If men’s rights activists and pickup artists are good for one thing, it’s their occasional candor. (Unless you’re a woman.) They don’t mince words, and they say what they mean. (Unless they are talking directly to a woman.) They are a dark subtext embodied and acted out; a set of bitter, confusing and confused feelings rendered into crude guides and blunt rhetoric. They are a not-at-all fascinating group with a totally fascinating way of talking about themselves. They provide statements like this:
I’m starting a video game site even though I haven’t played video games seriously since the year 2000 (Starcraft was my jam). I don’t even play mobile games. I won’t blow smoke up your ass by pretending I’m a gamer or have a deep commitment in furthering game technology. My only commitment is with helping men.
I aim to protect the interests of heterosexual Western males, a category I’m in. The far-left is trying to censor and criminalize masculine behaviors that are normal. They want to relabel consensual sex as “rape” and relabel innocent flirting as “harassment,” and as I learned with #gamergate, they’ve successfully infected the gaming industry and gaming journalist sites by damaging the very nature of gaming development to fit their extreme political agenda. So while I don’t play video games, the idea of starting a pro-#gamergate site is compatible with my overall mission.
This is an excerpt from the mission statement for Reaxxion, a site about video games started by Roosh Valizadeh. It’s also a usefully blunt formulation of the motivation behind a burgeoning new category of media, the other leaders of which are too cautious, too ambitious, or too savvy to define so openly.
This is a site started from a few premises: that gaming journalism is not a safe place for “Western males”; that the existing video game media has been overcome by “social justice warriors,” who have so thoroughly polluted it with their philosophy that it cannot be trusted; and that the reason this happened is because all media, mainstream or alternative, exists first and foremost to serve political or social agendas. It uses the language of marginalization, and speaks for a population that feels beset on all sides by what broader society refers to as “progress.”
Reaxxion is small and feels temporary, and it’s not clear that anyone’s heart is really in it. But other people are already executing versions of this concept in a much fuller way, and making quite a bit of money in the process. Paula Deen turned a racism scandal into a lifestyle brand that’s not technically just for white people, but that’s definitely not not just for white people. Sarah Palin’s video network is not about serving people who agree with her views so much as validating people who took the media’s dismissive treatment of her candidacy as a personal affront. Glenn Beck’s online video network, the biggest by far, pulling in up to $45 million a year, is essentially a scale-model reproduction of what it imagines the mainstream media to be, recalibrated around a very specific set of ideas about faith, politics, and wholesomeness (you’ll never guess what’s left out!).
None of these video networks were launched with explicit statements about identity or race or class or age. Instead, they simply spoke directly to and in the language of people who suddenly feel underserved or disdained because of their identities. Rush Limbaugh built an empire on this feeling, by expressing it as “common sense” and characterizing the mainstream media as out of touch. Fox News refined the concept and its practice by reflecting accusations of bias back at the accusers: If it was biased, which it kind of conceded after insisting for a decade that it was actually just “fair and balanced,” then it was only in response to its competitors, which were equally biased.
This style of oppositional media leaned heavily on implications about identity, but was openly opposed to “identity politics.” The internet, however, is ready to embrace them. If Rush Limbaugh gave certain people refuge from political correctness, and if Fox gave cable news viewers a conservative answer to a partisan “mainstream media,” the Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin and Paula Deen networks, which are less openly oppositional and political, give subscribers — many of the same people, now older — shelter from a culture from which they feel increasingly excluded. It is, for all intents and purposes, a white ethnic media — a crude reflection of a largely imagined approach to writing and broadcasting and culture-making. If avoiding or dismissing the topic of race weren’t such a fundamental feature of the identities that Dean and Palin and Beck’s site’s serve, you could imagine Roosh-like mission statements for all of them: I aim to protect the interests of white Christian families, a category I’m in.. Strange things happen when society’s most privileged people start to feel like victims!
A gaming site for men is absurd and its potential is small; a culture empire for whiteness preservation is absurd and its potential is huge. But both behave in the same way: they respond to criticism by reflecting back victimhood, and adopting a received language of oppression. This was not their idea, they would suggest. It is what they believe the other people have been doing for years.