Something unexpected the wiki way came…


Okay, so this post is going to be a change of pace. I’ve never blogged about anything like this before, and I have no idea how it’s going to go… I’m just sitting here typing, waiting to see how the words come.

The story begins about a year ago. I was at WikiWednesday here in Portland, sitting in the back row because I had to leave early. A speaker was talking about a wiki kind of topic at the front of the room, I was listening, as was every other one of the 30 or so folks in attendance.

A man came in late and sat beside me, one of the few chairs left open. He opened his laptop, it was a big one with one of those screens that make you feel like you’re at the movies. When it came to life, an image emerged in full living color. Well, make that full color. Not so sure about the living part.

The entire screen was covered with a photo of a naked woman, hog-tied, with duct taped wrapped around her head where her eyes and ears were located. She was lying on a dark leather couch, in a position so her head was stuffed down where the seat cushions and back met.  She appeared to be dead. Lifeless. Like she had been bound, tortured, killed.

I am not sure, but I think I physically recoiled. I know I went into a kind of shock. I couldn’t move, couldn’t breathe. Just sat stunned.  As soon as I was able, I fled the room.  And now that I think about it, I haven’t been back to a wiki wednesday since that day.

I did, however, memorize the face of the man whose laptop it was. I had seen him at other tech events before, but had no idea who he was or what his name was.

I told my office mates about it the next day, asking them to help me make sense out of what happened. I wondered what I should have done. Rather than just feeling panicked and averting my eyes and trying to pretend like I hadn’t seen anything, should I have said something to him? Is this the kind of thing the BTK killer had on his computer? Is this guy a threat to women? Who the hell has this kind of screen saver on his computer that he takes out in public?

A couple of weeks ago, I spent three days at Recent Changes Camp. Mid-morning of the first day, I looked up and out across the room.  There he was.

One of my major goals for the rest of the camp was to avoid him. Mostly because I still had no idea what to do. Pretend like nothing had happened? Not quite comfortable with that, cuz it kinda feels like it makes me some kind of co-conspirator. Should I just go up and tell him what I had seen and see what he says? 

I am still at a loss over this. But it clearly still really bothers me. Like I said, I haven’t been back to a Wiki Wednesday since.

Would someone please offer some advice, words of wisdom… anything.  Just anything. I need something. Can we do a wiki kind of conversation about this here?


8 responses

  1. Marie, I’m so sorry that you had to deal with a situation like this. Your response it totally understandable. I think I would have done the same thing.
    You could go to Wiki-Wednesday again with an ally. Whether it be someone who already attends or someone you bring. The two of you could first, find out who this person is and 2nd, talk to organizers about the incident and the person. Someone should confront this guy and it shouldn’t have to be you. Bringing that kind of “material” into a public area is totally unacceptable and very threatening.

  2. As one of the longtime participants/organizers of WikiWednesday, I’d like to officially declare that anyone creating an uncomfortable environment for others in any way is violating the spirit of trust in our community and the event, and is not welcome.

    I know one’s own blog feels like a safe space to communicate how distressed you must feel about this, but I would encourage anyone with a problem or a question to come to us first, about anything, anytime.

  3. I think you just might have done the right thing.

    Let’s dispel the notion that he is actually some mad killer. If you had really believed that, you would have gone to the police. And, really, if homicidal psychopaths showed off their handiwork at meet-ups, they would also hand out business cards that said, “Serial Killer.” If he’s not a killer, you can’t be any sort of “co-conspirator” to anything.

    So, most likely he is just a dude who likes violent sexual imagery. Maybe he’s a freak in your book, but this may just be his thing. If scat or radical piercing or watersports were on his screen instead, you may or may not have been just as disturbed, but it’s his thing. It doesn’t mean anything other than that he likes looking at certain types of images. He hasn’t broken any laws and probably never will based upon his enjoyment of or his taste in pornography. Just as dudes who love action movies don’t go blowing up everything they touch, dudes like all kinds of crazy porn and it has nothing to do with who they are or their propensity for violence.

    Suppose instead that the photograph you saw was what many of us would call art? That is, suppose you recognized the imagery as the art of Robert Mapplethorpe or Alison Brady? Or suppose you didn’t recognize it as the violent, sexualized art of Nathalie Djurberg, Bill Henson, or Judith Eisler? When you confront him, he tells you that you are complaining about an image shown in museums and galleries around the world. What if, instead, it were Kara Walker’s sexually charged, violent depictions of black history? These might make you feel uncomfortable and they might even offend your delicate sensibilities but would you worry that he might be violent because of the art he appreciates? Would anyone still think his having it on his laptop is unacceptable?

    Just FYI, if I sat next to you at Wiki-Wednesday and your laptop wallpaper was of Norman Rockwell, I might very well feel so uncomfortable that I might puke on your keyboard and then think about talking to the organizers about you. That’s totally unacceptable and very threatening in my book: chimerical iconography that lures bigoted sheep into hoping they can violently impose the completely unrealistic and wholly pornographic depicted lifestyle onto the rest of us. If I did speak up, you would probably tell me to change my seat next time. And you would be right.

    I don’t know if any of this makes you feel better, but I think your responses have been largely correct. His tastes in porn fantasies or art are no reflection on who he is or what he contributes at Wiki-Wednesday or anywhere else. He may be a great dude with a lot to offer at meet-ups, but you didn’t like what you saw on his laptop so you left. Fine. Your response after that strikes me as correct as well: you did nothing. I agree with Mikalina’s suggestion that you should not let it keep you from attending Wiki-Wednesday or anything else. Ask a friend to join you if that’s what it takes. Yes, your eyeballs were assaulted. That happens all the time, whether it’s art or beer ads or reality TV or political posters or nativity scenes or whatever you consider offensive, morally outrageous, or just plain sinister. But you can do something about that by changing your seat or closing your eyes or turning your head. If you really feel the need to live up to the Old Testament’s eye for an eye, bring your own laptop next time and assault his eyes with some sentimental, saccharine images by Thomas Kinkade. Anything with deer in it will do.

    Some might say the better course is more active and affirmative. Maybe if you confronted this dude and talked to the organizers, you would embarrass him, he would never come back. They might even ban him. And you might feel vindicated. You would be the censor, the judge, the voice of what is offensive and appropriate. Then maybe at the next Wiki-Wednesday, someone would have wallpaper of two men kissing and some dude who is offended would talk to the organizers. And, apparently, since “anyone creating an uncomfortable environment for others in any way … is not welcome,” the guy with the picture of two men kissing goes next. Good riddance, right? And, using that “uncomfortable” standard, Wiki-Wednesday could ban lots and lots of people, including anyone with images by any of the artists above. Wouldn’t everyone feel better and safer then?

    I’m just saying that maybe the reason you’re having a hard time coming up with your answer is that you already have an answer but you don’t like it. I, for one, think you have done the right thing. I would not have said anything and I would feel great about that choice. Sometimes we see things that disturb us. I don’t think that anybody is his taste in pornography. Maybe, just maybe, he is a well-rounded, intelligent dude into some edgy art or kinky fantasies you find disturbing. But fantasies are fantasies and, in spite of that, he may be a valuable contributor at Wiki-Wednesday and in other gatherings. He probably meant to keep his images to himself and probably will in the future. I would just let it go.

    Whatever answer you arrive at, I hope you don’t continue to let this impede your own behavior.

  4. So I’ve been thinking a lot about the responses to my post. Yall gave me a lot to think about, I must say! Thanks so much for taking the time and trouble to weigh in.

    It will likely take me several times to address all the things I’d like to say…but that’s okay, we’ve got time.

    I’ll start with stoogiepie (great username, btw!) One of your points was that clearly I knew he wasn’t a serial killer or I would have called the police.

    I’m not sure that’s true. Let me take you back… to the 1970s. That’s when Ted Bundy was at work here in the Pacific Northwest. And since he appeared to select women with long brown hair parted in the middle, I found myself realizing I fit his profile. Since I had lived in inner city Chicago, I had developed more street awareness than most people who do all their growing up in the PNW, I thought I might have some inner sense of danger awareness that others might lack. I was especially afraid for my sister.

    One of his ruses was to pretend to have a hurt arm and ask his targets to help him carry books to his car. I knew this was just the kind of ploy I would be likely to fall for. And I was convinced that my sister would surely fall for it.

    It was the scariest kind of thought imaginable: that someone would deliberately play on women’s sympathetic and empathetic qualities in order to kill them. Just utterly evil.

    As the Ted Bundy story unfolded, I grabbed every book written about him and devoured every word. I so wanted to understand what motivated him, where that evil came from, but especially how I would be able to detect it. What the signs would be. What to watch for. How to stay safe, and keep other women I loved safe.

    I expanded to read about other serial killers for the same reason.

    And you know what? People always said they had no idea. There were no signs. More recently, people said the man who turned out to be the BTK killer was an upstanding citizen in town, active in his church, volunteering to help others, etc.

    I’ve never reached the point I feel any confidence that I would be able to “know” whether someone was just weird or odd or was killing women in his spare time. Still feel utterly clueless.

    So the truth is, when a guy sitting next to me opens his computer and a very clear photo of what appears to be a bound dead woman appears, I don’t know what it means….

    I hardly ever think about the fact that some men are out to kill women because they are women. But the fact that it’s true and I’m a woman makes my life, and the life of every other woman, different than the lives of men. It just does.

    So I think it’s a good thing for men to understand that difference between us. There’s something about the fact that some men just want to kill women because they are women that makes it really hard to just dismiss seeing a woman’s body posed like it was in that picture as some kind of fantasy…

    Can men understand how that feels?

  5. Marie,

    I want to echo what Steven said above. WikiWednesday may be largely “crowdsourced,” but there are those of us who take some measure of responsibility for the basics, i.e. maintaining a safe and friendly space for the event. What you describe sounds like behavior that is totally unacceptable at our event, and I want to work with you to do whatever I can to ensure something like that doesn’t happen again.

    I’ll write more to you offline.


  6. @Marie: thanks for responding and for sharing your experience.

    You know, when a guy sitting next to me opens his computer and a very clear photo of what appears to be a bound dead woman pops up, I also don’t know what it means. You got, I believe, a two-second glimpse into his fantasy world, but I could be wrong. Maybe he works at a crime lab. Maybe he’s a detective or a coroner. Maybe he’s looking at reference photos for storyboards for the next SAW movie. Maybe, like Ann Rule, he is a writer and looks over crime-scene photos because that’s his job. Maybe he’s a detective or journalist. I could go on. My only point — and I think you make the same point in your response — is that your glimpse of that image is indecipherable. It definitely doesn’t mean he’s a killer or even a freak, although many here seem to have already reached at least the latter conclusion. It certainly doesn’t mean that he makes any event he attends less safe or friendly.

    As you undoubtedly know, Ted Bundy blamed his life of murder on pornography in his final hours. Of course, Bundy also thought that mainstream splatter movies and detective magazines were among the most arousing pornography and, when he was arrested in Florida, the pornography found in his car was a catalog of cheerleading uniforms. If you see someone looking through a cheerleading catalog or reading a detective magazine, do you wonder whether they are a killer? In fact, detective magazines often have grisly crime-scene photos in them. Magazines devoted to the horror genre often have sadistic, bloody imagery in them and, although those pictures are staged, you couldn’t tell by looking at them. Do you wonder whether fans of those magazines are killers? I don’t, but I could imagine that if I briefly saw one of those images on someone’s computer, I might invent a whole secret life for that person.

    You’re right that, as a man, I can’t honestly understand the feeling of knowing there are people out there who want to kill me just because of my gender. And most of us, including me, are shielded from nearly all violent crime by socioeconomic boundaries. But still I think I have some measure of empathy that is not entirely theoretical.

    I live in New York City and I lived here on 9/11. I saw it happen. I could smell jet fuel uptown for weeks. I saw Flight 587 go down a month later. I took a flight myself days later in a nearly empty plane. People were scared because others wanted to kill us just because we were American. And it felt then like the killer was waiting and watching, and had targeted my home town.

    I don’t know whether it’s quite the same. People were not afraid to leave their homes, but there were soldiers in armored vehicles rolling around NYC reminding us constantly that we were not safe. And there was no way to tell who the bad guys were or whether more killers were among us.

    And it was terrible. I’m sorry if you feel anything even close to that. The idea that you feel that even on rare occasions is troubling.

    But I think you expressed it best: you can’t tell. That guy who sat next to you at Wiki Wednesday a year ago has about as much chance of being a killer as anybody else. And, as I said before, his taste in imagery has absolutely nothing to do with his propensity for violence. To use my own experience, if I were sitting next to a dude right after 9/11 and he popped his laptop open and watched the same tired videos of those planes crashing into the towers, I would not assume he was a terrorist. Millions of people watched those clips over and over again. I, for one, think that’s a little twisted and gruesome — many died — but that’s just me. Apparently, many others think it’s news or entertainment or something else. And that’s my point.

    It would be great if we could pick out the killers and terrorists among us based on the images or videos they download from the internet or have on their laptops. But, fact is, we can’t. I think you agree based upon your response.

    As for those who say this is totally unacceptable behavior, I would agree that intentionally showing your porn in public venues (that are not devoted to porn) is unacceptable. However, based upon everything you wrote, it doesn’t look intentional. He has continued to be active in the wiki community. If he had done this repeatedly at Wiki Wednesdays or anywhere else, he would likely not be welcome anywhere. So, chances are, this was a mistake. The difference to me is that intentional public urination is unacceptable behavior. Peeing on yourself because you have an accident for some reason — maybe you’re just laughing too hard at an especially funny speaker — is not something we like to see happen, but it’s a mistake. It doesn’t make the space any less safe or friendly. It just makes the rest of us uncomfortable. I would steer clear of venues at which socially uncomfortable mistakes rank as behavior that is totally unacceptable, but that’s me. I make mistakes sometimes myself.

    @Pete Forsyth: I can understand why you would want to take your discussion private. First, you ignore the actual arguments raised in this discussion and instead set up a straw man argument, an argument that you invent and then rebut. You suggest that there are some here who fail to take some measure of responsibility for basics such as maintaining a safe and friendly space, when nobody has said anything of the sort. If you read that here, please point out where. Then you go on to provide your responsible alternative. But just what about this person’s behavior a full year ago makes your event any less safe or friendly today? If he has been attending for the past year, has it been unsafe and unfriendly that whole time unbeknownst to you? There seem to be two alternatives here. The first possibility is that this was a mistake, since nobody else has complained to you about this dude over the course of a year. In that case, you seek to reprimand him for a mistake and to teach him a lesson he has already learned, since he obviously has not been flashing violent imagery at your event for the past year. The other possibility is that he has not been attending Wiki Wednesdays for the past year. You cannot believe this is the case since that would make your offer to take some action against him a meaningless gesture. If you have arrived at a different alternative, please let us know. If you have some evidence that this was intentional, I would love to hear that as well. In any case, if you find a way “to ensure something like that doesn’t happen again” by eliminating the word “mistake” from the human vocabulary, please tell us how. I, for one, would love to live my life without ever making or witnessing a social mistake that makes others uncomfortable.