Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Holy Halo ShirtStorm

Shirts are kind of a big deal.

At least, that's what we've learned in the past few months. For those unaware, there has been this drama raging on Twitter known as "#GamerGate". It might still be going on - stating whether #GamerGate is alive or dead in itself creates even more drama, so let's refrain from reporting status.

Now, Felicia Day. Felicia Day is a relatively famous person - a famous person that both is popular in gaming circles and self-identifies as a gamer. Naturally, Day would be asked or feel compelled to share her opinions about something that relates to gaming.

Day shared her thoughts in a Tumblr post "The Only Thing I Have To Say About Gamer Gate"

The post contains an interesting story:

I had a day off this weekend from shooting Supernatural, and I was walking around downtown Vancouver on Saturday, sampling all the artisan coffee I could get my throat around. At one point I saw a pair of guys walking towards me wearing gamer shirts. Black short-sleeved, one Halo and one Call of Duty.
Now in my life up until this point, that kind of outfit has meant one thing: Potential comrades. I love games, I love gaming. [...]
So seeing another gamer on the street used to be an auto-smile opportunity, or an entry into a conversation starting with, “Hey, dude! I love that game too!” [...]
But for the first time maybe in my life, on that Saturday afternoon, I walked towards that pair of gamers and I didn’t smile. I didn’t say hello. In fact, I crossed the street so I wouldn’t walk by them. Because after all the years of gamer love and inclusiveness, something had changed in me. A small voice of doubt in my brain now suspected that those guys and I might not be comrades after all. That they might not greet me with reflected friendliness, but contempt.
I went home and was totally, utterly depressed.
I have not said many public things about Gamer Gate. I have tried to leave it alone, aside from a few @ replies on Twitter that journalists have decided to use in their articles, siding me against the hashtag. Why have I remained mostly silent?
Self-protection and fear.
I have been terrified of inviting a deluge of abusive and condescending tweets into my timeline. I did one simple @ reply to one of the main victims several weeks back, and got a flood of things I simply couldn’t stand to read directed at me. I had to log offline for a few days until it went away. I have tried to retweet a few of the articles I’ve seen dissecting the issue in support, but personally I am terrified to be doxxed for even typing the words “Gamer Gate”.
I know this entry will probably draw contempt from people in the Gamer Gate movement. Something to scorn, something to rile them up against me and everything I’ve ever made. Especially, and most hurtfully, to mock my vulnerability. I just have one thing to say to you who do that: I’m genuinely sorry you are so angry.

In short, Felicia Day states that she has been afraid of saying something about GamerGate because she's afraid of having her details published on the internet.

Allegedly the response to this Tumblr post - either from GamerGaters, stalkers, trolls or all of the above - was predictably that Day's details were published on the internet.

If there is anything the internet is good at, it's making one's worst fears come true -- especially if one outlines them in detail and then calls out a particular type of person for having a special relationship to these terrible actions.

Like calling a friend a grouch, some things can tend to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Clearly voiced low expectations have a habit of becoming reality.

Day's comments were not the most shortsighted however, as Chris Kluwe ran in to make this comment:

Many be wondering - who is Chris Kluwe?

Chris Kluwe is a former kicker for the Minnesota Vikings. Kluwe is a person that thinks of himself as a hero philanthropist for gay rights and social justice. However, like many other self-described "social justice" types in Minnesota, he is also fond of rape jokes. Further, when he is not calling people "window lickers", he is fat shaming.

Kluwe is literally a locker room jock that feels good as he calls people "fatso" as he thinks he has done the world a favor from refraining from calling them "faggot". Kluwe is truly a modern hero for equality and everyone apparently owes him a debt of gratitude.

Let's not overanalyze Kluwe's past statements. Let's dive into what is stupid about his current statements in regards to treatment of Felicia Day.

For context, take a moment and look at what the depths of immoral trolling can look like:

The police rolls in, under the assumption that the victim is armed and dangerous. How this situation can quickly go very wrong need not be explained. Presumably some depraved individual thinks this is a hilarious joke.

The treatment is not limited to people that are livestreaming. Apparently this sort of thing happens to celebrities quite regularly, and it is intentionally underreported as to avoid copycat crimes.

When it is so easy to spread immensely damaging false information, white knights like Chris Kluwe (or anyone) trying to make themselves a datapoint ("The trolls never touch me!") is profoundly stupid.

Getting back to shirts, it turns out that ESA's mission to a comet caused some drama when a contributor to the mission wore a shirt covered in drawings of scantily clad women. He apparently wore this shirt to feature the work of a woman friend of his. And another reason may have been that his casual friday Cannibal Corpse shirt (as featured in this YouTube video) was in the wash.

It's not clear what exactly this shirt means for women. It could be an ultimate socially liberal "sex-positive" expression of Buffy-like "strong women" seeking to break free from a stuffy and proper lab coat world. On the other hand, it could be another example of sick objectification that is keeping women out of tech.

Whatever the shirt means, Twitter has made up its mind about the wearer:

The problem, of course, is not so much the shirt itself - it is that a man, Matt Taylor, chose to wear it.

The reality is that women themselves can choose to dress in a burqa or as Barbarella and the most feminist mode of thought is to question neither decision. As an example, school dress codes are thought by some to be a form of "slut shaming":

While school dress codes are nothing new, experts in adolescent behavior warn that the current practice of enforcing them with humiliating, public punishments may be sending the wrong message to students by encouraging the objectification of young women in a hypersexualized society.

It's absolutely wrong to put girls in a neon colored hijab-of-shame for violating code. Yet it's also strange that sending a girl home for wearing a bikini to class could possibly be interpreted by some keyboard culture warrior as condoning a hypersexualized society instead of limiting one.

Others are actually saying dress codes promote a rape culture:

The superintendent of the Anglophone West School District is defending the dress code that's in place at Fredericton High School amid accusations that the policy promotes “rape culture.”
The group says the dress code promotes a rape culture by blaming female victims for attracting male aggression.

The absolutely ridiculous assumption within this is that the primary basis for a dress code is to prevent bad behavior from men. Apparently dress codes really do not have any practical purposes (long gowns tend to increase fire mortality rates) or overall social effects (women feeling less social pressure to submit to trend norms).

Another comedic consequence of this reasoning is ignoring how sexualized conforming to dress codes can be - did we somehow forget that some fetishize uniforms?

Further, men are part of the dress code equation. Somehow, it would seem that schools banning young men from wearing a macho garment perversely known as a "wife beater" is a move that may support women. Adding to the confusion are the choices made by men-only spaces that choose to regulate attire without outside input.

The result of all this drama is a lot of no-win scenarios. What kind of persuasive argument about anything may be made?

Men talking up risk in the face of "muslim garb", opponents within the church or the prospect of ISIS at the border are easily cast aside as hyperventilating conservative loons.

Meanwhile in the lets-talk-everything-out parallel universe, beautiful women are telling stories that run the gamut. We have irrational fears and behaviors, such as crossing the street to avoid the misogynist terrorist in the Halo shirt. We have extreme leaps to condescending conclusions such as the idea that pinups rendered in cotton on the chest of a previously unknown scientist is forcing women into majoring in art history - staying there until the dark day when a professor will choose to get a Matisse tattoo.  Finally, antiquated high school strict dress codes are supposedly promoting a culture of rape and victim blaming.

The humor in all this is that aside from a small core group of people, the response from most people to internet drama is a mix of impatience and bewilderment. "Social justice" and "progress" by the day looks more reactive, angry, and ill-planned.

The true mystery is somewhat of a chicken and egg dilemma. What came first, the view that internet activists are useless or the view that left politics is ineffectual? Even the youth vote may be swinging right - could the irrelevance of Twitter drama be a factor?

The discussion of shirts needs to stop. We need to talk about the real menace.

People wearing pajamas to the supermarket.

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