Those of you who have cause to know me outside the managed confines of my writing here and scripted shows on various sites and YouTube may have heard me making reference over the past year to a “potential upcoming project” I couldn’t talk about but was very hopeful for. Well, now I can talk about it: The Escapist – the video-games etc website where I think the bulk of my early mass-exposure to a wide audience came from and where I believe a lot of my longtime readers/viewers/followers/fans first came aboard – is staging a comeback and I’ve signed on (and have in fact been tentatively “onboard” for quite awhile now, hence all the hush-hush) to revive some of my “classic” material (to be determined – stay tuned!) as part of the initial relaunch.
The guy leading the charge is my good friend and former Escapist Editor-in-Chief Russ Pitts, later of Polygon, Flying Saucer Media, TakeThis.Org and multiple other worthy projects, and you get his full accounting of what this means and how it came about from this Medium post. There was a bit of a “thing” afterwards where The Internet had a collective brain-fart over his use of the phrase “leaving politics at the door” in reference to his approach to the site, wherein a bunch of fairly awful people became unnecessarily happy and a bunch of otherwise reasonable became unnecessarily… “perturbed,” though I believe Russ has handily clarified his point in this live-recorded podcast chat and this rather unambiguously-worded Tweet.
In any case, that was the initial announcement of the endeavor, and I’m sure there will be more to be said and laid out and discussed from the management end re: things that aren’t my place to discuss here. What I would like to take this opportunity to do – now that certain issues of site ownership, content rights and disclosure have apparently been settled and clarified to a degree they were not previously and because the prospect of my return to the fold has led to a (predictable) revival of old slanders, mischaracterizations, performative-misunderstanding and manufactured-outrage – is to clear the air about the circumstances by which my time at the old version of The Escapist came to an end and set the record straight about some things you may have heard about me and what I supposedly believe.
To be clear right upfront: I’m not going to be dropping a lot of names or airing a lot of dirty laundry – this is about getting to be more specific about what “the situation” was surrounding my departure from my perspective than I was able to be in the original post on the subject (or the six-months-later follow-up), not settling scores. If I’m to get “vindication” out of this, it’s going to come in the form of taking back control of intellectual property and/or the fruits of my own labor and (more broadly) helping to take a website/brand back from a philosophy/sensibility that overtook it and bring it back to what it was when I was proud to be a part of it. So if you’re looking for dirt? Look elsewhere – “the nitty gritty” on this isn’t difficult to find online, I assume, and I’m sure it’ll come up from people who were closer to the internal machinations of editorial/publishing than I ever was.
I never applied to The Escapist. They found me. I knew of the site after finding out about it around the same time a lot of people did when Zero Punctuation broke out big, and I was in the midst of working retail jobs (I believe I was at Circuit City at this point) and building up the “Game OverThinker” brand in independent partnership with ScrewAttack when The Escapist (I believe Russ was my initial contact, in fact) contacted me pretty much out of the blue and asked if I wanted to come do a video show and maybe other content for Escapist. Since they were a gaming site I figured they wanted game content, but it turned out they’d liked the movie reviews I’d been putting up on my YouTube and after some back and forth “Escape to The Movies” was the result.
“The Big Picture” followed, then multiple written columns and a stint as part of the newswriting team, all of which were a big success and part of what’s considered by many (myself included) to have been the salad-days of that site: There were lots of popular shows and features, lots of popular contributors, lots of capable editors (I owe a lot of the perception of me as someone who showed up knowing what he was doing as a professional early on to Susan Arendt, who was the main editor for most of my shows and columns at the time and eventually EIC when Russ moved on) a generally positive vibe and – as far as I was given to understand – decent profitability to the point where the site was able to put on its own convention.
What I was not aware of, at the time (and can still only speak to in a second-hand sense) is that there were apparently longstanding issues with the site’s founder and (original) owner; a person who had (at the time) always seemed generally fair/decent in his dealings with me but apparently had difficulty retaining employees at the home office and (possibly related, not my place to say) was possessed of some “colorful” political viewpoints of what we’d now call the alt-right variety. Again: Information I didn’t have until much, much later and didn’t really come up in direct relation to me save for a single incident wherein I was asked to stop using the phrase “Teabaggers” to refer to the “Tea Party” political movement in the early-mid 2000s (which, to be clear, is in itself an entirely fair ask from my perspective that I was okay to comply with.)
I doubt I need to rehash the events of “gamergate” for anyone reading this, but suffice to say by the time that whole thing happened much of The Escapist’s top editorial staff had vacated and various creators had struck out on their own. I wasn’t one of them, though I had irons in the fire. As people who followed the “GG” nonsense may recall, part of the freakout was that a majority of respectable gaming-sites either refused to cover or give credence to the accusatory blog post that set the whole thing off; but for whatever reason (I’ve heard many different versions) The Escapist wasn’t one of them – apparently (I would only later learn) by edict of the aforementioned now-former owner/founder who agreed with and subsequently signal-boosted the right-wing/anti-feminist/journalism-conspiracy narrative that grew up around the whole mess and found a “home” on The Escapists forums where most other sites were diligently purging such discussions as they were mainly serving as hubs for doxxing and harassment-campaign organization.
Again, being a freelancer during all this, I wasn’t in any kind of regular editorial contact with the site other than submitting my own work; so a lot of what I’m describing above I found out about later. What I knew was that I was against what “GG” was and stood for from the outset, said so loudly and often – sometimes in language that was overly harsh or dramatic and which I did in fact apologize for when asked to “reign it in” (the tone, not the opinion) by Escapist editorial (as in the then-EiC, not the owner/founder.) I would later be told, second and third hand, that said owner was at this point in contact with various fixtures in the right-wing/alt-right media (names you’d know) and that talk of ousting me specifically had come up, but didn’t initially happen because I was at that point producing a substantial amount of the site’s still-profitable content as “name” creators and contributors had been fleeing amid this mess… though, as I said, I can’t confirm that firsthand myself and it’s not really germane anymore.
In any case: If effectively letting The Escapist become the de-facto “pro-GG” gaming site of note was supposed to be good for traffic, it (evidently) wasn’t. So while I was surprised and hurt when I got the call in February of 2014 that my freelance contract wasn’t going to be continued I can’t say that it was a 1000% out of nowhere shock. To be totally clear: As a freelancer, it was made plain to me that this wasn’t considered a termination or firing (you can’t technically “fire” a freelancer, for one thing) and, when I asked if this had anything to do with my personal politics versus what seemed to have become the site’s I was told “no.” Did I believe that then and/or believe it now? …I’d rather not throw around accusations. Suffice it to say, when I was told later (second hand, can’t confirm, won’t claim as fact) that certain persons who might’ve given one explanation to me might’ve told others I was “fired for attacking gamers” I was past the point where I’d be surprised if such a thing turned out to be true. The owner/founder in question is no longer involved in the equation, in any case.
After that point my story is more of an open book: Started the YouTube independent content and Patreon, linked back up with ScrewAttack for a bit and then ScreenRant and Geek.com, now we’re here. The behind-the-scenes machinations are still a web of ugliness I don’t fully comprehend myself, but the bottom line is that at one point I was working for a website where I was proud to contribute content, the person then in charge of it made a decision to let it become a hub/mouthpiece for a politicized harassment campaign, part of that transition involved (either passively or aggressively) nudging me out of it, the site fell apart and now it’s in the hands of some people who were part of making it worthwhile once upon a time and I’m set to be part of that effort.
For those wondering: No, I can’t tell you what it is I’ll be introducing and/or reviving when the new site kicks into gear yet. What I can tell you is that at this time is that YES, this is a (small) part of the impetus for “In Bob We Trust” to be on partial-hiatus and likely to be retooled on its return and also why I’ve been trying out pilots for new-ish shows on the YouTube Channel. I can also tell you that “Really That Good” and “Good Enough Movies” will continue and remain independently funded by the MovieBob Patreon at this time. My weekly reviews at Geek.com will also continue, and I have no plans to stop those any time soon. As the graphic up the top of this post indicates, I’m set to appear on a panel at PAX Prime with some other returning friends and colleagues who’ll (presumably) have stories of their own about where we’ve been and where things are going.
That will be for later. For now, I’d like to turn to address the truth and untruth behind some things that, in part because of this new/old venture, you might be hearing around about me – and why just because people are telling lies about you doesn’t mean you have nothing to apologize for.
I Said What?
So you might have heard that I’m a eugenicist.
I’m not, of course. Very few people are anymore, in the strictest technical sense of the word, and for good reason. “Eugenics” – the modern scientific name assigned to the somewhat ageless concept of trying to improve the human species through controlled breeding and population control when a certain movement of late 19th and early 20th Century scientists, philosophers and sundry thinkers began to discuss applying then-modern understandings of genetics, evolution and social-science to it – had a relatively brief shelf-life as a meaningfully-popular idea in the developed world before seeing it carried to its logical extreme in the form of Nazi “Master Race” ideology and the Holocaust. Still, it was prominent and “popularly advocated” for long enough to leave an ugly legacy even apart from that: Forced sterilization, racially-charged marriage/cohabitation laws, the works. Bad, bad, bad scene all around; one that every decent person regardless of ideology or outlook would (to my way of thinking) reject and denounce as I do.
What does that have to do with me? Well… social media, shitty jokes (mine), disingenuous people with a lot of time on their hands and people who have trouble not hitting back even when it’d be for their own good (also me.)
Short version: I put a lot of effort into staying sharp and behaving with a composure that befits the professional/intellectual caliber I try to invest in my work… none the less, I frequently fail at it, because no matter how book smart and “academic” I can affect – that’s just not where I’m from and it’s not the core of who I am, or where I’m from or how I came up. I won’t play at being some kind of “street-tough bad-ass made good, either;” but suffice to say what’s in my blood when it comes to any kind of conflict is: You hit me, I hit back. You tell me to fuck off, I tell you to fuck off. You talk about my mother, I talk about your mother. It takes a lot for me to not hit back even when it’s in my interest not to, and the instinct is especially hard to resist when the “fight” is here in the ephemera of The Internet where the “hits” are just words and I tend to feel like I have an advantage to start with.
So… yeah, I get into a lot more “Oh yeah? Well fuck you too, pal!” back-and-forths over (often) meaningless bullshit on dumb forums like Twitter than I probably should, and it frequently comes in the form of attempting to “cleverly” turn someone’s bad opinions back onto them.
And since over the last 4-5 years or so the bulk of folks taking swipes at me and mine in such spaces tend to be coming from the right-wing/alt-right space (first with “gamergate,” then with the Trump campaign and subsequent presidency); that’s meant I’ve spent a lot of troll-smacking time doing that turnabout/reversal bit to various stripes of bigots, white-nationalists, isolationists, “race-realists” and so on: “Oh, you’re the Real Americans? Actually, you’re in demographic decline and the country is gonna look much more like where I am than where you are in a generation.” “Oh, you’re a Real Man and I’m some liberal beta cuck? Actually, your job is probably gonna get automated out of existence in a few years and my Blue State tech/commerce/culture-economy taxes will be paying for you and your state’s life-support – ain’t natural selection a mother?” That kind of thing – sometimes (okay, most of the time) with more colorful language and a rambling tangent thread to over-explain the joke because I don’t know when to knock it off.
And speaking of not knowing when to knock it off, since that kind of thing tends to get my self-righteous streak up, those rambling-tangents can (and do) often spill over into more florid rants about “societal evolution,” technology, geopolitics and admittedly cheesy word-salads about “the superior future versus the superior past” or somesuch. What’s wrong with that? Well, apart from sounding like the visionary-crackpot older scientist in a pre-WWII pulp adventure story, not too much – especially since I won’t pretend not to believe in such things in a big picture sense: I’m an unapologetic technophile, scientific-utopian, futurist, globalist, post-nationalist… whatever other word describes the component parts of a general philosophy that wants human civilization to hurry up and A.) automate to the point where physical prowess is no longer a determinant factor of social mobility (while intellectual prowess is, perhaps more determinant than ever) and B.) advances in travel, commerce, communication and resource-management have reduced the need for strict and contentious national borders. Now, plenty of people disagree with those outlooks, sure – but I hardly think they make me particularly threatening.
(Moreover, I tend to be a political pragmatist about the same: Barring undue harm to others, whatever puts me closer to those ideals I’m for, what takes me further away I’m against – right, left, center… generally not where I like to concern my thinking. If anything, my “philosophy” would be closer to technocratic – note the small “t” and this subsequent acknowledgement that “Technocracy” as an actual system of government would all but certainly be a disaster… but that’s a different post.)
So what’s the problem? Well, when you stir that sort of philosophical outlook into the brew with a reflex for snapping-back at “MAGA Twitter” or the alt-right, particularly on the “Here’s what I think of your cynical romanticism of the rural red states and/or the ‘white working-class,” a stubborn penchant for verbal flourish and genuine anger when reacting to things like the rollback of civil rights, “Muslim bans,” stripping protections from endangered species and protected land, attacks on the free press, literal Nazis marching in U.S. cities with Presidential endorsements as “very fine people” after one of them murders a woman with a car, pardons for right-wing militia terrorists, child-prisons for “tender-age” refugee children (read: baby jails) being built in converted Wal-Marts on the southern border… you can end up losing the compunction to be diplomatic and land verbal “punches” in a fashion that crosses the line.
Like, say, using words like “subhuman” or “submental,” or other phrasing about that scrapes the edge of “using dehumanizing language as turnabout for active dehumanizers” and just ordinary dehumanization. And that’s not a great look. Neither, for that matter, is casting too wide a a net or painting with too broad a brush, tarring entire regions, states, towns etc for the actions of a movement (however substantial) withing them by indulging in hurtful regional stereotypes. Also not a great look, and past a certain point of taste just wrong – full stop. I’ve done so, it’s not cool, I recognize that (even unintentionally) that that kind of talk even directed at genuinely awful people for the “right” reason can be indirectly hurtful to decent people otherwise; I apologize for having done so and am committed to making my points in a more constructive way (and also just getting into fewer scrapes on social media, because… yeah, so many better uses of my time.)
But what the hell does this have to do with “eugenics” have to do with this? Well, in reality nothing. But when you say angry stuff on the internet, get into arguments with trolls and you’ve slung bad “edgy” jokes around in the past; you open yourself to said trolls using your preserved words against you – chopped up, screencapped, pulled out of context, photoshopped into incendiary images, yes… but your words all the same. And while I’ve not been the victim of anywhere near the kind of sustained targeted lets-kill-this-guy’s-career attacks that were recently directed at, say, James Gunn… yeah, that same basic sort of impetus (from the same basic sort of people, at least originally) is where that comes from: As it happens, at a certain point several years back I’d Tweeted a pair of (bad) jokes on unrelated occasions with “eugenics” as the punchline, in the context of the time in an attempt to make “darkly humorous” light of frustration at dealing with (respectively) crowds and traffic. Not my finest moment, inappropriate even in context, looks even worse out of context…
…like, say, when alt-right trolls, gamergate/comicsgate acolytes and (more recently) angry folks from the entirely opposite end of the political spectrum who consider my politics insufficiently leftist-socialist want to photoshop those Tweets into meme-collages mashing up pullquotes about futurism, societal-evolution vis-a-vi rural/red vs metropolitan/blue U.S. states, angry/self-righteous “screw-you’s” to the MAGA set with (actual) Nazi imagery. Yeah, that’s a thing that floats around, apparently some weirdly-edited youtube videos on the same theme. I want to be impressed with the kind of effort it might take to compile and put together those kinds of things – especially since I frequently delete old bad-taste material when people point it out precisely because I don’t need old mistakes sitting around metastisizing into unpleasantries that cause more trouble by needing to be explained in long, awkward posts like this – but mostly it makes me feel tired.
The fact is, I’m under no illusion that no serious-minded person could look at these things and think “Oh, yes, this is an accurate representation of what this person actually believes;” but that’s not the point. Like with the “Let’s destroy James Gunn by pretending the alt-right suddenly cares about cringey nearly-a-decade-old pedophilia-jokes” thing, the point isn’t to convince but to get the stink of an ugly word/thought/conversation attached to someone’s name or reputation so that they’ll A.) have to waste their time explaining what’s going on or B.) prospective employers/partners/etc will want to steer clear of doing business with them. It’s insidious, it’s ugly, it’s the weaponization of people’s standards of decency by trolls and harassers who benefit by having no standards at all… but at the end of the day, they wouldn’t have been able to make the ammo if I hadn’t left all the lead lying around. And that part is on me.
So what I can do is own it, use this more-visible-than-usual opportunity to explain the where and how of it and acknowledge (again) that even if I did NOT in fact say: “I’m Bob, I believe in eugenics and therefore I think we should population-control by purging red-state Trump-voters!!!” (or that I wanted anyone to “literally die” for that matter) or whatever the takeaway is supposed to be from all the bad-faith misrepresentations… I have in fact said some shitty stuff over the years that – joking or not – drifts close enough to be worth an apology in its own right in addition to the explanation of what wasn’t said. So, as I said above, I apologize for the times I stepped over the line from “giving jerks back what they gave” and “being a jerk myself;” my aim going forward is to have less of that happening in general, and while I’m under no illusions this will be the last I hear of it I hope that this will be the last time there’ll be cause (with any origin on my end, anyway) to write out something at this length about it.
In any case, that’s what I’ve wanted to get off my chest in terms of setting the record straight on The Escapist, that particular strain of trolling and some general apologies/clarifications that I do believe were in order. Beyond that, I’m looking forward. I hope you all are too.