, the sexual abuse that they endured as children at the hands of Michael Jackson. It is not an easy film to watch, but what director Dan Reed has done here is provide a meticulous account of how pedophiles groom not just their young victims, but their victims’ families.

Wade Robson and Jimmy Safechuck were both pursued by Michael Jackson upon meeting him. Robson, originally from Australia, was a gifted dancer by age seven, when he won a Michael Jackson dance competition and was awarded a meeting with Michael himself. Jimmy Safechuck first met Jackson at age ten, when they appeared together in a famous Pepsi commercial. To both boys and their families, Jackson was not just the King of Pop; he was a god. He inserted himself into their lives, made them feel special, gave them gifts, helped careers flourish, and then slowly separated the children from their parents. Hearing these details helps us to understand how a family can go from casually meeting a larger-than-life superstar to allowing their child to sleep night after night in the same bed with an adult man.

We see pictures of Jackson lounging at the Safechucks’ home, where he was treated as a part of the family. We hear voice messages recorded on answering machines, each of which shows Michael calling these young boys’ houses to talk for hours; bestowing nicknames on them, like Lil One and Applehead. We read Michael’s notes sent via fax machine, professing his love. The mothers of Safechuck and Robson share how they considered Michael a son, that he was really a nine-year-old in an adult’s body, that they saw the friendship between Jackson and their children to be innocent, and how they were caught up in the whirlwind of fame and fortune.

It is difficult not to scoff at and be disgusted by these parents who failed to protect their children in such a devastating way. But it is necessary that we hear the ways in which they failed in order to recognize a family being groomed.

Robson and Safechuck describe almost identical sexual relationships with Jackson. They share how special Jackson made them feel, how they were told these sexual acts were how they expressed their love for each other, and that if anyone were to ever find out what they were doing, their lives would be over and both would be punished. Jackson, they allege, had a complex series of alarms and closets, so he could hear people coming, hide the children, and ensure they would not get caught. Safechuck details a marriage ceremony he and Jackson had to declare their love for each other, complete with an exchange of rings.

It might be hard to understand how this level of abuse and manipulation and deception could go on for so long. Surely the boys would have given some indication that they were abused. Wouldn’t they have withdrawn emotionally, or been afraid to spend time with Michael? Wouldn’t they have been begging their parents to keep them safe instead of begging their parents for more sleepovers with Jackson? Wouldn’t they, when directly asked by police officers whether Jackson touched them inappropriately, have taken that opportunity to finally declare the truth and be saved?

The answer to all of those questions is no. These boys were completely under Jackson’s control. They loved him, they wanted to be with him, they wanted to make him happy, they wanted to keep him safe. On the surface, it makes no sense. Indeed, both Robson and Safechuck testified on Michael’s behalf when he was on trial for molesting another boy. Jackson’s supporters point to this as evidence that Robson and Safechuck are known liars, who are making up this story in order to gain money and attention.

But they are not getting money. Their only motivation is to tell the truth, because the truth may set them free. They both cite their own children as the reason for realizing the level of abuse they endured, and for coming forward to speak of it today. To look at their own sons, to see their innocence, and to imagine what was done to them being done to their children was unbearable. Their truth and their voices and their bravery may inspire others to come forward or feel less alone about abuse they may have endured. And everyone who has watched Leaving Neverland has been shown a way to learn and recognize the symptoms of abuse, and to confront the stigma of molestation, particularly of males.

While it would be much easier to divide the world into good and evil, black and white, the reality is that there are complex layers of gray. It is within these layers that Michael Jackson and his memory reside. Where he is both a benevolent person and an insidious monster. Because the reality is that Michael Jackson did do good things, but he also sexually abused children—and it’s hard to grapple with that. To match the artistic genius to the perverted criminal, and reconcile that people can be both good and evil; especially when that person is beloved, revered, and worshipped by many.

Jackson will always have his defenders and his supporters. His music will always be played, and his talent will go down in history as insurmountable. But Michael Jackson’s legacy will also now always include the acts of molestation that were done to Wade Robson, Jimmy Safechuck, and most likely countless others. His fame gave him the means to do it, and his slow grooming of both the children and their families allowed him to get away with it.

Those who defend Jackson today point to his acquittal in the court of law as proof that he never did anything wrong; for because there is no evidence, he is innocent. But Jackson had endless money, fame, and resources. The #MeToo era has shown us—through the likes of Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein, and Kevin Spacey—just how impenetrable the fortress of fame and money is, and how it lets monsters get away with their monstrous deeds while everyone around them turns a blind eye.

It’s important that we listen to the stories of Safechuck and Robson. To see and believe and acknowledge. Their abuser was the King of Pop, but he shared the characteristics of all abusers; he groomed these children the way all pedophiles groom their victims. There are children out there right now being taken advantage of in the same way, and we need to hear stories like this to recognize the signs and hopefully save innocent lives.

That is the important message of Leaving Neverland: this is what grooming looks like. This is how it happens. This is how they get away with it. And these are the lives that are destroyed by it.



By Kaitlin Konecke

Proceed to Checkout: Retail Therapy and Overspending


There’s something about the second nature-like act of clicking “sort price low to high” on a website that always puts my mind at ease. When I’m stressed, I often turn to online shopping to reward myself for making it through to the end of the day (or at least getting halfway there). The act of shopping itself has always been therapeutic for me, as it feels like I’m creating both artistic expression and a strategic design for myself. Focusing on what silhouettes will flatter me and envisioning how certain colors and necklines will look against my fair skin always puts my head at ease. I am a devout disciple of retail therapy because it makes me feel like in a world of uncertainty, I am in control of something. When I am stressed because I have writer's block, or I’m feeling the weight of society’s imperfections, or my emotions are spiraling out of control, my body longs to shop. Even if it's for miscellaneous items like notebooks or toiletries, shopping allows me to step back from the crazy world I live in and do not understand. It started out with clothing and then it turned into bags, which turned into skin care, and now I fantasize and shop around for airline tickets and Airbnbs. Regardless of what it is, if there’s $20 in my bank account and I’m having a rough day I will shop.

With this habit comes the consequence of overspending. The truth is, I should not be spending my last bit of money on a new set of pens just because I had a hard day at work. My purchases might seem harmless at first, but doing this more than a handful of times in one pay period adds up; next thing I know, I’ve racked up a credit card bill I could have easily avoided by finding coping mechanisms that don’t involve spending. No matter how hard I’ve tried to shake this spending habit, it always comes back to me like a diet that I’ll “start tomorrow.” I always promise myself that I’m going to stop spending, and then I find out a website now offers Afterpay (a really awesome payment plan service that makes shopping so much more desirable) and suddenly I now have to pay four bi-weekly installments of $75. But what is it about spending money and shopping that feels irreplaceable, and how did something that was once about being in control end up spiralling out of control?

The first thing I had to realize was what shopping meant to me. I’ve concluded that I love the idea of carving out the person I want to be, and the fastest way to do that is to dress a certain way. The accessibility of spontaneously changing who I am into someone “better” is addicting. If the website has my card information saved, that means I’m one click away from looking a certain way and liking myself more. It’s instant gratification, and it acts as a Band-Aid for whatever dysphoria happens to be stressing me out. But my overspending habits have stretched beyond clothing. Even though I was spending money on different things—from wax kits, to skin care (a lot of skin care), to makeup, to jewelry, to stationary—the ability to shop consistently provided me with automatic results that made me feel like I had the power to change myself and therefore my life.

When I felt most confused about things that were out of my control, and stressed out because I couldn’t control them, I turned to shopping to ease my pain. The whole process of ordering and tracking a package distracted me from my real life, and the arrival of whatever I’d ordered made me feel like I was one step closer to being perfect. I shopped while thinking, “If I just have this one product, then it will be better.” I shopped around and researched the perfect products to spend my money on, so that I could fix the existential problems I felt were out of my control.

These realizations are as far as I’ve gotten with progress. I still look to shopping to ease my mind, especially when I feel like I am deserving of a reward. However, after calculating my income and how much I’ve spent, I’ve definitely frightened myself into submission: I need to stop overspending. Since I’ve moved toward ethical fashion and pledged to shop secondhand more often, I have cut down on my spending habits. I have not, however, stopped shopping.

As of right now, I’m okay with that.


By Elysa Rivera

8 Tips for a Successful First Date

Katie Buckleitner

First dates can be totally nerve-wracking! Jitters become butterflies that become excitement and nervousness (and, if you’re me, an upset stomach and sweating...so much sweating). What do we wear? How do we act? What should we expect? Worry not. I have been on many a first date, worked through all that sweating, and I am here to help. First dates should be fun and low-pressure. Remember that you are an amazing catch, and follow these tips!


1. Safety first!

Meet in a public place, tell more than one person where you’re going and at what time. And most importantly, bail if you’re uncomfortable at any time and don’t feel bad about it! Trust your gut.


2. What should I wear?


Don’t wear something you’d never wear in real life—your date wants to get to know you, so this is all about being yourself! But the effort you put into your outfit does convey a message about how serious you are about this date. You don’t need to put on a ball gown or tuxedo, but just clean up and look nice. Nice jeans and a nice shirt, or a cute sundress in the summertime.


3. No more than two alcoholic drinks.


If you are over 21 and will be drinking on your date, that’s okay. But don’t drink more than two drinks. Don’t get drunk, and be alert. It’s easy for someone to take advantage of a drunk person, and you don’t want your inhibitions to be lowered so much that you start making bad decisions. Also, it just looks bad. You want to be yourself on your date, not falling over drunk. If you’re serious about this date, then limit the alcohol.


4. Stay away from serious personal topics like past relationships.


First dates are for getting to know someone on a more surface level—getting a feel for who they are and figuring out if you’re interested in going on a second date. Stick to safe topics like music, food, movies, video games, etc. That’s not to say that you can’t talk about things you’re really passionate about or things that you care deeply about and are important to you. Definitely do that if the conversation goes in that direction! But there is no need to bring up any past relationships on a first date, any painful breakups, or anything embarrassing.


5. Who pays? Well…


This one is tricky. It really comes down to personal preference. I’ve been on dates where the guy paid on the first date, then I paid on the second date to even things out. I was on a date where I paid for a dessert that we shared after he paid for dinner. And I’ve been on a date where the guy blatantly asked me to split the check.


I don’t subscribe to typical gender roles, but I personally do feel like the first date is where the guy makes the effort in this department—him paying is the gentlemanly and socially acceptable thing to do. However, to be safe and not presumptuous, when the bill comes, reach toward it and start to pull your wallet out—he’ll either say not to worry because he’ll take care of it, or he’ll ask to split it with you. Either way, you’ll learn just how you feel about this.


Side note: a friend told me that on dates, he takes out his credit card when the server first comes over, hands it to the server, and asks the server to open a tab and put everything they order on that tab. That way, right up front, there’s no question who is paying. It’s a nice gesture, and a smart and smooth move.


6. It’s totally okay to kiss on the first date—if you want to!


Again, this comes down to personal preference. I recommend going with the flow and doing what feels right and what you’re comfortable with. If a first date goes really well and I want to see this person again, I go in for the kiss. You’ll know in the moment. But don’t feel any pressure to kiss, hug, or even shake hands when a date is over. The other person should respect any boundaries. And I would recommend doing no more than kissing on a first date; you still don’t know this person that well yet.


7. Have fun!


It’s so easy to get self-conscious and nervous before a first date. The other person might be feeling the same way, too! But just remember that you’re amazing, and to be yourself. The worst that can happen is that the date doesn’t go well and you’ll never have to see this person again.


7. Post-date text


If you had a good time, shoot them a text a little later that day/night and let them know you enjoyed spending time with them. This will let them know whether you are interested in going on another date with them. That puts the ball in their court to follow up and maybe ask you out again.


By Kaitlin Konecke

Serpentine Season: A Forgiving Guide to Procrastination

I'm typing out a draft of my psychology paper when I feel a tingling on the back of my neck. Like the prickle of the sun on an extra humid April day at my grandmother's house, the nape of my neck glistens with a thin layer of sweat that almost feels itchy. And then I feel it on my right shoulder blade, where it crawls slowly, slowly, to the tip of my middle finger. The venom makes my finger itch, twitch, slide across the trackpad, and onto the keyboard. Before I know it, I've opened up Google Chrome and have 13 tabs of YouTube videos open. Psychology paper completely forgotten, my endless trawl through miscellaneous videos begins. I hardly notice I'm procrastinating again.

I've been an avid procrastinator since I was in elementary school. I remember this well because the plastic table in our upstairs study area is covered with random declarations of boredom from when I refused to do my homework. Even without a phone, I knew how to stall my workload at the age of seven, attempting instead to decipher the pencil marks on the wall instead of the equations in my math textbook.


This habit of mine is one I've attempted to fend off since high school. I've scoured the internet multiple times for ways to stop procrastinating, and I always get the same answers. Block all your social media sites! Try the Pomodoro Technique! Put away your gadgets!


But you see, I've already tried all of those. And none of them worked.


Obviously, I'm lying. They worked for a while. I blocked all the social media sites on my laptop, but I accessed them on my phone anyway. I tried the Pomodoro Technique, but my break lasted thrice as long as my 25-minute session. I tried putting away my phone, but realized that if I do, what on Earth would I use as a timer for my Pomodoro sessions?


You see, the problem with these "solutions" is that they hardly ever address the procrastination directly. They're aimed at clearing oneself of the distractions (or shall I say enablers of procrastination), which works for some people. But it doesn't really work for everyone because those material distractions aren't the root causes of procrastination. According to a renowned researcher on the subject of procrastination, AKA me, procrastinators will always find new ways to put off their work if they really don't want to do it. For instance, you could put me in an empty room with nothing but a typewriter, and I'd suddenly stare at the ceiling and find it to be the most interesting thing in the world.


You can only imagine my surprise then, at the irony of finding the solution to procrastination whilst procrastinating. I was on one of my usual procrastination marathons when I came across a YouTube video detailing how to get over procrastination in six steps. I've watched many a getting-over-procrastination video before, but none of them broke the process down into steps. So being the curious skeptic I am, I clicked on it. I got the solution on the first step, and it was something I would never, ever have expected.


According to the video, the first step to avoiding procrastination is to forgive yourself.


When I first heard this, I was confused. I didn't think that procrastination was at all related to introspection. But when Thomas Frank started explaining that researchers have proven this to be effective, it started to make more sense. Of course procrastination would be related to the self. If tangible distractions like gadgets or food weren't the root causes of procrastination, then it had to be the people themselves.


The more I mulled it over, the more logical it sounded. If I catch myself on my phone instead of doing homework, I can put down my phone and tell myself it’s alright. This way, I become more conscious of the bad habit, and by forgiving myself I become more aware that it's done out of habit and not necessarily out of volition. Forgiving yourself instead of trying to eradicate a bad habit right away makes you more aware of why you indulge in these habits in the first place—it evokes cognizance. By forgiving yourself, you deliberately take the time to pause and acknowledge your bad habit and why you shouldn't be doing it. I personally find that even saying "it's all good" out loud makes me feel more energized to actually take on a task.


Forgiving yourself is like a subtle reinforcement to get your shit done.


I genuinely believe that there is no inherently bad habit, because it only becomes bad if it's done over and over and over. Forgiving yourself poses a healthier relationship with the things that give you pleasure but aren't necessarily good for you. It helps you strike the tricky balance between indulgence and resistance. And what I’ve learned is that the balance often relies on your ability to forgive yourself for something you don't even realize you're doing.


If your pet snake bites you and you slap her away and lock her in her cage, won't she be more spiteful toward you the next time you take her out? Won't she bite harder? What if all you had to do was acknowledge the venom, then tell her not to do it again? What if you just needed to be gentle, be tender?


Maybe then she won't bite when you want to play next time.


By Ticia Almazan

Brutality-Gazing


1.
The bottled-up pleasures, the ones we associate with shame. The enjoyments that don’t make sense. How we indulge, collectively, in terror as entertainment. The unpalatable, what we seem entranced by like pigeons swarming a piece of moldy toast, what we cannot quite admit to liking.

Mine: an obsession with true crime. Serial killers. Netflix grinding out content to feed this embarrassed monster, a genre swallowing us all: men (almost exclusively white) fucking shit up. Doing awful things. Committing the “unspeakable.” Or what I like to call “brutality-gazing.” Instead of eyeing our own selves we watch Ted Bundy wrangle excuses, watch him convince himself of his own innocence and brilliance. We watch Penn Badgley play the part of murderous stalker in You; we watch families and neighbors say, but how could he! about a “normal” neighbor’s pedophilia in Abducted in Plain Sight. We fixate and groan and shudder and sometimes laugh with disbelief. We can’t comprehend this avalanche of terror, how it seems to encase our society, how someone as human as us could impose such evil so nonchalantly.

We watch anyway. We ask for more.
How to reconcile these selves: the overzealous feminist and the girl who stays up into the edges of the night watching documentaries about monstrous men, whose victims are almost always women, these white men who get the titles of Charismatic and Charming rather than unequivocally awful.
I know better. Most of us know better, but we gaze on. Instead of prioritizing the violence terrorizing marginalized communities—women, queer people, immigrants—violence inflicted by yes, our government, by “normal people” every day, we shift our eyes to these men.

2.
In Maggie Nelson’s The Art of Cruelty she writes, “Misogyny, when expressed or explored by men, remains a timeless classic.”

A cultural iconography is concocted: we amplify their violence and harvest entertainment from it. Male art fixated on the inferiority of women clogs up our artistic canons, sacrosanct; Charles Bukowski’s books include rape like it’s as everyday as the weather, which I suppose it is in this world, but he writes it with glee, aggression as a Bunsen burner to male self-comprehension.
In Woody Allen’s Manhattan, in which a forty-year-old Allen has a sexual “relationship” with a seventeen-year-old girl—AKA rape—the abuse of power only serves as the vehicle for Allen’s odyssey toward self-awareness. Or music blustering with women-spite, songs we—including women—scream hard at concerts and hum the words to in the shower. There is no shortage.

I sit in the dark and watch Ted Bundy work his “charisma.” His “intellect.” I don’t quite see it. The scaffolding around his unoriginality, unremarkableness, self-absorption, is his privilege.

Who gets to express the cruelty and perverse, self-serving darknesses inflicted upon women—who gets to make art about it without critics rolling their eyes, saying, in one manner or another, this story isn’t universal enough; it’s “gender issues” fodder, it’s too political and angry, trauma porn. Who wields immunity from generalization. Who gets to commit cruelty without all “people like them” becoming synonymous with cruelty, their violence individualized rather than collectivized.
Brutality is a sport only white men get to play—without society damning them all. If gender is performative, there must too be performative whiteness, and these men—Bundy the prime example—seem the compendium of performances dancing hand in hand, not quite self-aware enough to seem secure in their own movements. When I fixate on their cruelty, even in the gruesomeness, I know it: they’re full of shit. There is no question: privilege may not be the only perpetrator of brutality but it is the skin it sleeps in. Maybe in a cell, but still, sleeping.

3.
Sometimes:
I feel drained of blood, veins filled with lighter fluid. Every step, every movement in womanhood highly flammable. Anger pushes through me and hangs in my stomach. I impose salves upon my fury, powder myself in self-control, in writing rather than screaming, rub politeness deep into every cell, try to appease the achy dark I have no other name for. It never quite works.
This landscape of unfettered cruelty, then, might in a way be a coping mechanism, a balm for that dark I cannot release, because girls aren’t supposed to. Simplified, anyone who is not a white man is not supposed to. A co-opting of anger. Still:
I buy into it.

4.
I know the freeze frame that composes fear.
I know:
five years old, in the hospital cafeteria, my mom in contractions upstairs, about to birth my brother, my dad and I in line, a wobbly cheesecake on my plate, a man behind me, a growl low and wet, a knife in his open bag, voice like peeling a callus from your palm, get her away from me or else I’m gonna hurt her.

I know:
the press of him (always a him; interchangeable) against my backside, standing in the subway, dug into me like a fishhook, and all that empty room he could take up instead, me, a gutted fish, me, a fog of resignation. Afterwards, the violence lunging up my body, wanting to project and throw the marks I’ve tallied up in my bones, wanting to pretend I haven’t lost count.

I know the way their eyes slime across my bare flesh, how their voices scrape my brain walking around a city. I know what it is to pause, to say nothing, to freeze.

The worst, that terror-scrubbed, gigantic, tentacled worst, the worst that can be done to people, to women, it lingers in me always. I watch so that maybe the worst won’t be the worst anymore, so that I can introduce all tangles of violence into my normality, so that I will know rather than stay shaken, head turning in the dark.
Violence is usually narrativized by men. The rope that lassoes male-inflicted horror into story is mainly wielded by men. Maybe that should bother me, maybe that should nudge me into hey, these people aren’t stories, they’re murderers, but it doesn’t stop me from watching. Transfixed.

What these women, the victims of these crimes, must’ve felt, what these men havocked upon them, how they broke into their lives, it stays unimaginable. Still, brutality swells in the bloodstream of womanhood always. Not defining it; but the potential for the worst-worst sticks to us like bubble wrap, latent in every aggression.

When I watch these men, I’m not playing the victim anymore. They are locked up or dead, they remain trapped in digitalization, distance exists between us. Sometimes the fear of trauma too pulpy and seething to hold forces me to take up residency as observer rather than the observed. Just for an hour, an episode. They are caged, there, and made summarizable.

5.
Perhaps:
I manage the thought of death by accelerating its presence. Intensifying it to top volume.

In Paris, I visited a tiny museum in a police station. Separated and discrete, you climb the stairs to get inside, you choose to go up and look around. You make an effort. This museum: relics of terror. Of violence: guillotines, torture devices, blood-browned blades, photographs of murder scenes, glass cases crammed with murder weapons, guns and rocks and knives and mirrors, anything heavy or sharp enough.

Perhaps:
I must contort the terrifying into the tangible, graspable, containable. A species I can watch graze its blood-soggy grass in front of me, separated by glass. It can’t touch me.

To carry around the brutal. What I seek in this brutality-gazing looks something like get it out of me and off of me. I want to never hurt anyone like this and I want to purge myself of the ways I’ve already been hurt, violated by the everyday traumas of girlhood. I watch horror movies for the same reason, to fictionalize the unspeakable, to give it a monster face and a house to occupy. I say, become a ghost rather than this quarry of emptiness in me; find shape in exaggerated monstrosities rather than in the snarls squeezing my head.

I want to be afraid of something rather than everything.

If I can predispose myself to the Worst-Worst, I can prepare myself for its onslaught. If I can view men that terrorize women, I cannot be surprised if that terror comes looking for me.

6.
Reading Naomi Alderman’s novel The Power unfolded a secret. There are other ways of looking at violence. At girl-pain. Like the women in the book: I wish I had a skein etched into my collarbone, a lick of electricity I could control through my fingertips every time men take what they have not not asked for.

Alderman writes: “The power to hurt is a kind of wealth.”

In watching I make these men small. Their crimes never cease to horrify but at the same time, it’s the same-old, same-old, repeated, sensationalized. Why do we focus so narrowly on these heinous white men rather than giving a shit about the people dying every day, the kids shot in their schools—or, the women stalked, abused, assaulted, and murdered by their husbands, brothers, boyfriends, bosses? We somehow don’t connect the dots because these stories are more interesting than everyday misogyny. In watching I take the wealth back.

When people ask me about my tru- crime fascination, its blank-facedness, I fight the urge to laugh: none of this is that new to me. Brutality at the hands of certain privilege is nothing new.

In Anne Elizabeth Moore’s book Body Horror: Capitalism, Fear, Misogyny, Jokes, she writes: “What I offer for your consideration is this: that perhaps what scares men most—as evidenced by the fears we are given to consume as entertainment in the horror genre— may often be things that women have just learned to work through.”

7.
There lives a fundamental cruelty in brutality-gazing: we forget that there are victims. Mystique is for the brutalizers, their “wealth” of hurt eclipsing those they brutalized in the first place.

At twenty, Kathy Kleiner survived Bundy coming into her dorm in the dark of night, after sexually assaulting and killing other young women, hitting her hard enough to break her jaw in three places, making her pass out. Of the Bundy obsession she says, “I think it’s good for people to read books about Bundy. I really do. They need to know that there’s evil out there, but they can control it.”

Carol DaRonch, also a survivor, said in 1989, “I’ve decided to try and block it from my memory. You can’t live in fear forever.” These women transcend their trauma and still, acknowledge it; trauma borne in public is knotty and vicious, watched, dissected, made a feast for those who don’t have to actually touch its rotting teeth. The survivors of brutality like this should get their own articulations, if they choose them, their experiences not merely antioxidants for our entertainment.

What I’ve come to grasp is that gazing at the brutal is not necessarily subversive, even if you are a woman, even if you are queer, even if you consist of an identity often brutalized—but perhaps it needn’t be. Sometimes I watch hell ripple for the sake of calming myself the fuck down, for knowing that hell ripples and knowing it may especially ripple for me. There is something in so explicitly naming the beast, even giving it such a narcissistic voice: at least we’re acknowledging it at all. These documentaries and reenactments almost reassure me that I am not imagining the weaponized masculinity entrenched in our every institution, our everyday lives. This brutality-gazing suggests that there is a brutality at all to those who’d rather not see it in themselves.

They distance themselves from these “monsters” when monsters actually live in your bed, your house, your heart. Some monsters sleep next to us and touch us tenderly sometimes. Some monsters we think we know and love. We disconnect them from the monstrous men we watch onscreen, tell ourselves they’re different.

They are and they aren’t. It’s a spiked tightrope, the walk of distinguishing the monsters from the men. I can’t pretend it’s not, and when I watch interviews with killers, when I watch the stories of the egregious, of the “charming” and “unexpected” men doing terrible things, I realize I’m right.


By Sofia Sears