3 thoughts on “Notes on NYT Rabbit Hole Podcast

  1. Some preliminary thoughts off the top of my head:

    The progression of Caleb’s, the young man featured in the podcast, ideological journey was an interesting one for me. It starts off with the gamergate, which I really didn’t know a lot about. Based on what I’ve heard, here’s my summary of the incident: Some progressives have criticized the over-sexualizatized depiction of women in video games. A female gamer made a game that got away from that, and this game got positive reviews from at least some in the mainstream press. At the heard of the controversy, I get the sense that many of the young male gamers feel that some progressive are harshly judging them, and the male gamers are reacting to that.

    My sense is that gamergate, for some or many of these gamers, became an entry point into the culture war–where the enemy becomes aggressive progressive cultural police–i.e., social justice warriors, the PC police, etc.

    From this controversy, some gamers would start adopting ideas that are on the opposite side of progressives. A part of me feels much or a part of the motivation is to irk progressives–i.e., “owning the libs.” If they resent the judgmental attitude that comes from some on the left, that would make sense.

    However, in this case that path has gone as far as white nationalism, which makes me wonder about the degree to which white grievance and resentment existed within the gamers at the start of the journey. Or did judgmental attitude about video games was and is really at the heart of this issue for the gamers.

    One reaction I had throughout this: I do think the media and entertainment industry expresses more progressive values, but the more judgmental and militant expressions of this don’t seem as prevalent–both in the media and in my every day life. I’m not sure what it’s like for Caleb, but given that he’s living in West Virginia, I would be surprised if he’s surrounded by people like this. (Maybe he experienced this in college?)

    In any event, my sense is that this culture war is largely something that occurs online or maybe in some parts of the country. My impression is that people who are passionate on either side represent extreme sides of the political spectrum and are largely in the minority. My sense is that the vast majority of Americans are more moderate in their views–when it comes to social issues and political issues.

    If this is correct, then I feel like people like Caleb are being manipulated–riled up by political actors who are seeking political power. It seems like this is what Steve Bannon was doing with the Breitbart comments section or the conservative groups trying to rile up people to protest social distancing policies of state governments.

    At the same time, my sense is that mititant progressives are exacerbating all of this, increasing the polarization in the country.

  2. Episode 3

    I didn’t get a lot from this episode. In it, Caleb’s political views move away from the right, after meeting a snarky and intelligent progressive gamer, who engages in political debates. I believe the gamer would debate others outside of video games, and it sounds like it was quite entertaining, with the gamer often “owning” his opponent.

    One thing I want to say about the notion of owning person of a different political persuasion. I understand the degree to which this can be entertaining and satisfying. It feels good when you see someone from your own side win a debate. If the person can win with bravado and snark, I can see how this would also appeal to a lot of people.

    As a form of entertainment, a political debate–if it is fact-based, reasonable, and logical–can be enlightening, but there’s also something problematic about this. Let me mention a few concerns:

    1. Much of what’s crucial to politics and good governance is not entertaining in this way. In fact, it’s closer to the opposite. The knowledge, skill and activity needed to protect the country from a deadly virus–I bet most of that is boring. But it’s super important. Are people going to pay attention and care about boring stuff or only the stuff that is entertaining online or on TV?

    2. Thoughtful and probing analysis of political issues are really important, but I have serious doubts that debating as a sport or form of entertainment is the most fruitful way to do this. The emphasis on owning someone is more an obstacle to fruitful debate–which should involve unifying people. What happens when “owning” the other side because more important than finding the best policies for the country? Or when “owning” even though it’s not really reasonable or fact-based?

    (I had something else I wanted to write about it, but I can’t remember what it was.)

  3. In episode 4, NYT reporters speak to a person at youtube.com–I believe the person is in charge of monitoring content. I didn’t really get a lot of this episode.

    Episode 5 was more interesting to me. It explains the rise of a the most subscribed to youtuber–PewDiePie. I found the story fascinating, and I’m not sure I understand his initial popularity. I think I have a better understanding the boost to his viewership later on. Specifically, he got caught up in the culture wars–going against the political correct left and mainstream media.

    There seems to be a deep-seated anger towards mainstream media. For the outlets that either lean-left, or the fact that some perceive them this way–I think this is partly what fuels the animus. Specifically, I think some associate left-leaning with political correct policing, and when the latter is aggressive, I do think it can be super obnoxious. The backlash is understandable to me.

    But beyond that, I’m not sure I fully understand the hostility towards the mainstream press…Actually, I wonder if part of the hostility has do with the guidelines and standards traditional journalists use and those who put content via the internet. A part of me feels there should be public discussion about standards and principles content providers use to guide what they publish/post. Part of this discussion should also be about the information landscape–specifically the wild, wild west nature of it. Is this a good thing for a democracy, or should we work to provide more order?

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