Why fanboys, with all their experience of exclusion, should strive to make comics, gaming and film more inclusive.
I’m a geek. A fanboy. A fat, bearded devourer of superhero lore. Well, not just superheroes, I indulge in almost every nerdy bit of pop culture. From Star Wars to Tolkien, I consume all. Imagine a slightly pudgy, less purple Galactus (but with the same size appetite).
That wasn’t always my style, though. For a long time I was a bit ashamed of my geeky proclivities, especially in high school. Yeah, I know, that’s absolutely ridiculous – who cares what other folks think? What kind of douche nozzle would deride a young man for his interest in Iron Man (this was way before the RDJ days)?
Fandom is comprised of the classically ‘uncool’. We’ve experienced the discomfort of ridicule because of our passion
What can I say? I was a teenager, and being ‘cool’, which entailed general “boob and beer” talk, was my life’s goal. Through no small feat of skills, I passed the test. I somehow managed to conceal my comic book collection, my Star Wars Battlefront 2 obsession, and my Peter Jackson fanaticism from those brutal school peers. But I’ll never forget that overwhelming fear of marginalisation. That if I slipped up for only a minute, and dropped a super sweet Gollum quote, I would be ‘othered’ with the rest of the weirdos.
And that’s why the racism, sexism, and general dickishness of modern fanboys really grinds my gears. Fandom is comprised of the classically ‘uncool’. We’ve experienced the discomfort of ridicule because of our passion. Remember when you took the new issue of The Amazing Spider-Man to school to read on your lunch break and your ‘buds’ trashed it? Or how about all those games of ‘Monkey in the Middle’ your friends played with your brand new DS that your grandmother was so happy to buy you? All that stuff really sucked.
So why the hell are we so hurtful to newcomers? Especially those who fall outside of the traditional white, young, male demographic of geeks. God forbid a female gamer wears a remotely attractive outfit, or she dares the ire of a thousand internet tough guys. “She doesn’t even know about the game, she just wants attention”. We’ve seen it in the massive backlash to Anita Sarkeesian’s vlog series on misogyny in video games and it’s in even worse form in the attacks against booth babes.
And we can’t even talk about the lack of diversity in comic books without alerting the anti-PC police. Why can’t Spider-Man be black? Why can’t Batman be Asian? This concept of exclusion, that the hordes of geeks and fanboys actively exclude and ‘other’ those who they deem undesirable, is pretty messed up. What’s worse, the leading creators in the comics, gaming, and film industries often validate fandom’s sexist, homophobic, and racist views.
The leading creators in the comics, gaming, and film industries often validate fandom’s sexist, homophobic, and racist views
Just take a quick look at some of Frank Miller’s work. Yeah, I know recently Miller’s been one of the least prolific writers/artists in the world, but his work (along with the equally problematic Alan Moore) informs most of modern comics. And he’s sexist. Racist. Homophobic. He regularly reveals as much in his crass interviews, but if we look at his body of work, we can find examples (as my colleague Kevin Swann explains).
Let’s look at Sin City and 300. All the non-white characters are monstrous villains and every woman is only incidentally heroic in the brief moments when they’re not stripping garments from their bodies. I’m not one to demand that artists bend to my will, but if we don’t criticise the overtly sexist and racist creations of a uniformly messed-up dude, then we’re perpetuating a system that excludes over half of fandom’s potential following.
And oh man, don’t even get me started on DC. Last year, Batwoman nearly married her long term same-sex partner in a fancy comic book wedding… but DC got cold feet and pulled the plug. The studio’s fear was entirely informed by the possibility of a public backlash, but by botching the story, they not only ruined the natural progression, they also validated homophobia in fandom. Of course, DC attempted to spin the negative press, claiming Batwoman should never be wed, “because heroes shouldn’t have happy personal lives”, but that’s all nonsense. Superman’s been married. Spider-Man’s been married. Hell, even Deadpool is married. So why the hell can’t Batwoman wed? Oh, that’s right, because gay people make fandom uncomfortable.
Consider your race and gender. If you’re a white male, you probably never struggled to find a superhero with whom you identified
I love these tales as much as the next guy, but if fanboys deliver unending praise for these books, without proper criticism, we’re only encouraging racism, sexism, and all the other ‘isms’ in the geek community. But I get it. As a card carrying member of the fat fanboy club, I hate when ‘outsiders’ blindly bash my favorite stories. I especially hate when people play “PC police” and tell others they’re racist for preferring Peter Parker to Miles Morales. I’m absolutely not trying to shame anyone right now.
I just want you to think about life as another type of geek. What if you were a fangirl? What if you just wanted to enjoy Comic Con with the rest of your geeky friends, but you couldn’t because creepy guys continuously harassed you? You might not think about it often, but consider your race and gender. If you’re a white dude, you probably never struggled to find an awesome hero with whom you identified. For me, it’s always been the Silver Surfer. He’s a multi-layered, conflicted hero. Part space god, part human, he’s on a never-ending quest to find peace. I don’t know why, but I just love that tale.
My fangirl friends don’t have it so easy. Most female characters are one dimensional. They’re either damsels in distress like Mary Jane or low-cleavaged heroines like Power Girl. And how about my Asian buds? When’s the last time you saw an Asian or Asian-American superhero? They’re pretty rare, aren’t they? What about a black or hispanic hero? Sure, they’ve got a few more offerings than the other folks, but hardly a healthy offering.
We found refuge amongst other weirdos – we know how it feels to be marginalised, and that’s why we should be more inclusive
I hope you realise, even though fanboys are the bullied, the disenfranchised, the weirdos who still carry around a spare copy of Pokemon Red in the third pocket of their backpack, we’re the privileged group in fandom. The world was mean to us, and we found refuge amongst other weirdos who shared our passions. We know how it feels to be marginalised, and that’s why we should be more inclusive. Be happy that female cosplayers crowd comic conventions. Rejoice in new minority superheroes. Embrace the diverse identity of LGBT characters.
Fanboys, remember your roots.
Featured image: Zphaze (via Flickr)
Inset images: Anita Sarkeesian (via Flickr); Dimension Films; Columbia