Damien Walter Needs To Relax a Little @damiengwalter @kierongillen @feliciaday #geek #geekculture
Damien Walter has an article over at The Guardian entitled “Forget Iron Man-child — let’s fight the white maleness of geek culture” and subtitled “Fantasy has become a sandbox for immature masculinity. What kinds of stories could we tell if our writers tackled the hard truths of male identity and privilege?”
Mr. Walter suggests there’s a lot of geeks being left out of geek culture, and in that respect, mirrors the arguments made for being more inclusive of non-males (and usually non-white-males) in STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. The two areas – STEM and geek culture – have a significant overlap (being they’re related of course) so it would seem that Mr. Walter’s point is a fairly safe one to make.
Except that it’s really not.
Mr. Walter’s article seems to address the upcoming movie season, and largely the geek culture movies in general. While it may be that there are few African American characters or few women characters, these characters may or may not be relatable to their target audience. (According to Mr. Walter, I couldn’t know – I’m a white male!) I do know that production companies would be remiss in missing targets in their audience – after all, they stand to make more money by bringing more people in. The more people they can relate to, the more they’ll make, so if for no other reason than greed, the audience will be targeted, even if it means releasing a special version for a particular market.
But I think there are two additional points Mr. Walters misses. First, geek culture extends outside of just Marvel/DC movies. (For that matter, isn’t confined to particular media, though people often make that mistake.) Second, geek culture has long been inclusive. One need look no further than the producer of “The Avengers” – Joss Whedon – to see that the “God of the Nerds” has been responsible for quite a bit of this. Whether it was the creation of a series where the female is the hero (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), or launching the careers of several female geeks (Felicia Day comes to mind, but there are others), or recreating the Space Western to tackle the very problems that Mr. Walter says need tackling, he’s missed quite a bit of evidence to his contrary.
This can be found in the very evidence that Mr. Walter uses to support his case. It’s interesting that he uses the picture above, from the movie “Iron Man”, which in and of itself tackles the very idea of white male privilege. Mr. Walter uses the “billionaire, genius, playboy, philanthropist” line from the Avengers but then ignores that the origin story tells us exactly about Tony Stark’s struggle with the very patriarchy from which he gains his privilege. (This also ignores his inherited alcoholism as a theme through the movies and the comic books.) He is oblivious to the effects of his being a weapons manufacturer until he has his eyes forcibly opened. He’s forced to invent from nothing at the point of a gun. He escapes, and it’s only then that we see him change – change from someone who really had no idea and was flippant to the point of being obnoxious – to someone who decides that he’s going to do what he can for the good of others. (Never mind that the entire basis of Iron Man 3 was exactly that Tony Stark was not a hyper-masculine hero. Pepper came off much more heroic, especially at the end!)
This is a theme throughout the comics as well. Tony Stark struggles a great many times – he is left homeless due to alcoholism, has his companies stolen from him, and especially lately in the 2012 run of Iron Man, struggles with real moral dilemmas – many of his own making. He’s forced to examine his ‘real’ problems and define himself and his actions in a moral framework that does include others and its effect on people. His patriarchal benefits constantly overshadow this, and make for some really good reading. Yes, his being a rich white male gives him several advantages (being Iron Man for one) but that same identity is also what’s used to present some of the most compelling moral quandaries a “super hero” has ever faced. The most recent stories in the Iron Man series deal with Stark’s actual origin – that he many not even actually be a rich-white-male in the strictest sense – and what that means for his identity. Stories that Mr. Walters ignores are already tackling the hard truths of male identity and privilege!
(This panel from Kieron Gillen’s 2012 Iron Man is a good example.)
Geeks have long prided themselves on their inclusiveness, and while no culture is perfect, geeks are the ones most likely to tackle the sorts of problems other people won’t. Mr. Walter should spend some time actually getting to know what geek culture is before painting it with such a broad brush.