Over the weekend, my THUMP co-worker Jemayel Khawaja tweeted a photo of a guy at Coachella wearing a shirt that says "Eat Sleep Rape Repeat." The dude is grinning widely and throwing deuces, looking thoroughly satisfied with himself. This nauseating celebration of rape culture combined with his unabashed smugness set off a Twitter firestorm, which turned into a viral tornado show once the picture hit Buzzfeed, Jezebel, and beyond.
Some outlets have speculated that the T-shirt was photoshopped—it wasn't.
I called Jemayel as he travelled back to Los Angeles and got the full context behind that now-infamous photo: "I was en route to grab a drink at the Sahara Tent beer garden when I saw the guy. I did a double-take and figured I had to document him somehow. He seemed really stoked about it when I asked to take a picture, thus the peace sign and cheeseball smile."
"Believe it or not, he had a girl with him. She seemed really exasperated by the whole thing, and he gave her this look when I asked to take the picture that suggested he felt vindicated for wearing it," he added.
A lot of people are outraged by this shirt. An LA Weekly story from 2013 proves that it's not the only one of its kind, but since it doesn't appear to be sold online or at any major retailers, I'm guessing this one was homemade. The slogan is a play on "Eat Sleep Rave Repeat," a reference to the 2013 Fatboy Slim and Riva Starr track and has become a ubiquitous sight on festival merchandise—it's basically the Nike swoosh of EDM, endlessly familiar and subject to countless variations. The "joke" is that by changing a single letter, a refrain that's familiar to all becomes strange, uncomfortable—"edgy."
Here's the thing about rape jokes: most of them aren't funny. Of course, there shouldn't be a unilateral ban on rape jokes—free speech fuccboys, you can hold your fire—because one of the essential purposes of comedy is to call out the shittiest parts of life, which includes rape. But there is a time and place for nuance, and a music festival filled with thousands of fucked up people gyrating to throbbing bass is not it.
But actually, this guy's stupid shirt opens the floor for us to confront a pervasive issue—one that is often overshadowed by "bigger stories" that come out of festival season, like drug overdoses or who Madonna is making out with.
We need to talk about sexual harassment at music festivals.
In a completely coincidental stroke of timing, Mixmag published a feature today about sexual harassment at nightclubs. "This is something that goes on throughout club culture, top to bottom; from commercial big rooms to dim-lit underground parties. It happens so often that women are made to feel like it's part of an normal night out; there's a sense that complaining is futile, and we should all just wince and bear it," wrote Chantelle Fiddy. The exact same thing could be said about music festivals.
There are examples, both horrifying and mundane, of the harassment women routinely face when they attend these events. Remember the two drug deaths that dominated headlines after Electric Zoo 2013? There was another incident that people didn't talk about as much: that of a 16-year-old girl who woke up underneath a van outside the venue, with her pants down and legs bruised. She was taken to a nearby hospital, where doctors concluded that she had been sexually assaulted.
Thankfully, assaults of this magnitude are anomalies. But women at festivals are still made to feel uncomfortable and violated all the time—whether it's some guy groping you as he brushes by in a crowd, making unsolicited comments about your body, or taking your enthusiastic dancing as an open invitation to touch you without consent.
This photo on Gothamist from Mysteryland last year is an example of just how normalized sexual harassment has become in festival culture: when a woman climbed atop a speaker, she became subjected to ass spankings and gropes from total strangers.
The photographer who captured the moment recounted what happened:
Her reaction was simply a mild look of distaste and then climbing down on the opposite side of the speaker than her grabber was on. She didn't say anything. If there were any other reactions they were too mild to notice. Worth noting is that a different guy had spanked her a bit right before the other guy went full grab, and she didn't seem to mind/react to that. But the grabber was too much, it seemed.
What gets me about this story is this little detail: "she didn't say anything." It's the same ambivalence behind a study cited by Mixmag that found that "of 1,198 women it surveyed who were aged 18-24, nearly a third had been groped or received unwanted physical attention during a boozy night out. Sadly, only 19 per cent of these women were at all surprised by what had happened."
This lack of surprise is concerning. The culture of sex and hedonism that makes music festivals so goddamn fun shouldn't be used as a convenient excuse for sexual assault or the promotion of rape culture. As Fiddy wrote, "if women can't even achieve respect on the dancefloor, how is club culture ever going to change?"
The shock and outrage that has exploded online over the "Eat Sleep Rape Repeat" T-shirt is exactly how we should react. But there's a reason why that guy felt comfortable enough to wear it to a festival—he knew that most people would "be chill" about it, and few would dare to call him out to his face. Let's change that.
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*This article has been edited to include a link from LA Weekly