I don't like talking about online hate mobs in the vein of GamerGate (GG), Sad Puppies, etc. – I shy away from mentioning it, as I feel like I'm enabling the idiocy of it all – mainly because it frustrates me to the point of speechlessness. It makes me angry just to think about it, which, ironically, is probably the one and only thing that I have in common with GGers and their ilk.
My frustration comes from the knowledge that GG et al. doesn't allow for dialogue, for a conversation. It was never a movement because it was never about negotiation, and more importantly, its claims aren't rooted in reality. There was never an intention for its negative and destructive force to result in anything constructive. It just all seemed like reactionary backlash of a group that resented another group – specifically the non-white, non-male, non-heterosexual part of society – for its slow and gradual emergence from the margins of cultural representation and commercial relevance.
Nevertheless, I always had the sense that because GG was the sum of many, incoherent voices, screaming through the net in harmonious disunity it would be worthwhile to consider the fuel and dynamic of these phenomena.
I was very happy, therefore, to find the video series Why Are You So Angry? produced by Innuendo Studios, i.e. writer and producer Ian Danskin, and published in July 2015 on YouTube. In six parts, the series explores the psychology behind the reactionary prototype dubbed "Angry Jack" and asks how and why he is so angry. In the following paragraphs I want to offer a short overview of Danskin's argument, but I really recommend taking the time to watch this very well-written and compelling series.
You’re Ruining Everything
Part I is a short overview of the attacks that have been launched on Anita Sarkeesian since she delved into video games with her series Tropes vs Women In Video Games and the incredible hostility she has been forced to live with ever since. It is a good introduction to the series because it gives the question – why are you so angry? – the necessary weight, especially if a viewer is not aware of the extent and insidiousness of the harassment or has never heard of the issue at all because they live in a better world.
Part II examines the roots of Angry Jack's anger, namely the fact that someone else's opinion or worldview somehow threatens his belief in his own moral integrity. When faced with a mindset that comes out of a differentiated examination of commonly held beliefs and the rejection of the same, Angry Jack sees this as an implicit criticism of his own mindset, and he cannot deal, except by being angry at whoever stirred up this doubt within him. The most important part about this is that we've probably all had our Angry Jack moments, but hopefully overcame them.
In Part III, Danskin refers to Susan Faludi's Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women, a seminal feminist publication that examined the media-fueled pushback against feminist progress in the 1980s. He points out that women are portrayed as intruders into a cultural space that they were actually once part of, and that Sarkeesian serves as a scapegoat for this intrusion, so that Angry Jack gets to "hang years of vague anxieties on her." These anxieties are not the result of an external threat as much as a symptom of arising doubts about his moral integrity, as he explained in Part II.
He compares Jack's relationship with feminism to the one we have with doctors. We might know that that funny looking mole could be a problem, but we choose to believe that it’s fine and forego a visit to the doctor, choosing to live in blissful ignorance. We can't help but feel anxious and resentful when the doctor tells us that the mole actually looks dangerous, and we need to do something about it. Systemic social diseases like racism or sexism are like someone else's cancer: something that's been dealt with, that doesn't affect us personally, that we have no control over. When Angry Jack's vantage point changes, he suddenly has to deal with that even though he really doesn’t want to. I guess the most resentment comes out of the implicit suggestion that he is the cancer, at least in part.
Bait and Switch
Part IV is devoted to GG and begins with an interesting question: "To what extent did GamerGate know it was an anti-feminist hate mob?" Danskin divides GGers into two groups: a small core that used the ethics in journalism narrative as a smokescreen to systematically harass women through trolling, doxing, SWATing etc..; and a much larger group that Angry Jack is a part of, who genuinely believes that there is an issue with ethics in game journalism and rejects the first group's actions, feeling persecuted for being associated with the first group. However, Angry Jack's entire perspective is based on the narrative fabricated by the core GGers surrounding Zoe Quinn, corruption in game journalism, and the scary magic power of vaginas with the help of an angry ex-boyfriend. Even though the arguments Angry Jack wants to bring to the table are based on the fabulations of openly misogynist asshats, he believes in the righteousness of his cause – and reacts badly to being shut down when the source of his claims is debunked as 4chan troll poop. Without Angry Jack, GGers can't claim legitimacy through numbers. The two are engaged in a symbiotic relationship in which one can keep harassing women and minorities while the other can keep his eyes closed and indulge his anger.
This is the longest video in the series because the dynamic between the core GGers, the bandwagon GGers, and the rest of the world is so complex and insane. Danskin's portrayal of Angry Jack as someone whose investment in the cause is rooted in deeper anxieties about his privilege and, very simply, about change is both convincing and scary.
Most interestingly though, I feel like anyone who affiliates with GG or sympathizes with their anger is prompted to re-examine the psychology and emotion behind that reaction – if they are willing to listen. It speaks to anyone on the fringe of any "movement" against socially progressive isms who might have a tendency to call out critics based on fabricated facts that are circulated so quickly that they become powerful tools of harassment, aimed at anyone whose opinion challenges the social and internal status quo of the people they dare to be critical of.
Understanding this dynamic is essential because GG gave rise to more hate mobs and more targeted campaigns against anyone and anything critical of male, white privilege and/or dominance. Beyond that, however, Danskin's argument about stretching the spectrum of rationality is of course relevant to political discourses (especially considering the current American elections and Trump mania):
"This intentional polarization from small minorities within a community is largely what movements like GamerGate are for: to react so negatively as to make a reasonably statement seem like the far end of the spectrum and to make the half-way point between reasonable and bug-fuck irrational seem like the moderate position."
The "moderate position" is where Jack lives. It’s the place where he can deny his ideological alignment with core haters while still being part of the forces that hinder women and minorities – god forbid – changing the status quo, for encroaching on what he feels is his territory. He can rely on the core faction to deliver him the ammo he needs to shoot down anyone critical of him and his opinion (namely calling them Nazis, pedophiles, racists, SJWs and/or other lovely things that are divorced from reality) and make himself look like the progressive force at the same time.
Danskin pointedly describes the dynamic of GG as a dance that consists of "getting someone to dedicate himself to your cause by constantly reassuring him that he is nothing like you."