N.B. All opinions are those of the author
It is currently one of the most widely discussed topics on campus, a contentious issue inciting people from across the student spectrum and bringing to light an emerging problem amongst young people. The promotional video “Fresher Violation” posted by popular Leeds club night Tequila has received a huge reaction from students and non-students alike over the past two weeks. It has provoked responses from mainstream media such as The Guardian and Huffington Post, as well as spreading across all parts of social media, catching the attention of Frankie Boyle and Doc Brown to boot. More and more articles and opinion pieces are sprouting up as I write my own, and an online petition heavily promoted by LS newspaper is urging the host nightclub Mezz to shut down Tequila. As I write this the list of signatures has grown to nearly 3,000 from across the UK. There is no denying that Tequila has been slammed.
The content of the offending video revolves around the theme of sexually violating first year female students as they descend upon Leeds’ bustling nightlife. Promoted as “a den of hedonism and debauchery”, the twenty year old club night has long celebrated the wild and sexual nature of young people to the soundtrack of party anthems, whilst making lavish use of its eponymous drink with all its customers. In defence of Tequila, the extremes shown in the offending video are not reflected in all of its attendees. Many, male and female, go for what is advertised and leave satisfied. As a young adult, which most university students are, there is no shame in expressing and enjoying your newly found sexuality. Nobody has a right to judge you for the way you lead your life, and by extension nobody has a right to coerce you to do things you do not want to do. With this in mind, I have a lot to say in opposition to Tequila. Although the video is not entirely representative of Tequila and the people who attend, it was still approved and then used as a way of marketing Tequila across cyberspace. The old saying of “don’t like it, don’t go” was suddenly made redundant. The video was aimed at everybody to consume if they wish. The culture of Tequila was taken from the confines of Mezz nightclub and made accessible to all, and people are quite rightly repulsed by the apathy shown towards rape and general sexual assault. It was advertised as something for potential customers to not only expect but indulge in, and that is why Tequila has become dangerous. To encourage hedonism and debauchery is to encourage a relentless pursuit for sensual pleasure alone or in company and rape most definitely does not form part of this definition.
Whilst researching the debate I found that the majority of the problem was in fact caused by definitions. So I feel I should underline what is important about language and this issue. The video has given more fuel to the continuing debate over ‘rape culture’, specifically because it shows the normalisation of sexually violent language which has been proliferated by gendered groupings; the “lads” and the “sluts”. Language is a massive part of what dictates culture; it is not just a product of it. There is a reason the Oxford English Dictionary is constantly adapting and growing. Calling a girl a “slut” finalises what her actions mean before she can define them herself. Calling a boy a “lad” automatically makes a connection between him and the sexist mob mentality which is widespread amongst a part of the male population. The language becomes more important than what it is communicating, and thoughtless use of it has consequences, as “Fresher Violation” has proved. One quote from the video which struck me was “Violate is a very strong word. I would say I’mma take advantage of someone”. It shows an underestimation of words and their effects on society while simultaneously proving just how powerful a person’s rhetoric is. The man in question thinks that ‘taking advantage of someone’ infers a more acceptable behaviour than the word violate, or that by using a synonym for his actions it somehow lessens the violence behind them.
Rather appropriately, I’ll refer to the lyrics of the song currently knighted by the double-edged sword of “Most Controversial Song of the Year”: Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines. They have inspired debates such as the one Tequila has been embroiled in since before this video was published. How can we distinguish the decent from the indecent? At what point does the transition from mutual consent to overtly sexual behaviours end? It is already difficult to pick a side for this argument, and words like ‘rape’ and ‘violation’ does not make it any easier. By definition, there are no blurred lines when it comes to either. I have confidence that the male interviewees and interviewers in the video would never commit actual rape, but they do not understand the strength of their words and therefore what kind of image of Tequila they are propagating. If customers of Tequila have been broadcast carelessly engaging in such sexually violent discourse, it makes me question how else Tequila has been careless in policing their club night and whether they can be trusted with stripper poles and body shot bars.