More on the Vidcon Situation …

So, much more has come out about this — and, likely, much more will come out between the time I write this and the time it gets posted — but I want to touch on a few things after having listened to and read more on the topic. The major things I’ve seen, at least in part, are Sargon’s long response, Liana K’s take, Sarkeesian’s response, which I’ve linked to elsewhere, and another related video by Boogie2988 about his later interaction with Anita Sarkeesian. I’m probably going to flip between a number of them and may not quote them as much as I should — especially since many of them are videos and text quoting videos isn’t exactly trivial — but I’m going to talk a bit about my overall impressions of this.

I’m not as charitable, perhaps, towards Sargon and Sarkeesian as Liana K is. I don’t believe that Sargon and the others sitting in the front row was nothing more than them wanting to listen to her and/or start a dialogue, with them being clueless about how that might be intimidating to her. Heck, even Sargon’s “prediction” about what would happen if he attended VidCon pretty much reveals that he knew that these things could and would trigger a reaction. So Sargon et al are not stupid enough to think that this would be taken as just them listening to her and wanting to start a conversation. That being said, I agree with him that even being in the audience might well have triggered a reaction anyway, even if they hadn’t taken over the first two rows. But I think that, at a minimum, they really wanted to see what Sarkeesian’s reaction would be.

On the other hand, I don’t agree that Sarkeesian’s reaction was spawned by fear or by intimidation. While some will do the standard call out of my judging the reactions of victims and denying their victimhood if they don’t react the right way, I have to say that if Sarkeesian was afraid that there’d be a confrontation, the last thing she’d do is deliberately provoke one. You don’t provoke a confrontation with someone you think is harassing you unless you feel you’re secure and in a position of control or power, and Sarkeesian definitely was. It’s also not consistent with how she generally reacts to these things. Since she knew they were there before the panel started, she could have done as she had done in the past with threats at conferences and the like and talked to the organizers about the potential for there being a disruption and what would happen if there was one. For the most part, for any serious disruption the moderator, the organizers and the other panel members were almost certainly going to be on her side over this, and if she didn’t feel that they would be she could have simply walked away from the panel over those concerns.

So what I think is that Sarkeesian, instead, reacted the way she tends to react when she feels that someone is going after her in some way: she lashes out. The Boogie incident is an example of that, where she felt that his point was targeting her and she reacted angrily and lashed out at him over it. I give her credit for calming down afterwards and having a reasonable discussion with him, but her first instinct is to lash out angrily instead of looking to defuse the situation or, in fact, to just ignore it given that she has more prominence and that therefore her words carry more weight than, well, pretty much anyone who is criticizing her. You can argue that she saw what they were trying to do as an intimidation tactic and then took the angry line that she wasn’t going to be intimidated … but, then, she still responded by lashing out instead of taking the stronger tack of not letting them change how she acts or where she goes.

And I think this leads into an issue that I somewhat agree with from Liana K, where I think that Sarkeesian is often her own worst enemy. While I think it reasonable that Sargon et al at the very least knew that what they did might get to her, Sarkeesian let it get to her. And by lashing out she essentially gave up the moral high ground. Certainly we can’t hold everyone to absolutely perfect paragon standards and never, ever get angry, but Sarkeesian in general seems like someone who is incredibly easy to manipulate by pushing certain buttons. This is a weakness that she needs to address. If she can be dragged off topic and down an angry diatribe that easily, she’s going to be ineffective at presenting her message. For one thing, she has a tendency to respond with over the top arguments, which she may well believe, as we can see in her response message and in how she initially responded to Boogie, which makes her arguments less credible. Second, it becomes an easy way for opponents to drag her off message and so change the focus to something other than her core message. If she wants to get her message out, she’s going to have to stop letting people drag her off message with personal attacks. Which is hard, I know.

I think that Sargon et al ought not have either attended her panel en masse, or at least should have sat less front and centre at it, because, yeah, if she knew who they were she was going to be intimidated. But Sarkeesian ought not have forced a confrontation, and should have let them make the first move. However, I believe that she was angry and her first response when angry is to lash out, and potentially to lash out indiscriminately. Her interactions with Boogie indicate that she can have reasonable conversations with people she disagrees with, and so what I think she really needs to do — and I think it would greatly improve her image if she did do this — is to find ways to actually do that. She has an enormous platform and so there are a lot of incentives for someone to be willing to respond to or debate her on her own platform. Taking it out of her immediate and defensive reactions into a more reasonable discussion would take a lot of the wind out of the sails of her stronger opponents and could even lead to her having a more nuanced view of the whole situation, which can only help her. And there have to be more reasonable opponents that she can talk to. Liana K, for example … and Sarkeesian might want to talk to her directly considering that some of her supporters seem to have treated her very, very badly, and Sarkeesian might want to take a stand to discourage that sort of harassment.

Because Liana K has a point in her rant about the hypocrisy and lack of self-awareness of both sides. I’ll talk more about this in general in another post, but Sarkeesian and her supporters stand on arguing about how bad things are for them while ignoring the things they and people on their side do. I don’t really agree with the idea that Sarkeesian’s criticisms do or ought to traumatize Gamers, but note that a lot of the “harassment” from her opponents seems to be nothing more than criticism, which is what Sarkeesian herself is engaged in. Sarkeesian definitely presents herself and her supporters as acting more reasonably than they do. But, then, so does Sargon. For one thing, he references Boogie’s situation without, as far as I can recall, pointing out that they resolved it reasonably satisfactorily after Sarkeesian’s initial reaction. For another, he gives a number of “reasonable questions” that are trolling at best, such as the person who asked her if she really believed what she was saying. Sure, Sarkeesian could and should have just answered “Yes”, but she was right that it was a stupid question. So Sargon chastises her for ignoring and not answering — or not answering properly — “reasonable” questions that were not reasonable either in content, or tone, or both. As seems to be the norm, both sides think that they’re calmer and more reasonable and that their opponents are angrier and less reasonable than they actually are.

But what really worries me about this is that presumably these are important things to settle and deal with, and yet I can’t see any way forward to settling them. While a lot of the harassment that Sarkeesian — and Sargon, and, well, most people on Youtube, it seems — gets is utterly unacceptable and should be stopped, people aren’t going to be willing to do that for people who in general seem to at least try to give as good as they get. Sargon’s call for Sarkeesian to be uninvited from next year’s VidCon isn’t reasonable given the context, but I don’t have a lot of sympathy for someone claiming harassment when she herself forced a confrontation from a position where she had more power and influence than the person she forced the confrontation with. As someone who, well, disagrees on some points with all of them — including Liana K, who is much more feminist than I am — I want us to settle on what is true, what is right, and what is reasonable, and that requires us, in my opinion, to filter out the simple trolls and get the people who are willing to discuss things reasonably to, well, discuss things reasonably. But it seems to me that mere criticism is enough to get one branded as unreasonable, and no one really seems willing to discuss things reasonably … and those who are generally get lambasted and shunned by what is arguably their own side for having the gall to even attempt it. So how do we resolve these issues when only the extremes are acceptable, and the extremes are always almost certainly wrong? I have no idea.

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