Two recent–and related?–internet bullying incidents

A shitstorm started a few weeks ago in the video gaming community when a woman named Anita Sarkeesian posted this video:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l8I0Wy58adM&w=425&h=315]

A virtual tidal wave ensued, with a bunch of trolls attacking her, most of it very angry, totally inappropriate and some downright sick. Now, having been the target of a lot of internet venom in my time, including out-of-context quotations of my work, threats, name-calling, and harassment, I don’t find any of that acceptable.

In some cases it works out well for the intended target, as it did here: Ms. Sarkeesian wound up getting way more money than she originally asked for from people who, presumably, were in part showing support for her against the harassers. She almost certainly feels vindicated. I would; trolls don’t get their just desserts anywhere near often enough. If the goal was to change people’s minds about Sarkeesian’s work, it was a horrendous backfire wasn’t it? In gamer terms, those who went after her got “pwned,” and deserve to be mocked for it. You couldn’t have done her a bigger favor.

Lost in all this, though, was that there are perfectly reasonable, rational people who have problems with the starting presumptions of Ms. Sarkeesian’s project. A reasonable, rational, and non-hostile response, for example, is this one by Sarah Kite Tales:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZueOCLGt1tw&w=425&h=315]

As to why Sarkeesian got swarmed by angry responders, there are some of us who wonder if there wasn’t something a little more complex than simple “misogyny” here. I have my own guesses, but until someone finds a few of these trolls and manages to pin them down–in person or on the phone I mean–and ask “OK, what exactly got you so upset that you used that kind of language?” we won’t really know. We’ll just assume won’t we? Bad habit, that.

My own guess is that there was some misogyny there, but some of it was probably more visceral anger, which leads to the question: anger at what besides “women?” Well, the fact is, a lot of young men these days feel pretty kicked around by current culture and for a lot of them, escaping into video games is one of the only outlets where they feel like they can enjoy themselves and be good at something without feeling guilty or inferior. Having something they love attacked feels like something personal, I think.

You may not agree with my analysis, but it says something that I already expect that, if I’m not ignored completely for saying this, I’ll probably get sneering contemptuous responses from those who wish to lecture me on how our society supposedly elevates boys–even though so much objective data shows that today’s young men are struggling badly, very badly indeed in many cases. Is it wrong to think that maybe, consciously or subconsciously, some young men are just very tired of being lectured and demonized?

Coming close on the heels of all this, I noticed that a young writer for a gaming magazine called “Destructoid,” on his personal Twitter account (on which he had a total of 50 or so followers) said something obnoxious about a celebrity with millions of fans–and got fired for it when someone retweeted his message. His tweet was picked up and passed along by multiple people, and eventually made it to people like Wil Wheaton who, with his own 2 million followers, went on a tirade about the young man’s remark, misogyny, and video gaming culture. The result being, the young man was fired.

Apparently, the term “booth babe” is now so offensive in our so deeply misogynist culture that we think nothing of just ending a young man’s career for saying it. Fascinating: we hate women so much as a culture, we fire people for insulting a lady’s honor?

Anyway, because of the sexism, the rampant, horrible sexism, he needed to be fired. I’ve even had friends I respect and admire defend this: ending a young man’s career. Firing this virtual nobody. For tweeting to all of 50 or so followers that a beloved celebrity is a “booth babe.”

By the way, I am an enormous fan of that so-called “booth babe” (especially her work on “The Guild” and “Dr. Horrible”), but so far as I’m concerned, this was one of the worst cases of internet bullying I’ve ever seen. No, not by the young man who tweeted something rude to his small group of followers, but the avalanche of bullying from erstwhile defenders of a celebrity with millions of fans–including bullying by another celebrity with millions of fans of his own–against a virtual nobody.

They got him fired. Which so far as I’m concerned is at least as bad as anything that Sarkeesian suffered, only, she got a ton of money and he’s now on the unemployment line. Here I think the vlogger known as InuitInua says it best:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SrhQhI1pVG4&w=425&h=315]

So far as I can see, this kid was a revenge target for those still fuming about what happened to Anita Sarkeesian. The only difference being, she’s going on to bigger and better things, whereas the internet bullying he suffered only landed him on the unemployment line.

Sexism, anyone?

*Update*: The number of reasoned responses to Sarkeesian’s point of view is growing. Here is one particularly good take on what’s troubling about so much of Sarkeesian’s work:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p6gLmcS3-NI&w=425&h=315]

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LpFk5F-S_hI&w=425&h=315]

Dean Esmay has been writing on and off about gender issues for more than 10 years. He blogs frequently on multiple topics at his blog Dean’s World. He encourages people who dissent from Ms. Sarkeesian’s point of view to deconstruct her work rationally.

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