Remember Adam Baldwin? He’s an actor who starred in cult sci-fi series Firefly back in 2002, and a couple of other shows in the years since.
Most recently, he is known as the shit-stirrer who coined the term ‘Gamergate’ in a tweet linking to allegations of corruption on the part of a game developer – allegations that were quickly debunked. Since then, Baldwin and the movement have moved on to several other targets.
Given Baldwin’s controversial status, it was a surprise to learn last week that Supanova, the pop culture conference held every couple of years in various Australian cities, had again invited him as a guest.
If you don’t know much about the Gamergate movement, it’s a twitter hashtag that purports to be about exposing unethical video game journalism practices. But it’s mainly known for inciting the horrible waves of harassment, doxing and SWAT-ing that have affected the games community over the past six months. While gaters claim their movement isn’t harassment-based, a scroll through the hashtag on any given day shows it’s mainly used for spreading spurious accusations and lies, sharing and drumming up hatred for that day’s target, which, surprise surprise, results in huge waves of nastiness directed at those individuals.
Gamergaters claim the movement isn’t about harassment, yet its targets always end up getting harassed. Huh. What a coincidence!
Why does Supanova think it is okay to contribute to this culture of hate by bringing out Baldwin, a Gamergate cheerleader? Daniel Zachariou, Supanova’s director, says he isn’t a gamer himself and hadn’t known about Baldwin’s involvement in Gamergate. I’d suggest he get to know about it, pronto.
Supanova, with its wide pop-culture scope, has always felt like one of the broader, more inclusive conventions. I can understand that its organisers would like to be tolerant towards guests and attendees of a broad range of views. As a ‘social justice warrior’ myself, I’ve been campaigning for years to include political thought amongst the wide range of topics we discuss when we talk about pop culture. We should be happy to examine the things we love from any angle, including beauty, plot, character, technology, humour, spectacle, connection, culture, history, atmosphere and so on.
With shows like Firefly, Whedon challenges the viewer to comprehend and evaluate different world views and priorities of characters. There’s no way to ignore the importance of political themes in a show literally about former political rebels. I wouldn’t put someone out the airlock just because I don’t share their views.
But this isn’t simply about a difference in opinion: Baldwin has crossed a line and turned his views into incredibly destructive behaviour. Gamergaters are not just ‘being offensive’; they’re doing tangible harm.
Baldwin’s influence on social media has resulted in huge amounts of direct hostility to women connected to the industry. If Baldwin went to Supanova and attacked individuals in person like he has online, I suspect he’d be violating Supanova’s harassment policy. I can’t understand why Supanova would tolerate behaviour from their guests that they wouldn’t tolerate from their attendees.
Baldwin’s actions in cheerleading Gamergate have caused huge rifts among geeks and contributed to a situation where it’s hard for feminist gamers, journalists and writers to express their views without risking a SWAT-ing. It’s having a chilling effect on how freely we can enjoy and discuss pop culture and gaming right now. Baldwin scares the shit out of me to the point where I have to write under a pseudonym, because I’m not interested in being his next target.
That has made many people, including me, uncomfortable with Baldwin’s presence at Supernova. The possibility he might draw a gamergater crowd to a usually friendly con is daunting. Gamergate’s notorious toxicity, irrationality, disproportionality and terrifying laser-focus means people are scared to be near them. Moreover, Gamergate attacks are often over some minor, inconsequential perceived misstep someone – however closely or distantly involved in games journalism – has committed.
What can get you targeted by hordes of ggers? Anything, really. Even offhand tweets about the Tetris soundtrack. Or merely pointing out that there is a toxic, reactionary wing of ‘true gamers’ who punish progressive viewpoints and punish any efforts to improve diversity and representation in games that require the existing community to lift a finger.
How do you know if you’ll get a nice gger who’s principled or a raving lunatic who’ll set their thousands of followers on your trail, suddenly deciding very ordinary facets of your life are the greatest crimes against the internet in history? Look at the vitriol Anita Sarkeesian cops for having ordinary feminist views like that ‘constantly damselling women means they don’t get to have an active role in the story and that short-changes women’ and for arguing that the culture we consume, including books, shows, films and games helps shape our attitudes and beliefs about the world. (It doesn’t straight up turn us into murderers, of course, but that doesn’t mean it has no effect.)
By inviting Baldwin, Supernova has essentially excluded any of Gamergate’s current or future targets from the festival, a de facto rejection of everyone who is afraid of Gamergate. This is, by and large, women, and pro-women geeks. Already, Gamergaters have been directing vitriol to women who’ve just mentioned online that they’re not attending if Baldwin is, out of safety concerns. Some have flagged their intention to attend to show support for Gamergate.
By inviting Baldwin, Supanova telegraphs its acceptance of those who support this overwhelmingly nasty, hateful, unethical movement.
Yes gg dears, spreading lies about your targets, especially when it could get said targets SWAT-ed, is deeply, deeply unethical: vastly more unethical than anything you’ve accused journalists of doing.
Supanova needs to drop Baldwin, and commit itself to creating a safe, diverse convention.
If you agree, you can sign this petition.