Someday soon, after the happy warriors of GamerGate have saved journalism, arts criticism will enter a golden new age of objectivity.
That’s the vision laid out by Milo Yiannopoulos over at Breitbart.com, a website now dedicated to chumming the water for aggrieved gamer dudes as well as its usual Palinistas. Yiannopoulos dreams up a future where GamerGate — which he defines as a “consumer revolt against shoddy ethics and bias in video-games journalism” — has unlocked the rarest achievement of them all: “unbiased” coverage of games and game culture.
Of course, writing an “unbiased” review is as hard for a critic as it is for a GamerGater (or Breitbarter) to get through a day without feminists RUINING EVERYTHING.
Yesterday that point was brilliantly, hilariously illustrated by critic Matthew Dessem, a contributor at The Dissolve and Slate. (He’s also the creator of the excellent Criterion Contraption blog, in which he has long endeavored to review every Criterion release ever.)
Dessem has just created a new blog site: The Objective Reviewer, which considers films the way a totally unbiased GamerGater might prefer: with absolutely no thoughts about culture or meaning or anything that distracts from the technological experience. His first movie: Citizen Kane. Like a gamer taking on the latest iteration of some EA franchise, Dessem keeps his take all about the specs:
In its original release, Citizen Kane consisted of 13 thin strips of semi-translucent cellulose nitrate, each 34.98 mm in width and approximately 250 meters in length. On each strip is printed a series of small images — nearly 2,900 in all! Many of the images feature Orson Welles, but others feature Joseph Cotton. Sometimes they wear makeup or costumes. The pictures are not as big as the strip; they are only 22mm wide and 16mm tall. To the left of the images is a continuous drawing of a sound wave. On either side of each image, four rectangular holes have been punched through the strip. Each strip was wound around a disc-shaped metal frame, called a reel.
Dessem examines the film’s technical and critical history:
Small scratches or dust on the strips of cellulose nitrate became giant blemishes on the screen. And the speakers and the sound were not very high quality by the standards of modern filmers. What’s more, the strips of cellulose nitrate were incredibly flammable and had to be carefully stored. This is probably why it was not well received by filmers or critics right away. Still, no one could deny that Citizen Kane made it seem like the audience was watching and listening to people on the screen, and over time its reputation grew. Today filmers recognize it as a masterpiece.
Note that coinage at the end there: filmers. Dessem is reviewing films for “filmers,” a crowd that expects to be catered to. That comes across most sharply here:
Even more unforgivable: although anyone who calls themselves a filmer has a television that is perfectly capable of producing colors, this release is only in black and white. Incredibly, plans to update the film going back to the 1980s have still not been completed; filmers will have to wait for a version that looks its best on their equipment.
Dessem keeps the joke going for 1,500 words or so, and his final breakdown and scoring of Kane (categories: Graphics, Sound, Controls) is gloriously funny — a pitch-perfect parody of detail-minded, point-missing arts criticism. Seriously, check it out.
The Voice caught up with Dessem last night. I asked him what inspired this critique, one of the first broadsides against GamerGate not to focus on the misogyny and hate-speech favored by its most troubled adherents.
“Other people — Leigh Alexander, Anita Sarkeesian, Arthur Chu — are doing great work documenting GamerGate’s toxic roots, and I don’t have much to add there,” Dessem says. “My point was just that even if you take these clowns at their word, they’re asking for something completely nonsensical. Which suggests their motives may not be exactly what they say they are.”
Dessem explains that GamerGaters have championed to him that daft objectivity he satirizes. “Basically, ‘objective’ seems to mean ‘Don’t mention anything that offended you,’ ” he says. (For example: GamerGaters do not want to hear about a game’s use of women as near-nude set dressing.)
“The idea that you should find critics who share your taste and political beliefs and trust their judgment is completely alien to them,” he adds. “One person [on Twitter] explicitly said publications needed to cater to people who didn’t read the reviews but only had time for the score. Other people have made the point that there’s a link here between the 30-minute YouTube ‘proofs,’ the call for ‘objective’ reviews, and a general distrust of the written word. I suppose we can thank Metacritic and STEM education for that.”
By “proof” videos, Dessem might be talking about something like this, in which a GamerGate crusader boasts that his movement has “uncovered rampant incestuous behavior between gaming journalists, indie-game developers, and social-justice lawyers” — but then mostly sputters about what he sees as the hypocrisy of feminism.
It all hangs together because feminists wield immense power in American life — and are the reason the industry keeps crapping out all those miserable Assassin’s Creed sequels.
Breitbart’s Yiannopoulos at least has the wit to assail some of the true problems with games journalism, such as the corrupt relationship between the biggest game developers and those websites that award near-perfect review scores to every AAA release — and then only admit a high-profile release has problems when reviewing its sequel a few years later.
Of course, neither Yiannopoulos nor any other GamerGater has ever explained why those sites and developers are spared the harassment heaped upon female critics and game-makers with infinitely less industry power. Or why these guys seem to think that reviewer corruption is a new thing only happening in special cases involving feminists — haven’t they read Rolling Stone‘s take on Mick Jagger’s Goddess in the Doorway?
Hey, you could do worse than following Alan Scherstuhl on Twitter.
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