Okay, so some of us admired Star Wars: The Force Awakens and others not so much but at least we can all agree that … if you are dancing with a woman in a bar, you can't just put your hand down the front of her pants.
Somewhere in the bewildering contemporary mash-up of permissive discourse and forbidden behaviour lies the strange case of Devin Faraci, the American movie blogger who lost his job this week because a woman accused him of sexual assault – not to mention rank hypocrisy.
Faraci is the editor-in-chief of the pop culture news-and-criticism site Birth.Movies.Death and a purveyor of strong opinions on many topics. He was happily tweeting about the U.S. presidential race last Sunday when he made some smart denunciation of Donald Trump's notorious boast about grabbing women's genitalia. Then a woman with the Twitter handle @spacecrone tweeted back at him: "quick question: do you remember grabbing me by the pussy and bragging to our friends about it, telling them to smell your fingers?"
Faraci effectively pleaded no contest, responding "I do not remember this. I can only believe you and beg forgiveness for having been so vile." (Both Faraci and @spacecrone have since deleted this exchange, although she has left up tweets repeating the accusation.) By Tuesday, Faraci had resigned as BMD's editor, posting a statement saying, "I will use the coming weeks and months to work on becoming a better person who is, I hope, worthy of the trust and loyalty of my friends and readers."
The woman continued to discuss her accusation on Twitter and gave The Hollywood Reporter an interview, using only her first name, Caroline, and providing a few more details about herself – she's a worker in the non-profit sector living in New York – and the incident, which dated to 2004. She said she and Faraci were members of a group of friends on New York's cultural scene who met regularly for drinks; she says they were dancing together at a bar when he stuck his hand into her pants. She asked him to stop, but he did it a second time, before she moved off the dance floor. Two years later she confronted him online about the incident, which he said he did not recall – although friends then told her he had boasted to them about it immediately afterward.
If may seem odd and oddly unfair that Alamo Drafthouse, the cinema chain that owns BMD, would accept the resignation of an employee over a 12-year-old incident in his personal life that predates Faraci's establishment of the site, but the blogger is now being punished by the culture that spawned him. In a gig economy in which professional and personal interests are often hard to distinguish, Faraci has gleefully mixed invective with criticism, making little distinction between professional judgments and personal attacks.
Since he resigned – or went offline, as BMD phrased it – his many detractors have piled on, tweeting madly about past episodes of online bullying. As the founding editor of BMD, Faraci is one of the most influential online movie critics in the United States, a large figure given to strong pronouncements and so potentially reviled by artists and filmmakers who disagree with his opinions or whose work has earned his contempt. He has restored to film criticism much of the power and reach it has lost in the digital age and yet he breaks many of the rules that still bind critics in so-called legacy media. His sometimes rambling and polemical reviews can be filled with the highly specific knowledge of the fan, and are peppered with first-person references. He seems to view opinion-making as a blood sport, often exchanging barbs and insults on Twitter with those views he disputes or whose art he dislikes.
At times, these attacks have become deeply personal. On Twitter last year, he advised screenwriter John Gary to kill himself – presumably in jest. In 2007, on the movie site CHUD.com, he posted online a lengthy and mocking complaint against a publicist who didn't get him the seat he wanted at a press screening.
His one vocal defender in the current controversy has been Sasha Stone, editor of the Awards Daily website, who pointed out that his was actually a rare feminist voice in fanboy culture, which is usually marked by adolescent sexism. Specifically, she reminded readers that Faraci had come out strongly against fan complaints about the all-female remake of Ghostbusters and has been highly critical of misogynist attacks on women in the video game industry. Nonetheless, the overwhelming response on social media to Faraci's resignation is one of schadenfreude.
Many critics are rhetorical bullies, closing down prospective disagreement with the force of their well-honed arguments, but few are actual physical bullies as well. Some observers have tried to point out to those now joyfully sharing Faraci horror stories that insulting people online is not the same thing as assaulting them in the flesh. But if the two forms of aggression have become confused in this scandal, its partly because of the way in which sexual harassers are now being outed on social media. Complainants who would never dream of going to a court of law – just look what happened in the Jian Ghomeshi trial – can now turn to the court of public opinion and get some rough justice there.
And so Faraci, a guy who knows how to throw his weight around online, has been brought to the mat by social media.