I read an article recently about the campaign against the Washington Redsk*ns NFL team, which is calling itself #NotYourMascot.
Of course, because I tend to travel in video game culture circles and know very little about traditional sports culture, I was immediately struck by the likeness of the hashtag #NotYourMascot to another hashtag that is floating around in the #GamerGate community: #NotYourShield.
This hashtag is an inverse of the #NotYourMascot message, which is about marginalized people asking not to be reduced to cartoonish stereotypes for the entertainment of football fans.* #NotYourShield, on the other hand, is supposed to represent women and people of color in the gaming community asking for so-called “social justice warriors” not to use them as political footballs, so to speak. In other words, one hashtag is used for social justice advocacy. The other is used by people who don’t want to hear about social justice advocacy and just want to get back to enjoying their games.
There is some evidence that the #NotYourShield hashtag was conceived of as a piece of astroturf, that it was designed to look like a grassroots uprising of women and minorities coming to the defense of the gaming community but was actually a planned PR campaign (“false flag?”) created by #GamerGate partisans (although I’m sure there are many who have since used the hashtag and do feel strongly about keeping discussions of politics out of gaming culture. I disagree with those people, but I don’t doubt the sincerity of their beliefs).
If the hashtag does represent an attempt at a kind of reverse “culture jamming,” the creators of #NotYourShield were wise to mimic the rhetoric of the #NotYourMascot campaign: doing so makes it even more unclear to an outside observer just who is advocating for change in the gaming community and who is advocating for maintaining the status quo.
At any rate, thinking about the intersections between these two controversies got me thinking that #GamerGaters and Redsk*ns fans are both ultimately interested in the same things. #GamerGaters and Redsk*ns fans of all genders, races, and sexual orientations insist that their communities are all about play and entertainment and escape from the day to day politics that they encounter in every other aspect of their lives and they attempt to defend the sanctity of those spaces as politics free zones by resisting critics who point out that those spaces were always already politicized. They are advocating for the status quo with the understanding that progressive changes to their communal spaces represents an unwelcome intrusion of politics into those spaces. They don’t acknowledge that “the status quo” is also dictated by politics and that fighting to keep things as they have always been is itself a political position.
And of course that, too, is a smart rhetorical strategy. “Politics” is a tainted word and so its always good PR to paint your opponents as political operatives and yourself as a non-partisan.
*Teaching on the University Illinois campus, the one-time home of Chief Illiniwek, means that I’ve witnessed many such mascot debates up close and personal. I was an undergrad at U of I when the Chief gave his last performance and there are still many alumni and Champaign-Urbana residents who resent the intrusion of social justice warriors into their football traditions.