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October 25, 2017

Chris Savino, Cartoon Brew, and How NOT to Respond to Sexual Violence

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If you read the news, you’ve heard of the unfolding scandal with Harvey Weinstein. It’s put a spotlight on show business, demonstrating the rampant sexual harassment that occurs throughout the industry. More producers are now facing allegations, and, sadly, the animation industry that I love is not immune to sexual harassment. Chris Savino, the creator of Nickelodeon’s hit show The Loud House, was suspended from the show last week over allegations of sexual harassment. Twelve women came forward and recounted instances, stretching over the past decade, of Savino making unwanted advances and threatening to blacklist them if they spoke out. He has since apologized, but has been terminated from the company. The show will continue production without him.

That’s not what I want to focus on, though. Instead, I want to focus on a website called Cartoon Brew, and how it has handled the whole situation. For those not familiar with the industry, Cartoon Brew is considered the top source of animation news. It is also rather unpopular with many animators for the belligerent tone that it often takes. Run by Amid Amidi, Cartoon Brew does deserve credit for breaking the Chris Savino story. Controversy erupted, however, in a Facebook comment where the site’s official page stated that anyone still working on The Loud House was helping to perpetuate the brainchild of a sexual predator, and called it “an untenable situation.”

The backlash has been fierce. Dana Terrace, an influential animator who works on the new DuckTales, replied, “how about don’t blame the employees for doing their jobs, @cartoonbrew?” Others replied affirmatively, pointing out that a show is made by a whole group of people and not just the showrunner. It was also noted that taking that action would punish the very people that Savino harmed, and they shouldn’t have to shoulder the responsibility for his bad behavior. The majority agree that it’s “wrongheaded and unproductive.”

Samantha King also called it a “bad take” on Cartoon Brew’s part. King’s comment carries extra weight because of her work on Clarence, a Cartoon Network show, the creator of which (Skyler Page) was also terminated after allegations of sexual assault. Clarence still proceeded with production, and went on to two more seasons after Page’s termination.

What’s going on here? Well, to give Cartoon Brew the benefit of the doubt, I’d say that they do indeed want justice. However, their definition of “justice” involves the complete erasure of Savino’s work. It’s a goal that I can sympathize with, but cannot agree with. To pull the plug on the show, especially so abruptly and with nothing else to replace it, is to put many people out of work — including those that Savino sexually assaulted. Cartoon Brew implies that work can be easily found elsewhere in the industry. Anyone who knows even the slightest bit about show business can tell you that that assumption is horrendously wrong. Cancelling The Loud House would only pile further pain and stress on those already affected by Savino’s actions.

I did mention that this is a “benefit of the doubt” scenario, though. If Cartoon Brew were simply on a noble, but misguided search for justice then I could forgive them. But, on their Facebook page, they’ve been actively deleting comments made by the crew of the show. They want to discuss what to do in the wake of sexual assault without actually talking to anyone who was or would be affected. Other animators label him “a bully who masquerades as an authority.” The Rise and Fall of Nickelodeon, a page also dedicated to animation news, sums it up best: “as someone who has talked to plenty of staff on that show, all women by the way who are super proud of the job they’ve done, it sickens me.”

So, I counter Cartoon Brew’s idea of “justice” with my own concept. Instead of the destruction of anything related to the perpetrator, we should instead work on healing those affected. One man does not define an entire show: teams of dozens, hundreds of people who put everything they have into making The Loud House come to life, and they want to keep going to redefine the show without Savino’s presence. To demand they quit their jobs is to say, “YOU have to deal with what someone else did to you, and make YOUR lives even harder, and if you don’t then you’re a bad person.” Even if they didn’t work in an industry as competitive as entertainment, to say that to people who already suffered a crime is immoral and shameful.

The lessons here go beyond animation, beyond show business. If you are a third party in a sexual assault case, if you are a manager or coworker who is approached in confidence, do not make life harder for those affected by sexual violence. The attitude around reporting is turbulent and changing; we need people who will take steps forward, and not take steps backward. Sadly, it appears that Amid Amidi and the rest of the Cartoon Brew crew are determined to take steps backward. Don’t do that.

Listen to people who come to you for help. Figure out what they want and need. Don’t shame them or pressure them into ruining their lives. It’s all part of being a decent person, which seems so rare these days.

David Gouldthorpe is a senior in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. He can be reached at [email protected]