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Cyber Racism 101: Have You Played the New Christopher Dorner Video Game?


Christopher Dorner is dead. Depending on one's political, cultural, and racial perspective he can be viewed as a radical resister, symbol of the LAPD's racism, "badman" or "bad nigger," anti-hero, "despicable" murderer, or vigilante who was driven by personal hurt to engage in acts of cathartic violence (for himself).

Dorner can also be read as a mix of all or none of those things.

Ultimately, Christopher Dorner exists as a cultural object which various members of the public will invest with meaning depending on their own value system and life experiences. By implication, as a type of cultural object, the meaning attached to Dorner literally (through his racialized and gendered body as a black man) and symbolically (as a rogue cop who dared to call attention to the LAPD's long history of racism) will be circulated throughout (global) society by various types of technology.

This is not new. Historically, television, radio, TV, film, and print were used to teach lessons about political and social identity. For example, the Racial State in its various forms such as Jim and Jane Crow, contemporary colorblind racism, the slaveocracy, Colonialism, and Imperialism, were reinforced and legitimated through the use of various types of media.

These systems were/are also subverted by the "technologies of race" as well. Cyber racism is the next iteration of how technology, in this case the Internet, social media, and video games, can be used to circulate, legitimate, and reinforce racist ideologies.

To point. Only several days after his "suicide," Christopher Dorner's last stand against the LAPD has been transformed into a crude video game. It is both an excellent example of cyber racism in practice, as well as a broader demonstration of how modern technology can facilitate white supremacy.

As a textual object, the Christopher Dorner video game is a fascinating mix of elements, which if viewed as individual parts, would not not necessarily "cohere" semiotically, i.e. a superficial read of "the system of meaning" created by the various elements in the game could seemingly contradict its overall political and ideological message(s).

The narrative of the Christopher Dorner video game consists of locating him as the protagonist who fights the police which are attacking his cabin redoubt. This is accomplished though the game's first person shooter style of play.

This choice by the game designer creates a sense of emotional investment in the game by showing the events from the player's point of view, thus limiting the distance between the participant and the events which occur in this crude virtual simulation of "reality."

The soundtrack is provided by a rap parody song from the "movie" Gangsta Rap "The Glockumetary," and is used to negatively mark Christopher Dorner as a human being--in keeping with the video game as a work of cyber racism, he, and by implication black people, more generally, are "niggers" within the game's universe and its most extreme, chauvinistic, reactionary version of the white racial frame.

The white supremacist frame of the Christopher Dorner video game is also advanced through subtle interventions in the conventions governing first person shooters. Instead of "health boxes" or hearts, Dorner is "recharged" by racially stereotypical buckets of fried chicken. As a complement to the crude racism of the game, the difficulty options are listed from easiest to most difficult and include: Virgin White Ass; Live Free of Die Nigger; Nigger Ops; Gorilla Warrior; and Ghetto Holy Warrior.

The game allows a perverse white racial fantasy to play out, one that is not new: see the historical examples of race minstrelsy, yellow face, "white Negroes" and "wiggers."

Facilitated by the first-person perspective, the player can become a "black character," one that is really a "nigger" who fights the police (coded as the White establishment, White Authority, and White Power). But in the meta-narrative of the Christopher Dorner video game, the player is actually hoping that the police will kill the black character: here, suicide by cop becomes a means of reinforcing white supremacy.

In total, Christopher Dorner's defeat in the game is a White supremacist commentary and type of wish fulfillment for the political and social impotence of black people (men in particular, both literally and metaphorically). In the context of the video game, the "protagonist's" resistance is defeated by the inevitability of White triumph, and a return to a "natural" order of things in a White supremacist dreamworld wherein people of color are dominated, controlled, murdered, objectified, and submissive.

Play does political work. Pleasure, as derived from popular culture, is not politically neutral. Cyber racism, especially in video games, is especially potent because of the genre's interactive nature, and the ways that many young people across the colorline uncritically consume and enjoy it.

Mass media is not value neutral. The various technologies of race share that same quality: both advance a normative and specific understanding of the power relationship between whites and non-whites in society.

As I suggested here, Christopher Dorner's story will exist long past his time in this world. I was surprised at how fast this observation would come to be made real. In the virtual world, cyber racism has already made Christopher Dorner immortal.

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