I’ll join the chorus of applause for the empathy and good intentions on display in “An Open Letter to the Magic Community By VariousMagic Pros”. Moving a step or two beyond intentions, into the ideas and action plans these allies have presented, I will be holding my applause.
You Almost Never Solve a Problem without Locating It First
I saw at least one screenshot of an MTGHeadquarters tweet about Christine Sprankle that I found deeply troubling.
(h/t to Drew Levin who when asked for evidence of abuse showed how easy it was to find it).
The video has been taken down, but I don’t think it’s hard to see how tagging someone @[theirhandle] into a discussion about cosplayers being raped with the intention of annoying/trolling that person crossed the line into online harassment and bullying. I won’t be contorting myself to defend this, and if I could snap my fingers and have this never happen again, I would. People asked, and are still asking, “Was this actually a big deal?” And I think it was.
The Pros’ letter states,
“The online harassment she has been receiving is demeaning to her as a cosplayer, content producer, and member of the Magic community. Unfortunately, Christine is one of many people whose enthusiasm for Magic has been negatively impacted by pervasive cynicism and bullying.” (emphasis mine)
Wait a minute. “Pervasive cynicism and bullying?” Those aren’t close to the same thing. The Professor understood this, and in his video was clear and deliberate in identifying himself as a critic and saying he was speaking out about bullying, not about criticism. What The Professor was wise to articulate, the Pros completely missed.
A bit further down, the Pros offer,
“Everyone should be able to engage with the game however they see fit—whether that’s playing casually with friends at home, competitively at Grand Prix and Pro Tours, judging tournaments, cosplaying as their favorite characters, streaming on Twitch, or any of the million other ways people enjoy this great game. These are all equally valid.
It is unacceptable to treat any of these interests as below yours.” (emphasis mine).
This is now a full bait-and-switch. People said the issue wasn’t that serious, this group of Pros and others on Twitter responded (and I believe demonstrated) that it was serious, and now when it’s time to propose a solution we are talking about elitism and rudeness regarding cosplay and commander as inferior hobbies?
The implication here is that Christine Sprankle stormed off upset that her interests weren’t being treated seriously enough. In fact, she left the community because she was being insulted, personally and professionally, and harassed. If you aren’t speaking to what she actually faced, you aren’t supporting her, and you minimize abuse whenever you put it in the same bucket as ordinary criticism/elitism/fandom.
I was pretty surprised to see the press release about a new coalition against bullying not even wait 3 paragraphs before treating cynicism and elitism as bullying. Usually people wait until at least the second article to make it clear that they don’t understand what they ought to be targeting, don’t have a real solution to the issues they need to target, and are left with a plan that is ineffective where you need it and problematic where you don’t.
The players here have good intentions. But allies need to be reminded over and over again that good intentions aren’t enough. This group of Pros didn’t even speak to the underlying ideology and culture that led to the bullying Sprankle faced. Worse yet, they pointed to an ideology of gaming elitism which I believe distracts us from the deplorable conduct of MTG Headquarters that was not motivated by that kind of fandom-elitism stuff.
If you’re being harassed at an event, there is a judge and event staff already there to help you, and they are much, much easier to identify than even top pros like Immanuel Gerschenson. Judges and Staff may even be trained on how to properly respond - go to them. With this letter, the Pros add to volumes of other work by well-intentioned allies producing content that doesn’t understand or speak to the issues that matter.
Specifics of What the Pros Decided Not to Speak To
Jeremy at MTG Headquarters / Unsleeved Media holds regressive and hateful views towards women evidenced by the way he discussed cosplay and its fans, up to and including a discussion of rape where he tagged a subject of that discussion (see screenshot, above). He uses the terminology and the thinking of the internet alt-right, and this thinking is toxic (specifically, it is a bunch of immature people more interested in trolling and being un-PC than in finding a better path forward for the societies we live in - the people not even trying).
Jeremy was willing to name his target. The Pros were willing to name her too. We should be willing to name Jeremy too. And to name what he has done, not create some sugar-coated approximation about which hobbies someone treats with equal regard. We should speak out not about “cynicism” generally, but about the kind of unproductive and immature swarm of negativity this era of online trolls is infamous for personally aiming at vulnerable targets. And if we have solutions to propose while invoking the name of an online harassment victim, they ought to be solutions that address what her harasser did, what motivated him, and/or what control we have over whether he can do it again tomorrow.