Miscellaneous #GamerGate Thoughts: Redsk*ns Edition

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).

culture jamming

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.

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6 thoughts on “Miscellaneous #GamerGate Thoughts: Redsk*ns Edition

  1. Hello A Voice,

    I am not approving your comment on this post because I am not comfortable with some of the words that you used (as examples of slurs and offensive language) in it showing up on my professional blog (I am on the job market!). If you would like to re-write your comment without those words, I will approve it.

    I do think that there are legitimate contexts in which such words can and should be used in an academic setting. I’m just not comfortable with them being associated with my virtual presence (which is not so much an academic setting as it is an academic advertisement: HIRE ME, PEOPLE!)

    re: Redsk*ins, the * is not there to obscure which word is being referred to. It is there to graphically represent the inappropriateness of the word. It is easy to forget that “redskins” is a slur when you only see it in the context of the NFL team. The word becomes normalized. The * is there to serve as a visual reminder that the word has another (sordid) history.

    And I would argue that the Atlanta Braves (they of the tomahawk chop and Chief Noc-A-Homa – say it out loud) is not exactly a sterling example of sensitivity.

    • (1) “I am not approving your comment on this post[…] I’m just not comfortable with them being associated with my virtual presence[.]”

      I have no problem whatever with you redacting the comment as you find appropriate (along with appropriate notation, of course) or in not posting it at all. Whatever the case may be I respect your decision, however inappropriate I find the seeming political correctness undergirding it. While I don’t agree with what I find undergirding your decision I can see why you would do such and your reasoning sensible and, of course, this being your bit of personal space makes it well within your right to approve or deny comments as you see fit. Further, it’s a testimony to your character that you not only offer someone the chance to redact their own entry but explain why you demand them to do so.

      The best thing about well-reasoned discourse between honest and thoughtful individuals is the ability to disagree, sometimes strongly, and continue discourse without finding personal offence. Though, of course, sometimes discourse needs to end. If that is something you prefer I would respect that decision, too.

      (2) “[T]he * is not there to obscure which word is being referred to. It is there to graphically represent the inappropriateness of the word.”

      It isn’t the term that is the problem but what the term is loaded with, viz. it is the idea or ideas couched within or associated with the term that is the problem. We need to be clear about this and we need to not be molest the word we disagree with (due to the ideas associated) because we disagree with those ideas.

      “It is easy to forget that “redskins” is a slur when you only see it in the context of the NFL team. The word becomes normalized.”

      Normalisation occurs not simply from use but from the practise of non-engagement. This isn’t hasn’t really been talked about that much and, as such, there’s been no compelling counter-argument to come into public discussion. People with a stronger notion of American History should find the term more insulting than those with less or, of course, no real notion of American History. This is important. It seems to me that, unfortunately, the issue hasn’t been brought into public discussion not because of strong ethical convictions but out of a sense of political correctness, of not ethics informing etiquette but etiquette informing ethics. This, too, is important. Right now the term ‘redskin’ needs to be seen, normalised, as insulting as it is: not because of political correctness but because it is just another example of how the people saddled with that pejorative continue to be marginalised by the people of this country.

      “And I would argue that the Atlanta Braves (they of the tomahawk chop and Chief Noc-A-Homa – say it out loud) is not exactly a sterling example of sensitivity.”

      Well, of course that isn’t an example of sensitivity but that action wasn’t at all part of my example. My contention was that some team names can be seen as a honourific and using the Atlanta Braves as my example. This doesn’t mean that an action or mascot associated with any given team is also a honourific by association with said team, only that the name itself can and perhaps should be seen as such.

      • 1) I agree for the most part, but I also think it is important that people consent to enter into such exchanges and not get “surprised” by them. Since, in addition to serving as a journal for my current projects, this site also acts as a hub for people many different types of people who are simply looking for my contact info (students, prospective employers, media), it is important to me that this space be “safe.”

        2) I agree – I think that the very purpose of the * is that it is a quick way to convey that the writer is aware of the historical context of that word, that they see it as more than simply the name of a popular sports franchise. I don’t think that the * is about maintaining “politically correct” or sanitized speech. It’s not about cleansing the language of that word. It’s a short-hand way of signalling that the word IS a pejorative.

        It also occurs to me, as I write this, that the * simultaneously functions as a kind of rhetorical, text-based meme, a “code” phrase that allows one to signal one’s beliefs regarding the Redsk*ns controversy to those who are “in the know.” And it invites those who are on the fence about the issue to ask: “hey, I’ve been reading up on the issue, what is that * about?” – thus creating an opportunity for dialogue with those who are open to it.

        3) My point is that the name “Braves” might seem honorific only if one ignores the context in which it was initially situated. It seems tough to me to imagine that the name could be intended as an honor when it is accompanied by those other pieces. And I think that is a major problem with the Redsk*ns fans, too. One of their primary defenses is: the name is meant to be an honor!* One would think that part of trying to honor someone would include listening to their opinion about the vehicle you choose to honor them, but maybe that’s just me 🙂

        *See: http://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/nfl/redskins/2014/08/05/daniel-snyder-washington-redskins-espn-interview/13630047/

      • Oh and one final disclaimer: the town my husband grew up in (the town in which I’m currently living as I search for an academic post) had a pretty bogus high school mascot through 1980

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pekin,_Illinois – scroll down to the section on “high school”

        There are STILL tons of townies (my paternal grandmother, who taught Latin at that high school for 20 years, included) who resolutely cling to the old mascot and reminisce about the days before the “PC Police” came and took it away. And the insistence that it was intended as an “honor” constantly. Furthermore, both of my parents and my mother’s brother are U of I alums who are super nostalgic for the Chief. So it might simply be that my patience with that particular line of thought has been exhausted 😛

      • In respect to (1), the only thing that I can say is that I’ve found the sanitisation of the professional sphere to be disingenuous. (I won’t unpack that because I think that you agree in some part with that statement.) It’s so often the case that awareness and over-sensitivity of a given thing are conflated, something especially disappointing in the humanities.

        In respect to 3, without due research showing otherwise, it’s anachronistic to think that ‘the chop’ came at the same time as the team name. To say that the action is an embarrassment to the name would be fair but it would still take nothing from the original choice for naming the team.

        I’d like to let this part of the conversation end here, barring your final words of course, because I don’t want it to dominate your entry. That just wouldn’t be appropriate.

      • Yep, the tomahawk chop specifically came around to Braves fans in the early 90s I think. My point is that the willingness to institute practices like it (including the logos and Chief Noc-a-Homa etc) suggest that “honoring” isn’t the primary motivation for keeping the name around. Nor do I think belittling or abusing Native Americans is the primary motivation. The primary motivation, nowadays, is inertia: keeping things as they have always been because… tradition.

        I don’t know that the motivation for the original reasoning behind naming the team means anything, but here is the reasoning according to Mental Floss:

        “Atlanta Braves
        The Braves, who played in Boston and Milwaukee before moving to Atlanta in 1966, trace their nickname to the symbol of a corrupt political machine. James Gaffney, who became president of Boston’s National League franchise in 1911, was a member of Tammany Hall, the Democratic Party machine that controlled New York City politics throughout the 19th century. The Tammany name was derived from Tammamend, a Delaware Valley Indian chief. The society adopted an Indian headdress as its emblem and its members became known as Braves. Sportswriter Leonard Koppett described Gaffney’s decision to rename his team, which had been known as the Doves, in a 1993 letter to the New York Times: “Wouldn’t it be neat to call the team the ‘Braves,’ waving this symbol of the Democrats under the aristocratic Bostonians? It wouldn’t bother the fans.” And it didn’t, especially after the Braves swept the Philadelphia Athletics in the 1914 World Series.”

        So it sounds like Native people weren’t actually on the minds of the team’s owners when the name was changed at all! They were simply importing a mascot from one context (politics) into another (baseball).

        http://mentalfloss.com/article/24358/whats-nickname-origins-all-30-mlb-team-names

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