Why the Issue of Representation in Nerd Media Never Goes Anywhere

By:  H.T.

One of the things I often see in the discussion of representation of different POC, minorities, or marginalized groups is that not enough is done.  The problem is, no one really has a straight forward agenda.  See, Marvel and DC say they want diversity, but kind of suck at it.  And the fans are split into 3 camps that will never get along.

The first camp are the angry fanboys who don’t want any changes to the continuity of the comics, video games or anything and feel that any and all changes to a character’s race, gender, religion or sexuality is just political correctness pandering and ultimately writing will suffer in the name of political pressure.

The second group hates the first group and views them as neck-bearded man babies that can’t tolerate change and that all nerd media needs to embrace diversity and include more characters that aren’t straight white men.  Any lack of doing this in any way is the companies ignoring their paying fans and supporting white supremacy.

The third group are people like me who can see both sides and realize that we can meet in the middle, but inconvenient truths have to be accepted.

For one, companies can write better minority characters, but at the very least they have to be willing to seek out writers that ACTUALLY know of the culture they write about.  For as much as I like Riri Williams, did we HAVE to make part of her back story be her from an inner city full of violence and suddenly SHE’S the special one that makes it out?  I swear this story screams a white person who watched Dangerous Minds or Freedom Writers one too many times.  Video games can make better characters, but a good start would be when I make a black character for a game that they don’t automatically have to have an afro or braids.  Beyond that, companies could do more but it requires effort.

The angry fanboys have to realize that change is good, and that not every change is for political pressure.  Yes, you all like this character, but the core fanbase is shrinking and we need to rejuvenate the people into it.  Yes, it’s annoying when your favorite heroes go from being fun escapism to political mouthpieces and there’s really no defense of it at certain points.  I can understand how it can be frustrating to turn on your favorite games and they don’t even have the decency to use satire to talk about politics.  But again, you have to understand that in some way, changes have to take place on SOME level in order to keep a character relevant.  Sometimes your hero being the stoic, one-man army gets kinda redundant as to how many people just wanna see a movie with almost no turmoil or play a game that doesn’t feel like you’ll lose.

And the highly idealistic group needs to realize that representation CAN come, just not on the level they want.  When people hear outrageous ideas about characters and what changes that could be made and reply with “go back to Tumblr”, the reason we say this is because Tumblr is the breeding ground for ideas that sound cool to maybe tens of thousands of people, but in the rare case that the companies implement these changes, they don’t SELL enough to warrant keeping them afloat.  For as much as I’m happy about Doctor Who being played by a woman, you cant be like Anita Sarkeesian and complain “Why was it JUST a woman? Why was she even WHITE?”  The reason being that no amount of accomplishments can be celebrated as it didn’t reach the furthest goalpost.  Again, there have been plenty of books that have black characters doing what Tumblr and plenty of people like them wanted, but BECAUSE those people didn’t buy enough of those books, the books got canceled and any changes made were undone.  So at the very least if this is what you want, be prepared to vote with your dollar rather than share panels on social media to talk about how cool it is.  BUY BUY BUY.

The problem with the debate in regards to diversity over all of this is that too many agendas are being pushed and in the debate over what gets printed tends to get out of hand fast.  The fanboys accuse the idealists of trying to turn their fandom into an unfun political loudspeaker, the idealist think the fanboys are racists who want to maintain their white power fantasy and live in a world where they can pretend that POC, LGBT, and non-Christians don’t exist.

My outlook is simply this:  what if in some ways both of you are wrong?  Fact is, yes, some superheroes need to go through some changes as by today’s standards, certain characters are kinda well…odd.  A prime example of this is The Punisher.  C’mon, it’s a crazed white guy going around murdering criminals (or accused criminals) above the rule of law.  Sorry, but you can’t tell me George Zimmerman didn’t at some point think of himself as that.  Furthermore, for as much as I like to see attractive women in video games, as I discussed with a friend who works in the industry, sometimes it can get a bit gratuitous.  I can rationalize Chun-Li’s classic costume as it really looks more like something a wrestler would wear, but why is it that in most MMOs, female armor has to look impractical but sexy?

The idealists have to understand that they can get change, but they have to understand that certain ideas aren’t going to fly.  I saw a Warhammer 40K game designed by a fan that decided to genderbend characters and fans got upset.  For as much as you want change, no amount of labels or name calling will make people budge on the fact that they don’t like what you did.  Really, at no point is ANYONE required to like every idea you throw out no matter how progressive it may be.  You can pitch it, you can even make it if you have the ability, but at no point is anybody required to like it or not voice their dislike of what you did.  You can pitch your idea for Supergirl to be a black pansexual feminist, but we aren’t required to like it.  Just saying.

Perhaps, maybe the reason this gets nowhere is because…too many people make money OFF the discourse between both sides?  What if the reason no real progress gets made is because entire sites and writers get their clicks, and in turn revenue, from angry people on either end of the spectrum?

Perhaps the reason we never get anywhere is because no one likes to compromise?  Maybe I’m wrong, but if you pan out maybe, just maybe you’ll see what I mean.

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  • CL Nicholson

    One thing that I found with a lot of the “Representation Matters” crowd is that they want equity in nerd media at the cost of logic. Exhibit A: Game of Thrones needs more black and brown people. My answer is “How would that make any damn sense? Random Dominican popping up in Westeros without a real backstory would have half of woke Twitter flipping its wig!”

    For those of us who passed basic European history, Black and Arab people did live in Europe before the Crusades, but not in great numbers. And in the instances that they did, 10th Century Germany isn’t 21st Century London, or 1960’s London for that matter. The way black people would show up in Game of Throne – which is just 11th Century England with a handful dragons thrown in, is the way Danni meets them, wandering “The Far East” and finding brown people by happenstance or the way they are in Dorn, “Go the Mediterranean and realize there are lot mulatto looking cats in 11th Century Ibiza”.

    But explain that factoid to most people on social media – you’ll get howls and screams. Because it seems like a lot people just want to howl and scream on social media.

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