Some Thoughts on Tucker Max

by Cara on September 8, 2009

in assholes, education and schools, misogyny, patriarchy, rape and sexual assault, violence against women and girls

Over at Broadsheet, the marvelous Sady writes about the Tucker Max phenomenon. Tucker Max is an asshole who makes money from writing books about his (supposed) drunken sexual conquests — and by “drunken sexual conquests,” I mean, “the encounters as he describes them often include coercion, cajoling, heavy intoxication or some element of non-consent and therefore fit the moral definition of sexual assault and, according to some organizations, the legal definition in many places.” (Feel free to go read his website for evidence; I did, but I’m not linking it.) Max makes money from his books, some film he has out, repeatedly calling women by misogynistic names, and also — the subject of particular interest right now — by giving lectures. On college campuses.

These lectures have, quite logically, spawned protests. In her post, Sady argues that the protests are misguided — not because Tucker Max isn’t a piece of shit, but because he thrives off of the attention, and protesting him is giving him what he wants.

Max is a showman. Being hated is a part of his act. He’s a self-described asshole who succeeds by getting people to agree with him. His fans think he’s saying what they can’t; his critics think he’s saying what no one should. But if you’re offended, you’ve noticed him. And for his fans, knowing that he’s picketed by feminists — feminists! Dreaded nemeses of parties and good time! — isn’t cause for concern, but a ringing endorsement.

Giving Max his very own protest makes him seem far important than he actually is. It gives him the enemies he needs. And although Max is getting testier about the protesters, his most telling statement is in his blog post about the OSU incident.

“This was one of the coolest things that has ever happened to me,” he wrote. “This is the type of shit that only happens to famous people.”

Now, I said up above that Sady is marvelous, and I agree with her something like 95% of the time. This is one of those times when I’m going to have to very strongly disagree, at least partially. First of all, I’ve never been a huge fan of the “ignore him and he’ll go away” approach. Secondly, it may indeed be true that Tucker Max doesn’t warrant a protest, but his lectures on the other hand, absolutely do. Because while Max personally thrives off of the attention, he is not the one that these protests should be trying to reach. Nor, actually, is the student body who will attend his shows anyway.

These protests should be trying to reach the schools who are letting this piece of scum onto their campuses*. The ones who need to hear the outrage are those two whom students are paying tuition, only to be slapped in the face as a thank you. The ones who need to hear the anger, the ones who I am absolutely, so incredibly and outrageously furious with that I can hardly see straight are the colleges and universities paying him to speak to their students. Who let him speak in spite of pretty unsubtly threatening female students (saying, “I’m trying to get you drunk so you can’t consent to sex, anymore”). The colleges and universities who are indeed willing to acknowledge that, as some sort of “compromise,” a Tucker Max show really does require the offer of post-lecture counseling and information on recovering from rape. They’re willing, indeed, to acknowledge that there is some sort of connection between rape and Tucker Max! That needs counteracting! And yet, they’re also still opening up their doors to him.

Tucker Max is not the direct source of my anger in this situation — he just makes me terribly, crushingly sad for humanity. He is clearly a pathetic excuse for a human being, a raging misogynist, and someone who at least claims to have engaged in non-consensual sexual acts (though reacts to naming such claimed actions what they are with threats of lawsuits). But you may have noticed that, these days, it’s those who help rape culture to thrive and prosper, particularly with some sort of authority, who ensure that survivors don’t have any support, and tell would-be-rapists that rape is okay, that really, truly infuriate me. Tucker Max won’t stop doing what he’s doing because of some protests. Not in the least. And it is indeed entirely arguable, and quite possibly correct, that those organizing the protests need a change of tactics, and to stop thinking that the actual lectures are a prime place for a visibility event.

The schools, however, should stop. And they need to stop. And they need to hear, loudly and immediately, that this is not okay. Schools have a responsibility to protect students on their campuses, to provide security and create the least hostile environment possible. By inviting Tucker Max to their campuses for some kind of sorry profit is directly making their campuses unsafe, misogynistic, violence-promoting environments. And yes, yes, yes. That is worth a protest.

*UPDATE: The comments have brought to my attention that it was unclear in the post that when I refer to “colleges and universities” or “schools,” I did in fact mean “and all affiliated organizations.” And yes, I think that student organizations can and should be held accountable in a similar if necessarily different manner from the “official” institution itself. It is my fault for not making that clear from the outset.

Bookmark and Share

{ 17 comments }

1 James September 8, 2009 at 2:41 pm

I’m having trouble understanding your focus on the colleges and universities where this degenerate speaks. Are they paying him to appear on campus? If so, that’s unusual. Most such speakers are brought in by student organizations, which are allowed (often by law) to invite anyone they want, including neo-nazis or white supremacists.

You link to an article about Ohio State, for instance, where he was brought in by a student organization. So, at least in that case, I don’t think it would help to complain to the university; I think it *is* a matter to be addressed directly with the students, who made the decision and need to be better educated.

2 Cara September 8, 2009 at 2:56 pm

James,

OUAB selects programs based on the cost, expected attendance and popularity of the act, as well as the educational and entertainment value of the act.

This suggests very strongly to me that yes, he is being paid. Otherwise, cost would not factor into the decision much at all, yes? Because there would be no real cost.

Secondly, as noted numerous times in the article about Ohio State, student activity fees paid for the event. Do correct me if I’m wrong, because I could be, but it was my understanding that student activity fees were not optional for students … as few would actually pay them, and thus there would be no real activities.

3 Cara September 8, 2009 at 3:04 pm

Further, if the Activities Board is indeed a student organization not officially affiliated with the university, I still imagine that universities have some sort of rules about how they will allow activities fees to be spent and who they will allow to appear on campus. For an extreme example, I doubt they would allow the Activities Board to host a Klan rally, and imagine that there would be something written down somewhere to that effect. Which would mean that they’re saying some kinds of hate are acceptable, and others are not. (Note: I’m not saying “that means they think sexism is acceptable but racism is not” — instead, I’m saying, “the most vitriolic and widely recognizable forms of hate, such as white supremacy rallies, are condemned, but the more insidious, widely acceptable and everyday forms of hate, like rants about how “illegals” are ruining the country and stealing our jobs, are not.”)

4 Cara September 8, 2009 at 3:14 pm

Third serial comment: I just saw the section of your comment saying that a university would have to allow white supremacists to speak on campus. I’ve never heard that before. Do you have a citation?

5 Anna September 8, 2009 at 3:15 pm

He threatened two women with rape. He actually said that. And people don’t care? How can people not care? What happened?

6 Sarah TX September 8, 2009 at 3:36 pm

Generally, on-campus speakers are invited by some academic or student organization.

HOWEVER, in most cases, both academic and student budgets are payed for out of student fees and other campus-wide monetary sources. So it can both be true that the “school” did not invite Tucker Max, but still payed for it. It’s a sort of passing-the-buck that I don’t stand for. Schools can absolutely can and should refuse to host a speaker like Max.

The difference between Max and someone like Orson Scott Card (who gave the commencement speech at my college one year), is that OSC holds controversial views that he expresses outside his body of work. Max’s controversial views ARE his body of work, and they are views that can and will cause an unsafe academic and social environment for students.

7 RMJ September 8, 2009 at 4:57 pm

Who let him speak in spite of pretty unsubtly threatening female students (saying, “I’m trying to get you drunk so you can’t consent to sex, anymore”).

Wow. I thought that was paraphrasing. Nope.

8 James September 8, 2009 at 4:59 pm

Cara, I didn’t mean to suggest that OUAB wasn’t paying for this idiot to speak. Just that the university wasn’t paying for him, but a student organization.

As for where the organization gets its funding, colleges and universities often provide at least some funding to any and all student groups. I agree that if I were a student there, I’d take issue with my student fees going to that group in particular, but they seem to raise much of their money with ticket sales, and I couldn’t argue against giving them any university funding at all, without also letting students object to student fees going to support pro-choice student groups, for instance.

As for university censorship of student groups, that’s usually a protected activity, and at public universities, the law actually prevents university administrations from interfering. Obscene views should be protested, but people shouldn’t be forbidden to express them or to listen to those who do, and it’s a violation of prevailing academic standards, and often the law, for universities to try.

I don’t have a citation handy for the KKK, but David Horowitz, for instance, can speak if invited to a campus, without regard to university policies or student protests. The same with any other controversial speaker.

If I were advising students on a campus where this guy’s speaking, I would suggest pursuing whether his stories amount to confessing to rape. It sure sounds like it.

9 Sady September 8, 2009 at 7:35 pm

Those are some good, solid points there! I agree: the fact that Max is being paid, and that (at least in the OSU example) students are therefore indirectly paying to have him speak, is one of the biggest issues at play. And I definitely think direct action is worth it in those cases.

As for Tucker Max and rape culture: one, I think that making it into a question of whether Max has personally sexually assaulted anyone is legally risky and potentially conversation-derailing. Which is fine, since we don’t need to talk about his personal actions (I don’t know the man, and the veracity of his stories has been called into question, publicly) when we talk about how his work strengthens rape CULTURE. He writes about having sex while trashed, and he oozes contempt for women in general and his sexual partners in particular. Furthermore, he’s cavalier about bodily harm to women in general and seems to think upsetting them, disrespecting them, or violating their boundaries is funny, even or especially within a sexual context. (Like, that “I’m trying to get you drunk” comment: I think that was a “joke,” but since a Tucker Max “joke” consists of “saying things that an asshole would say,” and since EVERYTHING he says is what an asshole would say, it’s pretty much impossible to tell.) Men who have their judgment and perception altered by alcohol are more likely to misread or fail to respect a woman’s sexual boundaries, and his attitudes contribute to a culture of male sexual entitlement and aggression towards women. Rape culture, in other words. Tucker Max could be made of sunshine and puppies in his private life, for all I know, but the messages he’s sending are likely to give some dudes seriously bad and scary information about how to treat girls. I’m in agreement with the protesters on that point.

What I’m worried about is how we can have that conversation without contributing to the Myth of Tucker Max. I honestly think that protests keyed to his appearances bring him attention, make him a media event, and strengthen his brand. Direct action taken when he isn’t on campus, against the organizations that are hiring him with student funds, doesn’t have that side effect. Calling people out in our own lives when they exemplify the attitudes or “humor” of the type that’s found in his work, and engaging directly with Max readers about what is fucked up in his stories – that also doesn’t have that effect. I honestly think that protesting rape culture (which Tucker Max, along with many other people, promotes through the glamorization of misogyny and the linking of debilitating amounts of booze to sex) is necessary, but that a protest of rape culture pegged to a Tucker Max appearance inevitably becomes some “FEMINISTS OPPOSE TUCKER MAX” mini-media-circus that doesn’t convey any of the larger points that the protesters may have been trying to get across, and strengthens the public perception that Max is somehow a rebel against the dark forces of PC or whatever.

Like: to me, Tucker Max is equivalent to the “abortion episode” of Family Guy. (Also pretty misogynist! And, I’ve heard, it comes with rape jokes!) The creators probably KNEW that it would be OMGSOCONTROVERSIAL that it wouldn’t get aired. The plan apparently worked, and everybody was atwitter about the forbidden, extra-edgy Family Guy episode, and the result was that Family Guy got covered in outlets that normally ignored it and also DVD sales will probably benefit when it is included on the set and people decide it’s something they just have to see. Manufacturing offense is easy. And it often benefits the manufacturer. And those of us who seriously do want to talk about why abortion is being framed in this misogynist way and how fucked-up that is get fooled into becoming unwitting marketing tools for something we would never in our lifetimes actually support or wish to see prosper. It sucks. I just hope there’s some way to oppose the culture that Max represents without his getting a bad-boy mystique from it.

10 Cara September 8, 2009 at 9:51 pm

Yup, I agree with a lot of your points, Sady. On the first one, I tried to in this case keep the subject on what Tucker Max publicly claims he has done, and what we know he has actually done (i.e. repeatedly used misogynistic slurs), because I think there is likely a good deal of bullshit in his writing — indeed, I certainly hope there is. His persona is what we can verify, and his persona includes making claims of sexual activity without consent (the video camera being one example), in addition to just making generally misogynistic statements, and that is what people are responding to.

He’s a bit of a difficult case. You know, when we’re talking about Glenn Beck … we can debate the merits of whether or not it’s worth the time criticizing what he has said, but the “you’re giving him more attention” argument doesn’t hold, because it’s not like Glenn Beck is just going to go away at this point. Tucker Max, I had never heard of before until this college tour. And when I first heard of him — I think through an older blog post of yours, actually, and then a few other places — the fact that it was a college tour is then what infuriated me. The thing is, while it makes you a shitty person to do what Tucker Max does, there will always be someone willing to do something like that as long as people let him.

And so, you think, “am I just telling more people who Tucker Max is?” But, on the other hand, apparently a whole lot of people already know who he is. Or he wouldn’t have a goddamn college tour. Tucker Max is an absolute nobody to me. If he’s getting thousands of students at each campus trying to get into his shows, though, he’s clearly somebody to them. And so the issue becomes, do we ignore it and prevent more people outside his demographic from knowing who he is, even if it means that no one is talking about what’s going on with his demographic? It’s a shitty choice, as it pretty much always is.

I have no desire to ever write about this dickwad again. And I had no real desire to write about him in the first place, and was much more interested, as I tried to make clear in the post, in school responsibility and appropriate student response. And I don’t want to give him publicity, just as much as I’m sure you don’t, but the thing is that the issue of him, whether it’s him or someone else, sadly isn’t going away anytime soon and is one we need to figure out how to deal with. And like I said in the post and you said in your comment, it makes sense to me to not try to use the appearance as a visibility event, but to launch other action prior to his appearance.

11 Sarah M. September 9, 2009 at 10:14 am

Thanks for this, Cara. We have posted his tour schedule (so those who want to protest can) and I posted about my dream protest (http://www.safercampus.org/blog/) but I have yet to write about coming down on the universities and colleges who fund this guy (whether it’s directly or inadvertently through student group funding). I wade through multiple reports of campus sexual assault EVERY DAY. I’d like to go through them with college administrators and then ask how they think they are helping the issue by paying for students to be “entertained” by a man who has made his livelihood by degrading women and treating them as objects that are there for his sexual amusement.

I was a sophomore or junior in college when I first encountered Max—his website was sent to me by my best friend. She and her friends at school routinely read and laughed at how revolting and absurd his stories are. I read them all and we laughed together at what a douchebag he seemed like. But I never thought anyone was taking him seriously, or actually thought he was “cool.” I was wrong. I should have known.

12 Sarah M. September 9, 2009 at 10:15 am

Oops, I meant to link to this post, not the blog in general: http://www.safercampus.org/blog/?p=1435

13 Amanda in the South Bay September 10, 2009 at 3:16 pm

Slightly OT, but another reason to hate the guy. His Wiki entry says that he was a summer associate at Fenwick and West, which is a fancy pants Silicon Valley law firm that would never hire someone like me to work there.

14 Becky September 11, 2009 at 9:02 am

Cara, I saw a Tucker Max ad floating around yesterday. It may have been a billboard or something like that. I believe the tagline is “The best thing about fat girls is heart disease.”

Yes. You read it right. This isn’t making fun of people anymore. This is wishing death and ill health on beautiful, strong women who reject the beauty norms that everyone knows are impossible and oppressive. He’s not just doing it to his friends but paying millions of dollars to broadcast that message to anyone who might see it.

I don’t know what to do about it.

15 Jessica September 13, 2009 at 2:52 pm

I go to Ohio State, and yes, the student activity fee is a non-optional fee tacked onto your tuition bill, and I was pissed off when I found out OUAB invited that asshole with my money. It’s one thing to invite someone not everyone wants to see, as I’m sure there are some events I liked that most people didn’t, but to invite someone who dehumanizes an entire group with non-voluntary funds? They never would invited someone who did this with race or ethnicity or religion, but doing this to women is ok? I want my activity fee refunded.

16 karak September 14, 2009 at 3:54 am

Tucker Max has always been a problem for me. The first stories I read on his website were ones like “Sushi Pants” involving him getting drunk, acting like an idiot, and then being justly punished by the universe (by waking up with vomit and dog shit stuck to his head).

Then I read more about him being an ass, and I didn’t like that, but still chuckled.

And then I read a few that made me downright sick, like when he hired someone to video-record a sex act he had with a woman–without her consent.

If he came to my campus, I doubt I would actually protest picket line style, but I’d register official complaints with the school, and tell my friends not to see him. Enjoy him on your own time, and your own money. He’s a mean dick, and while that is compelling to many people, it’s not the kind of thing a fucking COLLEGE should be using to entertain. What’s next, typing up bears and poking them with sticks?

17 Alex November 10, 2009 at 5:38 am

“This suggests very strongly to me that yes, he is being paid.”

He was paid $8,500 to speak at OSU. $8,500! And people actually had the nerve to claim that protesters who interrupted him with airhorns were violating his right to free speech. Sorry, but that is not free speech, that is very profitable speech!

Btw, as a result of the protest, and continued pressure from campus feminist organizations, the OUAB has agreed to never invite Tucker Max to speak here again.

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: