Among other things, Breitbart News is famous for running articles suggesting birth control use makes women “unattractive” and “crazy,” and claiming feminism is worse than cancer. Now, it can add another seriously bizarre item to this list — its characterization of allegations against GOP Senate candidate Roy Moore’s history of sexual predation on teenage girls.
According to a Washington Post report published this week, Moore allegedly asked a handful of teenage girls as young as 14 on dates and kissed and made sexual advances on them in the 1970s. Breitbart responded by attempting to debate the age of consent, and listing deeds by Moore that sounded romantic — he read one of his teenage paramours poetry, played the guitar and never moved farther than kissing. Breitbart may be known for its extreme tendencies, and yet pathetically enough, the phenomenon of romanticizing unhealthy, abusive romances in history, literature and popular culture is prevalent.
From Vladimir Nabokov’s novel Lolita, a graphic and horrifying tale of pedophilia, being perceived by some as a love story, to celebrations of E.L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy — a hotbed for abuse, manipulation and coerced consent — as romantic, too often we see audiences pretend the lines between right and wrong can be blurred in order to fulfill their twisted personal ideas of what a good love story is.
In Lolita, a middle-aged man seduces an orphaned adolescent girl, and tries to persuade his readers that his actions are somehow less deplorable because the young Lolita isn’t sexually “pure” because she spent a summer experimenting with boys her age. And so, in the eyes of her older abuser, he somehow isn’t to blame for taking advantage of her. And in the Fifty Shades trilogy, a multi-millionaire executive leverages his money, power and expansive business empire to stalk and coerce a young woman into ceding her rights to enter a sexually violent relationship with him.
And while recurring, frustrating allegations of sexual abuse in entertainment, politics and every sphere with disproportionate power dynamics are often unilaterally condemned by public figures, different aspects of abuse and manipulation continue to be romanticized in their work. Just last week, singer-songwriter Lana Del Rey publicly apologized for her 2014 song, “Cola,” in which she referenced Hollywood executive Harvey Weinstein’s practice of lavishing young women with diamonds and her personal experiences with him. Her songs constantly narrate dark, doomed love stories, and that’s all well, but at the very least she recognized that in the present context, her lyrics about Weinstein’s sexual, coercive relationships with young, aspiring actresses crossed a line.
I’m hardly one to sympathize with Breitbart — placing the word “Breitbart” in the same sentence as “sympathize” is actually a deeply uncomfortable act for me. And yet our collective societal fascination with romantic taboos has undeniably stunted some people’s ability to draw clear lines around right and wrong — or, in Moore’s case, legal and illegal — to the extent that a popular conservative news outlet on Thursday seemed to characterize a middle-aged man’s relationships with and sexual predation of young women in a romantic light.
This, obviously, needs to change. The consequences of people thinking sexual coercion is tolerable — even romantic — have become increasingly clear amid rampant sexual abuse allegations across multiple industries. Hopefully, our collective disgust with Breitbart’s portrayal of Moore’s inappropriate relationships will help pave the way to change.
Kylie Cheung is a sophomore majoring in journalism and political science. She is also the editorial director of the Daily Trojan. Her column, “Grab Back,” runs every other Friday.