I Write Letters

[Content Note: Abuse culture.]

Dear Jimmy Fallon:

Congratulations on your new gig hosting The Tonight Show.

I want to tell you that I think it's pretty neat that the host of The Tonight Show is someone in my cohort. You and I were born four months apart, in places and into families that don't seem totally dissimilar. I imagine we watched a lot of the same shows, went to see a lot of the same movies, listened to a lot of the same music, growing up in our respective homes. Like you, I used to ask to stay up to watch Johnny Carson's monologue, and I started sneaking downstairs to watch Saturday Night Live on the big TV in the basement when I was a little kid who was supposed to be in bed, getting plenty of sleep so I wouldn't be tired at Sunday School the next morning.

That the new host of The Tonight Show, truly a pop culture institution, has the same frame of pop culture references that I do, shares so many of the same sensibilities I do, is weirdly thrilling, in the same sort of way I felt weirdly thrilled when my high school friends became teachers at our high school.

It's a peculiar and wonderful sort of milestone of growing up, when someone your age, who gets the same jokes, who remembers pricing parachute pants at the mall, breaks into an institution as a peer. I imagine I'll have the same sort of feeling when someone about my age becomes president.

I also want to tell you that I've liked you for a very long time. When you were a cast member on Saturday Night Live, my favorite thing was when you'd break during a sketch. I had friends who complained about it—Keeping it together is part of the job! they'd moan—but I always loved it. When you'd break, so would I.

I enjoyed Late Night a lot. Sometimes, I'll be frank, I didn't like some of your jokes, which punched down instead of up. But you punched up more than down, way more than most late night hosts.

And you are so much more respectful to your female guests than other late night networks hosts. I love when you call women "pal." I love when you compliment women on a sexy magazine spread: "Ooh-la-la," you say, in a way that a younger brother who worships his older sister might. I love the way you gush over women's work, and the way you never, ever, suggest that women aren't as talented and as funny as men.

You've always struck me as a pretty nice guy. Everyone who works with you says you're a nice guy. I've watched the first two episodes of The Tonight Show, since you took over as host, and a big theme has been what a nice guy you are—how much you deserve it, because you're so nice.

Now let me tell you something about myself. I am a survivor of sexual violence. And I am an advocate for survivors, which means that I spend a lot of my time talking to other survivors, researching sexual violence, and writing about the rape culture.

It also means, because I do this publicly, that I get a lot of blowback from rape apologists. I get rape and death threats. I get nasty emails and tweets and comments. I am approached, often in hostile ways, by people who want to debate with me about sexual violence. Who want to blame victims. Who want to defend sex predators. Who want to tell me that rape is victims' fault, that my being raped was my fault.

Sometimes, at the end of my day, I am so emotionally spent, so drained, so sad. I have no energy for anything else besides plopping down on the couch and watching some TV, and I always look for something that's going to make me laugh.

The past two nights, I have tuned into The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, hoping to laugh.

On your premiere episode, you included Mike Tyson, a convicted rapist and confessed domestic abuser, in one of the comedy bits.

On your second episode, you featured a skit in which you and three other men did a barbershop quartet to an R. Kelly song. Do you know everything of which he's been accused? Or do you simply not care?

That bit followed a monologue in which you referred to Charlie Sheen as "my man." Your man's history of abuse against women extends back decades.

I wasn't laughing, Jimmy.

In the opening of your first show, you talked about your baby daughter, and how she is the best thing that ever happened to you. The woman raped by Mike Tyson was someone's daughter, too. So were the women he's beaten, the women and girls exploited and assaulted by R. Kelly, the women harmed by Charlie Sheen. They are someone's daughters. I am someone's daughter.

Lots of daughters, who are maybe the best things that ever happened to their fathers, have been hurt by the men whom you invited or honored on your show. Three of them, in the first two episodes.

You also talked about how it's your job to entertain people, to make them laugh. I will never understand why someone wants to be the guy who invokes rape in jokes, or overlooks a history of violence against women, in the guise of humor or entertainment.

Why do you want to be a guy who obliges a survivor, who tunes into your show for a laugh after a hard day, to ignore the specter of violent men who have repeatedly hurt women? Why do you want to be a guy who gives those men no professional consequences, who thus communicates to them that what they did doesn't matter?

If you really want to be a nice guy, Jimmy Fallon, then there can be no place for abusers on your show.

I urge you to be nice to survivors. Be our pal.

I want to be able to tune into your show and laugh, to see the nice guy you're supposed to be.

With high expectations,

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