Month: October 2014

Hanging Up My Commissar’s Hat (Inasmuch As They Wear Them)

When I first chose the name, I chose it flippantly.

It will come as no surprise to many that I was/am leery of an online identity which gave too much information about my real life. We life in an age of easy, readily targeted harassment, malice and fraud, and conversely, a real-world which doesn’t necessarily allow the freedom of expression that online space (for all its pitfalls) can and does provide.

So, reaching out for something punchy, something memorable, I seized on that. It became the title for this blog, a Twitter handle, and various other ways and means as I moved more permanently and publicly onto social media. It would play. It provided branding. I initially accompanied it with the stylised Soviet era propaganda posters that formed part of the back material of Superman: Red Son. It was a joke, based on satirising an oppressively high-handed approach to pop culture, an appeal to authority that did not, and could not, ever possibly exist.

All in good fun, perhaps, but unfortunately, in recent days more than ever, it has become all too apparent that some people do believe in that appeal to authority. They do believe in a hierarchy in which their opinions genuinely hold more weight, based on some kind of ill-defined power dynamic.

This is the language of the “fake geek girl” conspirator, the language of GamerGate which demands issues of social justice be removed, the language that suggests that cosplay is ruining fandom, that things were always better before they were popular, and that there is a core experiential narrative to being a fan of something.

Suffice to say, I do not believe this, and never have. What I said in jest, too many try to say with conviction. And though I have never received a complaint, or a comment (people talk about my Alistair Cookie Twitter avatar a lot though), I am conscious, and continually more conscious as I see it, of the implicit gatekeeping language in the assumed title.

I would hope that anyone who has spoken to me, or read things I have written (in so far as I am not howling at the wilderness) would understand this about me on first touching base, but be that as it may, I don’t want to be a participant in a shaming or exclusionary culture, even in the service of a joke, even in the most minor of ways. “It is all in good fun” is often used by the worst offenders as an excuse, and even if it is true, it doesn’t excuse even unintentionally promoting geek culture, pop culture, or indeed, any culture, as a space where there can be an assumed “better-than-thou” attitude. When locked in a culture war (and let’s not pretend we aren’t) every little casualty matters.

Beyond that, for example, the violence and the virulence of the reaction to the term “gamer” being suggested as obsolete has struck a chord that has always bothered me: the deep division of identity politics based around something as fundamentally inessential (if, obviously, capable of sustaining passionate interest and support) as the things you like or do not like to play, watch, read or enjoy. The human experience is so diverse, and so rich, that even where the assumption of an identity is in part by means of reclamation (like “geek”, a word with which, in all honesty, I have never been entirely comfortable despite this noble intention), to try and use it as a tribal marker is ultimately as much about who is not amongst your number than a point of shared enjoyment. I’m just not comfortable with that anymore, or at least as not as comfortable as I used to be. If you wear that kind of label with pride, in order to make yourself part of a tribe, then it makes you accountable, to an extent, for the actions of that tribe. And this tribe, for all the wonderful things it brings, has some toxic issues. For me, at least, I’d rather try and connect with people about liking things, than assume some form of kinship with the people who try and make that experience as uncomfortable as possible for them.

It may well be that no-one cares but me, but still, feeling as I do, I felt it was time for a change. For some things which will be too difficult to changeover, the title will remain, but I am removing it as a label effective immediately.

For those who suddenly do not recognise the name of the person speaking to them, I hope this explains why.

Thank You

The last post I wrote on here was addressed to geek culture at large (and GamerGate in the specific). It was a declaration of which FUCKING SIDE I AM ON (which should be the side of anyone with a shred of conscience and decency). But the forces of evil (and make no mistake, that’s not hyperbole, if you’re marching under the same banner as someone threatening to start shooting bystanders because women promulgate well-reasoned analysis of video games that is the team you have joined) have continued making my own little corner of the world an ugly place.

And the world is ugly enough.

But I’m not talking to them any more. This isn’t about them. I’m not talking about me either.

This is a thank you note. This is a thank you to all the women who stand up, when very real threats give them every reason to stop. This is a thank you to female creators, who strive to bring something different, to make the tapestry of experience in unwelcoming subcultures a little richer and a little brighter. This is a thank you to female critics, who make every creator better by giving them something else to think about. This is a thank you to female fans, who do brave things – like being themselves, like wearing their hearts on their (sometimes hand-sewn) sleeves – for no other reason than they truly, truly love something that they’ve experienced or created. And then are called frauds for it. And then go back out there and do it again anyway.

To those who have opted out, who have fled hobbies, who have made an assessment of their safety or their wellbeing and determined it is too risky to speak out, I thank you for what you were able to give, for weathering the storm as best you could, for your bravery, and for being kindred spirits and the silent mass that will bring the change we need to see. It takes more courage than I think I’ve ever had to display, and I hope, someday the situation is such you feel you can return.

Thanks to those non-obvious creators, game writers who the general public hasn’t heard of (I’d feel remiss if I didn’t mention the Bioware writers pit, who have offered me as many hours of entertainment as any creator I can readily think of), but also editors, artists, composers, cinematic designers, illustrators and animators, RPG makers who give us so much without us necessarily realising or noticing it. Most of the things I love couldn’t be made without you.

Thanks to pseudonymous authors and creators who give us the benefit of your perspective – you know who you are, even if we don’t – you are the tutelary spirits of a better world, and we owe you a debt.

Most importantly of all (on a personal level) thank you to my female friends, both online and in person, who bear up under a monstrous onslaught with grace, humour and fortitude. You’ve helped me see things in different ways, and genuinely made me a better person, and I’m damn sure I’m not the only one. The world keeps trying to beat you down, and you keep getting back up.

Everyone’s been talking about how deplorable the situation is lately (and rightly so), but when the backwards and the reactionary and the downright malicious are arrayed against you: in politics, in pop culture, in medicine, in rights and basic human decency, you shine like fucking champions. We should be so lucky to catch a little of that light.