I promise there will be farts in this column. First, I need to talk about something that has been troubling me deeply.
Standing with Sarkeesian
On Oct. 14, the Salt Lake City Tribune published this headline: "Feminist cancels talk at USU after guns allowed despite shooting threat."
My heart sunk reading this article and the very detailed, very serious threats of a mass shooting if said feminist took the stage at Utah State University's Taggart Student Center Auditorium. Anita Sarkeesian, who bravely had gone on stage several times before, despite receiving threats of violence (including bombs), finally allowed herself to be censored by terror. I can't blame her: Utah law doesn't allow schools to restrict firearms on campuses, so without a metal detector at the door, it was just too dangerous.
Sarkeesian really shouldn't be so controversial. It's not as if she's a Holocaust revisionist or a government official who authorized torture. Sarkeesian isn't some ultra-radical abort-all-the-babies femi-eugenicist. No, she attracts threats of rape and mass murder for nothing more than offering feminist critiques of video games and for speaking out about the psychopathic reaction she's received from gaming trolls.
Yeah. We now live in a world where talking about video games earns you death threats.
Please stay with me. We'll get to the farts in a moment.
You can view Sarkeesian's situation as unique to her character, or you can view it as part of the larger "Gamergate" saga. Or you can view it in the context of the greater attack on women from the same puerile sectors of the Internet that celebrated the stolen intimate photos of female celebrities and threatened to release further images of actor Emma Watson after she delivered a speech at the United Nations encouraging men to support women's rights. When I heard about the mass-shooting threat, I immediately connected it to 22-year-old Elliot "My War on Women" Rodger's killing spree near University of California, Santa Barbara, in May.
I see it on all these levels, but right now I'm most urgently concerned about helping Sarkeesian spread her ideas, not because I agree with all of them, but because she has a right to express them, and I believe that the video-game industry can only benefit from considering them.
Here are two things I'd like you to watch, then we'll get to the farts.
· Sarkeesian's speech at XOXO: In September, Sarkeesian confronted her trolls with a presentation at the XOXO arts and technology festival in Portland. In this video, she explains how a group of gamer trolls have attempted to intimidate her through a variety of means, including people impersonating her on social media, death and rape threats via Twitter and graphic pornography with her head photoshopped on.
Even if you don't give two Mario coins about video games, you really should watch this video to get an idea of how truly ugly people can be toward women on the Internet.
· Tropes v. Women: Through her nonprofit Feminist Frequency, Sarkeesian produces videos that critique the portrayals of women in pop culture, most prominently in her "Tropes vs. Women in Video Games" series. These aren't viral videos by any means, with some clocking in at 30 minutes. They're more like video textbooks explaining gender stereotypes and imbalance in games throughout history. If you're going to start anywhere, go with "Women as Background Decoration, Part 1"
And now, farts
At the beginning of the month, I received a hilarious story pitch with this subject line, "Star Wars Farts: We're ReInventing Star Wars... through Farting." It turns out that this is a project by Shaun Spalding, a local filmmaker and attorney formerly with New Media Rights (I profiled the group in the 2012 cover story "Geek vs. Troll," and, coincidentally, they also helped Sarkeesian when one of her videos was taken down from YouTube in 2011).
The project is exactly what it sounds like: the original first three Star Wars films, dubbed over with farts. But it's also more than that.
"In addition to being a 'parody' of Star Wars parodies (that's epic in its 'dumbness'), it's also meant to raise awareness of how hard it is to distribute parody remix video," Spaulding told me via email. "Long story short, I do a channel of experimental films as a hobby. Well, I wanted to put SWF on YouTube for free. But of course, I couldn't, even though we were doing it in a fair-use style way, because of YouTube ContentID." (ContentID is YouTube's automatic system for filtering out copyright infringement.)
Unfortunately for us fart-joke lovers, since Star Wars Farts Kickstarter went live at the beginning of the month, Spaulding's changed the project to Star Wars Barks (same concept, with ruff-ruff instead of pbbth-poof) to attract a larger audience.
It's still a great concept with some very clever posters and T-shirts offered as perks (and Stars Wars Farts will still be a thing). Check that out here.