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In case you missed it, The Sun has been engaging in the most glorious act of extended trolling the publishing industry has ever seen over the last week. For five days, the familiar denizens of the infamous page three disappeared, and we began to wonder if perhaps the paper had finally retired one of its most venerable and sexist features.
Make no mistake: The Sun is still a tabloid rag that's not even good enough to line the litter box, but, hey, at least it wouldn't have as much gross, sexist, objectifying content. Progress — though Laura Frater at The Drum pointed out that page three is the least of the U.K. publishing industry's problems.
Hahaha! Think again, my friends. Claiming to have suffered from a "mammary lapse" (ugh), The Sun is back on the case, allowing boobs everywhere to fly free — or, at least, boobs on page three. I'm sure I wasn't the only one who breathed a sigh of disgust and resignation over the news, though some glamour models felt differently.
Dylan Sharpe, head of PR for The Sun, took a different tack. He decided to celebrate the return of page three with a rather gloating Tweet (he described it as "cheeky," but whatever).
People were . . . not happy. Which I get. It was a pretty gross tweet and kind of unnecessary, especially from a head of PR who should have known better. His decision to tag people who had prominently opposed page three and fought to get the feature removed was pretty nasty, and it's not surprising that they sniped back. He certainly wouldn't be the first allegedly media-savvy company representative to say something ridiculous in public, and probably won't be the last.
It seems he was a bit rueful, after a flood of unkind responses, eh?
Here's where things get interesting, though. Sharpe should absolutely have been criticized both for his unprofessionalism and for his overall representation of a ridiculously sexist component of The Sun that ought to have been tossed in the skip long ago.
And for those who criticize sexism in the media, it was important to hold the tabloid accountable for appearing, for a moment, to actually respond to feedback from the public before abruptly backtracking and returning right back to its old and totally gross ways, with The Sun's usual lack of taste via the "mammary lapse" comment and the tabloid's own PR rep deciding to post a winking glamour model as his "comment" on The Sun's alleged retirement of page three.
However, Sharpe claims, things got over the line. Way over the line. Instead of being criticized — in a wide variety of tones, likely, from the surprised to the civil to the harsh to the angry — he was also allegedly subjected to death threats. It's hard to verify that without combing through his Twitter mentions and, presumably, getting access to his email, but let's assume, for the benefit of the doubt, that he's not lying.
Honestly, it's a reasonable assumption. The Internet is an incredibly hostile place these days and quite frankly Twitter is growing extremely abusive and toxic. As we see progressives on Twitter being subjected to doxing, death threats, and other savage attacks from people who don't like their politics, we're also seeing the same behaviors directed at conservatives — and sexist arsehats like Sharpe.
Which means we need to talk about something: Death threats are never okay. Period. No matter who they are aimed at. Violent, abusive language about how much better the world would be if someone was dead is not appropriate, no matter how frustratingly hateful and obnoxious that person is. If people acting in the name of progressivism don't understand this, it's going to be impossible to make any kind of social progress, because conservatives can just point to that tiny minority as evidence that progressives are no better than anyone else. And also because a world where death threats are considered reasonable social discourse is not the kind of world I want to live in, nor is it the kind of world I am trying to build.
That tweet was straight up ridiculous, and so is The Sun. There are a lot of ways we can respond to that, but death threats aren't one of them, and never should be on the table as an option. Violence begets violence no matter who starts it — and there are plenty of ways to register rage that do not involve physical threats. Because fury, frustration, anger, fatigue, and any number of emotions are all reasonable responses to that tweet and The Sun's switcharoo.
But let's not fool ourselves. The kind of people who send death threats are not good people — we've been saying this for months as we watch lives disrupted and torn apart by frothing jackasses who think threatening women for fun and pleasure is a productive use of their time, and we're right. And the kinds of people who send death threats in my name are also not good people, and I want no part of them.
Dylan Sharpe is an unrepentant jerk who issued an utter fauxpology for the tweet, and we can by all means talk about that — and we can talk about how he proudly reps and fronts for his virulently sexist and vile employer. We don't need to be choosy about the language we use to talk about that — we don't need to play nice, leave the gloves on, or play the vinegar/honey game. But we do need to draw a line.
And for me, the line stops well short of death threats. Whether or not Sharpe got death threats — and I am willing to bet he did — this is symptomatic of a larger problem where many progressives/liberals seem to think that anything goes for a cause, even if it makes them no better than the people they claim to be criticizing. So much for taking the high road or building a better world; I stand with people who are getting death threats, even if what they're saying is hateful, and I'm starting to feel like the ACLU over here as I'm forced to defend increasingly horrible things because I believe that justice for some is justice for none.
So thanks, progressives, for making me and my sweater puppies stick up for Dylan Sharpe and The Sun.