The "controversy" continues

Apparently the Rails community isn't the only one pursuing that ephemeral goal of "edginess"—another blatantly sexist presentation came off without a hitch, this time at a Flash conference, and if anything, it was worse than the Rails/CouchDB presentation. I excerpt a few choice tidbits from an eyewitness here, but be warned—if you're not comfortable with language, skip the next block paragraph.

Yesterday's afternoon keynote is this guy named Hoss Gifford — I believe his major claim to fame is that viral "spank the monkey" thing that went around a few years back.  Highlights of his talk:

  • He opens his keynote with one of those "Ignite"-esque presentations — where you have 5-minutes and 20 slides to tell a story — and the first and last are a close-up of a woman's lower half, her legs spread (wearing stilettos, of course) and her shaved vagina visible through some see-thru panties that say "drink me," with Hoss's Photoshopped, upward-looking face placed below it.
  • He later demos a drawing tool he has created (admittedly with someone else's code) and invites a woman to come up to try it.  After she sits back down, he points out that in her doodles she's drawn a "cock."
  • Then he decides he wants to give a try at using the tool to draw a "cock" (he loves this word) — and draws a face, then a giant dick (he redraws it three times) that ultimately cums all over the face.
  • A multitude of references to penises and lots of swearing — and also "If you are easily offended, fuck you!"
  • And then, to top it off, a self-made flash movie of an animated woman's face, positioned as if she's having sex with you, who gradually orgasms based on the speed of your mouse movement on the page.

Wow. Just... wow. To call this unprofessional smacks of calling Hitler a "socially awkward individual"... or using a euphemism like "mild medical condition" to refer to death. This is so far "over the line" that it's unbelievable. Even Mr. Aimonetti's "CouchDB" presentation, as bad as it was, at least tried to tie the analogy together in a meaningful, if offensive, way. This is just male posturing at its worst. (I'm shocked Hoss didn't whip off his pants and demand the women in the room bow down in worship to his obviously superior manhood.)

Fortunately, according to the source, the conference organizer seems to be pretty responsive, so kudos to the one adult in the room, but....

What's worse, apparently the presenter and more than a few of his pals are (in the best traditions of assholery) blatantly unrepentant about the whole thing, claiming the moral high ground in much the same way that the Rails idiots did—it's all in good fun, if you don't find it funny you're a prude, and so on:

I checked Twitter (hashtag #flashbelt) to see what the responses were.  Here are some notable remarks:

  • Fonx is reading the #flashbelt rants on Hoss offending the ladies w/ a few swear words & a penis drawing - r u really that prudish & sexist?
  • nthitz lol @hoss69 "If you are easily offended, fuck you" #flashbelt
  • livenootrac Ladies of #flashbelt , I am sorry for the Hoss preso, but in the flash community he gets a pass, kinda like Don Rickles - that's just Hoss.
  • CujoJpn @livenootrac And there were many ladies at #flashbelt who were offended by Hoss' Preso some were thick skinned and took it as is.

So, if you didn't like it then
a) you are a prude - and sexist (?)
b) fuck you
c) suck it because Hoss gets a pass here in the boy's club known as "the flash community" and
d) you are a wimpy girl who isn't strong enough / man enough / "thick-skinned" enough  to deal with it.

Even more... wow. Talk about justification and marginalization. Amazing.

Before I figuratively smack this Hoss guy around the blog for a while, let's take a brief moment for reflection—what's going on here? Why all the misogynistic presentations recently? Is this reflective of a general trend in the programming industry? Of society in general? Is the world coming to an end?

A few possibilities present themselves:

  • The lack of women in the IT industry means there's nobody around to act as a "gender filter" to keep things on an even keel. In other words, the genders constantly filter themselves based on the company they keep, and because the boys who put these presentations together don't have female input, they simply don't know where to draw the line for mixed company. This theory also presumes that an industry that's made up primarily of women will also lack such a filter and "girls will be girls" as a result. Unfortunately I have no good counterexamples at hand to examine—anybody know of an industry populated primarily by women, and can weigh in with experience there? The closest I get is my brief experience working in a restaurant with an almost-all-woman serving staff, and from that brief experience, yep, the theory holds. Solution? Easy: get more women in IT, and things will re-balance themselves naturally.
  • Programmers are principally males who have no redeeming social skills. In other words, the industry gathers up exactly the kind of men who find objectifying women and reveling in late-acquired testosterone overdoses to be gratifying, and this kind of behavior is the result. If true, it leads to the conclusion that programmers are no more evolved than the Navy sailors involved in the Tailhook scandal of a few years ago. So go ahead, smack your wives and girlfriends around a little if they get a little "uppity", it's OK, 'cuz u r a l33t d00d. Personally? I find the idea ludicrous—there is definitely a strong antisocial streak that runs through the IT ecosystem (how many of you met your friends via World of Warcraft again?), but like all stereotypes, there's some elements of truth to it, and a lot of exaggeration. And frankly, anybody who believes in this theory is welcome to come with me to dinner at a No Fluff Just Stuff show and meet the other speakers, and listen in on our "boys club" conversations, including questions like, "Which movie best represents the book it was made after?" and "If given a mandate to create a programming language, what language would your language most resemble?". Oh, and the odd fart joke. We are boys, after all.
  • We're hypersensitive to the subject right now. In other words, these kind of presentations have always been going on, and it's just that we notice them now, in the same way that you notice a particular brand of car on the road a lot more when you're thinking about buying that brand and model of car. Frankly, I don't buy this argument—I've been to a lot of presentations over the past decade, and I've never seen any that were anything like this.
  • This is the YouTube generation, with access to everything the Internet has to offer, and this is "just how they do things". After all, how much maturity, sexual discretion and adult behavior can we expect of the generation that gave us "Girls Gone Wild" and its ilk? It's just a "generation gap" thing, and we old fogies who didn't grow up with Internet porn just a browser-click away just don't "get it". Hmm.... somehow, I just don't buy it. Sure, there may be some elements of this involved here (I'm really curious to see what all these "Girls Gone Wild" girls are going to say to their own daughters in a decade or so...), but I think that's too easy an answer, and an eminently unhelpful one.
  • We have copycatters out there trying to follow the path of people they respect. If you're looking up at this Hoss character and thinking, "I want to be just like him!", you really should see a therapist and develop a sense of self, before you find yourself without friends. Hoss gets a pass because of your misguided fan-boi hero-worship. So does Paris Hilton. You want to be the Paris Hilton of your social circle? Go for it. After all, she's highly respected and loved, right? Take a clue from the next car wreck you drive past—everybody's slowing to look not because they wish they were in the body bag, folks, but because we have a ghoulish fascination with it. In the case of Ms. Hilton, that ghoulish fascination is with those who self-destruct in spectacular fashion. (Me, I'd love to be the fly on the wall at the Hoss residence when he tries to explain this whole thing to his daughter or his date/girlfriend/wife, if he ever finds one.)
  • The presenters taking this tack are looking for an easy path to fame. In the grand traditions of Andrew Dice Clay ("Oh!"), the easiest way for a presenter to "stand out" from the rest of the crowd of presenters is to do something outrageous and call it "edgy", and stake out a claim on the edge of the civilization, rather than try to integrate with the rest of the crowd and build something up slowly. Don Box has already claimed "HTTP is dead", I made the analogy between a technology and a military conflict, and Matt Aimonetti claimed a data storage framework "performs like a pr0n star", so what's left but to stake out ground even further out on the fringe and just be misogynistic? Fortunately, history suggests that people with content-free/shock-heavy presentations (or even content-heavy/shock-heavy ones) don't go the distance, so to speak, and that once there's nowhere more shocking left to go, the audience comes back to the content-heavy/shock-light discussions and stays there for a while. Unfortunately, this means we're going to have to suffer through somebody's "Live YouPorn filming" talk first, which I'm not looking forward to.

And now for the smacking around... but you know, I suddenly realize that the volume of comments on the original post leave with nothing to do or say that's not already being said, so to just "pile on" would only serve to let me vent, and I have other outlets for that. But it would be inappropriate to just "walk away", so to speak, so with that in mind....

Hoss, you're an idiot. Like any sprinter, you're going to head up the pack for a bit, but soon enough, your "shtick" is going to flame out and you'll be left behind with all the other "shock jocks" of the 80's who found their material unwelcome after a while. So enjoy the spotlight (such as it is) while you can. In the meantime, I'm off to revise a few presentations, and stick with solid ideas and analogies, and maybe dropping the odd F-bomb when I want to make a point, just for emphasis, because I know something you apparently don't:

Shock makes a point because of the contrast to the rest of the talk, not because of its inherent "edginess".

Meanwhile, by all means, continue to be an idiot. You just make me look better by comparison, for which I thank you.