Amanda Phillips (University of California- Santa Barbara, PhD Student in English)
My latest diss chapter took me down the rabbit hole of discourse communities surrounding video games. One section, which chronicles the Dickwolves controversy and feminist bloggers’ reactions to the resulting harassment, made me wonder what academia would be like if more feminist, critical race, queer, disability studies, and other social justice scholars started acting more like their bloggy counterparts (or colleagues already partaking in the rowdy blogosphere). Here are a few things we should think about.
#5 – Trolling is not just for the Internet.
Every social justice academic I know has heard One of Those Questions at their own panel. And every social justice academic I know has asked One of Those Questions at a panel that doesn’t attend to its own postfeminist and/or colorblind discourses. Trolling goes both ways. Let’s call it what it is and learn more effective strategies of provocation and deflection – to troll better, and to smash better those who troll us.
#4 – There are some awesome uses for digital tools.
Blogs like “Fat, ugly, or slutty?” take user-submitted screenshots to out gamers that harass other gamers. There is an online archive of blog posts, images, videos, and miscellany related to the Dickwolves debacle. Most digital humanists are familiar with these uses of media. But feminist and game developer Courtney Stanton responded, in part, to Team Dickwolves by creating ManyEyes representations of the abusive messages she received on her Dickwolves entries and using the charts to teach an audience a definition of trolling as defined by the behavior on her site. I’ve seen social-justice-oriented text analysis in academic work before, but let’s make some more stuff like this happen!
#3 – Scholarly writing: it’s not what you think it is.
The rowdy social justice blogosphere has its own glossaries (including “fuckneck”), bingo games, and troll bestiaries to promote community and efficient communication. Researching bloggers’ reactions to Team Dickwolves for my chapter made me question what I could add to the conversation; I might translate “tone argument” into “criticism of affect” or “fuckneck” into “antifeminist commenter,” but it’s clear that the heavy work of deconstructing and contextualizing these events is already done. Places like Shakesville and The Border House already write important critical pieces on video games and culture that avoid the pitfalls of, for example, colorblindness ideology that I see every day in academic writing about games.
#2 – Freedom of speech is overrated.
This is a tricky one, because it’s an accusation leveled against all social justice activists: critique is about silencing free speech. However, here I refer not to eliminating creativity or the right to disagree but rather the creation of possibility spaces that foster specific types and levels of conversation. In the wilds of the Internet, trolls and harassers are emboldened by anonymity and take advantage of communities striking a balance between open commenting for volume and closed commenting for control. A blog like Shakesville compensates with a stringent comments policy enforced by moderators who don’t hesitate to edit or delete violating posts. This strategy works, and while it seems contrary to feminist pedagogy, I’ve seen professors use similar silencing techniques in the classroom, for example, to force students to find the value in an unpopular argument before dismantling it.
#1 – It might be time to own that whole angry feminist thing.
Shakesville’s response to Team Dickwolves’ attacks was a comment machine of righteous feminist anger and sarcasm. So-called “Shakers” are experts at wielding humor and affect for social justice causes. They operate in the mode of the Angry Feminist but, as Barbara Tomlinson encourages of academics in her recent book, reject the stigma of the label and repurpose it for their own agenda. The rowdy social justice blogosphere insists on the appropriateness of affective prose and unblinkingly calls out the privilege of those requesting otherwise. Shouting “DONT TELL ME TO FUCKING CALM DOWN!” (h/t @daphaknee) can be effective when a community gets behind it.