Let’s do a little thought experiment. For the purposes of this experiment, we will assume two things are true: that I have an Uncle Mortimer, and that I have an opinion about YA author and vlogging personality John Green.
Neither of those things are true, but we will stipulate them for the sake of argument.
Now imagine that I got on Twitter and said, “You know who John Green reminds me of? My Uncle Mortimer.”
Question: Am I wrong? Or to put another way: can I even be wrong? I mean, can I be proven wrong?
No. This is a qualitative impression that I am reporting, not a quantitative fact I am asserting. I mean, I could be lying, I suppose, for whatever reason. I could also be in some strange way mistaken, like actually thinking of my Uncle Vladimir but confusing him with Uncle Mortimer.
What I cannot be is wrong in the factual sense because I am not speaking to facts but—again—reporting an impression. John Green reminds me of my uncle. So what?
People who are familiar with both individuals might quibble with me, but no one can actually refute the assertion that he reminds me of my Uncle Mortimer. At best they can debate the resemblance, but even if you could disprove a resemblance somehow (how, though?) it would not necessarily change my impression. If somebody could sway me, it would require an appeal every bit as subjective as the initial impression.
I’m probably laying more groundwork than I need to here, though. Nothing in the idea that saying “_____ reminds me of _____” is making a subjective valuation is actually that complicated or controversial.
Now imagine I went on to say, “John Green reminds me of my Uncle Mortimer, who always tries way too hard to impress ‘the youth’ and obviously wants to be seen as one of the kids while also being looked up to by them as an authority. There’s something downright creepy about the way Uncle Mort insinuates himself into certain situations, and John Green sometimes gives me the same vibe when he’s interacting with his teenage fan base.”
So… in this hypothetical situation, am I wrong?
Nota bene: I am not asking if what I am saying is fair, or justified, or proven, or provable, but merely if what I am saying is factually wrong.
In fact, it’s the same question I asked before: if I say John Green reminds me of my Uncle Mortimer, can anyone tell me, “No he doesn’t!”
The answer remains no.
And now the backstory:
Recently, a young woman on the internet said that YA author and vlogger John Green creeps her out. She said that John Green reminded her of the one creepy dad in a friend group who watches a little too closely, a comparison that is sadly quite relatable for a lot of teenage girls. I’ll link to Camryn Garrett’s commentary on the subject, as it is the best article I’ve seen on the subject, as well as one of the most relevant (being written by a teenage girl as well).
John Green’s response to this post was to deny that he sexually abuses children and rant about how the language of social justice is being misused. A lot of people have already pointed out that he jumped to sexual abuse when that wasn’t even mentioned. I would also point out that the crack about “the language of social justice” is equally out of left field, part of a dangerous trend where people are internalizing and repeating reactionary memes used to dismiss criticism.
A number of news outlets picked this up in the most irresponsible fashion imaginable, using headlines and ledes like “John Green responds to child sexual abuse allegations” (there would have to have been such allegations in the first place) and conflating the original poster’s words and actions with those of later commentators who tagged Green in on the post and dared him to defend himself.
Even the more mild write-ups describe the initial post as a series of allegations, and… no. Just no. So many of the people who have attacked the girl have done the same, and also… no. Just no. I’m sure they’d say they’re defending John Green, but against what? She found him creepy. Other people find him charming or funny or approachable or warm or awkward or infuriating or frightening or ridiculous. None of these things are allegations. She described how he comes off to her. That’s all. She’s not wrong.
Other people have pointed out the danger of taking a girl who’s talking about adult behaviors she finds creepy and saying, “No, you’re wrong. You don’t know what you’re talking about. This is slander.”, about the danger of that, about how it comes from and contributes to rape culture. And other people—including people who should know better—have jumped at the mention of rape culture and acted like its mention means that yes, John Green is being accused, specifically of rape, and therefore a spirited and vigorous defense is in order.
But, sheesh. Finding someone creepy is not an allegation and is not—or should not be—actionable as slander. Imagine if it was. Imagine if you, or your children, could not say, “This is making me uncomfortable.” about any person or situation if you couldn’t prove just cause. Imagine if you couldn’t withdraw from a room or a situation that no longer feels safe without providing evidence.
And the thing is, I think that for all the hurt bluster of his post, John Green understands that his young critic is not wrong, because he talks about how he’s going to be using Tumblr differently, taking more of a hands-off approach, engaging less and simply speaking his piece into the ether more.
In other words, he’s decided to step back a bit. That’s a perfectly reasonable response when a young woman says one is standing too close.