I messed up in my last newsletter about anti-vaxxers and I need to apologise
There is something I need to get off my chest. I messed up.
My last newsletter — New Zealand Goes Loopy — was pretty direct and pretty intense. I called a variety of New Zealanders “conspiracy theorists”, “anti-vaxxers” and “nitwits”. But I realise now I rushed in. I wasn’t thinking. I darted over to Facebook, and realised I’d made a huge misstep:
As read those comments from a variety of anti-vaxxers and conspiracy-minded folk, I realised I need to apologise.
I’d need to apologise to LARPers.
An Apology to LARPers
In my last piece I made a comparison between Sir John Walsh of Brannagh’s fictitious and farcical court system (the “International Tribunal for Natural Justice”) and LARPers.
My basic point was that Sir John Walsh of Brannagh — and those who appeared in his made-up, childish courtroom like Sue Gray — were LARPers: adults engaging in a live action roleplaying game.
But comparing these types of people to LARPers was hugely unfair to those who dress up as wizards, gnomes and knights on the weekend. It was incredibly unfair to LARPers.
Because LARPers know what they are doing isn’t real. They know it is a game. They haven’t become delusional, and their games don’t focus on peddling disinformation. In short: LARPers aren’t a bunch of conspiratorial nitwits. They are a bunch of incredibly creative, kind people from a variety of backgrounds who do something that they love. So comparing them with this man was inaccurate and, frankly — mean-spirited.
Is LARPing nerdy? Who the fuck cares. I collect figurines that I display on a shelf in the office. FIGURINES! I’m 38! My most treasured possession is probably a videogame box of the original Quake that I bought in the 90s. I once went to Ireland just to meet the guy who created Quake and DOOM. Count me in with the nerds and the geeks.
The fact is, I heard from a number of LARPers since I wrote my piece, and to be honest it sort of broke my heart. It was a lousy thing to compare the pure pastime they engage in with a bunch of adults who actively spread health misinformation, lie about children dying from Covid, and believe that 5G is something from the devil.
I so I want to share one of the letters I got from a Live Action Role Player, because they write better than me, and I think what they say is great:
I’ve become an active reader of your reporting in the last couple of years. I’m emailing because I just wanted to try to express something to you with regards to your recent Webworm. I have to admit I’m a little nervous contacting you about this since I’m not really doing this on behalf of anyone, however I have noticed that my feelings are echoed by others in my communities.
Before I get to what I wanted to say, some background about me. I’m a New Zealander and I’m a LARPer. I’ve been LARPing for well over a decade and have been lucky enough to find a really kind, considerate and respectful community amidst the wasteland of garbage people who seem intent on worsening social inequalities here and around the world.
I’ve been an IT professional for most of my adult life and recently became a film professional as I decided to try to do something that was actually personally meaningful with my life’s work. I love so many other geeky pastimes including video gaming, board-gaming and Dungeons & Dragons. You name it, it’s probably my jam. I’m a cis-het white dude. I’m double-vaxxed.
Myself and the portion of the LARP community that I connect with regularly read your recent Webworm. Yup, it turns out that a large number of people in my community really appreciate the work you do. I know I really appreciated someone in the media actually putting Peter Mortlock and City Impact Church on blast when everyone else in the mainstream decided to exclusively vilify that well-established commodity of human excrement, Brian Tamaki.
But to get back to it, using the term LARPing to describe what Sue Grey does is publicity that our hobby really doesn’t want or need. Also, if I’m being brutally honest, it’s inaccurate.
The truth of it is that we’re a bunch of folks who like to dress up on the occasional weekend, taking on the role of heroes and villains from fiction, all for a brief respite from the harsh and bleak realities of the world we live in. It’s a highly creative pastime that inspires folks from our communities to build sets, fabricate costumes and props, meticulously write fictional characters, worlds and events that we then bring altogether and improv our way through to a dramatic conclusion. We create wonderful, shared stories that allow us all to sit down on any other humdrum and bleak day of the week and lift our spirits by sharing a drink and reminiscing about the time we saved the world together.
As it happens, we’re also a group of people that have a pretty broad range of neuro-diversity. Which in my experience, has meant that we’re generally more patient, safety-conscious and inclusive then many of the other social communities and groups that I've been a part of in my life. Pertinent to the current pandemic, we also have a bunch of folks who are immunocompromised.
A large portion of the community are pretty depressed given the current state of things. Not just because of the everyday feeling of doom that is rampant right now, but particularly because we’ve had so many of our events that organisers have had to cancel these last few years. Either because of lockdown restrictions, or outbreak scares where on the balance of things, individual organisers and participants felt that it would be irresponsible to go ahead (despite in some cases, legally being able to if they still chose to).
Recently, with regards to the introduction of vaccine mandates coming in to govern participation in large, public events, the discussion came up in our circles too. There are various groups of LARPers around the country; different social cliques that don’t all get on with each other for one reason or another, but I’ve yet to encounter an opinion from one of these LARPers that wasn’t fervently for vaccine mandates governing participation at events.
The fact is, we’re a community that cares deeply about the health and wellbeing of each and every member, even if we don't get on 100% of the time. We love playing pretend, but we’re fully aware of what’s real and what’s fake. What’s reckless and what’s safe.
So with all of that in mind, do you think it’s fair that you’ve taken our word that we use to identify ourselves (that word which is also so often used to unfairly judge or malign us), and repeatedly used it to describe a bunch of morons who can’t tell the real-world from fiction and decide to play pretend when people’s actual lives are at stake?
I don’t think it is.
Although I appreciate that you were sympathetic towards our community, using our community’s label to disparage these idiots tars us with the exact same brush and we don’t need more people, your followers, having reason to take yet another cheap shot at us.
Personally, I find lightning-bolt kid to be the fucking funniest shit and I’ll laugh along with you on that one, but it really hurts to be thrown in the same bucket with these misinformation peddling dirtbags.
Anyway, I really appreciate it if you’ve read this far and I’ll continue to be a person who supports your work and shares it around, but I’d also appreciate it if you could refrain from using LARPing as a term to deride or to make a point about a person being a nut-job. Just call them a nut-job. LARPers are mostly pretty normal folks from all walks of life; who just so happen to also love stories and storytelling in their spare time.
I agree with every word: And consider this my apology.
The group lead by the grifting Sir John Walsh of Brannagh is about as far removed from the ethos of LARPing as one could imagine:
“We’re fully aware of what’s real and what’s fake. What’s reckless and what’s safe.”
So let’s all call Sir John Walsh’s fantasy what it is: Stupid and dangerous.
It’s stupid and dangerous like the group of adults (spurred on my Sue Grey) currently pretending to be “sovereign citizens”, free from New Zealand law. They’re not.
But they pretended they were, creating made-up documents lifted from real documents, attempting to cross police checkpoints — checkpoints created to stop the spread of Delta. Ngāpuhi was understandably frustrated, and said as much in a press release:
“A hikoi organised by a group opposed to vaccination makes this event particularly dangerous for whānau residing in Te Tai Tokerau, at this time. It is disappointing that organisers are using He Whakaputanga, or the Declaration of Independence, as a means to bring attention to their cause; unfortunately this hikoi diverts attention from a genuine commemoration of a covenant in the history of Ngāpuhi.”
All this made-up stuff is incredibly disrespectful and dangerous — and it should come as no surprise it was organised by those affiliated with conspiracy toting Counterspin Media, something Webworm has covered at length. This all emerges from conspiracy theory goop, and it gets so, so mind-numbingly dumb. And endless: Here’s another made-up thing human adults got excited about this week: World War 3.
“203 countries taking part in this. This will be a World War III scenario at the same time to wake people up. It will last between two and three weeks […] Italian soldiers are already embedded there…”
And so again — an apology: None of this is LARPing.
Rather, it’s “a bunch of morons who can’t tell the real-world from fiction and decide to play pretend when people’s actual lives are at stake.”
An update on Dave Dobbyn
There is something else I wanted to talk about — kiwi songman Dave Dobbyn. He was a surprise name to pop up amongst Voices for Freedom and Sue Grey in my last piece, and perhaps it was a little unfair to include him in such company.
So: What did Dobbyn actually say, that made me include him in New Zealand goes Loopy?
I linked to Dobbyn’s tweets in my last piece, but let’s look again.
All this started when Hamish Keith tweeted, “The unvaccinated will feel isolated and picked on. So they bloody well should”. This is a sentiment I tend to agree with, when it comes to the Peter Mortlocks and Sue Greys of the world.
Enter Dave Dobbyn, who replied: “I thought we’re fighting COVID, not humanity.”
Fair enough — not too alarming.
Hamish Keith then expanded on his thoughts: “I hope you missed my point: There are a number of people for reasons against reason putting the health of the rest of us at risk — that is I believe a dangerous and possibly lethal point of view — should we simply shrug it off?”
Again — I am with Keith here.
What would have been great next is if Dave Dobbyn had replied with: “Oh yes, it is important we get vaccinated. I know it’s not a cure-all, but I do know it decreases the chance you’ll catch Covid, or pass Covid on.”
That would have been cool. But I am not Dave Dobbyn. I am Dave Farrier. What Dave Dobbyn replied with was: “Perhaps you’re right. But one could suspect mandates and authoritarianism could become far more lethal in the medium term. Especially in a climate of fashionable neo-Marxism. History proves it over and over.”
That was the bit that that made me cringe a little — in the context of all I’ve been writing about. Look: Dave Dobbyn is an older dude. I don’t imagine he’s reading the current online room. That words like “more lethal in the medium term” play right into the hands of the Sue Greys of this world who talk about bogus suicide statistics and dead children. “A climate of fashionable neo-Marxism” sneers at the likes of what I’m writing, I guess.
And so I included Dave Dobbyn in my piece. It was short, compared with the rest of the newsletter: 35 words.
“It’s kinda painful watching New Zealand heroes go down the vaccine conspiracy route. Musician Dave Dobbyn was one of the first — after posts like this and this, he deleted his Twitter account (good move imo).”
“The vaccine conspiracy route.”
Was I unfair? I’m not sure I was, considering Dobbyn had tweeted “more lethal in the medium term” and “A climate of fashionable neo-Marxism”. I also admit that I am sensitive to these kinds of phrases though, as it’s the stuff of Rumble, Telegram and private “COVID DEATHS” Facebook groups.
But what I want to do is point out what Dave Dobbyn did next: What he did after he’d deleted his Twitter account.
He updated his Facebook with “I am double vaccinated. I encourage it for everyone.”
This is so great. A dream move. On a Facebook populated by the worst stuff imaginable, Dobbyn did something simple and precise. Something Peter Mortlock — or anyone on my list of nitwits — is incapable of doing.
I’d also note that Dobbyn differs hugely from the other people I spent much more time talking about: He isn’t actively campaigning to spread disinformation like all those others players. He’s worlds apart, and it was unfair to throw him in a montage with all of the nitwits.
And after those vague statements on Twitter, he made it clear he was vaccinated (leading by example) and he suggested others do so, too.
Whatever Dobbyn was alluding to on Twitter — “more lethal in the medium term” & “A climate of fashionable neo-Marxism” — he didn’t double down on that. He took a positive, wonderful route.
And that’s great. Happy days, Dave Dobbyn. You can keep your knighthood.
Screaming “Freedom”, while actually being very free
As I’ve talked about before, “Freedom” is a huge rallying cry at the moment — both in New Zealand, and beyond. Which is why I really enjoyed this comment from Webworm reader Rachel, who observed things around her as she drank a nice warm kiwi coffee:
“We sat eating lunch at a popular Nelson cafe, as our freedom enabled us. We could hear rumblings from the church steps just around the corner: Apparently some protest for freedom with a side of anti-vax stupidity. Yes, they were using the freedom we already have in Aotearoa to protest for freedom. I have no doubt they were the same people that I’d seen doing anti-1080 & anti 5G protests for a couple of years as the rants sounded the same.
Determined not to go look at the protest, we carried on with our meal — which we’d freely been able to order using our freedom.
The next thing, the protest subsides so they could all freely go about their day, that no doubt included hanging out freely and sipping an overpriced craft beer, with this being Nelson and all. The next thing, I just about choked when three of the freedom protestors walked past the cafe wearing t-shirts sporting a bunch of syringes in the shape of swastikas.
Of course they’re free to wear these as we have freedom of expression in New Zealand.”
In amongst all the insanity, it’s nice to read something sane. Thanks, Rachel.
And a sidenote on all these comparisons to Nazi Germany: I’d recommend this piece. Because all those people opposing vaccine mandates have someone that agreed with them: Adolf Hitler.
“Contrary to claims about “fascist” vaccine mandates currently circulating on the Right, the Nazis actually relaxed German vaccine mandates — and hoped doing the same for people they conquered would kill them faster.”
I’m annoyed I had to even bring Hitler into this conversation — it just shows how stupid and redundant it’s all gotten. Emphasis on the word stupid.
Last weekend, TVNZ’s Sunday programme interviewed the family of Louie Knuxx, a New Zealand rapper, podcaster and youth worker who had a heart attack a month after being vaccinated. His death had nothing to do with the vaccine (he had other health issues) — but that didn’t stop his mother being harassed at her place of work by anti-vaxxers, who also defaced Knuxx’s Instagram page with disinformation.
I knew Louie, and this stuff is pretty sickening. If you have time, this is an excellent watch — and a brave stance — from Louie’s family:
Why don’t we all just… walk away?
As I read the string of abuse and weird shit coming into my inbox from anti-vaxxers this week, I’ve also been thinking a lot about social media and how cooked it all is. How we got to this point. How so many have lost the ability — almost overnight — to do what that LARPer spoke of: “We’re fully aware of what’s real and what’s fake. What’s reckless and what’s safe.”
I mean — we all know about Frances Haugen’s Facebook leaks. This, from The Bulletin:
“CNN, one of 17 news organisations behind the Facebook Papers, has detailed how the company failed to stop the storming of the US capitol by insurrectionists, did nothing to stop the platform’s use enabling violence across Africa and has been aware for years that human traffickers have used its services.
In a telling anecdote from the company’s own reports, employees created a fictional profile in 2019 which followed former president Donald Trump. Within days the account’s feed was awash in QAnon conspiracy theories. The papers paint a disturbing picture of a workforce aware it was causing deep social harm and bosses who ignored warnings and knowingly misled the public.”
And we know Facebook’s response: To lie.
“At the heart of these stories is a premise which is false,” a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement in response to the flood of reporting.
But we’re here now. Zuckerberg isn’t going away. Facebook, even when rebranded, is not going away. Neither is Twitter and Instagram and TikTok and Telegram and Rumble and whatever comes next. But that doesn’t stop us making the choice to just leave. Because maybe — just maybe — life could be smarter and more joyous without social media.
And so I wanted to share this letter from a Webworm reader (with his permission) because he’s done just that. He’s walked away. He’s a computer engineer and he’s had enough.
A great piece, thank you.
The thing that terrifies me is that these are all presumably smart people who are the last you’d expect to fall down a rabbit hole and then Tweet about it vociferously.
I ask myself, “could this happen to me?”
That question was the final prompt for me to delete my social media accounts, with the exception of Facebook messenger.
I found that I was just endlessly doom scrolling for hours a day and this little voice started arguing with me: “what if there is some truth buried in all this?”
I deleted my account that day.
Strange feeling, very much like giving up smoking. A constant desire to reactivate in case I am missing out on something.
On balance, so far, it feels good.
A friend of mine came to stay over the weekend and we talked about how they were feeling. They had got to the point where they’d had one jab and now were completely confused, and depressed, about what next.
Like most, there had been an effect after the jab, and that led to concern about the second. They said they were utterly overwhelmed by the inability to escape COVID, which is broadcast 24/7 across every channel and the topic of all conversation in their social circles, a river of opinion.
They said they went to the hairdresser that week who had little signs on each mirror asking people NOT to talk about COVID, and they said for the first time in weeks they felt like they’d found a safe mental space.
The overwhelming torrent of shit that social media allows to be platformed is utterly astounding. I’m a long time computer engineer, who helped build the Internet infrastructure in New Zealand and it’s my opinion it’s probably allowed platforms that have been the most destructive thing humans have faced to be created. Bulletin Boards of the 80’s were cesspits, but didn’t have the reach the big guys do.
Interestingly, when I reached out to friends who I’ve worked with — and still do in the infrastructure space — to tell them I was turning off the great brain toilet, I found most had done the same for similar reasons.
The Creators have abandoned their Creation and one can only hope more people opt out over time.
Rabbits look cute and fluffy but on the farm they are literally stock killers. A leg in a hole can cause a break leading to euthanisation. We actively remove the rabbits and fill in the holes to prevent that.
Something I feel that you are figuratively doing yourself.
For now, I’m happy to attempt to fill in some of the rabbit holes. But it’s tiring, and it makes me feel frustrated, and sometimes a little unhinged. But for now I’m gonna stick with it — diving in and reporting back to you, so you don’t have to.
PS: One fact remains — even if I did leave social media, people would still find ways to brutalise me online. This wound up in my Inbox this week from a Webworm reader not happy with my pro-vaxx, anti-conspiracy stance:
“I liked you but now I don’t.” Brutal.
Thanks so much for sharing my last newsletter, New Zealand Goes Loopy, far and wide. I really appreciate it. People read it. More people understood the lunacy. You can share this newsletter, too: Like all my conspiracy theory-related writing, there is no paywall here. The URL for this one is www.webworm.co/p/apology. Thanks!