Stop Defending John Green from Non-Existent Accusations

Before we get started, I want say that accusations of sexual abuse are serious and should obviously not be thrown around lightly or falsely as a bullying tactic. That's super uncool. And can be criminal. There's your PSA for the day, internet. You might have heard that this is what happened to John Green recently. This did not happen to John Green. What happened to Green was that he was accused of being a "creep" in a post on Tumblr he was also tagged in. He responded to this post as if he were accused of sexual abuse and the internet failed to read or investigate the original post and leapt to his defense with screeds against teenagers, "outrage culture," and the internet itself.

Here's a link to the BuzzFeed story about it, where you can see the original post and Green's responses. The original poster (OP) speaks about their discomfort with Green's social media presence as it pertains to teenage girls. They refer to a "cult-like" following of fans, which is pretty accurate if you are familiar with Green's online presence and "Nerdfighters." And in what seems to be the point that everyone took to be an accusation of pedophilia, the OP says, "[H]e has a social media presence that is the equivalent [emphasis mine] to that dad of a kid in your friend group who always volunteers to 'supervise' the pool parties and scoots his lawn chair closer to all the girls."

It's worth noting that this post had at least 50,000 notes on it. It struck a chord with a lot of people. For me, it struck a chord because as soon as I read that analogy, I knew exactly what the OP meant in terms of a very specific feeling. As a former teenage girl who identified as a teenage girl and was female-bodied, I knew exactly what that feeling was the OP was trying to express. A lot of girls know exactly what type of situation and what type of guy the OP is talking about. Teenagers, believe it or not, have very good instincts about this sort of thing. And when they say that they are uncomfortable, that someone, especially an adult, is making them uncomfortable, they should be listened to and taken seriously. They also have a right to vent in their own spaces.

Was the post possibly mean, or at the very least unfavorable to Green? Sure. But he's a very public, very well-known author and internet celebrity. If this is the extent of the "hate" he gets, he is very lucky indeed. People are going to have strong opinions about a very public figure who writes very popular books. That comes with the territory.

What gets me, is that Green responded to this little post that would have likely been buried in Tumblr fairly soon. Yes, he was tagged in it, but he absolutely did not have to respond. Green isn't new to the internet. This is his domain. Celebrities know to ignore most of the stuff said about them online. And someone like Green must get tagged in dozens of posts every day and get tons of asks in his inbox. I follow several big YA authors on Tumblr and see the volume of tags and asks they receive. This should have elicited a sigh and a shrug and silence.

I think that Green responded to this on purpose. He knows his fan base, he knows how people practically worship at an altar of his books and will suffer no criticism of their patron saint of YA. He had to have known that this level of response would follow the minute he responded. Especially in the WAY he responded. Green responded to an accusation that wasn't thrown as if it were. He starts out by saying "You want me to defend myself against the implication that I sexually abuse children?" That right there is incredibly inflammatory and guaranteed to get people's immediate attention. Green is an educated professional writer. He knows the power of words. He goes on for four paragraphs about how "sick" and "libelous" these "accusations" are. He says he's tired of seeing "social justice language- misused as a way to dehumanize others and treat them hatefully." UM? What even? What social justice language?

Do you know what I thought when I read Green's response? I thought to myself: Oh my god, John Green is gaslighting this person and his other detractors. If you don't know what "gaslighting" is, it's a manipulative tactic used to invalidate people's concerns, issues and feelings by making them doubt themselves and seem irrational.

From Wikipedia: Gaslighting or gas-lighting is a form of mental abuse in which information is twisted or spun, selectively omitted to favor the abuser, or false information is presented with the intent of making victims doubt their own memory, perception, and sanity.

Now, before it gets twisted, let me make it clear that I am not saying John Green is mentally abusive. That's not a requirement to using what mental health professionals consider to be an abusive tactic. Gaslighting is very common and all of us have probably done it to some extent at some point in our lives, probably being completely unaware of what we were doing.

This is what happened: John Green basically responded to a post that was the equivalent of a conversation spoken at regular conversational speaking volume by shouting and going "OMG HOW DARE YOU ACCUSE ME OF BEING A PEDOPHILE AND FORCE ME TO RESPOND IN SUCH A PUBLIC WAY TO SUCH HORRIBLE AND POSSIBLY TOTALLY ILLEGAL BTW HURTFUL ACCUSATIONS WHICH WILL FORCE ME TO LOWKEY THREATEN TO SCALE BACK MY MASSIVE ONLINE PRESENCE YOU MEANIES" and the people who were talking at a normal volume among themselves are standing there like "..." while his fans are like "OMG DID YOU HEAR WHAT THOSE HORRIBLE, STUPID AND MEAN FANGIRLS/SJWS/TUMBLR PEOPLE/INTERNET TROLLS/BULLIES ETC SAID ABOUT SUPER COOL/NICE/SAINTED JOHN GREEN?!" And suddenly any criticism of John Green is invalid and completely unwarranted. No one is willing to listen to what this post was (maybe inelegantly) getting at. Which is that John Green is a 37-year-old man who claims to understand teenage girls on a deep soul level and fills his books with manic pixie dream girls who are largely props to his male protagonist's stories. The issue, as some have claimed, is NOT that John Green is a man writing young adult fiction that some girls like. Lots of men write YA that appeals to girls. No, this issue is the way John Green courts his fan base and operates in teen-heavy spaces, the way he seems to almost fetishize the "quirky, unique, super special" girl that allows boys to "find themselves" and refers to girls as "resources." Never mind that Green has been criticized by plenty of people for lack of diversity in his novels, romanticizing chronic illness/mental illness, being very culturally insensitive, having the audacity to think that he's doing something unique with his work that no one has done before ("when was the last time the GIRL kissed the BOY in a teen romance? ever? has it happened ever?" Yes. It's happened.), and even worse being considered by many to be some sort of savior of quality realistic YA fiction (which un-coincidentally is a female dominated literary genre). Unsurprisingly, this stuff makes some people uncomfortable and/or wary.

I'm not out here saying that people cannot enjoy John Green books. I'm not. I'm also not saying that John Green isn't probably the nice guy he generally appears to be. What I am saying is that your fave is problematic and people, especially teenage girls and young adults, have a right to express their discomfort about an adult in their spaces who makes them feel uncomfortable without being put on blast for the entire internet to roast alive by that man and his stance in a very powerful display of what they were talking about in the first place. It's also disappointing and not cool in my opinion that several very popular female YA authors (some of whom have spoken in depth about sexual abuse) jumped to Green's defense seemingly without even looking at the original post or the tons of other similar posts about Green on Tumblr. They just assumed that he was accused of being a pedophile like he said and reacted accordingly. Way to make girls feel safe about expressing their feelings and being believed when they say that someone makes them feel uncomfortable. Also for making them feel guilty about "taking away other's 'good things.'" Good job.

Finally, I want to bring up how unsettled I am by how quickly and vehemently Green responded to this. His response, again in my opinion, is so over-the-top that it immediately makes me suspicious. In a-the man doth protest too much-way. I mean it's interesting in light of the fact that at least nine prominent male figures in the Nerdfighter community have either been accused of or have admitted to being sexual predators, and that one of the abuse victims, a teenager at the time of the abuse, said in her account of what happened (on her blog which appears to have been removed after the current situation blew up online—but which I did personally read/see before it was taken down) that John Green absolutely knew that at least some of the adult men of his acquaintance/circle were abusers as he specifically told her that she shouldn't "hang out" with the man who would later assault her. Yes, it's hearsay, but I can't help but wonder if this whole thing wasn't a seized opportunity to loudly and dramatically get ahead of a scandal before questions about what Green knew and when start being asked.

Instead of going Looking for Alaska, maybe the internet can go looking for the truth first.

Niala Terrell-Mason's picture
on June 23, 2015

Hey, I'm Niala! I'm black, bisexual, super liberal, a Unitarian Universalist (I'll wait while you Google that), and a long time fangirl. I love fan conventions, Marvel, Star Trek, fan fiction, Tumblr, Harry Potter, most of the shows that Fox cancels and books. I work in a public library and I am a grad student pursuing a masters of divinity in interfaith chaplaincy (aka someone who does religion for a living). I hope you think I'm funny.