“Dick Shake”

I want to start out by restating (or stating more plainly) that the Tokenskeptic podcast should be on your listening list, and that it influenced my own thinking about Boob Quake.

Previously, I had been mainly interacting with people with a positive or neutral view of the Boob Quake, and in observing their relationship to the broader community of skeptics, feminists and atheists, noted that they were getting increasingly crapped upon for their involvement in it by subsets of those communities. The cleavage between pro and anti Boob Quake grew as quakes often do, along pre-existing fault lines, where the word “fault” is not so much about geology as it is about blame.

Subsequently, in part by listening to the podcast, and in part via private communications, I’ve learned more about the contralateral crap slinging that also occurred, including details of a couple of incidents that are almost alarming, in which social ostracization occurred because someone felt uncomfortable joining in.

And naturally, that made me think of the penis thing. Or any other body part. It is probably hard to find a body part that someone isn’t sensitive about, and therefore, that an event based upon won’t potentially make someone feel badly. Perhaps this is simply the way of the world and body-part events, which are going to happen now and then, have this at a cost. Fine. But pro-Boob Quake activists probably, certainly in some cases, needed to know that sensitivity is important else that warm feeling they have in their bosom is someone else’s second degree burn.

Had this been about the male sex organ, this would likely have been noted early on in the process.

I have a couple of comments on the framing/marketing side of Boob Quake. I wonder how many of you have made the link between Boob Quake and the old Framing debate?

We’ve been through this issue with that famous debate, and the outcome of that debate is that independent agents out there on the blogosphere (both bloggers and commenters) are less, not more, interested in being scientific about communication (not everybody, but many). Why? Because they feel badly and took a certain side and as a result may have shot themselves in the foot. It does not matter if you find Matthew C. Nisbet’s hair annoying: Just as centrists should accept the reality of extremists, and understand their importance (which they do all to rarely) the more extreme activists (such as PZ Myers, myself, most of our readers, “New Atheists,” etc.) would benefit from noting that simply screaming at people and telling them to shut up, however justified, will not win all the battles.

If we think of Boob Quake as a protest, it must be acknowledged that it could have been a better protest. But, as I said in my earlier post, there weren’t any other protests; The skeptic, feminist, and atheist communities, who should have been rather offended by the initial contention that risqué female dress causes earthquakes, did not respond loud and clear with a well designed protest. Rather, Jen did Boob Quake, which took off on its own, and various subsets of the SFA community spent a lot more energy reacting to the event than to the initial idiotic and offensive statement made by the Iranian cleric.

Surely, it is an uphill battle to make protests work in an essentially irrational world. Perhaps one way to do it is to try to make sure that there simply IS a protest for each dumb-ass fundy cleric outburst. There should have been a response like Boob Quake to Robertson’s Haiti comment, for instance. The reason Boob Quake occurred, of course, is because the obvious response to that particular curse would be a highly sexualized response of any kind (as long as it was female-gendered), which of course gained immediate traction because sex sells, and sex motivates.

If the communities (skeptics, feminists and atheists and, depending, various scientists, social scientists, and political activists) responded to each outrageous claim made by fundamentalist preachers with a discussion of how to “test” the curse, and occasionally carried out the test, then people like Desiree Schell or Michael McRae, who know what they are doing, would have a stream of existing behavior and human energy to tweak and adjust and modify.

Obviously, there is not going to be a clear or even a sexy test one can run, tongue firmly in cheek, for every stupid and offensive remark made by people like Pat Robertson. But surely, a well publicized skeptical reaction of some kind each time major stupidness is uttered is bound to sink in, and cause media agencies to do something other than simply report the statement. It would ideally become true that every news report such as “… and, Pat Robertson made the claim that the people in Springfield who were killed by the largest tornado ever seen had invoked the wrath of god by earlier passing a zoning law prohibiting the building of more churches within the city limits” is followed by something like “… and in response, the best selling tee-shirt on the Internet is this one displaying a target in the foreground and a tornado in the background and the words ‘I think we should tax the churches and I’m still alive!’ … funds raised from the sale of which are being funneled to the Tax the Churches Foundation.”

Can we do that?

Comments

  1. #1 Mr. Gunn
    May 3, 2010

    You could, but I rather think you’ll end up arguing amongst yourselves, anyways. The friction is part of the attraction.

  2. #2 =^skeptic cat^=
    May 3, 2010

    There was a topless protest in Portland Maine yesterday that put BoobQuake to shame.

    The shocking incivility displayed by some of BQs more vocal supporters is best understood in the context of similar societal trends in general and internet culture in particular.

    I also suspect that a good deal of this demoralizing about “tone” may in part be inspired by some of the old-timers getting their feathers ruffled at being upstaged by these relative newcomers.

    Although, some of these newer tactics do appear somewhat sophomoric at first glance.

    I must admit that when I joined CFI many years ago I did so thinking I would enjoy the company of scientists and scholars and not college kids running about yelling “nanny nanny poo poo!”

    Those days are now long since gone and the old-timers probably will have to accept the booby prize (pun intended) of sharing a lesser degree of critical thinking with a wider audience … It’s better than nothing.

  3. #3 Sarah
    May 3, 2010

    Boobquake bugged me from the get go but I couldn’t think why. It wasn’t until last night that I realized what it was that had been bugging me about it.

    The cleric didn’t actually blame the earthquake on women dressing immodestly. He blamed the earthquake on the fact that scantily dressed women caused young MEN to be led astray sexually.

    I thought it odd that a Muslim cleric would ascribe such powers to mere women. It was odd, and he didn’t ascribe said powers. He said that men caused the earthquake but women made them do it.

  4. #4 Leslie Haber
    May 3, 2010

    As an old-school feminist and “new” atheist, I loved Boobquake. I loved it for all the reasons mentioned–but mostly because it was at least A protest. Possibly not the most well-reasoned or the best possible, but A protest.

    I agree–some response is required, routinely and regularly, to the inanity of the petty-god-powered natural disaster quotes. May we put you in charge of designing the t-shirts?

  5. #5 cdrealist
    May 3, 2010

    It was amusing, and that’s enough. It ridiculed a religious weirdo, and that’s enough. It got pictures of cleavage on TV, and that’s enough.

  6. #6 Greg Laden
    May 3, 2010

    Sarah: He blamed the earthquake on the fact that scantily dressed women caused young MEN to be led astray sexually.

    Wow. So we totally did it wrong. So now we have to do it again but with young men being led astray and all.

  7. #7 Cuttlefish
    May 3, 2010

    Skeptic Cat @#2–was that separate from the Farmington protest last month? http://digitalcuttlefish.blogspot.com/2010/05/topless-maine.html

    Re: the Token Skeptic podcast, this was my take-home from it:
    http://digitalcuttlefish.blogspot.com/2010/05/placebo-protests.html

  8. #8 Paul
    May 3, 2010

    Wow. So we totally did it wrong. So now we have to do it again but with young men being led astray and all.

    We can hold a Forni-quake-tion next week?

    Incidentally, not everyone missed the nuance Sarah mentioned. Part of the reason women were sharing their boobquake pictures was to fulfill the “provoking men’s lust” portion of the equation.

  9. #9 Siamang
    May 3, 2010

    I volunteer to be led astray.

  10. #10 badrescher
    May 3, 2010

    Okay, looking past all of the boobquake stuff (let’s just toss that aside, shall we?), it seems that what you are proposing is an organized effort to conduct large-scale tests and demonstrations (e.g., 10/23, only better).

    I’m down with that.

    It’s not too far off from something I’ve been tossing around for education purposes.

  11. #11 MadScientist
    May 4, 2010

    How could it be when everyone knows only women cause disasters like earthquakes? Dickshake would be weird even in Bizarro world.

  12. #12 Tony Sidaway
    May 4, 2010

    Didn’t encounter the negative side of boobquake, no intention of doing so now. These islamic clerics tell women to cover up because if they don’t men will lose control and licentiousness will lead to earthquakes. Insulting patriarchal twaddle. Taking the piss out of that and showing a bit of cleavage and measuring the response on the seismograph is a bit of a laugh. But nobody should feel bad about not joining in.

  13. #13 JG
    May 4, 2010

    various subsets of the SFA community spent a lot more energy reacting to the event than to the initial idiotic and offensive statement made by the Iranian cleric

    Precisely. Thank you.

  14. #14 Ophelia Benson
    May 4, 2010

    “But, as I said in my earlier post, there weren’t any other protests; The skeptic, feminist, and atheist communities, who should have been rather offended by the initial contention that risqué female dress causes earthquakes, did not respond loud and clear with a well designed protest.”

    Well I did post it as a News item with a mocking headline and teaser. That’s not a full-bore protest, to be sure, but hey, this kind of stuff rolls in every day, and I can’t always keep up!

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