Identity Politics: A Field Report

You might be familiar with the idea of identity politics. It’s a term with actually quite a long history, but most recently it’s being used by right-wingers to denote this evil divisive left-wing obsession with the queer community and other minorities to the exclusion and denigration of straight white men. This week I wanted to talk about a little case study – it’s something that I experienced recently, and I thought it shed some light on the topic. 

So I’m in a Dark Souls fan group. I’m doing my Masters on Dark Souls, and I enjoy some of the banter they have – I also occasionally ask them questions and gather data on player experiences. Anyway, the developers recently released a remastered version of Dark Souls, and the mods of this FB group opened up a season of shitposting. Normally there’s a bit of a code of conduct – nothing strenuous, just don’t be a dickhead. But they removed all guidelines for a short period of time, and people went to town. It was like a real-life version of the Purge – all posts were legal for like a week.

And obviously there was a lot of filth. There’s always a degree of low-level homophobia and other gross content on the page – for example, people who make dex builds are referred to as ‘dex fags’. But this just really opened up the floodgates. Heaps of really aggressive anti-gay content, lots of jokes about Muslim suicide bombers – because it was Ramadan, see – just really awful. And I was sad, because it just all seemed to come out of nowhere and I thought I’d have to leave the group and go somewhere else for my Dark Souls content.

But I let it just sit for a few days on mute, and then something wonderful happened. I woke up one morning to find they’d changed the name to ‘Soulsbourne Hell [LGBT Community]’. As far as the mods were concerned, it was just another type of shitposting – pretending to be really inclusive and gay-friendly as a way to trigger all the bigots during Pride. And holy shit, did it trigger all the bigots. Some objected to talking about the queer community in what was supposed to be a Dark Souls group (before immediately leaving the group):

“I don’t find the connection between Dark Souls and gay shit so I’m out” 

“I’m interested in dark souls not your LGBT garbage. Bye.” 

But of course the group had been talking about gay people and Muslims and the rest of it before the ‘LGBT Community’ change. It had just been in a really derogatory way. It was only when people started posting positively that this question of relevance arose – so really we can dismiss these posters. They just didn’t want to see people talk about the queer community as anything other than a punchline.

Other posters accused ‘liberals’ of playing ‘identity politics’:

“Never seen a page turn to shit faster than when Antonio became admin. Liberal cucks can’t seem to leave anything good alone. This page has turned into a liberal safe haven, hell bent of [sic] triggering everyone who doesn’t agree. Nice job turning this once awesome Dark Souls page into a political platform for the toxic liberals.” 

“By stating in the title that the group is open to a certain group is on itself exclusive and stupid, just let it be soulsbourne, every individual can participate. Identity politics are cancer, you are not a race, a gender or a region [sic], you are you. You guys need to read and see some JBP, is righ [sic] on youtube for free.” 

JBP, by the way, is Jordan B. Peterson, who, uh, lol. But let’s start from the start.

“Never seen a page turn to shit faster than when Antonio became admin.”

Here the act of posting gay-positive content is described as ‘shit’, possibly because the writer hates gay people. Not sure on that one.

“This page has turned into a liberal safe haven, hell bent of [sic] triggering everyone who doesn’t agree.”

Less than 24 hours earlier it had been overwhelmed with Muslims-are-terrorists memes, so it’s not really a liberal safe haven. He also refers to ‘everyone who doesn’t agree’ – doesn’t agree with what? With people being gay? Or with people talking positively about being gay? See above.

“Nice job turning this once awesome Dark Souls page into a political platform for the toxic liberals.”

The suggestion here is that pro-gay content is political content, but homophobia is not. Homophobic jokes are treated as politically neutral, as having no political dimension at all. This is one of the recurring themes throughout these posts: there’s this general tone of ‘keep politics out of video games’. But isn’t homophobia just as political as gay pride? Really the underlying suggestion is that these players don’t want to be confronted with politics they don’t like. The second post:

“By stating in the title that the group is open to a certain group is on itself exclusive and stupid”

This is really just a top-shelf moron. If your group is open and accepting to gay people, that’s exclusionary, because you’re excluding all the people who hate gay people. It’s like how ending segregation actually segregated people who liked segregation. It’s like how accepting Jews is actually really exclusionary to Nazis. The supposedly tolerant left are actually really intolerant after all.

“just let it be soulsbourne, every individual can participate”

Little known fact: If you are welcoming to the queer community, everybody who’s not queer is automatically not welcome.

“Identity politics are cancer, you are not a race, a gender or a region [sic], you are you.”

I’m not really sure what ‘identity politics’ are supposed to comprise. Judging from the rest of the content so far, it’s probably a knee-jerk strawman constructed by people who don’t really understand the things they’re talking about in the first place. But as someone who has a pretty broad training in feminism and post-colonial theory, I can reliably inform you that part of the point of these different theories is to show that people of different races and genders and religions are not reducible to their component parts. This poster is (accidentally) correct: you’re not just your race or your gender. That’s… sort of the point of feminism and post-colonial theory. You can’t just say ‘Oh she’s a Muslim, she’s probably a terrorist.’ That’s a reductive stereotype. Or ‘Oh, she’s a woman, she must symbolise chaos.’ Again – that would be reducing the individual to their gender. Hang on – sorry, I’ve just been informed that JBP thinks women symbolise chaos. Weird.

On the other hand, another strand of thought in feminist theory (for example) looks at how the prejudices borne towards women impact their lives. If, for instance, you think women are meant to be subordinate to men, you might be less likely to vote for a woman for president, regardless of her qualifications or experience. In that sense, one of the things that pops up repeatedly in feminist theory is examining how assumptions made about women impact their day to day lives. It’s not about saying that all women are the same, it’s about looking at how women are *treated* the same by people who reduce them to their gender and use that as an excuse to pay them less. Obviously the same thing can be studied with men as well – and, uh, that’s sort of a thing that’s been happening for a while, it’s variously called masculinity studies or men’s studies. So while I’m not sure what identity politics is supposed to be, or why it’s supposedly cancerous, I do agree that reducing a person to their gender and then making generalisations about them based on their gender is fucking stupid. If only we knew someone like that…

As I said at the start, this is just a quick field report. It’s not substantial, and it certainly doesn’t prove anything one way or the other. But I think it’s interesting to take these comments, which have come up organically – they were just the first four I could find – and dig into some of the reasons underlying what they’re saying. As far as these comments are concerned, hostility to so-called ‘identity politics’ is really just bigots being bigots.

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