Though I can’t remember the first time I heard about the assailant who later came to be known as the “Cuddler,” I remember exactly when I heard my first Cuddler joke. At the beginning of last summer, friends of mine were searching for the perfect name for the wireless network for their townhouse. Witty router monikers abounded on their Burleith block and, wanting to have the funniest name of all, they finally settled on Club Cuddler.
Sure, it was a little insensitive to joke about something as unpleasant as the Cuddler crimes—if the same person is behind all of them, he has crawled into the beds of up to eleven female students over the course of the last year (including one on Tuesday night)—but I didn’t initially take offense. The name certainly wasn’t intended to belittle the experiences of any of the women who woke up to find an uninvited guest in bed with them, and isn’t all good humor a little edgy?
A couple of months later, I heard about Nathan Srinivas (SFS ’09), who dressed up as the Cuddler for Halloween. That time, I reacted with indignation, saying that sexual assault or harassment or whatever creepy thing this guy was perpetrating—the Metropolitan Police Department and the Department of Public Safety have classified the crimes as burglaries—was absolutely not funny.
I’m not sure what made me change my mind about the Cuddler’s humor value. It could be the fact that I didn’t know the person with the costume and, as much as I hate to admit it, I am probably less harsh on my friends than I am on strangers. Or it could have been because half of the residents of the townhouse were girls, and I somehow thought that it was worse for a guy to make jokes about a sex-related crime. When I emailed Srinivas about his costume, though, he was much more sensitive to the cuddlees’ plight than I would have expected.
“People thought the costume was funny,” he wrote. “No one was offended by the costume, so that was nice … But I don’t think I ran into anyone who was actually Cuddled—I wouldn’t have wanted to bring back any suppressed memories.” None of the victims could be reached for comment.
Plenty of students—including Voice staffers Molly Redden and Will Sommer, and at least one D.C. blogger, Amanda Hess of City Paper’s The Sexist—have tried to brainstorm new names for the criminal, like the Crapist (short for Cuddle Rapist) or the Blanketlayer; they claim that “Cuddler” fails to capture the unpleasant nature of the man or men’s actions. And maybe the nickname, which sounds more like a stuffed animal than a sexual assailant, is part of the reason why people feel like they can joke about the crimes.
I’m not entirely convinced that a scarier name would keep the Cuddler quips at bay, though. Cannibal Jeffrey Dahmer didn’t have a goofy nickname, but there are entire websites dedicated to jarringly tasteless jokes about him. (Why was Jeffrey Dahmer killed in prison? Because he ate all the white meat on Thanksgiving!)
Despite my initial outrage over the Cuddler Halloween costume, I’ve come to realize that maybe humor is just one way of dealing with something as horrible as this crime wave. Cracking a Cuddler joke might not be meant to make light of the crimes. It’s possible that it’s just too difficult or uncomfortable to think of any other way to talk about what’s happening.
Over spring break, I read the recently deceased Michael Crichton’s book of essays about his medical training. On dissecting a human cadaver, he wrote: “The jokes got worse … There was no way to get the necessary distance, to detach, except to be outrageous and disrespectful. There was no way to survive except to laugh.” For most students, I don’t think that figuring out a way to process the Cuddler situation is a matter of life and death, but a similar logic could still hold. The only way to avoid the “is this appropriate?” quagmire is to be completely and overtly inappropriate.
Still, I don’t think I’ll be dressing up as the Cuddler anytime soon, and not only because Halloween isn’t for another seven months. Given the choice, I’m still more comfortable with my righteous indignation than I am with being funny. But maybe we all have to confront the Cuddler in our own ways (although hopefully not in our own beds).