Put your pants back on and take that seat over there. Good, thanks. Let’s hash some things out.
Let me start by reminding you that I’m a girl. Not only that, I’m an angry girl.
Joel Johnson, Kotaku’s fairly-recently-appointed Editorial Director, posted a little article titled “The Equal Opportunity Perversion of Kotaku.” (Evidently, Johnson has been taking a lot of flack for Kotaku’s new editorial direction[s], which is increasingly fluid and interesting.)
And I enjoyed the post on its own terms because, let’s face it, it is filed under a blog category titled “Fan Service.” So the post was very conspicuously directed at Kotaku’s “old guard”: here, of course, I mean the Internet’s loathsomely entitled commenters, who are mostly white and heterosexual, and male, who might fulfill almost every possible permutation of “ordinary” and “normal,” and who tend to shriek for the smelling salts anytime a lady or queer struggles into their line-of-sight. (This is a terrible stereotype to perpetuate, yes, yes, and Gawker’s own comments sections do a bang-up job of perpetuating it, not for any fault of its editors.) But let’s be coolheaded. When you deal with that type of readership, you have to be very caring and compassionate and patient, even when you don’t want to be, and so you assert things in a debilitatingly accessible way.
“What’s happening to my precious Kotaku?” the old guard must have screamed through the tips of its nervous little fingers, illuminated as one in the glow of the laptop’s screen.
So Johnson defended all of Kotaku’s editorial decisions, and his argument was compelling, and if you aren’t going to just look at the post I’d better do my best to recount it:
Johnson did anticipate that some readers would have difficulty reconciling Kotaku’s overt legacy of, say, cosplay galleries, with Kotaku’s now-implicit stance on genderjamming. So naturally, he combined both arguments into a single blog entry. Maybe he shouldn’t have tried. Listen boys, he might as well have said, you can screech about “what’s with the scary minorities on my video game blog all of a sudden” as much as you like, but it’s about as ‘normal’ to love tits wrapped in cosplay as it is to be ‘into’ anything else. That was his argument to these folks in a nutshell.
And Johnson posited this assertion in a way that heteronormative fellows who have never had their realities rocked might understand, and he pursued his argument to its logical conclusion, which is that we all fetishize something—like it or not, I’ve seen Dan Savage make this exact same argument in his columns about sex and love—and maybe you fetishize cars, computers, video games, politics, girls dressed up as Soul Calibur characters, chubby people, Japanese things, French things, your own sex, whips and chains, quoting Jesus when you do it, whatever. And if you’re fetishizing—as opposed to exoticizing, right—what’s ‘normal’ versus ‘abnormal’ is kind of beside the point. You’re into what you’re into, and that is in some way neurologically hardwired.
Besides! Johnson sagely added, the site is actually called Kotaku, which riffs on the word otaku, which lends the notion that it’s, uh, cool to be into whatever you’re into. So let’s all be good people; let’s not fracture in dissent. Thanks!
Johnson posted all of this, not as an editor, but as a moderator. He explained all the sides of everything that has ever been, ever, just as well as he could. Maybe it got a little mangled in translation. Sure.
He probably posted all this and then ducked for cover, and with plenty of reason: every pocket of enthusiast readership he could have humanly offended was sure to let him know.
My first issue with “An Open Letter to Kotaku’s Joel Johnson”—which was published by the Border House, a blog you should absolutely add to your Feedburner, and please don’t think I am assembling a firing squad aimed at either them or at the letter’s goodhearted author, Mattie Brice—is the title. The title! Because: where does our issue lie? With Joel Johnson? Or Kotaku? I mean, “Kotaku’s Joel Johnson”?
If the issue is only with Kotaku, oh, boy, you’re coming a few years late to the party.
Kotaku is a Gawker-style website—what am I saying, it literally is a Gawker site!—and when you aggregate interesting factoids, you’re going to be slumming in the lowest common denominator’s neighborhood, always. No, please, stick with me. I hate to cop to my own subjectivity, but true story: since June, I have been writing for a celebrity gossip website for money, and it’s honestly the best gig I’ve had in maybe my whole life. I applied for the job a month before my (adoptive) dad’s death: I can write what I want usually; it super-coordinates with my life’s schedule and time commitments; I’ve actually been reading this gossip website since 2005ish; I love my coworkers; I am sometimes proud of my work because I am sneaking some pretty progressive stuff onto the site, probably to everyone’s horror; I actually replaced Molls McAleer, which is kind of cool; and all the rest. But I really do have to post nudie pics if I am the first to a “story.” It can be gut-wrenching.
I remember the first time I told my mother I was about to put a photo of a penis onto the Internet, and I think she could see I was basically begging her—her! This 80-year-old, immobile, mostly-blind, mostly-deaf, just-widowed and bereaved Christian woman on dialysis—to excuse me. Absolve me, please! And yet it’s just how that machine works, because I really do write for a celebrity gossip aggregator. Yes, duty calls! There are moral and ethical questions every day, and some days, there are even invasions of privacy and hacked cell phones and Scarlett Johansson’s ass, and it’s my first time ever being on the uglier side of certain ethical web dilemmas, all because I was the first of my coworkers to stumble across Scarlett Johansson’s ass that morning.
And so I do have to talk to my mother, every single time. Time and money, by necessity, have become important to me. Maybe I really am a bad person. But good God, it’s my job to post asses just as politely and ethically as I can, and I do my damnedest to personally mitigate that job requirement with feminist leanings and progressive politics, and I try to be satisfied with myself. Yes, open-letter author Mattie Brice, we do seek to be absolved, all of us. I only added these paragraphs because I wanted to. Let’s move on from this aspect, I hope.
So perhaps, at an aggregator site, you’re going to get a lot of facts wrong; you’re working fast; you’re going to post headlines as they siphon into your RSS reader, journalistic integrity be damned. That is how a certain style of paid writing works. No, I don’t know what to do about it. I don’t. (In acknowledging this, I am actively agreeing with Mattie Brice’s fine open letter, OK.)
Now, in my old life, where I worked at a big-budge video game website—one of the biggest, for a time!—we might have collectively rolled our eyes at Kotaku a little. We did! Us! We did! All of us at some gigantic corporate-owned website, where cosplay galleries were all the rage! Because when Kotaku was breaking a story, we knew we had to go back and fact-check every freaking headline, and we were left picking the wheat from the chaff. But the truth is, that big-budge video game website I worked for was waaaay-aaaaay less progressive than Kotaku from the very get-go, in part because we scarcely covered fringe culture—even though the real weirdos at work, who were into Game Center CX, independently developed games, anime, and video games that only released to Famicom, were trying so, so hard to cover those things.
But then, at Kotaku, something much more interesting started to happen? I mean, Kotaku has always been interesting, but when Stephen Totilo joined the ranks—and to be sure, there were already some pretty fine writers at Kotaku, but when Stephen Totilo signed on, as Deputy Editor, right under Crecente in the hierarchy of importance—I sincerely doubt I was alone when I arched an eyebrow. He’s a really fine critic, and thoughtful; his reputation well precedes him. The hell? I remember thinking. What is Stephen Totilo doing, defecting to Kotaku? I doubt the “old guard,” Kotaku’s longstanding readership, even understood what they were getting when they got Stephen Totilo.
The capable and artful Leigh Alexander had already been around awhile, a goodly time before Totilo, as a columnist. She has long contributed editorials to Kotaku even as she constantly relays these very developed news stories for Gamasutra. If you somehow aren’t familiar with her byline, she’s all business, but then, too, she’s the Average Jane guys love and girls adore, and even that assessment shortchanges the woman. But suddenly, suddenly! Here comes Kirk Hamilton as a Features Editor. The man worked at Paste, OK, but something fascinating and quirky and helpful and truthful has been happening to his writing for a long while, and here he is now, devastating Kotaku with his truth bullets. (No, how could I be subjective? I love these writers.)
I’m not sure of the exact timeline, but by the time Joel Johnson signed on, he was so totally screwed: something has been happening to Kotaku for a little while now.
Their white male readership has noticed, and they have taken aim.
Kotaku’s Joel Johnson? Kotaku’s Joel Johnson?
When I met him, he was Gizmodo’s Joel Johnson, telling the world about hip, hip cell phones. And then, suddenly, he wasn’t. Instead, he was Joel Johnson creating a communications network for victims of Hurricane Katrina. A little while later, he was Wired’s Joel Johnson; then he was BoingBoing’s Joel Johnson. Who is this Kotaku’s Joel Johnson?
What I’m saying is, you have very goodheartedly and inadvertently made it personal. I think your issue is not with Joel Johnson. It is with Kotaku, a job that the man was grandfathered into, and Johnson only just now has a say in its coverage. And here is the heart: you are confusing the person with the job’s role.
Moreover, Joel Johnson is strong enough to change the site’s editorial direction over time. So wait. Just freaking wait. I have done my very, very best to explain machines to you; this is how machines work. It’s ugly, and I hate it, and I’m sorry. But wait.
You can say that changes in Kotaku’s coverage aren’t coming fast enough. That’s fine, but it also defies the point of his Kotaku article, wherein Johnson is actually addressing a cultural whiplash, admonishing longstanding readers for their claims that changes are instead coming too quickly.
And here we have arrived at the crux of my ire: Joel Johnson is on your side. What side? Your side. Aformentioned writer Mattie Brice (I love you!) accuses Johnson of “handwaving,” of a lack of willingness to discuss “the issue,” and I just cannot begin to grok that. I might offend you with this, but Kotaku has never been for minority groups. No, I know, and I hate that, too, and I always have. But it’s changing. Let it change. Kotaku cannot, will not, be a “safe space” tomorrow. And that’s maybe the real point: Kotaku has always tried to maintain its finger on the pulse, and the fact that Kotaku is changing tells you things are changing.
P.S. May I remind you how entirely different this whole thing is from that dumb dickwolves thing, not that aaaaaaanyone has confused the two. But if they did? Remember: in posting, Johnson was opening up a forum for conversation and understanding, which means his intentions were different from the beginning.
- From Johnson’s Twitter, here’s an interesting deconstruction of both sides of the argument.
- ETA: Also, Jayson Young supports and encourages both Brice and Johnson for each stepping up to the plate.