On #Misanthropocene


Joshua Clover and Juliana Spahr have published a long, strange poem called #Misanthropocene. It’s a baroque attempt to sketch out the edges, limits, interior of the contemporary condition in of the “west.” It feels a lot like a precursor to something like Prophet if that series was all about trying to explain what it’s like to live inside of one of those living, organic brain ships.

It rides a beautiful line between CrimethInc-style romantic resistance to capitalism and an ironic-sincere “fuck you, fuck this, fuck that” mentality that seems to be the root of so much cynical thinking in the age of the world target and also most Eminem tracks.

I love the flesh of the poemargument–not the trappings, not the two poles, but what gets trapped in between. They call it “west melancholy,” a feeling where you know that things are absolutely fucked but you’re unable to do anything about it.

In psychoanalysis, melancholy is when closure is prevented. Something happens, but the object recedes beyond reconciliation; you have a fight with someone, they die, you can never make it right. That’s melancholy.

And so “west melancholy,” the idea that the ability to make it right can never return, seems to permeate everything. It introduces cynicism. It drives you into action, do anything, you can’t do anything.

Anyway, I liked the thing.

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The Most Beautiful Scene In Europa


europa-internetcommentsThis .gif will also suffice for 60% of internet discussions you might have.

“It’s going well, could be fine, I’m so curious about what this person thinks–nope.”

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Ten Minutes in Gamer Culture

[Content warning: This post contains slurs of all sorts quoted from a match of Call of Duty that I played. They are shocking and awful.]

glitch of duty

I start hearing him in my first match of the evening. I’m playing Ghosts, I get the last kill, and before the lobby everyone watches the killcam. I blow him up. He calls me “a camping little nerd.”

Next game.

He’s on my team this time, and he’s talking constantly. He’s dying a lot and you can tell that it is getting to him in a way that doesn’t make any sense to me. I start laughing a little because it is just so on-face ridiculous to me that anyone would get that worked up. He says things like “camping fuckers” and “they’re walking right through my guns.”

“Apparently you can shoot through the ground now!”

“I can shoot them in the head [garbled] right up out of nowhere and kill me!”

I’m doing my best to ignore him because I’m doing pretty well and my only option is to pause for a few seconds and mute him. That’s precious time that I don’t think I have. I end up regretting it.

As soon as he starting talking I had him pegged. There’s a kind of played, especially in the Call of Duty, who will have a bad game and constantly push it off. The other players, the game itself, “hacks,” the designers of the game. The world outside of this kind of player is an abuse sponge that only exists as something to be blamed for perceived flaws. I dip into this sometimes, especially in the heat of a match, but it always stays in my head. Generally, though, I’m on the other end of the spectrum. If I’m not good at a game, I’m quick to blame myself and assume that it is a problem with me. Videogames are psychoanalysis machines.

He is talking nonstop about how bad the game is and how bad the other team is and how bad his weapon is and then there’s a five second lull. Then he says “goddamn crouching nigger.”

Then there’s a longer pause. He’s the only person in voice chat. No one else on the team has spoken this entire time. Everyone keeps playing. No one shouts at him or says he’s wrong or comments on it. And the pause holds.

There’s five minutes left in the match and he starts spewing some of the most horrible invective I have heard in a game. He’s doing worse than before and our team is behind. He blames the “faggots” on the other team. When he finally gets a kill his tone flips to the victorious lilt. He calls them bitches. He says he’s fucking these bitches.

And no one says anything and the match ends and I turn the game off immediately, sit quietly, try to decompress from the activity that is created to help me decompress.

Should I have quickly stood up, run to a drawer, found a microphone, plugged it in, and said something? Would that effort have been worth the effort? Most likely yes, if only for the fact that there were six other people on the team who might have appreciated or needed it. It is a specific kind of moral failing on my part.

The chain of events feels so familiar–the slow buildup, the slur, the realization that there’s no accountability for the slur, and then the escalation beyond that. It’s a pattern of so much “gamer culture” and the verbal violence that runs through its veins.

This one match is a crystallization of so many things for me: there’s a desire to blame a nebulous Other for a problem. The problem doesn’t go away. The problem becomes a cipher for violently exorcising every thought and feeling that one has. It allows the person to both have extreme catharsis and, paradoxically, to double down.

This match feels like a tiny map of videogame culture.

[Also please read "Bow Nigger." You'll know why.]

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Paul Virilio on the origins of interactivity

art and fear

INTERACTIVITY was actually born in the nineteenth century — with the telegraph, certainly, but also and especially with clinical electricity, which involved planting electrodes on the faces of the human guinea pigs used in such ‘medical art’ as practised by Dr Duchenne de Boulogne. The recent Duchenne exhibition at the Ecole de Beaux-Arts, Paris, aimed no less than to ‘rehabilitate’ Duchenne’s work, though this La Saltpetriere Hospital photographer was no more than an ‘expressionist of the passions’ for whom his patients’ faces were only ever laboratory material that enabled him to practise ‘live anatomy.’

- Paul Virilio, “A Pitiless Art” in Art and Fear

You can look at some of those photographs here. They are incredibly disturbing and so you should be aware of that.

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A conversation about concerns in videogame journalism

This is a Storify I made of a conversation I had with a #gamersgate advocate.

There’s a lot to parse about the “controversy” that has been going on, but the short timeline of facts is this:

  • Zoe Quinn’s ex-boyfriend makes an immense amount of spurious claims about her and the state of the games journalism industry
  • people on internet forums take up that flag and begin to harass her, Anita Sarkeesian, and basically every other woman and perceived “Social Justice Warrior” on social media and elsewhere
  • out of that harassment campaign comes a supposedly separate campaign that wants to interrogate the interrelationships between videogame journalists and the games and developers they cover
  • that “journalistic ethics” campaign now exists in many colors–some are harassing, some are drawing webs of corruption, some are responding in good faith, and so on.

That’s where we are right now.

It seems to me that the participants in #gamergate are all there for different reasons and that it is mostly an accidental coalition that has formed out of a sense of being wronged. The person that I talked to in that Storify seems to just generally have a problem with a perceived lack of transparency in the world of games journalism. Another common thread that I see is that “the wrong games are being covered,” which smacks of small developers who are unhappy that their games don’t receive much press coverage. There’s yet another demographic that are literally using it as an excuse to air out all perceived wrongs–they seem to believe they’ve been wronged by all women, by the industry, by those who cover the industry, and a smattering of other, more nebulous sources.

Generally, #gamersgate leaves me with a sense of confusion more than anything else. I see a lot of chatter in the tag about it not being sexist, but then I see the immense amount of hate mail/hacking attempts/threats that women in the industry are getting. I keep seeing appeals to logic and rationality but no longform defenses of these methods or even arguments for why #gamersgate matters at all. As you can see in the conversation from the Storify, there isn’t much cohesion in the arguments being delivered from this set. It mostly seems like a decade’s worth of forum “common sense” (journos are paid off, games aren’t as good as they used to be, journos have an agenda) being thrown at a wall in order to see what sticks.

TCIW has an open comments policy, and I’m fully open to having someone explain these things to me. I am not likely to agree–this is not my first, second, or even fifth go around with these kinds of campaigns–but I do want to see a longform, rationalized explanation for why #gamersgate people feel this way about the world. Not an image macro, not a concept web, and not a twenty minute YouTube video made by a community figurehead, but a real, actual explanation written by a human. That said, I reserve the right to delete any and all toxic speech or threats from my blog. I am open to a conversation, but I am not open to being insulted or threatened.

[Edit 9/4/2014 3:31pm EST: Just a note that the comments here are moderated (as noted above) and I want to make an addendum: if you make a comment that is purely reiterating or stating things that have already been written in a comment already, I am not posting it. It clutters up the threads and adds literally nothing to the conversation. However, I am reading everything that comes in. Thank you for reading.]

[Edit 9/5/2014 9:03am EST: Thanks for all of your comments! We've gotten to the point where comments coming in, both for and against #gamergate, are just rehashes of the same thing over and over again (or, alternately, they are appeals to evidence when those appeals have been addressed already in the comments several times). That means that it is time to call it and close down the comments. As anyone who has moderated comments for more than ten minutes can tell you, it is emotionally draining work, and I think that all parties have made their points known already here. Once again, I thank everyone for their contributions. As always, I can be contacted through twitter if you have additional questions or remarks.]

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Ego and Haircut

I get my hair cut about once a semester and my hair grows fast so I go through this process twice a year: my hair grows so long that it becomes inconvenient, I travel to a place where they cut hair, and the person who cuts my hair expresses shock when I say that I just want it to be “short.”

How short? they ask. Very short.

They look at the readout from my last haircut and feign being (or are) shocked at how different my current (long) hair is from the hair that I had six months previous.

I am not exaggerating when I say that this happens every time. Repetition with very little change. It’s like a Beckett play.

Then they ask me about style or how I want it to look and I always say that I don’t care. I know what the end game is going to be: my hair will be long soon enough and it will move toward the amorphous “weird hair” that always manages to spawn itself on my head, no matter what its starting state was.

The past four times that I have gotten my hair cut the person cutting my hair has been a man. And when I say “I don’t care,” without deviation they have interpreted that as “I would like you, Mr. Barberman, to give me your exact haircut.”

So I’ve had an undercut, not because I wanted it, but because the barber gave me one. I’ve had something that I can only describe as a “white guy fade.” And now I have something I would call “looks like total trash unless it has gel in it.”

I don’t own any hair gel.

There’s nothing much to say about this other than I think that I might have found a wonderful place where ego gets expressed. There’s a desire to replicate the self that gets expressed in education, in the workplace, in every place where someone could take joy in seeing their worldview proliferate into the universe. What’s a more perfect test case than the haircut?

In the traditional mode of self-replication, the mind becomes a kind of billboard that goes around and espouses how great its ideas are. For the haircut, it is the literal head. A great, big, bobbling thing that scoots around the world and talks to people and makes them look at it.

Forget the word virus; let’s talk about the haircut virus.

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Fanon on the evolution of forms of exploitation


For a time it looked at though racism had disappeared. This soul-soothing, unreal impression was simply the consequence of the evolution of forms of exploitation. Psychologists spoke of a prejudice having become unconscious. The truth is that the rigor of the system made the daily affirmation of a superiority superfluous. The need to appeal to various degrees of approval and support, to the native’s cooperation, modified relations in a less crude, more subtle, more “cultivated” direction. It was not rare, in fact, to see a “democratic and humane” ideology at this stage. The commercial undertaking of enslavement, of cultural destruction, progressively gave way to verbal mystification.

- Frantz Fanon, “Racism and Culture” in Toward The African Revolution, p.37

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