cw: sexual assault, discussion of "gray-area" consent, and the public reaction to these things . . . . . . So, I don't know if you've been keeping up with whether and how badly Dan Avidan did bad sex things, dear reader, but here's what I can tell from the still-emergent shitstorm at the time of writing: the initial accusations of pedophilia/grooming seem unsubstantiated (the age gap was smaller than people initially reported, no flirtatious or other overly-personal private interactions took place until the accusor was well over 18, and both parties were definitely full adults by the time anything physical happened, with the accusors being 22 at the time and Dan being 34). Notably, there are still lingering accusations of shitty behavior, specifically an abuse of power dynamics. In short, the narrative I've pieced together is that a fan contacted Dan when she was 17, they had a brief polite exchange, then they didn't talk for a while after that, then a couple years later they had a 2-month-long online relationship which terminated in a sexual encounter, followed immediately by Dan ghosting her. She did not accuse him of doing anything physical without direct consent in the moment, nor did she describe the encounter as assault, but from what I can gather she maintains that she was misled into a sexual encounter with him in the first place, on the false pretense of a serious relationship. So despite my gut reaction here, let me try to give Dan the benefit of the doubt and apply "the Tinder test," the most favorable comparison to a normal encounter I can come up with. The astute reader may notice flaws in my logic, but I want you to hold those in your mind for a moment and bear with me, because I think this general type of logic is what a lot of people are using to evaluate this situation and I think that's worth cross-examining. The Tinder test is as follows: if this were an encounter on Tinder, how would it look? Like, it's sure sleazy, but would it be super bad, or kind of par for the course? Say you have Alice and Bob. Alice is 22, and Bob is 34. Alice met Bob briefly when she was 17 at a party, but they didn't really have any more interaction than a passing conversation. Then, she spots him on Tinder years later and matches with him. She isn't necessarily even looking for a relationship, she just wants to catch up. But then Bob and her really hit it off. He's really sweet to her, and very flirty too. The age gap is a lot but she's alright with it. She starts to feel like maybe there's the potential for something special. Bob lives kind of far from her though, and has a really busy work schedule, so they can't meet immediately. They text for around two months before finally managing to cross paths. And at that point, they do some sexual stuff - doesn't really matter what, but Alice was into it and Bob was too. And after that, Bob just ghosts her. Right off the bat, unquestionably very shitty behavior from Bob. Being ghosted like that is pretty gutwrenching. But not non-consensual. Not assault. And despite Bob having very briefly met her when she was 17, not grooming. That word has a specific meaning, and to be blunt, this ain't it. But here's where that breaks down: Alice and Bob previously had basically no relationship to each other except a one-off conversation years prior. They were nearly-perfect strangers. And that's simply not the dynamic between celebrities and fans. Dan's accusor was a stranger to him, but he was definitely not a stranger to her, in her mind at least. Celebrities often cultivate something called a "parasocial relationship" with fans. This has been detailed at length by a lot of authors, but briefly, a parasocial dynamic is a result of human schemas for what constitutes emotional intimacy going awry when they meet with novel technology and communication media. In English, people almost universally tend to believe on some level (usually subconsciously and often consciously) that they know, say, someone who they see on reality TV or YouTube, hear on a podcast or the radio, etc, even when they have never met that person. This is often on purpose on the part of the presenter to foster a more dedicated audience, and that even extends to the makers of inanimate objects like robots - a lot of people assign personalities and privileged emotional status to their Roombas because they are designed to be cute and loveable. The power of our brain to try to see friends in influencers and machines is akin to how we see faces in car headlights: partly imagined on our own, and partly enhanced by auto manufacturers so we can recognize their cars better, on account of us being so good at recognizing faces. Of course, not all parasocial relationships are formed intentionally, but there is a clear motive to do so and it nudges creators in that direction even if only unconsciously, and usually without them understanding the broader sociological impacts of these kinds of dynamics. Crucially, a parasocial relationship is usually very dissimilar to a "normal" relationship because it is so one-sided. The fan often projects untrue assumptions onto the object of their fandom and those assumptions go unchallenged. Those assumptions, in turn, usually stem from elements of an influencer's personality or life that they purposely embellish or soften to maintain a good public image. Someone who tries their hardest to maintain a cool and relaxed demeanor while doing a podcast may still have outbursts of anger in real life, but their audience would be none the wiser since they try to remove that negativity from their work. So, back to Dan. I don't know if you've watched Game Grumps, reader, but it's essentially just these two guys Dan and Arin chatting while one or both of them play a video game. Often, Arin is the one playing and Dan is the one watching, and they make good foils for each other: Arin gets easily frustrated and tends to comically yell and swear when he's not doing well at a game, and Dan plays the part of the chill funny guy who defuses that tension by making jokes and sometimes helpful suggestions when Arin is stumped. Basically nothing is scripted and the editing is light. In short, it's like watching two guys play video games and banter, and it's a lot like being in the room with them. And Dan is perpetually the chill foil to Arin's rage-antics. And importantly, I have no idea how either of them act in real life. That's how they act on the show, and on their spinoff shows, and at events and in interviews, but no one who doesn't know them personally can really ever know if that's what they're like behind closed doors. Because that's the nature of fame. Coming back around, our Alice and Bob example is not so comparable to this situation. Dan did something that was as behaviorally icky as Bob did, but the effect on his accusor, if I could hazard a guess, was probably a lot worse than Bob's effect on Alice, because Dan's accusor almost certainly had a parasocial relationship with him long before they ever met or even spoke for the first time, with her likely construing emotional intimacy with him that he never had for her. She probably trusted him to a very high degree not to hurt her. By cultivating celebrity status, and a robust public image of a very chill, kind-hearted person, Dan built up a lot of trust with his fans. They trusted him to care about them and their feelings. And if you doubt that, think of how much fanmail YouTubers like Dan get. Often it's an insurmountable deluge such that creators cannot keep up with responses. YouTube fans of all sorts of channels often send numerous heartfelt and extremely personal letters about their lives because they feel so strongly that these people are trustworthy. And presumably, Dan's accusor may have felt that way. And when he treated her no better than a near-stranger on a particularly sleazy dating app hookup, it was a violation of that trust, probably a knowing one. Whether he implied or whether he explicitly told her that he wanted to be in a relationship and then turned around and reneged, that was a coercive twisting of trust and consent. What's frustrating is that there's no good word to describe this kind of warped consent. While I'm all in favor of being aggressively strict about what counts as consent when in doubt, the unfortunate answer is that there are edge cases. Now, not to belabor the point, I very adamently don't believe those edge cases are as common as some people might want you to believe for their own motives, and I don't believe they should be taken lightly or as a get-out-of-jail-free card for perpetrators. But consent gets really weird when power dynamics are involved, and I have some very relevant personal experience in this "gray-area consent" department that I don't feel like describing in detail. It's hard for me to call this assault. Not impossible; if the accusor were using that word I would be inclined to believe her, but she's not. And therein lies the problem. To sum up the past several paragraphs: what Dan did plays a bit past the edge of what I would call "free and clear consent," but also doesn't necessarily stride into "definitely sexual assault" territory (although it is firmly in "definitely shitty behavior" land). Dan Avidan is assuredly what I would call a "sex pest," but what other words apply are difficult to pin down. And how we discuss that is important. On Twitter dot com, no one has the character count to take that nuanced and delicate approach. Saying consent can be gray is how you get a thousand people saying you're a rape apologist because you think "maybe" means "yes." "Maybe," of course, does not mean "yes." I have to say that over and over again, because I know that if I don't, I will be misconstrued. If someone expresses consternation over whether they want sexual contact, and it happens anyway, that is assault. If someone does not say anything when someone else asks if they'd like sex, but the other person makes it happen anyway, that is assault. If someone does not say "yes" when directly asked if they want sex, but then it happens, that is assault. If someone is drunk or high or unconscious, they cannot give clear consent and touching them sexually is assault *even if they drunkenly say yes*. And if someone agrees to one sex act but then the other person does a different act without consent, that is assault. These situations are not examples of gray consent, and I am spelling them out as a hard line. Rather, when I say gray consent, I really mean e.g. two sober adults who have sexual contact in a way they want after agreeing in the moment that that's what they want, but under warped or false pretenses. Get this clear in your head. What I am really getting at is that the nature of consent is such an interesting thing, philosophically speaking. It has ties to the natures of free will, communication, and meaning itself, to navel-gaze a little. I'm, frankly, ill-equipped to give a proper and rigorous philosophical analysis here, so I'm not going to make an idiot out of myself and really try since it's such a nuanced and delicate issue. At minimum, I think it definitely involves trust, and that abuses of trust affect consent, but I will leave it to the reader to consider how intricate the issue really is when you get past 140 characters and the rote mantras meant to ward off the ravages of thousands of years of rape culture. And only when we peel back and strip away those layers of defenses against a society that objectifies non-cis and non-male bodies and uses us as pure ends for its own pleasure or power can we see that. Only in a conversation where assault is not excused or downplayed can we examine the true human nature of what it means to mutually consent in detail, and what not-assault-but-not-consent might mean. And I invite you to think about that.