Once, when I worked as a tutor for prep school kids, one of my students woke his laptop from sleep and went to use the bathroom while it was starting up. Pretty much as soon as he left the room, the computer began playing blowjob footage—grainy and extremely loud, in that sensory-assault style where pornography meets the industrial film. I went for command-Q like a damn mongoose, only to get the spinning beach ball, at which point I panicked and shut the clamshell. That was no good, of course; my student would inevitably return, open it and have even more reason to assume I had fired up the hardcore porn while he was gone. I woke the laptop and waited for Closeup Wailing Blowjob 6 to start again—watching the bathroom door in terror the whole time—and then did a hard shutdown. My point is A) no pun and B) even the shrewd tactician is at a loss when a machine suddenly begins emitting pornography. I can understand why Father Martin McVeigh of Pomeroy, Ireland just got the fuck out of there.
McVeigh was giving a PowerPoint presentation about First Communion to 26 parents—plus one eight year-old—which is an even worse audience than one high school student and whichever of his maids happens to walk down the hall. McVeigh appeared to be a victim of the Windows autoplay function, which assumes you want to immediately play a slideshow of whatever pictures are on your USB drive when you connect it to your computer. Autoplay is a stupid function. You know you are not dealing with a power user when you sit down to a computer and find that autoplay is enabled, but such are the vagaries of the diocese laptop. When Father McVeigh’s PowerPoint slides were replaced by gay pornography, he “unplugged the USB drive and walked out of the room without uttering a single word.”
Obviously, a lot of mistakes were made in the development of this presentation. Kids, I urge you not to save pornography on your computer and/or removable storage devices. Pornography is to the internet as the tarantula is to the pet store; it’s always going to be there, and you don’t need to bring it home. But Combat! is not a blog about politics, consumer culture and jackin’ it; it’s politics, consumer culture and lying. We are therefore less interested in McVeigh’s failure to write “SPREADSHEETS” on his porn stick and more interested in how he spun it afterwards. His statement:
I don’t know how it happened, but I know what happened. There are people making innuendoes who weren’t even there, but in this day and age these stories grow.
Yes, it seems that in this day and age a priest can’t invite two dozen parents to the church basement and show them hot twinks giving up every hole without people making innuendos. McVeigh’s tactic here is a variation on TFD, or Total Fucking Denial. Technically he diverges from TFD in his acknowledgement that he knows what happened, but that’s pretty much unavoidable when you have 26 witnesses. The important thing is that Father McVeigh is sticking to the essence of the strategy, which is to refuse to grant even the most obvious aspects of a situation.
Obviously, gay pornography did not magically appear on McVeigh’s USB drive. Someone downloaded it from the internet (or wherever) and put it on there, and the fact that it was on the same storage device where Father saved his communicants presentation—a fact emphasized by his taking it with him when he bailed—creates a reasonable impression that someone was him. You can’t prove it, though. You have to admit it, and therein lies the essence of TFD.
It’s possible that the church homunculus was masturbating to gay pornography and stole Father McVeigh’s memory stick so he could save it for later. It’s way, way more likely that the Catholic priest who owns said memory stick was doing same, but you cannot act on that reasonable supposition without making McVeigh confirm it. Until he does, you are forced to either treat the incident as an accident—and obey the conceit that McVeigh has no idea how it was even possible—or accuse a priest of lying.
That’s what makes TFD the nuclear option of crisis management: it is a form of lying so pure that it does not even contain deception. No one actually believes that McVeigh didn’t save gay porn to his own USB drive, but the social prohibition against calling another person a liar is so strong as to obtain even when you know he is lying. Granted, your failure to call him on it will not prevent you from disliking the TFD liar forever. But in certain situations—public displays of your pornography consumption, for example—acknowledgment is worse than anything else.