This is the internet and therefore you can say whatever the hell you want. Any idiot can get himself a social media account and some free space on Tumblr and gatling-gun empty thought bubbles out into the ether at will. To read something really crazy on, say, Twitter isn’t a big shock because expressing yourself on Twitter requires no writing talent whatsoever and you don’t have to submit your tweets to somebody who ostensibly knows better and might do you the favor of killing your dumb material before it sees the light of day. Put simply, there are plenty of places you can go if you want to rage pointlessly or read someone raging pointlessly (this regular column, for example).
Slate, however, isn’t a Tumblr or Twitter account and it isn’t Thought Catalog or some other site that exists solely to aggregate the various “feelz” of melodramatic 19-year-olds. Slate is, for all intents and purposes, a serious politics and culture outlet. True, there have been times over the past couple of years when, along with Salon at its nadir, the site has felt like its goal is to troll sane people. But overall Slate still has a stable of excellent writers creating thought-provoking content and taking stands that can’t always be politically pigeonholed. In the past it’s called out internet outrage, in one of the most sweeping indictments of the phenomenon ever published, and it’s featured highly critical examinations of the campus rape and the revived Woody Allen controversies.
You’d think that if you put these two things together — that any idiot can write something stupid online but that Slate isn’t a stupid outlet — that Bryan Lowder’s piece decrying “spooning” as problematically sexist wouldn’t exist. At least not as it was published earlier today — at Slate. Lowder, who reportedly writes and edits for “Outward,” the site’s generally good LGBT issues section, posted the column this morning and it’s without a doubt one of the most painfully absurd descents into self-important cultural criticism and general internet madness ever conceived by a seemingly sentient being. Lowder’s thesis is that spooning — the act of curling up directly against your lover from behind in bed and holding that person or being curled up against and held — is a “terrible idea” that’s “fraught both physically and ideologically.”
At first it seems like Lowder just might, hope against hope, be joking. But then comes this kind of thing:
“Big spoons are manly and will take care of you (provided you let them use you to take care of themselves); little spoons are fragile, passive creatures that need to be held and kept safe. This, of course, is fundamentally a sexist arrangement, one that casts the big spoon as ‘the man’ and the little spoon as ‘the woman.’ To say that this power imbalance is built into all acts of spooning — whichever the sexes engaged — is not, I think, an overstatement. Indeed, I would argue that spooning is always already a power play, a perverse strategy by which we nightly enact the unjust relations of ‘big’ and ‘little’ privilege that plague our society on every level.”
Lowder, needless to say, has an alternative to spooning at the ready — thank God.
What we need is conscious cuddling, cuddling that takes into account the realities of our bodies, so easily taxed, and the pressures of a fallen social system that unnecessarily sorts us into limiting categories of big and little. Luckily, there’s a solution at the ready: Cuddle sitting up. It’s bracingly simple, I know, but it is the balm we need. Vertical cuddling—whether with an arm loosely paced around the neck, or a head freely reclined on a shoulder, or just sitting cozily side-by-side—removes much of the risk of physical discomfort and all of the semiotic violence that spooning conveys. It also allows for intimacy we actually experience because we are, you know, awake.
Now look, again, the internet has allowed anybody to post whatever he or she wants, no matter how far up its own ass. But Slate has editors, ones you’d hope would be in a higher position than the apparently delicate snowflake that is Bryan Lowder. You’d also hope that those editors would read something like this and send it back to Lowder with a series of laughter emojis emblazoned across the top and the words, “Good one! No, seriously, what are you writing today?” typed out underneath. Of course it’s entirely possible that this lunatic nonsense — literally telling people how to sleep — is designed merely to troll, but if that’s the case you get the impression it’s Slate itself doing it, given that Bryan Lowder seems pretty sincere in his quixotic fight against the villainy of spooning (between straights, gays, or anything in between or beyond).
If that’s the case it goes to something I’ve wondered for a while now: whether sites that traffic in trolling their audiences specifically recruit and then exploit the craziest people they can find in the name of generating clickbait. If so, well, maybe that explains Bryan Lowder and it’s not his fault. He was simply pulled up from the minors of Tumblr or something. If Slate‘s genuinely trying to cultivate and continue its reputation as a relatively serious site, however, and it continues to let Lowder — or anyone — write ridiculous horseshit like this, it’s got its work cut out for it.
As for the rest of us — one day we’ll look back on this period in our culture and just laugh and laugh.