Monday 10 August 2020

What does our reaction to ‘L-Amerikana’ video say about us?

This op-ed first appeared in Malta Today

I forced myself to watch the now notorious videos doing the rounds of the stripper known as L-Amerikana, who allowed herself to be pelted with trays full of eggs while half-naked, along with the groom-to-be, at his bachelor’s party.

The whole thing was profoundly sad and disturbing and I felt mortified and ashamed, as if I too had been an accomplice; even though I had only watched the videos because it did not make sense to write about them otherwise. I was sickened, as I knew I would be, at this Bacchanalian display held under the guise of “a bit of fun”.

“Thanks for going along with it”, one man is heard telling the stripper good-naturedly, as if that somehow made it acceptable for the raucous laughter and the way the woman was humiliated and literally stripped down into an object to be mocked for their entertainment.  When L-Amerikana broke into a stream of obscenities and blasphemy, mentioning the name Jesus Christ, some of the men feigned their objections in tones of scandalised shock, which made the whole thing even more revolting.  Not her blasphemy mind you, but the fact that they pretended to be shocked, giving the whole thing an ever more twisted, perverse veneer.  So it’s OK to reduce this woman to a human target in order to practice your egg-throwing, but disrespecting our religion? That’s where they drew the line?  There are some truly sick minds out there.

I know a lot has been written about this already, and that the woman herself has been interviewed several times and has told everyone to mind their own business because she went into it willingly.  In the Xarabank interview, she makes it very clear that she is an adult and a free agent, and does not do anything she does not want to do.  She insisted that she does not feel exploited or used in any way and does not need defending by any self-styled “lawyers”.

But the fact that the video is now in the public domain and included a child of around 12 who also participated (nice parenting that), and the screams of laughter as the woman was covered with eggs, is not something which can just be easily dismissed “because she consented to it”.   The fact that her entire face and head were completely covered by gooey yolk and egg whites, making her completely unrecognisable, is an image which I will not find it easy to shake off.  She was basically reduced to a faceless “thing”. There was something deeply sadistic, cold-hearted and callous about the prank, if one can call it that. 

I am still trying to grapple with why anyone could find it remotely funny or amusing, or how any of those men taking part, especially the groom, as well as the genius who thought it a good idea to take a child to a bachelor’s party, could go home and face their wives and girlfriends.   Or maybe they do not think of L-Amerikana as a real woman, but simply a prop who (for whatever reason) is willing to subject herself to such things, as long as she is paid? I’m also still trying to wrestle with the symbolism of throwing dozens of eggs at her and whether they have some deep-seated anger issues at women in general.  I only know that if I were the wife or girlfriend of one of those men, I would be very, very worried. Scratch that – I would probably run.

But apart from what we may think of this woman and her chosen profession and apart from the men who participated in the egg-throwing, it is the varied reactions to the video which speak volumes about the very real streak of cruelty which runs through our culture and society.

While many were very appalled, there were those who claimed that as long as it was with her consent there is nothing wrong with it. She brought it on herself, she should do a different job, what does she expect, etc. etc. However, if we go down that road we are going to excuse and justify a lot of questionable behaviour on the premise that the woman “went into it with her eyes open and was paid for it.”  Surely we must realise that that kind of reasoning points to a culture where money can compensate for anything – for one’s dignity, one’s humanity, one’s right to be treated like a person. 

The next logical step in that argument is that today it’s pelting someone with eggs, and tomorrow there will be those who push the envelope even further.  Are we going to say that it’s OK for women to do all sorts of unspeakable acts during bachelor parties, just as long as they are paid for them?  The problem with hauling up the argument of consent in this context is precisely because when money is exchanging hands, the power is in the hands of the person paying, especially if the person being paid is in dire straits and will do just about anything for money.  Some said they could not understand “all the fuss”: but if you can watch the videos and not feel one ounce of compassion for the woman, or sheer revulsion at the men’s behaviour and laughter, I’m afraid that says a lot about you. 

Let’s not be too casual about the word consent either. The egg-throwing prank was filmed,  let’s not forget, for the sole purpose of sharing the video with others – did she give her consent for that as well?  Those who keep pushing the boundaries of what is acceptable will use any argument to claim that there was consent. It is common knowledge that L-Amerikana is vulnerable because she has some form of mental health issues, as can be seen by videos on Youtube of people taunting her (including, shamefully, other women).  Consent implies maturity and adults who are in full control of their mental capacities.  I really don’t know how people can find such things so hilarious.  

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