This weekend, at BlizzCon, Blizzard’s annual event where they reveal stuff about World of Warcraft and their other franchises, a metal band consisting of several Blizzard employees played a set. Singing some guest background vocals (which more or less consisted of screaming out the four elements, Captain Planet-style) was George “Corpsegrinder” Fisher, the singer of Cannibal Corpse.
I would generally consider this to be one of the least interesting pieces of videogaming news of all time–its main features (“convention”, “Blizzard”, “World of Warcraft”, “metal band”, and “Cannibal Corpse”) are all things I’m not at all into. However, before the performance, they played a brief clip of an interview with Fisher, in which he spoke passionately about his love for World of Warcraft and how he plays Horde.
Because, as he says, he’s not one of the “emo cocksuckers” on the “homo Alliance” side, of course.
Conventions, particularly ones like BlizzCon that are run by one company, are part PR stunt, part social gathering. At a convention like E3, companies need to follow the rules and guidelines of the convention, and must compete with other developers. At a convention like BlizzCon, however the entirety of the event is under Blizzard’s control. All of the events, all of the speakers, every presentation–it’s all endorsed by them.
Not only is Fisher’s appearance at BlizzCon an endorsement of the band, Blizzard has acknowledged his fandom in-game, naming an NPC (Gorge the Corpsegrinder) after him. This isn’t uncommon–one of Blizzard’s advertising campaigns featured celebrities such as Ozzy Osbourne and Mr. T. Fisher is merely yet another celebrity player. But since he and Blizzard’s employees are fans of each other, he was invited to do some guest vocals for the “in-house band” called–well, I’ll let Wikipedia explain it because I don’t have the heart to paraphrase this: “The Artist Formerly Known as Level 80 Elite Tauren Chieftains (TAFKL80ETC), who changed their name mid concert to Level 90 Elite Tauren Chieftains (L90ETC).” As the former lead singer for the bands Talizma, The Great Oatmeal Cooky Paradox, King Chef, and Crimes Against Toast, I can find about six things wrong with both band names. But that’s beside the point.
L90ETC’s performance was fine for what it was–a plodding fist-pumping anthem sung with vein-popping intensity by grown men who enjoy pretending to be orcs. It was a song which fans who played Horde could enjoy and Alliance players could grumble about–I have no problems with that. The video, however, that’s the unnecessary part. The language behind the video is questionable. Problematic. Obviously so. The clip–about 30-45 seconds in length–comes from a longer interview with Fisher in which he goes on for about three full minutes about his love for the Horde. Watching the video, which starts off being funny and through its sheer length becomes extremely disturbing, marries the awkwardness of listening to someone talk a little too long about his hobby with the uncomfortableness of talking to someone who swears just a little too much. (As a man who has recorded 4.2 days worth of podcasts, all of which are labeled “explicit” on iTunes, I know what I’m talking about.) I’ve heard it argued that a lot of the problems with the interview come from the fact that the controversy has inspired people to seek out and watch the original, uncensored clip. They have a minor point. The point where Fisher tells people to “cry in the river and tell me how you’re gonna slit your writs, you Night Elf faggot” wasn’t played at BlizzCon. And the official video of the event that’s going around has the more egregious bits of the interview bleeped out (roughly every other word). There are conflicting reports on whether or not the interview itself was bleeped during the event. If it wasn’t, then the problems with this are obvious. If it was, then they knew full well that what they were doing was wrong even as they were doing it.
I’ve never been interested in the metal subculture–particularly not the death metal subculture that Cannibal Corpse is a member of. The music doesn’t do it for me, I find the culture of violence surrounding it to be distasteful, and I find it to be largely the provenance of young heterosexual white men who are fetishizing their own (perceived or actual) Otherness. (There’s a lot of academic theory floating around that agrees with me–I’m not just making this up.) I don’t feel the need to join the metal community, and the metal community has no need to embrace me–I have no relationship with it. Most people feel the same way–and normally that’s fine. A metal show is, usually, a closed system–only fans of the band, who have made the decision to accept any expressions of violence, homophobia, sexism, racism, etc. that a band may make. The nature of fandom in this case would weed out anyone who would be offended or bothered.
But the nature of BlizzCon and the circumstances surrounding this concert mean that this concert was accessible and available for a general audience. I said earlier that conventions are part social event. Seth Schiesel, writing for the New York Times, agrees. His coverage of the event, which doesn’t even mention Fisher’s presence, concentrates on the variety of people who attended and the social connections that they’ve fostered both through the game and at the convention. He talks about fashion wholesalers and Iraq veterans and social workers–people from all walks of life who bond over their experience with the game. Blizzard itself has made a point of marketing to nontraditional gamers–women in particular–and between all of this and some first-person accounts I’ve read, it’s clear that there’s as diverse a population at BlizzCon as are wandering around Azeroth at any given moment. Combine this with the fact that Blizzard employees go to the convention to enjoy themselves and socialize with the fans, and it’s not unlikely that many fans would have attended the concert solely to support a band comprised of people who worked on something they love.
There’s also the fact that the band was not the main event of the concert. Blizzard holds a concert to conclude the festivities every year, and the headlining band of BlizzCon ’11 was Foo Fighters–one of the most commercially and critically successful bands recording today. Their fanbase varies in age–from people who followed them from the beginning when Dave Grohl started the project after Kurt Cobain’s death to people who are getting into them now. Level 90 Elite Tauren Shaman was not performing in an isolated show full of death metal fans who understand the culture. They were opening for a band with a much different image. Foo Fighters has a general alternative rock image–not one full of the violence and misanthropy that’s accepted within the metal community.
Look. You don’t get to be a 28-year-old gay man without letting some of this stuff roll off your back. If I got offended by every single time that I heard someone throw around “fag” and “homo” and “cocksucker”, I’d either get nothing done or have a career at The Bilerico Project. And I recognize that bands in the metal community, particularly death metal bands such as Cannibal Corpse, uphold an image of toughness and aggression and violence as part of their schtick. Fisher is well-respected in the metal community–even Chris Barnes, who Fisher replaced as Cannibal Corpse’s vocalist, once called Fisher a “real nice guy”–and I know the language is more based out of a sense of performative machismo than it is any real antipathy. If asked, I’m sure that Fisher would state that he didn’t mean any homophobia by the remarks, that he was merely recontextualizing the term “homo” as a generic insult, one divorced from any context of sexuality or hatred–or, as Sarah Silverman so succinctly put it, “I didn’t mean gay like homosexual, I meant gay like retarded.”
But a heterosexual man does not get the right to recontextualize homophobic language any more than he has the right to recontextualize a racial epithet used towards someone of a different ethnicity. And I am sick and tired of people not realizing this. I am sick and tired of the videogame community hiding behind ignorance and moaning about political correctness. I’m sick of society at large doing this, but the videogame community is the one that I have ties to. So knock it the fuck off. It’s not enough to blithely and clumsily go through life and apologize when getting caught because–well, grow up already.
Speaking of apologies, as of the time of this writing, Blizzard has issued no official apology. Level 90 Elite Tauren Chieftan has. Here it is in its entirety:
Hey guys, we read and heard all the feedback from BlizzCon this year. The Corpsegrinder bit was never intended to be taken seriously. We are sorry that we offended anyone; everything at our shows is just meant in fun. Thank you all for speaking up. We’ll definitely keep this in mind for future shows.
Our humblest apologies,
Level 90 Elite Tauren Chieftain
This is a pathetic apology. And it is not enough. Again, I seriously doubt that anyone in the band or at Blizzard feels genuine hatred of homosexuals or anything like that. But it’s the fact that they didn’t think. The fact that they considered this an acceptable clip to show. That no one at Blizzard thought that, with the game’s diverse fanbase, that perhaps these comments weren’t the best ones to represent their brand. That they foresaw no problem means that not only are they ignorant themselves, but that this is what they think gamers are–the type of people who either passively accept or actively endorse displays of homophobia. And that anyone who would be possibly sensitive to these issues has no place in the community. I’ve read enough people who have suggested that Blizzard thinks that the problem has to do with riling up of Alliance vs. Horde rivalry. I don’t know the WoW community well enough to know if that’s truly the general feeling, but I know that the real issue here is that Blizzard endorsed and promoted a video that featured some examples of traditionally-homophobic speech.
I am not offended. I am not angry. But I’m disappointed. For all that we want gaming as a whole to grow up, it seems that, when it comes to incidents like this, that developers are content to still think of us as all white, straight, adolescent males, high on testosterone and alienation. Blizzard–and other developers–should feel shame for the way they view us.
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