The recent revelations surrounding alleged — man, do I hate using that word — sexual assaulter and strangler Alec Cook have unleashed a Pandora’s box of emotions that have shaken our community to its core.
Alec Cook to face 30-count criminal complaint for sexual assault of four womenUniversity of Wisconsin senior Alec Cook is expected to face a 30-count criminal complaint for pending sexual assault cases against Read…
Many people, myself included, are currently processing infuriation, sadness, shock and, sadly enough, relief — perhaps now sexual assault will be looked at by some as the epidemic it is, rather than something to be swept under the rug or joked about.
There’s also been a great swell of positivity. I personally have read beautiful, soul-stirring commentaries on the situation from close friends, as well as seen impressive amounts of public support for the brave survivors that have come forward to bring this “alleged” piece of shit to justice.
While I immensely support all that has been written against Cook and all assaulters, as well as in favor of the anonymous survivors, I do not wish to repeat them. Plus, I doubt I could do it nearly as well as Yusra Murad or Grace Ferolo’s pieces anyway, the latter of which sadly is no longer available for now.
Instead, I’ll add my own two cents to address a specific, rancid part of this painful reminder of the toxicity of unchecked masculinity: the comments of Cook’s lawyer, Christopher Van Wagner.
One of the most terrifying elements of Cook’s case is a sinister diary he kept. One in which he outlaid his plans, past and present, to assault. One page even had a column of names, simply titled “kill.”
It’s enough to send chills down anyone’s spine. This, in addition to knowing Cook interacted with so many of my own friends on a daily basis, makes me want to throw up. The only consolation is knowing that the bravery of a handful of survivors allowed authorities to bring Cook to justice before he could reach the culmination of his wretchedness.
Van Wagner, however, sees the journal entries a little differently. He said, and I quote, “People ask me, ‘what do you make of the notebooks?’ I was an English literature major in college — every single short story I read could be and was interpreted in at least 12 ways.”
To Van Wagner: First of all, no. Second of all, fuck no.
I’m an English Literature major, and I don’t know what they taught you during your undergrad, but I’ve never encountered a short story, let alone an essay, novel, novella, poem, proem, letter, historical document or any text whatsoever where we did not let the authorship and context of that text inform our interpretation of those texts.
So yes, there are ten interpretations of every Hemingway story, but each one takes into account that he was an antisemite. Same goes for Chaucer, a probable kidnapper and possibly a rapist, much like your boy.
This doesn’t even take into account the fact that Cook’s journals are most likely not fiction, but I’ll digress.
And I get it. He’s your client. Defense lawyers defend their clients, or so I’ve heard. But if you really cared about English Literature, Mr. Van Wagner, you wouldn’t have insinuated it in your defense of your piece-of-shit client.
Also, tone it down. I’m sure you’d be chirping a different tune if you knew someone in one Cook’s diaries. Imagine, then, what it would be like to be a name in one of your client’s entries and then be told by some schmuck attorney named Christopher Van Wagner that they’re comparable to a work of fiction. They’re not.
The only interpretation I’m interested in is the one in which Alec Cook is a nothing but a terrifying criminal and coward, worthy of the highest punishment. You don’t need to resort to twisting the field of English literature to justify his deplorable diary scrawls.
Lucky for you, your jury will be likely be comprised of men mostly unaware of the situation, anyway.
Henry Solotaroff-Webber ([email protected]) is a junior majoring in English Literature and Spanish.