Thursday, June 19, 2014

Diversity in Geek Culture, Part 1: A Black Man (!?!?!)

I'm going to do a series of an as-of-now undetermined  number about diversity in Geek Culture. 

I hate how during debates over having a woman or a POC as the lead in the next comic movie franchise, dudebros end up saying they "don't want diversity for diversity's sake." It's such an oversimplification of a highly complex matter, but they're categorically dismissing a very simple solution when doing so. A knee-jerk reaction like that, without considering the merits of the proposed character, is about upholding the status quo. And as I've said before, oppression thrives on its facade of normalcy and neutrality, as its position as the "status quo." And objectively and in a vacuum, I can agree with that statement- I want quality diversity, otherwise failures will be used as examples of why it doesn't work. (I know I'm always talking about Catwoman and Elektra, but they're the pinnacle examples of that crap.)

The thing is, when I or anyone else is asking for a female lead, or a Black person, or an Hispanic person, to be the star, we aren't just asking for that. We're asking for something of quality, something that's as close to objectively "good" as any mainstream, straight white male cis thing. 

So my first big stab aimed directly at diversity is about making a Black man lead a franchise. Why? Well, I think the fanboys will take to a Black man before a white woman, and it's pragmatic to go for the easy sell first. When you consider the hierarchies in society when it comes to actual, active power, white men rule the day, but they're followed by men of color. Then it's white women, and  last, women of color. Within this hierarchy, non-straight is devalued over straightness in any category, and for reasons I don't have time to get into, trans women of color are at the VERY bottom of the totem pole. So picking a Black man is the easiest argument to make, and I've actually been sitting on this piece for a good month and I think it's time to let it out.

This isn't to say that there isn't normative value in a Black man being the star of a superhero movie/franchise. I think it's really important to include any and all people doing the saving, beating the odds, overcoming personal hardship. Importantly, though, we need stories about minorities that are about them as people, and not centered around their minority status. Tragic stories of the inner city or slavery, movies all about the queerness of the lead character, or where the entire story revolves around a disabilty... they do more to fetishize the plight and not enough to relish the humanity outside that plight. I get tired of the "look at how bad they have it" stories about marginalized people. True equal representation is when they're just part of the group, or the central character because they're the central character (not the central character because of their status). In other words, the movie shouldn't be about a "poor Black kid, struggling with racism and poverty," but "a young boy growing up in our messed up world." And I don't see why "Black" movies can't just be, y'know, movies. And this goes for any group- and it's not to say that minorities shouldn't have their own art, but rather they shouldn't NEED a "specialized" market in order to MAKE that art. Their art shouldn't be regulated to an offshoot. It's like the "go be diverse over there" problem that can arise with centers made by those in the majority, meant to serve particular cultural or ethnic needs. It's good they have a place to feel safe, but it becomes a form of de facto segregation once that becomes the only place those people can feel safe.

I guess what I'm saying is, part of the big reason to have a superhero movie star a Black man is because we need more mainstream movies starring minorities, and a Black man would do just fine for me.

So that being said, I'm going to go about this a little differently. Before I've focused mostly on characters or franchises first. This time, I'm going to start with an actor I kind of dare the fanboys to sneer and turn up their noses at.

Taye Fucking Diggs. 

That's right. I went there. And allow me to give you a list as to why I think he'd be a great lead in a comic franchise, or at least a solo film.

1) He's a solid actor. Check out his IMDB page. You prolly forgot he was in a lot of those things, but I'm going to argue that that's okay- most likely, the movies you forgot he was in were all really good and had phenomenal ensemble casts that it was easy to get lost in. Like Chicago- he did a great job there, proving he can do everything, really. Because, like another constant lead in comic movies, dude's been on Broadway. But now think about some of the more mediocre movies he's been in. Like Dylan  Dog: Dead of Night. Or Equilibrium. He steals every scene, even though the scripts he's working with are kind of terrible. It's hard to do that- I mean, I love me some Christian Bale, but in Equilibrium, I was kind of "meh" about him most of the time. But Diggs's character, my gosh, Diggs did so well, I was on the edge of my seat whenever he was onscreen, anxious to see what he'd do next. He can be funny, scary, romantic, intimidating... He's on a new show, Murder in the First on TNT that just started. In the pilot alone, he demonstrates his ability to be convincingly funny  and  sarcastic, as well as demonstrating some  pretty high-volume vulnerability. Go watch it now. (It also has Tom Felton playing, once again, a rich asshole.) I got sniffly, and it was just ONE EPISODE. He's WAY better than his  opposite, a kind of annoying (fake) blonde (go figure- that's a terrible trope to be addressed some other time).

2) He's badass. Again, that IMDB page has a few action movies on it. And he's good at that- I mean, replace this gun  with whatever power the superhero has,  and voilla!

3) Given some of the weird-ass movies he has been in, and the fact that he was able to shine in them, he'd be able to adapt to whatever wonky backstory he's presented with just fine. Again, he sells it in Equilibrium and Dylan Dog, and I'm giving  this its own category because it's a distinct thing. To do well in a story that is just plain bizzare or unrealistic, that's a different kind of acting chop, separate from being a sultry romantic lead or a funny, sensitive dude (I'm thinking of The Best Man). Sean Connery is a great actor, but you could tell he wasn't buying into The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen at all- and while I'd like to think that had more to do with him being dissatisfied with how they changed Alan Moore's original comics, let's be real and admit he probably just thought the script was too ridiculous. Taye lets it go in his "weird" roles, so he'd be able to sell whatever origin story or powers the character he plays has. 

4) He's easy on the eyes. I'll just let the evidence speak for itself on this one:



Look at the first one in this set. Dat body, right? But think about this in terms of superhero movies. Dude's already built for it. If they'll give a hulky lead role to this guy, why not one that's already donning  the physique? One less thing to deal with in production, right?

5) Another one that may seem like repetition, but look at his smile, in those, and here's a link  to a search for itSee, I think this is actually really important- HOW can you resist that smile? And I think that would be GREAT for a dude figuring out his powers. Imagine a grin like that on the face of a dude flying or shooting energy for the first time- it'd be pure elation and infect the audience with the same joy the character, as played by Diggs, is feeling. 

6) He's done a little comic stuff already. Again, back to Dylan Dog, but he was also a voice for Black Panther once. And there have been a few times where people have kind of double-dipped- Chris Evans was in The Fantastic Four and is currently Captain America, and Sam Jackson and Scarlett Johansson were a duo in The Spirit (bet you forgot about that one- I don't blame you, it's terrible) before joining together in Iron Man 2. There's obviously no rule saying a person can't be in more than one comic movie, and I think experience in one can help with another. 

So now the question is, Who could Taye Diggs play? I can think of a few roles because they're Black men, but I don't want to make it seem like that's all I care about. Because switching a role from white to Black isn't just about diversity for diversity's sake- but it can send a positive message and be a source for more progressive attitudes about race in the media. But I think I coincidentaly have them in order from easiest-to-most-difficult to convince people about. But keep in mind, I'm listing characters I think Taye Diggs could be- not just characters I want to see in movies. 

1) Victor Stone, AKA Cyborg

He became most famous through Teen Titans, but the DC studios, actually listening to the fans for once (unlike in other cases), picked up on that and decided to make him a founding member of the Justice League of America when they rebooted it in the New 52. This is huge, people. Before, Martian Manhunter had been a founding member (we'll get to him in a few, don't worry). But this time around, Cyborg's origin story is a key part of JLA's founding. Cyborg is newer and more modern, and his character would be a great outlet for a lot of conflicts we have in the real world today. He's basically Robocop, right? In this upcoming Batman v. Superman movie, Dawn of Justice*, DC really missed an opportunity to set up another side-franchise by not including him (as far as we know- movie is still two gorram years away). But it's not like it'd be impossible to come up with a way for Victor to become Cyborg. But I think this character is particularly an easy sell right now because of his recent popularity. He made the cover of Injustice: Gods Among Us, over staples like Green Arrow and Aquaman, and his role in that plot is pretty important- he gets one of a handful of little semi-cut-scenes where you have to do a Thing (I rag on those in my review**, but that he has one says a lot about how DC views him as a character and his importance to the family). I think fans right now would say, "Oh yeah, that guy, he's pretty cool." 

2) John Stewart, AKA Green Lantern.

Stewart is arguably as famous as Hal Jordan's Green Lantern, at least among comic fans- I actually think I know more people that say he's their favorite, come to think of it, than Hal. And he was one of DC's first Black heroes, so why not give him his due? His origins, as Hal's backup, are a little tricky to deal with, but there are good stories about kids filling their parents' shoes all the time, setting his up like that could work- kill Hal off in the beginning ala The Comedian in Watchmen and give us some tension with John trying to become his own Lantern. There's potential for lots of drama, there. And while I really don't like the idea of his wife getting killed, there's some potential for some good romance between him and Katma as she's training him to use his Ring. Or, alternatively, work him in via the JLA- have Hal bring  him along as a helper in one movie, have Hal die somewhere in there, then give him  his  own movie. Again, another missed chance for DC/Warner Brothers, but it's not insurmountable. 

3) Martian Manhunter.

Another original  member of the JLA, people forget about this guy a lot. But he's pretty awesome- he's basically Superman Plus- he's superfast, superstrong, has laser eyes, can move himself through solid surfaces and move stuff, and can read/fuck with minds like Professor X from that other comic studio. And his alter ego, John Jones, is Black, so keep it in your pants, fanboys, no race-bending, here, aight? But seriously, he's been around since 1955 for bloody sake. MMH actually is a great response to Professor X- he's basically the JLA's in-house therapist because of his ability to understand people so well. Which of course makes him wondrously compelling, since he's, you know, a Martian. Once past the social norms, he's like a sensei or wisened uncle when it comes to the interpersonal relationships in the JLA. I love the idea of him being in his own movie where he uses those skills as a profiler for the FBI or CIA on the side- one where it's not really made entirely obvious that he isn't even human until at least 1/3 through the movie, even, so that people unaware of him will be surprised by it- blow them out of their seats because the guy who was able to talk down a suicidal person or totally read the body language of a killer was actually a friggin' Martian! A MMH movie could combine good old fashioned detective drama with the superhero spin. And while  yeah, another possible missed chance, this dude I think works the easiest by himself- let someone in his unit figure him out, sure, but I don't think he really needs other superheroes with him. 

4) Oliver Queen, AKA Green Arrow.

Yes, usually a white dude. But what does race matter? Anyone saying it's "unrealistic" for a Black man to be in charge of a company like Queen Industries is being racist- if they argue about how "it's fiction, it's in the backstory!" about bikinis and high heels for women, they can suck it up and accept a Rich Black Man; and saying it's not in his backstory for him to be Black is racist, too. Because again, the status quo itself is racist, and arguing against race-bending to improve minority representation, especially when the color of their skin is the only trait being changed, you're arguing for the status quo, one that keeps POC vastly underrepresented. I've linked this blog before, but here it is again. Shit matters.  This is what I was getting at at the beginning. Sure, it's diversity for diversity's sake, but these assholes that claim they "don't see race" then need to put their money where their mouths are and not care if a Black Man plays a white one- so suck it up and let Taye  Diggs play motherfucking Oliver Queen. He'd do the snark SO GORRAM WELL. And he'd definitely be able to pull off the Rich Partyboy By Day persona- a guy that looks like  Taye Diggs would need to do no convincing the audience that he could very easily take home three ladies at once. As for GA himself, well, Oliver Queen is one of my favorite DC characters. The arc where he loses his fortune and he becomes a legit Robin Hood is so awesome- THAT would make a great movie, where the playboy loses his money and starts helping poor people in his city. I wouldn't even really need to see a supervillain to enjoy it (but,  then again, I'm way into social justice, hence most of this blog).

5)Arthur Curry, AKA Aquaman.

Stop laughing. I mean it, stop laughing.

I've thought for ages that Aquaman deserves more respect, and legit for most of the same reasons this guy lists. If he's so pathetic, why has he lasted so long and always been involved in JLA stuff, huh!?!?!? And yes, he can talk to and control sharks- his mega-attack in Injustice is SICK (in the best of ways). And lightning with his trident- A TRIDENT, by the way. Dude's a badass even in hand-to-hand combat. And there's some precedent, since Aqualad from Young  Justice is Black. And again, sure, dude usually looks pretty gorram Aryan, but again, so what? He's from Atlantis, they could have BLUE skin for crying out loud. My idea for an Aquaman movie, one that would be easily worked in, could be something like this: Just take an example from Justice League: War and have a teaser scene at the end of Dawn of Justice in which Aquaman show up angry at the destruction the Big Battle caused on the  creatures of the ocean. And have the next movie be more about him adjusting to land-life after (in the  first ten-twenty minutes, of course) he forgives Bats, Supes, and WW for the damage. And I think as long as the writers weren't too heavy-handed with the green politics (which I think any Aquaman movie is going to have to include, at least in minor doses), it could avoid being cheesy and just be good. Fact: The CW did, in fact, try a pilot, and even though it screen-tested well, they didn't actually make the show because Reasons. Aquaman is a cooler character than he gets credit for, and a movie with Taye Diggs playing him would draw in plenty of viewers, if only out of sheer curiosity, if nothing else. 

Ok, so I know my list is all DC characters. That's because the few other Marvel characters I'm familiar with either have movies already, or are ones I plan on ranting about on their own. I already gave Black Widow a shot, after all. But if you, dear reader, know of anyone else Taye  Diggs would be great as, let me know!

*Collective groan for that title. I'm telling you, things do not bode well for this movie at all. Uuugh.

**And I actually think I need to re-visit that game, because I've come to appreciate it more recently. 

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Girl Nerdery 3: #YesAllGeekGirls

So rather than directly addressing the Eliot Rodgers stuff, I'm going to put my nerdy spin on this whole #YesAllWomen thing. Because as I've said before, nerd culture is sort of a microcosm and hyper-active space for "normal" hierarchies and behaviors. So let's start with this piece from io9 (I'll quote the relevant section here):

I've been a fan of the X-Men since the early 90s, when I watched the (awesome 90stastic) cartoon. I've enjoyed (most of) the live action films, especially the most recent, X-Men: DoFP. I've never been able to keep up with the comics, but I'd like to read about the important story lines, character origins, X-Men history, etc. The problem is that there's a ton out there and I haven't a clue where to start. Do you have any recommendations? Perhaps there are some compiled anthology-type materials?
I've asked at a comic book store once and the guy just rolled his eyes at me and said they weren't girly comics, so I shouldn't bother...
Well, screw him. I want to get into this, but I just don't know the best starting points.
Please help!
Okay. I really want to help. But first there's something I've gotta do.
Dear Mr. Comic Store Employee Who Told Lori To Stick To Girly Comics, and Every Comic Store Employee Who Has Ever Done or Said Something Similar: Eat shit.
Seriously, go to the bathroom, take a dump, don't flush, go grab a spoon and fork, and just eat that shit up. The fact that it's 2014 and you have the fucking gall to assume a woman who enters your comic store does not want or somehow cannot handle a superhero comic is both insane and fucking horrible.
Is this the most awful act of misogyny in the world? Unfortunately, as recent events have shown, it obviously isn't. But it's so needless, so petty, so clearly, transparently incorrectnowadays that it drives me insane that this is still happening, or that it ever happened. And I don't mean just morally wrong, I mean factually wrong. Unless this idiot has somehow ignored all the women who have entered his store, and never been to a con, and never been online, there is copious proof that women like all the same nerdy stuff men like. ALL OF IT.
And I get extra offended any time a nerd pulls this shit. I remember being a nerd in the '80s and '90s, being ostracized by my peers, and the fact that any nerd would willingly choose to do the same thing to anyone, let alone another nerd or potential nerd, appalls me. We should know better. We do know better. Second of all, I remember a severe dearth of nerdy girls growing up, and I would have done horrible, horrible things to live in the gender-even nerd renaissance we live in now.
He is a Neanderthal. A nerdy Neanderthal. A NERDANDERTHAL. Fuck him.

I say, "Slow clap," for the most part. And in an exceptionally timely bit of happenstance, a gal on a forum I'm part of on FB just happened to post a picture of herself with a crapton of X-Men comics a friend of hers let her borrow for the same reason the gal seeking advice above had. When I posted a link to this article, a dude posted the following hashtag:


Now granted, this is still while the battle over #NotAllMen vs. #YesAllWomen is being raged on blogs and forums in all of Inernetdum. So my response?


Because, well, yes all geek girls

I know the guy was being at least a little facetious, but it's so goddamned true

I'd say the one thing I disagree with the columnist about is their final part, goes like this: "Second of all, I remember a severe dearth of nerdy girls growing up, and I would have done horrible, horrible things to live in the gender-even nerd renaissance we live in now."

I'm going to have to call..

Because this is a two-pronged fallacy, here. First off, what, we didn't exist in the nineties? Excuse me? How about the fact that you dudes were, indeed, ostracizing and excluding us? Women may have become more nerdy recently, sure, but we didn't not exist. Remember when I said the boys didn't let me play Pokemon and Magic: The Gathering with them? Yeah, I didn't make that shit up. I still have some weird complexes about acceptance and being "who I am" that I'm sure are related to this. Also, I have a nasty scar on my left knee from the time the cargo pants I was wearing got caught on a nail. I AM LITERALLY SCARRED BECAUSE THE  BOYS WOULDN'T LET ME PLAY WITH THEM  IN THEIR NERD THINGS!!!

Second, this assertion that we live in a "gender-even nerd renaissance" nowadays? What rock is he under? I mean, not to, like, ovarysplain, here, but the author of the column  is a dude, and I just... I don't think he realizes how pervasive this kind of shit is for us women/girls/ladies/gals.  Anita Sarkeesian is still getting trolled and threatened for her videos;  reviewers of video games that point out underdeveloped female roles are still called hypersensitive, and the whole "male characters are objectified, too!" bullshit gets tossed (along with plenty other bits of textual fecal matter) in the comments; and there are YouTube channels dedicated to teaching other dudes how to harass women gamers.*

"Nerd renaissance?"

Excuse  me while I count to ten...
See this is exactly what perpetuates the problems. This ignorance with respect to the systemic issues geek girls face on a day-to-day basis as they go about their nerdery and geekiness. I mean, sure, I'm glad he's pissed, but his indignation is misguided in his assertion that this comic book store employee is somehow an anomaly. His (what I can only assume is) shock and disbelief stems from his total oblivion to the real problems women in the geek world face. I mean, granted, I agree and like the term "Nerdanterthal," it's pretty apt- it rather cleverly points at how backwards this mindset is. But I think this columnist is missing the key fact that this "Nerdanderthal" is one of millions of asshole geek men that assume women don't know anything about nerdery and that deliberately exclude us. I've had very similar interactions with comic book store workers in my own lifetime- I'll be perusing, often looking for a specific title, when the dude behind the counter saunters from his post, walks up next to me, and asks with a tone you'd reserve for a child you caught doing something naughty,

"Now, is there anything I can help you with?" When I say no, they inquire again, as if giving me a second chance to "come clean," "Are you sure?" I tell them no, I'm really okay, thank you, and they say, the way you give in to someone that refuses assistance, despite it being devastatingly obvious they need it, "Okaaaay, if you're suuuure. I'll just be over here if you need me, okay?" Sometimes it's not an "if," but rather a "when," by the way.

Fuck, even when I go to Hot Topic, if it's not a gal behind the counter, the dude gives me these really condescending looks and smirks as I buy my Batman or Walking Dead merch. I even had one ask me if my boyfriend watches the latter once- I promptly responded, "It's for me, is that a problem?" I guess the pink shirt and big, dangly earrings threw him off.

And so excuse me  for being a little  frustrated.

I get it. Not all geek guys are sexist. Not all of them drool and stutter when a human with boobs walks into the comic book store. Not all of them assume ladies only like rom-comics. Not all geek guys harass female gamers. Not all male nerds would turn down a lady that asks to join them and throw down some Magic cards. But it happens so often that geek girls come to expect it, or at least come to be entirely unsurprised when a male nerd assumes ignorance on their part. Or suggests they try some other media that's more "girly," too. Call me a cynic, but I'm actually surprised when it doesn't happen, when the dude treats me  as an equal, not like some little child pretending to understand something like thermodynamics or how to fix a jammed printer. And for a geek guy to act surprised and indignant when confronted with an example of a fellow male nerd being sexist, it shows how, just like in the world outside Nerddom, dudes are putting their heads in the sand and pretending there's no problem- without realizing that actually creates more problems. 

And too often, they assume it's a personal attack and blame game, rather than a call for awareness and responsibility when it's pointed out in their midst- often because they're positive that they're open-minded and socially aware, too. They think that because they may not have ever behaved that way, it's an affront for them to be exposed to critiques of other dudes. They are obviously not a part of the problem, so why point the finger at them? (I can't tell you how many times I've heard a dude say, "Hey, I'm all for diversity, I like [name drops Black male character], I just don't think [insert female character name here] should get her own movie/series/etc." or something along those lines when I bring up the lack of female/POC representation in comics and movies. That's the equivalent of the, "I have a Black friend," argument.) But again, it's about responsibility, not blame. 

There is everyday sexism in Nerddom, folks. So next time a gal tells you a story about something she experiences, don't waste time on acting shocked and appalled. Just get right to the point and tell her you get it, that geek culture is a cesspool of concentrated rape culture and misogyny, and brainstorm things you can do as a [insert gender identity here] to help change the discourse.

Because there are things you can do. Like calling out sexist comments. Like encouraging a woman being mansplained at to stand up for herself as it's happening, or saying something to the dude mansplaining at her later (because we do need to be careful about White Knighting, too). Like giving a woman  the benefit of the doubt and not questioning her credentials when she expresses interest in anything nerdy, walks into a comic or game store, sits at your nerd table. Like not freaking out if you get beat by a woman in a game because she's a she (I mean, it's cool to be mad you lost, but to be all, "I CAN'T BELIEVE I LOST TO A GIRL," is just plain ridiculous).

Do I need to give you more?

The anti-woman sentimentality underpinning crap like what the gal writing the letter described is why women feel unsafe in lots of geeky environments. It's what leads to Anita Sarkeesian getting rape threats and having her personal info spread around and a flash game where you beat her face in made. And while no, geek girls haven't been targeted by a mass murderer as of the writing of this post, the fact that they get threats online when they beat men in games along the lines of, "I'm going to find you and rape you then kill you," doesn't make me think it's entirely out of the question for the future. I hope it never comes to that, but by golly, if that Eliot Rodgers isn't a catalyst for the problems in society, I don't think even a big brawl at a gaming convention caused by a dude being upset he lost to a woman would make much difference to anybody, either. It's sad, but really. If THAT shit doesn't lead to some change, I don't know what else could. 


*Oh, and I'd be remiss if I didn't at least mention the whole racism thing, if he's going to have the balls to call it a "nerd renaissance."