A few weeks ago, I interviewed Julien Blanc, who was at one point last year known as the most hated man in the world. An allegedly misogynistic video of him teaching aspiring pickup artists had gone viral online, leading to a massive international campaign that led to his travel visas being revoked in several countries.
One activist was responsible for this campaign and her name is Jenn Li, a 20-something woman living in D.C. In interviewing Julien I wanted to show that regardless of what you think of him personally, his story illustrates how our media system works. To my surprise, many readers found his story to be sympathetic.
But what can we learn from Jenn, the sincere and successful activist who created the hashtag #takedownJulienBlanc? What do her tactics and her perspective show us about media? What’s her side of the story? Some of you will find her to be sympathetic and convincing. Or perhaps you won’t—but she, just as I hope a Julien or Charles C. Johnson can, shows how messages can take hold in social media and be traded up the chain.
Depending on where you sit, a Social Justice Warrior (SJW) is either an effective fighter for truth and equality or a vigilante and politically correct bully. But rarely do we get to hear how they do what they do—and what motivates them.
I hope Jenn’s story provides some of that insight. Look at it for what it is—and put your biases aside.
So how did you first come across Julien Blanc’s video? Tell us what your reaction was. What was the first thing that went through your head?
I first found it while I was scrolling around on Tumblr. I wasn’t sure what the hell I was watching at first, but when it finally settled in, I was pissed. I see a lot of effed up stuff on the internet, but this particular instance of this guy assaulting Asian women and getting away with it really touched a nerve. Because I’m an Asian woman myself, I deal with stupid shit on the daily, but this guy was taking it to a new level with violating people’s personal spaces and racistly justifying it because the the girls he was doing this to were Japanese. It really bothered me that:
- This guy KNOWS that what he’s doing is wrong, but because there is a lack of consequences because he’s a “white guy in Tokyo”, he pushes the boundaries.
- He is advocating for this type of behavior and telling other guys that it is ok to do this. He has a following of men who pay thousands of dollars to listen to his advice, and he is explicitly telling them that this is an O.K. thing to do.
- He is perpetuating the idea that Asian women are basically a “free for all” for predators. He’s emboldening them to approach Asian women and harass them.
To be honest, I just got lit when I saw the video and I needed to make sure there were repercussions to his actions. I said to myself, “I have no idea how I’m going to do this, but I’m going to try and do something.” There was a lot of arrogance in racism and sexism. It’s not often that I see something that pisses me off so bad that I feel a need to do something about it the next day. I think after looking him up and seeing his other bodies of work, it just kind of set in that I needed to do something about it, even if it was just to expel some of my anger.
When you decided to respond, what impact did you think you’d be able to have? Were you aware just how powerful and immediately the message would be spread? What do you think allowed that to happen?
I definitely did not see this campaign blowing up as big or fast as it did. I was just shooting the shit and hoping that maybe a few hotels would cancel his shows so that he would get the message that this was not O.K., and kind of as a personal “eff you” to him for being an asshole. I didn’t think he would get barred from countries. I didn’t know it was going to spread so fast. I think talking about it frankly and just kind of letting RSD and Julien’s material speak for itself allowed for the message to spread. I was just like “this is effed up, I’m pissed,” and people kind of ran with it. The internet can be a scary and/or a wonderful place. I think the campaign got picked up but a bunch of folks and that allowed it to spread. Anonymous got involved, some people that had a bunch of followers picked it up, and it just grew from there. Even now, when my friends ask me how the hell it went down, I just say, “I don’t know, a bit of elbow grease, some sleepless nights, and internet magic?”
I noticed your Twitter bio still says founder of #TakeDownJulienBlanc. Walk us through the creation of the hashtag. Do you still see the campaign as being an ongoing one?
I just haven’t updated my bio in a while. The creation of the hashtag was me being pissed at 10pm and angry-tweeting. I think the first tweet with that hashtag was this one:
It just kind of happened. (And if I had known this was going to blow up, I probably would have used less colorful words.) I’m done with the campaign now, since I can’t see this as an ongoing thing for me; that was an exhausting three weeks, with checking with people in Australia, Japan, wherever the hell he was at/ going to tour to. I think my initial goal was to get people to hear about this guy and know that what he does is unacceptable, and I achieved the goal and went way further than I expected, so I’m good with letting it go as it is.
Was there any backlash that you received as a result of your speaking out? What is it like to be the vocal spearhead of a campaign about a controversial person or issue that gets international attention?
There was a lot of trolling. A lot of his supporters saying I was wanted Julien’s dick, I was an Asian cunt, I want to be raped, etc. And I did have moments of like, “Oh shit, I’m just some random Asian chick who is doing this for free, and this is a company (RSD) with money, so who knows what the hell they’d do if they wanted to retaliate against me.” For the most part, I just focused on Julien Blanc and didn’t talk about myself that much, so there weren’t as many eyes on me. The major news sources that picked it up like CNN and Times didn’t ever mention me, I don’t think. And I’m fine with that. I wasn’t interested in getting attention for it as much as I was interested in dealing with Julien Blanc and RSD.
One of the responses from Julien at the time and from his defenders is that the video you highlighted was either heavily edited and also taken out of context. What do you think of that claim? Do you see him as representing a larger community (pick up artists) that you feel needs to be exposed?
Even if you look at his unedited stuff, it’s along the same vein. And I think that’s a super lame excuse. Like, you did it, just own up to it. The video was only edited in that it highlighted the infield footage of him doing this to random Japanese girls and showed the portion of him talking about Japanese girls, since the person who created the video was a Japanese person. It’s not like they took parts of a movie and made it seem like he shoved people’s faces in his crotch when he didn’t do that, or pieced together random words from 5 different videos to make him say something that he didn’t actually say.
And again, he has guys paying him thousands of dollars for this scammy psuedoscience on how to pick up chicks. We pay thousands of dollars for college courses, and we do it because we want to learn something, and usually take the professors’ words seriously. This guy is no college professor, but the men who are in these classes are taking what he says seriously. He’s spouting crap, and fine, say what you want, but when you start teaching that it’s ok to endanger or violate another person’s space, that’s when I take issue. And these attitudes are pretty prevalent in the larger pick up community; Roosh V, another pick up artist, says similar stuff with less shock value, but it’s toxic stuff to teach to people nonetheless.
When I spoke to Julien, it was interesting to hear a few things from him. One was that you two had never spoken. Did you feel like ever reaching out? Also, I got the sense that on his end, he saw himself as a public shaming victim. I’m guessing you’re not sympathetic to that notion, but what is your reaction when you hear it? Do you feel like he deserved everything he got?
Yeah, we’ve never spoken. He’s blocked me on Twitter, which I can see why. I don’t know why I would ever want to reach out to him. We obviously don’t run in the same circles. And no, I’m not sympathetic to him. You did this because you wanted people to see. He said wanted people to be shocked. And he got what he wanted, but now he’s complaining about it. And I really don’t think he’s boohooing about it much. He’s just incorporated it into his pick up game, so it seems like he’s milking this for all he’s got. I think there’s a section of his website that says he uses “Google Me” as part of his game now. I get that he must’ve been freaked out by all the press and the speed of which everything was moving, I mean hell, I was too, but I don’t think it was anything he didn’t deserve / ask for. I’m glad that he’s no longer allowed in Japan (and 8 other countries) so he can’t go around groping women and using that footage to sell fake self-help/ pseudopsychology to men who need some help with their social skills and are better off seeing licensed therapists on how to connect with people.
What’s next for you? You consider yourself an activist. What does that look like day to day?
I’m just chugging along like I was before this whole thing happened. I refocused my attention to the Black Lives Matter movement and trying to support that in what ways I can. I’m working on not getting consumed by it, though, because it definitely takes an emotional toll to see injustices and feel like it’s extremely difficult to tackle the problem as a person.
My last question: What do you think of the concept of a social justice warrior? It’s one of those phrases that came out of nowhere that seems to be a proud badge for some and an epithet to others. What is your view? Do you consider yourself one?
The first time I heard that phrase, I laughed out loud because I thought my friend made the name up, and didn’t realize it was actually a thing. I don’t know how I feel about it; I guess I’m ok with people calling me that, since I do care about about social justice in general, but I wouldn’t brand myself a social justice warrior. I don’t personally consider myself one, but I don’t think it’s a bad thing to be. Hell, it’s thanks to a an amalgamation of social justice warriors and unlikely allies that this thing took off in the first place, so I’m definitely not going to knock ’em.
Ryan Holiday is the best-selling author of The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph. Ryan is an editor-at-large for the Observer, and he lives in Austin, Texas.
He’s also put together this list of 15 books that you’ve probably never heard of that will alter your worldview, help you excel at your career and teach you how to live a better life.