In this week’s #FeministFriday post, Elle uses phrases like “informative murder porn” and “killing domestic violence” while discussing hashtag “raising awareness” campaigns and more specifically the #PutTheNailInIt campaign to end domestic violence. Read on, friends!
One of the guiltier of my guilty pleasures is my affinity for what South Park calls “informative murder porn,” aka, the Investigation Discovery channel (or “ID” because maybe that sounds cooler? I think they think it sounds cooler). My propensity to watch that channel likely stems from my not-guilty-at-all-you-will-pry-my-love-for-Lennie-Briscoe-from-my-cold-dead-hands pleasure of Law and Order, but whatever the source of my enjoyment, you can often find me on my days off surfing the internet and playing fetch with my dog while one of the many wildly named shows (Wives With Knives, Who the Bleep Did I Marry, Deadly Women, Behind Mansion Walls, etc., or a rerun of Dateline or 48 hours — specially repackaged with a new intro just so that ID viewers will feel special) informs me about a terrible crime in the background.
I’m not going to try and come up with an academic justification for my love of these shows because honestly, there isn’t one. About 10% of the show might be genuine desire to let viewers know the life story of the victim of the crime, or to set the record straight on some incident, but the other 90% is the vicarious thrill of investigation and prurient interest into the dark depths of humans being messed up. At their heart, most of these shows exploit salacious crimes, or even make them more salacious by reenacting them with young, sexy actors and actresses. If I ever commit a horrible crime, someone who is half my dress size and three times my bra size is going to play me on ID. I am a flawed creature, and I accept the fact that I enjoy these shows despite the fact that they have little to no redeeming value.
Which is why it felt very, very weird this past Sunday when it turned out that the marathon of Tamron Hall’s Deadline: Crime that I was watching was supporting the “Put the Nail in It” (#PutTheNailInIt) campaign to end domestic violence. At least once per commercial break the current Miss America, Kira Kazantsev, was urging me to donate to Safe Horizon and then paint my nails in an effort to end domestic violence for good. There are a lot of words in that sentence that deserve further study.
Now, before I put my Cynical and Critical Feminist hat on (stylish yet forbidding though it is) I do want to say that I support the efforts of Safe Horizon, and that in the abstract I believe that many of the participants in this campaign and the decision to advertise this campaign had good intentions. Kira Kazantsev has made ending domestic violence the core of her public platform after being the victim of domestic violence herself and Tamron Hall has been open about the fact that a lot of her crime reporting stems from her feelings regarding the death of her sister Renate, who was also a victim of domestic abuse.
That being said, there are a lot of really troublesome things that are happening with this style of activism, with this campaign, and with the decision to pair the campaign with this particular channel.
First, the campaign itself.
#PutTheNailInIt follows the trend of a long string of activism/awareness campaigns referred to as “slactivisim.” Other people way smarter than me have dissected slactivism for its pros and cons, so I’ll content myself with saying: sometimes it seems to work really well (the ALS ice bucket challenge, for example) and sometimes it seems to work very badly (Kony 2012). The idea explained in the commercial is that you donate to Safe Horizon, a victim assistance program for the victims of violence and abuse. Then you paint the nail of your ring finger purple, and then you share a picture of yourself with the purple nail on social media to encourage others to do it. The basic gist (donate money and encourage others to also do so) is sound, and Safe Horizon is a more-than-worthy recipient of donation dollars. The mechanism is where things get a little dicey.
To be fair, there’s nothing about painting your fingernail and showing it on Facebook that is an inherently less ridiculous idea than pouring ice water on yourself and posting it to Facebook. But that’s a low bar.
There are decisions that went into this campaign that aren’t fully explained by the commercials, which is part of my problem. Purple has been adopted as the “ribbon color” for domestic violence, which explains the color you are encouraged to paint your nail, but that isn’t verbalized in the commercial. I’m assuming that the choice of the ring finger in particular to paint is meant to be symbolic of the marital bond between a domestic abuse victim and her/his spouse, but that is A, not explained, and B, not very representative of the actual state of domestic violence. Many of the victims of domestic abuse are not actually married to the partner that abused them, and strengthening the implicit connection between domestic abuse and marital abuse could potentially lead to many victims feeling that what they are experiencing is not “really” domestic abuse.
My second problem with it is….. really? Painting your nails? That’s how we’re going to raise awareness and raise money to fight an issue that primarily (though certainly not exclusively) affects women? This reminds me of the “go braless for breast cancer” types of “awareness” campaigns that underscore a female issue by reinforcing female beauty tropes. I get that it’s supposed to be cute and clever (get it, nail as in coffin because we are killing domestic violence in a weirdly violent metaphor for this issue, and nail as in your fingernail? Get it?) but it’s also literally the least you could do after donating to the cause. What if you took the time that you would be spending waiting for your nails to dry to read up on some of the signs of domestic violence? Or took the opportunity to see what domestic violence resources are available in your area, in case you ever need to use them, or want to help them out specifically? I feel like the creators of this campaign are imagining a world where a lot of men and women are walking around with one painted fingernail and their intrigued friends/coworkers ask them “Hey, why do you only have one fingernail painted?” And then the person can explain and awareness and money can be raised once more. In reality, if I’m walking around sporting one painted nail, my friends/coworkers are going to say “Elle forgot to paint all of her nails. That’s weird. Maybe she got distracted and forgot. Let’s not bring it up in case she hasn’t noticed.”
Another problem for me is choosing Kira Kazanatsev as the spokesperson for the campaign. Again, I don’t doubt that she is dedicated to ending domestic violence, and I have a lot of sympathy for her experiences with domestic violence. Yet at the same time, Kazanatsev has been accused of (and not terribly successfully denied) taking art in sorority hazing rituals that… sound a lot like domestic violence. According to a source that spoke to Jezebel, “pledges in the incoming class were called names, berated for their perceived physical flaws and imperfections, and made to perform physical tasks to the point of bruising and exhaustion.” Kazanatsev explains that she did take part in some activities that fall under the ‘“broad definition of hazing,”’ but excused her actions with the defense that ‘“at the time, unfortunately, that was just the culture of the university.”’ She denies the more extensive hazing accusations, however, and claims that though she was kicked out of her sorority, it wasn’t because she was taking part in any abuse—it was because she sent an e-mail that jokingly threatened abuse and the joke was taken too seriously. Given the spate of sorority and fraternity incidents that had to end in actual sexual assault or death before anyone so much as suspended a member, let alone kicked them out, I’m not 100% sure I buy her story. And while there is something to be said for growing as a person and moving past the terrible behavior you performed before, there’s also something to be said for picking a domestic violence spokesperson who doesn’t have an admitted history with hazing.
Which brings us to the context in which I witnessed the campaign: the informative murder porn channel. The episodes of Deadline: Crime that they paired with the campaign did seem to all deal with domestic violence in some sense or another, even if the violence only appeared at the very end in the form of “wife shooting husband multiple times for apparently little reason.” And while the shows were airing, the ID icon in the corner would occasionally grow into a small purple banner with violence statistics, like the recently released survey results that 1 in 5 college women and 1 in 20 college men said they had been sexually assaulted during college. While the marathon was lacking in a lot of the substantive material that might make the pairing of the show effective with the campaign (phone numbers for abuse hotlines, introductions to the programs that explained how domestic violence was present in each show, etc.) on the very shallow surface layer, the pairing was making sense. But as I said earlier, the channel as a whole exists to exploit crime, not end it. Whatever Tamron Hall’s intentions in pursuing these storylines, the intentions of ID are to make money off of the stories she’s telling. And to do that, it needs crime.
Underlying all of the programming on ID is one simple fact: it needs crimes in order to exist. ID does not exist as a channel unless it is supported with a steady stream of rape, murder, kidnappings, and mutilations that it can spin into programming. Whether the shows are featuring Elizabeth Bathory or Scott Peterson, someone on these shows is committing a terrible crime, and very often committing domestic violence. So to have this channel assist in a campaign to end domestic violence seems at best a method to karmically balance out the way it capitalizes on the pain and suffering of others, and at worst a cynical way to pay lip service to ending a crime that it has no serious intention of wanting to end.
ID has no vested interest in “putting the nail” in domestic violence, because to do so puts the nail in its own profits.
Elle Irise is a regular contributor to This Week in Tomorrow. When she’s not using terms like “informative murder porn,” she studies gender in popular culture.