A while back, Bernie Sanders asked about something that, to the modern reader, seems pretty obvious:
Have you ever looked at the Stag, Man, Hero, Tough magazines on the shelf of your local bookstore? Do you know why the newspaper with the articles like “Girl, 12, raped by 14 men” sell so well? To what in us are they appealing?
The answers are simple and uncontroversial. A lot of men are turned on by rape and enjoy fantasizing about sexual assault; and a lot of commercial publications are fine with using this to sell their product, even if it normalizes rape culture and ultimately threatens the safety of women.
Online publications have long understood this and deliberately try to take advantage of it when promoting their content. SEO editors, for example, will torture their headlines until they can find a way to squeeze in some sexy keywords, even if those keywords are about rape. And not only that, but they’ll arrange and re-arrange their headlines so that those eye-and-search-engine-spider-catching keywords show up in the headline as early as possible.
So for example, imagine that you are a Vox editor, and you want to publish an article about the point Bernie just made. Do you call your headline “Sanders criticizes the commercialization of sexual assault”? Or perhaps “Sexual assault commercialization criticized by Sanders?” Probably the latter – but if you really want to rake in the cash, you write something like this:
Where did that first quote come from? The same very essay – Sanders is describing the horrific consequences of media rape culture. The normalization of rape is so monstrous and pernicious, Sanders argues, that some women have even internalized it, and have taught themselves to enjoy the very idea of being sexually assaulted.
But instead of giving the reader some minimal idea of what the essay is actually about, Vox pulls a sensational quote about what Sanders is criticizing, shuffles it to the front, and belatedly gets around to explaining where the quote even comes from.
Today, Sanders’ argument – that rape sells, that the media exploit this, and that it has all kinds of damaging psychological effects on women – is almost universally accepted as common sense. And yet as Vox’s coverage demonstrates, there evidently are still plenty of gross journalists and editors who, in their rush to earn some clicks, don’t really care.
Photo: Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks at the Rally for Women’s Rights. Photo courtesy sanders.senate.gov.
Carl Beijer is a writer who focuses on the Left, linguistics, and international affairs.