Yesterday, The Mary Sue told you how TV Tropes had summarily deleted all tropes using the word “rape” in order to appease Google’s AdSense content policies, leaving patchy holes of contentious content all over its archives while purging things like “Rape, Burn, Pillage.” For obvious reasons, the article drew lots of attention, and further commentary from Think Progress‘s Alyssa Rosenberg, who added: “Talking about rape may involve talking about sex, but it’s not primarily about sex. A depiction and discussion of a naked woman having consensual sex, and a depiction and discussion of a woman being raped are fundamentally different things, and it’s disturbing that we’d allow [Google ad] algorithms that can’t tell the difference to elide sex and rape.”
Word of the deletions spread, and late yesterday evening, TV Tropes’ owner and head admin Fast Eddie commented to our post to inform us that tropes had been restored “due to the concern shown here and elsewhere.” Way to go, internets!
But this might not be the whole story, and TV Tropes’ deletions and “content cleanups” might have more ramifications than just Google revenue. Warning: discussion of potentially triggering content including fetish and pedophilia ahead.
While trying to put the pieces together for what prompted the deletion of TVT’s entire collection of tropes with the word “rape” in the title, we ran across an interesting sub-discussion about Fanservice tropes on a cleanup page called “Embarrassing Crap on the Wiki.” It’s been more or less an open secret on the internet for some time that despite TV Tropes’ value to all of us as an endless resource of cultural tropes, the site has attracted a sub-component of fetishists who lower the quality of the site with examples listed purely for the sake of prurience. One such example of this is the recently “cleaned” page Panty Shot, which no longer lists examples of the term due to fetishization. An example of a similar catalogue that appears to be fetish-free but has escaped whole trope deletion is Panty Fighter. It’s clear that these kinds of lists, even without context or additional discussion, are invaluable in any discussion of sexism in pop culture and fictional narratives. But there’s also the valid question of when description of tropes becomes the fetishist equivalent of Fanservice—a category which Fast Eddie suggested might need be a good place to start with site cleanup.
Fetishism in the TVT vaults alone might merely deteriorate the site and make many users uncomfortable, but inevitably there is, sadly, a pedophilic subcommunity that has existed among the tropers for some time. It can’t be easy for any open wiki-based community to deal well with this kind of content, but it looks as though they’re not handling it well. This is a Something Awful thread (ironically asking, “Why do they have such a fixation on rape?”) that includes a frank discussion of which tropers are known pedophiles. While according to our next link, those tropers were subsequently banned, Fast Eddie allegedly offered to let the banned pedophiles return to the site under different usernames. Warning: the following link leads to a discussion of TV Tropes by self-professed pedophiles. [Link to thread].
What’s far and away most alarming are the multiple but unsubstantiated claims we’ve heard, via anonymous tips, SA forums, and elsewhere, that victims of pedophilic attacks on TV Tropes were banned for complaining about the attacks, while as we’ve seen the pedophiles may have been allowed to return. It seems mind-boggling that the site would have this kind of ban policy while still allowing “discussion” that includes things like a real-life furry describing a recent public wank session in graphic, explicit detail. [Link to previous; NWS.] But TVT is well-known for having a “no discussion on the main page” policy, as well as a “no negativity/no bashing” policy. What this seems to lead to is zero tolerance—if users respond with, “hey, that’s racist” when someone says something racist, then both the racist user and the offended user are banned, among other things: we saw examples of justifiable bannings of Hitler sockpuppets and the like, but also users claiming to have been banned for “questioning their US bias”, along with other minor details. So the attitude, as far as we can tell, seems to be that as long as long as you’re polite and keep your activities off the main, list-only pages, you can stay. If you’re rude—possibly even when pedophiles are hitting on you—you have to go.
In terms of content, the “no negativity” policy seems to have led to arbitrary decisions like purging of “subjective tropes” and the relegation of valuable trope discussion to the Analysis pages. As one troper recently complained, “The Analysis pages are, by and large, worthless anyway. It seems like it would make more sense to describe why/how a trope’s used while we’re talking about that trope, ie where the tropes are listed.” Along with this, at least in terms of our original discussion of TVT’s rape tropes, it makes sense to ask if the answer to TVT’s problems is to call for more discussion, from more people, in more places around the site. If the site is overrun with dangerous and predatory users because they feel safe there, while still serving as an invaluable resource to the rest of us, then there’s arguably a way to divorce TVT’s content from its users. I’ve thrown a trope or two up on the boards once or twice myself, and there already seem to be plenty of users willing to assist with the cleanup of the rape trope pages, which has already begun again. The primary questions at this point seem to be: at what point does erasure of problematic, fetishist content become erasure of valuable context for real sociocultural discussions about problematic tropes? And, far and away more important, what can all of its moderators, users, and community supporters do to make its pages and forums safe?
The admins seem to be working very hard to clean up the site and preserve their image; but if allegations of admins harboring pedophilic activity are true, then even more than becoming “a bottle of Nightmare Fuel all its own,” TV tropes has, as an anonymous tipper to The Mary Sue noted, “essentially self-selected to become the kind of community that is probably going to be shut down by the FBI.”
ETA—Tropers respond: Many tropers are coming forward to challenge the unsubstantiated claims we’ve reported: for example, a troper responds to the allegation of banning someone for being anti-US bias with, “If by questioning US Bias you mean inserting rants about the glory of North Korea into articles at seemingly random places.” An admin claims that one user allegedly banned for “being rude to pedophiles” was banned for a different offense. But another troper commented that many users felt that administrative alarm over Google AdSense revenue was “used as a pretense for purging subjects the admins personally didn’t like, and to tighten executive control over the wiki’s content,” while another felt that restoration of the rape tropes has “reversed a lot of good work” in terms of purging the site of unwanted content. Clearly this is a complicated issue that has implications for open source community management as well as free debate.
Additionally, Fast Eddie has contacted The Mary Sue with his response:
The moderation staff at the wiki (and I) all agree that shining a light on how rape is used in storytelling is critically important. We had emailed the support people at AdSense looking for some guidance on how we could host articles on the topic without having the very survival of the wiki threatened. Yesterday, due to the concerns raised by your article, we gave up waiting on them and restored the articles without Google advertising. Just to confuse things further, they have ignored the fact that there was no Google advertising on a given page in the past. That means we are still at risk.
The last bits of confusion around this whole thing were remarks I made in our forums related to the issue which could easily be taken as dismissive of the situation. My fault. Around the forums I assume that people know where I am generally coming from, so I can indulge in ironic statements. Turns out not be the case. Just to state it plainly: Women’s issues are front and center in the wiki’s content policies. We do not tolerate any form of hate speech, and consider it a core goal to make people aware of how the conventions of storytelling are actually received by the audience.
I categorically deny any of the allegations that TV Tropes is the least bit friendly to anyone having pedophilia. Couldn’t be any farther from the truth.
We’re glad the tropes are back, and fervently hope that Google can be prevailed upon to let them stay that way.
Top image of Laura Croft taken from Action Girl.
Aja Romano blogs regularly at Bookshop.