Inclusiveness in Geek Culture

Robert Downey Jr as Tony Stark in Iron Man.A few days ago, The Guardian’s Damien Walter wrote about the preponderance of white male heroes in mass market superhero films and computer games, and attempted to turn it into a polemic about white male privilege in geek culture as a whole. Unfortunately, while his heart may be in the right place, his argument was so clumsily made and so poorly focussed that his many valid points got lost in the noise. Certainly the manner in which he pushed people’s buttons in a way that was always going to provoke an angry emotional response didn’t come over as a good way to start a constructive conversation.

He ends up leaving you with the impression he’s hating on fandom for Hollywood’s failure to greenlight the sort of projects he wants to see. If you’re actually interested in doing something constructive about geek cultures’ problems with inclusiveness, are lines like this remotely helpful?

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.

Writing a piece that reads as though it’s designed to provoke a backlash, then using that backlash as evidence of the essential rightness of the original piece is still the tactic of the troll. A handful of troglodytes bloviating about Mencius Moldbug and The Red Pill (don’t ask!) in the comments doesn’t validate the tone of the piece.

And no, he doesn’t get to use the “Tone argument” as a get-out clause. He’s privileged white male himself, so it doesn’t apply to people like him. And he describes himself as a professional writer, so he’s supposed to be good at communicating ideas. He should be capable of doing better than this.

There are indeed a lot of valid points about the sorts of stories that aren’t being told but should. I’d love to see Hollywood move beyond American comic book franchises that pre-date the Civil Rights era in favour of the more contemporary SF by the likes of Charlie Stross, Iain Banks or Alastair Reynolds. Or even more challenging works that aren’t written by white men.

So what, if anything, can we do to encourage media companies to tell more diverse and inclusive stories?

As a start, as fans, critics or maybe even as creators, I would suggest that we spent our energies into supporting and encouraging works that tell the sorts of stories we want to see, the ones that don’t rely on tired stereotypes and clich├ęd plot tropes. And we should champion such things on their merits for the stories they tell.

On a broader inclusiveness front, how about supporting events like ConTessa?

Is it not better to do this than waste our energies raging at the things we dislike and the people who like them?

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2 Responses to Inclusiveness in Geek Culture

  1. You hit on the very issue that really keeps this problem going -people complain but then don’t do anything. Complaining sells. Complaining get hits. Complaining also never fails because your goal is to complain.

    In this case he really trolled his audience. The more I reread it the more I get that impression – and I’m not even sure how much of his heart is in the right place.

    What you did is propose actual solutions, which is what is needed. Your goal is to fix things. Had this guy’s goal been to fix things, then things would have been different .

  2. Tim Hall says:

    You may be right. I tend to give people the benefit of the doubt until presented with overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

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