Should geeks avoid political controversy at all costs? Nope. We’re better than that.
When I debuted this column last week , a good number of readers expressed concerns about it, and those concerns brought up an important question. To wit: Is there really no place for political discussion in greater geekdom?
Some of you were concerned that this column’s existence demonstrated editorial bias. To that point, I don’t deny that politically I lean very much to the left. As such, when I discuss controversial topics, I’m going to talk about them from the left. Obviously, I absolutely did set out to provoke. After all, I chose the name Social Justice Warrior for forum of opinionated discussion of political topics. So yes, troll is trolling. But as with any opinion piece, the article is just the beginning of the discussion, one that should continue in comments and in the forums.
Other readers went a bit further, expressing outright skepticism about the place for this column among the other topics covered on this site, and particularly as part of the Comics and Cosplay channel. And that’s what I really want to address.
It’s definitely true that this community we all belong to is made up of people with differing views on controversial topics. So it goes that, much like awkward Thanksgiving family dinners, it’s often good policy to keep what should be a pleasant discussion of, say, the hilariously over-serious new look of Superman’s uniform in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, largely free of politics.
But much like a particularly bad Thanksgiving dinner when Grandpa suddenly decides to drop deep racism or sexism bombs because you asked him what he thinks of the latest season of NCIS (yes, I’m speaking from personal experience), sometimes you simply can’t avoid it.
Sometimes it’s because someone does something really obviously dumb. For instance, like when DC Comics reveals plans for an exploitative Catwoman cover that not only appears to have been drawn by someone with no understanding of human anatomy, but also blatantly exists only to shove tits and ass into your face, giving one no choice but to point out how hilariously and unnecessarily sexist it is.
Sometimes, it’s because a controversy within the community attains such widespread impact that to avoid talking about it is to commit a kind of journalistic malpractice. For instance, when women working in the video game industry started the #1reasonwhy campaign to highlight their personal experience of sexism in the workplace.
Sometimes it’s because some of us do or say something really stupid, forcing a strong rebuttal, not only to stop a bad idea from becoming conventional wisdom, but to make it clear that no, not all of us are assholes. Like when some people objected strenuously to the casting of Michael B. Jordan as The Human Torch for reasons that can only be characterized as completely racist.
But examples like those I’ve cited here are, thankfully, not all that common. However, there’s another reason we can’t avoid politics: simply put, it’s the sheer volume of works aimed squarely at us that demand we think politically in order to fully understand them.
To dig out a very old example, if you pretend Frank Miller is an apolitical writer, then his seminal works, especially The Dark Knight Returns and Sin City lose all but the most superficial meaning. Miller made his views on gender, sexuality and U.S. politics absolutely crucial to those stories, so much so that with a couple of decades between us and their initial publication, a lot of what he wrote is jarring. You might not personally have a problem with a mincing, gay stereotype as The Joker, but you can’t ignore the thousands of people who do. Furthermore, how can you even grasp the point of TDKR if you completely disregard Miller’s clear view of Federal authority, or his low opinion of the socio-political changes associated with the 1960s?
Likewise, ignoring Alan Moore’s sexual politics and intense distrust of authority obscures the whole point of Watchmen. Why bother reading such a dense, difficult, challenging work if the only meaning you’re going to get out of it comes from figuring out which famous superheroes he based his characters on? Why bother reading through that story’s complex supplementary material if you ignore his exploration of the fascistic undertones of the Superhero ideal?
Both Moore and Miller are difficult, provocative writers who demand their readers be challenged, who practically beg people to argue about their work. You do them a lot more respect by hashing out agreement or disagreement with their points than you do by pretending that it’s crass to inject politics into the discussion.
On a less controversial level, even Fables – my current favorite ongoing comic series, incidentally – a decade-long story about living fairy tale and folklore characters, becomes a richer reading experience when you realize what creator Bill Willingham’s politics are. For the record, I’m certain Willingham and I would find little common ground were we to ever get into a political discussion. He leans firmly right, while I’m probably to the left of if Sweden and San Francisco had a baby. But I don’t have to agree with everything he says to recognize his brilliance. And really, the fact is that certain story elements only make sense when you are aware of his views on issues like Israel, the war on terror, or abortion.
Disagreeing about complex and controversial works isn’t injecting politics where it doesn’t belong, it’s demonstrating that your love of an art form – any art form – is more than just surface-level loyalty to a brand name. We’re going to disagree about stuff all the time. Better that we realize it, and embrace the discussion head on. In short, we’re better than simply picking sides between Pepsi and Coke.
Likewise, the world we all actually live in isn’t apolitical at all, never mind the art we consume. The idea that being “geek” means something equivalent to the concept common in American political rhetoric that “politics stops at the water’s edge” ignores all that. But more importantly, geeks already argue about everything anyway. We argue about whether or not Superman should ever kill, whether or not Han fired before or after Greedo was able to get off a shot of his own, even whether or not two superheroes from different universes could beat one another in a fight. I see no reason why our arguments can’t also be substantial.
Even if anyone who disagrees with me is clearly wrong and awful.