The Lebowski Gambit, part 4: The Video Guy II: Electric Boogaloo

by Tom Ingram


The video guy redeems himself very slightly by making an interesting point at the beginning of this video.[0:51] He argues that, in a speech about banning certain video games, Hillary Clinton implicitly denies their inherent value by pointing to superficial instrumental values: they can be educational, improve hand-eye coordination, &c. He then argues that Anita Sarkeesian does the same thing.[1:05]

The substance of his point deserves more discussion than I will give it here. I will tentatively allow that this might be what Clinton is up to, but it is unlikely that Sarkeesian—a pop culture critic, whose job it is to believe that pop culture has some inherent importance—is trying to diminish the importance of video games in this way. Indeed, Clinton is trying to ban certain games. Sarkeesian is trying to explore them critically. That difference in context counts for a lot.

In fact, a good chunk of this second video focuses on censorship, and can be made irrelevant by stressing the fact that ANITA! SARKEESIAN! IS! NOT! TRYING! TO! BAN! ANYTHING!. She is recommending a certain reaction—what a critic is SUPPOSED TO DO—and arguing that certain things are bad and we should voluntarily choose not to create them or accept them when others create them. See Kael in part 3. If you argue that people cannot do this, you are implicitly arguing that we must accept all art, that we have no power to say “this is immoral and I reject it.” There is a valid case to be made against censorship. There is not a valid case to be made against criticism.

I can go to any movie playing right now and safely expect there will not be any violent bestiality in it. This is what voluntary censorship looks like: some things are considered by our culture to be so far beyond the pale that it would never even occur to anyone to make an artistic depiction of them. This kind of de facto censorship has always been here and always will be. The question is, should we treat the objectification of women in this way? If you want to argue “no”, you must show that objectification is a good or at least neutral thing. Good luck with that.*

The video guy spends a little time on the hilarious assertion that not only is Sarkeesian a “radical feminist”, but most Western feminists are.[3:28] Believe me, kemosabe, you don’t know from radical feminists. Go read Mary Daly, come back, and try to tell me with a straight face that “hey, maybe we should have just a couple video game heroines who don’t wear battle-bikinis” is “radical”.

Most mainstream feminists want to be given the bare minimum of decent treatment. This is not radical. The opposite of this, the idea that women should be aggressively denied what men take for granted and subject daily to street harassment and much worse, is certainly “radical”, but not in a very good direction. A “radical feminist” is not “anyone who thinks I’m sexist”, especially if you’re as sexist as the video guy obviously is.

The video guy next attempts to make good on his promise to show that Sarkeesian is not a feminist at all. He brings up the Feminist Sex Wars and the idea of pro- and anti-sex feminism.[3:37] Like many things in these videos, this is almost true, but not on point. Feminist views on pornography, sex work, marriage, etc. are much more varied than “pro-sex” and “anti-sex”, but neither “side” is likely to take up the video guy’s fascinating thesis that misogyny is good for women.

He then shows an excerpt from another woman’s Youtube video.[3:56] She says, among other things, “As a female feminist gamer, [Sarkeesian] does not represent me.” We’ll come back in a moment to the way he uses this point; I’d like to keep this more or less in the same order as the video.

He claims that “anti-sex feminism is opposed to women having this freedom [to be in charge of what they do with their own bodies].”[4:46] This is accompanied by a screenshot of a paragraph decrying the practice of having booth babes at conventions, with which I’m sure you’re familiar. The arguments against booth babes are not about bossing women around. The booth babes themselves are not expressing their sexuality. They are hired by corporations to attend conventions and look pretty in the hopes that they will convince the drooling sex-starved poindexters who frequent conventions to hang around awhile and spend money or take in advertising.

The reason for arguing against this practice is that it creates a hostile space. Their presence implies that being easily duped sex-crazed idiots who get off on the objectification of women is the norm for men.** This sends the message that “this event is not for or about you” to all women and a good deal of men. The practice is demeaning to everyone involved, and it ought to stop. Whether or not they feel exploited by the practice is irrelevant. They’re free to do what they like with their bodies. That does not oblige us to pay them to do it here.

In general, the video guy seems to think he’s made a grand takedown of Anita Sarkeesian by pointing to a single instance of a feminist who disagrees with her. We don’t expect one man to speak for all men (certainly the video guy doesn’t speak for me), but for some reason we expect one woman to speak for all women. If you can find another feminist who disagrees with Sarkeesian, that doesn’t mean that Sarkeesian is not a feminist, it means that women are not the Borg.

Sarkeesian is popular, but some of her popularity is due to tokenism: we expect all feminists to be pretty much interchangeable, so we only listen to the one. If Sarkeesian is not the Universal Feminist (and we should not expect her to be), we do not need to shut her up, we need to give a platform to other feminist women so there can be a discourse.

This article is beginning to get very long, and as part 2 wears on it becomes increasingly disconnected from reality, so I’m not going to focus on every little thing in the last half of the video. There are more insinuations that Sarkeesian is not a feminist, there is hand-wringing over “censorship” of Youtube comments. The only valid point is the one about deleting videos. If you run something that’s even remotely popular, you should not delete any of your posts or videos without publically retracting or repudiating them.

The main point in this part of the video is what was alluded to at the end of the previous one: “she is delighted to receive death threats”. Apparently, according to the video guy (I don’t know if this is true or not, but let’s say for the sake of argument it is), Sarkeesian left the comments open on the video announcing her Kickstarter, closed the previous two comment threads, and left the discussion unmoderated so hate comments could funnel in until the Kickstarter was done, when she closed the thread.[7:21]

The only way I can respond to this is: So what? Her project aims to examine sexism in video games. Conventional wisdom holds that there isn’t very much sexism in video games, and what little there is is not a big deal because gamers are enlightened enough not to get taken in by it. Sarkeesian put the lie to this wisdom by allowing all the crap she normally filters out. Yes, it’s a publicity stunt to encourage people to give her money, but she didn’t manufacture the harassment. The harassment was always there. She just stopped hiding it, and in the process gave the clearest evidence possible that the money is needed.

Obviously the video guy disagrees with Sarkeesian on some things. Hell, I disagree with Sarkeesian on some things. But this isn’t about honest disagreement. It’s not about “angry people on the Internet”.[10:09] We’re talking about the brutal harassment that Sarkeesian faced for daring to point out that sexist stuff is sexist—harassment of a kind that happens in miniature all over the world, all the time. It is happening right now, not far from you. And we’re talking about the slippery harassment apologetics offered by pseudo-intellectuals on the Internet.

The video guy accuses Sarkeesian of failing to respond to her “calm, well-reasoned” critics.[9:27] He would pretend to calmness and rationality, as his tagline “Honest Content. Analysis.”[10:35] implies. But reading the frothy misogyny of the comment-box harassers in a calm voice does not make it calm. And it certainly doesn’t make it well-reasoned.

There are valid criticisms to be made about Anita Sarkeesian’s work. The video guy has not made them, except obliquely and accidentally. A real critique of her work would have to be done in the charitable spirit of academic discourse, and while this can be done on Youtube, it cannot be done amid all the sexist innuendo, anti-intellectualism, ominous half-arguments, and buttfuck stupidity that characterize this video.

And in any case, what would be the point? Sarkeesian is broadly correct in most of her analysis. We already subject feminist women to much more scrutiny than anyone else. How about, for a change, we put the people making the sexist stuff into the hotseat? That is what Anita Sarkeesian is doing, and it is a good thing.

* People often forget that in art, transgressive != good. The “art” exhibit where a dog was possibly starved to death to make a point was certainly transgressive. I don’t think it would be controversial for me to say it was bad, and ought not to be repeated. Transgressive art can show us where we’ve drawn boundaries that are wrong. But not all of our boundaries are wrong.

This curious elementary logical perversion is similar to the Schoenberg fallacy, the idea that since many great works of art were misunderstood by their contemporaries, nothing that is understood by its contemporaries can be great art. It is a reductio of itself. [return]

** My own local convention did not have booth babes, at least on the two occasions that I attended. If they did, I would have felt like a scummy film was forming over my skin as I walked through the door. [return]