|Type:||wank, ship war|
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We’ve fractured our fandom over fictional relationships. We should be better than that guys. Seriously.
What is it?
The Kurtofsky Wanks were a routine ship war topic in the Glee fandom, which emerged alongside a fairly intense rivalry between the fans of different Kurt Hummel ships. Trolling and ranting were very common, and the debates (such as one which occurred in late July 2011, and continued to flare into September 2011) often became heated quickly. The Kurtofsky Wanks re-ignited at various points while Glee was on the air, and may still surface from time to time when and wherever Glee is discussed.
Over the course of early season two, Dave Karofsky had bullied Kurt for being gay, often roughly shoving him into lockers. In the sixth episode of the second season, "Never Been Kissed," things came to a head when Kurt finally confronted Karofsky in the locker room at McKinley High School. While the pair argued, Karofsky became increasingly agitated and raised his fist, and in response Kurt all but dared him to hit him. Much to Kurt's surprise, instead Karofsky ultimately responded to his presence by grabbing him and kissing him. This moment was framed for the audience as a dramatic reveal of Karofsky's identity as a closeted and tormented young gay man. After that first kiss, Karofsky hesitated before attempting a second, gentler kiss. Presumably, he thought or hoped that their dynamic was born of mutual sexual tension. However, Kurt instead pulled pack with an expression of shock and sadness, and Karofsky left, angry and confused. In the episodes immediately afterward, Karofsky's bullying took a turn. He threatened to kill Kurt if he told anyone about their kiss, and made a point of invading his personal space against his will, in a way that some fans read as a sexual threat. As for Kurt, he was in a difficult position: sympathetic enough that he was unwilling to "out" Karofsky by exposing the full extent and nature of his bullying, yet obviously unable to continue in that environment. At the end of the eighth episode of that season, he announced that he would be transferring schools, ending the bullying for the time being.
The Karofsky Wanks were largely a response to these epsiodes. Once they aired, a significant part of the fandom was now shipping Kurt with Karofsky, a character who was in some ways very complex and sympathetic, with clear potential for an amazing redemption arc, yet currently behaving in a way that could understandably be triggering to survivors of sexual assault - and, arguably, could constitute sexual assault or harassment itself. Further complicating the issue, a larger portion of the fandom emerged from those episodes shipping Kurt/Blaine, so in addition to the more serious issues under consideration, the Kurtofsky Wanks also featured all the vehemence and angst associated with a more typical ship war.
Beginning immediately after "Never Been Kissed" aired, and continuing for weeks during and after the follow-up episodes, large groups of Glee fans began debating whether or not Dave Karofsky was a sexual predator, or simply misguided and misunderstood. The sexual assault debate continued for months after the episode aired, and eventually escalated to the point where fans of other Kurt Hummel pairings routinely accused Kurtofsky fans of being rape apologists. For their part, the majority of Kurtofsky fans insisted that they were not necessarily advocating for a relationship between the characters as things stood now, but for a redemption arc for Karofsky, which could then be followed by a romance. Whether a relationship between a bully and his former victim could ever be truly healthy was a common subject of debate. Another common theme of these arguments was that detractors would allege that Kurtofsky shippers cannot possibly have ever experienced rape, assault, or abuse themselves. This was then proven false by several individuals who felt compelled to come forward with their personal stories of abuse in order to quell the wank. It is impossible to say how many Kurtofsky fans simply ignored the accusations, and how many responded to them. However, once responses were made, the discussions, which usually happen asynchronously on Tumblr, quickly become impassioned, and occasionally "wanky," on both sides. In addition to the debate over canon events, Karofsky has often been written as a one-dimensional villain in fanfiction centered on other Kurt pairings - usually a rapist, murderer, or other malevolent deviant. The outcry against such stories, of course, tended to lead to more debate.
On several occasions, the Kurtofsky Wanks reached a level of intensity where the argument was so heated on both sides that anonymous hate messages were sent to the Tumblr ask boxes of shippers debating the issue, from shippers of rival pairings. Allegedly, some of the anonymous hate messages received by Kurtofsky shippers have included death threats that were due entirely to the pairing they support. It is important to note however that not all fans of other Kurt Hummel pairings made/make these accusations of sexual assault against Dave Karofsky, and/or of rape apology against Kurtofsky shippers, nor did all Kurtofsky shippers insist on Karofsky's complete innocence. The majority of shippers on all sides were very willing to coexist peacefully with their fellow Glee fans. Unfortunately, the most dramatic voices are often the loudest.
Tumblr Tag Controversy
Further debate has emerged within the Kurtofsky Wanks debate on Tumblr, about whether or not it is okay to tag one's rants and inflammatory speech about any pairing with the name of that pairing. Many users believe that pairing name tags belong to shippers of that pairing, and that it is not okay to post negative comments using that tag. Many others believe that if the post is at all relevant to the topic, even if it is critical, then posting in that tag is perfectly legitimate. Still others point out the tag system on Tumblr functions as an organizational tool for their personal blogs, as well as a method of communication, and that they have the right to use it as such. However, inflammatory speech within the Kurtofsky pairing tags has been a key component of the Kurtofsky Wanks' - and other ship-wars' - longevity on Tumblr:
STOP TAGGING YOUR HATE.If you feel the need to post lots of ship hate, password protect your blog so people can’t lash out at you in anon for what you’re posting. Give the password to people who agree with your opinions. Now you aren’t angering people in the Glee community.
The Chris Q&A at NYFest 2011
At the 2011 NYFest, fans attended a panel that showcased various Kurt scenes, including one of the kiss from Never Been Kissed. Chris Colfer had picked out the scenes, and offered commentary on them: his comment of "this one is a kiss" was received with squees of joy but then, upon revelation that it was the Kurtofsky kiss, one fan muttered "rape", and several others jeered the clip. Colfer himself most likely intended to highlight the acting in the scene, and aside from his likely amusement at misleading the Klaine fans in attendance, probably didn't much care about ship wars either way. Kurtofsky fans, however, responded upon reading about this, or after experiencing it while attending the con by writing posts containing inflammatory language, which reignited the whole online debate:
Maybe those little harpies didn’t think what they were doing was ‘such a big deal’. Maybe they weren’t thinking about anyone but themselves, acting like they usually do online- self-righteous and entitled. But no matter what was going through their heads (or not) to make them think doing something like that was a good idea, the act itself was still completely appalling, humiliating, disrespectful, and just completely unacceptable. I would be saying the exact same thing if it had been a group of pirates booing the Klaine kiss and/or calling it rape in public, in front of a respected actor.
While fandom wanks rarely come to well-defined ends, now that Glee has been over for years, the Kurtofsky Wanks have quieted. While some sections of fandom never forgave him, Karofsky did eventually receive a redemption arc in canon, even becoming friendly with Kurt. By the end of season three, if nothing else, he was rarely used as an antagonist in the fiction of other shippers. And while Kurt never did enter a canonical relationship with him, in season six, he eventually dated his former rival for Kurt's affections, Blaine Anderson, a development which would never have been expected circa season two and which, it's safe to say, thoroughly confused the remaining fans on all sides.
- colorofsakura, I also want to be clear on something., retrieved July 30, 2011.
- asongbiginonesosmall, http://asongsobiginonesosmall.tumblr.com/post/9544257238
- Audio Recorded From The Con
- Report From PandaTreat Regarding Seating and the Comment, accessed October 3, 2011.
- My over-arching, coherent morning thoughts about what went on at the Chris Q&A., accessed October 3, 2011.