Sunday, December 30, 2012

Dear Blizzard

Use of homophobic slurs ahead.

Dear Blizzard,

Do you remember how I wrote to you a week or so ago to ask why you stopped censoring the word "rape" on the forums?

I didn't even realize, at the time, that you'd removed other words from the filter.

For example: fag.

I don't want to repeat my entire argument from last time, but here it is in short: You filtered the word in the first place because it's a disgusting, homophobic insult.  By censoring it, you discouraged your players from using it and signaled to them that it's not an appropriate word to toss around in idle or angry conversation.  By removing it from the filter, you're giving your players license to use the word whenever and however they wish.  "Never mind, go ahead and say it!  It's cool with us!"

You say that you take harassment seriously.  You claim that players aren't supposed to harass each other.  How do you imagine the word "fag" coming into the conversation in a way that isn't homophobic?  In what context do you anticipate players using that word in a sentence in a positive, friendly way?  And does that imagined context counterbalance all of the negative, nasty, homophobic uses?

I suppose that you'll suggest that if we find someone using homophobic language, we should report that person, and you'll handle it.  As usual, the onus is on the players to clean up the community, and you take a step back from responsibility.  You do realize, of course, that we were already reporting people for homophobic language.  We've been doing that all along.  Before, however, it seemed like we had your support in that; you were discouraging bad habits, censoring the most abused words, using your influence to squelch common, egregious homophobia.  Now, we're in this on our own, and if we don't report it, you won't do a thing about it.  You won't even bother to censor the words.  Remind me, again, how much effort that took on your part?

"Just report the offender," you say.  We all know, after all, how responsive and efficient the reporting system is.

I would love to understand the thought processes behind these decisions.  "It was wrong of us to discourage our players from using homophobic slurs and making rape jokes.  We should let their contempt run free!  Who cares if that makes the gaming community even more hostile to marginalized populations?  We've been using our influence to make WOW more inclusive, and that was obviously a mistake!"

The censor works automatically.  It's a "set it and forget it" sort of system.  Why not leave it alone?  Why make the decision to remove words from the filter?  Who had this idea?  Who decided what to include and what to remove?  I certainly don't want to sit down with a list of misogynist terms and racist slurs and see what makes it through the filter, but I would love to know which other delightful little words you've given your blessing lately.

With love,
Frank Lee

P.S. Again, that little problem I had?  Still a problem.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Dear Blizzard

Notice for discussion of misuse of the word "rape."

Dear Blizzard,

Anyone with a subscription to the game can post on the World of Warcraft general forums.  There's no "are you a decent human being" test to pass in order to gain posting privileges.  While the rules state that certain words and behaviors aren't allowed, you know that some posters will break those rules.  So you gave us a profanity filter.

It was one of your better ideas.  Knowing your playerbase as you do, you didn't stick to the typical curse words.  You also included words like "homosexual," because some of your players are homophobic douchebags.  You also included obvious racial slurs, because some of your players are racist douchebags.  You also included "rape."

I was glad that you chose to censor "rape."  Gamers use it often as a metaphor for general in-game violence. Putting it behind the censor indicated that you didn't want it to be used that way, that you understood that to be an inappropriate and harmful use of a word with great significance to victims and their allies.  It seemed as if you were exerting your influence against misogyny.  I appreciated the effort; it's good to discourage the use of "rape" as a win/loss metaphor.

I've played WOW for years and visited the forums for years.  "Rape" was censored to the extent that we couldn't type "grape" or "drape" or "therapist" without tripping the filter, and forum regulars knew that.  It was understood that "rape" was censored.

Suddenly, it's not.

A little while ago, I noticed that "drape" and "grape" weren't censored anymore.  Cool, I thought.  Looks like the filter's more sensitive now, and can differentiate between "rape" and other variations.

And then I read a post where someone claimed to have been "raped by tigers" in-game.

And I noticed that the word "raped" was right there, uncensored.

You removed "rape" from the filter.

I could try to interpret this generously and assume that your reasoning was, "Hey, our players are mature and sensitive people, they don't need to be censored like this, we aren't giving them enough credit."  But we both know that's not true.

No.  No, your playerbase hasn't changed.  The word "rape" hasn't changed.  Common misuse of it hasn't changed.  The only thing that's changed is your stance.

By changing your stance, you're signaling to your players that it's okay to use "rape" as a metaphor.  You're letting everyone know that there's no need to be sensitive to victims.

You were doing the right thing.  Then you stopped doing the right thing, turned around, and said, "LOL!  Never mind!  Ugh, what was up with that?!  Why be so sensitive?  Let's go rape some elves!"

You just gave forum posters your blessing to be more hostile to rape victims (and more hostile to populations already under threat of rape, like women and gay men and trans people, all of whom already deal with plenty of other hostile bullshit in the gaming community).  You just removed that minor check that might have discouraged rape jokes and made some posters and readers think twice about rape as a metaphor.  You've mentioned that only a minority of players visits the forums, but even a small percentage of people in such a popular game is a significant number of people, and those forums are busy.  Even if only a small percentage of players visits the forums, turn that around: how many people reading and posting on the forums play the game?  How will this new freedom to misuse "rape" affect conversations in-game?

It would be one thing if you'd never taken a stance at all.  Instead, you chose to take a position and then reverse it.  In that reversal, you sent a very clear message.  Maybe it wasn't the one you intended to convey.

I hope that you'll reconsider.

With love,
Frank Lee

P.S. That other little problem I have still hasn't been resolved.

Dear Good Men Project

Dear Good Men Project,

I'd never heard of you before Jill at Feministe mentioned you in a series of blog posts I linked to here.  Reading those posts and hearing other people's experiences with you in comments, I came up with a cloudy but troubling idea of who you are and what you're about.

Suddenly, it became much more clear.

Jill posted a link to a Twitter conversation involving one of your people, Tom Matlack.  She called him your "head honcho," and I see that he's named on Wikipedia as your founder.

Here's what he says in the middle of that Twitter conversation:
@sjjphd my privilege? I grew up with nothing. My parents didn't have enough money. You have no idea what you are talking about.
He's speaking with feminists in a conversation relevant to gender studies, and he doesn't understand what the word "privilege" means in that context.

I don't think that you can get very far in a progressive conversation without examining your privilege.  I don't think that a feminist man who doesn't understand what privilege is can actually be feminist.

If you haven't examined your privilege, if you haven't put forth some effort to cast a critical eye over the patriarchy and notice how you benefit from it, then you don't genuinely understand the deeply entrenched systems of oppression operating in this culture.  If you don't understand how men benefit from sexism, or how white people benefit from racism, etc., you don't understand the patriarchy.  Flailing around in social justice or gender studies circles without understanding the basics of the conversation generally means that you're hindering more than you're helping.

Someone who doesn't understand what "privilege" means in this context can't participate in the conversation in any meaningful, productive way.

He absolutely cannot lead the conversation.

Yet Tom Matlack is your founder.

As far as I can tell, he's male, white, and currently quite wealthy.  I don't know him very well, but let's say for the sake of argument that he grew up cis and straight.  As a man, he benefits from sexism.  As a white person, he benefits from racism.  As a cis person, he benefits from transphobia.  As a straight person, he benefits from homophobia.  And when a feminist in a conversation on gender says the word "privilege," his immediate response is: I grew up poor.  I wasn't wealthy.  As if the advantage of wealth is the only advantage of importance.  As if the economic class we're born into is the only privilege of relevance.

He has no idea, then, how being white has helped him in life.  How being a man has been a benefit.  How being cis and/or being straight is an advantage in a transphobic, homophobic society.  (That's not even to get into TAB privilege, thin privilege, and the rest.)

If you don't understand privilege, you don't understand oppression.  If you don't understand the kyriarchy, you don't understand what progressives are fighting for, or why.  How can you ask what it is to be a good man if you don't understand what being a man means in the patriarchy?  How far can that conversation among men progress if you don't begin with a fundamental understanding of your own shared privilege?

It's a truth that the patriarchy hurts men, too.  Yet a man who doesn't realize that he benefits from the patriarchy by virtue of his very maleness is ignorant and needs to approach gender studies from the very beginning.  A man who doesn't know how he benefits from sexism doesn't know what sexism is.

Your founder isn't at the "What does it mean to be a good man?" portion of the conversation.  He's at the "What does it mean to be a man?" portion.

What sorts of men is the Good Men Project for?  How can you invite all kinds of men to the conversation if you don't understand the dynamics of oppression?  If Tom Matlack doesn't understand his own white privilege, how does he include men of color?  How does he reach out to them to share their experiences and discuss their issues if he doesn't understand racism?

Let's go back to the tweet I quoted above.  During Tom Matlack's conversation with other feminists, he said something which drew Sarah J. Jackson (@sjjphd) into the discussion.  It does not thrill me to notice that while the other ongoing conversations overlap, his conversation with Sarah J. Jackson involves no one else.  I wish that she didn't have to go it alone, that others had spoken up with her as they supported each other.

For context, she's a woman of color who describes herself on Twitter as an "Asst. Prof. Researching & Teaching about Media Narratives of Race, Gender & Political Protest."  Here's the comment she replied to and their ensuing conversation.
@hugoschwyzer do you assume all black people are felons since they commit more crimes on average than white people?
TMatlack 15/Dec/2011 08:20:33 AM PST 
@TMatlack This analogy is SO spurious. Please don't use it tom argue ur point if u want POC to have any part in what ur doing. @hugoschwyzer
sjjphd 15/Dec/2011 09:36:51 AM PST 
@sjjphd @hugoschwyzer groups aren't guilty. Individuals are.
TMatlack 15/Dec/2011 10:13:18 AM PST 
@TMatlack men=historically privileged, POC=historically oppressed. Comparing stereotypes 2 make point=inaccurate, unproductive, & ingnorant.
sjjphd 15/Dec/2011 10:22:56 AM PST 
@TMatlack It's cool 2 get caught up in a heated debate but using false racial hyperbole in it? Your privilege is showing & I know ur better.
sjjphd 15/Dec/2011 10:25:04 AM PST 
@TMatlack And that's with all due respect to the arc of what you're doing at GMP. Sensational & spurious discourse helps nothing.
sjjphd 15/Dec/2011 10:26:56 AM PST 
@sjjphd calling all men rapists or all POC criminals equally sexist/racist IMO. I am a white man. Does that make me guilty ?
TMatlack 15/Dec/2011 10:27:36 AM PST 
@TMatlack It is NOT equal because -isms have 2 do w/ the structural power grps historically & contemporarily have over others.
sjjphd 15/Dec/2011 10:30:16 AM PST 
@sjjphd my privilege? I grew up with nothing. My parents didn't have enough money. You have no idea what you are talking about.
TMatlack 15/Dec/2011 10:32:50 AM PST 
@TMatlack Last time I checked men weren't continuously structurally disenfranchised. You're def guilty of is a lack of racial sensitivity.
sjjphd 15/Dec/2011 10:33:13 AM PST 
@TMatlack I was talking about white privilege Tom, it exists and even poor white people can experience it.
sjjphd 15/Dec/2011 10:34:17 AM PST 
@sjjphd btw if you actually look at my writing I have been the taking most on GMP about race and sex tracking, the real stuff not judgement
TMatlack 15/Dec/2011 10:35:07 AM PST 
@TMatlack As a POC who wants 2 support what ur doing at GMP I was simply requesting u not use racially insensitive language to make a point.
sjjphd 15/Dec/2011 10:36:10 AM PST 
@sjjphd read my work on race, prison etc before you go calling me racist please.
TMatlack 15/Dec/2011 10:37:08 AM PST 
@TMatlack I know! Which is why I was suprised u made the comparison u did. I know u know better. Why the defensiveness?
sjjphd 15/Dec/2011 10:37:33 AM PST 
@TMatlack HOLY SHIT I DID NOT CALL YOU A RACIST. I said the racial comparison is spurious, which it is. Your defensiveness is shocking me.
sjjphd 15/Dec/2011 10:39:06 AM PST
@TMatlack & it is possible 4 ppl not 2 be racist & still be capable of saying less than accurate/sensitive things re race. #thoughtyoudcare
sjjphd 15/Dec/2011 10:43:44 AM PST 
@sjjphd I was being sensitive to the many black men in prison who feel they were a victim of racism.
TMatlack 15/Dec/2011 10:47:52 AM PST 
@TMatlack Um? That's not how it came across. It seemed u were comparing black oppression 2 stereotyping of men. Not the same but #Igiveup
sjjphd 15/Dec/2011 10:50:49 AM PST 
@TMatlack 4 the record I greatly respect what u do. Sad u can't hear from a POC & some1 who studies race that ur comparison was problematic.
sjjphd 15/Dec/2011 10:53:58 AM PST 
@sjjphd I don't believe I ever criticized *you*. You tried to educate me on race/gender which I find demeaning since I have my own views.
TMatlack 15/Dec/2011 10:58:29 AM PST 
@TMatlack U find fact men aren't oppressed grp & black ppl are, & my trying 2 alert u in good conscience abt prob w/ comparison demeaning?
sjjphd 15/Dec/2011 11:42:43 AM PST 
@TMatlack #Icantanymore but hope ppl read ur friend Steve's & my pieces on having convos abt race:
sjjphd 15/Dec/2011 11:44:27 AM PST
The entire back-and-forth echoes countless conversations playing out all across the sphere of feminism and social justice.  She points out that his language is harmful to a marginalized population.  She takes pains to compliment him, to soften her critique, to make it a point to acknowledge his efforts.  He replies with ignorant statements.  She tries to educate him and explain what she means (all knowledge he should already have).  He doesn't thank her, doesn't agree with her, but instead explains that he's already got all of this stuff down pat and has been doing the real work on these issues all along ("the real stuff not judgement").  He plays the "I'm not racist" game.  He continues to insist that he's done nothing wrong, that he's entirely in the right, and that he can't be educated.  She continues to try to explain while still offering compliments.  He refuses to listen ("I have my own views").  She gets tired.  He stops responding.  She gives up.

She shouldn't have to work this hard to communicate with someone who considers himself a feminist ("@jennpozner I didn't take it personally. I consider myself a feminist. But apparently that word has many meanings.") and a tireless worker on issues of racism.  He should be her ally.  She starts off with "please" and spends the entire conversation offering him cookies.  She points out, for the record, that she's a person of color who studies race.  She explains all of her points in a way that anyone who's written about race should easily grasp.  Yet he doesn't seem to hear a word she says.  He has his "own views," and he clings to them until he exhausts her and she gives up.

He doesn't know what privilege is, and he doesn't seem to care.  When a member of a marginalized population asks him to reconsider his analogies, he defends himself and argues back without seeming to accept anything she says.  Not once does he agree with any of her points.  Instead, he implies that he's doing the real work while she's not ("the real stuff not judgment" in a conversation where he clearly feels judged), he directs her twice to read his work (when she's already praised his project), he calls her comments "demeaning," and he says, literally, "You have no idea what you are talking about."

He doesn't know the basics of gender studies.  He doesn't know the basics of racism.  He doesn't know what "privilege" is (either the word itself or the general concept).  He doesn't respond well to criticism.

How can the Good Men Project progress when the man at the top thinks that he knows it all already and isn't open to learning?

As I said earlier, if you want talk about what it means to be a good man, you need to start by talking about what it means to be a man.  Part of being a man in a patriarchy means benefiting from sexism.  Understanding how you benefit from sexism means understanding privilege.  You have to start somewhere; try these two posts by Liss at Shakesville.

A final tweet from Tom Matlack:
it's the good "mens" project. women are welcome but the point is to inspire men to be good.
Like many others, I would be very happy to have more good men around.  Most of us would be glad to help.  Many of us have been trying to help.  And when we try, bringing our experience and expertise and years of study to the table, we're told things like, "You have no idea what you're talking about."  Is that really what a "good man" would say?

With love,
Frank Lee

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Dear Rape Apologists

Discussion of rape, rape culture.

Dear Rape Apologists,

At Feministe and Shakesville lately I've seen discussion of a site called the Good Men Project, where rape apologists and friends of rapists and actual rapists are having a lively conversation about how rape is such an abstract thing, and consent is such a tricky thing, that it's easy for good, well-meaning, decent guys to be rapists.

(More on Feministe: one two three.)

Jill and Liss and tons of feminists all over since forever have been discussing and explaining why all of that is bullshit.  As you can see from the linked posts, studies and stats and everyday experience demonstrate that's not how it works.  But here's my question: what about the men?

Yeah, I went there.

You see, arguing on a site called the Good Men Project that "Nice Guys Commit Rape Too" (actual title!) is a really nasty insult to all of the actual good, nice, decent men out there.  Talking about how it's so easy for nice guys to be rapists and how good men slip up, too, lumps good men who've never raped anyone into the same category with actual rapists.

This guy is a rapist:
When I sit down and think about it, it seems like I’ve accepted a certain amount of rape as the cost of doing business, and so have most of the people I know.
Compare to:
Last summer, I was at a party and had two drinks, which is a lot for me because I drink very occasionally (2-3 times a year) and am also on medications that amplify alcohol’s effects. I was half passed out on the couch, and a dear friend of mine, a man who I know has in the past been sexually attracted to me, came in and found me on the couch. What did he do? Did he stick his hand up his shirt? Did he get on top of me? He’d been drinking, after all! No, he fucking got me a glass of water and talked to me until I was awake enough to rejoin the goddamn party.
My brother hung out with a really wild crowd a few years back, and after partying with them one of the roommates told me I was welcome to go crash in the bed downstairs. What he didn’t tell me was that that bed had an owner who showed up a couple of hours later very, very drunk. I woke up to the guy saying “alright!” and crawling in next to me; he threw an arm around my waste, cuddled up to my back and promptly fell asleep. The next morning he brought up the idea of having sex over a glass of water. Turns out the creep who’d told me where I could sleep undisturbed told him he had a girl waiting in his room for him. He wanted to get laid, was informed that he had an invitation for sex, but because he wasn’t a rapist he put the matter on hold till I was fit to respond. He missed out getting his dick wet, but he was also spared the guilt and moral confusion that these accidental rapists claim to be so tortured by.
I drank myself blind when I was young. I drank until I had multi-day hangovers, and I was drinking in bars with other people who were–wait for it–also drinking. Some of these people, in retrospect, almost certainly had drinking problems. They were drunk, I was drunk, here’s what happened: we made stupid jokes, fell off barstools, flirted outrageously. On one occasion, I threw up and passed out in the bathroom (I know, I know: I’m very sophisticated). And yet–I know this is amazing, it’s going to blow your minds–not one of my drinking companions raped me. Not once. Not the bartender who found me in the ladies’ room and drove me home. Not the guy I had a crush on, whom I had to call once to find out how I’d gotten home from CBGB. Not the 6’2″ amateur boxer who was the bouncer. Not any of them.
Your narrative of "rape is a terrible thing that good guys accidentally fall into" and "drinking makes consent too blurry for anyone to negotiate ever" and "mixed signals" and all of the rest of it is disgusting, contemptible bullshit.  The difference between the tales of "I had a wild night of drinking and dancing and good times" and "I had a wild night of drinking and dancing and then someone raped me" doesn't hinge on the number of drinks, it hinges on the number of rapists.

Good guys aren't rapists.  Nice guys aren't rapists.  Rapists are rapists.

As EG explains:
And I’m not saying that all of these guys were good guys. Some of them were real assholes. But you know what they weren’t, at least with respect to me? Rapists. It’s a pretty low bar to clear.
With love,
Frank Lee

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Dear Blizzard

Note for racial slurs.

Dear Blizzard,

I'm having some trouble with your customer service.

The other day, I was wasting time on the World of Warcraft website.  I decided to see what was going on in the PVP world and which classes were on top.  Looking over the top-ranked teams and players, I noticed something deeply unpleasant.

I contacted customer service.  (I'll post my initial complaint in full here, in the interest of accuracy.  I'll break it up into paragraphs for easier readability.  Names in bold if you want to skim.) 
On this page, there are several arena team names which are completely inappropriate and break naming regulations. Rank #21 "iskall suk my deek" from Illidan, rank #22 "purpledrank is fo nagas" from Illidan, rank #23 "We pop Cherrys" from Kirin Tor, and rank #28 "iwnaputmybeefintourtaco" from Stormreaver. While you're posting highly ranked teams for the world to admire, please make sure that they're not a disgrace and embarrassment to the entire community. 
In the 2v2 bracket, rank #8 "shat on ur face" from Stormreaver, rank #18 "Helen Keller VS Traffic" from Stormreaver, rank #18 "cap yo shiz" from Kirin Tor, rank #24 "DAYUM DATASS" from Stormreaver, rank #35 "team nignig" from Stormreaver, and rank #44 "naga needs points" from Illidan.
In the 5v5 bracket, rank #22 "Shytsnmasterbations" from Stormreaver and rank #35 "Fandom Ruckin Comp" from Illidan.
On the "Rated Battlegrounds" page, there is #9 Jackslowfuk from Blackrock and #15 Rapiesroofie from Mannoroth, not to mention all of the player names listed which end in "LOL" or otherwise break the game's naming conventions. Please enforce your own rules for your own game.
Then I wrote this post.

My support ticket received a reply (my emphasis in bold):
Hey there! 
Sir Game Master Ranlim here. I hope this message reaches you in good spirits!  
Thank you for taking the time to submit a petition about those arena teams names. At Blizzard, we encourage and appreciate the role of the gaming community in keeping World of Warcraft a safe and enjoyable environment for all participants. ^_^ 
I want to let you know I am going to be personally investigating this mere moments from now! Following said investigation, I will take all necessary and appropriate actions to address this matter, as determined by our policies (which you can see here:  
With the release of Patch 4.3.4 there is another way to report violation that will also provide a detail contextual report that will assist us to take appropriate action on them. This can be done by using the in-game right-click report option.  
To report bad language, a bad name, spamming, or cheating:
1. Right-click the player's name in chat.
2. Select Report Player For
3. Select the appropriate category for your report. 
To report a bad name or cheating you may also right-click report using the player's portrait. To report a player this way:
1. Right-click the player's portrait
2. Select Report Player For
3. Select the appropriate category for your report. 
Thanks again for your help! It means a lot to us. <3 
Game Master Ranlim
Customer Services
Blizzard Entertainment
Great, I thought.  Ranlim's on it.  He'll take care of it.

I waited.

I checked the PVP pages again.

The names were still there.

I re-opened the ticket, keeping it simple:
They're still there.
I came back later.  The names were still there.  I checked my ticket.  (Emphasis mine.)
Helllo :) 
Once again we will need you to do this below in order to action these players as we do not take action on names like this and it needs to be sent in differently. 
Please do the following for the names bellow. 
To report bad language, a bad name, spamming, or cheating:
1. Right-click the player’s name in chat.
2. Select Report Player For
3. Select the appropriate category for your report. 
To report a bad name or cheating you may also right-click report using the player's portrait. To report a player this way:
1. Right-click the player’s portrait
2. Select Report Player For
3. Select the appropriate category for your report. 
While no response to the report will be possible, rest assured that we will investigate and take appropriate action to address the issue as they come in. 
Game Master Pyroidia
Blizzard Entertainment
"Right-click the player's name in chat?"  "Right-click report using the player's portrait?"  Those are in-game actions only; my problem is with names listed on the website.  I made that clear; my initial complaint begins with a link to the arena teams page.  At this point, I began to doubt the sincerity of that soothing "rest assured that we will investigate and take appropriate action to address the issue as they come in."  I was not assured.
Please read my initial ticket more carefully. These are names on the website. I cannot right-click to report names featured on the website; I am not in-game. The first CSR who replied to the ticket claimed to be looking into it. What happened to that?
As you can imagine, after that your customer service representatives began to read more closely and provided more accurate replies.  (Emphasis mine.)
If you encounter such names in the game itself, negatively effecting your gameplay experience, please report them to us. 
We cannot accept such reports from examinations of the armory. The opinion of a realm itself, and players who encounter such names from within the game are the required impetus for our investigation into whether a name is requiring a change or is a vioaltion.  
An additional technical reason for this workflow, is the beta functionality of the armory itself. It is not updated regulary or instantly (even requiring actual characters to log into the game before an update occurs often times), meaning such reports via 'armory hunting' are at times out of date or innacurate.  
Thank you for your time and patience. Should you need further assistance, please hit the Need more help button below. For any game play questions, please consider visiting our official game forums. 
We now have a one stop shop for all your customer service needs. Ever need to review how a petition was handled? Submit one out of game? Stop by your new 'Support' section of Bnet today to see all the new features available! 
Game Master Mykyroro
Customer Services
Blizzard Entertainment
Oops!  No, instead, I was accused of "armory-hunting."

The link I supplied at the very beginning of my first ticket was not to the armory.  I didn't have to "hunt" through anything to see those names.  They're showcased by you in the main body of your website.  They're the top-ranked PVP teams and players featured in the PVP section under "community."  I didn't look them up; you showed them to me.  You offered them for all of the world to see as the kinds of players we should strive to emulate and overcome.

I don't blame the Game Masters specifically.  I don't blame Pyroidia or Mykyroro for their poor customer service.  I blame you and the corporate policies you set in place and the corporate culture you establish.

You should have a watchdog system set up to catch at least some of the worst names.  While I agree with encouraging the use of the "right-click to report" feature, you should allow GMs to accept other kinds of reports as well.  If someone with an atrocious name runs past me in-game and disappears or logs out before I finish right-clicking and reporting, I should still be able to report that name.  How many reports does it take to get a GM's attention?  Names with obvious racial slurs should only have to be reported once before you take action.  I don't believe that your GMs have poor reading comprehension; I believe that they're rushed, harried, overworked, and too intently focused on closing tickets to be effective at their jobs, and I can only guess that it's because you're emphasizing closed ticket rates over genuine customer service.  Do you see why that's maybe a problem?

You rely on your players to clean up the game for you instead of taking an active approach to it yourself.  You install a new feature and then won't allow any other method of communication to be used.  You set up RP naming conventions and then don't enforce them, and when we ask you to, we're ignored.

In the last GM's message to me, I was instructed to "hit the Need more help button below."  Handy advice, but that proved to be impossible.  Someone closed my ticket so that I cannot reply or re-open it.  If I want any hope of action on your part, I'll have to start all over from the beginning.  Is that really the best method of customer service?  Discouraging us until we give up?

I don't know what happened to the first GM's efforts to help.  I don't know why the conversation deteriorated to accusations of "armory hunting."

I do know that "team nignig" is still proudly listed as a highly ranked team, though.  I suppose that's not a problem, right?  According to your GMs, you need "the opinion of a realm itself" to decide whether a name's inappropriate or not, and you couldn't possibly tell, without taking a realm-wide poll, whether or not the name should be changed.

That's the worst of this.  The racist, misogynistic element of gamer culture is loud and proud.  You know that it's a problem, and I would hope that you would want to counteract it, to make cleaning it up a priority.  The more welcoming gaming is to more kinds of people, the more subscribers you'll gain, right?  But when staring proof of it right in the face, when being asked to clean it up, your employees are too busy insisting on irrelevant protocol to help.

That leaves the racism and misogyny of gamer culture featured on your website for all to see.  Because as far as you're concerned, properly filling out form 32, section B, paragraph 5 is more important than censoring racial slurs.

Or do you think that "purpledrank is fo nagas" genuinely refers to the in-game humanoid and "iwnaputmybeefintourtaco" is a compliment?

With love,
Frank Lee

Monday, December 10, 2012

Dear Fearful Men

Dear Fearful Men,

I understand your concerns.

You only want to have a conversation.  You just want to ask a question.  You simply want to make a point.  Yet you know that, as soon as you do, you'll be attacked, piled on, ganged up on, by those terrible, mean, aggressive, violent, abusive women.

So you preface your comment with something like, "I know that I'm going to get hit for saying this, but."  Or you end your comment with, "*ducks*."

And when you see another man say something you know those violent feminists will be upset with him for, you offer him an airlift out, for his own safety.

It's reasonable.  After all, with those violent bands of women roaming the streets, no man is safe these days.  I can't even tell you how awful it is for men to go out in public anymore, with all of the threats, the cat-calling, the street harassment.  Women are so aggressive, so violent, so likely to attack.  And when you men are assaulted, you get blamed for it!  You're told that you should have behaved differently, that women can't help themselves, that it's in their nature to be so aggressive and it's up to you to soothe their savage instincts.

And when you men do manage to speak up about the issue, when you get together to discuss the prevalence of woman-on-man violence, when you share the story of your assault, there those women are again, butting in aggressively, putting their two cents in and adding, "Now, don't gang up on me for saying this, but..."

What do they even mean by that?  Don't they get it?  Don't they know that, statistically and in your personal experience, you're more in danger from them than they are from you?  That they're more likely to assault you than you are to assault them?  What's the point of making a comment like that in the first place?  It's to put you in your place, isn't it?  To remind you to be nice, to be polite, to be sweet, to placate them.  You don't want to make them angry, after all.  You don't want to rile the beast.  You'd better play nice, and smile, and offer them cookies for showing up to the conversation at all.  After all, it's generous of them to try to join in the discussion, to try to help out, when you're the ones with the problem, you're the ones getting hurt, you're the ones who need help.

It's awful, isn't it?  It's ridiculous, when the victims of violence and rape and assault are treated as if they're violent, they're aggressive, they're abusive.  It's entirely backwards.  It's an insult to reality.

If women really wanted to help, after all, if they really wanted to contribute to the conversation, they'd just do it.  They'd approach the conversation with genuine openness.  They wouldn't assume a hostile audience.  They'd understand why they might face a hostile audience, and they'd watch their step accordingly.  They'd do more listening than demanding.  They would acknowledge that, according to the statistics and to your lived experiences, women are much more likely to assault men than men are to assault women, so even joking comments about ducking after saying something that might be received poorly is in bad taste, especially given the topic of conversation.

I guess they're not interested in respectful, sincere dialogue, though.  It's easier for them to accuse you of creating a hostile environment, of blaming you for their lack of participation, of setting up the situation so that you're at fault if they don't want to continue the conversation.

It's a terrible situation.  I hope that they realize what they're doing, someday, and stop it.

With love,
Frank Lee

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Dear Blizzard

Racial slurs to follow.

Dear Blizzard,

The "player versus player" aspect of World of Warcraft involves a large portion of the playerbase.  The game's best PVP players are involved in internationally broadcast championships.  PVP is an important enough part of the game that there's a section of the website dedicated to it.

If you click that link, it'll take you to lists of the most highly ranked PVP players and teams.

A few of the team names listed today:
iskall suk my deek
purpledrank is fo nagas
We pop Cherrys
shat on ur face
Helen Keller VS Traffic
cap yo shiz
team nignig
naga needs points
Fandom Ruckin Comp
(For anyone reading over my shoulder, "naga" is a kind of water-dwelling humanoid creature in the game.  It also just happens to sound similar to a racial slur.)

A couple of the more egregious player names:
I would guess that these lists are automatically generated, but it would behoove you to keep an eye on them. This is a public website, the face of World of Warcraft and Blizzard Entertainment.

Playing on an RP server and running into characters named "Huntard" and "Monkslol" is bad enough.  Seeing "team nignig" on the game's website is a disgrace.

I wish that you respected your game enough to ensure that its rules weren't broken.

I wish that you respected WOW's community enough to help us fight this kind of behavior.

Please, at least respect your reputation enough to take action.  Add something behind the scenes to flag names with certain letter combinations.  Become more assertive about responding to reports.  Read what's posted on your own website.

With love,
Frank Lee

Dear Parks and Recreation

Dear "Parks and Recreation,"

Something pretty terrific happened in the TV world this week.

Leslie Knope refused to call someone a bitch.
"I need to protect a sweet couple from a sex-crazed librarian who makes me question my stance on using the b-word. I dunno, maybe just this once. No, Leslie, fight it. FIGHT IT."
Part of being a feminist means checking your language.  Our culture inundates us with negative stereotypes and negative terms for women.  Being a feminist means policing our language to scrub it of those themes and terms.

Once you've advanced your feminism game, it's easier.  Once you've eschewed those words, you don't find them on the tip of your tongue anymore.  And some of us never used them to begin with.

But for most of us, we go through a phase (sometimes a long phase) where we find it hard not to slip from time to time.  That word is just so fitting and it's just so cutting and you're really pissed off and you know it's wrong but in this one case it seems so, so right.

For some people, the word is "bitch."  For others, it's something else.  You know that you shouldn't say it, but it pops out from time to time.  It's hard to give up; nothing else says what you mean in quite the same way.

But it's important for us to stand firm.  It's important for us not to fall into the easy insults the patriarchy so eagerly recommends.

That's why I love this moment so much.  For one, it rings so true.  That's a real moment, a recognizable moment I know so many of us have echoed.  For another, Leslie doesn't give in to temptation.  She fights it.  She stays true to her principles.

It's easy to have those moments of weakness.  I'm proud of Leslie for standing strong, and I'm proud of "Parks and Rec" for giving us this win.

With love,
Frank Lee

Dear WOW Player

Dear World of Warcraft Player,

You invite someone to group with you.  For the sake of this letter, let's call her K.

K doesn't respond, because she has no idea who you are and doesn't see anyone with your name in her immediate vicinity.

You whisper an embarrassed apology, explaining that you sent the invitation by accident.

(This is odd.  The two of you weren't in the same guild, same zone, or same chat channels.  How did you invite her by accident?  By misspelling her name?  Not likely, not an unusual name during off-peak hours.  By right-clicking her name and hitting "invite" by mistake?  But why would you have had her name on-screen in the first place?  You would've had to do a /who search for people of her level or in her zone or something, and why would you have done that?  The two of you were on different zones in different continents and at different levels.)

She says that it's fine, accidents happen.

You talk about how late it is and how tired you are.  She agrees that it's late and says that she's tired, too.  You mention having a daughter.  You call K "sweety."  Since most players seem to assume that other players are male unless otherwise told, K assumes that you think she's a guy, so you must be someone who calls anyone and everyone sweety.  Since most of the straight men she knows don't call other men sweety, she goes by stereotypes and assumes that you must be a woman or a gay man.  (While she thinks that it would be terrific if straight men addressed other men as sweety, that's not part of K's experience.)

You ask her what time it is where she is.

She hesitates to reply.  After all, she knows not to give out personal information on the Net.  Still, you seem to be some friendly, chatty woman (or a friendly, chatty gay man) and it wouldn't hurt to be friendly in return just this once.  So she mentions what time it is where she is.

You ask if she has a child, too.  She says no, she has a dog.

You say that you're divorced.  You ask whether she's married.  She says that she's single.

You tell her how old you are.  You ask how old she is.  She's uncomfortable with this Q&A on personal information.  She begins to think about how much she's already told you.  You know her time zone, you assume that she lives alone (you've already made a comment about her being "lonely.")  You know that she has a dog, and that simple fact has been used against her before, when someone threatened to harm her dog.  She tells you that she's not comfortable giving out personal information on-line.

You tell her that you understand.  You refer to yourself as male.

She starts to wonder what's really going on here.  You contacted her out of the blue with an excuse she was willing to accept in good faith but which honestly seems very shaky.  You began to call her "sweet" and "sweety" far before you had any indication of her gender, which suggests that you assumed her to be female from the start, but why would you assume that about someone you accidentally contacted at random, when the overwhelming consensus among players seems to be that the default WOW player is a guy?

You began to flatter her early in the conversation, when you knew nothing more about her than that she's a human being who plays WOW, types in complete sentences, and doesn't reply to accidental invitations with, "Fuck off, n00b."

Now you begin to press for her age a second time, after she's already told you that she doesn't want to discuss it.  You push for her to admit to an age range.  When she tells you again that she's not comfortable disclosing that information, you begin to talk about hugging her, inquiring into the kinds of hugs she prefers.

Throughout this conversation, she's tried to be friendly, because she wants to be polite.  She's been told all of her life how important it is to be polite to people, especially as a woman.  She's also been told that it's her responsibility to protect herself from "stranger danger," so she's also been a bit removed, so as not to seem too encouraging.  It's a weird dance and she hasn't been happy with any of her replies; they all seem too forward or too cold.  She can't simply relax and have a good time, because if anything happens, even something so simple as you posting this chat log on-line later for everyone to have a good laugh at, it'll be her fault for not saying the right things in the right way.

She doesn't know who you are or what you want.  You claim to have contacted her by accident, but that doesn't make logical sense.  You continue to push for personal information even after she's asked you not to discuss it.  She has reason not to trust you.

Is it any surprise that she stops replying?

Here's a tip for you.  Act like you want to get to know her as a human being.  Instead of wheedling her age, gender, and location out of her, start with what you already have in common: the game you're both currently playing.  Ask how long she's been playing, if she's into raiding, if she's into pet battles, that sort of thing.  Tell her how you're enjoying the new expansion and which achievement you'll work on next.  Instead of telling her how "sweet" she is after thirty seconds of polite conversation during which you really learned nothing about her except that she's capable of pulling off decent grammar and punctuation, get to know her as a person so that you can learn whether she really is sweet, or sarcastic, or a complex human being with various personality traits which don't all fit under generic assumptions.

I don't know why you assumed her to be a woman.  Maybe it was her character's race, her class, her name?  (Maybe you're the alt of someone she knows, which makes this entire situation even slimier.)  Playing the "accidental invitation" game is conniving and starts the entire conversation off on a bad foot.  Why not be honest?  Whisper people and tell them that you're bored and sleepy and want to talk.

Don't lie to women to get them to interact with you.  Don't press for details when someone has already set boundaries.  Don't drop generic compliments so early they're meaningless.  Treat women like human beings you want to get to know.

The woman you contacted would love to have a boyfriend who plays WOW.  But it's more important to her to have a boyfriend who respects her boundaries.  If you won't respect her limits about conversation topics, she has no reason to believe you'll respect her limits about anything else.

With love,
Frank Lee

Friday, December 7, 2012

Dear Ke$ha

US pop star Ke$ha says she wants to be a gay man because they are 'magical people'.
The Tik Tok singer whose latest single Die Young is out now told Britain's Gaydar Radio that she feels a strong bond with gay men.
Asked if she would like to be a gay man, she answered: 'Are you joking? Yes, I do.'
Ke$ha added: 'There's just an energy to a gay man.
'It's not really comparable to any other people. You guys just exude just this happiness.
'Pretty much my whole touring party, as far as, like, the dancers, it's a lot of gay, beautiful, beautiful men. And they're just gorgeous. And their love of life is amazing. They're just, I don't know, just really magical people.'
-GSN, via
Dear Ke$ha,

I believe that when you talk about gay men being magical, beautiful people who love life, you mean to be complimentary.  I believe that you mean well.

But that was a really harmful, bullshit thing to say.

Gay men are not more or less energetic, more or less happy, more or less beautiful, gorgeous, or magical than anyone else.  They don't love life more or less than anyone else.  They are, in fact, comparable to other kinds of people.  You've created some separate, special, unique category for them, removing them from the general population of humankind, as if they're magical fairy creatures here to be beautiful and celebrate life and sparkle.

Gay men are just people.  Some gay men are old.  Some gay men are ill-tempered.  Some gay men are racist and/or stupid and/or ugly.  Some gay men are felons.  Some gay men are abusive.  Some gay men don't use their turn signals.  Some gay men have disabilities.

On Shakesville today, Liss posted some photos of some of the new couples getting married in Washington and Maryland now that same-sex marriage is finally legal there.  In comments, lizziepet said:
I shared the Buzzfeed link that had the photos of Jane and Pete-e on Facebook yesterday, and one of my friends was like, "Well, that's not what I was expecting." "What were you expecting?" "Not old people." "Because only the young and hip can be queer? o.0"
Do you understand how this is relevant?

You're separating out gay men from the general population and shoving them into a "magical" box.  You're denying them the fullness of their personhood.  They don't get to be irritable or unkempt or unpleasant, like anyone else does.  They don't get to be fat or old or depressed or ugly.

Let people be people.  We talk a lot in feminism about intersectionality, because anything that hurts people with disabilities hurts women with disabilities, anything that hurts people of color hurts women of color, anything that hurts trans people hurts trans women, and so on.  All women aren't minor variations on the same theme, and all gay men aren't, either.

Gay men are people.  Some people are happy, magical, beautiful, energetic people who love life.  Some people aren't.  Pushing "positive" stereotypes isn't helpful, it's harmful.  If you genuinely want to be an ally, you'll stop.

With love,
Frank Lee

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Dear Doritos

Some Crash entries are so unique they deserve extra kudos. We received many whacky (sic) themes from this year's entries, now help decide which of these odd and oddly spirited ads made by you deserve a Nacho Average Ad Award.
-Doritos "Crash the Superbowl" ad-making contest
Dear Doritos,

I was over at Shakesville today and learned that you're hosting a contest!  What fun.  It's great to see you encouraging people to be creative.  I'm sure that your "Nacho Average Ad Awards" have received a lot of terrific submissions.

The spirit of the contest seems to be to have some zany, outside-of-the-box fun, with awards for "Best Glass Shatterer" and "Sweetest 'Stache."  Funky and non-traditional!

Oh, and an award for "Best Supporting Babe."

How very, very traditional.

By "babe," I assume you mean "sexy young woman," since the accompanying image is of a pin-up mudflap sort of shape and there's a separate category for actual babies under "Best Pint-Sized Performer."

You only list eight categories of awards, yet you had to make room for misogyny.  You could have made the eighth category something like "Best Stunt" or "Most Creative Product Shot."  You could have pushed the "wacky" vibe and gone for "Best Use of a Shoe" or "Best Gratuitous Lip-Smacking."  But you went for "Best Semi-Important Hottie."

The most important, interesting role for women, then, is to be sexy.

Men seem to be the default here.  There are awards for pets and infants and "babes," but no role for best dude, best bro, best supporting guy.

The babe is a "supporting" babe, of course.  No main roles for babes here!  Don't take up too much camera time!  The pets, the infants, they might be the star of the show, but we don't want the women to think that they're important, or anything.

What a great award.  Of all of the women who strive to meet the patriarchy's current beauty standard and were shown in Doritos ads but kept largely on the sidelines so they wouldn't get uppity, you were the best.  You were the best!

Sexism.  Misogyny.  Women as secondary, as support.  Women as eye candy.  This is not "unique" or "wacky" or "odd."  This is traditional and old and tired.  We've seen it before, trust us.

With love,
Frank Lee

Friday, November 30, 2012

Dear Chris Brown 2

Dear Chris Brown (again),

In case my last letter didn't work for you, let me try again.

You're hanging out, tweeting, when someone says, "You're a worthless piece of shit."

Naturally, your response is to wonder, "Whoa, what's up with her?"

But then it kicks in: oh, right.

You're probably frustrated.  People keep bringing up your felonious past when you'd rather put it behind you.  It's aggravating.  You feel harassed and misunderstood.

Chris, these aren't simply haters.  They're not antis who jump on you just because you're a public figure.  As I reminded you earlier, it's normal and reasonable for people to talk about your history and to find it relevant.

So, here it is: someone calls you a worthless piece of shit.

You resent the insult, but you know why she said it.

If you don't want to hear it, you can block her.  If you think that she's harassing you, you could contact Twitter and push them to deal with it.  If you're upset, you can employ any of the techniques recommended in anger management.  (I assume that you've been through anger management therapy, or therapy in general.  I also sincerely, not sarcastically, recommend that you go back for more.)  If you want to reply to the insult, you can suggest that her remarks are inappropriate by tweeting back something like, "Hey, I'm just trying to talk to my fans, here."  If you want to address the more general point that you want people to stop bringing up your criminal past, you can say, "I've done some terrible things, and I'm sorry for them, but I deal with that every day.  I'm working towards being a better person.  #secondchances."  That's not 140 characters, but you get the idea.

If you want to trade insults, I'd recommend strongly against it for a dozen different reasons, but you could reply in a tit-for-tat fashion.  She calls you a worthless piece of shit, you call her a untalented jackass, and so on.  Point out that you're more wealthy and famous than she is, something like that.  "Who are you?  #questionfromaGrammywinner"

You skipped all of those routes and went straight for crude, sexual misogyny.

If you want us to believe that your abusive behavior is in the past, that it's all behind you now, that you're not that person anymore, you have to stop being that person.  People have a problem with you because you have a problem with anger management, misogyny, and domestic abuse, and when they bring it up, you react with more of the same.

If you're angry that people treat you like someone who abuses women, stop acting abusive towards women. Work on how you respond to women.  Work on how you respond when you get angry.  Your responses are all out of proportion to the situation.  Your responses are grossly misogynistic.  This is a problem.  You have a problem.  Don't be surprised when someone points it out.

With love,
Frank Lee

Dear Bill O'Reilly and Keith Ablow

Dear Bill O'Reilly and Keith Ablow,

You sat down together on national television to talk about the popularity of Psy's "Gangnam Style" video.  It's hit a landmark number of views on YouTube, and you wanted to figure out why.

If I squint, it seemed like you started to touch on a conversation about the nature of pop music and whether or not the escapist qualities of the Internet and pop culture are harmful.

But in essence, all I really got was five minutes of nonsensical racism.

A few choice moments:
The most popular music apparently is that without intelligible words to some extent. 
So it means nothing but it's got a nice upbeat to it. 
The meaning is that it has no meaning. 
Elvis Presley could sing, he had a good voice, his songs had words.
You don't understand Hangul.  That doesn't mean that the entire language is without meaning.  Psy isn't babbling nonsensically in made-up words.  He's speaking his native language.  The song itself has meaning; you just don't understand it.

Is there a larger discussion to be had about the massive popularity of a song in a language that much of its audience doesn't speak?  Yes.  Did you really have that conversation?  No.

You emphasized the point that "Gangnam Style" is popular on (and largely because of) the Internet, but you didn't think about the fact that people can look up translations of the lyrics?

Look, here's an article from a place you're probably familiar with:
Gangnam is a wealthy neighborhood in the South Korean city of Seoul where young people go to party. In the song, Psy describes the kind of guy he is and the kind of girl he wants, painting caricatures of the ostentatious culture of people who hang out in Gangnam. 
As The Atlantic pointed out in an in-depth article last month, behind the flashy costumes and killer dance moves in Psy's video, there's a subtle commentary on class in South Korea. 
It roughly means something like 'Your man has Gangnam Style.' 'Oppa,' which literally means 'older brother,' is an affectionate term girls use to address older guy friends or a boyfriend. It can also be used as a first-person pronoun, as PSY does here — in this case, he's telling a woman that he has Gangnam style.
Look at that, The Atlantic did an in-depth article!  It's almost as if there's some sort of substance to this song that might be relevant to the video!  As if Psy isn't merely babbling out meaningless nonsense!  Wait, this song has lyrics?  Fascinating!

Then you bring out this lovely line:
This is a little fat guy from Pyongyang or someplace, Seoul.
Maybe you're not familiar with world history.  Or even with national history.  But assigning just any Asian person to just any Asian country is racist.  Further, assigning someone from South Korea to North Korea is culturally insensitive.  They're very different countries, as someone who earns a living commenting on politics might need to know.
There are like sixteen guys named Sy on Long Island that I could tell you about, they don't look like him.
Now you're mocking his stage name?  Laughing over the fact that people of Asian ethnicity don't look like people of Italian ethnicity?  "Ha ha, he has a stage name, ha ha, he's Asian, ha ha!"  Fantastic political commentary, there.

You spend some time talking about Elvis Presley.  You end up arguing that Elvis Presley, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and Justin Bieber are real musicians with real music, while "Gangnam Style" is utter nonsense and Psy makes meaningless music.  As if the popularity of "Gangnam Style" marks some historic turn where pop culture deteriorates from talent and substance to nothingness.

This kind of pop music: interesting, meaningful
That kind of pop music: nonsensical, meaningless, potentially harmful and dangerous to civilization as we know it

This kind of pop musician: talented, can sing, can dance
That kind of pop musician: no talent whatsoever

This kind of pop music: in English
That kind of pop music: in Hangul

This kind of pop musician: white, American/English/Canadian
That kind of pop musician: Korean

You spent five minutes saying racist things during a discussion predicating on the idea that "Gangnam Style" is a song without meaning.  Are you also upset that Shakira randomly lapses into garbled babble-speak as well?  Are you also worried about the sanity of those deluded opera-goers who are so fond of meaningless babble-music?

It's not in English!  I don't immediately understand what it means!  Therefore it is devoid of all substance!

It's not in English!  Therefore it is nonsense!

I don't understand it!  Therefore no one else does, either!

The two of you are not the center of the universe.  A wonderful and vibrant world exists beyond you.  Some people speak Hangul.  Some people like Korean pop music.  Some people know how to look things up on the Internet.

If you want to talk about pop music as escapism and whether or not Facebook is bad for society, have that discussion.  Leave the racism out of it.

With love,
Frank Lee

Dear Chris Brown

This post contains discussion of misogyny, sexual violence, sexual humiliation, and death threats.

Dear Chris Brown,

Here's something a fan of yours said recently:
Rihanna forgave him, they made up if they can get over it so can everyone else who it does NOT concern!!!!!!!!
Here's something similar from you:
"Just ask Rihanna if she mad??????"
This idea appears to be popular among you and your fans.  It seems as if you and Team Breezy want to believe that the problem, if one exists, is between two people: Chris Brown and Rihanna.  Therefore, the argument seems to go, if Chris Brown and Rihanna say there's no problem, there's no problem, and everyone else should stay out of it.

No.  See, you're a felon.  In a court of law, you were deemed guilty of committing a felony.  It wasn't a civil case, Rihanna v. Chris Brown.  It was People v. Christopher Brown.  The people of the state of California are the ones legally involved here, but since California is a state in the larger country, I think that the entire nation has some interest in the situation.

You didn't break Rihanna's laws.  You broke California's laws.

It's okay for Californians to be upset with you.  They follow those laws.  They vote people into office to write those laws.  They pay taxes to fund the upholding and enforcing of those laws.  The rest of the country has a vested interest in how every state's justice system works.  You committed a felony.  It's normal and reasonable for people to be unhappy with you over it.

It's not as simple as you having a fight with your girlfriend.  It's more serious than that, and we're treating it as such.

Is Rihanna mad?  I have no idea how she feels about it, and it's really none of my business anyway.  Are the people of the state of California and the larger United States of America mad?  Well, they certainly have every right and reason to be.

Let's move on to the specific incident to which the tweets above relate.  Here's the conversation as I see it:
Chris Brown: I look old as fuck! I'm only 23... 
Jenny Johnson: I know! Being a worthless piece of shit can really age a person. 
Chris Brown: take them teeth out when u Sucking my dick HOE.
Jenny Johnson: It's "HO" not "HOE" you ignorant fuck.
Chris Brown: I should fart while ur giving me top. "Seize the day" #CarpeDiem
Jenny Johnson: Your mom must be so proud of you.
Chris Brown: see.. I don't even have to tell u what u already know. Thanks HO! #bushpig
Jenny Johnson: [link to this article] #SuckIt
Chris Brown: mom says hello... She told me not to shart in ur mouth, wanted me to shit right on the retina, ....#pinkeye
Jenny Johnson: YOU FLIRT!!!
Chris Brown: Let me leave this bitch alone... It's good to know my worth by listening to a bitch that is worthless! #iwin #bushpigswag
Jenny Johnson: Okay. I'm done. All I got from that exchange with Chris Brown is that he wants to shit and fart on me.
Chris Brown: Further proved my point of how immature society is. #CarpeDiem
Chris Brown: To teambreezy... Know that I'm not upset. Just felt like entertaining the ignorance. These bitches crazy..
Chris Brown: Back to life...
Jenny Johnson: I have zero respect for a person who seems unapologetic for the terrible crime he committed and shows no signs of changing.
Chris Brown: Just ask Rihanna if she mad??????
I hardly know where to begin.

Apparently Jenny Johnson is a professional comedian.  She's tweeted you before, but this is the first time that you've responded.

I expect that by now, you've realized that although you'd like to put your felonious behavior behind you, some people insist on bringing it up and acting as though it's relevant.  (It is.)  I imagine that sometimes you get frustrated at their comments, reminders, and digs.  How you respond when you become angry, and particularly how you respond to women when you become angry, is very relevant to the actual felony you committed.  Abuse and domestic violence are part of larger patterns of behavior.  While you'd like us to think that your violence with Rihanna was an isolated incident, that's simply not how human psychology works.

So, instead of following these handy steps or perhaps reporting harassment to Twitter, when someone called you a "worthless piece of shit," you replied with nasty sexual aggression and misogyny.

Here are the insults she threw at you:
worthless piece of shit
ignorant fuck
Your mom must be so proud of you.
You replied by talking about her sucking your dick, talking about her being toothless/removing her teeth in order to service you sexually, talking about her sucking your dick again, talking about shitting in her mouth, talking about shitting on her eye, calling her worthless, calling her immature, calling her ignorant, calling her a whore twice, and calling her a bitch three times.

Do you see the theme of woman-hating sexual violence here?

When a woman angers you, you use specifically misogynistic slurs.  You try to put her in her place by describing her servicing you sexually.  You try to shame and humiliate her by talking about voiding your bowels in her face.  Your replies hammer home the message: Your gender is all that matters.  You're a woman, therefore I'll use you for my sexual fulfillment.  I'll humiliate and degrade you while you pleasure me.  You're a whore and a bitch.  It's an outpouring of sexualized misogyny.

You said all of this knowing that you were in a public place.  Knowing that your words were easily recorded and spread.  Knowing that your fans were avidly listening.

You claim that you weren't upset.  No?  If this is you merely being entertaining, how do you respond to people when you're really angry?

The public has a vested interest in monitoring your behavior.  Society needs to know that your abusive violence is in the past.  The way you replied to Jenny Johnson tells me that you need help.

Please.  Get some help.

With love,
Frank Lee

P.S. To the media outlets asking which side we're on, this is not an issue of, "Ooohhh, mint or strawberry, which one do you prefer?"  This is an issue of someone insulting a celebrated felon and pointing out his criminal past, and being replied to with sexualized misogyny (from Chris Brown) and death threats (from his fans).  Am I on the side of "truth and insults" or "misogyny and death threats?"  That's the question you're asking?  Please take a long, hard look at yourself and shape up.

P.P.S. Team Breezy, I am trying my best not to get into it with you, but death threats go way too far.  Threats of any kind go way too far.  Please learn to express your anger more maturely, instead of jumping into threats of death and sexual violence.  Maybe your idol will learn something from you.

Dear Blizzard

Dear Blizzard,

I was visiting your on-line store the other day when I saw this item for sale:
World of Warcraft® Penny Arcade 3-Ring Binder 
BradyGames and Penny Arcade have created a collectible, special edition, 2 sided (Horde & Alliance) World of Warcraft binder, featuring World of Warcraft in the classic Penny Arcade style! BradyGames is constantly adding exclusive, online-only binder update content to With this binder comes a registration code allowing you easy access to the files, which you can save to your computer, print in color or black-and-white, and insert into your binder. 
Fans of World of Warcraft and should be sure to pick up this collectible binder while supplies last!
For half of a moment, I actually tried to tell myself that it couldn't be that Penny Arcade.  That you must mean some other Penny Arcade.

Surely you wouldn't have merchandise from that Penny Arcade on your website.  Official, trademarked merchandise on the Blizzard store?

I genuinely hope that you'll reconsider.  It's only one item, so it should be easy to remove.

Don't want to take the item down?  Perhaps you could follow an example set by others and donate the proceeds to Men Can Stop Rape.

If you're wondering why women and feminist allies have trouble with WOW, consider that you're trying to sell Penny Arcade merchandise to them.

For more reading on Penny Arcade:

One two three four five six seven eight nine ten eleven twelve thirteen fourteen and counting.

With love,
Frank Lee

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Dear Justin Timberlake (Part 2)

For this letter to make sense, please read the first one here.

Dear Justin Timberlake (again),


Wait, I get it now.

I read your apology letter and was disgusted because the apology didn't fit the situation being apologized for.

I failed to take into account that you probably thought that it did.

I did my reading and research to find out what was going on, and what I found warranted a much more serious, thoughtful apology than you delivered.  I was frustrated to find that your open letter seemed more interested in defending than apologizing.

Now it's all clicked, and I realize that you may have come across as defensive because you felt defensive.  You may have written such a weak apology because you didn't feel very apologetic.

You don't understand what our problem is.

You don't understand why we're so disgusted by that video or that it was used as a joke at a celebrity's European wedding festivities.

You don't get it.

Wow.  I'm sorry, I assumed that it would be obvious.  Isn't it obvious?  Or maybe you do get it; maybe you just feel defensive at having to explain yourself.  Maybe you want to enjoy your happy moment of newly wedded bliss without being disturbed by petty complaints about some video some "knucklehead" friend of yours made.  Maybe you're just resentful that word reached the press and the public and ruined your good time.

Maybe you saw the video and understand the complaints, but just don't see it as that big of a deal.  So some homeless people were mocked.  So your friends sat around and had a good laugh at the idea of you voluntarily associating with people down on their luck.  What's the problem?  God, you can't even tell a joke anymore without the PC police making a huge deal of everything.

Your letter took 12 paragraphs to say "I'm sorry" and even then wasn't very convincing, given all of the ways you found to explain that it wasn't that bad to begin with.  We got quotations from your grandfather and some "everyone's equal" down-home Tennessee wisdom, but your harshest words against the video were, "I agree with the overall consensus."  Scathing!

About that Tennesse wisdom:
As a matter of fact, growing up in Tennessee, I was always taught that we as people, no matter what your race, sex, or stature may be, are equal.
You can't honestly believe that Tennessee is some egalitarian wonderland where everyone's treated equally.  There's no racism in Tennessee?  There's no sexism in Tennessee?  (Hey, good news, Aunt B.!)

Maybe you do honestly believe that everyone in Tennessee is treated exactly the same.  That everyone there has all of the same experiences and opportunities in life as you.

And maybe you really do believe that such a cruel, disgusting video was an innocent joke, unfortunately misunderstood.

That says a lot about you.

The world has been kind to you, Justin.

Please learn to be kind in return.

With love,
Frank Lee

Dear Justin Timberlake

This post contains discussion of classism, transphobia, mockery of homeless people, mockery of people who appear to be mentally ill and/or intoxicated and/or addicted, and gross amounts of thoughtless privilege on display.  It also contains references to rape culture.

Dear Justin Timberlake,

Congratulations on your marriage.  I hope for your happiness.

I'm about a month late on this topic, because I've been debating with myself over whether or not to speak up.  Back in October, Liss pointed readers to an article about this:
The blind was all about the “wedding gift” some friends made for a recently married couple. The “gift” was a “funny” video in which homeless people talked on camera about how they were super-sad to miss the celebrity couple’s big, fancy wedding. Because the “joke” is that homeless people are SO funny, what with their homelessness and not knowing where their next meal will come from, and the joke is that of course the celebrity couple would invite some homeless people to their wedding.
Terrible.  That is cruel and mean-spirited and absolutely disgusting.

As word of the video spread, you responded in an open letter on your website.

Let's take a read.
As it pertains to this silly, unsavory video that was made as a joke and not in any way in mockery:
Not a mockery?  I don't understand what it was, then.  How does the video work as a joke if it isn't mocking the people onscreen?  What's the joke?
My friends are good people.
Good people make fun of those in need?

Your friends may be more complex than you realize.  Perhaps this gets to the nature of what "goodness" is and how we exhibit it.  If you only ever see Bob act like a decent guy, you think of Bob as a decent guy.  Then you find out that Bob has done some shitty, cruel things.  You can either go with the response of, "Wow, there are aspects of Bob's personality and character that I never knew!  Let me reevaluate how well I know this guy!"  Or you can go with the response of, "But the Bob I know donates money to AIDS research!  He's a wonderful person!  Donating money is a good thing, so Bob is a good person, and I allow for no complexities in my fellow human beings!"

You'll see this sort of response a lot when someone's being accused of being a rapist or murderer.  "Not Bob!  Impossible!  Bob pets dogs!"  "Bob?!  No way!  Bob's always nice to me!"  This is how a lot of sexual predators get by in life.  They do good things in public and horrible things in private, and when the horrible stuff comes to light, everyone says, "But he's always been so great to my kids!" or "But he volunteers for the church!" and he continues on his merry, awful way and his victims are called liars.  That's why the blanket statement of "he's a good person" really, really needs to be discarded as a defense.

Your friends may be funny, helpful, dog-petters around you.  That does not make them good people.  That makes them friendly around Justin Timberlake.  They're also (at least one of them) completely shitty and cruel around homeless people.  In my book, that's incompatible with the label "good people."
This was clearly a lapse in judgment which I'm sure no one who is reading this is exempt from.
Yes, we're all given to lapses in judgment from time to time.  I often regret doing or saying (or not doing, not saying) something.  We fuck up, we make mistakes, we're human.  But coming up with the video idea, getting a camera and going out to interview the people featured, conducting the interviews, editing the video and adding a soundtrack, and then sharing the video, involves a lot of time and effort.  It involves a certain amount of time in consideration of the video and its various aspects.  Deciding that I can speed up and get through a traffic light in time, only to cause an accident, is a lapse in judgment.  What's under discussion here is much more serious.
I don't believe it was made to be insensitive.
No?  How so?  What do you think that it was, then?  The point was to mock homeless people in need of help.  It's a joke, but not mockery and not insensitive?  Was it sensitive, then?  Sensitive to their needs?  Sensitive to their plight?  Sensitive to their need to be treated with dignity and respect?
More so, I think it was made as a joke on me not having that many friends attending my own wedding (which IS kind of funny if you think about it).
Up until this point, I find it difficult to understand precisely what you think is going on.  Here is where communication breaks down entirely and I wonder if you think that we don't know who you are.

Hi.  You're Justin Timberlake.

People love you wherever you go.  People collaborate with you on a song or work with you on a set and immediately cannot get over how awesome you are.  You seem to have some ridiculous amount of personal charm which turns other Hollywood professionals into starry-eyed fans.  It happens in every corner of the entertainment industry you brush up against.  It has happened throughout your career.

You have no trouble making friends.

With that said, maybe you don't consider those people to be "friends."  Maybe you appreciate the interest and intentions of all of those other people, but when you think of true friendship, you think of someone who's been there for you, someone you can open up to, someone you've really been through something with.

The other members of *NSYNC, perhaps?  No, not them; you didn't invite any of them to your wedding.

All right, maybe your definition of friendship is something more intense, something more personal.  Your true friends are the people you've really connected with, really bonded with, people who know you inside and out.  The only people you'd consider inviting to your wedding are members of an elite inner circle, people who know you as no one else ever can.

Those people know you very, very well, then, I'd imagine.

They'd know what you like.  They'd know your sense of humor.  They'd know what makes you laugh and what crosses the line.

And they made this video for your special day.
I think we can all agree that it was distasteful, even though that was not its intention.
Its intention was to make you laugh.  Its intention was to be funny.  Its intention was to entertain with some good-times humor.  The intention was to mock poor people, homeless people, people who need help.  Because homeless people, people with addictions, people with mental illnesses, and trans people are funny.  At least, it's hilarious to think of them being so deluded as to consider themselves welcome in your sphere.  Hilarious to think of them being welcome at your wedding or associated with you.  Hilarious to think of them even knowing you!  So, so funny.  As if you would ever know someone like that!  As if, wait.  As I recall, Chris Kirkpatrick lived out of his car for a while.  Wait, that can't be right!  That would make it seem as if homeless people are actual people, like anyone else.  Almost like you!  With things in common with you!  Aw, now the joke's ruined.
Once again, in the world that we live in where everyone thinks that they know everything, I want to be very clear... I am NOT defending the video. I agree with the overall consensus.
For someone who's being "very clear," you're not being entirely clear.  You agree with the overall consensus?  Would you care to explain what you believe the overall consensus to be?  So far, you've described the video as:
something that has even shed any kind of dark light on what was and will always be one of the most special weeks of my life.
this silly, unsavory video that was made as a joke and not in any way in mockery 
a lapse in judgment 
I don't believe it was made to be insensitive. More so, I think it was made as a joke on me 
I think we can all agree that it was distasteful, even though that was not its intention.
It's a silly, unsavory joke.  In poor taste, accidentally.  Unintentionally insensitive.  Not a mockery.

A well-intentioned joke that accidentally turned out to be in poor taste.  If it mocks anyone, it mocks you, really.  Poor, friendless Justin Timberlake, the real victim in all of this.  How cruel of us to misunderstand.
I want to say that, on behalf of my friends, family, and associative knuckleheads
Aw, those knuckleheads.  Always goofing around, mocking homeless trans people!
I am deeply sorry to anyone who was offended by the video.
There we go!  "I am deeply sorry."  It only took you 12 paragraphs to get there!

Sorry to anyone who was offended, you say?  What about an apology to the people in the video?  To the specific people taken advantage of for your crowds' amusement?  To the general kinds of people mocked?  Any apologies for them?  Anything to say to the trans community?  To people in poverty, people in need, people on the streets?
Again, it was something that I was not made aware of.
You seem to be aware of it now.  When were you made aware of it?  I guess that you were too busy to join in the wedding festivities, so when it was shown to everyone else, you weren't around?  I mean, according to the linked article, "Mr. Huchel made [the] video to be used and exhibited privately at Justin Timberlake’s wedding as a private joke without Mr. Timberlake’s knowledge," but I can't tell if the "without Mr. Timberlake's knowledge" pertains to the "made" or the "used and exhibited."  Either way, it seems odd that he'd go to that much work to make the video without ever showing it to you.  It's like a wedding gift for everyone at the wedding but the actual couple.  It makes me wonder what sort of dynamic is at play here, that a friend of yours would make a video for your wedding that he thought your wedding party would find hilarious but wasn't worth showing to you.  Odd.
But, I do understand the reaction and, by association, I am holding myself accountable.
How?  In what way?  What does this mean?  What's happening here?  You're going to give yourself a stern talking-to?  You're going to take time out for somber reflection on your choice of friends?  You're going to donate to homeless shelters?  You're going to educate yourself on poverty and addiction?  You're going to say to yourself, "Justin Timberlake, I hold you responsible for this silly, well-intentioned joke which accidentally turned out to be in poor taste!" and then go golfing?
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to share my thoughts.
It's your website.  You have the opportunity to post anything you want to post on it.
It really is a blessing to be able to speak directly to my true fans so that you can know exactly where I stand.
True fans?  You and I have a long, long talk coming about how you treat your fans, and I probably shouldn't get into that here, but calling on your "true fans" only serves as a "prove it to me" statement.  You're seeking to differentiate "true fans" from the other fans, as if your true fans will be loyal and stand by your side and accept whatever you say without question, while anyone who dares to read your "apology" and call bullshit can't possibly be a true fan.  That is a lousy thing to do to your fans.  They're allowed to love and support you and still think that this is a shitty moment and a terrible apology.
You can bet your ass that I'm having my friend do at least 100 hours of community service... Boom.
Wait, I thought that you were holding yourself accountable.  Should I expect to see you out there doing 100 hours of community service, too?

With love,
Frank Lee