There has been a disturbance in the force dear friends. The sacred world of geekdom is in turmoil and is tearing itself apart in a destructive civil war that is pitting nerd against nerd in a battle just as vicious and pointless as Renaissance Europe's Wars of Religion. Sexism, racism, homophobia and misogyny are at the front of the battle lines as the hypocritical self-hating Social Justice Warriors and the socially maladjusted Chauvinist Pigs polarise this once happy sphere of safety and comfort for their own political agendas. Star Wars 7 and the freshly rebooted Marvel comics are some examples of the profound cultural change that is occurring as the baton is passed from one generation to another. But as I hope to explain, this all new, all different world we now live in is not so unfamiliar and threatening. Indeed, I think we have enough toys to share with everyone, even the girls.
But where did all the racism and sexism come from? I'm sad to say that it does exist in the heart of every white nerd to some extent, even me. It's a chip on our shoulder born in adolescents that we need to get over and the fandom will only be stronger when this happens. Let me talk about my experience and hopefully it resonates with you.
I am a nerd, loud and proud. I always was and I always will be. It flows through my veins and as hard as I've tried to supress it and be a part of the mainstream, it just can't be ignored or denied. As a child I was pretty ordinary at sport and never participated in any weekend/club level competitions. I was certainly no 'alpha' but still enjoyed having a go and getting involved in playground games of cricket and soccer. By the time I was about 10 I was seeking a way I could stand out from the pack. Who was I and why was I special? Art seemed to provide the answer. I was the "good drawer" as the kids in my class put it and that became my thing. Art and the fantastic worlds of scifi/fantasy seemed to go hand in hand and it would be a union that would shape the rest of my life.
As with all 80's kids I'd grown up enjoying Star Wars, He-Man, Transformers and Star Trek. In fact I was loath to give these staples of my childhood up as I entered high school but felt that the social stigma of liking toys at that age would equal social death. Conveniently my teenage years coincided with the trading card and comic book boom of the 90's and it looked like I had a new, socially acceptable avenue to pursue. Indeed, for a hormonal, socially awkward and painfully shy teenager the buxom women of the Marvel Universe provided an unthreatening fantasy world and a slightly unrealistic view of the ideal female form.
I suppose it was at this stage, around the age of 13 onwards, that I saw myself as a geek/nerd. Indeed, if I hadn't already come up with the idea myself, there were plenty of A-grade douche bags who were only too happy to remind me of the fact. I was the comic book/art guy. The intrepid band of misfits whom I called friends included the computer nerd, the religious guy, the mummy's boy, the hippie kid and the poor kid amongst others. We all banded together for safety in numbers against the sporty kids, the festies (Kurt Cobain pot smoking music festival wannabies) the trendies and the most hated of all, the homeboys or 'homies'.
I should explain that I come from a small town in Australia that was whiter than white. During the mid 90's our grade had two Asian kids, a few Greeks and my own German last name made me exotic compared to the Anglo/Celtic majority. The 90s was the high point of hip hop and basketball culture and these American imports bred a particularly obnoxious form of Australian Wigger. Imagine a smug white brat in a Chicago Bulls hat with a Nike tick shaved into the back of his head and you get the picture. These charming individuals made everybody's lives hell. You couldn't even take a piss without encountering a whole gang of them smoking in the toilets. Well, we all hated them but were too cowardly to stand up to them. We hated everything they stood for, including their music and heroes. This is when a subtle form of racism popped into our subconscious. Our white enemies worshipped black culture. We worshipped at the throne of geekdom, which was very white. The two could never mix without baggage.
Geek culture such as comic books and video games presented a black and white world of heroes and villains. Even the anti heroes were justified in what they did and this led to a cathartic form of revenge fantasy. If I was insulted at school I just took it like a chump, but in my books, comics, movies and TV shows I could be the hero annihilating the assholes of the world with no consequences for my actions. Such was our impotent hate that during our senior year we misguidedly thought the Columbine Massacre was the fulfilment of a dream. A kind of violent revenge of the nerds. You can be very angry at 18, especially if you feel the world has been unfair.
Women were also the great mystery of my adolescents. Comic books showed me characters just as shy and awkward around women over coming the odds. We all identified with Peter Parker and Clark Kent, only we didn't have the super alter ego to help us get the girl. Being a geek was not the way to attract a potential girlfriend back in the 90's. It was still very much a boys club. It was largely made by men for men and as such held little attraction for women. Real women were scary but fictional women, written by men were the fulfilment of a dream. They looked like porn stars and could use samurai swords. The idea that these representations were a ridiculous caricature of a real person didn't matter. It was all we had. It would not reject us. Geek culture was our fantastic escape form the frustrations of traditional sports based masculinity and romance. On a side note, our girlfriendless selves also sought to protect our reputations through a mockery, suspicion and total rejection of all things which appeared 'gay'.
With such hurts in our teenage years, many white male nerds became quite protective of our favourite movies and characters. In many ways they became sacred. For years we imagined ourselves at the helm of the Star Ship Enterprise or wielding a lightsaber. It was an extension of us, our hopes and dreams. How could anyone else understand how we felt, especially a girl or a person from a different race/culture? We were suffering from a self centred tunnel vision that hadn't realised that all people can feel on the outside, shy and awkward, especially women and minorities. At this time geek culture was an exclusive club of 'us' against the rest of the world, which could seem quite hostile. However, by the mid 2000's the rest of the world wanted in, but were we willing to share?
When Star Wars: The Force Awakens was being promoted there was a big fuss over Jason Boyega. Not because he was the first black guy in a scifi franchise, but because he may be the main character. Some geeks felt threatened. This was their fantasy. What was he doing there? Daisy Ridley being the other main lead only added to the fear. What was happening? Was our one and only safe place being invaded by the homeboy tormentors and scary girls of our high school days? No. But it took two viewings to convince me. My initial reaction was to bemoan that the PC outsiders had ruined Star Wars. My sacred place had been defiled. I was despondent and didn't quite know what to think. When I viewed it for the second time my reaction was quite the opposite. I really enjoyed the film and characters because I accepted it for the film it was and not what I thought it should be. This was a film made by people who loved the medium and sought to make it accessible to as many people as possible. Me included.
In some ways geek culture has changed. When I attend comic book conventions half the people are women. I'm surrounded by people of all ages, genders, races and cultures all enjoying their thing. Comic books and movies are becoming more inclusive. But not to the exclusion of the white man. Yes, there is now a female Wolverine and Thor comic, an Asian Hulk and a black Captain America. But there is also Old Man Logan and white Captain America among many others. There are enough new comics for everyone and enough back issues and trade paper backs to sink the titanic. The only difference is that now there is a hero for everyone. The comic book world doesn't need to be exclusively made up of angry white dudes getting payback. That's a story that has been well covered and is in no danger of vanishing. There is lots of room for other people's stories. Even people different from me.
So I guess what I'm trying to say after all this is, yes some of the changes to the geek landscape have challenged me. It is not always that familiar place I had during the 90's but it's in good hands. There will be things I like and things I just don't follow. But the days of it being an exclusive white boys club are over. The door has been opened wider to welcome others into the community. I see it as a breath of fresh air and a chance to add some new perspectives on our much loved characters. And quite frankly, as a fan of Star Trek, X-Men and furries diversity has always been something that I've enjoyed in my fandom. Now lets stop fighting amongst ourselves and get back to the more important job of hating jocks!