Anita Sarkeesian's new video explores "dark and edgy" abuse of women, gets pulled from YouTube

The Men Who Get Unbelievably Angry At A Woman Critically Analysing Videogames just will not let up.

Anita Sarkeesian, the videogame critic whose Kickstarter project to analyse the role of women in games was responded to with an online hate campaign including a game about beating her up (as Helen says, "I like writing it like that, to emphasise the madness of it"), has released the second video in her "Tropes vs Women" series.

The video, part two of three examining the idea of the damsel in distress, delves deeper into the expression that trope has when combined with the "grim and gritty" aesthetic used in modern games. She explores ideas like comics author Gail Simone's concept of "women in refrigerators", which refers to the frequency with which a female character will be "killed, maimed or depowered", nearly always to provide a motivation to a male character rather than as part of her own character arc. She also explores related tropes, again usually gendered in their application, like the "mercy killing" and the gleeful depiction of violence against women. Through the magic of the internet, the whole thing is embedded below. If you want to watch part one, it can be found here.

Of course, where there's a woman with an opinion, there are hateful people trying to silence her. The first video in the series rapidly saw its YouTube comments become a cesspool – more than usual, I mean – such that Sarkeesian had to turn them off, saying "If you'd like to comment constructively on this video, please share on your own social networks." This time, with the comments off by default, the men who get unbelievably angry at a woman critically analysing videogames (MWGUAAAWCAV, for short) resorted to "flagging" the video on YouTube, which marks it as having content inappropriate for the site – usually reserved for explicit sex or violence, not clips of AAA video games.

Enough of them flagged the video for it to get temporarily pulled for review. Then, somewhat concerningly, YouTube's (human) review team confirmed that it violated "community guidelines", removed the video, and put a strike on Sarkeesian's account. The video was reinstated after an appeal 45 minutes later, but it raises the question of what, exactly, YouTube's review team are doing if they can't tell the difference between clearly malicious flagging and actually obscene content.

Still, it's back up, and Sarkeesian has a lot more videos in her - the extraordinary success of the original Kickstarter means that rather than the five planned, she'll now be making 13. Regardless of what the MWGUAAAWCAV seem to believe, that can only be good for videogames in general: the bizarre crossover between people who demand that games be viewed as art and people who say "they're only games" when problematic elements are pointed out cannot last for long. The medium is only made stronger by everyone like Anita Sarkeesian. And Tropes v Women is damn good watching, to boot.

Anita Sarkeesian thanking her Kickstarter backers.

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

SAMUEL COURTAULD TRUST
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The monochrome set

In Pieter Bruegel’s hands, even black and white paintings can be full of colour.

Grisailles – monochrome images usually painted in shades of grey and white – have a long tradition. Early examples appeared in the 14th century as miniatures or manuscript illuminations and then later on the outside of the folding panels of altarpieces, where they imitated sepulchre statues and offered a stark contrast to the bright colour of the paintings inside. With their minimal palette, grisailles also offered painters a chance both to show off their skill and to add their bit to the age-old artistic debate about paragone: which was superior – sculpture, with its ability to show a figure in three dimensions, or painting, with its powers of illusion? By pretending to be sculpture, grisailles could better it.

The first artist to paint grisailles as independent works for private enjoyment and contemplation was the Netherlander Pieter Bruegel the Elder (circa 1525-69), whose folk scenes of peasants carousing or of hunters in a snowy landscape have long been staples of art’s quotidian, earthy strand. Only about 40 works by him are now known and of those, just three are grisailles (not a term he would have recognised; he referred to the pictures simply as “painted in black and white”). This trio of survivors has been reunited for the first time, at the Courtauld Gallery, with an accompanying selection of copies and engravings – a mere ten pictures in all – for a fascinating one-room exhibition.

The grisailles show a deeper and more intellectual artist than the sometimes slapstick figure who would dress as a peasant in order to gatecrash weddings in the Brabant countryside and record the drunken and playful goings-on in his pictures. They reflect the position of the Low Countries in Bruegel’s time, caught between the Catholicism of their Spanish overlords and the emerging Protestantism that had been sparked by Martin Luther only eight years before Bruegel’s birth. These tensions soon erupted in the Eighty Years War.

Of the three paintings, two show religious subjects – The Death of the Virgin (1562-65) and Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery (1565) – and one is a scene that would have been familiar in the streets around him, Three Soldiers (1568). This last, lent by the Frick Collection in New York, shows a drummer, a piper and a standard-bearer in the elaborately slashed uniforms of German Landsknechte mercenaries. Such groupings featured often in German prints and Bruegel’s small picture is a clever visual game: painting could imitate not only sculpture, but prints, too. What’s more, the gorgeously coloured uniforms (mercenaries were exempt from the sumptuary laws that restricted clothing to sedate colours) could be shown to be just as arresting even in black and white.

If this is a painting about painting, the ­religious works have, it seems, added layers of meaning – although it is always difficult with Bruegel to work out what that meaning is and how personal it might be. The Courtauld’s Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery shows Jesus stooping in front of the Pharisees and saving the accused woman from stoning by writing in the dust, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” That he spells out the words in Dutch rather than Hebrew, which was more usual in other images of the scene (and which he uses on the tunic of one of the learned men observing the mute play), suggests that this picture – a plea for clemency – was intended to serve as a call for religious tolerance amid mounting sectarian antagonism. While the gaping faces of the onlookers recall those of Hieronymus Bosch, the flickering calligraphic touches and passages of great delicacy are all his own.

The picture stayed with Bruegel until his death, so it had a personal meaning for him; more than 20 copies were subsequently made. Included in the exhibition are the copies painted by his sons, Jan and Pieter the Younger (a coloured version), as well as the earliest known print after it, from 1579, by Pieter Perret, which shows some of the detail in the crowd around the central figures that has been lost in the discoloured panel.

If the sombre tones of grisaille are suited to the pared-down faith advocated by Luther, the death of the Virgin was a familiar topic in Catholic and Orthodox iconography. Bruegel’s picture, from Upton House in Warwickshire, depicts an episode that doesn’t actually appear in the Bible. A group of Apostles and mourners has gathered around the Virgin’s bed, the scene lit by the heavenly light emanating from the dying woman and the five flames from the candles and the hearth that correspond to the five wounds suffered by her son on the cross. Domestic items litter the room – a slice of orange, slippers, a dozing cat – and there is a sleeping attendant, unaware of the miracle of Assumption that will shortly unfold. Here is a moving nocturne in which the mysteries of religion emerge from and disappear back into the shadows.

While Bruegel’s peasant works display a delight in physical pleasure, these three bravura works, painted for humanist connoisseurs and for himself, portray the sober, spiritual concerns that come to the fore once the last drop has been drunk. 

The exhibition runs until 8 May. For more details, go to: courtauld.ac.uk

Michael Prodger is an Assistant Editor at the New Statesman. He is an art historian, Senior Research Fellow at the University of Buckingham, and a former literary editor.

This article first appeared in the 11 January 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The legacy of Europe's worst battle