I should probably use the “blog” function of this website to actually, y’know, “blog” more. Those of you who visit know that for the past year and a half it’s been almost exclusively a catalog of where and when my various videos, articles and appearances have been posted; which I’m sure works well enough for some since that’s mainly what I’ve been doing professionally for almost a decade now and if you follow me online to hear what I have to say chances are that’s what you’ve come for. But it wasn’t supposed to be the point of having MovieBob Central be a WordPress blog-based site – at least not originally.
The fact is, the site was put together at the point when it looked like my operation was going to remain primarily independent for the foreseeable future, and I figured that a fresh start with a more manageable/maleable interface was preferable to the old Blogspot site so that I could put up at the least the semblance of an archive, a hub and a shop page. Then things shifted suddenly (or they started to) a little over two years ago – I found out, along with several other compatriots who’d been former colleagues at a (by then) all but defunct website called The Escapist that the site’s then-current owners were going under – that the skeleton crew that had been keeping it afloat was being cast off and the not terribly nice folks left in charge were scattering to the four winds. And someone floated the idea of maybe, possibly, trying to take it back.
Doing so has been a project that’s eaten up the bulk of my working life (and then some) for over a year now, leading to the regrettable “on hold” status of a few projects, the slowing of In Bob We Trust updates and the Really That Good episode focused on the original Star Wars to be very overdue (on the downside: Still not done. On the upside: Going to be “bigger” when it gets here, at this point) but it’s been overall a worthwhile endeavor for me in which a lot of work I was very proud of got done and where I felt very good (during a stretch of life where my “feeling good” moments haven’t been all that numerous or long-lasting, to be frank) about having achieved a certain measure of – for lack of a less self-righteous sounding phrase – “victory” over some very ugly forces in my past and present. I worked hard at something, I’m proud of it, and for a change hard work felt as though it yielded an actual “reward” in and of itself (not that I didn’t also get paid, of course…)
But the problem with applying dramatic metaphors like “victory” and “yielding reward” to your job is you become protective of certain things and lose perspective about other things – often both the wrong thing. And that can mean you become defensive when you should be receptive (or at least… “thoughtful?,”) or angry at the wrong times – or in the wrong direction. Case in point: A great deal of extremely forceful criticism was leveled at something that was written by the EIC of The Escapist over the past week (full disclosure: He is also, of course, my boss there but I am additionally a longtime friend of his family) some of which I initially found, from my own immediate perspective, to be either “off base,” ill-conceived or unfairly maligning of the broader site and its staff – i.e. including me – and opted to responded to often with sarcasm and/or “snark”…
…which turned out to be the wrong approach (or, rather, more wrong than it would even normally be) because the author subsequently engaged in responses of his own; including a public social media argument the tone and content of which – both in general and under the specific circumstances – were frankly appalling (the article itself has been replaced on The Escapist by an apology, the sufficiency of which I offer no opinion on but which includes some relevant details) – and which I condemn. I was angered, disappointed and frustrated by them and by the subsequent way in which the entire event continued to play out.
I should probably back up a little, for context and history…
To make a long story that most who will read this likely neatly divide between “already know” and “don’t really care”: The Escapist had been a small-ish gaming site which, a bit over a decade ago, had blown up massively on acquiring a hugely popular game-review webseries called Zero Punctuation. They began expanding to acquire more writers and video producers, and I was one of the subsequent hires as film critic, producer of The Big Picture and ultimately author of multiple weekly columns. I had good relationships with colleagues, made a lot of good friendships and connections that lasted to this day, and for a time things were good – until they weren’t.
The so-called “Gamergate” fiasco – a hate movement born specifically a weaponized stalking campaign against a specific female game developer that soon blossomed into a whole network of internet-based terrorism pretending to operate under concerns about “ethics in games journalism” that came to encompass a large collection of proto-Trump campaign alt-right “New Media” personalities – tore through the mid-2010s gaming scene like a tidal wave of sewage, and The Escapist during that time was uniquely stuck in the nexus of it as it’s founder and (now-ex) co-owner had turned out to harbor some… “unique” political viewpoints that aligned with much of the aforementioned movement; leading to employees of the site who had spoken against “GG” (or were simply on the nebulous “naughty list” of persons GG had designated as targets for one reason or another) either quitting in disgust or being gradually cycled as part of “budgets” or “restructuring” – eventually including me.
This left me adrift and effectively unemployed with rent to pay and the copyrights, trademarks and raw content of basically everything I had made with The Escapist now owned by the succession of different companies, debtors and venture capital firms that would come to own the site and its assets in the intervening years; so I had to effectively rebuild my brand from scratch. I think I did alright – you can see the fruits of my independent-circuit run continuing still on my current YouTube channel and in the scaffolding of this website. If nothing else, I grew my brand instead of receding, didn’t have to move out of my apartment and, ultimately, “outlived” the people who more-or-less screwed me over most directly in the professional sense.
But (to fast forward back to the recent-past) when the opportunity came to potentially the vacated skeleton of The Escapist (and, specifically, my old brands and material) I very much jumped at the chance. The prospect of it didn’t (and still do not) see it as a step backward or even sideways so much as a way to reclaim something that I felt was taken from me and and to (in some small way) undo some damage that had been done, if not “in my name,” at least through the “wielding” a name that I’d helped to make worth wielding in the first place (if that makes any sense.)
To put it bluntly: Before it became a living-dead site, The Escapist had become effectively synonymous with Gamergate and the ugly, awful things it had stood for; and that meant not only were hours of video (most of it featuring my own recorded voice) and hundreds of thousands of words of my writing – most of it representing the work I’m to this day best known for and still approached about by fans, asked about at conventions and told “got me noticed” by prospective employers – were not only not under my control and ownership, they (along with my memories of the good times during which they were created) were being permanently tainted by association with what The Escapist had become. And as bad as that made me feel, the all-too-often refrain heard from fans and followers that their own memories and associations thereof were sullied by this as well made me feel worse.
So, when it became a reality that myself and small group of others were invited by the new corporate entity that acquired the remains of The Escapist to relaunch a refreshed version of it featuring revivals of my “classic” (phrase used rhetorically, I assure you) productions; I had to say yes. And overall I’m glad I did. I’ve been happy to be doing these shows again, I like the people I work with on them; and more to the point I’ve felt like – from my perspective – real progress was being made toward erasing the taint that the Gamergate association had left on the site and the broader conversation and thus helping to re-establish a platform from which myself and others could put good, positive things out into the world.
And then this latest business (see above) happened…
Those who follow me on Twitter are likely aware of, at least tangentially, of what I mean by “continued to play out.” Yes, I was angry that my colleague had behaved in a horrible way – mainly because it was simply wrong and, secondarily (though, as I’ll explain in a moment, not as secondarily as it ought have been) because I was in real-time having to deal with “spillover” from it and the conflation of my earlier “defense” of the offending column with said horrid actions of its author. (With the context/history now establish, I can explain – briefly – that the now-removed column was essentially an op-ed about how Gamergate was evil, hateful and not at all what it’s vile adherents claimed it was about and that one of the negative effects of it was that “real conversations” about journalism ethics were now unable to be had without it’s specter looming over things, a sentiment which I initially found agreeable but others felt was either too close to endorsing the “spirit of GG” and/or did not sufficiently address the importance of whom it had targeted or why – criticisms I originally felt perplexed by but am now more able to see the merits of.)
More broadly, in the moment I felt personally hurt and infuriated by the insinuation (not even – outright statement-as-fact, really) by other friends, associates, colleagues and “known persons” of my professional space (such as it is) that this was “proof” that The Escapist was “still bad,” that the site ought to be scuttled and scrapped and (by inevitable implication) its staff with it. And while obviously, there’s knee-jerk “Hey, that includes me y’know!” reaction to hearing anything like that, I felt a much deeper, more painful, more seething, bitter pit-of-the-soul resentfulness because of how much work I’d personally poured specifically into making the site NOT the very things it was now being described as.
In effect, I was feeling as though (justified) outrage at one person and the “reminder” it was serving of other bad persons prior bad actions was not only fixed to (maybe?) burn down something I was a part of over something I hadn’t done, but that I was effectively being told (through lack of anything being said about it at all) that all the work I’d done and all I’d given of myself hadn’t count for anything – that I didn’t count for anything. That I didn’t matter.
That’s never a good feeling, and it’s not as though I’ve had the kind of recent run of luck that would leave one in space to absorb additional feelings of that nature very well… and I didn’t. I was furious, sad, emotionally raw and (more than anything else) unnerved by a feeling of abandonment and isolation; since in this particular instance most of the people I could normally talk to about these exact feelings were the ones drawing up battle-lines on one side or the other of this as it was playing out. On the one hand, I’m annoyed with myself that I failed to simply pull away and not fall behind on work. On the other hand, I didn’t crack open the whiskey (or have even a drop of alcohol, the whole time) and just start self-righteously ranting – I’m proud of that.
What I’m not proud of, and the reason for this (now long-winded) post, is that I stayed stuck in that deep, painful, seething, bitter, pit-of-the-soul resentful mode of anger and self-pity entirely too much longer than I had any business doing. As was eventually pointed out to me by a dear friend (a better friend than I tend to deserve, honestly, precisely because they will tell me things I often don’t want to hear but need to – like this) it’s one thing to feel bad for oneself, alone, unacknowledged (in one’s suffering or otherwise) but it’s another to dwell on it to the detriment of being able to sympathize with what others are telling you (or trying to.)
That’s not necessarily something I was wholly ignorant of, which is one of the things that makes these kinds of things painful on such a cyclically painful level: The general awareness (as I said: didn’t even have a beer) of my conscience shouting in my ear the whole time: “Hey! Some of the people who are angry about this are angry because they’ve experienced much worse than you likely ever will and you have no business feeling this bad for yourself!” …and yet being at the same time being in too much of a sad sack headspace to actually listen, rally and get over myself about it. So instead I just sat there, slowly picking through deadlined work and absorbing unfolding rage on social media while feeling bad for myself, being angry at myself for feeling bad for myself and then feeling worse about that. And so on and so on.
This is something I struggle with, a lot, and I often “lose.”
I’m in therapy. I have been for awhile now, regularly since I lost my father last year, and intermittently before that. It helps. I recommend it. I should’ve been doing it for awhile before I started (more advice I can thank my smart friend for) We “work on” a lot of things, but the number one thing I find myself trying (often failing) to get a handle on is a deeply painful sense of emptiness and emotional need. I’m told that recognizing and acknowledging it is healthy – I feel like it’d be healthier to one day “recognize” that it’s not there.
I feel alone a lot. Not “impostor” alone or “monophobic” alone or evenly necessarily “lonely” (though I do feel that more and more as the years pass – it used to be less pronounced, but I grew up in a busy house and now… it’s just me, more and more.) But isolated, misunderstood, suspicious that I’m (more) disliked than I’m told I am and – always – on the precipice of losing whatever stability, friends, colleagues, advancement, growth, status, etc I’ve managed to achieve for myself. Because I make a fresh mistake. Because I say the wrong thing. Because some old mistake or something I didn’t even know was a mistake (but probably should have) comes back to wallop me out of nowhere. Or through no fault of my own at all… through random chance, a change in the cosmic weather or just shitty luck. I don’t believe in fate, but sometimes I worry that it believes in me.
And that feeling of (from my angry, confused and panicked perspective of that moment) seeing so many people I liked, knew and respected either eager or nonchalant to see something I worked incredibly hard to help build torn down (and me, in part, with it); combined with the initial disappointment at seeing someone else I respected conduct themselves in such a way as to spur this on (regardless of intent or “factors”) …the swirl of negative energy around that left me feeling more truly alone and isolated in a “you can’t rely on anyone, no one is coming to help you, in the end you’ll only really have you” way than I’ve felt in a long, long time – which I KNOW is a stupid, self-centered, juvenile emotional response to such a situation… but there it was, all the same, hanging out in my head for much longer than it had any business doing. And I’m so disappointed in myself for letting it do so.
I recognize (this part I didn’t “need” therapy for) that this is part of why I am like I am and why I do what I do: Why I’m an artist, entertainer, creator, whatever (whether I’m any good at it is up to you – see what I did there? The passive-aggressive subtle-yet-unsubtle-and-now-reverse-masked-with-self-aware-irony plea for attention? That’s neediness) is in part to help draw in the attention and acknowledgment that helps fill up that aching empty space of “alone.” I’m told (hell, I think pretty much everyone who’s seen one post-1960s standup comedy special knows this, right?) that this is what “creative types” feel in general – it’s neither rare nor special. That’s not why I work on it.
I work on it because it worries me, sometimes. Other times, it frightens me.
I’ve known people (and seen more extreme examples in the general culture) for whom the same “need to feel more loved, acknowledged or at least not ignored” feeling that gnaws at me becomes all consuming and – if it doesn’t destroy them (bad enough in its own right…) it becomes an agent of active harm to those around them: The toxic narcissist. The person who’s need just can’t be filled up and becomes more like this yawning awful black hole that just consumes everything (and everyone) around it just trying to fill itself up and feel “not empty.” Your Charles Foster Kanes, your Howard Hughes, your… well, your “guys who would compare themselves to Charles Foster Kane and Howard Hughes,” come to think of it (that’s probably a bad sign.)
I don’t want to be like that. I hate people like that. They’re a blight on the world. And if there’s a reason above all others why I’m “working on myself” despite my life and psyche being (considering the state of the world otherwise) really not all that “bad” it’s that when I find myself failing as an ally (or as a friend or even as a person, but in the current context “ally” is the most relevant term) by making myself the center of something where I shouldn’t be – like, say, letting bitterness and anger at my sincere hard work trying to wash the GG/alt-right smear off The Escapist and my contributions thereto apparently be utterly unappreciated overwhelm and take precedence over the more important issue of people’s legitimate criticisms of other things surrounding the site in the moment (and the question, evidently far less “settled” for some than it had been for me, of whether it was even possible or worthwhile to wash said smear in the first place – though I continue to hope that it is) – my fear is that those are the stumbles that too many of which can lead to becoming exactly what I don’t want to become.
Which is why I’m now feeling… deflated and awful. Still angry about what initially happened, still residually hurt at the notion that I could work so hard to “fix” something and have it (and, through transitive property, me) “not matter” and viscerally mad at myself for the self-centeredness of feeling the second one so much more strongly for so sustained a moment than the (much more important) first one. I feel let down, but I also know for a fact that by stewing in my own personal resentment and hurt feelings I let other people down – even if they didn’t know it. I’m supposed to be better than that. I work hard at being better than that, and I expect “better than that” from others; which means I have to expect it from myself.
So what do you do about? You keep working at it.
It’s been basically two days, if that, of this playing out. I don’t know what the future is, for me or anyone else (i.e. I know exactly as much about “the future of The Escapist” going forward as is written in the apology post – so exactly as much as anyone else: not very much) I have new reviews up today on both The Escapist and Geek.com, and I expect to have a new Big Picture episode up on Monday. For now, I continue to believe that inner reform and making something good and forward-looking from my space within the site (with the aid of what I must stress is a crew of extremely good, talented, right-minded people) is a worthwhile and possible goal.
If you saw me Tweeting about wallowing in my own self-pity and thought “Why is he stuck in his own head about this?” Because I have work yet to do, but that’s no excuse – if it disappointed you, know that it disappointed me, too, and that I’m sorry. I want to do better. If you’re thinking of responding to this with some version of “You’re being too hard on yourself, it’s okay to have felt slighted in that respect!” – I ask that you please don’t. I appreciate sentiment and/or the general concept of positive-reinforcement; but it’s not necessary nor particularly helpful in this case. I’m comfortable to what minor degree I felt “right,” and I need to own and grow from the larger degree to which I was either wrong or “handled it wrong.”
I’m going to keep creating, keep trying to (as best I’m able) use what I create to uplift the good, speak for what’s right, help those who need help, push ideas that need pushing, expose what needs exposing and (since, after all, 90% of what I do is adjacent to one form of entertainment or another) bring joy into the world. I’ll work to do it better, and while it’s somewhat difficult to not center oneself a bit working so often in the medium of first-person narrated video; “being better” about exactly that is why I try to elevate perspectives, ideas and issues that aren’t necessarily “about me” or primarily adjacent to my life-experience in more and more of my work. I will try to do better. I will probably fail several more times. But I will continue to try.
To those who support me, I thank you. From the bottom of my heart. To those who might wish to support but, for now, want to see me actually do better, I will work to win your trust – or to win it back. And especially to those who’ve ever told me to get the hell over myself – thank you most of all.