Linkle and the Geek Culture War: “I’m touching your stuff!”

With the introduction of Linkle to Hyrule Warriors, the usual culture war pundits came out to say it's not enough. But what is enough for them? 

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Recently Nintendo an­nounced the in­clu­sion of a new fe­male ver­sion of Link in Hyrule Warriors named “Linkle.” Poor nam­ing choic­es aside, the re­ac­tion to the an­nounce­ment from the so­cial jus­tice pun­dits has shown a per­fect ex­am­ple of the tac­tics used by those bent of wag­ing a cul­ture war in “geek” me­dia. The re­ac­tion swung from gloat­ing and smug­ness to at­tacks and re­crim­i­na­tions of Nintendo for not ful­ly re­plac­ing Link with Linkle, or some oth­er orig­i­nal fe­male char­ac­ter. It’s of­ten said “You can’t make cul­ture war­riors hap­py.” But that sim­ply isn’t true. You just have to re­al­ize what re­al­ly makes them hap­py, and why.

On pa­per it seems like noth­ing could make the po­lit­i­cal­ly cor­rect and per­ma­nent­ly of­fend­ed hap­py. Their own in­ter­nal log­ic is con­tra­dic­to­ry. You have to re­al­ize what makes them hap­py doesn’t con­form to any sort of log­ic; the Mrs. Male trope ap­plies equal­ly whether or not Link is re­placed by a girl or a new char­ac­ter is cre­at­ed. At this point their ar­gu­ment breaks down as be­ing con­tra­dic­to­ry. “Make this beloved char­ac­ter fe­male” and “Making fe­male ver­sions of Male char­ac­ters is a neg­a­tive trope” should be mu­tu­al­ly ex­clu­sive sen­ti­ments, if you have a con­sis­tent and log­i­cal mind. They should be at odds with each other.

My fel­low SuperNerdLand con­trib­u­tor, writer of “Translating Tumblr,” and all round smart cook­ie Cate Winters ob­served that the peo­ple she sees on Tumblr cel­e­brat­ing ideas like “Thor is a girl” or the pre­pos­ter­ous “Samus is Trans” fad have the same at­ti­tude as a child want­i­ng an­oth­er child’s toys. They are not sim­ply hap­py with get­ting their own toy, they also want no one else to be able to have it. She ob­served it was like an im­ma­ture child go­ing “I’m touch­ing your stuff! You can’t stop me touch­ing your stuff!” It is a self­ish and pet­ty instinct.

What makes cul­ture war­riors hap­py is this: oth­er peo­ple be­ing un­hap­py. If you re­al­ize this then their de­ci­sions make a hell of a lot more sense.

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In cas­es that piss off their per­ceived op­po­si­tion suf­fi­cient­ly they sim­ply choose not to ap­ply their own rule­set to it. This is a rule­set based on crit­i­cal the­o­ry, and one that can at­tack any­thing as racist/sexist/problematic by de­sign. “Everything is sex­ist.” Anita Sarkeesian said it her­self. Their ide­ol­o­gy is set out so they can ar­bi­trar­i­ly choose not to crit­i­cise peo­ple seen as on their “own team,” or ideas they feel push their pol­i­tics and ide­ol­o­gy for­ward. Hypocrisy is ac­cept­able as long as it serves the cause; Nintendo didn’t pun­ish white males enough with their de­ci­sion so it wasn’t good enough. Not enough peo­ple were up­set, and a vic­to­ry could’t be claimed. Faces couldn’t be rubbed in it as ef­fec­tive­ly, and they couldn’t then start mak­ing fur­ther de­mands about the con­tent of the core Zelda fran­chise while work­ing to de­ride the rest of the fanbase.

Those at­tack­ing me­dia in the name of di­ver­si­ty can es­pouse these two con­tra­dic­to­ry ideas at the same time be­cause they don’t ar­gue from a place of log­ic; they ar­gue from a place of au­thor­i­ty and would rather at­tack and smear ideas they don’t like rather than try­ing to dis­prove or en­gage with them. This is Critical Theory 101. Social Sciences and Postmodernism move ra­tio­nal­ism aside in favour of pro­mot­ing what ar­gu­ment dri­ves a cause or idea for­ward, rather than the va­lid­i­ty of the ar­gu­ment pre­sent­ed. Linke and Female Thor are mi­nor skir­mish­es on the route to a wider goal.

This isn’t about di­ver­si­ty, this is about po­lit­i­cal vic­to­ry and hi­jack­ing es­tab­lished cul­tur­al icons for a pure­ly po­lit­i­cal cause. Some refuse to ad­mit it, but the hu­mor­ous im­age of Anita Sarkeesian’s con­tra­dic­to­ry state­ments that got near­ly a thou­sand up-votes on the /r/gaming board of Reddit is wak­ing peo­ple up to their true motivations.

The dis­tinc­tion be­tween “Making a fe­male Link” and “Making Link fe­male” is mean­ing­less to the gen­er­al pub­lic, but it mat­ters a great deal to cul­ture warriors.

Making the canon ver­sion of Link a girl and hav­ing it re­place the main char­ac­ter re­moves the male ver­sion, and this is the ac­tion they are re­al­ly the most in­ter­est­ed in. This is what un­der­pinned the cel­e­bra­tion of fe­male Thor; it wasn’t about hav­ing a fe­male ver­sion of Thor. It was about sup­plant­i­ng a male char­ac­ter with a fe­male one on a large plat­form. They want to make ex­ist­ing char­ac­ters con­form to and par­rot their pol­i­tics be­cause it pro­vides them with the plat­form for their ideas that a new char­ac­ter wouldn’t have.

The wider goal is to have all me­dia re­flect and dic­tate po­lit­i­cal­ly pro­gres­sive ideas. When you look at Female Thor you are sup­posed to be re­mind­ed that you are a shit­lord, that your male space is un­der at­tack and that “Lol! Thor is a girl now! The Hulk is Asian! Take that GamerGators! The MRA Racists have lost! I’m touch­ing your stuff, your stuff is mine now ha­ha­ha! If you don’t like it then get out!” It’s fun­da­men­tal­ly about the per­ceived de­feat of po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents via the dom­i­na­tion of cul­ture. That’s what the cul­ture war is, and they can’t talk about “win­ning” it with­out ex­pos­ing that fact.

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This is why every de­ci­sion that doesn’t lead to some form of cul­tur­al de­struc­tion or sup­plan­ta­tion is heav­i­ly crit­i­cized. This is why de­ci­sions most peo­ple would see as “good for every­one” are nev­er good enough. Simply re­plac­ing an all-male with an all-female case isn’t adding “di­ver­si­ty.” Things didn’t get more di­verse, they just changed. Having both a male and fe­male ver­sion is di­ver­si­ty, and these are the de­ci­sions cul­ture war­riors ac­tive­ly dis­like. On a fun­da­men­tal lev­el, cul­tur­al crit­ics and their le­gion of scream­ing, en­ti­tled fol­low­ers are anti-diversity. This is why peo­ple got up­set when it was an­nounced there would also be an all-male ver­sion of Ghostbusters be­ing made as well as the all-female ver­sion. Nothing ac­tu­al­ly changed, the fe­male ver­sion was still be­ing made, but they can no longer rub it in people’s faces. “Ha! I’m touch­ing your Ghostbusters stuff! Look it’s all girl now! I’m rub­bing my gen­der pol­i­tics all over your stuff and there’s noth­ing you can do about it! Don’t like it? Get out!”

If there are al­ter­na­tives in me­dia that forego gen­der pol­i­tics or pro­gres­sive ideas then they have to com­pete in the mar­ket­place with them. This is an ad­mis­sion that, when pre­sent­ed with a choice, peo­ple usu­al­ly pre­fer me­dia with­out all of the po­lit­i­cal bull­shit involved.

Did fe­male Thor sell well be­cause it had a fe­male lead or did it sell well be­cause mess­ing with the Thor canon cre­at­ed a lot of con­tro­ver­sy and pub­lic­i­ty? Would it have sold just as well op­po­site a male ver­sion of Thor? We don’t know. But what we do know is that the de­ci­sion seemed en­gi­neered to de­lib­er­ate­ly piss peo­ple off for max­i­mum po­lit­i­cal im­pact. Once again this is not about cre­at­ing di­ver­si­ty, and the ac­tu­al qual­i­ty of me­dia is on the back-burner. It’s about up­set­ting a group seen as po­lit­i­cal opponent’s whist push­ing for­ward an ide­ol­o­gy. It’s end re­sult will be to make all me­dia ho­moge­nous and far less di­verse in terms of char­ac­ters, sto­ry­lines, view­points and ideas. Diversity is an emp­ty buzz­word when used in this context.

But what does it mat­ter what po­lit­i­cal ideas a piece of me­dia puts for­ward? Well, con­trary to most ev­i­dence which shows our po­lit­i­cal and cul­tur­al ideas are shaped main­ly by our peers and the real wold around us, Critical Theory is built on the premise that me­dia and en­ter­tain­ment have a pro­found ef­fect on our think­ing and are re­spon­si­ble for shap­ing our world-view al­most en­tire­ly. The end goal of this laugh­able pro­ces­sion of mean-spirted tantrums is to cre­ate pro­pa­gan­da that will brain­wash the mass­es to bring about the dom­i­na­tion of their po­lit­i­cal ideas and a new pro­gres­sive utopia. No re­al­ly. That’s what they ac­tu­al­ly think. What would ac­tu­al­ly hap­pen is me­dia would get a bit crap and peo­ple would stop watch­ing as much of it, or cre­ate al­ter­na­tives out­side of this nar­row set of rules set forth by PC dem­a­gogues. But this is the rea­son they keep push­ing against “com­pe­ti­tion” and work to make life mis­er­able for con­tent cre­ators and en­thu­si­ast au­di­ences that do not agree with them.

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When you make your char­ac­ter fe­male they will de­mand it be a “per­son of colour.” When you make it a black fe­male they will de­mand it not con­form to “gen­der norms.” When you make it have a black fe­male demi­sex­u­al they will ask why it doesn’t re­flect the ex­pe­ri­ences of the men­tal­ly dis­abled. When you make your char­ac­ter a black fe­male demi­sex­u­al with schiz­o­phre­nia they will tell you it is of­fen­sive to use their ill­ness and say to add a trig­ger warn­ing. When you make it a black fe­male demi­sex­u­al with a trig­ger warn­ing for schiz­o­phre­nia they will ask why you are leav­ing out the phys­i­cal­ly dis­abled. When you make it a black fe­male demi­sex­u­al para­plegic with trig­ger warn­ing for schiz­o­phre­nia they will ask why it is be­ing cre­at­ed by white males. When you add women to your team they will de­mand women of colour. When you re­place your en­tire team with peo­ple who per­fect­ly re­flect the ex­pe­ri­ence of the now com­plete­ly un­rec­og­niz­able char­ac­ter they will won­der why a team of black fe­male demi­sex­u­al para­plegic schiz­o­phren­ics with no back­ground in cre­at­ing suc­cess­ful me­dia is hav­ing trou­ble fin­ish­ing a project that peo­ple want to buy.

Culture war­riors will only ever be tem­porar­i­ly hap­py and to achieve this you have to make every­one but them un­hap­py. Once you have giv­en in they will keep de­mand­ing changes un­til your project falls apart or be­comes un­rec­og­niz­able and eco­nom­i­cal­ly un­vi­able. They are do­ing this be­cause they think mak­ing me­dia that ad­heres to their warped ideas will func­tion to make every­one else think like them.

Don’t give into cul­ture war­riors; it’s al­ways a bad de­ci­sion. They have no gen­uine in­ter­est in your project be­yond how they can in­ject their pol­i­tics into it. Make what you want to make.

The fol­low­ing two tabs change con­tent below.
John Sweeney is a ter­ri­bly British man with a back­ground in en­gi­neer­ing. He writes long-form ed­i­to­r­i­al con­tent with analy­sis of gam­ing, games me­dia and in­ter­net cul­ture. He also does the oc­ca­sion­al video game ret­ro­spec­tive with a week­ly col­umn about Magic the Gathering thrown in for good mea­sure. He also does most of our in­ter­views for some rea­son, we have no idea why. A staunch sup­port­er of free speech and con­sumer rights; skep­ti­cal of agen­da dri­ven me­dia and sus­pi­cious of un­ac­cou­table au­thor­i­ty but al­ways hope­ful for change.
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