Neckbeard Language Invades the Mainstream — Because Neckbeards Have Always Been Mainstream


Andrew Sullivan is not universally loved, but it seems fair to call him “respected.” This is a guy who pioneered personal blogging, and one of the few to still be doing so full-time, on his own site; he’s also done stints at Big Legacy Publications like The Atlantic. Sullivan is not, in other words, a 22-year-old spending his days encased in a combination of Cheetos crumbs and his own facial hair, channeling his rage into doxxing female game developers. So why is Sullivan’s latest bit of opinion blogging indistinguishable from a run-of-the-mill 8chan screed?

Sullivan’s headline says it all: where the average reader sees a feminist group attempting to fix Twitter’s broken system for reporting harassment, he sees “SJWs” attempting to “Police Speech on Twitter.” Sullivan makes the accusations that, over time, have trickled their way upward from the darkest corners of the Internet to slightly less dark corners of the Internet (Breitbart is a terrible publication, but it is still a publication, and a widely read one) to outlets like Fox News and now, Sullivan’s blog: Women, Action, and the Media (WAM), and feminist groups like it, are “social justice warriors” set on “policing the speech of straight, white males” via “censorship.”

It’s been about three long, exhausting months since #GamerGate reared its ugly head, and while it may not be an actual movement, the online shitstorm is certainly the closest a certain subset of alienated, likely white-cisgender-hetero-male-and-so-on Internet user has to a rallying cry. You know the kind — he’s a collection of persecution complexes, of identities that insist on calling themselves marginalized even as the actually marginalized people are sharing their experiences more than ever. He’s atheist. He’s not conventionally attractive. He’s a gamer.

In other words, he’s not a part of the mainstream, and #GamerGate has essentially been one giant effort to prove that outsiderdom once and for all by flipping the rhetorical script on people like Anita Sarkeesian or the folks at WAM. We’re not the oppressors — you are!

There’s been plenty written about why this just isn’t the case, because apparently driving people like Brianna Wu into hiding doesn’t make where power really lies obvious enough. But the slow bleeding of #GamerGate and its supporters’ specific language into mainstream outlets like Sullivan’s makes the obvious even more so: #GamerGate, 4chan users, neckbeards, or whatever else you might call them were never ideologically separate from the mainstream in the first place.

At first glance, respected, conservative-skewing moderates like Sullivan and the #GamerGate coalition appear to be strange bedmates, especially since the archetypal gamer/atheist/etc. sees himself as alienated from the social establishment conservatives supposedly want to, uh, conserve. On closer inspection, though, it’s only natural the two groups would find common cause against “social justice warriors,” a term previously specific to the 4chan crew that Sullivan’s post suggests is poised to become part of mainstream conservative rhetoric.

That’s because as much as #GamerGate types attempt to use marginalized people’s own arguments against them, they’re still dedicated to protecting a status quo, no matter how angry and dissatisfied that status quo has left them. Redditors may see themselves as politically marginalized or even liberal (atheists, in particular, have always taken pride in their enlightened progressivism), yet they’re natural allies with those who’ve always stood for tradition at the expense of social change. As evidenced by their mutual distaste for feminists, the enemy of their enemy is their friend.

All of which is clear from the outside looking in, yet still isn’t obvious to those who see only the mainstream media piling on — or rabid feminists attempting to censor them. Now that members of that same mainstream media are taking the side of the neckbeards against “contemporary and controlling left-feminism,” it’s more obvious than ever which side of this particular culture war has the advantage, and always has.