Tag Archives: GamerGate

An Invisible Woman — “The Invisible Man”

CW: stalking, domestic violence

Your stalker is invisible. They can interfere with your life. They can let you know they’re there without ever hinting it to anyone else. They can track you. They can ruin the relationships you have with your friends and family. They can make you feel reaching out will put others in danger. They can make people disbelieve that you’re even being stalked in the first place. They can make you disbelieve yourself. None of this is science-fiction. This is the reality we live in.

Read up on the women stalked and harassed through Gamergate – Zoe Quinn, Brianna Wu, Anita Sarkeesian, just to name a few. Groups including the alt-right use sites like 4chan, 8chan, and especially Kiwi Farms to stalk, harass, doxx, and threaten women. Stalking of one target is often coordinated across multiple people to cover multiple bases: physical proximity, social media, financial security.

How can a modern movie about stalking engage this while still being at its core a traditional horror movie? I’ve worked with groups that research and collect information about stalkers, and the bulk of this is a paper chase. It’s about vetting information, tracking clues back to who someone is, how dangerous they are or have been, what communities they’re part of and how dangerous those are. What resources do they have? What’s their physical access to their target? What’s their notional, or social online access? You can make a paper chase into a horror movie, but you may lose the brunt of something you’re trying to communicate along the way.

How do you create a metaphor for a stalker who can terrify you, but who for all intents and purposes is invisible because of the tools they use? You can just make them invisible. You can have them sit in the chair in the corner, like your phone or computer might, having access into your life. You can have them follow you unseen, just like cheap spyware a cyberstalker can employ. You can have them hear all your conversations, just like bugging tools that can be installed remotely on your devices.

When you’ve worked with stalking victims, hearing the phrase, “I think they can hear my conversations,” is reasonable. What I did was research, not tech, so it often meant getting them in contact with specialists in removing spyware from personal devices.

When you don’t know the extent to which tools like this can be simply employed, hearing that phrase will make you think the person being stalked is overreacting, losing their hold out of fear. What is very legitimate in their life becomes an outlandish and emotional overreaction to you.

They may even explain that the stalker has contacted them in disguise and made references to private conversations. When you look at the email they’re referring to, you might just see an ad, a newsletter, a piece of phrasing that’s just a coincidence. The person being stalked sounds even more as if they can’t be believed, despite what they’re referring to being very real.

This is designed. It’s had evolutions, iterations, and now that stalkers and cyberstalkers have places in which they share knowledge and experience, where they can find someone else to help them cover their deficits in certain ‘skills’, stalking has become a skill share community.

If that’s frightening, it’s because it is. I’ve been stalked. The first time was 19. The most recent time was 2017 and may still be ongoing. It sucks. It’s disempowering. The solutions to it are sometimes chaotic and rely on systems of response and community response that haven’t been reliably realized yet.

That’s a lot of words about what “The Invisible Man” intersects without talking about the movie. It’s all to say that, as a metaphor, the invisible stalker as a concrete presence in a horror movie feels disturbingly real. It feels relevant. It feels honest.

“The Invisible Man” isn’t a paper chase movie about proving the man exists. It’s a horror movie that’s just as much about a community erasing and disbelieving the stalker’s victim as it is about her and him going toe to toe.

“The Invisible Man” is a conventional B-movie that’s so good at what it does, it’s better than most A-movies. That still means it relies on a number of B-movie conventions. There will be a moment or two where you might start doubting if you have to think about a precise mechanic too long. The movie tends to know this, rushing you into the reaction to it as quickly as possible.

Two things make this approach work: the first is Elisabeth Moss’s performance as stalking target Cecilia Kass. It is rare that you get a central performance in this type of film that’s this nuanced and that speaks to the subject at hand in a deep way. Most horror movies relying on slasher tropes use the central (usually woman) figure to communicate desperation and a lack of answers. When they begin to fight back, it’s as if something clicks and they shift personality into someone who’s strong. That has its value as a storytelling device.

Yet the reality is that someone who’s already strong can be overwhelmed by a stalker. They have answers, but the community around them frustrates those answers. The community around them replaces the victim’s desperation with their own determination for normalcy. When the victim is recognized as beginning to fight back, it’s not because something’s clicked and they shift personality. When they begin to fight back, it’s only because they’ve been fighting back this entire time and part of that fighting is to get the community around them to recognize reality. What flipped personality wasn’t the victim; it was the community.

It’s comforting to imagine that moment a community finally recognizes the problem is the moment when a woman began fighting back. After all, how could the community have known before that moment? That tells a lie, because the victim was fighting the whole time. It’s just that the community around them would rather not acknowledge that what the victim’s been fighting back against is – in part – the community’s own resistance to recognize what’s happening.

“The Invisible Man” has a strong sense of this, and while there are extremely tense horror set pieces, it at least leaves many male-oriented tropes behind. Cecilia is fighting the whole time, in so many different ways. In this case, she’s trying to escape a controlling and abusive ex everyone else thinks is dead. It’s the community around her that – despite knowing what she’s already gone through – cannot manage to believe her. They support her, but only to a point, and they’re willing to break that support and stop listening to her far too quickly. There’s no point in the movie when a switch flips and she begins fighting back. She is doing it from the very first scene.

That’s what makes “The Invisible Man” different and tense. Even when the writing falters or a set piece arrives just a hair too coincidentally, it’s all played with a forthright determination to show Cecilia fighting back. She doesn’t have to grow into it. She just has to overcome a world that would rather erase her as an inconvenience than recognize what she’s fighting against.

The second part of what makes this all work is the direction. I can’t help but wonder how certain things might play differently if it were written and directed by a woman. That said, director Leigh Wannell has a keen sense of presenting terror. The pacing, both through cinematography and editing, are patient. The sound design ratchets up the tension unbelievably.

Scenes are allowed to breathe and develop. This is a film with a dozen Chekhov’s guns – elements you notice that you know will be relevant later on. It also has a lot of plot progression that you’ve seen in a film before. There isn’t a surplus of red herrings and misdirection. What you guess is going to happen in terms of a jump scare, chase, or horror element in a scene usually happens. “The Invisible Man” shows that this can still work well if you can be patient about them and time them right. Horror can be a lot like comedy this way – you may know the joke, but if it’s told really well, the director will still get the reaction they want out of you.

Being able to do this with patience, and with the priority on Cecilia (and thus Moss’s performance) allow the film to steer clear of feeling derivative. Its sci-fi elements are also introduced slowly and in a way that feels believable within the film’s world. Wannell also wrote the screenplay and it’s not up to the level of the performance and direction, but when the performance and direction are this good they make up for more than enough.

Does it Pass the Bechdel-Wallace Test?

This section uses the Bechdel-Wallace Test as a foundation to discuss the representation of women in film.

1. Does “The Invisible Man” have more than one woman in it?

Yes. Elisabeth Moss plays Cecilia Kass. Harriet Dyer plays her sister Emily Kass. Storm Reid plays Sydney Lanier. Renee Lim plays Doctor Lee in a brief role.

2. Do they talk to each other?

Yes.

3. About something other than a man?

Yes. Cecilia and Sydney talk about Sydney’s future academic plans. Cecilia and Doctor Lee talk very briefly about her health.

Obviously, that’s not a spectacular amount of women talking to women. The movie often focuses on Moss acting opposite (and often around) someone who’s invisible. Moss is in every scene, and many scenes involve very little talking.

The cast is small and the story keeps things very tight on the main players. Almost the entire film centers on Cecilia avoiding or running from her stalker. That also means that most of the conversation in the film is about the stalker and her situation.

The film could have done better here.

How does it do when addressing modern concepts of stalking?

I can speak to how “The Invisible Man” engages this, up to a point. It feels honest and needed. It feels cathartic. I remember as I walked out I began to hug the wall for no reason. I met someone’s eyes in a car in the parking lot when I glanced up. Before I knew what I was doing, that sensation of measuring my own safety and assessing everything around me returned. The film had obviously triggered me and my experiences being stalked more deeply than I realized. It took part of the day to shake off, but at the same time it felt somewhat cathartic.

I’m not upset that that happened. It needs to activate those things in order to tell its story and engage its subject in a way that feels honest.

At the same time, I’m a man. When I go to others and talk about being stalked, I don’t encounter the same obstacles or resistance in people believing me. Therefore, its honesty about a woman being stalked is a core piece in “The Invisible Man” that I can’t speak to. Even when a threat made me feel alone, I still had greater access to others’ belief and the resources and community that belief allowed. Society still treated me and my engagement of that threat differently. The people around asked what aid I needed and suggested recourses. I had options that helped blunt the effect. While it was still isolating and there were moments and situations where I felt unsafe, I’m a man. Even strangers will stop and listen to me if I need help in public. When I was being stalked, others were willing to listen. Were I a woman, I don’t know that they would have done the same.

Additionally, when I worked with people who were stalked in order to research their threat, I was the resource. I wasn’t going through their experience and there was specific training to make sure we didn’t start trying to inhabit their experience. We were most useful if we were able to avoid becoming anxious ourselves.

My being able to say it creates both a metaphorical and literal plot about being stalked that feels accurate is limited by not having gone through the experience as a woman. I can say that many aspects of this feel like they’re handled well, particularly in Moss’s performance of carrying trauma even as she fights back against a stalker and community erasing her. Nonetheless, I can’t speak for whether these aspects when covering the experience as a woman are handled as well, so take that assessment with a grain of salt.

The film may be triggering at points if you have been stalked or threatened. Horror is my favorite genre and it’s taken me a while to grow comfortable with it again. It actually felt like something of a step to watch a horror movie about being stalked, something that I’ve avoided for more than two years.

It may also be triggering in other ways. Some fight scenes are essentially representations of domestic abuse, and plot elements refer to sexual violence.

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The Case for Counselor Troi — How “Star Trek” & “Buffy” Shaped Movies, TV, and Me

Buffy the vampire slayer

by Gabriel Valdez

I was raised on Star Trek. In The Next Generation, male power figures struggled to connect with their emotions (Picard, Worf, Data).

On Deep Space Nine, they struggled to contain their anger when the universe took away the things they loved (Sisko’s sanity, Worf’s wife, Bashir’s research and humanity, O’Brien’s pretty much everything – I think the writers made it their mission to obliterate O’Brien twice a season).

On Voyager, they struggled to be commanded by a woman, not because she was a woman – mind you, Star Trek posed a civilization too advanced to be dealing with that – but because she was the Yul Brynner to their rag-tag, rowdy Magnificent Seven (Chakotay, Paris, the Emergency Medical Hologram). The metaphor, however, was pretty clear.

These struggles with male expectations often proved to be the most difficult obstacle for a plot to overcome. For all the derision heaped on Counselor Troi in Next Generation – the running joke in a lot of the show’s criticism was that she was useless – she may’ve been the most crucial cog in that entire crew, constantly coaxing men to get over themselves and experience another person’s or culture’s perspective. She may have saved the Enterprise more than any other character, not through the orders she gave or actions she took, but by helping the crew to inhabit situations from the perspectives of others.

Picard goes through the ringer several times – indoctrination by the Borg, torture by the Cardassians, living a whole other alien life because of a mysterious space probe – and it’s always Troi bringing him back from the edge. She helped Data achieve his goals of becoming more human by introducing him to concepts of art, empathy, and social responsibilities outside of his duty. She talked Worf out of suicide countless times. The suicide was always ritual – cultural – but it came at times when Worf was afraid of dying in a way that wasn’t warlike enough – that wasn’t manly enough.

Major Kira

On Deep Space Nine, while Sisko and Worf and O’Brien struggled with their personal losses, it was Kira Nerys – a survivor of genocide who had lost her family, culture, religion, and most of her species – who held it together the best. There were times the others were barely fit to command, and would risk crewmates or shirk their responsibilities in order to exact vengeance, but Kira was the one who could fight for a cause one minute, and look her enemy straight in the eye and relent when it saved lives. (If you’re at all a fan of science-fiction, Deep Space Nine is on Netflix and Hulu. It is the best science-fiction show ever put to television, with the possible exception of The Twilight Zone.)

On Voyager, Captain Kathryn Janeway incorporated a band of rebels into her crew, relied on a convict navigator, a holographic doctor, an officer who was essentially reconditioned from a lifetime in a genetically enhanced cult, and even – at points – the son of an omnipotent being. She made decisions more quickly and more fairly than any other captain because she came fully in tune with her own emotions – she didn’t have the same struggles as Picard or Sisko – and constantly approached situations from the perspectives of her opponents. She was Counselor Troi and Captain Picard all rolled up into one.

So Next Generation showed me that being manly, being Rocky or Rambo, could cause more problems than it ever solved. Solutions came through the diplomacy Picard represented, yes, but true diplomacy could only be achieved through the empathy Troi championed. Deep Space Nine showed me that relying on my anger would only risk those around me, that anger is self-perpetuated and can destroy better solutions in order to maintenance its own survival. And Voyager showed me that sometimes men should shut up and listen, not because women know more or have better opinions – it’s all pretty much equal – but because our society gives men so many more chances to speak that we can’t benefit from the opinions we never hear.

Captain Janeway

But then came Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and its men whined and pouted and spilled their feelings willy-nilly, while the women kicked ass and got things done. Creator Joss Whedon is often criticized for making women strong by making them literally, physically strong rather than emotionally or mentally, but that’s a false argument to me. Buffy coped with heartache and breakup and becoming a single parent to her sister while dealing with the end of the world and staking vampires through the heart. Guys like Angel and Riley couldn’t do both at once – they would get sidetracked by bottled-up emotions they had failed to deal with and lose sight of the fight at hand. At times, they may have been Buffy’s physical equals, but they were never her mental or emotional equals. They had a lot of maturing to do before they could make that claim.

Fast-forward to the spinoff Angel and even Valley-girl Charisma Carpenter became the war-wearied voice of reason and unofficial leader of the pack, allowing Angel to continue his more personal quest to become the moodiest moodster in Moodytown.

You know what, though? Angel became a better person – he literally gets his soul back – by connecting with those around him and sharing his feelings. Clutzy, nerdy Xander becomes a leader precisely because he was so emotionally honest in his formative years – he had learned to deal with his emotions rather than hiding them or pretending they weren’t there. Giles is perpetually himself and doesn’t feel any pressure to be any other way. It keeps him sane through some pretty messed up plot. So Buffy might have strong women, but I’d already bought into that idea. It was important to have that reinforced, but just as importantly, Buffy featured men who understood it was OK to be weak, to talk about your problems and, yeah, to whine. And that was pretty crucial for me to be exposed to.

None of these shows on their own finished painting the picture, but all of them combined helped me place different priorities on what was important in “being a man.”

I didn’t see them in a vacuum either – they were informed by Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis styled action roles. Yet when I watched those roles, they didn’t seem like the examples of manliness they were supposed to be. I saw pieces missing. I enjoyed their exploits, but they never seemed like full characters.

There’s a reason that male Marvel heroes spill their guts and confront each other about their emotions now. It’s not because Whedon’s in charge of them either – they did that before he came on board. It’s because shows like Star Trek and Buffy forced science-fiction to grow up when it came to how men and women related to each other. Schwarzenegger and Stallone stopped feeling real to enough people, they stopped having as much function for viewers; men who were strong because they shared their emotions started feeling more real and started being more useful.

We often talk about how geek culture took over – I don’t think it did, at least not because it’s specifically geek culture. I think science-fiction, comic, and fantasy fiction were the only genres that let us progress as a storytelling society and so, like water flowing down the path of least resistance, we gravitated toward the genres that allowed us to evolve our storytelling and the kinds of characters we felt were important.

We still watch the old-fashioned movies, and there’s still a lot to fix in the new ones, but it’s nice to know that Troi and Kira and Janeway all helped explain (along with the voices of friends and family) that there were better ways to solve problems than just beating them up, that empathy was more important than dominance, and that characters like Picard, Worf, O’Brien, and Chakotay would be less successful, or even dead, without the benefit of empathy, understanding, and compromise. That paired well with Buffy telling me it was better as a man to talk about emotions and move on than to be tough, hide them, and never cope. Voices of women not only saved other characters from science-fiction and fantasy predicaments, they saved science-fiction and fantasy themselves.

Have You Heard… “Boris” by Lo-Fang?

 

Songs of 2014

by Gabriel Valdez

Have You Heard? is a stream of song recommendations, many of which will be new to you. We’ll focus on the music of 2014 to start, and we’ll be highlighting a lot of smaller, more independent artists.

Let’s inaugurate this with the most terrifying song of the year, and one of the few for which I’ll ever give a trigger warning: “Boris” by Lo-Fang.

The excellent original song by female duet Boy was an Anais Mitchell-like descent into an inescapable moment. It became louder and more chaotic as it progressed, blurring the lines between consent and coercion. Where the plot and their relationship ends is up for debate.

In covering it, Lo-Fang switches the song’s perspective to that of the man, ditching nuance and lending a more directed sociopathy:

“Baby, aren’t you hungry?
I could give you codeine,
I could get my car keys.
Oh, what a cute dress,
right now it’s useless,
I heard your boyfriend’s out of town.”

The titular Boris’s intent becomes clearer, and the chorus “You should get out of town, too,” is no longer a mutual suggestion, but a threatening ultimatum. Where Boy’s original female perspective became a chaos of pressures and confused motives, Lo-Fang’s male perspective keeps control of the moment, using harmonies and a staccato violin-and-acoustic guitar duo as if weapons all aimed at the woman he’s coercing, manipulating, and finally kicking away as if a used piece of trash.

Released in 2013, but not widely available until this year, Lo-Fang’s “Boris” is a terrifying snapshot into a mentality that, between the Isla Vista shootings, the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby ruling, and GamerGate, has contributed toward pushing women toward a second-class citizenship.

If it’s depressing that this is – to me – the song that most exemplifies the battles of 2014, it’s also reassuring that Lo-Fang (Maryland-based Matthew Hemerlein) can both capture and criticize a moment like this through such powerful music. It reminds me that art is still the best way to change people’s minds and open them to new perspectives.

Credit where credit’s due – Have You Heard? is Vanessa Tottle’s brainchild, influenced by Rock Paper Shotgun’s Have You Played? feature.

October 16 is Now Brianna Wu Day

Stop GamerGate

by Gabriel Valdez

I’m declaring today Brianna Wu Day. Why? Because of this.

What’s this? It’s the piece Brianna Wu just ran on XOJane about her experience with GamerGate.

We told you yesterday that GamerGate was asking for it, that the tide was already shifting, that their unbridled misogyny is creating icons that the hate group won’t be able to stand against. You can only persecute a group of people so long before one of them stands up and hands your ass to you.

So go read this, and after you’re done reading it, have yourself a Happy Brianna Wu Day and celebrate this by sharing it on whatever platform you can log into.

Why We’re Thanking GamerGate

No Girls Allowed

by Vanessa Tottle & Gabriel Valdez

Dear GamerGate, what is it about my gender that pisses you off so god damn much? Anita Sarkeesian. Zoe Quinn. Brianna Wu. If you really cared about objectivity in games journalism, instead of persecuting women because you can, you would go after pay-for-play, or the AAA developers’ use of influence and access to manipulate critics. You wouldn’t be sending rape and death threats to single-employee studios.

That’s Vanessa in the bold, this is Gabe in the plain text. Every woman I know in the gaming industry has received physical threats. Every one of them. Elizabeth Tobey’s written about them, Meagan Marie’s shared them in interviews, and countless others who shy away from the spotlight have relayed that they have each endured threats that have escalated to FBI referrals.

It is the only combination of job and gender I know for which the chief requirement is being able to interface with the FBI.

Here’s the shocking thing – I know more men who are leaving the industry because of this than women. Men who can’t take selling a piece of their souls to sit idly by while this shit happens. I know more women for whom this has crystallized their desire to enter the industry than ever before.

Those supporters of GamerGate don’t know what’s about to hit them. Yes, hate is effective over the short term – nothing rallies better than hate – but after it blows over, after its core audience inevitably finds some new distraction, GamerGate’s going to be a buried artifact of the past.

A funny thing I learned working as a campaign manager in Oregon is that negative campaigning is usually met with an equal and opposite reaction. Single out something negative about your opponent (whether true or false) and you can raise funds off it and gain points off it, but so will your opponent. It’s been shown again and again that these negative campaign moments are mirrored by accuser and accused pretty much dollar for dollar, polling point for polling point. The result is that negative campaigning has very little real effect on ongoing campaigns. It simply raises the awareness of politicians’ names on both sides. Even in the most hate-filled campaigns, whoever wins (be it accuser or accused) will find a readier and more willing audience down the road. The effect, whether intended or not, is only to celebritize the eventual winner.

The hateful core of GamerGate should have learned after their hatred of Sarkeesian KickStarted her career. After she sought $6,000 for her video series Tropes vs. Women in Video Games, she raised $158,922. You may have made her life difficult, but your hatred and harassment escalated the conversation surrounding her to such levels that she became an overnight sensation. You didn’t create your worst enemy – she was already on her way to kicking your ass. But you did give her a much, much bigger audience to watch her do it.

History does not remember the passing hate of a moment. It remembers the people who respond to it. Sometimes, a culture responds to it the wrong way. Sometimes, a culture responds the right way. Take a look around, GamerGate, at the women you’ve boosted onto MSNBC, CNN, at the surge of concern you’ve caused not just in the gaming community, but in American culture at large.

How do you think this culture is responding to you? You’re already losing steam, your casual members have left you, you’re continually chased off Reddit, and you’re paying for your crusade essentially out-of-pocket. I haven’t seen a single one of you show your face on a network.

Meanwhile, conversations about gender-equality in gaming that were once comfortably pushed off as avoidable and eventual are now being treated as imminent and immediate. Including women and their perspectives is now a front and center concern for developers and publishers. Your harassment of these women – death threats, forcing them from their homes, hacking their finances – has forced the industry to reassess how they treat female employees in the workspace, as well as female characters in their stories.

Keep in mind what I said about politics. Negative campaigning only works for the winner, giving her a bigger audience down the road. You have accelerated the increasing role of women in game design and criticism in a way you couldn’t fathom.

Donations to games designed by women have increased. Coverage of women in game design has increased. Women appearing on news channels or addressing crowds of thousands have only ever encouraged more of us to look at what they do and say, “I want to do that, too.” You are creating a generation of women game designers by shaping and popularizing the icons who will inspire them.

The only mark GamerGate will leave – the only mark – is in the surge of strong women who will learn to create games just to spite you, to show you they can, and because they see other women having the kind of success measured by CNN and crowds and the number of articles on them, whose names pop up on Google now as first options. They will see those women and hear their voices and regardless of what you say, game design will become a more viable and desirable option for them.

You didn’t make these icons for women in game design. They were already on their way to kicking your ass. But you did exponentially increase their audience, an audience that is overwhelmingly siding with them.

This is Gabe. Thank you GamerGate, because the games this surge of women create in just a few years’ time? They’re going to piss you off so much, and I can’t wait to play them.

This is Vanessa. Thank you GamerGate. Your hate has given us icons tempered by fire. They had strong voices before, but now they stand above the industry itself. You took individual critics and developers and, by your hate, you have made them arbiters.

This is Amanda Smith. Thank you GamerGate.

This is Rachel Ann Taylor. Thank you GamerGate.

This is Cleopatra Parnell. Thank you GamerGate.

This is Shayna Fevre. Thank you GamerGate.

This is Eden O’Nuallain. Thank you GamerGate.

This is Olivia Smith. Thank you GamerGate.

This is Himura Sachiko. Thank you GamerGate.