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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Remembering Mister Rogers

I once asked a friend who her biggest celebrity crush was, and was surprised when she immediately answered, "Mister Rogers."

"I dream about him some nights," she admitted. "How beautiful it would be to have a physical relationship with a man like that, so tender and kind! I imagine us losing our virginity together."

I have to admit that up until our conversation, I'd never seen Mister Rogers in that particular light; in fact, sexually fantasizing about Mister Rogers was a bit... well, creepy. For me, his show had been the adolescent equivalent of valium: I'd come home from school, fix myself a huge bowl of sugary cold cereal, and zone out in a soothing bath of unconditional love and acceptance for an hour. Mister Rodgers was the proxy for the parents and teachers I'd always longed for. Certainly he was the only adult who ever told me, "I love you just the way you are."

Because Mister Rogers was the masculine embodiment of acceptance and nurturing, qualities traditionally identified as "feminine," many people have assumed he was gay, a notion his new biographer wishes to dispel. 

In fact, Mister Rogers was a pretty radical character for his era. He challenged viewers' perceptions of what it means to be "a real man." 

Perhaps he had a greater impact on my childhood psyche than I have previously given him credit for. After all, I grew up to be openly attracted to men with recognizably "feminine" qualities: Those teachers, nurses, and therapists that combine physical masculine strength with sensitivity and empathy; those "sissy" straight boys who aren't afraid to surround themselves with color or soft sensual fabrics, whose hair is just a little too long, who openly cry at movies or concerts. And then, in late middle age, I took that predilection even further (and I've never looked back).

What explains the enduring appeal of Mister Rogers? Well, even an agnostic like me believes that, as a force for change and a source of happiness, nothing in this world is stronger than love: Mister Roger's call for compassion and the need to embrace tolerance, not only of others but of oneself, has never been more powerful, or more needed.


Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Will Trolls Break the Internet? Part 2

Lindy West, unabashed SJW, in a post on the Daily Dot today, challenges the notion of Internet "neutrality," and predicts that if social media site owners like Facebook, Youtube and Twitter refuse to protect their users from harassment and intimidation, others will take their place.

And she means to win this "culture war," too:

There’s only one thing, really. I want a site with a fucking backbone. I want a site that has an ideology, that is explicitly feminist and anti-racist, that is proactively progressive and cares more about users than their abusers.  

Monday, October 20, 2014

Don't Feed the Animals

The newest post at Depressed Feminist makes me wish I could address all those people who are reacting angrily to Matt Forney's newest "click bait," a post in which he declares tattooed and pierced women to be, essentially, broken slags. No, I haven't read it myself and I'm not going to link to it here. Enough is enough! It's time to stop feeding this particular troll who makes his living (well, some kind of a living) generating "viral hits." 

We all need to consider that every time we link to Matt Forney or Return of Kings, we are putting a penny in their hate-filled coffers; we are financially supporting their own pathology.

Whatever one says about Forney (and I myself have obviously said entirely too much, to my own detriment), the kid is an indefatigable outrage machine. Every time he comes up with a new population to insult, their anger precipitates a volley of tweets and links to his monetized site. One of his admirers (and he does have some) once observed that Forney is a genius at "amygdala hijacking," and truer words were never tweeted.  

Matt Forney will post anything -- anything -- to generate publicity for himself. It doesn't have to be true. It doesn't have to be something even he, in his twisted amoral mind, believes to be true. It's all about "bringing down servers" with an avalanche of furious attention. For reasons only a psychiatrist could fathom, Forney is a young man who has elected to devote his considerable gifts to generating negative attention by lashing out at... well, pretty much everybody... in a desperate, relentless validation of his own importance. He will not only doxx and smear his critics, he will similarly treat his own (former) friends.

The best way to "fight" the Matt Forneys of the internet is to block them on twitter and only link to their posts through donotlink.com. It's time to stop feeding these kinds of trolls. For his own well-being, Forney needs to be put on a diet of severely reduced attention. 

Really, it's for his own good.

And on that note... I've been listening to Lucinda Williams' new album:
 


Saturday, October 11, 2014

Depression Quest

The only "good" thing to come out of the harassment campaign against Zoe Quinn is, perhaps, that it will bring her game to the attention of people who would otherwise not learn about it. "Depression Quest" is free to download here. (Players choose whether or not to donate to the suicide prevention organizations that are the recipients of any profits.)

It is designed as a text heavy "interactive fiction," a form of "game" I happen to enjoy. There is no "winning" or "losing" in this game. The objective of the game is to take the player into the mind of someone suffering from severe depression. In other words, it aims to educate players about depression, and to develop empathy for people who suffer from that condition. And in that objective, it is almost unbearably successful.

It is estimated by the World Health Organization that 350 million people in the world suffer from depression. According to the Center for Disease Control, one in ten Americans report being depressed. Severe clinical depression is debilitating and notoriously difficult to manage medically, as the suicides of David Foster Wallace, Robin Williams and many other brilliant artists have demonstrated.

Lost in the fracas surrounding #GamerGate is that its creator was a young woman who was motivated by her own experience of depression and love of game creation to raise awareness about a medical condition that cripples the lives of many of the brightest and most creative minds.

And somehow this makes what happened to Zoe Quinn even more... well, depressing.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Will Trolls Break the Internet?

Back when I was the target of one little troll, I briefly consulted a local professor who is an expert on "cyberlaw". He did not encourage me to pursue a legal remedy (see this report). All he could do was to refer me to an organization for support of victims of revenge porn. That was of little direct relevance to my situation, of course, but it was then that I learned just how pervasive, profitable, and ruinous the "revenge porn" industry was. 

Should "revenge porn" be criminalized? I certainly believe so, and in fact, several states are already working on laws to that effect. To what extent such new laws will compromise our much valued social tradition of "free speech" remains to be seen, but it seems to me that it is practically inevitable that we will move in the direction of criminalizing online conduct that is deliberately destructive.

We must find ways to balance the rights of people to exercise free speech with their rights not to be violated by those who abuse the anonymity and ubiquity of the internet to persecute others. First Amendment devotees wring their hands about the "chilling" effect the loss of anonymity would have on public discourse, but we also must acknowledge the "chilling" effect that fear of harassment currently has -- especially on women (well, anyone who isn't a white cis-gender male, really). 

We cannot have bullies running the means of communication on which all of us have come to depend. And hoping that the internet will somehow regulate itself isn't really working out. We may romanticize the Wild West in movies and fiction, but the horror of being at the mercy of bandits in reality mostly led to unruly posses, lynchings, and a lot of innocent civilians bleeding out in the dusty streets of Laredo.

In the past several months, I'd been looking for a book that would help explain how the internet has become such a fertile playground for sociopaths, and why victims have such limited legal recourse.

I am currently reading Hate Crimes in Cyberspace, which is what compelled me to read up on programmer Kathy Sierra, one of the cases described in the book. And if you thought the wringer Anita Sarkeesian has been put through in the past year has been bad, Sierra's ordeal will take your breath away, in part because she faced it down all alone. Sierra was one of the first female high-tech bloggers to be targeted by hacker trolls and their followers ("Weev", her primary tormenter, is currently in prison for an unrelated conviction). She was sufficiently terrorized to withdraw from the public for several years, but now she's back -- and she's just published a rather raw but very compelling account of what happened to her "Why the Trolls Will Always Win."  

Campaigns like the ones against Sarkeesian and Kathy Sierra are relentless and sustained attempts to quash women who have earned a modicum of success or celebrity.* They are motivated by envy, fear, malice, and mob hysteria. They have little to do with ideological conflict or girls' intolerance for hurt "feeeelings". They are designed solely to inflict emotional and financial distress on women who are perceived as a threat (to insecure masculine egos that is); indeed, they are launched in order to intimidate an entire gender by instilling fear of real physical harm and the ruin of their professional and personal lives.

Will online misogynists and bullies "break the internet" by forcing us to forgo the very real benefits of anonymity? I sincerely hope not, but we need to start exploring alternative ways to stem the tide of abuse.

Social media sites like twitter, facebook, and youtube are finally getting on board, developing codes of conduct and policies with teeth, and not a moment too soon: their bottom lines depend on it. 

And it is amusing to note that nobody is faster to play the "victim" card than my own little troll, who was much incensed to discover, this week, that some malicious prankster had been impersonating him on twitter! He was even threatening to dox and sue participants in a subreddit who had dared to call him a fat, virginal neckbeard!  (And also "dox" his family although he provides no evidence to substantiate that claim.)

Apparently, sadistic, amoral trolls have "feeeelings" too! (But then, in the words of film-maker Errol Morris, "What is life without irony?") 

*Also check out Zoe Quinn's "Five Things I Learned...

Social Justice Warriors

I enjoyed this essay by Laurie Penny and maybe you will too.

I'm not blogging much these days. I'm reading instead.