On anger, power and displacement
Today I’d like to talk about anger, power and displacement. For anyone who isn’t familiar with the term displacement, it’s the idea that when a person of lower power or status feels threatened by a person of higher power or status, the threatened one will often displace their anger onto a less dangerous target.
In primate terms, a lower status monkey aggressed upon by a higher status monkey will not challenge the aggressor, but will instead go beat up the omega. So if your boss gives you a hard time, you kick your desk, slam your chair, flip off another driver on the way home and snap at your partner and/or children. You’re not angry at the desk, the chair, the driver or your family, but they’re less risky outlets than directing your anger into a confrontation with your boss, which is where the anger belongs.
Right now, people are very, very angry at Vox Day. They are also afraid of Vox Day. Afraid of violence. Afraid of doxxing and online harassment. Afraid of him or his followers showing up at WorldCon in person.
I don’t see a lot of anger directed at, say, Jim Butcher, who is a high status
monkey – er, individual. 😉 Or at Kevin J. Anderson, also a successful, high status person. No, Jim and Kevin wouldn’t make good targets for displacement. Displacement usually falls on a person of lesser status and lesser power, someone who is less of a threat to the person doing the displacing.
So, who are the omega monkeys in this scenario? Well, they’re people like relatively unknown (and queer or female) short story authors. And, of course, the stories themselves, who aren’t human and can’t fight back or have their feelings hurt – sort of like that desk in my earlier example.
So someone who’s displacing can safely vent all of that hurt and anger by shredding a story because the story functions as a symbolic proxy, as a stand in for Vox Day. “I can’t get back at VD, but I can destroy his symbol, this thing he allegedly loves.” So by shredding the stories and the most vulnerable authors, people are, metaphorically speaking, burning Vox Day in effigy.
There’s just one problem with that: We are not Vox Day.
On Vietnam and its relevance to the Hugos (i.e. more displacement)
In the popular mindset, Vietnam is considered to be one of the ugliest wars ever fought. For the first time, Americans saw what up-close war was like. Night after night, they watched as blood, dirt, death and civilian massacres were piped into their living rooms through the wonder of television. They saw Agent Orange, and burned, naked children fleeing in terror.
Americans hated the war, so when the soldiers returned home, they displaced their anger onto the soldiers, reviling them, spitting on them and calling them baby killers.
Then, over the course of the next few decades, we grew to understand that we’d made a terrible mistake. So when next group of soldiers came home from a war that many Americans didn’t support, we didn’t spit and we didn’t call names. We’d learned that it was wrong to displace our anger onto the easy target. We said “Thank you for your service” even if we disagreed with the war.
But I don’t think we’ve learned that in the SFF community yet because we’re displacing our anger all over some of the Hugo nominees.
Vox Day spoke our names without our consent, and because of that we have been bullied in the news media and all over the internet. The women among us have been reviled as misogynist men, the minorities have been reviled as white racists, and the QUILTBAG authors and allies have been reviled as straight homophobes. We have been called assholes, bitches, mongrels, yapping curs, talentless hacks and so many more things that I can’t even name them all. I have seen at least one suggestion that all of us should be euthanized, a euphemism and allegedly funny word for murder.
There’s a trope made famous by Anita Sarkeesian that in the game of patriarchy, women aren’t the opposing team, they’re the ball. There’s a contingent that’s going to be upset that I’ve name checked Sarkeesian, but her comment is applicable to the Hugos, too. In the Hugo debate, the nominees aren’t the opposing team. We’re the ball.
We’re being kicked and bullied and savaged all over the internet.
And it hurts.
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