Early warning signs of bad behavior: take note and act

You may have heard that the founder of AintItCoolNews, Harry Knowles, is being accused of sexual harassment. His little entertainment empire is collapsing fast in the wake of some serious problems.

Melissa Kaercher was acquainted with him and has been attending his events for years, and she has written up an honest analysis of Knowles’ problems. It’s clear how the pattern evolved. Start with a few crude jokes — we’ve all been there. Graduate to gross-out humor. Notice that sexual abuse gets the strongest response. From there, you’re off to the races, and start thinking you can do whatever you want to people. It’s funny!

We have all been there, at least at the early stages. But most of us learn early that we can repel people easily with such behavior, and we tone it down and work to extinguish it. But if you’re famous and popular, if you have rewards, like Knowles’ special, private events, people are less likely to speak out in the early stages, and you’ll also find that other privileged, nasty people gravitate towards you — it’s asshole magnetism. And before you know it, you’re living in a little clique where the decent people try to look the other way, while the similarly bad people are egging you on, until you cross a line that no one can ignore anymore.

It’s tough to handle. People tend not to respond well to criticism. If you do catch them early, and tell someone that, for instance, you don’t appreciate their rape joke, you know what’ll happen: “It was just one little joke! I’m a good guy! Why are you so tight-assed?”, and it all comes back on you. And they don’t invite you to their super-cool party.

But it needs to be done. Don’t let your friends slide down that easy, slick path to abusiveness. Snip it off early.


  1. says

    You may have heard that the founder of AintItCoolNews,

    I had never even heard of AintItCoolNews. Now, I’m content enough with that.

  2. says

    It is probably not the best argument to make to say you’re being offended if your goal is for a bad behaviour to stop. There is always, on some level, going to be that lizard brain response of “you’re offended? well, fuck you” before any of the substance of the matter is considered.

    I think a better strategy is to explain how their behaviour impacts them, something like the points:
    1. Communication is a two party endeavour. Other people can’t hear what you mean, they hear what you say.
    2. When you make bigoted jokes, people will think you’re bigoted.
    3. This includes the actual bigots*.
    4. If you stopped making those jokes, no one will like you any less, some might like you a great deal more. Except for the bigots.
    5. You are ultimately responsible yourself of how you’re presenting yourself and for the social environment you appeal to.
    6. I’m not your mommy, I’m not telling you what to do, just what the consequences of your behavior is.

    Of course, there’s still a fairly substantial risk that the person is going to tell you to fuck off anyway. But at least then you can be reasonably more confident that the person was a lost cause from the start.

    *There is this incredibly toxic idea of bigoted essence that no doubt people here are all too familiar with. The idea that bigotry is something located the the heart of hearts of a person and merely doing things that are harmful and bigoted is not sufficient to make one a bigot. It is an absurd idea, but it is likely one that people with the bad behaviour shares. In order to get around this you need to make the argument that what they’re doing is indistinguishable from the “actual bigots” for anyone who aren’t them.

  3. ParaLess says

    This disappoints me greatly. Ugh, Harry, what the hell.

    This just further proves fame, even small amounts, is just bad for people.

  4. waydude says

    I still can’t figure out why anyone ever wanted anything to do with this guy. I read some of the reviews on AICN because I have an apetite for those kinds of things, but the writing was poor, the reviews were generally rambling messes of incoherent warbling, I never got anything out of them. Nothing useful or thought provoking or even funny. I don’t understand how this guy is a thing. And now it comes out he’s another ‘shock jock’, doing things to see peoples reactions for his delight, and not for any higher purpose of getting people to think and challenge their privilege or question how we run as a society? Ugh. Another man child way overestimating his role in this world, generally being a dick because he can, and harassing women because he lacks the emotional intelligence and ability to relate to other people.

  5. auraboy says

    As a teen, I got into Aintitcool for the outrageously geeky antidote to stuffy mainstream critics who thought anything ‘geek’ was shorthand for ‘worthless’. Harry Knowles couldn’t write, was barely coherent and loved anything regardless of quality but he carried a lot of us along on sheer enthusiasm for SF and fantasy properties.
    It didn’t take long for the talkbacks to become a cesspool. Aintitcool has been worse than Reddit for sheer misogyny, racism, MRA, ultra right bullshit for years now… Harry half heartedly stood against it (whilst gently encouraging it for the clicks). He would throw in a few ‘feminism/liberalism is good’ points to his writings, but I always got the impression this was merely to wind up his alt right crowd into keeping the site busy.
    The creepiness and assaults don’t really surprise me – in a way, the alt right crowd are far too obviously hateful, but the shallow cover of progressive attitudes seems to be more insidious.
    The only tiny silver lining is that there has been mass resignations by most of the AICN staff and nobody has actively defended Harry Knowles (that I can see).

  6. Rich Woods says

    We have all been there

    This is true, and it’s important not to forget it. I remember contributing to the ‘pineapple time’ jokes on Pharyngula half a dozen years ago. I’m glad we grew out of it.