If you’re white, straight and male you’ve probably never stopped to think about diversity in genre entertainment; but if you don’t fit into that very specific box it can be a very important subject indeed. Peter MacKenzie examines representation and depiction of alternative cultures in geek entertainment, highlighting when it goes right and explaining why it’s a problem when it goes wrong…
Well, it’s happened. It’s now out there. After a year or two of pleading and prayerful intercession to not let it suck harder than Jar Jar Binks’ PornHub account, after consigning nearly a quarter of a century of Expanded Universe material to the dustbin of Legends and after a lifetime of just plain, pure, excitement… I was there at midnight on December 17th.
And it was good.
But… it was not without its birthing pains.
I honestly thought nothing could shock me any more. Particularly not with the internet.
I’ve seen TripAdvisor reviews bemoaning the fact that Spanish waiters work in Spain and the lack of marshalled taxi ranks in remote Highland villages.
I’ve seen YouTube videos of cats stuffed and turned into drones and of people opening boxes.
I’ve seen videos of the odious Westboro Baptist Church… and sermons from the most accepting mainstream clergy who can bring a tear to my eye.
I’ve seen Goatse and two girls, one… spooky hotel corridor.
But before Star Wars was even packed into (in my eyes) its bejewelled, gold plated film cases, my eyes were opened to an extremely sinister side of our brave, new, cyber-world.
I was made aware of an extremely disturbing hashtag, #BoycottStarWarsVII – do yourself a favour, don’t search it – and I was, as I said, shocked.
Sadly, homophobia is rampant in the sorts of pubescent American eejits who are allowed internet access alongside their guns. I’m kinda used to it cropping up in the comments sections of YouTube and BuzzFeed and maybe I’m a bit hard-wired to notice it more and/or take it personally. But I’d not really seen the extent of racism in those same forums.
The general gist was along a spectrum of opinion from “Stormtroopers aren’t black” to “How dare one of the main characters be black”. As you can possibly imagine, it was not only the levels of vitriol that proved most shocking, but also the levels of ignorance.
For a start, it’s well established that stormtroopers consisted of far more conscripts than Fett clones by the time of the Battle of Yavin and, as for black main characters, should we not point out the existence of Lando Calrissian and Mace Windu?
I felt physically ill at the thought of these people claiming to be Star Wars fans, an honorific I completely embrace and, yes, have a sense of pride in. Mind you, to be honest, I felt a little bit sick that these morons claim to be human.
When I was first approached by the then editorial team of GeekPlanetOnline to contribute this column, it was posited that I could discuss all aspects of equality and diversity. My sexuality means that I have, admittedly, tended to look more specifically at the LGBT+ side of things over the years.
And now we’re living in 2016. We’ve made huge strides in tackling homophobia and we’re mostly heading in the right direction with transphobia. We are living in an age where racism, sexism, ageism… these things should literally be so last century.
But maybe we should ask the 45 year old guy trying to get back into work after being laid off, or the woman who gets paid 75% of the wage of her male colleague.
Because I think we’ve entered that twilight zone where society as a general rule is accepting of so many good things – but maybe someone should still tell the individuals.
In an analogy that would make my former health promotion tutors proud, I think it’s akin to the smoker. Anti-smoking campaigners have tipped the balance in societal change as regards the act of smoking, but on an individual level, people just don’t want to give it up.
Similarly, although society as a whole has rejected many discriminatory practices, the news hasn’t quite filtered down to many an individual.
Thankfully, the spluttering ignorance of a few Twitter users did not actually affect The Force Awakens' box office and they’ve been gloriously silent since it opened. Maybe they all genuinely did boycott it and so have nothing more to say. I suppose it’s too much to fantasise that Finn’s appearance caused their cookie dough-filled arteries to spontaneously erupt.
And as a smoker sometimes need the health scare of a heart attack to finally decide to give up, so we need to keep pushing the portrayal of equality in all the various fandoms. Maybe, just maybe, there’s one person out there who saw the movie and realised that, actually, Finn’s kinda cool.
And if you can change the mind of one then, not only is that worthwhile enough, but you can change the mind of many.
Having said that, I would love to see their reaction to all the Finn/Poe ‘shipping