Saturday, 31 August 2013

Is Jonathan McIntosh behind Anita Sarkeesian's views?

No. That's the short answer to that question.

In case you don't follow, one of Anita's critics conducted something of an investigation into her internet past, uncovering little details about her former website, former career and a look into a man called Jonathan McIntosh. Up until now, McIntosh's name didn't mean much other than being a name that showed up next to Anita's in the credits of the Tropes Vs Women in Games series with the credits "Produced By" and "Written By". Looking into his other sites more, there's more to it than that.

[It seems this video has since been removed.]

In short, McIntosh was already expressing strong feminist viewpoints while Anita was still selling PR services online, before her own viewpoints ever became known. She went as far as to use some of his statements about Lego in her own videos. They've apparently known each other for at least five years or so. Today, McIntosh still expresses the same viewpoints on Twitter, still works with Anita Sarkeesian and you can see if you scroll far enough down his Twitter page, uses very similar language as Anita when talking about gender issues, albeit more argumentative.

There was a lot more revealed on a Tumblr page than in that video above but I'm afraid I won't be linking to that page here; there's a lot that can be said about Anita Sarkeesian -- and trust me, before the end of this blog, I will be saying plenty -- but when you're posting links to her mother's website, you really have to call it a day.

So why do I think McIntosh isn't responsible for Anita's arguments? Well in short, it isn't conclusive. I absolutely think Anita was influenced by McIntosh's viewpoints but there's nothing to say that she didn't already have feminist views herself. It isn't like McIntosh had a background in feminism, Anita had a background in pyramid schemes and one fateful day, the two met and Feminist Frequency was born. Anita has also performed college talks by herself and I'm sure she wouldn't be going out there on her own if she didn't think she could handle any questions on gender issues tossed in her direction. Not that I think she's been asked any challenging questions, mind you, and the no-recording policy is obviously in place just in case she ever is.

I don't want it to sound like I'm being too harsh on anyone who is in full support of the information dug up on Anita. In fact, she could learn a lot from people so thorough and hey, for all we know, I could be wrong and McIntosh really could be pulling the strings. However, I think the desire to uncover information on the notoriously closed-off Anita Sarkeesian won out over the need to argue sensibly in this case.

It's also worth noting that Anita acknowledged the discovery on Twitter:

In a way, she has a point. Except for the victim blaming, which is complete twaddle. I'm not even sure who the "victim" is that she's describing here. Jonathan McIntosh? Herself?

Something I've noticed is that, even though I've said before that Anita doesn't respond to criticism, that's not quite true; she actually responds to criticism that's very easy to dismiss. For example, it's incredibly easy to dismiss the information that people dug up on her either because it doesn't appear to be relevant to her current videos -- I don't want to speculate on how much or how little of Anita's slightly shady "Success Secrets Of Self-Made Millionaires" course have influenced her current work, although the case is certainly building -- or because it really does sound like a conspiracy theory. Still, it certainly is the pot calling the kettle black when a person who blames everything on the patriarchy blames other people for concocting conspiracy theories ...

It isn't the first time Anita has responded to the "easy" criticism. Earlier this month, Doug Walker, who some of you may know as The Nostalgia Critic, posted a criticism of Anita on his Facebook page where he expressed his disappointment that Anita hadn't focused on any strong female characters yet. Now I'm happy that Doug, as a high-profile internet personality, is voicing his concerns over the Tropes Vs Women in Games series but I think most of us know that Anita will be devoting an episode of her series to positive female examples.

So naturally, this was one of the few criticisms that could easily be answered and dismissed:

And the only video response to the Damsel in Distress videos that Anita has made the wider audience aware of is MovieBob's reply, which was full of praise and dismissed the critics as trolls and abusers. It didn't break any new ground, in other words.

On-topic, it doesn't really matter if McIntosh is behind all of Anita's arguments. The fact that such biased and one-sided arguments are being given such recognition by the mainstream gaming media is the larger problem. In the last two weeks alone, she's been featured in Wired magazine and gave a talk at The Conference 2013 in Sweden. The online abuse crops up in what little of the Wired article is available to read online -- as does her example of Dinosaur Planet from the first Damsel In Distress video, with zero mention of the male playable character this time around -- and Anita's talk at The Conference revolved around it.

So yes, I know it's frustrating. We're talking about a person who has refused to face up to the majority of criticism aimed in her direction for the last year and a third, yet has been making the most of whatever publicity she can garner from the original abuse in that entire time. I know it's frustrating that mainstream gaming sites have never printed an article critical of Anita in the slightest (although the Wired article is the first in some time, so I guess no news is good news apart from that) or posted links or interviews with anyone who disagrees with her.

Although even with all that, we shouldn't go looking for a quick-fix to discredit Anita. You could say that bits and pieces of the information have merit but the fact is that educating people on why Anita's arguments are flawed, hypocritical and biased is always going to be necessary, if a pain in the neck more often than not. The thing is, as stupid as this sounds -- and writing it down now, it occurs to me that maybe I'm making a bigger deal out of this than is necessary -- I think that if we're not going to be listened to, we shouldn't be listened to for all the right reasons rather than the wrong ones.

Besides, having chatted to Anita's supporters online, we could uncover evidence that she's a killer robot from the future and they'd try to find a way to justify it. That's what they did after the video-stealing affair and the Randy Pitchford murder fanfic hypocrisy.

In other news, I got banned from the TV Tropes forum a while ago for talking about Anita Sarkeesian ... in a Feminist Frequency thread. Seriously, that was more or less the reason ("derailing" was the actual term used, in spite of the fact that I didn't start the derail and other members weren't talking about Feminist Frequency anyway). I wouldn't normally broadcast that here but I know I have at least one private message that I'm unable to answer. So I'm sorry to that person.

Also, I start my game development course at college in a little over a week. I've been playing around with Unity and the Unreal Development Kit and they're both terrifyingly daunting. I also don't get much information from the college, so I'm petrified that other students will be better than me even though I figured we'd all be at the same level. I'm hoping that's not the case.