Why should Anita Sarkeesian have to work for free in return for misogynistic abuse?

The reaction to Anita Sarkeesian's Kickstarter project is one of staggering hypocrisy.

The most common excuse for how Anita Sarkeesian has been treated is that she was asking for something she did not deserve. “She could have done it for free!” In spite of the fact that Sarkeesian’s Kickstarter project - which asked for funding to better examine women in video games - was clearly voluntary, some hang on to the idea that she crossed a terrible moral line. Even if we take this argument at face value, and ignore the implicit excusing of the aggressive and shameful behaviour which she was subjected to, it presents us with serious problems.

It has become dismally common for those supporting “Free Culture” to suggest one’s creative desires be funded by another job, or two jobs if that is what it takes. If you want to create, well that is the price that you have to pay. The assumption is that part-time work produces the same quality as full-time work. Historically it has rarely been the case that a hobbyist - even a talented one - is able to produce the same quality of work as a professional. Relieving a person of the pressures of an unrelated job (or two), and freeing up time to focus solely on creation unsurprisingly results in better work.

Whether this is through traditional methods, or direct funding from those who benefit most, the important thing is that creators are able to dedicate themselves to their job. Some things need more effort than a couple of hours on evenings and weekends to complete. This may be the reason why Anita Sarkeesian asked for funding. Perhaps she does not enjoying working for free. Perhaps she does not like the idea of subsidising others’ consumption by working extra hard for less result. Perhaps she thought the subject was important and demanded a full-time effort. It takes a special kind of solipsist to think that demanding Anita Sarkeesian to work for free, on punishment of intimidation, harassment, and threats to her safety is anything but deranged. It is not likely either that “doing it for free” would have avoided the sexist nonsense we have seen, given the subject matter.

The internet, digital technology and platforms like Kickstarter have removed many barriers for artists and creators. They inspire due to their low cost for entry in comparison to the severely restrictive nature of more traditional methods for reaching an audience. If “Free Culture” is argued from the basis of freedom of information and ideas, and not simply benefiting the individual who likes free things, then the reaction to Anita Sarkeesian is one of staggering hypocrisy. This has been at its bottom a concentrated effort to censor unpopular views within the video game community. Sarkeesian hoped to take advantage of the supposedly open nature of the internet and found instead new barriers that would discourage most human beings with emotions.

This is also, obviously, a result of extreme misogyny. One who thinks a woman being gang-raped is justified or amusing, is not excused by calls for free speech, or some mangled interpretation of irony. Perhaps women in video games, whether in development, criticism or their representation in the medium, do not interest you. Perhaps you feel that this is an overreaction. The elements which allowed this to happen though are powerful tools of censorship. If the video game community - which is thankfully not solely defined by the people who excused, encouraged or participated in this assault - wish to truly progress then we will need platforms like Kickstarter. We will need people like Anita Sarkeesian.

This affects many areas, particularly the development of quality criticism which is not so beholden to the interests of advertisers, or those who make products for demographics and not for individuals. We will need people to invest their time, and sometimes their money. It is no good though if to take advantage of the freedom of the internet, people have to either tow the line that does not offend the violent, deranged and morally bankrupt, or to accept being degraded and threatened in good humour. This is not just about women in video games. It is about facilitating new ideas, and empowering all kinds of divergent, minority and undervalued creative people to become involved in video games. Enough supported Sarkeesian’s project to fund it, but the attempts to silence her continue. Thankfully she seems up for the fight, but not everyone is going to be as strong as Anita Sarkeesian.

Paul Casey writes for the TN2 Magazine (Trinity News Supplement), which is available in digital form here, and for popshifter.com

 

A screenshot from Anita Sarkeesian's original Kickstarter video.
Calvert 22/Courtesy of the artist, Danila Tkachenko
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Ruin porn: the art world’s awkward obsession with abandoned Soviet architecture

Deserted fairgrounds, disused factories and forgotten military bases may look cool, but are we fetishising the remnants of such a cruel history?

Armenia, where one side of my family is from, was one of the first members of the USSR, annexed by Russia in 1922. A few years ago, when I visited this little country that perches precariously in the south of the Caucasus, I was struck most by its Soviet architecture.

Although its landscape is a hotchpotch of medieval Orthodox churches, a smattering of Persian-era domes, and brutalist concrete, it was the latter that particularly stuck out. From unfelled statues of Stalin to giant tower blocks spelling out the letters “CCCP” from a bird’s-eye view (well, half spelt-out – construction stopped partway through, with the fall of the Soviet Union), I’ve never forgotten it.

Perhaps it was so compelling because such stark physical symbols make recent history all the more tangible. A history still profoundly affecting the country of my ancestors (and all post-Soviet and communist states). But also, it just looked really cool.


Mixed air corps, Mongolia. Photo: Calvert 22/Courtesy of the artist, Eric Losito

It’s a bit passé now to mock the hipster obsession with reclaimed industrial detritus, exposed pipes and bare concrete. An aesthetic – that of a post-industrial wasteland, but a chic one – which has gripped western cities for years, and crept worldwide.

But it could be this tendency to find disused stuff visually intriguing, and a morbid fascination with cruel regimes, which has led to the art world’s obsession with abandoned Soviet architecture. A whole wave of artists and photographers have been poking around the eastern bloc’s architectural graveyard in recent years.

Late last year, we saw the hugely popular disused Soviet bus stop series by photographer Christopher Herwig, echoing photographer Sergey Novikov’s equally absorbing collection of abandoned Soviet cinemas from 2013.

Following Russian filmmaker and photographer Maria Morina’s “Atomic Cities” project four years ago, London-based artist Nadav Kander explored the “aesthetics of destruction” in his exhibition, Dust, in 2014, snapping “radioactive ruins” of secret cities on the border between Kazakhstan and Russia. The same year, Moscow photographers Sasha Mademuaselle and Sergey Kostromin travelled to the disputed region of Abkhazia, capturing fragments of its deserted infrastructure.


Fighter aviation regiment, Mongolia. Photo: Eric Losito
 

And photojournalist Anton Petrus’ now iconic pictures of Chernobyl’s abandoned amusement park have long been an internet favourite, as have numerous haunting images of Pripyet – the city famous for lying deserted following the nuclear disaster.

Jamie Rann, a lecturer in Russian at Oxford University, has written that the quality and technical accomplishment of most of this photography make the style more “ruin erotica” than “ruin porn” (the tag being used by some critics), but argues: “The enormous online popularity of this genre . . . combined with their voyeuristic, almost exploitative feel, certainly has something porny about it.”

The latest exploration of Soviet society’s skeletons can be found at the Power & Architecture season at London’s Calvert 22 Foundation. In an exhibition called Dead Space and Ruins, we see abandoned military bases and formerly mighty monuments, forgotten space ports freezing in the tundra, the ghost of an entire unused, unfinished city in Armenia lying derelict.



The unfinished "ghost city" built in Armenia to house earthquake survivors (water added by artist). Photo: Calvert 22/Courtesy of the artist, Vahram Aghasyan

The works are beautiful, but do they feed in to this zeitgeisty lust for Soviet ruins?

One of its curators, Will Strong, laments this trend. “I was keen that this didn’t become like a kind of ‘ruin lust’, ‘ruin porn’ thing; this slightly buzzwordy term that there is at the moment, this kind of fetishisation of dead space,” he tells me.

“This history is incredibly loaded, and it did not end in 1991. To sort of fetishise it in the very bourgeois western way of, ‘oh yeah, look at all this wonderful Soviet architecture, isn’t it fantastic?’ Obviously a lot of people who lived in that time hated it . . . a lot of people were very miserable under these regimes, so it’s important not to forget that.”


Gym at the Independent Radar Centre of Early Detection, Latvia. Photo: Eric Losito

He adds: “It’s more a point of reflection on how buildings were designed, what their legacy is, what their narrative is, and who the people are who live with that story. This show looks at the aftermaths of when utopia hasn’t been delivered.”

This view is echoed by the Moscow artist, Danila Tkachenko, whose work is featured in the exhibition. “It is rather a metaphor for the future, not the past,” he says. “It represents an image of a possible future. When there is a visualisation of this issue [utopia], it evokes a response in people; they see this utopia in their lives . . . There is disappointment in all utopias.”


The world's largest diesel submarine, in Russia's Samara region. Photo: Calvert 22/Courtesy of the artist, Danila Tkachenko

His Restricted Areas series explores great behemoths of European communism left to lie forgotten in the tundra of remote regions in and around Russia and Kazakhstan: the world’s largest diesel submarine, like a beached whale in the snow; a giant satellite, thatched with antennae, built to communicate with Soviet bases on other planets some day; the deserted flying saucer-like communist headquarters in a region of Bulgaria. The structures hover in blank, white space, making the photos appear black-and-white.


Deserted observatory, Kazakhstan's Almaty region. Photo: Danila Tkachenko
 

Anton Ginzburg is an artist who grew up in St Petersburg in the Eighties as the Soviet Union was disintegrating. He believes studies like his film, Turo, of disused modernist constructions in the post-Soviet bloc, appeal to people’s connection to history. After all, picking through the architectural carcasses of former societies isn’t exactly a new thing:

“Russian culture is still haunted by its Communist past, and constructivist architecture is a decaying shell for its ghosts. It is an active reminder of the recent history,” he reflects. “Perhaps [its appeal] is a mixture of memento mori, with its thrill of beauty and destruction, along with a Romantic tradition of contemplation of Greek and Roman ruins.”

(Anton Ginzburg Turo teaser from Visionaireworld on Vimeo.)

The Power & Architecture season is on at the Calvert 22 Foundation, London, from 10 June-9 October 2016. Entry is free.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.