Archive for January, 2015

‘Hashtag! We’re It’: 2014, A Retrospective (Part 2)

Posted in criticism, literature, television, video games with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 19, 2015 by drayfish

Hashtag 2014 with Cat by Me

2014: The Good (Or Marginally Better) Stuff

In my last post I skimmed the surface of why 2014 was such an enormous downer …to put it mildly. For a few thousand interminable words I blathered on about several of the year’s most unsettling cultural and pop cultural controversies – from Gamergate, to Bill Cosby, to the trend of police shootings of unarmed black men – and briefly explored the way in which these stories were directly forwarded by, impacted with, or responded to in social media.

It was despairing stuff. And I hadn’t even gotten to Ebola, Syria, or made any snotty remarks about Taylor Swift or Flappy Bird yet (no doubt I’ll get to them momentarily).

But now it’s time to dig up and out of the hole. Because thankfully, this need for fellowship and community – a longing symbolised by our use of the hashtag – emerged in other, far more life-affirming ways, as people felt the impulse to join together and help one another out.

Kermit Ice Bucket Challenge

IMAGE: Kermit The Frog’s Ice Bucket Challenge

There was the Ice Bucket Challenge to raise money for research into the motor-neuron degenerative disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Essentially a good-natured update on the email chain letter, it involved people filming themselves dumping a bucket of ice water over their head, and then calling out others to do the same, raising awareness for the disease, prompting others to get involved, and inviting donations. It was hard not to get caught up in the excitement as friends, celebrities, and world leaders were called out, eventually reaching the kind of pop-cultural ubiquity that results in parodies, fail videos, Presidential shout-outs, and lazy Simpsons references.

Reading Rainbow, a television show designed around sharing books with children and promoting literacy (and that contained an oddly gloating theme song about flying ‘twice as high’ as a butterfly – why not let the butterflies have that one thing?) was brought back from the dead after its cancelation in 2006. The show wasn’t re-launched on television, but was instead funded by a social media-propelled Kickstarter campaign to be turned into an app that will allow children to stream books and content directly. The Kickstarter met the one million dollar goal it had set for itself in less than a day (I believe eleven hours, actually), and had soon easily raised five million, with the additional funding going to providing free access to the service for underprivileged schools. The grateful joy with which Reading Rainbow host LeVar Burton thanked the contributors was wonderfully heartening.*

Reading Rainbow Kickstarter

IMAGE: Reading Rainbow Kickstarter

That impulse to share ourselves also surfaced in less purely altruistic contexts, including the way in which we consumed our entertainments. Sure, the days of friends and family sitting around on the couch shouting at the same copy of Mariocart and wrestling for next go on the controller might be largely behind us, but the popularity of Twitch streaming and the re-emergence of appointment television like Game of Thrones meant that, rather than killing off the communal experience of pop culture, in 2014 the lounge room instead just infinitely expanded.**

It was a trend that can perhaps be seen most obviously in the popularity of last year’s surprise schlock-watch Sharknado, a SyFy original film that became a magnet for gleeful, snarky commentary over social media when it aired. This year’s Sharknado 2: The Second One doubled down on the cheesy idiocy of its premise, throwing every B and C-grade celebrity cameo at it they could manage, moving the unconvincing green screens of the whole production to New York City, and building to a climax in which a man (named Fin; I never get tired of that) surfs a shark through the funnel of a tornado while wielding a chainsaw. The resulting Twitter-nado may not have felt as organic and delirious as the first time around, but it was still proof that ironic-viewership had gone global.

Sharknado 2

IMAGE: Sharknado 2: The Second One (Syfy)

Indeed, this kind of social media word-of-mouth is inarguably the reason that some soulless, spiky-haired studio executive, having just flicked through a Venn diagram of internet memes and a budget projection for integrated advertising, green lit production on this year’s most cynical contribution to humanity’s seasonal depressive state: Grumpy Cat’s Worst Christmas Ever. As you can probably imagine, the result – a Reddit image that had ballooned into a tedious viral phenomena and been repackaged into a cheap, gratuitous ‘hate-watch’ spectacle – would have been equally as subtle had the Lifetime Channel just shown a two hour commercial block with the phrase ‘Viewers like you make us sick’ superimposed across the screen.

Even the tradition of after-show ‘water cooler’ critique and speculation accompanying any series that has captured the attention of the zeitgeist has now expanded into its own genre, rife with programs and podcasts that discuss programs sometimes only minutes after they’ve finished airing. Chris Hardwick (who appears to have spent this past year using his Nerdist network to stage some form of world-domination coup) now hosts Talking Dead to mull over AMC’s The Walking Dead; Kumail Nanjiani (likewise everywhere this past year) has dipped into cult television of the past with The X-Files Files (only one of the now countless new Star Wars/Buffy/Twin Peaks/Doctor Who podcasts out there currently propagating like a virulent strain of flu).

Thankfully, shows that invited this kind of devoted analysis were suddenly everywhere. There were the usual examples like Mad Men (heading into its final episodes) and House of Cards (still sneaking up on everyone with full season dumps on Netflix), but some freshmen shows like Fargo (which, as a semi-adaptation of a film, took everyone by surprise by being captivatingly bold, idiosyncratic, and thematically resonant) and True Detective (which ended all handwringing over the long-redundant ‘divide’ in quality between television and film), came out of the gates fully formed, demanding their audience’s communal attention right from their opening minutes.

true detective

IMAGE: True Detective (HBO)

True Detective in particular kept people riveted for weeks, locking them in the kind of grand pop cultural conversation arguably not seen since the early days of LOST (before everyone realised that show was just yanking their extremely long, irresolvably convoluted chain***). Audiences wildly speculated on the identity of the killer, plunged into deep-dive critiques of the show’s signature gothic splendour, and playfully mocked Mathew McConaughey’s ‘flat circle’ monologue until the dialogue,

‘Everything we’ve ever done or will do, we’re gonna do over and over and over again…’

became more a metatextual commentary on our own impulse toward de-contextualised memes than it did the hunt for the monster in the existential labyrinth of the human soul.

Or whatever.

But for me, the best moments in television this year came in the conclusions of two beloved and irreplaceable programs, both of which took their last bow by acknowledging the intimacy and strength of community.

The Legend of Korra was a four-season television epic (a sequel to the sublime Avatar: The Last Airbender) so wondrous that Nickelodeon consistently seemed baffled to know what to do with it. For two seasons they barely advertised the series, for a third they hurried it to air with no advertising at all, burning through half the episodes in a marathon and then yanking the rest to screen ‘online’ in a bold new strategy of anti-marketing. For the fourth season they threw up their hands entirely and decided to just let the internet have at it, leaving room, no doubt, for more decade-old repeat screenings of Spongebob Squarepants.

Korra-next-to-statue

IMAGE: The Legend of Korra (Nickelodeon)

Thankfully the show’s audience were not as incapable of investing in grand, serialised narrative as Nickelodeon believed them to be, and the show was lovingly followed to its conclusion by a grateful fan base who got to see one of the finest evolutions of a character and universe ever rendered in ‘childrens’ programming. Over the course of its run, Korra tackled themes of bigotry, propaganda, anarchy, totalitarianism, terrorism, social upheaval, genocide, and post traumatic stress, all punctuated with dynamic action, sumptuous visuals, and a robust roster of richly drawn characters, any of whom (perhaps with the exception of Mako) could easily have headlined their own show.

I mean, Asami was a female Batman.

A FEMALE BATMAN, PEOPLE!!!

And with its final season revolving around an expansive metaphorical exploration of World War 2, with fascism and the rising threat of atomic weaponry at its core, the show built to an exceptional crescendo that, rather than simply ending with the easy resolve of a villain slain or an army destroyed, instead chose to conclude with a perfect encapsulation of the shows principle mission statement: that compassion and sympathy are our greatest tools for peace.

Not a smack down drag out (although it did deliver some sublime action also), but the willingness to extend oneself with kindness, forgiveness, and understanding – to build a community that is strengthened by diversity, and in doing so, consequentially, to cultivate peace within oneself.

cr_11032_05.jpg

IMAGE: The Colbert Report (Comedy Central)

In a very different alternate reality, The Colbert Report bid farewell in December in order for its star, real-world Stephen Colbert, to move to CBS in 2015 and take over the retiring David Letterman’s The Late Show. But once again – ironically for a show that gravitationally bound to the ego of its fake conservative pundit ‘Stephen Colbert’ – the show instead chose to celebrate community.

Alongside the show’s searing satiric wit, much of its genius can be traced to the real-world Stephen Colbert’s unique and expansive skill set. Colbert is an exceptional improvisational comedian, coming up through Second City and honing his craft for years on The Daily Show, and it has been that skill at sustaining, adapting and evolving a joke, that seemed to inform the show. The ‘Yes/And’ of long form comic narrative allowed it to go wandering to truly surreal lengths: the Sean Penn Metaphor-Off; the Late Night Ice Cream Battle with Jimmy Fallon; Cooking With Feminists; the Shred-Off with the Decemberists; his decade long argument with his mirror-self, his only ‘Formidable Opponent’; the Daft Punk debacle; and his eternal wars with Jimmy Fallon, the liberal bias of reality, and bears.

Not surprisingly then, the finale proved to be an equally epic comedic wandering toward resolution. After faking out the audience for months with allusions to the character’s inevitable demise – ‘Grimmy’ the Grim Reaper was seen lurking around the set, pointing ominously to a dwindling clock, (and one assumes swiping office supplies) – the show made the inspired decision of subverting this expectation and having Colbert – by accidentally killing Grimmy himself – ascend to a state of omnipotent godhood, allowing one of the greatest long-form satiric characters of all time to finally take his place amongst the pantheon of American folklore, ushered into eternity with Santa Claus, Unicorn Abraham Lincoln, and …Alex Trebek?

Okay.

colbert goodbye

IMAGE: The Colbert Report (Comedy Central)

But while riding into the nethersphere of iconography, Colbert’s final act, letting the mask partially slide away, was to send a heartfelt thanks to the ‘Colbert Nation’, the fans and community that were an integral part of the success of his show.

Because as this final episode, taking its last bow, elegantly acknowledged: without the Colbert Nation there would have been no Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear, he would never have appeared, in character, before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, delivered his blisteringly subversive speech at the White House Correspondents Association Dinner, ran for president, or in the saga of the SuperPac (what I personally thought was his greatest achievement), had his audience raise a fund he was able to exploit for practically any insidious, disingenuous or libellous act he could imagine, unequivocally revealing just how corrupt and lawless the entire system of campaign funding and advertising still remain in politics.

The character of Stephen Colbert (‘The T is silent, bitch’) was an egomaniacal blowhard trying to remake the country into his own conservative fantasy, but that character needed – nay, required – a legion of chanting, ecstatic fans, in on the joke and feeding him with ironic adoration that masked a genuine affection.

And as Colbert stated in his climb to the stars, it sure as hell was fun.

Speaking of fun (and hell), videogames too often found themselves structurally and thematically about trying to foster communities (if one can momentarily scrape aside the festering garbage of GamerGate). Even though the majority of my personal videogame highlights of the year were solitary, it is hard to deny that the games of 2014 were marked by a move toward enticing co-operative play, with multiplayer elements intruding upon traditionally solo experiences.

…Even when they probably shouldn’t.

Assassins Creed Unity

IMAGE: Assassin’s Creed: Unity (Ubisoft)

Assassin’s Creed: Unity, the latest in a series fundamentally concerned with being a solo assassin, working aloneone, single, solitary, lone clandestine agent, by himself, against the world, individually (have I built this up enough yet?) – decided that the next logical step in the series’ evolution was to swallow its own multiplayer component and turn the game into a four player drop-in hack and slash fest.

Because teamwork.

Admittedly, despite the game’s subtitle, the single-player option is still there (beneath all the reminders of co-op and companion apps and in-game purchases), but the game’s publishers, Ubisoft, seemed so keen for the world to try their new multiplayer feature that they rushed the game out the door before bothering to nail down a stable frame rate, put faces on some of their character models, fix whatever it is that makes you arbitrarily fall through the streets of Paris into a gaping white abyss, iron out the innumerable visual and audio pop-in delays, or check for game-crashing main menu bugs.

They also decided that every reviewer of the game should be legally prevented from reporting on those myriad problems until a day after the game had been released when it would already have been purchased by eager fans.

…Because teamwork?

But hey, cynics: that’s not because it was an unfinished, glitchy mess, victim to Ubisoft’s now unsustainable yearly-release franchise model! It’s because it’s more ‘cinematic’ that way.

…And no girls allowed.

destiny

IMAGE: Destiny (Bungie)

Bungie, the creators of Destiny, were likewise so sure that multiplayer experiences were the wave of the future that they seemed willing to gut their single player game before release, portion off content and locations for future DLC, and wholesale remove character options and plotlines, bargaining that the lure of frenetic team-based multiplayer experiences would make up for the remaining hollow shell of loot grinds and Peter Dinklage’s mono-droning that now substituted for a story. (And now no one even knows where that wizard came from!)

Then there was Titanfall. Remember Titanfall? The slick, frenetic multiplayer-only mash of parkour and Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em robots from Respawn Entertainment, the team that built and were then screwed over by the Call of Duty franchise. Titanfall may not have been the revolution that many fans had hoped for, and like Destiny, the narrative might feel like little more than an afterthought – an insect buzz in your ear while you are concentrating on not getting shot in the face – but it has certainly already impacted multiplayer shooters, with Call of Duty already peeking over their shoulder for ‘inspiration’. Somewhere that A.I. dog from Ghosts is wiping a tear from its eye with one paw as COD ‘borrows’ Titanfall’s mech-suits, verticality, and futuristic aesthetic, and slaps a grinning Kevin Spacey on the front of the box so that no one has to pretend to be surprised when the character goes full super villain at the most arbitrary moment in the plot.

Elsewhere, Nintendo – whose Wii U console (to put it kindly) has struggled in the past couple of years with low sales almost no third-party support – managed to regain some ground in the marketplace by banking on new iterations of two of their most popular multiplayer franchises, Super Smash Brothers and Mario Kart 8 – again proving that tight, competitive and mischievous gameplay can still captivate. Indie darlings like fencing multiplayer Nidhogg became impossibly addictive. And Blizzard’s unassuming but insanely addictive competitive electronic card game Hearthstone (currently conquering everything from PCs to iPads), redefined and legitimised freemium games.

…Also there was Flappy Bird.

flappy_bird-2

IMAGE: A Bird That Flaps (.GEARS Studios)

I –

I have no idea what the hell Flappy Bird was all about.

…Self-flagellation in a year of self-loathing?

But whatever it was, it too was marked by an element of pop cultural social bonding. People shared this weird little curio with its nostalgic (read: ‘ripped off from Mario Bros.’) aesthetic, frantically competing against each other to better one another’s maddeningly miniscule scores. It was argued over and defended. Trippy little time-waster? Ad revenue peddling trash? Game? Carnival skill tester? Quaint? Evil? It was an unavoidable discussion point in the endlessly evolving debate over the legitimacy and breadth of videogames. And eventually – as is the mark of anything that has contributed for good or ill to the sum total of that conversation – it was soon cloned into an oblivion of re-skinned sludge in the app store.

But the greatest examples of videogaming’s inclination toward the sharing of experiences came not at the whim of a publisher shoehorning in a co-op function, but through social media venues like Twitch and YouTube. Online personalities like PewDiePie have become sensations by inviting people to watch them play videogames (like that cousin who would ‘let’ you watch over his shoulder while he played his third run-through of Street Fighter 2); people share footage of their best speed-runs; first plays can scratch that itch to fire snide commentary at poorly-made games without having to pay for, or suffer through them, yourself.

Then there was Twitch Plays Pokemon – one of most curious social experiments to ever witness unfold, and a wild insight into unfettered groupthink.

It started when an Australian programmer designed a way in which Twitch chat could be used to life feed commands for the Gameboy game Pokemon: Red. The game could therefore be played in real-time, non-stop, to a global audience, who were themselves telling the game what its next moves should be. Soon, an audience of several thousand viewers (at times up to over 100,000) were inputting directions all at once, which the game then tried to play out.

Twitch_plays_pokemon_animated

IMAGE: Screenshots from Twitch Plays Pokemon

And the result was captivating – if utterly bonkers. Strategies were bickered over on the fly. Trolls fought against those genuinely trying to advance the game. An escalating war of moves and countermoves went on behind the scenes to try and get the action on track. Eventually a democratic voting system even had to be implemented so that the game could advance at all.

It took just over a fortnight of unbroken, erratic play for the game to be completed; but even more remarkable than the heartening fact that the project managed to advance at all, what was really surprising was the way in which it revealed, in microcosm, the way in which we human beings like to impose a communal narrative upon our daily experiences.

While the game chugged along, prompted by the live, unpredictable hive-mind breaking, advancing, and testing its boundaries, whole histories and mythologies were soon spawning organically from out of the apparent chaos. On screen, the main character and his menagerie of pocket monsters reacted in skittish, twitchy, irrational ways, but from out of this disorder, a saga began to unfold.

Each Pokemon was given a new name (often sounded out from the alphabet salad punched into the renaming feature), and imbued with distinct personalities and motivations. There were treasured artefacts, sought for and inopportunely discarded. ‘Consulting the Helix Fossil’ grew from a playful justification for the player character’s random selection of this useless tool in battle, to a divine ritual, a consultation with the true deity of this bizarre world, and a battle between gods that inflated into an eternal conflict between good and evil, anarchy and democracy. There was betrayal (‘The False Prophet’ who abandoned them all); heartbreak (the darkness of day eleven, when so many Pokemon were needlessly released as the chatlog repeatedly pressed the wrong commands); loss after loss; but in the end, impossibly, through perseverance and passion, victory was achieved and the journey through a literal chaos, finally validated.

It was a true shared mythology, equally as frivolous and convoluted as it was palpable and portentous; one conceived and made manifest in a marathon improv from contributors (even those trying to troll it into madness) devoted to a singular, communal experience.****

In new media (if you can call a media that’s now at least a decade old ‘new’) the podcast world exploded with the coming of NPR’s Serial, the first real pop culture podcast sensation. A true-crime story helmed by NPR reporter Sarah Koenig, Serial revisited and reinterrogated one real-world murder cold case over the course of multiple episodes. The result was a cultural phenomenon, a series that harkens back to the days of early radio in which families would crowd around to hear the latest instalment of their weekly shows, stirring the same kind of audience dialogue (and somewhat muddled demands to beware of ‘Spoilers’) that would usually accompany a critical darling HBO series.

Much has been made of the debate that the show has triggered about whether or not Adnan, the man convicted of killing his high-school girlfriend, was guilty. Several publications (most notably and hypocritically The Intercept this past couple of weeks*****) have criticised Koenig for showing undue bias toward Adnan and thus stirring up an army of online armchair detectives; but at its core, at least in my experience of it, Serial was never about finding some exonerating piece of evidence, or advocating on anyone’s behalf.

Sarah Koenig by Meredith Heuer

IMAGE: Sarah Koenig (Meredith Heuer)

Koenig’s twelve episode journey was a staggered documentary investigation into the layers of a presumed slam-dunk conviction that exposed, as those layers were peeled back, some troubling implications for the case and the American legal system as a whole – despite whether Adnan ‘did it’ or not. Its why Koenig anticlimactically never comes to a decision on whether she believes Adnan is ‘guilty’; why so many who followed Serial remain convinced he is a murderer and why so many others are baffled that anyone could consider him a suspect at all.

What Koenig was instead exploring was the way in which the machinations of the justice system can all too often be clouded with the frailties of human perception. How notions of ‘truth’, ‘justice’, and ‘proof’ are prey to our imperfect memories, biases, obfuscations, and self-interests. Whether Adnan was a charming psychopath or a kid screwed over by an incredibly unlucky series of events, it was the process of his trial and sentencing that was really the focus, one that, when light was thrown upon it raised a lot of troubling questions – from shifting witness testimony, questionable prosecutorial conduct, negligent representation, and untested DNA – no matter what the ultimate result.

And perhaps that is one of the best symbolic representations of the curious nature of 2014, and its tendency toward the makeshift community of the hashtag. Serial was a podcast that, by the very nature of its medium, was designed for individual people to download and listen to it privately, in their own time, to make of what they will. Instead it triggered communities. Not only the most downloaded podcast in history, it gave rise to sprawling group discussions in Reddit and forums, resulted in listening parties, handwringing speculation about ‘trial by audience’ in the press, inspired people to fund a school scholarship in memory of the victim, and to flood Twitter with a torrent of conversations punctuated with everything from ‘#freeAdnan’ to ‘#MailKimp’.

Throughout the year the hashtag became an avenue for society to voice publically some uncomfortable issues that have perpetuated for generations. In September, in order to bring awareness to the prevalence of domestic violence, thousands of women used the hashtags #whyistayed and #whyileft to discuss their decisions to remain within or escape abusive relationships. After Emma Watson’s address to the United Nations, in which she spoke hopefully about a future in which both men and women work together toward equality, the hashtag #HeforShe went viral. And in July the seemingly irresolvable conflict in Israel and Palestine had a moment of – even if only fleeting – hope when the hashtag #JewandArabsRefuseToBeEnemies was shared across the globe.

It was also a outlet through which many could express grief, or acknowledge loss. When cricketer Phil Hughes died after a freak bowling accident on the field the hashtag #PutOutYourBats became a communal signature of condolence. Celebrities like Robin Williams, Harold Ramis, Elaine Stritch and Philip Seymour Hoffman were remembered in outpourings of memories from their life and work. And poet Maya Angelou’s final tweet before her death in May was a fitting, elegant farewell, re-Tweeted by almost a hundred thousand fans in thanks:

Maya Angelou Final Tweet

Finally, in the last few weeks of the year, Hashtags proved themselves to be a means of expressing the very best impulses in humanity.

On the 15th December, a lone gunman held eighteen people at gunpoint in a cafe in Sydney’s Martin Place. What unfolded was a lengthy hostage standoff that the media soon began misreporting to be a ‘Muslim Extremist’ action. In particular, Rupert Murdoch’s fear-mongering, sensationalist rags, despite having absolutely no evidence with which to back up this speculation, declared it an ‘ISIS death cult attack’, trying to tap into a terror that far too many Australia’s politicians have likewise preyed upon in the past decade and a half, that ‘Muslim’ is somehow a synonym for ‘terrorist’. (Murdoch, like some kind of Twitter carrion bird, later even gleefully used the whole incident as advertising for his paper’s bloodthirsty fatuousness.

illridewithyou

IMAGE: #illridewithyou

But in spite of this prejudicial reporting and fear-mongering, the public decided to respond in a kinder, more inclusive way. Fearing that people of the Muslim faith might be harassed the next day by ignorant, angry commuters that had been stirred into a xenophobic spin, a hashtag, #illridewithyou, started up over social media. People shared their public transport timetables and details, offering to be a friendly companion for anyone riding on those trains and buses and ferries who might otherwise be feeling alone or targeted. Rather than being some territorial mark of identity, or prideful sign of exclusivity, #illridewithyou was an invitation, a promise. It offered solidarity and support in the face of prejudice and fear.

(Murdoch’s papers, of course, were swift to sneer at the whole thing as another ‘left-wing’ conspiracy of superiority – the usual nonsense – all while conveniently failing to mention either their own inflammatory misreportings or their boss’ ghoulish gloating.)

There’s no denying that this year was rough.

Atrocities went on around the world seemingly unchecked. Almost three hundred school girls and women were abducted by terrorists in Nigeria. School children were slaughtered by Taliban gunmen. Sunni extremist group ISIS seized control of much of Iraq and Syria. There were beheadings. Slaughters. An Ebola epidemic swept through West Africa. We saw new Cold War sabre rattling as Russia ignored international outrage at their invasion of Crimea and Ukraine. Multiple (multiple!) commercial airplanes went missing or were shot from the skies. Horrible racial injustice seemed not only entrenched, but was aggressively defended by many in power or in the media. A group of artists and critics were demonised and terrorised because of their gender. If the FBI is to be believed, North Korea successfully threatened an entertainment company into forgoing its freedom of expression.

Like something Shakespearean, even society’s clowns didn’t seem to be safe: Joan Collins died, Bill Cosby was disgraced, and, again, Robin Williams, a man who delivered endless delight to others, lost his own battle with crippling despair. Then, right before the holidays, everyone learned that the United States, self-described beacon of freedom and democracy, has had its CIA engaged in, and consistently lying about, a horrifying, ongoing campaign of torturing war prisoners.

And in case that didn’t haunt your dreams enough, Dick Cheney emerged from his Darth Vader egg tomb to cynically evoke 9/11 to the news media again, show no remorse for even the innocent people that have been brutally tortured – in some cases to death – and proudly declare that he’d be happy to implement such systemic violations of the Geneva convention again ‘in a minute.’

So… Merry Christmas?

Dick Cheney Still Cheering for Evil

IMAGE: Dick Cheney on Fox News (Fox News)

A lot of the time, 2014 really did suck.

But in spite of all this – sometimes as the only way of dealing with it – it also proved itself to be a time in which people sought out one another for comfort. Tried to make them laugh. Tried to remind them that despite everything going on around them, they weren’t crazy, and they weren’t alone.

This year reminded us that, sure, the internet can be a cesspool of inward looking bias, an echo chamber of hatred and misinformation and conspiracy and cruelty, but it can also be a mass of firing synapses, linking us in incomprehensible, inspiring ways. People riffing on the day’s events in 144 characters or less; swapping personal stories in comments sections; commiserating in blogs; collaborating on research in Google docs; breaking stories in Reddit; angling for social change on facebook; fighting censorship on YouTube; turning eight seconds into surrealist vaudeville on Vine; desperately hoping that MySpace is still a thing on MySpace.

We have now stretched out into the vast, wild nothingness of the internet, a space untethered from location and time; one in which we can bring with us as much or as little of ourselves as we like.

Sometimes this means that people, freed from the responsibility of identity, can act like raging, abusive, trolling lunatics, but other times, those times in which social media reveals itself to be a fount of collaboration and conversation, the hashtag can be a symbol of so much more. It signifies a space in which we can dare to get giddy about Star Wars again, or to grieve the passing of those who inspired us, or to giggle at memes that we all know are ridiculous, but that momentarily lighten our psychological load.

And so, for me anyway, this year finally showed what that hashtag actually represents.

The hashtag is the best and the worst of us, all our impulses and yearning for community collapsed into metadata key. Four lines, intersecting across one another, gaining strength from that support. It represents not just some longing to shout our existence into the nether, but to be heard and to hear others. To remind ourselves that, despite the darkness, there are others out there eager to huddle closer to the light.

hashtag

* Seth McFarlane pledged one million dollars to the cause, continuing to mess with my mind by endlessly ping-ponging between heroism and villainy. Million dollars to literacy? Good. Million Ways To Die In The West? Unmitigated evil. Being the principle producer on the return of Cosmos, one of the year’s greatest joys? You are a ray of sunshine. The Simpsons/Family Guy crossover? You are a monster who must be stopped.

** Note: These are points that South Park made, albeit far more elegantly, in their two-part season finale episode. Does anybody but me care that I wrote the first draft of this before the episodes aired? No? I just sound sad and defensive? …Fair enough.

*** Someone else might want to throw Damon Lindelhof’s new show, The Leftovers, into this list of great new shows, but after LOST, the idea of another Lindelof-run mystery-bait premise about broken souls yearning to understand themselves means I’m already out.)

**** For anyone interested in reading an account of the narrative that unfolded in Twitch Plays Pokemon, you can find a grand one here.

***** Two of The Intercept’s reporters, in an act of extraordinary hypocrisy, recently published two interviews – one with the original prosecutor of the case, the other with the prosecution’s star witness – and then used these accounts to try and discredit Koenig and Serial as being disingenuous, unethical, sensationalist, and derelict in their journalistic obligations. They felt so strongly about this that they published a lengthy introduction to the interview with the prosecutor in which they declared all questions of Adnan’s guilt to be moot, and Koenig to have lied about trying to contact the prosecutor for an interview. They then proceeded to leap on to Twitter to rile up anyone who might take issue with their work and even distastefully try to use the murder victim herself as a cheap emotional ploy to avoid criticism. It was a weird little tantrum meltdown so baffling that even other reporters had to step in to question their self-aggrandising ‘trolling’.

Meanwhile, the fact that they were basing all of this solely on the accounts of two people who had every reason to paint themselves in the best possible light, that their reporting made several factual errors, that they edited a direct quote to misleadingly make it work to their own damning narrative, that it was they (not Koenig) who was creating a media spectacle out of the principle witness by revealing his name to the world and giving out personal information that was never revealed in Serial, and, astonishingly, that their own two witnesses were now openly contradicting one another’s stories (the witness having admitted that much of his court testimony was a lie – something they let pass without even a follow up question to the prosecutor), made their petulant grandstanding about Koenig’s supposed failings as a journalist all the more farcical.

Vargas-Cooper in particular even went so far as to give her own interview to The Observer, again failing to see the mind-boggling hypocrisy of trying to make herself the story while chastising Koenig for apparently doing the same, and describing those interested in the case as ‘delightful white liberals who are creaming over This American Life‘. The hubris was staggering, and one presumes an embarrassment to The Intercept.

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‘Hashtag! We’re It’: 2014, A Retrospective (Part 1)

Posted in criticism with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 1, 2015 by drayfish

Firstly, my apologies for the long delay in posting. Life intrudes. Sometimes life intrudes in truly horrible ways.

Secondly, I’m sorry for the length of what I am about to inflict upon you all. I swear, this began as a two paragraph review of a movie (my ‘movie of the year’, as if anyone cared) then grew out into an overview of the year’s cinema (because how else would I cram in more pissy comments about Michael Bay?), and finally morphed into a whole rant about the year itself. The good, the bad, and the Flappy Bird.

I’m not even going to pretend that it’s worth reading. It’s long, and convoluted, and needlessly tangential (just look at this intro; seriously, what is wrong with me?) But if you can be bothered: this first post will be about the depressing stuff, a selection of some of the grim social gloom that’s hung over the year. The next one promises to be more upbeat.

But before we get to the fun, let’s get to ripping off that bandaid…

hashtag

2014: The Bad Stuff (A Misleadingly Small Selection)

So it’s that time again, a time when, as inevitable as the turning of this old world, self-righteous blowhards like myself decide to arbitrarily look back upon the previous twelve months and make grand, sweeping, laughably unsubstantiated declarations about the year that was. …And since this coming year is 2015, it will inevitably contain some kind of lazy Back to the Future reference.

You may recall that last year, with my complete lack of any power, I declared it the ‘Year of the Selfie’ – which basically meant that I presented a bunch of tortured connections between film, games, literature and the news, and tried to argue that society was in a burgeoning state of self assessment.

I argued that texts like Tomb Raider, Man of Steel, and whatever the hell Baz Luhrman was trying to say with a 3D Great Gatsby film, were evidence that, as a culture, we were all trying to reassess ourselves and our personal moral codes amidst a miasma of new social media, the knowledge that the government was actively and aggressively violating our privacy for the sake of security, the dread of continued racial injustices like the shooting of Treyvon Martin, and the arrogance of Microsoft’s decision to make the Xbone its own private NSA Elf on a Shelf, sitting in your house monitoring you incessantly. Whether you wanted it to or not.

But this past year, if I were presumptuous enough to bother making some more lazy generalisations (I am), I would argue that instead of singular selves, crying out into the cyber stratosphere to assert our existence, this year appeared to be more about forming social communities from out of the void. Rather than individuality, in 2014 we sought out like-minded souls, taking comfort in the confirmation of others. Social media was embraced, and sometimes weaponised, as a means to reach others, to voice concerns, to offer support, to plead for more.

The hashtag suddenly became a kind of social adhesive, indicating one’s contribution to worldwide conversations, signalling the subscription to a cause or particular beliefs, or to keep ironically hashtagging ‘#FirstWorldProblems’ so that people hate you. Indeed, the hashtag was so ubiquitous that in June it was added to the Oxford English Dictionary.

Sometimes this longing for community emerged in truly ugly circumstances, however, and perhaps the most regrettable example arose in the swirling Lovecraftian horror of Gamergate.

Colbert Report Gamergate

IMAGE: The Colbert Report (Comedy Central)

It’s a nightmare I’ve already addressed, but to summarise briefly: Gamergate was originally triggered by an hysterical, ex-boyfriend, Eron Gjoni who, in a spiteful act of vengeance, decided to try slut-shaming his ex-girlfriend, an independent games developer named Zoe Quinn, online. Gjoni published a rambling, slanderous rant in which he accused her (amongst most anything else he could) of sleeping with games journalists for good reviews – an accusation that has already proven untrue.

Gjoni’s private meltdown was soon fanned into a blaze by conspiracy theorists and angry misogynists like King of Pol (who has since had some troubling things to say both about the holocaust and his Gamergate brethren) and Sargod of Arkkad (who uses some highly suspect editing to bolster fatuous arguments, and who would very much like it if the women folk would quit complaining). But it really kicked into gear when it was shamelessly co-opted and exploited by cynical sociopaths like ‘journalist’ Milo Yiannopoulous, who dressed it up as the tip of an iceberg of corruption in the games media and assigned himself the status of messiah.

To digress for just a moment, Gamergate can probably be best understood by examining these two principle figureheads of the movement (if one sets aside Adam Baldwin, who appears to have gone insane). Because on closer inspection both Eron Gjoni and Milo Yiannopoulous prove to be paradoxical and problematically hypocritical figures.

Gjoni, although desperate to attract as much attention to himself as possible (eliciting sympathy to paint himself as a victim at the very moment he is using it as a weapon of revenge to destroy his ex-girlfriend’s life) is swift to erupt in rage as soon as it impacts him negatively in any way. Meanwhile, in his only interview he is unable to even explain the point of the maelstrom he knowingly stirred up. He ping pongs from regretting what he did to regretting absolutely nothing; being disgusted by the movement, to being immensely proud of it; wanting to apologise for numerous women harassed as a result of his false allegations, but not really because other people (anyone who’s not him apparently) need to be responsible for their actions… or something…

Yiannopoulous, on the other hand, was a guy who only a month previous to jumping on the Gamergate bandwagon, had dismissed anyone who played videogames as sad, lonely ‘weirdoes [in] yellowing underpants’ playing out fantasies of rape and murder, who ‘need therapy and their internet connections taken away by mum’. A year earlier he had declared the ‘teens and man-children addicted to these immersive video games’ who ‘support a multi-billion dollar video games industry’ to be ‘an awful lot of unemployed saddos living in their parents’ basements’.

And yet, having seen an opportunity to use this enraged mob as an army in his own hateful anti-feminist culture-war (a crusade that even a cursory glance back at his bibliography of vile screeds reveals he has been waging for years), he suddenly, miraculously, underwent a conversion. Overnight he embraced the videogame medium so devoutly that he was soon slandering Zoe Quinn as a mastermind of fraud and sleaze in an industry he now claimed to care deeply about – despite the fact that she was innocent of every charge he brought against her – and he felt justified belittling critic Anita Sarkessian’s right to express any views on the medium – despite the fact that she has been exploring games far longer than he has, and has never used anything like the denigrating language he repeatedly employed to sneer at the people who play them.

Indeed, Yiannopoulous’ bias and insincerity is so overt that often his work reads like broad farce. Within this article, a shambolic tirade of specious ‘facts’ and paranoid hyperbole, he literally describes Zoe Quinn as a soft core porn actress, a rapist and a murderer; calls Brianna Wu a lying, delusional, ‘dishevelled, psychologically unstable transsexual’; and accuses Anita Sarkeesian of being a ‘marketing scammer’ who knows little about games and who has exploited this situation for her own fame (remember, he’s talking about Sarkeesian here, not himself); all while imploring his fellow GamerGaters to not resort to ‘personal attacks’, and to only tell ‘basic truths’. The hypocrisy is so brazen it is breathtaking.

milo yiannopoulos kernel editor

IMAGE: Milo Yiannopoulous (Richard Saker/The Guardian)

Unsurprisingly, if you do bother looking up some ‘basic truths’ on Yiannopoulous they paint a rather unflattering picture, as he appears to be no stranger to corruption and exploiting people himself). To quote Yiannopoulous: ‘This is the pantheon of self-promoters, opportunists and oddballs who have made gamers’ lives a misery over these past few months.’ Presumably it was only by accident that he left himself off that list.

Anyhoo.

For a time, many people who weren’t prejudiced, self-serving lunatics also got caught up in Gamergate’s ‘ethics in games journalism’ rhetoric. This was because Gamergate was exploiting a genuine sense that there has been, and remain, issues of corruption in the games media that have gone unaddressed for years. Issues like: the influence of multimillion dollar publishers upon editorial policies; the seedy grey area of promotional consideration disguised as commentary; underhanded marketing practices like shipping unfinished products and preventing reviewers from warning customers away.

Unfortunately, it seems Gamergate never really was about combating such corruption – as has been shown by their lack of interest in any of the genuine instances of shady business practices in recent months (remember all the protests over Ubisoft embargoing reviews of Assassin’s Creed: Unity until after the game was already on sale? …yeah, didn’t think so). Meanwhile even further women in the industry continue to be targeted with threats and harassment (even though that supposedly was never the point…), and the leaders of Gamergate have descended into an internal death spiral of recrimination, intimidation and overt fraud. It turned out that ‘ethics in journalism’ really was just a catch cry used to deflect attention from the actual agenda of the movement, primarily the demonization and harassment of female programmers and critics, and anyone who could be slapped with the pejorative ‘Social Justice Warrior’ label.

And so, as the weeks have ticked by, support for the movement has steadily waned, with those who had employed the sister hashtag #NotYourShield – supporters who were often women and members of the LGBT community (the few who weren’t sock-puppet accounts of course) – coming to realise that they were ironically being used as a shield anyway, only this time for the zealots in Gamergate.

To many, myself included, Gamergate proved to be just an ugly, sorry con-job waste. For the miniscule positives that it achieved (scaring a couple of game websites into writing up a list of ethical practice guidelines), it was blithely destructive, self-serving, and responsible for actively misleading countless participants who believed they were agitating for a change to coercive advertising practices, not to serve the paranoid delusions of some fear mongering culture war. And it goes without saying (but is worth saying loudly anyway) that nothing can be said to justify the dehumanising abuse and threats of rape and murder that came to signify the movement.

But in a far kinder light than it ultimately deserves, what Gamergate proved is that people are willing to join together into likeminded communities if they feel that something they love is being threatened, or if they believe they can petition for change. It’s just as shame that those who may have really wanted to appeal for more ethical practice in games coverage were able to be exploited and shouted over by those pushing their own anti-feminist, anti-Social-Justice-Warrior, anti-criticism agenda.*

Elsewhere, hashtags were a means of reviving buried stories and compelling journalists to question the powerful.

Whatever the truth of the accusations, it is telling that after a decade of little to no attention being paid to claims that Bill Cosby had, over the course of his lengthy career, drugged and raped multiple women (it turns out in some cases this silence was directly engineered by Cosby himself), this was this year that the story finally exploded into the public’s consciousness. And social media, for better and worse, was directly responsible.

The match was lit by comedian Hannibal Buress on stage, with a routine that replied to Cosby’s history of condescendingly criticising younger black comedians with the line, ‘Yeah, but you rape women, Bill Cosby, so turn the crazy down a couple notches.’ There was more to Buress’ routine, and a clip of it soon went viral, with people willing to take up his invitation to Google the name ‘Bill Cosby’ and ‘rape’ and being shocked with what they found.

But bafflingly, at the exact worst moment in which this resurfaced news was circulating through Twitter, Cosby’s web media team decided to invite people to use a program on his site to turn him into a meme. The exact phrase was, ‘Go ahead, me meme!’ and to put it as mildly as it is possible to put anything, the results, shared across the globe as #CobyMeme, were surely not what they were expecting. The onslaught of references to pudding pops, hoagies and violent sexual assault were like a MadLib from hell, vomiting up a disturbingly representative manifestation of the colliding imagery any Cosby fan was now trying to process: America’s favourite dad perhaps being predatory serial rapist.

Cosby-Meme

IMAGE: #cosbymeme (one of the tame ones)

The whole continuing saga has exposed a number of troubling issues in society. Not the least of which is how much bias and ignorance women still face in society whenever rape is mentioned, and how, even after the story was forced back into the public consciousness, a campaign of scoffing and victim blaming soon followed.

Firstly, it’s perturbing that it took a male comedian to speak up in order for this decades-long saga to finally become an issue. Although multiple women have identified themselves as victims of Cosby over the years, the accusations had gone largely unremarked by the mass media – so much so, in fact, that Cosby’s biographer felt no qualms in completely omitting the civil court case of 2005, in which 13 women filed a class action sexual assault case against the comedian, from his exhaustive book.

Predictably, maniacs like Glenn Beck were swift to liken anyone in the media reporting on or questioning Cosby about such accusations as being rapists themselves, but even in more liberal circles, rape was revealed to be a problematical topic that many would rather just ignore. One could look at the tone-deaf, ugly message of Aaron Sorkin’s second-to-last episode of The Newsroom to see the way in which many, Sorkin apparently very much included, would prefer that victims of sexual assault keep quiet about the crime visited upon them rather than making everyone else uncomfortable about the thought that someone, somewhere, might get falsely accused.

And so, although social media became a place where people could openly voice their support for these women and lament at the frequently tin-eared coverage of some news outlets (including CNN reporter Don Lemon’s witless questioning of one alleged victim, in which he literally asked her why she didn’t just bite his penis off, responded to with #DomLemonReporting), it was also a place in which they were tarnished as gold diggers (despite the fact that most have not asked for any kind of money), hungry for fame (despite some of them already being famous and many actively trying to avoid the spotlight), or sexually promiscuous frauds. A disturbing recurring sentiment was that these women ‘knew what they were getting into’, despite the principle theme in each of their accounts being that they were drugged against their will after mistakenly believing they were with someone safe.

The flip side of this social media saturation is that now that the fantasy image of Bill Cosby has been eroded – the one inextricably entwined with loveable, learned, morally upstanding old Dr. Phil Huxtable – it has kicked open the doors on re-examining many other instances in which Cosby has behaved in mean-spirited, unsettling, coercive, or outright deceitful ways – all stories that have previously gone either unremarked, or seemingly kept hidden behind a wall of celebrity privilege.

A more thorough account of the numerous sexual assault allegations being brought against Cosby can be found here, and the full history of the story as it played out in social media can be found here, but whatever the truth of these accusations (although as the numbers of women sharing strikingly familiar horror stories keeps climbing and anecdotal evidence from Cosby’s former co-workers continues to mount, it doesn’t look good), the whole saga has been inextricably bound to social media.

Hashtags gave the story new life when the mainstream press had been willing to let it fade forgotten (a point emphatically expressed by reporter David Carr, who gave an account of his own impulse to ignore these details in the past, and his personal experience being chastised by Cosby); they have presented a window into the real-time damage that these details were wreaking on Cosby’s carefully cultivated wholesome image; and they have offered a venue for people to vent their spleen – whatever their perspective on the story – in a court of public opinion that is simultaneously empowering, therapeutic, and potentially ruinous.

Social media also became an essential space for people to voice their shock and concern over what appears to be continuing examples of entrenched racial injustices in the United States.

After the outrage sparked last year by the acquittal of George Zimmerman, a self-appointed neighbourhood watchman who stalked and gunned down an unarmed seventeen year old African American schoolboy named Treyvon Martin, one would have hoped that such racially motivated deaths would be a thing of the past. Instead, they seemed to have multiplied, with the number of fatal incidents between armed white police officers and young black civilians reaching a despairing crescendo.

Michael Brown Protest

IMAGE: Protest for Michael Brown (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

With an alarming regularity, this last year saw numerous news reports of unarmed black men being killed by armed officers, with the further shock of few, if any, charges being brought against those officers who chose to employ lethal force. To list only a handful of the many such instances in recent history…

August of this year saw eighteen year old Michael Brown shot dead in Fergusson by Officer Darren Wilson. The details of the altercation that led to Wilson unloading his firearm are disputed – Wilson insists that Brown was lunging at him through the window of his car when he first fired, and that he only shot in self defence; witnesses describe Brown being several feet away in the street with his arms raised in submission – but in the end, Wilson had fired twelve shots at the unarmed Brown, leaving him dead. A grand jury decided not to indict. As a result of this verdict, and the appearance of deliberate prosecutorial mishandling of the case, protests broke out across the country, in some instances marching peacefully for change, in others breaking out in violent frustration and met with a militarised police response.

There was also the death of John Crawford in August, shot dead in Walmart for carrying an unloaded BB gun that he was presumably thinking of purchasing. Even though the footage later released shows Officer Sean Williams discharging his weapon literally only seconds after arriving on scene – while Crawford was still talking on his cell phone – Williams was likewise not indicted by a jury. (And just in case the story wasn’t already awful enough, Crawford’s girlfriend was then harassed by police throughout an hostile hour and a half interrogation, during which they refused to tell her he was dead, threatened her with imprisonment, accused her of being on drugs, and tried to get her to say that he brought the gun to the store himself).

In November, Tamir Rice, a twelve year old African American boy playing with a toy pellet gun, was shot to death by a police officer who, once again, had opened fire only two seconds after driving up to him. After the shooting, the boy’s distraught, fourteen year old sister was handcuffed and put into the back of a police car, and his mother was threatened with arrest as she tried to reach where her son lay bleeding to death. And just in case the whole story wasn’t horrible enough, despite the officer who killed Rice, Tim Loehmann, being found unfit for duty two years previous, having a history of ‘dismal’ handgun performance, being overly emotional, and saying that he joined the Cleveland Police looking for ‘more action’, the president of the Cleveland Police Patrolman’s Association, Jeffrey Follmer, still felt the need to go on television and and tell everyone that the killing was ‘justified’. …Oh, and he also thought that a football player expressing his freedom of speech and wearing a t-shirt that asked for justice for Rice and Crawford was ‘pathetic’.

So he sounds like a great guy.

Back in April Dontre Hamilton, another young, unarmed black man was shot dead by Officer Christopher Manney . According to Manney, he and Hamilton got into a fist-fight after he confronted him, and despite being unarmed, was apparently so dangerous that Manney had to shoot him 14 times. Even given Manney’s non-proportional decision to take lethal action, the County District Attorney John Chisholm decided not to press charges.

But perhaps the most disturbing case for how gruesome this year was in the race relations of a supposedly enlightened western society, there was the death of Eric Garner in July. Garner was an unarmed black man who was choked to death by Officer Daniel Pantaleo while surrounded and outnumbered by several armed law enforcement officials.

Garner had just broken up a fight between two other men when he was stopped by two officers who began accusing him of selling illegal cigarettes – meanwhile letting the guys who had been fighting get away. Garner, offended by being accused of a crime immediately after preventing one, asked why he was being harassed, raised his hands, and asked not to be touched. Pantaleo responded by putting him in a headlock – a completely illegal form of restraint banned by police two decades ago – and then proceeded to choke him to the ground so violently that Garner died, literally pleading for help to anyone who would listen that he could not breathe.

And then here comes the really, really unsettling bit.

Because even though the entire thing was caught on videotape (by a local who had already captured footage of police brutality in that area just a week previous), even though Pantaleo had used an illegal, life threatening move on an unarmed man who had not been charged with anything yet and who was not even fighting back, even though the medical examiner had ruled it a homicide, and even though Pantaleo can clearly be seen administering the chokehold on Garner while several other officers assist, pushing his face into the cement footpath and kneeling on his head after he was down, a grand jury decided to not indict him.

He will face no charges.

Protester for Eric Garner

IMAGE: Protester at the ‘We Will Not Go Back March in Staten Island (Justin Lane/EPA)

As a consequence, Garner’s last words, ‘I can’t breathe’, have taken on a whole new meaning, becoming a catch-cry for those who believe that this kind of racial injustice is systemic in the US.

And it is easy, sadly, to see why. That sense of galling, unfathomable constriction, of being crushed by a system that seems engineered to value black lives less than white, where it appears that police are free to kill African American suspects on sight and be exonerated by the legal system after the fact, even in the face of extraordinarily damning evidence – that is a feeling that every African American living in the United States must have to wrestle with every day, and it would have to be choking.

It’s a dread that has been articulated by many this past year, and one hardly needs to search far to hear African American citizens admitting that they feel afraid for themselves and their loved ones in such a climate; but one of the most striking examples for me was Killer Mike of Run the Jewels, who, after the grand jury acquittal of the officer that killed Michael Brown in Ferguson, addressed a crowd before his performance with a stirring, heartbreaking account of how he now fears for the safety of his two sons in a world that doesn’t seem to value their lives as it does others.

It was a powerful, moving speech, that cut through the mainstream media’s usual white noise of sensationalism, where pundits were already busy describing Fergusson protestors as ‘racial arsonists’ or likening them to ISIS, or complaining that Obama was meant to have put an end to all ‘this’, whatever ‘this’ was at any given moment. Killer Mike instead spoke from the heart, as an individual who felt the pressure of that verdict as symbolic of what he had always feared (and which now seemed confirmed) for the future of his family. And not surprisingly, as that realisation washed over him, he sounded like he couldn’t breathe.

It was entirely fitting then that Killer Mike’s message should be disseminated by audience members recording it and sharing it through social media, because as this string of police shootings and brutality on unarmed black men has continued unabated, it has consistently been social media toward which people have turned to digest the horror unfolding in the news. Sharing videos and eyewitness accounts were often the only way in which to counter the narrative being presented by official channels; too frequently it was the only way in which such stories were heard at all.

Hashtags, once innocuous methods of organising fragments of conversation amidst the borderless sprawl of the internet suddenly became a means of showing solidarity and community in the face of the far more dehumanising forces of legal and moral apathy. They were a comfort; a protest; a reminder; a promise.

In a world that seems to be impregnably divided into distinct classes – fans and critics; men and women; celebrities and audiences; black and white; police and citizens – hashtags managed to forge bonds, share experiences, and remind us of the commonalities that unite us rather than the fears that drive us apart.

But it was in our pop culture entertainments that these bonds could be seen rendered in broad, colourful metaphor. So with 2015 looming, I’d like to travel down that road one last time in the next post…

What’s that, you say? The previous sentence just seemed like a really tortured way to cram the word ‘road’ into this cobbled together conclusion?

Well that’s because:

Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need roads…**

Back to the Future To Be Continued

* I want to get off the topic of Gamergate now, because it truly is a horrid subject upon which to dwell, but before I do I want to recommend an article, ‘A Ship Sailed Into Port: On Bias, Controversy and My Friends’ Games’ by Maddy Myers, to anyone and everyone. It’s fantastically well-written and insightful anyway, but the fact that it manages to speak to the hateful, devastating impact of Gamergate, both on the industry and the individuals within it, and to give a nuanced, passionate account of what it is like to be a critic and someone who has had to suffer this pathetic, pointless harassment, makes it extraordinary, and more than just a little heartbreaking.)

** Actually, yes we probably still do need roads. For all the cars and stuff.

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