By the time the crowd gathers outside David Letterman’s studio today, it will be midnight in Iran, and hundreds of thousands of citizens who spent the day peacefully protesting for fair elections will—hopefully—be sleeping safely in their homes. Halfway around the world, meanwhile, a presumably smaller crowd will gather demanding something very different: They’ll want a 62-year-old comedian and television show host fired.
By now, we all know what happened: David Letterman made a crude joke—punchline, inappropriate sexual innuendo—about one of Gov. Sarah Palin’s daughters. And because the joke involved sex, and the daughter is underage, and Palin is a media manipulation machine, this has become a Very Big Deal. Letterman, clearly, loves pedophilia! Sexual exploitation! Rape!
Here’s the greeting in a form letter the ralliers say we should send to Letterman’s advertisers: “As an advertiser on the David Letterman show, you endorse his point of view, I am appalled that your company supports the rape of young girls.”
Here’s my question: Will all those appalled letter-writers also send moral outrage missives to Dell, IBM, Intel, or Canon? Those are a few of the companies buying tin, tungsten, and coltan to make cell phones, laptops and iPods—and their supply chains likely have roots in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where hundreds of thousands of women have been raped in a 10-year war fueled in part by the lucrative minerals trade. That’s the actual rape of several hundred thousand women and young girls, actually supported, at least in part, by the shiny things we snap up in gadget stores.
Last year I spent about 10 weeks in Congo and in Sierra Leone (of Blood Diamond infamy). There, I met and interviewed dozens of women who’d suffered at the hands of men who coax carbon and coltan—or, as their end products are known, diamonds and cell phones—from the ground and sold them, usually for a pittance to middlemen. The men were miners and soldiers—it is hard, in the chaos of resource conflict, to be only one or the other, and impossible to be neither—and whatever may violently divide them, they had one thing in common: They sought the comfort of women, and they almost always got it. The women who suffered these brutal encounters today live with physical and emotional trauma from the rape and its aftermath: Rape rends a woman from the fabric of society in these places, and there are rarely enough psycho-social resources in these places to change that.
The anti-Letterman letter-writing campaign should conclude, we are advised, thus: “I refuse to buy products from a company who supports such a vulgar, reprehensible attitude toward women and girls.”
I hope so. But it takes more than signing up as a picketing extra in politically motivated theater. There’s enough real violence being done in the world, with the literal support of companies who sell us popular products, to consume all of our moral outrage. And there are enough outlets for caring citizens to help make a change; start with the ENOUGH Project’s “Come Clean 4 Congo” campaign or Making IT Fair.
Let’s forget the Palin/Letterman charade and focus on the rape and sexual exploitation that’s really happening.