On commodifying abuse and why we should condemn "professional victims"

…so I had something to walk home in before taking a quick nap and going on the air that night with Countdown. Not a word about the incident, of course, because as the FBI guys pointed out, as tempting as it was to tell the story the way I have here, from notes written in that Contact Isolation room that night, doing so would only assure the sender that he’d accomplished his sick mission, and that he had my address.  They couldn’t stop me from revealing it had happened (“Jeez,” said one of the FBI guys, “if I had a newscast I’d do the whole show about it”), but in a very clear way, in revealing it, I would be helping a domestic terrorist.

So that was the story, on which I sat, and was going to, forever if necessary.


If [the New York Post] had, they would’ve been advised that, yes, there had been an incident, but, oh, by the way, the local representatives of the federal government…had asked everybody to keep it quiet so as not to provide the perpetrator with a return receipt…

That is what Keith Olbermann had to say in his book Truth and Consequences: Special Comments on the Bush Administration’s War on American Values (page 45) about one of many threats against his own life for being a high-profile, outspoken and liberal, reporter — in this case, a fake anthrax letter sent to his home.

I’ve spoken about commodifying abuse and the motives of “professional victims” in the past, and on the subject of so-called “normalization”, but it wasn’t until Ken Levine made the following post on Facebook,

that I felt compelled to place my full, undivided attention on the subject. We’ve read time and again, from unaffiliated reporters, public figures, and even attorneys and law enforcement how one responds to threats and harassment. Here, we have someone in the gaming industry who has received threats for his work and status, restating what we all already knew — that is, one who is the recipient of threats or other forms of abuse should not not respond to it publicly.

In the worst-case scenario, it verifies personal information to a potential perpetrator if the threat is genuine and credible. In the best-case scenario, it merely validates and enables a trolling tactic (if the threat is not credible). Worse, as sending death threats is tantamount to criminal coercion one way or the other, it can interfere with the capability of law enforcement to investigate and prosecute those that make threats.

People are right to point out threats shouldn’t be sent in the first place, credible or non-credible, but unfortunately we live in reality opposed to a utopian fantasy world. Criminals, other deranged people and criminal acts exist whether they should or should not, and for that reason individuals must first learn how to respond so as to not enable poor behavior, or in the worst-case scenarios how to not put themselves at risk while jeopardizing the capability of law enforcement to do its job.

What do certain individuals, at the heart of Gamergate or peripherally-related, do instead? Exactly the opposite of what law enforcement and legal counsel would advise (and probably has advised, repeatedly) them to do. They publicize it. They politicize it. They even go so far as to advertise it by using threats and harassment as the keystone of public speaking and fund-raising campaigns. This all adds up to one undeniable conclusion: they commodify it.

Commodification is, for the unaware, the transformation of phenomena, objects, ideas, or other entities not generally considered goods or services for exchange into such, for the purpose of generating wealth. In other words, one is turning something not generally used to make money or traded for money, into something that is. It is a lynchpin of practically every modern economic theory, from Marxism to Neoliberalism, whether it’s regarded as a positive or negative phenomenon.

And, when something (in this case, abuse) is commodified, the individual engaging in said commodification gains vested self-interest in not merely its perpetuation but its maximization. This bears out when considering publicizing threats and abuse enables, and one would even say normalizes (not in the formal Foucauldian sense, but the bastardized sense employed by the so-called the social justice movement at large today), the phenomenon.

Take it straight from Mr. Levine (emphasis mine): “…if the jerk is a troll, then you’ve handed them a victory and are effectively encouraging him to do it again. He may even tell his pals about it and encourage them to do likewise to get some of that sweet, sweet attention. Of course, it’s not sufficient to publicize threats; the gaming press (who has vested financial interest in reporting and editorializing controversial content) is happy to frame (distinct from report) this as the status quo among to what the gaming press refers as “gamers” (distinct from “people who just happen to play games”), which is to say threats and abuse is the norm…in other words, normalized behavior.

That last sentence is loaded with disclaimers to highlight precisely the rhetorical game in play by the gaming press: “not all people who play games but this outlying, vocal, minority we’ve cherry-picked to fit arbitrary demographic constraints, the gaming industry’s own demographic research we’re happy to parrot anyways in any other circumstance be damned, which by fantastic coincidence lends itself well to a priori outgrouping, that we perceive as the target demographic for the triple-A developers we declare as problematic, but fuck it we’ll call them gamers (excluding people along ethnic, racial, gender, sex, and orientation in the process) and present them as the majority anyways…among these assholes who we know to be unrepresentative of everyone who plays games, but we’re treating as representative anyways, threats are normal”. Look, if framing the term “gamer” has to be so precise as to exclude eighty-odd percent of people who play games (and that’s just within the US), and not even all of whoever is left, to frame a phenomenon that is universally condemned by everyone save those who actually engage in that behavior (when that pre-selected demographic isn’t even responsible for the total of that behavior) as “normal”, the line between simply reporting on a phenomenon and normalizing it oneself has long since been crossed.

Why is this a problem? Well, going back to Mr. Levine (again, emphasis mine): “…if he/she’s a sociopath, you don’t even [sic] them to even know you’ve read the threat. ANYTHING they know about you is a bad thing. Again [sic] the police…it only takes one truly dedicated jerk, so better safe than sorry”.

Not everyone has a megaphone in the form of a profit-hungry gaming press willing to report at great length and in great detail every time a “gamer” so much as looks at oneself cross-eyed, let alone send anything that could be reasonably construed as a threat, credible or not. Not everyone has a legion of Patreon or Kickstarter supporters whose disposable income far surpasses their common sense willing to donate at so much as a calamitous air biscuit being floated in one’s general vicinity. Not everyone has social privilege and publicity sufficient that law enforcement doesn’t immediately discount threats and harassment against their person — that is to say, if they’re not being shot in the back multiple times by cops or would-be vigilantes for the cardinal offense of walking down the street minding their own fucking business with a skin color darker than “chestnut”, or if that’s a serious day-to-day concern.

As Mr. Levine said, “it only takes one”…and chances are, it won’t be abuse profiteers who end up victimized. It’ll be someone powerless, without a fawning media or mollycoddling crowdfunders (among whom include members of the press who profit in turn), whose victimization was enabled by those with social power who recklessly decided to put that power to use for the sake of profit. No, it’s not sufficient to say “abuse is bad” when one’s actions betray the words, especially simultaneously engaging in an extensive dehumanization and demonization campaign that outright normalizes (and this time, in the actual Foucauldian sense save utilization of informal institutions opposed to state power) further abuse in the name of corrupt Utilitarian calculi.

Of course, can we expect better from individuals whose social power and capital is vested singularly in abuse profiteering? From where I sit, the answer to that question is a resounding “NO”. Which is why I say these individuals are nothing but a blight on the gaming community, toxic through-and-through for the simple fact their vested self-interest lies in the gaming community being as abusive as possible and for as long as possible, and if gaming is to make any strides forward as a form of art from this point, these people must be the first to be shown the door.

The bottom line is, condemn abuse. Condemn harassment. Condemn threats. But more importantly, be genuine in your condemnation. Don’t enable it. Don’t facilitate it. Don’t normalize it. Don’t profit from your own abuse, or the abuse of others, because when you do your self-interest shifts from ending abuse to perpetuating it, and when that happens your credibility on the topic of abuse goes out the window. Call out abuse profiteering as a major source of toxicity in the gaming community.

…and as a brief post-script, when one publicly flaunts counsel any attorney worth a fraction of their weight in salt, and advice any halfway competent law enforcement officer, would give which we all by this point know to be the case, while actively antagonizing law enforcement and using the “opportunity” to fund-raise and work the pundit circuit to increase visibility and social capital, one sends an implicit, but obvious, message to critical viewers but more importantly law enforcement itself: one isn’t even taking their own threats seriously. How for the love of God does one expect law enforcement to treat this shit seriously when not even the alleged victim does?