Poses with TARDIS
Once upon a time there was a newspaper called The Guardian. In its hallowed pages one could escape the right-wing bigotry and jingoism of the tabloids and the Tory press and enjoy a more thoughtful, nuanced view of the news of the day. It was like Channel 4 news, only made of paper. Then The Internet happened and as with pornography, films, music, books and everything else in the modern age, things changed.
Now articles need to draw ‘clicks’ and there’s no better way to do that than to stir up controversy. There’s no better way to stir up controversy than to print something that offends someone, especially if it is a biased or bigoted view that also shores up another, equally vocal group.
Damien hit on the brilliant scheme, intentionally or otherwise, of attacking geeks and nerds, on the pretext that doing so would somehow shore up feminism, racial equality and probably several other things as well. Needless to say, this provoked the desired response and then Damien went on to have a fairly spectacular meltdown in the comments section (much of which has since been redacted). Indeed, he’ll likely take this response as confirmation of his ideas because it’s angry – and who wouldn’t be angry?
The thrust of his argument appears to be that white, educated, middle class men are over-represented in the nerdy fields and he cites a drabble of statistics (some of which are dubious or incomplete)* to support that contention. Ultimately and unfortunately though, we live in a capitalist society. One in which the big movies and the triple-A titles, by and large, have to appeal to the largest target demographic if they’re to earn their keep and – in the west – that means, at least when it comes to nerdery – white, male, middle class geeks.
For me, as a leftie by bent, the problem is not one of race, colour, gender or sexuality but one of class and economics. People with less economic power wield less influence over businesses, including entertainment businesses. That historically women, LGBT, and people of colour have been socially disadvantaged meant economic disadvantage and the failure of our society to bring disadvantaged groups out of poverty is the root cause of the problem (and what remains of social prejudice against those groups). If these groups are under-represented, then it’s because they don’t have the clout – or in some cases have their own, parallel entertainment industries (consider Hip Hop music, Riot Grrls or, more historically, Blaxploitation).
Walter admits that money rules the show, but somehow parlays that into ‘fear’ of the female nerd, something I simply don’t see. An expanded audience – more women – would be a great thing but not if it means losing more of their core audience than they gain. That’s the threat and in high stakes games like AAA games and blockbuster movies, the risk is already damn high. If you want innovation and change you really need to look at the fizzing and bubbling indie communities, the self-published and micro-published press, the games on Steam, the independent movies and fan-films on Youtube. Good, different, brilliant stuff is out there and in time it’ll come through to the mainstream. How much it will ever displace what exists now and the demography of it remains open to question.
Walter makes the big mistake that any and all moral panics make when attacking anything. They presume that somehow the target audience for media has no discernment or capability to tell reality from fantasy while simultaneously holding themselves above such vulnerability. It’s patronising – at beast. It doesn’t seem to matter how many studies contradict this idea, it persists. D&D will make you satanic, pornography will make you a rapist, computer games will make you violent and – in this case – ‘adolescent power fantasies’ will somehow arrest your development and make you into a permanent teenager.
Walter’s manifesto sounds desperately boring, an examination of masculinity and ‘whiteness’ might play well in literary fiction but SF&F is – quite rightly – about escapism and geeks, quite naturally, rebel when their safe, escapist space is intrusively judged and attacked by people who threaten that. How can you damn these genres as damaging and pointless while simultaneously wanting to bring more people into them? Doesn’t that suggest that proselytysing nerdery is not the aim, but rather a ‘gentrification’ of nerd culture just as there’s been an effort to do that to the internet?
Where Walter goes unforgivable overboard though, is with this:
As John Scalzi famously explained, Straight White Male is the lowest difficulty setting there is. I don’t agree with the the metaphor entirely. Young white men often number among the most useless and deficient individuals in society, precisely because they have such a delusional sense of their own importance and entitlements. They’ve been raised to believe that one day they’ll be millionaires and movie gods and rock stars (and superheroes), but they won’t, and they’re having a tantrum because of it.
Geeks, particularly those in their 30s and 40s have, as a group, been bullied, harassed, beaten and otherwise made to feel like shit for decades for their interests and hobbies. ‘Geekdom’ has been what you might call a ‘safe space’ in social justice parlance where they could be themselves without having to worry about donning the pretence of manhood and being grown-up. Paradoxically Walter is trying to bring in and enforce a stereotyped standard, one he’d seek to usurp in order to free any other group.
Useless and most deficient individuals in society? Can you imagine this being said about any other societal subset unchallenged? Let alone in the Guardian of all papers? Can you imagine this being said of young, black urban men uncritically? ‘Heads filled with the idea that one day they’ll be rap stars and gangsters…’. No, that would be unacceptable.
Geek culture is one of the most accepting communities you can be a part of. Sometimes too accepting. There is absolutely nothing barring anyone joining that community and they’ll be welcomed with open arms, though sometimes a little suspicion of their geek cred (nerds have good reason to be wary). So long as you like what they like they’ll be happy to see you, fat, thin, black, white, rich poor – provided you don’t fuck with the things they love.
There’s no conspiracy or ill intent in people making the things they love to cater for themselves and those like them. If you want to change that, make the change you want to see yourself. Publish your book, make your film, show it can be done, break the mould, show there’s a market for it and if there isn’t… admit that and deal with it.
* For example, though he doesn’t cite it directly, the 45% of computer gamers are women stat is regularly trotted out to suggest gross under-representation. We do not know how this statistic breaks down by genre, platform and so forth with any precision though. It is thought likely that women are more represented in the mobile and handheld market and more in puzzle games. This is, perhaps, a conclusion driven by stereotype but it does show that we need more and better data to come to any kind of meaningful set of conclusions about how things are – and from that to get to where we might think we want to be.
Read Full Post »