I was going to give this piece an ironic subtitle (“Who died and made white male geeks the gatekeepers of nerd culture?”), but I got three words into typing it before stopping myself. White men have always been the gatekeepers of nerd culture, as well as pretty much every other type of Western culture out there. No, nobody died – although the way some ‘fans’ of the Star Wars franchise have been behaving, you’d believe that not only had Disney murdered George Lucas, but stolen his immense fortune, created a time machine with the funds, and travelled back in time to smear excrement on all the original film reels and script pages of A New Hope.
News broke this week that Kelly Marie Tran, the breakout star of The Last Jedi and the first woman of colour to be cast in a leading role in the history of the franchise, has deleted all her Instagram posts after being subjected to months of targeted harassment by whiny and entitled Star Wars fans – no doubt the same fans who b*tched about John Boyega’s casting as a Stormtrooper-turned-Resistance fighter in The Force Awakens. Honestly, the hoops these so-called fans jump through to argue against the casting of any people of colour are astonishing – the forensic deconstruction of millions of lines of lore that have been written about the Star Wars-verse is quite a sight to behold. And all in the name of gate-keeping a world to which mostly white, mostly straight, mostly cis men feel righteously privileged.
“The geek community has a really huge problem with lack of diversity.”
It has been well-documented by many people before me, that the geek community has a really huge problem with lack of diversity. In industries which have always been notoriously difficult for women to break into, white cis men have been writing and developing our games, comics, sci-fi films, TV shows and books since the dawn of each field. As nerds themselves, back in the 40s when these sorts of communities were just starting to form, the men who wrote the stories would invariably Gary Lou themselves in as protagonists – typically macho and heroic types, or sensitive and overlooked-by-popular-girls types, who always found ways to defeat the evil villain AND get the girl.
Look at Spider-Man as a perfect example. Peter Parker is bullied by Flash Thompson and overlooked by Mary Jane Watson because he’s smart and bookish (despite having been consistently portrayed on screen by objectively attractive, handsome actors). It’s only after he gets his superpowers that he’s able to punch Flash in the face and win MJ’s affections. Any young man who has been bullied by the high-school jock would idolise Peter Parker, and want to be like him.
It’s this very mentality which has led to the somewhat feverish gatekeeping that goes on in nerd fandoms. When other groups seek representation in these white-washed but otherwise well-crafted universes, the Geek Boy fans prefer to wall them away, worried that representation of minorities will mean less representation for themselves. As a woman of colour who has been gaming for 20 years, and has been in the software industry for 15, I’ve been on the front line of this on many occasions. As an avid player of World of Warcraft several years ago, I was accused of only playing to “fish for boyfriends” (honestly, as if). Today, as a successful email marketing strategist, I still face either condescending comments from men who assume I have no technical knowledge, or another type of gatekeeping in the form of impenetrable deep-programming jargon and then an exasperated sigh when I ask for a simpler explanation.
“For every idiot complaining that Lara Croft’s tits are too small, there are several more scary people threatening death or rape upon an actor.”
It seems that minorities simply aren’t allowed to be fans of long-running nerd franchises unless we can prove our chops – cite the myriad qualifications we simply must have to prove that we are ‘true’ fans, and thus be grudgingly granted access to the fandom. Apparently, Kelly Marie Tran literally being cast as a significant main character was not enough for the fanboys, who subjected her to racist and fatphobic abuse (content note for link – abusive, racist language) from the day her casting was announced. Daisy Ridley, who plays Rey in the new films, also deleted her Instagram in 2016 after receiving harassment for speaking out in favour of gun control.
It would almost be laughable if Gamergate hadn’t shown that this sort of pack mentality is also incredibly dangerous and intimidating. For every idiot complaining that Lara Croft’s tits are too small, there are several more scary people threatening death or rape upon an actor for the apparent crime of being a Black woman starring in a remake of an 80s film. These are tactics, ranging from pathetic to extreme, with the same end goal; to keep us away from the universes that have previously solely belonged to white men. White men, a demographic which already dominates pop culture, business, education, government, economy, STEM fields, and everywhere else, apparently needs to hound minorities away from fictional universes in which we want to be included. We aren’t asking to erase the White Man from these narratives altogether, just be allowed a seat at the table. And the few scraps we are allowed are immediately poisoned by the very people with whom we seek equal footing.
Anyway, they’re probably not even REAL poisoners – bet they can’t name the ten most lethal poisons in chronological order of discovery.
Image via StarWars.com