I held off for a week from commenting on the Santa Barbara shooting, and with good reason: I was in no place to make any grand, sweeping pronouncements about anything. I’m glad I did, and I’m also humbled and angry, as a result. It goes without saying that the shooting was senseless and horrific, and absolutely could have been averted, if not avoided. While I applaud that the response time for the ancillary concerned parties has advanced from “We had no idea he was capable of this” to “We knew he was troubled, but we never thought he was violent,” to finally “We were on our way over to stop him when this happened,” it’s still not much comfort. I think the Onion’s recent stance on the issue, while bitingly satiric, is still very relevant. I’ll just leave that right there and move on.
Instead, I want to talk about the fallout from the tragedy. The #YesAllWomen hashtag has been a kind of wake-up call for the rest of the Internet, and while it’s good to finally have a discussion about this, it’s been like bricks on my head for five days as I read about all of my friends who had these horrible experiences, and I never knew about it.
I haven’t seen hardly any of the detractor’s responses, other than noting from other people that there seems to be a line in the sand being drawn in the big Internet Sandbox, and again, I have to ask, who would even want to be on the other side of the line? Mostly, I’ve just been reading, trying to make some sense of it all. Here’s some of what I have been looking at, and I’ll tell you what conclusions I’ve come to afterward.
Chris Roberson’s confessional polemic, while not quite as broad shouldered as John Scalzi’s, was very refreshing to read for its honesty. I don’t disagree with either of these guys; on the contrary, I admit my culpability in the entrenched hegemony, as well. This is something I’ve been looking at for the past couple of years, ever since the controversy over Cosplay participants and “fake fans” reared its head in the Geek Nation. I’ve been very mindful of it and spoken out against “nerd-misogyny” before. But this was...too much.
I mean, there was something about this shooter, aside from his disturbing resemblance to Nick from the 1985 cult classic movie Tuff Turf (a character who was also a mentally unstable misogynist, by the way), that felt very “been there, done that,” and by that I mean, I don’t think there’s an eleven to thirteen year old male in America who hasn’t gone through a phase that looks something like, “One day, I’ll be rich/powerful/famous/a porn star/have super powers, and then they’ll all be sorry they laughed at me!” Depending on your peer group and how quickly you discovered Dungeons and Dragons and/or masturbation, this phase can last anywhere from ten minutes to six months.
And then we grow out of it. Most of us, anyway.
Those few guys that don’t tend to skitter backwards into the darkness wearing their Members Only jackets and then we don’t see them too much after that. I’m not saying they aren’t there (obviously), but they become sort of "out of sight, out of mind" for the rest of us. I think it’s scary, and sad, for grown-up people to have those kinds of resentments and anger and rage. That is the extent of my sympathy with any man who feels mistreated at the hands of others. We all caught a snowball in the face. All of us. Deal with it and move on.
What’s even scarier and sadder to me is this idea of “a Pick-Up Artist” Community forum, wherein all of these guys who want to learn how to “get with” women go to lick their wounds and build themselves back up again, followed immediately by another Community Forum wherein the guys who tried this approach failed, and now they hate the Pick-Up Artists, too! Talk about victim-thinking... Amanda Hess wrote a sobering article about their response to the tragedy and then she followed it up with why it’s so hard for men to see misogyny. Again, I have no argument for this. But as we all started to try and find a reason for how this became a sub-culture in modern America, there were a couple of false steps. A film critic went so far as to suggest that the comedies of Judd Apatow were to blame for the mass murder, prompting a rebuke from both Apatow and frequent collaborator Seth Rogan.
She’s wrong, of course, but I can see that she was picking at the edge of something. Then I read Your Princess is in Another Castle: Misogyny,Entitlement, and Nerds, by Arthur Chu and the light bulb went on. He’s dancing around the idea, as well, but he’s a lot closer to the hows and the whys.
Here’s what I think: There is a generation of people for whom it is difficult to discern reality from fantasy. I first noticed it years ago, in the mid-90s, when I was watching a show on Cartoon Network and a Barbie commercial came on that showed the doll water-skiing using the magic of Stop-motion animation (probably actually CGI, but let’s not quibble; you know what I mean). Flashed across the screen in the midst of this crass consumerism was the disclaimer, “DOLL DOES NOT ACTUALLY MOVE.” Wow. I thought we’d gone round the bend, but we were just getting started.
|This? It was a Male Idyll. A fantasy.|
A wishful indulgence. And it was
fake, and we all knew it. It was
never real, and it never will be.
We all grew up surrounded by stories. Myths. Legends. George Washington chopped down the cherry tree and said, “I cannot tell a lie.” Legend. Any American who works hard can pull themselves up by their boot straps and become millionaires. Myth. “They lived happily ever after.” Stories. We are inundated by fantasy at an early age, whether it’s that “all girls are princesses and deserve to marry a prince,” or “Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone.” You get it as soon as they start reading stories to you. You get it as soon as they plop you down in front of the television. You get told things, over and over again, repeating endlessly over and over again. And it sticks, or at least, it stays until another story takes its place. And stories that get told over and over stop becoming stories and start to become beliefs. Truths. They become how you see the world, instead of a way to look at the world differently. And that’s what I think is happening here.
Let’s take a benign example. We were all told that Santa Claus is real; we all got that story. And we believed it, earnestly, diligently, and without question, until we were, what? Six? Seven? Eight? Do you remember how you found out? For most of us, it was the other kids. There was always some kid who figured it out, or whose parents didn’t practice Christmas, and they spilled the beans about Santa. Despite your mother and father’s efforts, when you saw that enough people didn’t believe it, either, you had to come to the conclusion that yeah, Santa wasn’t real.
So, why is there a generation that seems to have trouble discerning fact from fantasy? How is it that there’s more people who believe in conspiracy theories than ever? How is it that even with hundreds of thousands of women sharing their stories, there’s people who fervently believe it’s some sort of “feminazi plot?”
I think we can lay the blame right at the Internet’s feet. See, when you were eight years old, your peers taught you that Santa wasn’t real. When you were a teenager, you learned from the people around you that life wasn’t fair, and that we all had the same kinds of problems (Okay, you might have learned that from The Breakfast Club, but still). We used to all watch the same news programs and have something to discuss around the water cooler the next day. Sixty Minutes used to be a going concern. So was 20/20.
We don’t have that, now. Now we have the Internet. And while it’s true that it brought people together and formed new friendships and relationships and has been a major impact on art, commerce, and society, it’s true that it also united every lone freakshow, socially retarded troglodyte, sociopathic misogynist, and backwards-thinking assbug in the country. See the above “Pick Up artist forums” for examples of this. Now, you’re not the only guy in high school with no sex life. You can get online and connect with every other trenchoated loaner in America, where the stories they tell themselves are very different from the stories in the real world. Or even, the real world itself.
Now, anyone with a grievance can simply unplug from society, the real world, and their personal environment and go into whatever nurturing cybercave they choose to visit, where everyone agrees with what they say, because they all think and feel the exact same way. The internet has become the mysterious cave in the story of our lives. Sometimes, there’s treasure, or magic, or knowledge in the cave. But most of the time, there’s also monsters in the cave.
I know a great many of you around my age and older had a childhood had an adolescence similar to mine. I was told that the music I listened to would turn me into a devil-worshipper. That the cartoons I watched would make me a sociopath. That the role-playing games I played would turn me into a paranoid schizophrenic. None of that actually happened. We all had parents who either grounded us in reality, or anchored us in place. We had peers with similar experiences. We were all still somewhat connected to one another, even if it was only through the umbilical cord of shared popular culture. After all, weren’t you a little leery of the kids who didn’t like Star Wars? I sure was.
All of that’s changed. I don’t want to whole-cloth write-off the Special Snowflakes of the world for their helicopter parents and their overly-developed sense of entitlement, but we’re not doing Generation Y any favors, not at all. The Santa Barbara Shooter felt he was owed beautiful women, that he was entitled to them. Says who? What on Earth gave him that idea? Well, a lot of things, apparently. Look, I think any crazy person can get a crazy idea from anyplace, and there’s no telling what they will latch onto—movies, video games, a Pick-Up Artist website’s bullshit, you name it—but I’m just wondering if that idea would have stuck in his head so firmly if there was a group of real people around this little monster who shouted him down every time he tried to bring up the “bitches be tripping” rhetoric? Or parents who took him aside and said, “Yeah, son, you’re being a douche right now.” Something, anything, other than The Internet.
Granted, it sounds like I’m picking on Generation Y, but to be sure, there are members of Generation X that have fallen into this pit trap, as well. Again, I don’t see them very often, because they aren’t engaging with regular people in the real world. And that’s the problem, isn’t it? I’ll wager there are very few of us who have studied the actual psychological effects of long-term online communication, and how it’s different from actual live person social interaction. I sure don’t know very much about it. I don’t know anything. But I do know this: talking to people online, even on FaceBook, is very different from talking to someone on the phone, or sitting across from me. Maybe, just maybe, when someone is a borderline narcissistic sociopath, or has tendencies along those kinds of lines where it seems easier to pick up a gun to solve your problems, maybe that person would get more positive results from talking to humans in the real world instead of “ImBobaFettBitches1974” on some message board that’s connected to the thing this person obsesses endlessly about.
I told you all of that, to tell you this: I want to start trying to do something about it. The sexism, I mean. The misogyny. I want to start making a change. I don’t want my friends to be scared anymore. I don’t want to hear about another woman’s stalking incident. Only, instead of going into my little cyber-cave, I want to stand out, in the middle of society, and say, “Okay, let’s do this! Who among you is a shithead? Come forth, and let me smack you!”
Yeah, that approach probably won’t work. I know that. Ever since the cosplay controversy, I’ve kept my eyes open at the various shows and conventions I attended. I paid more attention. I checked in with people more frequently. And you know what I discovered? Nothing. Nada. Bupkiss. Mind you, I was ready to step in, to intervene, to sweep the leg, even, if necessary. But I saw nothing, heard nothing, and experienced nothing that was actionable. I’m not saying nothing happened at all, but I am saying, I was looking for it, and personally saw nothing. Maybe if I had my telepathy helmet on, I could have scanned the whole convention and found the two or three skeeves and pointed an accusing finger at them and scared them off. But I have limits.
I’ll keep looking. And I’ll keep trying. But I want to know: how do we as men start to apply peer pressure to people who need it when they are keeping their mouth shut around us, hanging back, and in general slinking around because they know we’ll call them on it? And worse, how do you keep that lesson from transmogrifying into “the popular kids beat me up and stuffed me in a locker today because I tried to talk to one of their girlfriends” in their brain-damaged heads? Because at night, online, that’s exactly what it’ll turn into.
I don’t know what the answer is. I don’t know where we start. I only have one idea to put forth. It’s probably not going to be well-liked, but that’s that, really. Maybe the Internet shouldn’t be wide open. Maybe anonymity online is a bad thing. Maybe if you want to comment on blogs, message boards, or send private messages, you have to provide your real information, instead of goofy screen names. Maybe I’m looking at this the wrong way, and if so, please tell me. I’m willing to be educated. I’m just thinking in terms of how to curb some of the bad behavior. Anonymity tends to bring out the worst of us, instead of the best of us. Now there's studies that show trolling online is psychologically in the same head space as Narcissistic tendencies and sociopathic behavior. And also, the people who troll more often than others are (surprise surprise) sociopaths. Why give them the platform to disrupt?
I don’t think registering your real name, I.P. address, or other measures will change the minds of ingrained misogynists, but if more women feel comfortable taking to the Internet, and there’s a mechanic in place that allows anyone who gets threatening messages to shut the other person down with extreme prejudice (and maybe even fines or penalties), then more voices can be inclusively heard (and agreed with) and that is in and of itself a kind of peer pressure.
My stance hasn’t changed. If I see something happening, I’m going to butt in. If you come up to me at a show or anywhere else for that matter and tell me someone was being a creep, I will help you. But these whiny, abusive, self-absorbed creepshow guys are scattering like cockroaches when the kitchen light comes on, and until we can all be in the same room together, it will be difficult for the rest of us to police our own. I'm open to suggestions.