[NOTE: This post uses some awful words because they are important to what Lisa is researching. The spottiness of my liveblogging may be especially misleading in this post.] Lisa Nakamura is giving a Berkman talk called “Don’t Hate the Player, Hate the Game: Internet Games, Social Inequality, and Racist Talk as Griefing.” She’s going to talk about ROFLcon and Twitter. She begins by showing some tweets from ROFLcon that simply repeat the word “nigger.” She says that as a researcher, she’s not trying to place blame. She wants to know what these racist tweets are trying to accomplish. What are the ties between racism and social production in griefing?
NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.
ROFLcon is a conference celebrating Internet “memes.” Christina Xu from ROFLcon says that she thought that these tweets were coming from people who were not at ROFLcon. “It was straightup griefing,” says Lisa. And it didn’t happen during the race panel (which Lisa moderated). It happened during the keynote when Moot (Chris Poole, founder of 4chan) was speaking. Two years ago, there was boombox disruption of his talk.
The Net is an attention economy, says Lisa, and the use of words such as “nigger” enables you to “jump the line.” But, she says, there are lots of bad consequences. Chris Lander pointed out in a tweet that different platforms have different forms of hate: Racism is for the Internet, and homophobia is for Xbox (where players use”fag” as a generic insult). “Racism is a meme,” Lisa says; it works just like a meme. The word “nigger” has become completely toxic, which is why it’s used frequently by griefers [i.e., those out to disrupt an online activity]. “Griefing is about mocking those who take the Internet too seriously.” We are currently in a moment of what Lisa calls “enlightened racism,” in homage to Douglas’s “enlightened sexism“: You take the social gains and use it for permission to reintroduce retrograde images. E.g., “The Man Show” knew that it was ridiculously sexist to have women in bikinis bouncing on a trampoline. It’s all about the humor, the currency of Net memes. TV’s “post racial humor,” says Douglas, allows a nostalgia for sexism and racism, e.g., Mad Men. But, says Lisa, post-racial humor is a confusing mode for young people. The extremism of The Man Show’s sexism says (or so we would like to think) that there is no sexism, although of course there is. The N word is so extreme that to use it is to implicitly state that one is not racist and racism is no longer an issue (or so the users think), but it is.
She shows a video of 4chan’s “Patriotic Nigras” ruining a SecondLife social meeting (online, of course) just to “make people angry.” “Patriotic Nigras” are not primarily African-American. If you call out their racism, then say you’re a racist because it’s all about lols. (Or so they think.)
Leeroy Jenkins is quite famous for outrageousness at World of Warcraft, but people don’t talk about his adopting of minstrel-speak, Lisa says. You’re not supposed to talk about that, though, because it’s just about the lulz. It’s hard to call this out because you’ll be told you don’t get Net culture. To protest it is to declare oneself unqualified to comment on it. But, Lisa says, we need to teach children that racism is not acceptable. If sexting is bad, a child saying the N word over and over is also bad for that child. Youth are going online to interact. This is where they learn to be civil. We need to be able teach them. If the words are banned, they’ll count it as nothing more than “ass-hattery” to be routed around.
Lisa concludes by showing us a vid of some Chinese goldfarmers. “One’s person’s lulz is another’s non-lulz.”
To what extent does this racist humor occur in non-English cultures?
A [audience]: Donnie Dong said that on Chinese boards there are ethnic insults.
A: [lisa] Griefing is transnational.
A: [audience] Korean youths will sometimes play on American servers and announce that they’re young Koreans in order to annoy the older players.
A: How about YouTube comments that have racist comments? That doesn’t seem to be enlightened racism. Does enlightened racism provide an ethical framing for Youtube’s racist comments?
A: People do that on YouTube in part because there are so few other places where Americans can talk about race.
Q: Is racism or enlightened racism better?
A: I don’t think either is good. Enlightened racism is a symptom of a society that thinks that racism isn’t a problem any more.
Q: Will this change when the constituency of the people who determines the lulz changes?
A: Could you start a meme of blond frat boys invading a space and griefing?
Q: If you watch Arizona politics, the idea is that men are the underdogs now.
Q: Will enlightened racism eat itself? Maybe someone from the inside can critique it? Griefing the griefers? Is that happening?
A: [audience] At SomethingAwful, there’s a lot of calling people out.
Q: Maybe the enlightened racism meme will be tired?
A: I’d trace it to Dave Chappelle. He was unhappy that he had licensed people to say things they shouldn’t. He was mocking them, but it gave them license.
Q: Once there are more people online who are not white males…
A: People socialized into this culture may have a hard time of it transnationally, or in the workplace, or wherever this is not the idiom.
Q: This type of humor is balkanizing and isolating. Griefing is about shutting down conversation spaces….
Q: How do we know that it’s white males, since these are often anonymous posts? Might these be a deconstruction of racism? [E.g., gays taking back the word “queer.”]
A: I wish, but I don’t think so.
Q: How does enlightened racism affect structural racism?
A: Irony has become a mode that people retreat into when they don’t want accountability. Enlightened racism is still racism.
Q: Is it possible you’re conflating different forms of discourse? Maybe this is just a particularly disruptive form of static…
Q: Maybe it’s a form of play. It’s like playing violent video games: expressing something that you’re unable to express. It’s playing taboo, which is fun. Maybe it’s like a form of play in which the players know the rules. It may be a procedural rhetoric…
A: Yes. But who gets to decide? The people who are gay should be the ones who get to decide if “fag” is an insulting term, etc.