Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Gender: The Gathering Mob

Some time in the middle of November, I'll be teaching a week on Gender, Sex, and Sexualities as they relate to digital media studies. My first impulse was to go to the paper AR Stone wrote, Cross-Dressing Psychiatrist, concerning the hypothetical male psychiatrist who pretended to be a handicapped woman ohttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifnline. But then I thought I should really try to teach students about these issues using something that happened in the last decade, on a piece of digital technology that hasn't gone obsolete. (Seriously, MUDs sound awesome, but it's probably time to move on.) My next impulse was to do something on Second Life and online dating, but again, I think I could go for something more current.

So I popped "digital" and "dating" and "disaster" into the google search engine, and stumbled onto for the first time the "Magic Date" debacle.

For those who haven't been following this story every step of the way, it starts here:
I can't be 100% positive, but I believe the first paragraph was added in later. That's fairly significant, since it presents a moral that's not as evident--to put it mildly--in the article proper. Basically, then, what we have is a woman who blogged about a bad date in a very public manner, and concluded that the problem on her end was that she didn't do enough googling to check up on him beforehand. That provides plenty of fodder for discussion right there.
Then there's the other version of the article, which looks at the man in a more confrontational manner:
There were responses, of course. Balanced ones, like this, that summarize the argument and note that the man in question probably won't be lacking in dates in the near future:
And, uh, less reasonable ones, including one from Gizmodo:
And then it descended into some pretty nasty namecalling against the woman until everything came full circle again:
Are you still here? My word. Look at the staying power on you! Good show!

Ahem. Essentially, in this final, long article, Tait writes a spirited rebuke towards the woman's detractors, in the guise of a letter to his imagined daughter. He argues that the real villain of the piece isn't a woman who found Magic off-putting, but the gamer culture that lurched forward to attack her for going after one of their own.

My feelings? ....Mixed. First: from the top, it's Not Cool to post the real name of a bad date recipient, especially one whose faults were as relatively benign as this gentleman's. And to complain about someone's nerdiness on a site titled "Gizmodo" is either a very poor reading of your audience, or, as some have mentioned, deliberate trolling. Finally, in the original article, I think accusing Jon of actually lying is a little far--if you think you wouldn't want to date someone of a certain profession, you should probably, you know, ask them what their profession is before going on a date. At the same time, judging from Tait's image captures, the response has clearly gone too far--calling Bereznak is also Not Cool. Here's another rule of thumb for you: when you're swearing at strangers, you're too emotionally invested. That means it's time to let the keyboard cool, so to speak.

The bigger issue for me personally is Tait's argument that gamer culture is deeply misogynist. Because, well, it's hard to argue. Comics and gaming are two of the bigger hobby passions of my life, and they both center rather predominantly on white male fantasies (well, superhero comics do, and those are the majority that I read). But just as not all games are the same, neither are all players or readers; yes, I've played Final Fantasy X-2, but I've also read (random example) Fun Home and Fay Weldon. As a gamer, I can keep my beliefs and personality separate from the games I play, and from the cultural spaces I inhabit. That doesn't mean I pretend those elements aren't there; far to the contrary, it means I need to examine them whenever they rise, and confront them head on--that, in my mind, is what being a scholar's about. (And, you know, part being a responsible adult who lives and functions in the world.)

I'm not even going to touch the Nice Guy comment. If you do want to pursue that particular thought, I can recommend another superlong (but good) discussion: here.

One could make the case that I'm responding too personally to this issue. But I'd argue that the problem is that people aren't making this personal enough. It's personal in the sense that everyone involved seems to feel like they've been personally attacked, but I think most of those talking have forgotten that they're dealing with real people too. That is, rather than responding to each other as individual persons, they're responding to labels: the Magic "dweeb," the shallow "bitch", the "Male keyboard warriors, many with the welts of social ostracization still open and weeping upon their hairy backs" (all right, he gets points for creative imagery). Personally, I think labelling people is almost always the wrong way to go. We don't fit into categories; we exhibit and react behaviors that propel us through categories (if we touch them at all). We don't just have the potential to change, we are changing, constantly, and the focus should be in changing in positive ways (and deciding what that means) rather than trying to classify and pigeonhole the people around us into labels we're comfortable with.

Or to rephrase in a different way: don't listen to their moralizing argument, listen to MY moralizing argument.

Sigh. At least the digital aspect is front and center: this conversation wouldn't still be going on in this way and this form without the online component, and the ability to instantly reply and quickly spread information. So it'll make a nice class discussion, at least.

One last comment: on one site or another, it was argued that she was being facetious when she said he took her to a play based on Dahmer on their first date. For full disclosure, I feel I must mention I did once take a girl to Sweeney Todd (Burton version) on a first date. Yeah. Good thing she wasn't a blogger, I guess.
Later Days.


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