Harmless Fun or a Hurtful Disaster?
As popularity for FMK continues to rise, it’s essential to avoid its offensive undertones.
By Andrew Mikula, Bates College
Even with all the danger involved in construction work and mining, I think I know a job that’s even worse: middle school bus driver.
I personally don’t understand how anyone can motivate themselves to get out of bed at 5am just to chauffeur dozens of ungrateful, rowdy children around town, with plenty of potential drama throughout.
When they embrace controversy, preteens tend to go through phases that include new words, rude language and behavioral changes. In fact, some people never outgrow this phase.
I had a teacher in 8th grade who joined the prestigious faculty choir, but she evaded telling her students about it. After the choir performed in a school assembly and everyone discovered her secret, she explained why she hadn’t mentioned it earlier: “Kids are mean.”
So when one of my peers caught my attention on the school bus one day, asking if I wanted to play a game called “Fuck, Marry, Kill,” I was hardly surprised. Admittedly, I was interested in the game, but when a fellow giddy, conspiratorial 12-year old rattled off the names of the first three girls I had to categorize, I did a double take. The girls mentioned were sitting on the school bus with the boys playing the game, just a few rows ahead and potentially within earshot.
Nearly 8 years after backing out of my first experience with “Fuck, Marry, Kill,” the game has expanded beyond a childish pastime. There are websites, iPhone apps and board games that let you play the game using celebrities, politicians and athletes. It’s a relatively common object of amusement to watch older people, especially older women, play the game. Perhaps these videos are so amusing because older women don’t fit the demographic of those usually associated with the game (i.e., younger boys). FMK is also the subject of a relatively popular subreddit. The internet seems to have turned this schoolboy pastime into an international sensation.
At the same time, FMK has an ambiguous history and a diversity of variations. Some reorder the words as “Marry, Fuck, Kill,” while others replace “kill” with “chuck” or “fuck” with “bang.” Mild-mannered sites and bloggers may even refer to it as “Kiss, Marry, Kill,” and this clever site uses “Bed, Wed, or Dead.” This laundry list of loose corollaries is explained by a correspondingly loose history. After I spent a ridiculous amount of time researching the origin of the game, all I could determine was that it has gradually gained popularity on the internet since 2004, and that it may have emerged as a form of “Would You Rather?” which has been a popular party game since at least the ‘90s.
Regardless of its history, FMK is here to stay, generating controversy along the way. Some consider the game offensive and degrading to women. While there is no shortage of FMK aimed at female audiences, I’ve found many more forums, websites and blogs that either exclusively use women for the game or feature women without clothes (I’ll refrain from linking anything here). FMK seems to have become less of an inherent object of amusement and more of a creative form of porn.
It’s also telling that the top definition of “Kill Marry Fuck” on Urban Dictionary comes with an all-caps warning to “never bring it up with a girl.” And I can’t help but notice when a celebrity is asked to play FMK with other celebrities, especially when that celebrity is politician Lindsey Graham and the subjects of the game are female political opponents. I don’t see any female politicians getting asked to play FMK, although FMK and politics definitely don’t belong together anyway.
Perhaps the best way to resolve the gender divide in FMK is to simply include both genders in the game. I doubt the girls sitting on the bus with me in 6th grade wanted to play, but as long as everyone understands that the game is just for fun, inclusion is often a satisfactory solution.
Privacy would also help to avoid hurt feelings. Unbeknownst to several 12-year old boys in 2009, a dinner party is probably a better place to play FMK than a school bus. It might help to think of FMK as a particularly blunt form of gossip.
You’re simply talking behind someone’s back when she’s sitting right in front of you, (hopefully) laughing right along as you vow to murder her.
Gone are the days when gossip was considered treason, after all.
It helps to know your audience, though. Some people wouldn’t want to play FMK, so there’s no reason to force them to. It’s also probably a bad idea to use people who are present as the “subjects” of the game if you don’t know them very well. When someone reaches for a phone to dial the police, you know you’ve gone too far.
That said, you can avoid the problem of having to choose between people who are present by using celebrities as “subjects.” There isn’t much stopping celebrities from viewing the results of online FMK games that include them, but at the very least celebrity FMK should make for a conflict-free dinner party. Some people discourage the use of celebrities for FMK because involving personal friends yields “maximum fun,” but if you want to exclusively use people you know, it helps to have fellow players who aren’t easily offended.
Still, people have become desensitized to the crude nature of FMK through its proliferation and popularity on the internet. In a way, playing the game online ignores the exciting, secretive and conversational nature of the party form. The game is a way for children to test the limits and consequences of their words and actions. Perhaps these consequences constitute a lesson that is better learned the hard way. The behavioral changes and attitude problems of middle-schoolers are simply biological – a way of dealing with emotions and freedoms that feel new to them. By comparison, the Buzzfeed version of FMK feels far less weighty.
Thus, if you choose to play FMK in adulthood, I’d encourage you to stick to the dinner party version: private and with close friends. Because if you aren’t careful, maybe it will be the bus driver who ends up in tears. And I think I’ve established that middle school bus drivers already have it rough.
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