Content warning: This post discusses rape and the sexual accosting of a minor. Nothing in great detail but if these topics are triggering or troubling to you, please approach with caution.
Feverborn is the latest novel in the New York Times bestselling series by romance author Karen Marie Moning. The books have an extensive and dedicated fanbase and remains one of the few urban fantasy series that’s retained its popularity over the course of several years. After a change in audiobook narrators, Moning announced that the original and preferred pairing of Natalie Ross and Phil Gigante would be returning for the latest book.
In July of last year, two men in Michigan were arrested for exchanging indecent images of themselves with a teenage girl. In October, one of the men pleaded guilty to the charges of accosting a child for immoral purposes and possession of sexually abusive images of a child. That man was Phil Gigante.
Understandably, many fans were disgusted by the news as well as the knowledge that Gigante would be returning to the world they supported and adored. Many expressed their displeasure and posted appropriate links to the story, something Moning took exception to. Several of these comments seem to have been deleted or hidden from view, but the main thread still exists, with Moning’s response in full.
Moning repeatedly defends Gigante – who, may I remind you all, pleaded guilty and served time for it – with claims that she ‘know[s] the facts’ and that he was not charged with accosting a minor, a point which can easily be refuted by looking at every news story related to the case. She downplays the charges, demands trust from her fans and implicitly dismisses fans who find the news distressful to being ‘go[ing] ballistic’. Anyone familiar with the basics of victim blaming will not find any of this new, nor will they be especially shocked by the numerous comments defending both Moning and Gigante, with justifications ranging from ‘none of that has jack shit to do with his talent’, to ‘this seems like the adolescent was baiting men’, to just ignoring the problem at hand and squeezing over the return of a voice they like.
Let me be clear about this – we know Gigante pleaded guilty and was charged with two offenses, for which he received punishment (the length of which was far too short in my opinion). That’s not up for debate. We have proof of all of this. Moning is flat out lying in her claims that Gigante was not charged for the offence that he pleaded guilty to. Phil Gigante pleaded guilty and was charged.
I understand Death of the Author. I’m fully aware of the problems, difficulties and patterns in separating great art from the terrible people who make it. Your Fave Is Problematic – we all know the score. Everyone’s limits on this subject vary – I can’t in all good faith pay money to watch a Polanski film but I still bought Blackstar knowing about David Bowie’s past. It’s a tough judgement call to make and I empathise with the struggles some have in doing so. Acknowledging such things can be tough, especially when you’re surrounded by countless examples of society explicitly rewarding bad people.
But what’s going on here isn’t just the continued rewarding and support of a man who preyed upon a teenage girl: It’s the misogynistic and dangerous downplaying of the severity of his crimes that leads to real problems beyond a nice voice to listed to on your iPod.
To this day, I hear people who think Roman Polanski was led on by the 13 year old girl he drugged and raped. I’ve seen every possible defence of Bill Cosby that relies on the notion that women get together to plot dozens of false rape allegations to bring down a celebrity. I frequent a film discussion forum full of men for whom it was easier to accept that Mia Farrow is the modern Medea who planted rape ideas into her daughter’s head to bring down Woody Allen than to admit that maybe Woody Allen did rape his daughter. Various statistics on rape convictions tell us what we should all know – women are seldom believed. Some seem to prefer fantasies of Jezebel-like young women who organize devious plots to seduce reluctant older men into sexual submission and then hit them with a false rape claim. Those in power use this to their advantage, insisting that they alone know the real story and that we should implicitly believe them over such frivolous things as evidence or a public charge. They whine that we’re ruining their fun by pointing out that their fantasy is less than perfect, and that we should just let it go because it doesn’t affect their fun.
But it does affect our fun. Gigante is one of the most prominent voices in romance audiobooks. He’s been interviewed several times on the subject and praised for his ‘magical voice’. We hold up people as idols and favourites and instill on them the privileges that come with such honours. A nice voice that inspires a particular dream for some is enough to dismiss his abhorrent actions. It’s enough to throw a young woman under the bus in her time of fragility and paint her as a whore. It’s enough to put another chink in the armour we have to wear to protect ourselves from rape culture: Armour that most of the time is barely hanging on by a thread.
Moning is free to support who she wants, but she shouldn’t be surprised by any pushback she and her publisher receive from this, and they undoubtedly will. Many will stand up for her and Gigante, as they are currently doing on her Facebook page, and I’m sure they’ll fire accusations of censorship, bullying and the usual nonsense that follows activism and organized protest. She may not want to talk about this subject, but we most certainly do, because silence is not and never will be an option.
EDIT: Moning has since deleted the post and issued an apology.