The “man on the street” interview where comedians use a provocative question or statement to solicit responses from passers-by isn’t the most sophisticated device used in comedy today. I imagine it’s fairly easy to generate absurd-sounding responses from uniformed people, and to edit them to maximize comedy and exaggerate the apparent ignorance of the interviewee.
But that wasn’t what conservative comedian and talk show host Steven Crowder was doing last week when he set up a table and cameras at Texas Christian University, posted a sign that read, “Rape culture is a myth. Change my mind,” and then invited students to engage him on the subject.
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In fact, he was doing just the opposite — asking people who disagreed to use rational arguments and facts to convince him of his error.
To be sure, Crowder was exploiting the current cultural zeitgeist — (now Justice) Brett Kavanaugh had been accused of sexual assault while his nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court was pending. At least according to cable news, our nation’s capital was on the verge of social collapse.
But while Crowder is a provocateur, the notion that university campuses are bastions for “rape culture” is a topic reasonable people can debate. What better place to have that discussion than a college campus — a place where controversial ideas are traditionally examined by students with open minds and critical intellects?
Crowder’s first guest, a young woman and alleged rape victim, was understandably emotional about Crowder’s appearance. Still, Crowder is respectful as he explains that his position is based on empirical data, which he says suggests that rape is no more common than other crimes and prosecuted at a similar rate. His interviewee is not so gracious. She insists her personal experience and that of the “majority of her friends” is evidence enough that rape culture exists. Empirical data is “bull****,” she declares, before misstating a host of facts about the Kavanaugh hearings and the federal government.
Had she asserted instead that rape is an underreported crime, which renders some crime statistics misleading, she might have made a reasonable point. But she appeared more interested hurling insults and screaming at the campus police to remove Crowder than making a valid argument.
Another one of Crowder’s guests seemed genuinely interested in countering Crowder’s “aggressive ignorance” with facts and ideas. But he ultimately tells Crowder that his arguments (supporting the notion of rape culture) are too nuanced to articulate and he “isn’t well-versed in any of this” — an argument that probably won’t serve him well in his next term paper.
You may watch the 45-minute video of Crowder’s conversations with half-a-dozen TCU students on his YouTube channel.
More perplexing than the students’ inability to articulate their shared belief that rape culture exists, was what might construe as the university’s defense of rape culture — on its campus.
The university’s official Twitter account offered students counseling and declared that Crowder’s views “do not align with TCU’s values.”
Crowder was arguing that contemporary culture (and TCU’s culture, for that matter) does not encourage or tolerate rape. How exactly that does not comport with TCU’s values should be a matter of grave concern for the parents of TCU students, not to mention the students themselves. “Send your daughter to TCU where we most definitely have a rape culture,” does not seem to be a smart marketing pitch.
Crowder’s tactics may seem provocative; his position may seem parochial.
But the lack of sophistication in this scenario isn’t Crowder’s fault. And given TCU’s predictably craven response to his visit, it seems unlikely the school is preparing its students to deal with the kinds of ideas they will encounter once outside the bubble on University Drive.