It isn’t very often that the person reporting the news becomes the news, but that is just what happened this week to NTV’s Heather Gillis. The journalist was doing a live report with a St. John’s city councillor on April 24 when it is alleged that a man drove by and yelled an obscenity at her. She Tweeted a photo of the man’s vehicle which lead to charges being laid. It is alleged that the man yelled “FHRITP”. The man was charged under “causing a disturbance” under Canada’s Criminal Code which states that yelling obscene language in public is breaking the law.
Since this story broke the Internet has exploded with comments just as it always does. Some in favor of Ms. Gillis standing up for herself and some people trolling the story and the reporter. A debate about perpetuating rape culture and whether or not saying FHRITP is a direct threat has also stemmed from this which has gotten people riled up as well. The popular Facebook page Cape Shore Memes became the arena for such a debate when they posted an edited photo seemingly making light of the situation. The debate had its usual topics with some believing that FHRITP is just a joke while others believe it supports and perpetuates rape culture. I’m not here to take a side on this matter but I am here to say grow up.
Before checking out the debate that had erupted over this photo, I must admit I had no idea that FHRITP was a meme. In case you aren’t aware, a meme is “an element of a culture or system of behavior that may be considered to be passed from one individual to another by nongenetic means, especially imitation.” Examples of a meme would include humorous images, videos or pieces of text (often with slight variations) that spread rapidly by Internet users.
As I said, I was not aware that FHRITP was a meme. (I’ll stick to “Cash Me Outside”, “Rain Drop, Drop Top” and the ever loveable Obama/Biden memes thank you very much.) I first heard of it though when a news story broke about a journalist in Ontario who fought back against a group of hecklers outside of a Toronto FC match in 2015, one of which had said FHRITP. A confrontation between the reporter and the fan ensued with more explicit things being directed at her. A social media firestorm erupted and the man eventually was fired from his job at Hydro One for breaking the company’s code of conduct; he was since reinstated after arbitration. (It seems that any story I read about the soccer event mentioned this was a practice that had gone viral, so apparently my freakishly good memory of past events has failed me?)
According to the website Know Your Meme (which I must admit is a helpful tool for anyone looking to remain in the know on all things pop culture), FHRITP “is an obscene quote that gained much notoriety online after it was widely thought to have been said by a videobombing prankster during the live broadcast of a local news report in Cincinnati, Ohio.” That “live broadcast” was since proven to be a hoax but it has since spread and garnered its own hashtag with a number of compilation videos of people yelling the phrase on live television to news broadcasters.
I was watching the NTV Evening News Hour on Tuesday April 25th and as the report about the local FHITP incident aired, I happened to come across the photo posted by Cape Shore Memes. As I mentioned, it garnered many comments from Facebook users. A debate seemed to be raging over whether the man who allegedly yelled the obscenity should have been charged, and whether this perpetuated rape culture and if it was a threat or not. I must admit I got caught up in the commenting firestorm and wasn’t aware of the phrase’s viral history.
Above: An edited image of the initial viral meme.
One thing I particularly didn’t care for though was the fact that the account for Cape Shore Memes seemed to downplay the whole thing, calling it “a dumb phrase people yell at cameras when they see them because of a video from a while back”. Another thing that the account pointed out was that it’s just “people thinking they’re funny by yelling the phrase on a live TV feed, and it happens whether there’s a man or a woman reporter present.” Cape Shore Memes argued that “common sense will tell ya it’s just people acting foolish not a bunch of rapists running around.” They did go on to say though that whomever was replying under the account also believes it to be a “stupid joke,” but said “people do it when they see a live TV feed, don’t matter if it’s a male or female reporter present, or no reporter. They’re yelling it to get it on live TV, it’s nothing to do with the reporter.”
Nothing to do with the reporter? While perhaps not a personal attack (though if you watch the video from the TFC game I would argue that the reporter certainly was personally attacked); but it definitely has something to do with the reporter. I’m not here to pick a side on whether or not saying this on live TV “is a rape threat” as one commenter on Facebook said, I’m here to say that it is just stupid, asinine and pathetic. This, (I want to say “frat boy humor” but doing so would be an insult to frat boys) type of sophomoric humor impedes people from doing their job. It must be infuriating to have to deal with. Ask yourself this, how would you feel if someone was making a mockery of your work? I was interested to see if there was any truth to the claim that people will yell FHRITP is said by interviewees or passers by on live TV no matter the gender of the reporter. From the two compilation videos I watched on YouTube, there were indeed male reporters at the receiving end of this “joke”.
I reached out to Ms. Gillis who said she was not aware of that FHRITP was a meme either but noted that this had been the third time she has experienced someone yelling this at her while she was working. “It’s not an isolated incident. It’s been yelled at every other woman I work with,” she notes.
Interested to see if the claims backed up by videos on YouTube of FHRITP being yelled at male reporters as well, I asked Heather if she was aware of any such incidents. “Yes, it’s been yelled at men too. It’s still not right,” she said.
Ms. Gillis calls this act “humiliating”. She says, “[y]ou can’t go into an office, store or any worksite, yell that and get away with it. So why should someone be able to yell it at journalists?”
Heather says that since this story broke she had been overwhelmed by the reaction, calling it “very positive and supportive”.
At the end of the day, yelling FHRITP is rude and disrespectful which is why the man who allegedly yelled the obscenity was charged with causing a disturbance which according to Canada’s Justice Laws Website is punishable on summary conviction. Again, without getting into the debate about whether or not this is a threat, think about what is being said though. Why is that phrase being said to get a laugh on air when something else equally as ridiculous and much less offensive could be uttered? This was the point I made in my comment to the post made by Cape Shore Memes.
During an episode of the fourteenth season of The Simpsons, Springfield newsman Kent Brockman is reporting live outside of a political campaign speech. In order to prove it, he exclaims the word “penis”. If you want to express your ability to act painfully immature can’t you just say that on the air instead of FHRITP? Or better yet, just don’t say anything at all and let news reporters do their jobs?