Contemporary culture has declared itself to be ok with sexual excess and sexual violence, in fact it encourages it. While Weinstein and #metoo provided a momentary reckoning for Hollywood, the Armie Hammer scandal shows that all this is rather short-lived. Furthermore, the content reaching millions on TikTok indicate that the “sex positivity” movement has severe and dangerous limitations and consequences. What is clear is that Hammer is hardly an isolated individual, his story is a part of our current society of excess where freedom is understood as living with no boundaries or restrictions.

So who is Armie Hammer? From his early one-episode stints in Veronica Mars and Desperate Housewives, it was clear that the now 34-year-old actor had confidence, charisma and classic old school looks likening him to Gary Cooper. Yet, his career remained a non-starter as documented in the now infamous 2017 BuzzFeed article by Anne Petersen who asked “How many second chances does a handsome white male star get?”

But Hammer was no ordinary actor. His first major magazine appearance was in a 2009 Vanity Fair spread entitled “Fortune’s Children” who were described as “the next generation of some of the world’s greatest fortunes”. Photographed alongside the likes of Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, his heritage is listed as: “Great-grandfather Dr. Armand Hammer, the controversial Occidental Petroleum tycoon.”

Great-grandpa Armand was named after the “arm and hammer” symbol of the Socialist Labour Party of America and though he remained leftist in politics, he was soon to become a capitalist king. Though Armand had sold cattle and art, his real wealth came from Occidental Petroleum while he was on the brink of retirement. Initially the owner of two oil wells that struck oil, Armand took a majority stake in Occidental Petroleum and was responsible for turning the company international. When he died in 1982, Armand Hammer had a net worth of $200 million and had founded the famed Hammer Museum in Los Angeles.

Armand and his family, however, are known for far more than being rich, art-loving philanthropists as the stories of bribery schemes, forged artwork and lawsuits against the Hammer Family Charitable Trust emerged. But the bombshell came with the now resurfaced memoir, Surviving My Birthright, by Hammer’s paternal aunt, Casey Hammer. The book goes into detail about the family and how she was abused by her father, Julian (Hammer’s grandfather) and brother, Michael (Hammer’s father). In response to the allegations against Hammer that surfaced in January 2021, Casey Hammer said she was not surprised as the family was raised to be “perfect on the outside and twisted on the inside”.

And the allegations against Armie Hammer are twisted indeed.

In January, an anonymous Instagram account @houseofeffie began sharing screenshots of conversations between the heir to the Hammer fortune and various women (including herself) that occurred between 2016 and 2020. The content of these and other screenshots and testimonies are the basis for allegations of sexual abuse, violence and manipulation as the messages “detail rape, graphic cannibalism, blood-sucking, cutting, and other extreme and explicit fantasies in which Hammer would assert his ‘ownership’ of his partners”.

The actor’s ex-girlfriend Courtney Vucekovich also added to the list of allegations describing how Hammer would talk about breaking one of her ribs so he could “barbecue and eat it”. In an interview with Page Six, she stated “He kind of captivates you and while being charming, he’s grooming you for these things that are darker and heavier and consuming. When I say consuming, I mean mentally, physically, emotionally, financially, just everything… I wasn’t safe.” 

Another former partner, Paige Lorenze also spoke about her experience of dating Hammer who would allegedly bite her and drink her blood whenever she had a cut — and had used a knife to carve the letter “A” into her skin as a brand, “Any man who is fantasizing about crushing bones, eating them, having sex with female limp bodies is a danger to all women.”

Lorenze also stated that Hammer would write all this off as part of his BDSM (a condensed acronym for bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, and sadism and masochism) fantasies. However, the entrance of BDSM and non-normative sex into mainstream culture – most notably through Fifty Shades is not as sexually liberating as many like to believe and instead the perfect cover story for sexual violence and abuse.

A cursory look at TikTok bolsters this point and shows how sexual excess, danger and perversion are not only to be found amongst the morally bankrupt financial and Hollywood elite. #freak and #ChokeMe have 1.2 billion and 45.3 million views respectively. Videos that glorify sexual violence are extremely popular as are content where users share bruises obtained during sex and footage of grabbing their partner’s throat.

In fact, users who object to this kind of behavior are “vanilla shamed”. A 19-year-old TikTok user named Lily commented on a video of a boy mocking his girlfriend for not being into choking. “I write something like ‘not wanting to be choked doesn’t mean you’re boring’ and I ended up being called out for it. People kept saying that I didn’t know how to have a good time and that I obviously wasn’t comfortable with my sexuality.”

The fact that TikTok’s minimum age to create an account is only 13, makes this all the more concerning. We Can’t Consent To This is an organization formed in response to the increasing violence exhibited against young women during sex and thus the normalization of violence against women.

“How did we get here?” asks relationship and sex educator Lalalaletmexplain. “How did we arrive at the point where college boys think that choking and spitting in women’s faces is normal?” The answer lies in misogyny and porn and a combination of the two. She describes the men and boys engaged in this behavior as “inexperienced… who model their sexual practices on what they have seen in mainstream porn because it allows them to degrade and defile women,” and describes the women as “simply tolerating it because they think they have to, they don’t want to appear prudish and disappointing and because they want to please”. These observations are especially relevant in the Muslim community. Muslims are on social media, have exceptionally high engagement with online pornography with very little sex ed, and a significant number of men and women will have their first sexual experience in a marriage. The exposure to violent fantasies as well as unrealistic and unhealthy exceptions will have disastrous consequences.

It is a bleak picture and I am of the view that the current state of affairs has been fueled by hyper sexualization and the reasons listed above. However, it has become controversial to point out that these factors cannot be viewed in isolation alone. Our society today is one where the only thing preventing any type of conduct is consent. And while consent is necessary, it is not sufficient. Contemporary culture believes that any and all behavior is acceptable if it takes place between two consenting adults. Anything less will get you labeled as backwards, a fundamentalist, a prude or a bigot.

Therefore, the glorification of sexual violence and the encouraging of excessive sexual appetites is part of a larger conversation regarding freedom and the need for boundaries. As Shaykh Hamza Yusuf notes, “The enslavement to the inciting soul (nafs al-ammaarah) is entirely ignored in our public discussions about freedom. Moral freedom, the freedom to act prudently and virtuously, is dismissed in any discussion of freedom in the modern context of political and circumstantial freedom. Destructive moral dissolution, which was once rightly termed licentiousness is now considered a type of freedom. According to the Qur’an, these destructive tendencies are a result of the dominance of the commanding self (nafs al-ammaarah), infantile and domineering, in its unrestrained state.”

The story of Armie Hammer should disturb you, the horror unfolding on TikTok should disturb you. But it should not take these cases of extreme moral depravity to seriously re-consider the values and norms which underpin modern society. We all chant freedom, but what type of freedom? And at what cost?