Dear David Choe and others: Rape is not art

130515120252-facebook-now-david-choe-stock-620xbBefore last week, I had never heard of David Choe. Quite frankly, I don’t give a fuck who he is. Apparently he’s a famous artist. Good for him.

David Choe also co-hosts a VICE podcast. Here’s what I do give a fuck about: on an episode of this podcast, David Choe details his experience of raping someone.

I’m not recounting the tale here. It’s disgusting. Gawker has the part of the transcript here, as well as the podcast. I want to talk about his response to being called a rapist. On his blog, he said:

I never thought I’d wake up one late afternoon and hear myself called a rapist. It sucks. Especially because I am not one. I am not a rapist. I hate rapists, I think rapists should be raped and murdered.

I am an artist and a storyteller and I view my show DVDASA as a complete extension of my art.

If I am guilty of anything, it’s bad storytelling in the style of douche.

Storytelling. Art. Hating rapists so much you want them to be raped. I hope his actual artistic output is more artful than the excuse making and dodging of any responsibility on display here.

Let’s start with the fact that if you actually hate rapists, you wouldn’t want to turn someone else into a rapists in order to punish a rapist. It’s illogical. Rape is a deplorable violent act. It is not a form of punishment that supposedly good people should condone when it happens to the people we deem unworthy. There should be consequences faced for committing rape, preferably those established through a restorative justice model that focuses on the needs of survivor. But no one ever needs to be raped.

Ultimately, Choe wants us to believe he’s not a bad guy. His story, he says, was art. His podcast, he says, isn’t a news show. This isn’t his reality, he tells us. Sorry you’re too stupid to realize that (I’m interpreting). And maybe he did make it all up. Maybe he didn’t actually rape his masseuse by forcing her to give him oral sex and then convince himself that it wasn’t rape, only “rape-y,” because her eyes said that she really wanted it. Maybe that’s just a fucked up story he was telling because… who the fuck knows. Art, or something.

That’s exactly my problem. If the story isn’t true, if it was totally fabricated, what did it serve to make it up? What have we gained, artistically, from this? And if we have gained anything, was it worth it?

What happens when you wade into this territory, asking artists that deal with very sensitive material, about their intentions and whether it’s worth it, is rankling people who decry censorship. So let me be clear: I don’t want to censor artists. I don’t want there to be things off limits to artists. What I do want is for artists to consider the stakes of their creation.

Roxane Gay speaks to this in her piece about rape being used as device to prop up the plot in many television series, most recently Game of Thrones. At Salon, she writes:

In some ways, it’s useful for television shows to acknowledge the extent of sexual violence in our culture. These narratives allow necessary stories to be told. But the execution is too easy. From daytime soap operas to prestige cable shows, rape is all too often used to place the degradation of the female body and a woman’s vulnerability at the center of the narrative. Rape is used to create drama and ratchet up ratings. And it’s rare to see the brutality and complexity of a rape accurately conveyed on-screen. Instead, we are treated to an endless parade of women being forced into submission as the delicate and wilting flowers television writers and producers seem to want them to be.

Art is important, and some of the most important art that we produce and consume mines the ugliest parts of the human experience. But, believe it or not, there are things more important than art. How we care for one another, how much compassion we have for each other, how we treat fellow humans. None of that is worth sacrificing for the sake of art.

And if we’re going to deal with it in our art, we must start with the understanding that rape is not art. We can’t just throw it into the mix and feign ignorance as to why it’s upsetting. It’s not a device to be used to push an audience’s buttons. Before e have to ask some important questions about the ways we depict it and whether or not we’re causing further damage to the survivors. My hope is that our art challenges rape culture, not reinforce its existence.

My other hope is that David Choe didn’t rape anyone. I hope the best case scenario in this situation is that he’s a horrible storyteller/artist. But either way, whether he’s actually a rapist or a bad artist, my hope is he isn’t allowed near another podcast.

MychalMychal Denzel Smith is a Knobler Fellow at The Nation Institute.

Mychal Denzel Smith is a Knobler Fellow at The Nation Institute and contributing writer for The Nation Magazine, as well as columnist for and Salon. As a freelance writer, social commentator, and mental health advocate his work has been seen online in outlets such as The New York Times, The Atlantic, Salon, Al Jazeera English, Gawker, The Guardian,, Huffington Post, The Root, and The Grio.

Mychal Denzel Smith is a Knobler Fellow at The Nation Institute and contributing writer for The Nation Magazine, as well as columnist for and Salon.

Read more about Mychal

Join the Conversation