The nerdier quarters of the Internet are in an uproar today, as Cards Against Humanity co-creator Max Temkin has been accused of a years-old sexual assault.
For those who've never cringed through a game gone way, way too far, Cards Against Humanity is billed as "a party game for horrible people," and it's basically a dark, dirty re-imagining of Apples to Apples. When it's your turn, you play a black prompt card (say, "what are my parents hiding from me"). Everyone chooses a white response card (say, "coat hanger abortions") from their hands. You pick the winner—generally the most appalling but on-point answer. For instance.
The game is especially popular with young nerds who consider themselves liberal, and if you're playing with close friends whose sense of humor matches your own, it's misanthropic fun. And over the years, co-creator Max Temkin and his fellow CAH employees have cut the worst of the cards, including several about rape. (See also the recent controversy over "passable transvestites.") But if you're playing with a bunch of jerks, it can get downright appalling, with everyone talking the fig leaf of "irony" as an excuse for ever-more offensive answers.
It was a denial from Temkin that really took the accusations public. He responded Friday on Tumblr to accusations circulating on Facebook among graduates of his alma mater, Groucher College. According to his account, he discovered a classmate alleging he'd assaulted her and calling for a Cards Against Humanity boycott. In his post, he called the accusation "totally, patently false," adding that "I have never sexually assaulted anyone, or previously been accused of any kind of assault."
Then it gets… complicated. Temkin admitted the pair had a "really brief relationship" their freshman year, as next-door neighbors:
After a few evenings staying up talking all night, we made out. We spent a few nights in each others' rooms, but we never had sex and neither of us pressured the other into doing anything we weren't comfortable with. After a few nights, I broke things off in the cowardly way that 19-year-old guys do, and I just stopped returning her calls and texts. I can imagine she was hurt by this, I know that I would be hurt if someone broke up with me that way.
He continues, throwing out a mention of rape culture:
Part of rape culture that hurts everyone is that it makes it difficult to talk about what is and is not consent, and makes it incredibly scary for people to speak up when their boundaries are crossed. It is entirely possible she read something completely different than I did into an awkward college hookup. If any part of that was traumatic for her, I am sincerely sorry, and I wish we would have had a chance to address it privately.
Whatever the truth of the situation, the whole thing reads a little like, "I'm sorry if you thought I sexually assaulted you, but I definitely did not." He also drops in the fact that he talked to his lawyer and he COULD sue for libel, "but I have no desire to bully or harm her. Additionally, I'm not wild about the precedent that sets for other women to come forward in cases of actual sexual assault." That's admittedly what everyone would've preferred from Conor Oberst—but then again, you can also read the mention of a lawsuit as the implicit threat of a lawsuit.
The half of Tumblr that wasn't dying of secondhand embarrassment over DashCon and its dumbass ball pit shenanigans immediately seized upon the news. Wil Wheaton reblogged the defense (without comment), but there are many, many, many posts dissecting Temkin's post in detail and accusing him of employing the tropes of rape culture in his own defense, even while wrapping himself in the language of social justice and positioning himself as a good feminist. (Perhaps the most cool-headed response comes from Kelly Kend, over at Medium.)
After he posted the denial, his accuser (it appears) created the Tumblr "Humanity Against Sexual Assault" and posted her story in full. (Interestingly, she never names Temkin by name.) She says she's not interested in pressing charges:
I don't think my attacker is a serial predator. I see my assault as an almost textbook example of a "crime of opportunity". I have no interest in personal compensation, monetary or otherwise. I have no interest in his company or in stifling his intellectual or personal life. If I did, I would use my full name. I frankly have an infinite number of better, more positive things on which to focus my life and attentions.
What I have learned from all of this is that, for all of my fears of rejection, dismissal, and ridicule I have only received expressions of love, respect, and support. All of this anger and energy would be better focused on ensuring that every survivor should be able to speak out about their experiences secure in the knowledge that they are not alone, that they too are entitled to their own voice and their own life.
"I am speaking out because it helps survivors of rape and sexual assault. It helps them know that they are not alone. It helps them find their own voice. It helps us own our stories," she added, concluding with links to RAINN, the Joyful Heart Foundation and other organizations.
TL;DR: It's an ugly business. With neither Temkin nor his accuser apparently interested in taking this to the legal system, it leaves the whole business at a standstill. Some are calling for a boycott of Cards Against Humanity; fans are defending Temkin as a good dude; and of course the MRAs have appeared like the proverbial turds in the punch bowl, caterwauling about how this proves everything they've always said, somehow. It's hard to see how this gets resolved without more information from someone, somewhere (and equally hard to imagine that info actually turning up).
It's worth pondering this paragraph from Temkin's denial, though:
There is no evidence for this story. I will never have a chance to defend myself. The structure of the modern internet is such that these things never reach resolution and never go away. This is just baseless gossip that will now haunt me for the rest of my life.
It seems pretty clear that a sexual assault allegation doesn't instantly, automatically result in social death for the accused. But not so long ago, this sort of accusation could've been far more easily brushed off. (Remember how everybody just conveniently forgot about R. Kelly, despite far, far more evidence that something seriously fucked was going on?) Whatever happened in that freshman dorm eight years ago, these things can no longer be ignored until they go away.
Unfortunately, we're still struggling to figure out where the fuck to go from there. It seems we just keep getting mired in massive, legalistic screaming matches, over and over and over again.