"Crush Videos" and Insect Eroticism
Hugh Raffles grew up in London, England. He has been an ambulance driver, a nightclub DJ, a theater technician, a busboy, a cleaner, and a scrap metal yard worker. Currently, he lives in New York City where he teaches anthropology at The New School.
Hugh's writing has appeared in academic journals and more popular venues such as Granta, Natural History, and The Best American Essays. His first book, "In Amazonia: A Natural History" (Princeton University Press, 2002) was awarded the Victor Turner Prize for Ethnographic Writing and selected by the American Library Association as an Outstanding Academic Title. In 2009, he received a Whiting Writers' Award. His new book "Insectopedia" was published by Pantheon in 2010.
Hugh Raffles: Well, I have no idea because honestly, they’re not one of the things that’s erotic for me, so I don’t have any idea why they are. But, I mean, for some people and it’s connected to their size, probably to the sound and to texture. I mean, all the things that are - I mean, there are other things that are erotic for me for those kinds of reasons, but insects don’t happen to be them. And so, I think it’s to do - I mean, in the example you are talking about which is a chapter in the book which is about crush freaks who are guys who - basically guys who get off watching women walk on small things of different kinds. So, one of the things that’s pretty common is insects, but it can be other small things. Sometimes it’s other small animals, other things. It can be soft fruit or depending - these things are really - things that get people excited are really, really specific, right.
But, in that case, from people I’ve talked and I have no idea if this is really reason or if it’s just what it is for the people I talked to, it’s to do with a sort of - with these guys it’s just sort of a projection I suppose again where they identify with the position of the insects, something like that.
Question: Is it associated with Sadomasochism?
Hugh Raffles: Though, in a very intense way because it’s also about - I think it’s about death, about being in a position of being crushed to death and the excitement of that. So yeah, it’s dominance, but it’s sort of an extreme form of dominance. But, I’ll tell you, I’m actually not that interested in why because I think as soon as you go down that road you're starting to pathologize people and make out that’s it’s something weird about people and I’m really not interested in doing that. It’s some - to me, I guess what was really interesting about it was how this is - how it really - the story exposed a lot of hypocrisy in our society because there was this period, I think, from 1999 to 2001 when crush freaks were really in the news and appeared in - I think particularly in year 2000, crush freaks were really in the news because there was a series of court cases where crush videos were being - where people who’d possessed or had distributed crush videos were put on trial for - in this country for cruelty to animals and in Britain for obscenity and they was a build up, this fast track through Congress to outlaw crush videos and to specifically to outlaw the depiction to cruelty to animals.
And this is the same law which - it was actually never used to prosecute crush videos after it was passed, after it was signed. I should say it was signed just by a claim in the Senate. There was no opposition to it at all. There was some in the House, but none in the Senate. But, it’s the same bill which is now under review by the Supreme Court because it was used to prosecute people who had been - who’d had dog fighting videos up online and it raised huge freedom of speech issues because it was about - it wasn’t about the - it was equating the depiction of violence with the violence itself. So, it was basically saying that if you had some representation of violence, that was equivalent to the violence itself.
This is, as you can imagine, right? This is really a big problem because all the kinds of things were if you might want to depict violence for anti-violent purposes or for any kind of reason, any kind of educational. Not even educational; there's all kinds of reasons why you might want to show it. And so, now this is before the Supreme Court at the moment and it seems very likely it’ll be overturned because it’s such a poorly written law and such a broadly written law.
But, at the time, it was used to absolutely just destroy these guys who were into crush videos. A very small - really a pretty small number of people. This is a very specific and pretty much a minority things, but it was really used in a very aggressive way. There was a large, very high profile campaign against it and some people that - some people’s lives were really made miserable and in particular the person who I write about in the chapter who’s really a great guy in many ways I think. His life was just made misery for it.
So, one of the things that he pointed out that I think is worth underlining is the hypocrisy of this in a society that has absolutely no difficulty in daily slaughter of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of animals for food and for carrying on animal experiments, all these kinds of things. For sanctioning all kinds of violence and cruelty against animals and his issue was that the - and I think it’s an important one, is that the problem with crush freaks and crush videos was that the violence that they were committing against animals was in the name of pleasure and it was that link between violence and pleasure that was so problematic and so troubling for people in Congress and the people who were involved in that campaign. It wasn’t the violence itself because all of and all of use participate in that on a daily basis.
Recorded on March 22, 2010
Some men find videos of women crushing insects a turn-on, which the professor thinks is probably connected to their size, sound and texture.
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Political division is nothing new. Throughout American history there have been numerous flare ups in which the political arena was more than just tense but incideniary. In a letter addressed to William Hamilton in 1800, Thomas Jefferson once lamented about how an emotional fervor had swept over the populace in regards to a certain political issue at the time. It disturbed him greatly to see how these political issues seemed to seep into every area of life and even affect people's interpersonal relationships. At one point in the letter he states:
"I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend."
Today, we Americans find ourselves in a similar situation, with our political environment even more splintered due to a number of factors. The advent of mass digital media, siloed identity-driven political groups, and a societal lack of understanding of basic discursive fundamentals all contribute to the problem.
Civil discourse has fallen to an all time low.
The question that the American populace needs to ask itself now is: how do we fix it?
Discursive fundamentals need to be taught to preserve free expression
In a 2017 Free Speech and Tolerance Survey by Cato, it was found that 71% of Americans believe that political correctness had silenced important discussions necessary to our society. Many have pointed to draconian university policies regarding political correctness as a contributing factor to this phenomenon.
It's a great irony that, colleges, once true bastions of free-speech, counterculture and progressiveness, have now devolved into reactionary tribal politics.
Many years ago, one could count on the fact that universities would be the first places where you could espouse and debate any controversial idea without consequence. The decline of staple subjects that deal with the wisdom of the ancients, historical reference points, and civic discourse could be to blame for this exaggerated partisanship boiling on campuses.
Young people seeking an education are given a disservice when fed biased ideology, even if such ideology is presented with the best of intentions. Politics are but one small sliver for society and the human condition at large. Universities would do well to instead teach the principles of healthy discourse and engagement across the ideological spectrum.
The fundamentals of logic, debate and the rich artistic heritage of western civilization need to be the central focus of an education. They help to create a well-rounded citizen that can deal with controversial political issues.
It has been found that in the abstract, college students generally support and endorse the first amendment, but there's a catch when it comes to actually practicing it. This was explored in a Gallup survey titled: Free Expression on Campus: What college students think about First amendment issues.
In their findings the authors state:
"The vast majority say free speech is important to democracy and favor an open learning environment that promotes the airing of a wide variety of ideas. However, the actions of some students in recent years — from milder actions such as claiming to be threatened by messages written in chalk promoting Trump's candidacy to the most extreme acts of engaging in violence to stop attempted speeches — raise issues of just how committed college students are to
upholding First Amendment ideals.
Most college students do not condone more aggressive actions to squelch speech, like violence and shouting down speakers, although there are some who do. However, students do support many policies or actions that place limits on speech, including free speech zones, speech codes and campus prohibitions on hate speech, suggesting that their commitment to free speech has limits. As one example, barely a majority think handing out literature on controversial issues is "always acceptable."
With this in mind, the problems seen on college campuses are also being seen on a whole through other pockets of society and regular everyday civic discourse. Look no further than the dreaded and cliche prospect of political discussion at Thanksgiving dinner.
Talking politics at Thanksgiving dinner
As a result of this increased tribalization of views, it's becoming increasingly more difficult to engage in polite conversation with people possessing opposing viewpoints. The authors of a recent Hidden Tribes study broke down the political "tribes" in which many find themselves in:
- Progressive Activists: younger, highly engaged, secular, cosmopolitan, angry.
- Traditional Liberals: older, retired, open to compromise, rational, cautious.
- Passive Liberals: unhappy, insecure, distrustful, disillusioned.
- Politically Disengaged: young, low income, distrustful, detached, patriotic, conspiratorial
- Moderates: engaged, civic-minded, middle-of-the-road, pessimistic, Protestant.
- Traditional Conservatives: religious, middle class, patriotic, moralistic.
- Devoted Conservatives: white, retired, highly engaged, uncompromising,
Understanding these different viewpoints and the hidden tribes we may belong to will be essential in having conversations with those we disagree with. This might just come to a head when it's Thanksgiving and you have a mix of many different personalities, ages, and viewpoints.
It's interesting to note the authors found that:
"Tribe membership shows strong reliability in predicting views across different political topics."
You'll find that depending on what group you identify with, that nearly 100 percent of the time you'll believe in the same way the rest of your group constituents do.
Here are some statistics on differing viewpoints according to political party:
- 51% of staunch liberals say it's "morally acceptable" to punch Nazis.
- 53% of Republicans favor stripping U.S. citizenship from people who burn the American flag.
- 51% of Democrats support a law that requires Americans use transgender people's preferred gender pronouns.
- 65% of Republicans say NFL players should be fired if they refuse to stand for the anthem.
- 58% of Democrats say employers should punish employees for offensive Facebook posts.
- 47% of Republicans favor bans on building new mosques.
Understanding the fact that tribal membership indicates what you believe, can help you return to the fundamentals for proper political engagement
Here are some guidelines for civic discourse that might come in handy:
- Avoid logical fallacies. Essentially at the core, a logical fallacy is anything that detracts from the debate and seeks to attack the person rather than the idea and stray from the topic at hand.
- Practice inclusion and listen to who you're speaking to.
- Have the idea that there is nothing out of bounds for inquiry or conversation once you get down to an even stronger or new perspective of whatever you were discussing.
- Keep in mind the maxim of : Do not listen with the intent to reply. But with the intent to understand.
- We're not trying to proselytize nor shout others down with our rhetoric, but come to understand one another again.
- If we're tied too closely to some in-group we no longer become an individual but a clone of someone else's ideology.
Civic discourse in the divisive age
Debate and civic discourse is inherently messy. Add into the mix an ignorance of history, rabid politicization and debased political discourse, you can see that it will be very difficult in mending this discursive staple of a functional civilization.
There is still hope that this great divide can be mended, because it has to be. The Hidden Tribes authors at one point state:
"In the era of social media and partisan news outlets, America's differences have become
dangerously tribal, fueled by a culture of outrage and taking offense. For the combatants,
the other side can no longer be tolerated, and no price is too high to defeat them.
These tensions are poisoning personal relationships, consuming our politics and
putting our democracy in peril.
Once a country has become tribalized, debates about contested issues from
immigration and trade to economic management, climate change and national security,
become shaped by larger tribal identities. Policy debate gives way to tribal conflicts.
Polarization and tribalism are self-reinforcing and will likely continue to accelerate.
The work of rebuilding our fragmented society needs to start now. It extends from
re-connecting people across the lines of division in local communities all the way to
building a renewed sense of national identity: a bigger story of us."
We need to start teaching people how to approach subjects from less of an emotional or baseless educational bias or identity, especially in the event that the subject matter could be construed to be controversial or uncomfortable.
This will be the beginning of a new era of understanding, inclusion and the defeat of regressive philosophies that threaten the core of our nation and civilization.
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