The Helplessness of Being the Joke
It’s a tricky business responding to the personal anecdotes that opinionists sometimes use in their columns. The reader was not there, for one thing, and it isn’t always evident what emotions the memory revives, for another. But the stories are offered, ostensibly for the purpose of illustrating an important point relevant to current events, and so they would seem fair game for commentary.
The disclaimer thus expressed, this in-my-life anecdote from M.J. Anderson is a doozy:
I WAS AN ELF ONCE. At the campus dining hall where I worked, somebody thought it would be fun if the servers dressed as elves for the Christmas dinner, so we did.
I am hazy now on what our exact duties were. What counts in memory is that a diner in his cups — a large, athletic-looking guy — grabbed me, threw me over his shoulder, yelled “I got one of ’em!” amid a roar of male laughter and marched toward the door.
What counts is that I pounded on him with all I had and it did not matter. Suddenly, I was in a world I did not know. …
As for my dining-hall abductor, he had me out the door and into the night before finally putting me down. What to him was a game was to me an education. I had found myself helpless against force, and never forgot the sensation.
This, we are meant to understand, relates to the ordeal of those Duke lacrosse players who took on the role of evil white males for the mainstream media for more than their promised (or threatened) fifteen minutes. See, M.J. was “put down” — spared the rape, one gathers she means — just as the fellas at Duke had the resources to ensure that they, too, were “put down” — spared wrongful prosecution and sentencing.
To be honest, I’m not sure how this observation should work into and/or unravel Anderson’s parallel, but it seems not insignificant that the reason the elfish M.J. was powerless that evening wasn’t that Mr. Athletic-Looking Guy could have done anything he wanted with her. Surely even some among his roaring peers would have stepped in had she been in any real danger. Rather, the reader mightn’t be presuming too much to wonder whether her powerlessness derived from her inability to sense the joke.
It is precisely the humorless sense that all males — in their cups or otherwise — are potential abductors and rapists that set the scene for the actual and rending violation of those young athletes and, perhaps as bad, lured the unfortunate young woman who made the allegations, lacking the boys’ “strong families and skilled lawyers,” into that overly bright and wasting spotlight from which one is put down only after years of anonymity.