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Can you be cancelled for ‘L rizz?’

This story makes me kind of sick. I'm writing to purge it from my system.

On Thursday, an 18-year old female collegiate “Valorant” player named Scarlett shared a lengthy Google doc statement in which she detailed messages she had received from 23-year old roster reporter George Geddes. She characterized those interactions as “creepy and weird.” I can’t really recommend reading the statement — it is punishingly long, and painstakingly details Geddes’s abortive attempts at flirting (documented with screenshots). It is unpleasant reading.

Scarlett doesn’t accuse Geddes of anything criminal. Still, she says he messaged her out of the blue, requested her Instagram handle, and started a communication with her on Snapchat — textbook horny guy behavior. Reading the DMs, you get the impression of a pushy, kind of annoying guy. You wouldn’t want to hang out with this person, and if you ever caught one of your friends laying down this kind of game, you’d pull them aside for a stern talking-to.

Toward the end of her statement, Scarlett writes that her goal is “to show the other girls that have gone through similar things with Geddes to know they are not alone[.]” To wit, below Scarlett’s tweet linking to the Google doc, a number of other women have chimed in to say that they’ve had similar interactions with Geddes.

This, to me, is the biggest red flag. A lot of people on social media have waved this off as George having no game and being a bit of a dork. I think that’s true … up until the question of scale. One uncomfortable interaction is a problem. But when a man with over 100K followers on Twitter messages untold1 numbers of women who are, from what I can tell, mostly collegiate and sub-tier-2 “Valorant” players2, it starts to feel like everyone’s problem.

Some people I respect have described Geddes’s behavior as sexual harassment. More still have just felt sort of confused by the whole situation. I’m not terribly interested in determining exactly what you might call George’s behavior here; that’s a bit outside of the scope of what I’m trying to do. Instead, I’d like to unpack why, exactly, this story makes my stomach turn whenever I think about it — and why I can’t really put it out of mind.

There’s a little cartoon devil dancing on my shoulder, saying “Bro, it’s not that serious. Do not write about what zoomers are doing online.” And truly, it feels a bit strange to comment in such a formal way on two people’s private messages. There’s something gauche about this being up for public consideration and discourse in the first place. But this story has bothered me since I first learned about it, so I want to think out loud a bit here. My thoughts, in no particular order:

  1. I want to come out of the gate with the scorching hot take that I think Geddes misused his influence. This will sound downright Victorian, but I believe that young men should strive to act in ways that don’t make young women feel uncomfortable. Discomfort is relative! Navigating the internet and engaging with people primarily through text can be tricky! But also, if you have considerable influence in a scene — as Geddes does — you should not be DMing random women to ask whether they’re in a relationship and to crack sexual jokes.

  2. Shortly after Scarlett’s statement came out, Geddes responded on Twitter by saying he didn’t intend to take her statement seriously, and that he viewed the whole situation as a “pathetic attempt at a ‘cancellation.’” To me, this is further evidence that the term “cancellation” has lost all meaning. As far as I can tell, most people — including the author of the doc and even Geddes’s defenders — are just saying “hey, heads up, watch out, this guy is a bit of a freak.” It should be readily apparent to everyone at this point that young people (the primary audience for esports) have neither the appetite nor the commitment for a “cancellation” to stick.

  3. I’m not really interested in wading into what is or isn’t a good response, but Geddes’s really stinks. Forget optics; let’s just consider what a thoughtful, mature response might look like. I’m sure this isn’t the best possible version of a response, but it took me all of two minutes to type up and just about as long to conjure up in my head because it’s a eminently reasonable thing to say to someone who has announced that your actions have hurt them. (I also checked; the draft response above can fit into one tweet). The fact that Geddes chose a different route says something about how he thinks about other people and his interactions with them online, and what it says is not particularly flattering.3

  4. There’s also the professional aspect to this story. For journalists, the coin of the trade is trust — as well as a sense of sobriety and proportion. People want to be assured that when they reach out to a journalist, the person on the other end of the line is an honest broker, somebody who is mature and thoughtful and will treat their disclosures with care. I still believe that a journalist can have an outsize personality — publicly wacky and even off-putting to some — while still being good at their work. But if you’re accused of misunderstanding social cues, maybe potential sources will think you’re not a good listener. If you give off the appearance of someone who wields their power irresponsibly, that jeopardizes your ability to do your job. And if you respond to people who point these things out by doubling down, you foreclose on the opportunity to be seen as someone who can course correct and change.

  5. (I also don’t think journalists should be treated as celebrities, but that’s a whole other subject).

  6. Regarding “cancellation,” I don’t really think there’s need for society to take a position on Geddes’s DMs. (Nor do I believe that society could take a position, as I wrote above). I’m writing this newsletter now because A) I want to figure out how I feel about this story and B) I want to purge it from my system. But I am not, in any meaningful way, interested in changing peoples’ minds. I think cancellation and media consumption are a matter of personal practice. If I listened to “Life of Pablo” sometime in the last year, nobody’s going to come to my house to complain. How would anyone even know? Nobody is restricting access to Geddes. Nobody has that power. You are welcome to keep reading his roster reporting and riffing in his replies. As a matter of personal practice, though, I’m just not terribly interested in engaging anymore. Hifalutin talk of cancelation belies the more mundane fact that other people like me will observe these lurid proceedings and just opt out. And they’ll do it quietly.

  7. Here’s a metaphor I’ve found useful in thinking about this whole situation. Imagine a small community. Maybe you’re home from college for the summer. You start going to parties with your friends and you’re interacting with all your old classmates again. But word starts getting around: One of your old classmates is being a creep. He’s posting up brick after brick in the rizz department, and his spray and pray approach reeks of bad vibes. He’s starting to bring the mood down at these summer get-togethers. You’re not going to cancel this guy. (With the disclaimer, again, that the term really doesn’t mean anything). The whole neighborhood doesn’t have to have an opinion about him. He doesn’t have to go to jail. But you might start inviting him out less, and then just forget about him and resume enjoying your summer. And then, if his friends care about him, they might stage an intervention. Or, realizing his mistake, he might apologize himself and reintegrate.

  8. I think if you’re Geddes, and you envision the worst case scenario as “I’m shunned off of the internet forever,” at this stage this whole situation looks pretty good. He hasn’t been cancelled! But if you lower your expectations a bit, the reality is still quite bad. If there were a lot of people who thought he was annoying and unpleasant in public, there is now a new consensus forming that he is also annoying and unpleasant privately to younger women. That still seems pretty bad to me!

I have more thoughts on this but it’s really a subject I’d rather not go long on. This whole story gives me the ick. I apologize if any of this reads a bit flip, or if you, the reader, aren’t happy with the mildness or severity of my conclusions. I could lie and say that I would love to hear your take, but I’d actually much rather forget this whole episode.