Bristol student faces disciplinary action over short story

A second year English student has been reported to the university authorities for writing a short story featuring a narrator who picks up and rapes a young woman in a night club.

Second year English student Benjie Beer was also told to remove Nights at the Disco, a first-person narrative about a sexual predator who targets women at Lakota and Lizard Lounge, from his blog with immediate effect.

Lynn Robinson, Bristol University’s Deputy Registrar, contacted Benjie this afternoon stating, ‘This post [Nights at the Disco] has the potential to bring the University into disrepute and as such we will be contacting you next week to request you attend a disciplinary meeting.

The report quoted above accurately describes the narrator as ‘Patrick Bateman-esque’.  Patrick Bateman, protagonist of Brett Easton Ellis’s  American Psycho, is either delusional or psychopathic and his narrative is disconcertingly affectless.  We aren’t drawn in to sympathise witth Bateman, and neither does Beer encourage the reader to trust his narrator.  Here’s the opening paragraph:

When I was deciding which university to apply to, there was one thing in particular I was looking for above all others: nightlife. I absolutely had to go to university in a city with good nightclubs. If I didn’t have that then I wouldn’t have even bothered with being a student. London was on my list, as was Manchester, Leeds and Nottingham – but, for one reason or another, I ended up going to Bristol. It had exactly what I needed: plenty of access to my favourite drugs (including 2C-B, which is hard to get in some places), very few contact hours for my course (English Literature), and a rave culture that attracted girls from the highest class of background. In my opinion they are the most good looking, and the most naïve.

And here’s another sentence which conveys the weakness beneath the arrogance.

I can barely stay away from a club for more than two days before I start to get agitated and need to lose myself once more.

Another approach to writing this story might have been to lull the reader into finding the narrator sympathetic.  Perhaps in this case Nabokov’s Humbert Humbert – another character mentioned in the report I linked to – would be a better parallel. Some find the protagonist of Nabokov’s Lolita a disconcertingly charming narrator.

It seems clear enough – contrary to what the student who reported him asserted – that the story is fiction.  And I think it’s pretty obvious from the start that we aren’t meant to like the main character, so I’m not sure it even qualifies as, to quote her statement, ‘at best very distasteful’.

Now another student has weighed into the debate.  Sarah Williams welcomes the disciplinary action.

As a student of English Literature who has just finished a module on satire, I must admit that I did not read Benjie Beer’s short story ‘Nights at the Disco – Part 1’ as a satire but quite the opposite. It seemed to be a step by step guide to rape.

Although the story was written in a Patrick Bateman-esque voice it was still unclear that this was a satirical narrative. And even if it was, satire is normally utilised as a genre to incite a shift in paradigms, although this topic does need a shift in paradigm, offering an ‘in character’ guide on how to rape is not how I would go about it and is clearly in very poor taste.

It contained such provoking lines as ‘Always maintain an air of innocence. Then get them standing up and gauge how well she’s looking. In the ideal situation, she’s so drunk she’ll go wherever you take her with no questions asked.’ This is peppered in with the voice’s ‘top tips’ on where to look for vulnerable women, how you should abduct them and the etiquette of leaving them once you’ve had your way with them.

This seems quite a narrow view of satire. To make the reader feel uncertain or morally disoriented – ‘surprised by sin’ – could be just as effective as a more detached and judgemental approach. Obviously these are rather subjective issues, and of course some people will be sincerely upset or offended by this story, and find it troubling that the narrator seems to be giving tips to abusers.  However this really grated:

But I personally am finding it difficult to see how someone could write like this and not expect some kind of repercussions. Now, I am sure, Google searches of Benjie Beer will bear the mark of this incident for years to come.

She goes on:

The author claims he is simply following in the tradition of the greats before him, which is a bit concerning seeing as we are discussing a short story posted on a blog by an undergraduate, and not the work of Anthony Burgess, Benjie compares his narrative to Lolita and A Clockwork Orange, which were coincidentally, both banned for their grotesque content. If he would like to compare his short story to these pieces, then he should be prepared for a similar response.

What exactly is she arguing here?  First of all she comments unfavourably on Beer’s status as a young student, not an established writer.  She might have wanted to indicate that he doesn’t handle the issue with the required sureness of touch, that he strikes a false note.  (Though I’m not sure this should be a disciplinary matter.)  However, as she continues, it appears clear that this isn’t the issue – she implicitly condemns Burgess and Nabokov just as roundly as she condemns Beer.  Whatever you think of the story, there doesn’t seem much doubt what Beer’s intentions were.  Just over a year ago he retweeted this piece by a woman angrily addressing her assaulter.  Given that he’s clearly not some sort of Dapper Laughs fan it might have been more constructive to enter into a dialogue about the story – there are no comments beneath it – rather than report the author.

Update: Here’s a punchy response from Benjie Beer