As a leftist yourself, why do so many of your arguments critique those on the left?
Because the struggle for social justice is the most important task that human beings undertake, it is necessary for people of conscience to evaluate how well that struggle is going and whether current tactics are effective. When we talk about social justice, we are referring to the effort to make the world a more moral, righteous, equitable, and compassionate place, and not to the effort for any of us to be or appear individually moral. For the good of all of us, social justice has to win. Because social justice most benefits those who lack power, money, and social capital, we have to persuade and motivate through appeals to the broader public, as only people power can make up for our inherent disadvantage in conventional power. I do not believe that the current tactics that are common to the social justice left can possibly persuade enough of the people who need to be persuaded. I feel compelled to say so, even though I am frequently told by those within the broad social justice left that I lack credibility to speak. Because we have to win.
Today, Merrill-Lynch announced its new slate of subprime mortgage-backed derivatives through 2019. And there was, naturally, much rejoicing.
Of course, because the people doing the rejoicing are made perpetually uncomfortable by rejoicing, and are much happier feeling aggrieved, there was also grievance.
This is how you know that your treasured properties are so culturally and commercially dominant that you’ve completely lost the script: when the mere existence of any contrary opinion at all strikes you as remarkable.
Update: At Badass Digest, I made the prediction that this is going to result in market saturation and backlash. The other commenters there absolutely lost their marbles about it. I just will never understand being so insanely sensitive to alternative opinion, at a time when your own opinion is totally dominant. I will never understand.
I’ve really been genuinely disturbed by #GamerGate. Obviously, some of that is just the threats and harassment of women online. But it’s also disturbing how successful they’ve been in pressuring advertisers, and in getting parts of the media to credulously accept much of their narrative. To me, it’s indicative of the problems that come about when there’s no limit to how much we politicize the personal.
We on the left have argued for ages that “the personal is political.” We’ve told people that they should look for political resonance in every aspect of their personal lives, in order to see the hand of various oppressions at play in microcosm. And we’ve incentivized that behavior in the way we always do, by treating the deployment of that kind of argument as a trump card against those who you’re arguing with. We have this magic words theory of argument where if you deploy certain terms like “tone policing,” the expectation is that you’ve won the argument and the other side has to stop arguing immediately. But those tactics don’t occur in a vacuum. Campus conservatives, for example, have succeeded in so many of their provocations because they have very deftly adopted the tactics and vocabulary of the academic left and employed them for their own purposes. And now we’re seeing the same thing from the GamerGate crew: this isn’t a fashion or hobby for me, it’s an identity. Your criticisms aren’t criticisms, they’re bullying. I’m not being blamed for bad behavior, I’m being oppressed.
So take microaggression theory. Being embedded in the academy for the last six years, and in the humanities particularly, I’m pretty intimately acquainted with how migroaggression arguments are deployed in real life. In a vacuum, I certainly recognize the capacity for people to express racist, sexist, or similar attitudes in passive aggressive, day-to-day behavior. There’s a lot of smart stuff that’s been written in this tradition. But due to the way these discourses operate in real life, the definition of microaggression has ballooned to the point where accusations can be deployed for literally any situation. I know people hate hearing this, but it’s just true: there are people in the academy, and now in the broader world, whose personal definition of microaggression seems to be “literally any behavior that I don’t like.” That makes the kind of disagreements that are necessary for academic and political debate impossible.
But how do you respond to that behavior? I’m sometimes tempted to say, “you know, I think that person might just be a jerk,” or “that was wrong, but she’s just having a bad day.” Worse is when people respond to perfectly legitimate political or academic disagreement by making accusations of microaggression. But I’m not sure how to go about registering that opinion. In the actually-existing discourse communities we have on the left, to ever express skepticism that a given incident constituted racism, sexism, homophobia, or similar means to many that you are “on the side” of the racists, the sexists, the homphobes. Look at the debate about affirmative consent; it’s occurring in a rhetorical environment of ambient threat, where the suggestion that people who question the wisdom or justice of affirmative consent laws are subject to innuendo or accusation of being insufficiently opposed to rape.
Under those conditions, the price of saying “you know, I just don’t think that this situation is a matter of political microaggression” is far higher than the potential rewards. The first person to allege discrimination wins, and the person on the other side of that equation loses. This is especially true because we’ve also decided that, once you identify yourself as arguing against political misbehavior, there are absolutely no standards on your own behavior. You are allowed to engage in brutal character assassination if you represent yourself as speaking out against racism or sexism or similar. Look at the odd condition of a Twitter storm: offenses that are often subtle or unintentional are treated as indicative of existential immorality, but the direct, utterly cruel overreactions against these offenses are treated as righteous political acts. Microaggressions breed macro-aggressive responses that are seemingly exempt from standards of fair behavior.
On a personal level, the limitless politicization of daily life actually ends up hurting the people who it ostensibly helps. The way that we deal with the parade of failures, indignities, and problems that make up adult life is by moving on. You often don’t get what you want in life, and it hurts. If you never get over these problems, you subject yourself to long-term unhappiness. So when friends are dealing with hardship we tend to tell them to move on, in time, to get past these feelings. But in a world where absolutely every personal problem is politicized, the attitude is the opposite. When someone alleges that a given problem is a matter of structural oppression, we tell them to hold onto that feeling and never forget about it. The suggestion that someone should move past those feelings is then represented as taking part in that oppression. And I know people, in real life, who seem incapable of moving past disappointments and failures because they’ve so internalized the notion that all of them are a matter of illegitimate discrimination. When every bad date is indicative not of a clash of personalities but of the hand of misogyny, when every rejected job application is a consequence of structural oppression, when every dirty look is racist rather than just shitty, I don’t know how you can make your way through life, which is hard enough as it is.
And on a systemic level, you get stuff like GamerGate. The notion that geek-loved media and genres are disrespected just doesn’t jibe with reality. But more, I don’t know what alternative people are asking for. What would victory look like– what would it mean for them to be respected in the way people want? There’s this weird notion of active respect for art forms that just doesn’t occur in real life. Like, I sometimes think the people making these complaints imagine the rest of us sit around going, “hey, you know what genre I really respect? Cop shows.” “Totally. I also really respect cop shows.” Nobody gets that level of active respect for the things they like. But when you’re operating in an environment where you’re told that absolutely every minor dissatisfaction in your life is a political issue, there’s every reason to adopt the stance of “oppressed minority” rather than “human being dealing with the same constant dissatisfaction that we all do.” Even if that self-identification as oppressed person is absurd. I mean I will give them this credit: they are playing the media and the companies that advertise very well. This may be an absurd campaign to justify threats against women and other awful behavior through facile discussions of ethics in journalism, but it is also a savvy piece of media manipulation, undertaken by people who have learned the lessons of left-wing political critique too well. We wrote the book for them.
Argument is like all other human behaviors: subject to conditioning through reward and punishment. And we’ve created these incentives on the left: always politicize; always escalate; always ridicule. We’re living with the consequences of those tendencies now. Unfortunately, I don’t know how we build a new left discourse, given that the two current modes of left-wing expression appear to be a) showily condescending ridicule and b) utter fury. I mean you can guess what the response by some will be to this essay: deBoer doesn’t think racism is real, he doesn’t think sexism is real, he wants people to just get over it when they’re the victims of sexism and racism. None of that is true. I write about the structural racism of our society constantly. I believe that we’re still a deeply, inherently sexist culture. (For example, you may have heard of #GamerGate.) And I absolutely believe that there are tons of daily encounters that demonstrate these problems, and that the victims of them should feel comfortable speaking out.
I just also think that we have to be able to say “you know, I don’t think that your particular political critique here is correct” without being accused of failing to oppose racism and sexism in general. And I think that we have to recognize that, by treating claims of oppression as immediate conversation winners, without the expectation that people actually have to defend and support those claims with evidence, we make the appropriation of these techniques that we’re seeing with GamerGate inevitable.
Hey gang. A couple readers have asked me recently what’s going on with me generally. So here’s a little self-indulgent update.
I’m on the academic job market right now. I am a fourth year PhD student, and I have another year of guaranteed funding after this year, but I have three chapters of my dissertation written, I’m feeling good about my CV, and I think I’m ready. (More importantly, my advisor thinks I’m ready.) Applying for jobs is a full time job, and my dissertation work has slowed considerably. But with my introduction likely going to be derived significantly from my prospectus, and my fifth and final chapter largely dependent on data collection that can’t be rushed, I’m not too worried. As many times as I was told that writing job documents would be a lot of work, I still underestimated the task. But it’s genuinely valuable intellectual work– I’ve never had to ask myself, so directly, what I value as a teacher and as a researcher. (You’re permitted to roll your eyes, there. But I really am loving it.) I’m trying to set aside a little money for plane tickets to campus visits (they reimburse you but you gotta front the money) and for a new suit. I have a nice suit but it’s more of a wedding-style one, so I want to see if I can get something a little more business-y. Of course, this may be an elaborate exercise in putting the cart before the horse.
Aside from that, it’s been a lovely fall in Lafayette, and I’m trying to appreciate it that much more because it is (hopefully?) my last here. I went to the last farmer’s market of the season yesterday, got some Concord grapes, some local potatoes and garlic. I went to a fancy dress housewarming party last night and dressed fancy. I’m having tons of fun in my new role as the Communications Editory at Kairos. I just helped a friend celebrate her 30th birthday, and today I approved proofs on the article I was telling you about recently. Life is good.
And, yes: I’m living with three cats and a dog, as I’m watching my brother’s two cats while he’s working in Guam. I was afraid it would be a madhouse but it’s actually been lovely. Even this guy has been getting used to it… slowly.
Over at the Columbia Journalism Review, the premier repository of old-guard journalistic “seriousness” and Ivy League pedantry, Sarah Grieco has a very odd critique of Gawker. I don’t find it odd just because I disagree with it; I find it odd because it defines bullying in a particular way, then immediately abandons that definition. Grieco defines bullying:
[Gawker] regularly takes down “weaker” competitors—the textbook definition of bullying. In the high school hallway that is the New York media scene, Gawker Media is the Biff Tannen-type, shoving whoever they want into a locker…. Gawker depicts its actions as an internet watchdog role, an upstart taking on the bigger guys.
The notion that bullying is a matter of the big picking on the small is fairly easy to grasp. I actually find it totally unworkable from the stance of adult conduct, which I’ll get to in a second, but OK — that’s a definition that I can at least understand. So what does Grieco go after Gawker for doing? Taking on media entities that are… larger than Gawker. She points out that Gawker pulls in 60 million uniques a month, which is indeed a large number. But she goes after them for taking on Buzzfeed, which gets more than twice as many! How is that a matter of the small picking on the big? Even more ludicrously, she attacks Gawker for criticizing the New York Times, literally the most powerful, influential entity in all of journalism. For good measure she adds Vice and Fox News, as if she hadn’t done enough to already undermine her own definition. Ms. Grieco: professional media companies, particularly of the size and influence of the ones you’re naming here, cannot be “bullied.” Roger Ailes is not some asthmatic on the playground. David Carr has a platform and power that rivals the reach and influence of many governments. It is ludicrous to defend these institutions using the logic of bullying. Benny Johnson is an adult, professional journalist. He committed a range of egregious journalistic breaches of ethics and his publication dragged its feet on punishing him. I don’t know where you got the impression that criticizing that is similar to stealing someone’s lunch money, but it’s a flatly broken, unworkable analogy, one that obscures more than it clarifies.
I can’t remember the last time I read something that failed so badly to apply its own, author-defined logic. (Boy, the work the scare quotes around “weaker” has to do!)
In case you think I’m just in the tank for Gawker, you can check my record– I have criticized the writers and the publications within Gawker Media many times. I have also praised them many times. That’s how publications work: they publish some good stuff and some bad stuff and some in-between stuff. What makes Grieco’s complaints so frustrating, in fact, is that what has marked Gawker’s evolution in the John Cook – Max Read era is that they have moved away from the pointless snark towards the less powerful which she’s critiquing. That was the point Carla Blumenkranz made in her n+1 piece about Gawker, and it was accurate then. But that was years ago. What has made Gawker Media a better, more useful set of properties is that it has gotten in the business of criticizing the powerful, particularly the powerful who are usually not attacked by the establishment media. Sam Biddle is the target of Grieco’s ire. While I have my complaints about some of Biddle’s work, the simple fact of the matter is that Valleywag performs an essential function: it goes after the Silicon Valley overlords that the establishment media simply refuses to criticize. For decades now, mainstream journalism has treated Silicon Valley like the noble, utopian princes of contemporary society. Somebody has to subject them to scrutiny, and clearly, that task hasn’t been performed by the Serious Journalisms types… you know, the kind who start out writing for the Columbia Journalism Review. Same thing with Deadspin: who, exactly, is the underdog, here? ESPN? The NFL? For real? ESPN’s power is so distorting, and so inherently threatening to anyone who wants to work in sports journalism, that the only way to cover them is through asymmetrical warfare. If that comes along with dick jokes and some failures to be appropriately skeptical of sources, I’ll take it. Lord knows that the New York Times and Fox News aren’t getting the job done.
That’s to say nothing of the fact that the people involved in GamerGate that Grieco defends are, in fact, not poor bullied kids. They are, overwhelmingly, employed, educated, privileged adult men, many of whom work for some of the most powerful and profitable industries in our economy. Their beloved sci fi and comic books and fantasy genres and media– those aren’t reviled and disrespected properties that people are ashamed to like. They’re economically dominant and critically lauded, and given the way the internet makes culture spread more broadly and intensely than ever before, are probably the most powerful force in the history of the arts. (No exaggeration.) And why are they attracting so much criticism? Is it because they’re weak and unpopular? No. They’re being criticized because they’re threatening women, because they’re revealing the personal information of people who disagree with them, because they’re making terrorist threats at venues that host their targets, because they drive innocent people from their homes, because they refuse to disassociate from misogyny. That’s why. Grieco seems to imagine that the men behind Gamergate are skinny teens getting thrown into trashcans by the football players. In fact, they’re the dominant leaders of the new economy, who have vast computer skills and the wherewithal to use them against their critics, who have such economic power that they can make companies like Intel and Adobe tremble, whose whims dictate our entire pop culture industry, and who get just about everything that they want, all the time. That’s who needs defending?
I know that my regular readers are tired of hearing me say this. But the self-definition of this class of people as a beleaguered minority is not defensible. It cannot be justified through evidence. It flies in the face of reality. And the adoption by the overclass of the language and argumentative tactics used to defend actually-threatened minorities like people of color is disgusting and destructive. What’s more, the way in which the politicized term “bullying” is now deployed to shield people from criticism is simply incompatible with the critical work that is a necessary part of adult society. Subjecting us all to a juvenile standard of behavior thanks to a well-meaning but ineffective movement against petty individual cruelty does nothing for the actual victims of bullying and instead merely protects the powerful, like Shepherd Smith, like Benny Johnson, like the NFL, like Vice.
The attitudes that Grieco demonstrates aren’t just confused and whiny. They’re toxic, because they’re indicative of everything wrong with old-guard media culture. Kill the Messenger, the Gary Webb biopic, is playing now. Webb’s career was destroyed not in spite of the fact that he produced some of the most essential journalism of the past two decades but because he did. He was punished because he did it for a small paper. He was punished because he didn’t defer to the CIA or the government. He didn’t follow “official procedure,” which means marinating in the self-seriousness of the journalist good ol’ boy network. And so even now, a decade after his death, he is subject to pathetic character assassination by someone like Jeff Leen, a symbol of old-school journalism standards if there ever was one. Those are the same standards that cause hatred of Glenn Greenwald, the same standards that lead Jeff Goldberg to defend the asinine campaign against Dave Weigel by suggesting that Weigel lacked “toilet training.” By calling attacks on the powerful and the comfortable bullying, Greico is locating herself squarely in that ugly tradition. I’ve never been one to celebrate the demise of the traditional media, as newspapers play an essential role that has not been replaced by new media. But these phony standards of comity that seem to only defend the powerful, they can’t die soon enough.
You have likely already come across this remarkable piece of reporting by Adrian Chen, where he delves into the world of human social media workers who scrub Facebook and similar sites of offensive and illegal content, but if not you need to check it out. It’s essential that we recognize that our visions of a frictionless, technology-enabled future are, fundamentally, lies.
In my complaints about the popular portrayal of artificial intelligence, I have mentioned that people underestimate just how much human training goes into the Bayesian models that underlie a lot of the algorithmic internet — the recommendation services, the natural language processing, the predictive systems. The existence of thousands of Filipino workers laboring for awful wages to wash your Facebook feed is not quite the same thing, but it springs from the same dedication to sanitizing the future to better fit our Jetsons-inspired vision. As Chen writes, “Companies would prefer not to acknowledge the hands-on effort required to curate our social media experiences, Roberts says. ‘It goes to our misunderstandings about the Internet and our view of technology as being somehow magically not human’.” You would be amazed at the number of people I still hear say, “Amazon, it’s like magic. I just click a button and a few days later a package arrives.”
When most people think of the future, I think they’re imagining something like Dubai or Abu Dhabi, impossible cities of impossible heights and impossible affluence. (A friend of mine who worked in Abu Dhabi doing IT for awhile told me that it was like living in Sim City, played by your dad, with the unlimited money cheat on.) And I think they’re right: I think the future is Dubai, the future is Abu Dhabi. It’s the mountain of groaning humanity, sweating and poisoned, laboring for pennies, building monuments of gorgeous crystalline perfection, which some Stanford grad in a hoodie takes pains to hide backstage, relying on our collective desire to never look behind the curtain.
Tonight I read a 110-word piece, on a professional website, aggregating a tweet, celebrating it as a snappy comeback to another tweet, without bothering to explain what the comeback was a comeback to, ending by telling an objectively horrible woman “bravo,” written by an associate editor “focusing on innovation.” And given the economics of professional online writing, I’m not even that mad about it.
Eagle-eyed reader Devon G. emailed me last night to tell me that Alex Dunn of UCSB’s Philosophy department was again throwing a Twitter fit about the fact that I exist. Devon remembered Dunn from his previous little spasm of getting mad that not literally everyone is a part of his weirdo Twitter koffee klatsch. I had actually forgotten until Devon reminded me; I just don’t have the brain space to let Alex Dunn and his hair run around in there. But when Devon told me, I checked it out, and indeed there he was, like literally making little frowny face emojis anytime someone mentioned my name. And a sensible chuckle was had by all.
People who act like this really do not understand the nature of narcissism. Honey! There’s no such thing as bad publicity!
The thing you have to understand is that I’ve been attracting this sort of attention since the very beginning of my writing online 6 years ago. I have never not had people developing these weird negative fixations. It’s something of a constant. And they all think they’re the one who really showed me. It seems like everyone I’ve ever gotten into a fight with sits around and cries a single tear about it, saying “I sure showed that jerk!” and feeling like they just lost an elementary school soccer game and didn’t get orange slices. Who wants to live that way? I’ve lost plenty of arguments online. It happens. You throw rocks at street signs for awhile and you move on. Fixating in this way is so strange, to me. And I couldn’t do it just for sheer volume. If I was still getting upset about every fight I had, I wouldn’t have the energy to breathe. Being a grownup means that you don’t like some people and they don’t like you, and to be honest I kind of got a head start on that. I’ve been a love it or hate it phenomenon my whole life, and that suits me. I’m sorry, Alex: this is not Mrs. Soanes’s 8th grade math class and I don’t pass notes anymore. I don’t have time to develop “enemies” online and if I did, you wouldn’t even make JV. Consider a hobby.
On the real, you guys: I get that for many of you, life on Twitter has become more important than life out here in the big grimy. And on a certain level, I get it. But sometimes you’ve really gotta close that laptop, do you feel me? It’s a big brilliant world out here, and Twitter is really small in many ways. The thing about Twitter is that you get to turn it off and go outside. And once you do you can go around and look at all the messy humans out there and say to yourself “look at that guy! He doesn’t know I exist!” and “that lady has no idea what #gamergate is” and “that person couldn’t pick Suey Park out of a lineup.” Then you can go to a bar or make a friend or eat Funyuns or do any number of things that are more intense and interesting than everything that has ever happened in the history of the internet combined. And that’s a good feel.
This dude is gonna read this post (because all of them are, inevitably, my closest, most passionate readers) and then he’s just going to seethe and seethe. Every time he sees my name on Twitter, he’ll get mad. Whereas I will click “close tab” and he will cease to exist. Which approach do you want to take yourself?
I’m friends with a guy from my Chicago days who believes strongly in the need to reform alimony and child custody laws. He married and had a child with a woman who would later suffer a relapse into alcoholism and drug abuse. He went through a ton of difficult times, sticking with her through repeated legal troubles and betrayals of trust, and eventually felt compelled to divorce her. Given her continuing personal struggles, and the fact that she had placed their daughter in danger several times, along with the fact that she had repeatedly sold his stuff on Craigslist and attacked him physically, he pressed for sole custody of the daughter, with visitation rights for the mother conditional on her ability to avoid legal trouble. He thought, given her repeated arrests and demonstrable drug and alcohol addiction, that this process would be straightforward. What he’s found instead is that it’s been a terribly emotionally draining and expensive process. The family courts, as he’s discovered the hard way, are in many parts of the country still strongly inclined to award custody to mothers over fathers, even in cases of criminal convictions, drug addiction, even abuse. (Dig around, and you’ll see.) So he’s been fighting forever and it’s tough. He wants to be part of a political movement to change these conditions. Because it’s not just an injustice against men, it’s an injustice against the children who would be better served with their fathers.
(Incidentally, the presumption that children are always best with their mothers is itself based on sexist reasoning, seeing women as babymakers, and from what I’ve read a lot of this tendency comes from conservative family court judges.)
Now, here’s the hard part. The father’s rights movement (for lack of a better term) is forever getting lumped in with, and associated with, the men’s rights movement. This is a problem because men’s rights activists are as a class a pack of sexists who lament the decline of male privilege and work in defense of the patriarchy. So precisely the kind of people who need to get motivated to prompt reform — politically active, educated, progressive people — are likely to be turned off by their perception of who advocates for said reform. My friend has told me that he has searched out people online who feel the same way he does, and has frequently been discouraged by how often this effort gets wrapped up in an anti-feminist narrative, or how often people discuss bizarre revenge fantasies, etc. It’s a real problem, particularly given how tribal our politics are. I know from personal experience that many progressive people simply stop listening when terms like “father’s rights” are discussed. The associations are too grim. There’s nothing else for people like him to do, unfortunately, but to build a new movement and work strenuously to avoid those associations.
I thought of this while reading this set of reader emails over at the Dish. These emailers felt that the Dish’s previous coverage was unfair in its presumption that #gamergate is about misogyny and threats against women. They argue that there is legitimate criticism of the video game media within #gamergate. And they aren’t wrong! The video game media, generally speaking, is garbage. The problem is that #gamergate is nastier, smellier garbage, and principled people who want reform in video game media should start a new movement and reject #gamergate.
Because lord knows, there’s a lot to criticize in the video game media. Look, these kind of generalizations are inherently unfair, and there’s lots of great individual writers and pieces out there. There’s lots of good work being done. But it exists in a broader media where the bar is just impossibly low. In general, video game journalism primarily seems to involve producing hype for an $11 billion-dollar industry, churning out story after story about how cool an upcoming release is and then, on the very small chance that said release ends up with a poor review, never mentioning it again after that poor review. (Seriously: what percentage of Kotaku reviews, to pick one site, are negative? Seriously, dig around and see how many “No” reviews you come up with.) Near-corruption is a confirmed part of the business, with Youtube personalities trading early copies of games for positive coverage. And I suspect that there is even more explicit corruption going on all over the place in the industry. There are so many absurdly positive reviews, or just mainstream, established websites providing impossibly copious coverage of coming releases, that I am convinced that developers are handing direct cash payments to people who positively cover their releases. Though the stakes are much lower, there’s little different about this practice than a politician paying a reporter for positive coverage.
Even aside from actual corruption, the whole industry suffers from a rampant case of boosterism. Still obsessed with their self-conception as a denigrated minority (despite video game revenues dwarfing those of the movie industry, to pick one example), many of the ardent gamers in the video game media seem intent on acting more like cheerleaders for the industry than as skeptical journalists or critical reviewers. Aside from the fact that this allies the video game media with powerful, moneyed corporations rather than with consumers, it’s terribly self-defeating. The way that you get an art form taken seriously is not be giving it a free pass but by subjecting it to real critical review. Yes, the movie industry produces a lot of trash. But it also produces acts of real genius, and I believe that the active, meaningful criticism of film reviewers contributes to this state of affairs. You know a serious movie that is given any kind of wide release or festival run is going to receive a set of tough reviews that take seriously the film’s artistic vision and execution. Video games? I have no similar faith at all. Just gesturing in the direction of meaning or profundity, or even just saying the right things in the press tour, often brings about a rapturous reception from the video game media writ large.
40, 45 years into the age of the commercially released motion picture, we got Citizen Kane. 40, 45 years into the age of the commercially released video game, I personally feel that we’ve seen no video game of remotely similar artistic invention, daring, and quality. And that’s a shame, because video games are an artform of incredible potential, capable of being hilarious, exciting, frightening, beautiful, and genuinely moving.
But here’s the thing, you guys: if video game journalism is garbage, then #gamergate is garbage from an Egyptian restaurant that’s been baking in the sun in July in a heatwave on a New York corner, complete with extra dog poop and infested with cockroaches that have names like Misogyny and Threats Against Women. However well-intentioned some members of #gamergate may be, and however much I may agree with some criticisms of the video game media, the grimy sexism and hideous threats that have been made in the name of #gamergate renders the whole “movement” totally unpalatable to me. Yes, it is unfortunate to define any group by the actions of its worst members, and there are times in life, particularly when it comes to political struggles, that you have to hold your nose and align with people you can’t stand. But this isn’t one of those times, and too many people who complain about how #gamergate is discussed in the media refuse to be frank about how rife with ugliness the phenomenon is.
I mean, there’s even legitimate criticism of Anita Sarkeesian, such as her unpaid appropriation of other women’s artwork, which my friend Alex Layne of the brilliant site Not Your Mama’s Gamer discussed. That behavior bothers me. But in a world where Sarkeesian is subject to such insane, violent threats, my instinct is not to criticize her about intellectual property but build a bunker to defend her from attack. That’s the thing about surrounding your movement with threats and misogyny: people who might be inclined to listen to you feel compelled to reject you out of hand. Whether through refusal or inability, the principled people who consider themselves part of #gamergate have failed to eject the sexist, threatening core of the movement, and for someone like me, that makes it impossible to take the whole enterprise as anything but ugly.
But there’s no reason to despair: you can start your own movement. Start a new hashtag. Explain the criticisms of the video game media you embrace while rejecting the ugly, inexcusable elements of #gamergate. Make it clear that sexism and threats are not ever acceptable in your movement. But I really do think that you need to start something new. I don’t think #gamergate can be reformed. It sucks to have to invest that kind of effort to start something new, but that’s life. Time to get to business.