Wednesday, September 9, 2015

The Rise Of "Commercial Feminism"

I've written damned near nothing about #GamerGate, with the justification that it's one of those culture war thingies that makes you always wrong no matter what side you take:

(Cathy Young's short course at Reason, the best there is on the subject, is worth reading, but even that makes my head spin.) But I read something today that came across my transom on Twitter via Ms. Young by one Chihiro Onitsuka at VGChartz entitled "Journalism Is Dead" providing an unusual perspective on the matter. Armored as she is against the charge of owning a penis, her interactions with various media outlets is telling:
As I am myself a woman in the games industry - one that has worked on a number of major blockbuster titles - I have been approached a number of times from news outlets such as the BBC and several US news stations requesting an interview, and each and every time this has happened I have been asked various questions about my experiences in the industry and "what I think about how Anita has been treated", and each and every time when I have made my opinions clear, the desire to interview me moves swiftly from wanting to nail down a specific day and time to conduct it to "thanks for your time, we'll be in touch", which is seemingly journalist lingo for "you don't have the right opinions we want to share, bye".
Onitsuka has a sharp take on the cultural reasons for the hostility of so-called "gaming journalism" sites covering that beat (Kotaku, TechCrunch, Polygon, even to some degree Ars Technica, etc.) to their purported audience versus that of the actual game publishers: it all comes down to dollars.
To developers and publishers, gamers are potential customers and something they need in order to stay in business, The gaming media, on the other hand, sees gamers as a commodity; a page impression and potential advertising click, and thus a revenue stream. By acting as the aggressor the resulting argument draws in both gamers and social warriors for a grand battle, all the while they stand back and watch with glee as their views and ad revenue both increase.
It's a cynical approach, but expanding the audience to taking the side of people who are in fact hostile to your nominal audience makes good business sense. I just can't think of a single place elsewhere this has been tried; imagine Daily Kos running essays favoring Donald Trump or Jeb Bush while decrying the state of the Democratic Party.  Onitsuka then turns her guns to Anita Sarkeesian and the gaming press that plays along with her; she claims (without linking to) Polygon's 5/10 rating for Mad Max was entirely due to political considerations, i.e. it contained scantily clad women, one of Sarkeesian's perpetual bugaboos. (In fairness, Philip Kollar does cite that consideration ["The closest thing Mad Max has to a female lead... is a concubine for the villain and a love interest for Max"], but other reviewers have been similarly harsh on the game and for reasons of tedious game play, e.g. Chris Suellentrop in Kotaku.)

To her credit, Onitsuka waded into the residual Twitter wars still lingering, and found label-based argumentation is bullshit, per usual, and on both sides, but then she dropped a phrase I hope will have real staying power:
All of this, combined with the lust for being in the news, on the news, and at the center of news reports themselves, has led me to coin this approach to "feminism" as "Commercial feminism", where the plight of feminism and equality is exploited for commercial gain.
She's on to something. Whether Title IX "rape" adjudication (which seeks ever more picayune dating fiascoes to police) or Anita Sarkeesian and her shrill, ceaseless criticisms of others' efforts that has remarkable staying power as a business model — both are parasitic attempts to garner sinecures atop or adjacent to others' work. Both are best thought of as jobs programs for their advocates, fueled by a shift to a victimhood culture that can only end badly. Predictably with both, the size of the offenses diminish over time; as Jonathan Haidt observes,
... [A]s progress is made toward a more equal and humane society, it takes a smaller and smaller offense to trigger a high level of outrage. The goalposts shift, allowing participants to maintain a constant level of anger and constant level of perceived victimization.
This ability to turn even the tiniest of faults into epic screechfests means Sarkeesian will be in the green for a good long while; patriarchy means never having to examine your first principles.

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