We regret to report that in the year 2017, the idea that people can have sex for other than procreative reasons remains controversial. Our own Sen. Steve Daines supports the effort to defund Planned Parenthood, even though the clinics provide basic health care to millions of women and men.
Legislators can make it more difficult for women to control their reproductive choices, but no law will never quell the astonishing breadth and depth of human sexual expression. Even while puritanical notions of sex and gender persist in mainstream culture, technology has opened up a broad expanse of new ways to communicate about and have sex. Consider the peach emoji. It's such a beloved symbol of booty that users protested when Apple tried to redesign it in mid-2016 to look more like an actual piece of fruit. Apple buckled, and the emoji remains juicily evocative of (pardon our French) a ripe piece of ass.
The peach emoji seemed like a fitting tie-in to this issue's main subject, Chuck Tingle, who uses digital platforms to spread his bizarre (unless you're into that kind of thing) brand of erotica about intergalactic, interspecies gay sex. This issue also delves into other internet subcultures and even the popularity of Bigfoot porn. Come along as we celebrate the weirder side of sexuality.
When my cue comes, call me, and I will answer.
—Bottom, A Midsummer Night's Dream
Before Trump, before the alt-right, there was Gamergate. Born of an online harassment campaign against video game developer Zoë Quinn, Gamergate quickly ensnarled the industry in a proxy culture war. By 2015, Breitbart editor and self-proclaimed "supervillain of the internet" Milo Yiannopoulos was heralding the movement as an "online uprising against atrocious journalism and wacky social justice warriors in the world of video games," presaging the battle lines now writ large upon American politics.
One of the movement's targets was the annual Hugo Awards, which honor works of science fiction and fantasy. Some saw the awards as overtaken by literary elitists who preferred diversity of authorship and progressiveness of theme over old-fashioned adventure and invention—a sort of pro-status-quo inversion of Hollywood's #OscarsSoWhite backlash. So Gamergaters decided to game the system. Because Hugo nominees are crowdsourced, a voting bloc known as the "Sad Puppies" was able to hijack the 2015 shortlists in favor of authors who shared their ideology. The next year, 2016, a more extreme "Rabid Puppies" faction waged a scorched-earth campaign, installing 64 of the 81 finalists across all Hugo categories.
The Puppies' biggest coup was a prank in the Shakespearean mold. Think A Midsummer Night's Dream. In that play's most memorable moment, the faerie king tricks his wife, Titania, into sleeping with the laughable Bottom, a lowly actor whose head has been transformed into that of a donkey. The Rabid Puppies played a similar trick. They handed the Hugos an ass to kiss.
The ass they chose was Chuck Tingle, a pseudonymous Billings writer who self-publishes parody erotica e-books featuring sex between monsters and men. One of his stories follows an astronaut who must negotiate between his spontaneous lust for a dinosaur he encounters on the planet Zorbus and his heteronormative anxiety. "Our difference in species surely couldn't classify me as gay, could it?" the narrator says, before succumbing to his desire. The work, Space Raptor Butt Invasion (available at Amazon.com for $2.99), was planted as a finalist for best short story.
It was as if a pornographic Star Trek spoof had been nominated for an Oscar. Media outlets jumped on the story. The Puppies basked in the success of their "pro-level trolling," as one admirer described it. Rabid Puppies leader Theodore Beale (pen name Vox Day) sarcastically touted Tingle as the "Shakespeare of our time."
More accomplished authors pressured Tingle to bow out of the running, but Tingle had his own ideas. First he penned a new story—he calls them "Tinglers"—about the situation. Title: Slammed in the Butt by my Hugo Award Nomination. A Sad Puppies blogger called it "amusing." Next, Tingle invited Quinn, the Gamergate trolls' original foe, to accept the award in his stead, in the event that he actually won. Then he registered www.therabidpuppies.com, using the domain to promote three women authors Vox Day's group had targeted and, for good measure, the Billings Public Library. Tingle capped his counterattack with a 7-minute animated video that poked at the Puppies for being "sad, lonesome men" pushing an "anti-buckaroo agenda."
"Buckaroos," in the Tingleverse, are Tingle followers.
"Only way to fight bad dog blues is with good days ahead," he says in the video, speaking in his idiosyncratic style. "Now is time to prove love is real for all who kiss, like a bud on a unicorn or a bud on a plane or a bud and a handsome meatball."
It should be apparent from the quotations that Chuck Tingle is in no sense a traditional litterateur.
Like Titania waking from her slumber, the Puppies began to realize their misjudgment. "Methought I was enamored of an ass!" Titania says in Shakespeare's play, her spell broken. "Oh, how mine eyes do loathe his visage now!"
Tingle, it turned out, wasn't the strange bedfellow the right-wing trolls thought he'd be. He was something stranger still.
This is the silliest stuff I ever heard.
—Hippolyta, A Midsummer Night's Dream
"Who is Chuck Tingle?" That was the question on sci-fi writer Naomi Kritzer's mind as the Hugo episode unfolded. Kritzer was nominated alongside Tingle for her short story "Cat Pictures Please," and she expected that the event would be overshadowed by the same political insurrection that had swallowed the 2015 awards season. Tingle's response to the Puppies, she says, offered respite to her and other sci-fi fans who were growing weary of it all.
"Instead, we spent all summer talking about dinosaur buds and buckaroos and speculating about who Chuck Tingle was. That was a huge improvement," she says.