In the summer of 2012, the world of social networking was forever changed when innovators Dom Hofmann, Rus Yusupov, and Colin Kroll launched the beta testing of Vine into the void of online entertainment. The six second storytelling processor provides a platform for anyone to upload short videos to entertain their audience for potentially hours and hours. Before anyone could even comprehend the spiral into Vine, the app exploded before our very eyes, asserting itself as one of Apple's most downloaded app. Reality stars became backseat celebrities as "Viners" took over their spot in entertainment. The appeal of Vine is easy enough to grasp: it's accessible, it's quick, and anyone can become famous in a span of a literal six seconds. With those selling points under its belt, Vine spewed a group of new celebrities for pop culture to consume and obsess over. These "Vine famous" figures have even gone on to become household names, their videos playing on a loop from the corners of your brother's bedroom to under the desks of classrooms. Jessi Smiles, Nash Grier, Lele Pons, and Cameron Dallas are just a few to top off the ever-expanding list. Nowadays, Vine figures are being sponsored by companies such as American Eagle and Universal Studios to feature their work in these short clips. If done correctly, one could potentially could earn a six figure salary just by uploading a six second video of them dancing to Taylor Swift or pranking their unsuspecting friends.
If done incorrectly, one could use their Vine popularity to gain employment in the ever growing sector of being an asshole.
In this past month, the Internet has gone up in flames over the controversy between Carter Reynolds, a nineteen year old Viner, and his underage then-girlfriend, Maggie Lindemann. Just a little over six days ago, a video of Reynolds and Lindemann was leaked online – one that would have flown over the heads of many if it weren’t for the fact that Reynolds was caught pressuring Lindemann into non-consensual sex acts with his pants around his ankle. In the clip, Reynolds is recorded to be verbally coercing Lindemann, who was still underage at the age of sixteen, into performing oral sex on him as he stands behind the camera. Lindemann, on the other hand, could be heard repeating "I don't think I can" and "I'm really uncomfortable," much to the displeasure of Reynolds, who grew increasingly aggravated at her refusal. The video abruptly stopped at the end of a heated argument to which you can hear Reynolds exasperatedly exclaiming, "Oh my gosh, Maggie."
Examining the situation itself in isolation, the scenario is grossly familiar to those of us who have experienced someone's rage at refusal. Rather than accepting her clear rejection to sexual activity, Reynolds continued to try and push her into doing something that she clearly felt uncomfortable doing with commands like "Do it" and "Just act nothing is there" while stroking his dick five feet away from her face. In the eyes of the law, the situation never should have occurred in the first place, as any physical interaction between the two would be considered statutory rape in Texas, where the two popular online sensations reside. This is rape culture manifesting itself for the thousandth time over; this is a grown male attempting to assert himself over an underage girl despite her clear and obvious lack of consent. What should have not been a debate turned into an excruciating thirty seconds of sexual harassment.
Following the release of the video, Reynolds was quick to go on Twitter to issue out an apology. Rather than rectifying the situation, however, Reynolds spent the majority of his time tossing out excuses that we often hear in situations like this. "She was my girlfriend; it's not like she was a stranger or a fan," is a gem that stood out in particular, insinuating the belief that sexual assault could not occur in a relationship when in fact, one of every five victims are abused by their partner. Regardless of their relationship status, Reynolds had no entitlement over Lindemann or her body, and to insinuate that the situation was harmless because of their status as a couple is nothing more than poor attempts at justifying his actions. Rather than ending it there, Reynolds immediately went on the offense, unleashing a series of tweets that made it appear as if he were the victim of a gross conspiracy. On July 14th, Reynolds tweeted, "How are you going to blame me for YOUR mistake and then block me on everything without reason. Makes no sense." and continued to express his frustration at people who still continued to speak out against his callous behavior. On his part, it seems as if Reynolds is unable to comprehend why anyone would be upset at the idea of him attempting to coerce an underage girl into sexual activity.
Not only is he unable to grasp the idea, he's enraged by it.
Regardless of whatever twisted purpose the video was made for, Reynolds still attempted to coerce an underage girl into performing oral sex on him while touching himself as Lindemann turned away from him in clear protest. The problem is not with whether or not it was intended for viewership or that he recorded the video – it's with the fact that he was sexually harassing a girl in the first place. Couples do not "do that sort of sort all the time", as he tweeted in his apology, and his implication that it would've been acceptable had she been a stranger or fan is telling enough. Reynolds then spent the rest of his pseudo-apology whining about how people are upset with his actions and virtually excused himself of all blame. What Reynolds issued wasn't an apology; that was an entitled male exercising his ability to self-justify his gross behavior by shifting the blame on every party except his own.
Following that initial excuse of an apology, it was then announced that Lindemann was taken to the hospital for rumors of an attempted suicide, to which she later claimed was a breakdown from stress. Reynolds took the opportunity to display his sense of grace and human decency by tweeting "maggie is saying i'm the reason why she's in the hospital... lol nah you're just crazy and psychotic. fuck you." prior to announcing that he, too, was feeling suicidal with all the "hate" that he was receiving. While the issue of mental health should by no means be diminished, it especially should not be used as a gimmick to gather pity and sympathy in order to distract from his actions. By making claims of wanting to end his life, Reynolds used a tactic commonly found in abusive relationships: feigning thoughts of self-harm in order to manipulate a certain reaction out of someone (in this case being his followers). After receiving his daily dose of validation, Reynolds then claimed that his fans "saved him," ensuring that his followers would feel a sense of dependency and connection to him.
Still failing to take responsibility for his actions, Reynolds then tweeted to his 2.9 million followers about his frustration at being "mistreated" at VidCon, a gathering for the online community that promotes creativity, innovation, and definitely not sexual harassment. At this point, it should be acknowledged that Reynolds has no regret over what he's done, and no qualms with using his fame to portray himself as the wounded victim in the whirl of social network. Rather than losing momentum, Reynolds seems to gain even more attention as he regularly shares support from his fans with disturbing commentary all along the lines of, "Leave him alone! He didn't do anything wrong except make a mistake." Celebrity worship is by no means a new phenomenon within pop culture but it should be addressed when fanbases are, quite literally, excusing predatory and abusive behavior from their idols. Reynolds seems all too aware of this, as he regularly uses it in his favor to promote his own agenda. What better way to display your entitlement than starting a hashtag like #TeamCarter to celebrate your success at being a gross human being?
A common reprieve in the midst of this particular situation seems to be "Stop giving Carter attention!" and I disagree, as by ignoring this particular case, we will be ignoring the greater picture of rape culture. Carter Reynolds is one case in a million when looking at the trend of celebrities using their power to dismiss their actions. Carter Reynolds is a symptom of a disease that is much more prolific than Vine. Carter Reynolds is not the first or the last star to abuse his privilege and popularity and rather than ignoring his actions, we should use them as a platform to discuss why it shouldn't be tolerated in the first place. Ignorance and lack of education on consent is the breeding ground of trivializing sexual harassment. With figures like Reynolds promoting it as a seemingly whimsical slip-up, it's even more vital to open conversation about what it means to understand consent and a lack thereof. Sexual harassment is a conscious choice and regardless of the situation or the target, it’s still a course of action that must be derailed through a collective rejection of rape culture.
Carter Reynolds may not be a rapist but that doesn't make him any less guilty of contributing to a culture that already diminishes sexual harassment.