Pit Viper, Rape Jokes, and their Alt-Right Problem

Ladies and (a few upstanding) Gents, it has been 21 days since our last incident of wildly problematic marketing in the outdoor industry.

Today’s clownery comes from Pit Viper. They posted a problematic reel that trivialized date rape and drugged drinks. They got a few comments about how their post was super rapey and they took it down. But not before my friend Alicia could send it to me, and not before I could get a screen recording. I did a bad job cutting the video in the right part of the loop, so here’s a quick rundown on what happens:

A guy is pretending to hand out a beverage at a bike race and drops an Extenze supplement pill into a red Solo cup. Extenze supposedly boosts male sexual performance. He hands the Solo cup to a racer, who tosses back the drink, then spits the pill back into the cup, and hands the cup back with a furrowed brow and confused look on his face. **oMg YoU’rE sO fUnNy PiT vIpEr!!**

In the past, when I write these pieces, I focus on how certain marketing messages are sexist, and how there are unwritten insinuations that can go on to cause harm in ways that aren’t explicitly obvious. But that’s not necessary here. This is assault. My friend Emma informed me that the video wasn’t a staged prank and that the cyclist confirmed in the comments that he had no clue about the “joke.” The only minor detail keeping the prank “legal” is that Extenze is classified as a supplement (and therefore food) instead of a drug. But miss me with the technicalities. So I’ll make a quick note to their Social Media Manager, and then we can move into some more nuanced conversations about how this fits in to some thornier marketing problems that they’ve having over at Pit Viper:

Hi. 1 in 13 college students has been or suspects that they have been drugged without their consent. Perpetrators do this most often with the attempt to rob or sexually assault their victim. 79% of victims are women, and they make up the vast majority of victims that are sexually assaulted. Getting justice for these victims is extremely complicated. Commonly used drugs leave the victim’s bloodstream and urine very quickly. Most hospitals lack the testing resources to do a comprehensive panel on victims. If the victim has any drugs or alcohol in their system, law enforcement chalks it up to irresponsible drinking, even if the victim only had one or two drinks. Justice for these victims is incredibly rare.

When you go for the roofie-rapey punchline, it causes harm to women, even when the victim in this Reel is a man. There’s research that rape humor makes men perceive rape as less severe and widespread issue. There’s more research that “edgy humor” is a safe sandbox for sexists, racists, ableists, and homophobes to play. They can express all of their prejudiced ideology, and when marginalized communities call it out for being problematic, they can evade any accountability by brushing it off as just a joke, they’re being oversensitive, “it’s not that deep,” “I’m so sick of everyone being offended by everything these days,” etc.

You guys took down the post. Great. But there’s more work you need to do:

  1. Apologize. You showed rapey content to people that have been sexually assaulted, and you did it in a way that trivialized and humorized their experience. Also, going back to the research, you propagated harm. With every rape joke, victims are a bit less likely to feel like they’ll be taken seriously and less likely to report. When men see these jokes, they’re less likely to believe victims and less likely to help them find justice when they’re in positions of power. It’s just one joke, but they add up over time and create the hellscape women and rape victims live in today. Removing the post and replacing it with a Taco-Bell-explosive-diarrhea joke isn’t sufficient.
  2. Create tenets for how to create humor that’s edgy, but not harmful. I don’t think you all grasp when content can be harmful, so I’ve got 2 rules of thumb that should generally keep you out of trouble:
    • Is this invoking real lived experiences that are the worst days of someone’s life?
    • Is this invoking events related to systems of oppression?
    • With those two rules, you avoid rape jokes, Holocaust jokes, slavery jokes. Our friends over at J Skis would’ve been spared the backlash of their pro-choice campaign. You’ve got 70 employees; I expect that there’s already a QA process for spelling and grammar and working hyperlinks; this step should absolutely be part of it.
  3. Study up on people and customers who are not like you. This content reflects a dire need for a DEI consultant. I’d also love to send you a copy of Missoula, by Jon Krakauer. Like you, I wasn’t intimately familiar with the depth and severity of trauma caused by rape *and* pursuing justice for rape within the legal system. I have been protected from sexual assault because outside of my gender, I belong to all communities of privilege, and I would be the sort of rape victim who gets believed and supported. The book really opened my eyes to the depths of pain and trauma that occurs with sexual assault.

But now for the real meat and potatoes of what I want to talk about: how is this one instance of a recurring problem for Pit Viper?

Let’s take it back to July 2021. Alt Right extremist Nick Fuentes gave a speech at CPAC, and kicked it off saying, ““This is going to be the most racist, most sexist, the most anti-Semitic, the most Holocaust-denying speech in all of Dallas this weekend.”

He was wearing a pair of Pit Vipers. In fact, a lot of his audience was wearing Pit Vipers. And they had also cropped up in footage of far-right extremist demonstrations and insurrections. One of the cofounders tweeted this:

They’ve put out campaigns stating “Fuck terrorists. Fuck fascists. Fuck racists. If you’re not down with that, fuck off.” They’ve donated money to Southern Poverty Law Center, The Trevor Project, and BIPOC-run outdoor non-profits. Sales are fine, but they just can’t shake the Far-Right customer base.

And I’ll tell you why. First, they relate themselves to Things Alt Right People Like. And second, there’s a growing skepticism around “woke washing.”

We’ll start with how they inadvertently align themselves with the Far-Right. Founder Chris Garcin speculates that they’re trying to “co-opt fun,” but it’s a particular type of fun. White, cis, het, young, fun. It’s really interesting to me to look at rape jokes within the context of Pit Viper’s brand of fun because I’ve never identified with that “let loose, go wild, party” mindset Pit Viper promotes. Even in college, I rarely drank because I was “very precious about sex and relationships being special and being done the right way.” (In other words, I was terrified about sexual assault and lack of consent, but I understood it in a purity culture, victim-blamey kind of way). Pit Viper alludes to a lot of drugs and alcohol, but uses legal substances like CBD, Kratom, and caffeine to set that vibe. Drug culture isn’t accessible to non-White male crowd in quite the same way. It’s either a space where we’re vulnerable to violence, or a space where non-White people face much harsher punishments when caught having fun in a way that breaks the law.

Looking deeper, they talk a lot about vaping. Vape users tend to be young, White men who lean Republican, and an issue that swings major voting blocks to the Right. And their obsession with Bang Energy? CEO’s a Trump supporter who gave a six figure donation to his re-election campaign. The hot women eating burgers on their social pages? Also a favorite of Trump nominee for Labor Secretary and Hardees CEO Andy Pudzer.

But the main place where the Venn diagram overlaps? Sexism. We already talked a few weeks ago about how sexualized marketing messages really resonate with men with high levels of hostile misogyny. (Meaning hostile views towards women, compared to benevolent sexism, where men think women are weak damsels in distress). The incels fucking love this shit. Look at their Instagram pages. A large portion of the women have been sexualized, selected by the male gaze, bent into sexualized positions. Especially the images of women with the highest audience engagement.

“wE’rE jUsT rEpOsTiNg WoMeN’s CoNtEnT. wE’rE nOt SeXuAlIZiNg AnYoNe.”

Regardless of what women post, you are a brand that is perceived as a male brand voice, run by men, selling primarily to men. The message changes when content comes from you versus an original woman poster. And even if you swear that your intent is not to sexualize or objectify, your commenters aren’t helping your case:

 I mean, you’re even letting these sorts of comments fly when you re-post an image of a minor, and even after she says in the comments that the objectifying comments from grown ass men are make her uncomfortable:

Sexism is also the gateway to alt-right views. See, White men feel a strong sense of entitlement and are threatened by shifting power dynamics towards equality. But compared to other demographics, men feel entitled to *own* women.

It starts in young adulthood, when some men are looking for camaraderie and support when they’re not getting laid at the rate that society promised. Many of these men will find healthy outlets and personal growth to deal with this. Others will find the “manosphere,” or online communities that promote toxic masculinity. This includes the “pickup artist” community, which pushes confidence, self-esteem, and physical strength to bed women. Or they find the incel community, where men who bond over their poor luck with women, often to the point of resentment. They’re problematic, but they’re ultimately outlets for men to cope with feeling emasculated and ways to articulate their anxiety over losing positions of power as marginalized communities make progress towards equality. The more they engage, the more they get introduced to Alt-Right doctrines. For example, Replacement Theory: White women need to stay in their roles as child birthers and child raisers. They need to put out and reproduce in order to maintain the White population. But feminism is empowering women to be selective about whether they have children and with whom they have children. Women who attain higher levels of education and higher salaries tend to opt out of child-rearing at higher rates. Within these communities, the question tends to evolve from “why won’t women sleep with me?” to “why aren’t women in their place?” That’s the starting point for xenophobic and racist extensions, like that Hispanic immigrants and their higher birth rates will disrupt social order, or that women are abandoning White men due to their cravings for non-White dick.

In a similar vein, anti-feminism is also one of the more comfortable sentiments to express when it comes to discrimination and bigoty. It’s tolerated if men are like “I want an old-school marriage with a submissive wife who stays and works in my home,” versus, say, “I want an old-school setup with Black people who stay and work in my home.” Alt-Right groups see these “traditional family values” types as ones who adhere to some level of White male supremacy, uphold some historic power dynamics, and a willingness to hold opinions that counter progressive beliefs. It doesn’t take much to evolve their thinking from “why are feminists upending social order,” to “why are feminists and other marginalized communities upending social order.” A lot of publications have discussed the link between misogyny and White supremacy, but the American Defense League’s piece is the best, in my opinion.

So yea, basically, Pit Viper celebrates a bunch of “politically tolerable” things that cis, straight, White guys like. And then they were like “whoa! I can’t believe these guys who see cis, straight, White maleness as the pinnacle of humanity somehow also really like our stuff!!! Unbelievable!!!” And to that I say, “Oh my God. I cannot bo-lieve it. That is shocking and devastating. I can’t bo-lieve it.

But they did a Pride Month collection! But they gave money to groups that promote equality! They literally told fascists and racists to fuck off! How come it isn’t doing enough?

That’s where woke-washing comes in. Woke-washing stems from the fact that most consumers expect businesses to have some sort of corporate social justice program. This expectation has slowly been growing since the 2016 election, but they especially picked up during summer of 2020, when George Floyd was murdered by police in the middle of the pandemic, just before a heated presidential election. Brands were expected to pause their marketing and offer up some sort of statement or social media post about injustice. Some businesses saw these conversations about racial discrimination as a calling to take a deep look at their business practices and examine ways that they were contributing to inequality. But for a lot of brands, they made the requisite post customers were looking for and then went back to previously scheduled programming.

Therefore, it’s understood that a lot of woke advertising isn’t genuine. But look at the Alt-Right. How many businesses pander to them in insincere ways? How many brands cosplay as White nationalists for a few days or weeks out of the year and then revert back to inclusive and progressive business practices? None.

That’s the thing. We approach marketing messages of inclusivity and progressiveness with skepticism. It’s believable that brands would post it inauthentically for profits. And on the flip side, marketing messages that celebrate traditional power structures, White male supremacy, with sexist, racist, homophobic, or transphobic undertones are taken at face value.

So this is combination makes the Pit Viper feed look kind of like this:

“WE LOVE EQUALITY” Lol, no we don’t. We’re a team of White guys making sunglasses for other White Guys. “HERE’S OUR PRIDE COLLECTION” Lol, can you believe how many (homophobic slur)s are buying this rainbow merch. Here’s a naked woman for your heteronormative consumption. “OMG CAN YOU BIGOTS STOP USING OUR PRODUCT?!” C’mon man. Rape jokes are as edgy as we can get. But we get in trouble when you start doing the anti-Semitism stuff with our shades on.

I don’t have a lot of hope that Pit Viper is going to be able to do enough to distance themselves from the Alt-Right. There’s a way to do irreverent humor in a way that doesn’t propagate discriminatory ideology. Their co-founder talks about the idea of “Party Mountain” in the marketing messages to encapsulate their image of careless hedonism, and that everyone’s invited to Party Mountain to have a good time. But most of the marketing images of women cast them as props and objects for Party Guys to use for sexual pleasure. And it doesn’t look like any other marginalized groups are being invited or represented on Party Mountain either.  

It takes a talented marketing and communications professional to tow the line between irreverence and offensiveness. It takes a deep understanding of diverse viewpoints, systems of oppression, and historical factors that lead to modern day pain for marginalized communities. I don’t get the sense that there are the people on the Pit Viper team who are able “thread the needle” so precisely, so I think they’ll continue to struggle with their public image and accidental ties to toxic masculinity.

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