Courting Disaster – Series Conspectus
Navigating the Pitfalls of Feminine Fandom
An overview of otaku and gamer fandoms, their interrelations, and engagement with pop culture. From GamerGate to syncretic mythology, to the underlying social justice issues, this telescopic lens will be aimed through the prism of intersectional feminism that pulls no punches and takes no prisoners. From Amazons to Zelda, we’re going to get gritty with it.
In this series, I am going to be exploring a wide range of topics in the cultural phenomenon known as geek fandom. This will include how writers and artists treat women and people of color (PoC), the remaking of Asian films and television shows, and gate-keeping in scene. As a geek girl, I deal with the issue of gatekeepers in fandom on a near daily basis. It’s sad that it is so rare for me to be able to walk into a comic shop and be taken seriously; at best, shop employees have ignored me. Far too often, though, I am quizzed on the comics or graphic novels I am browsing as if I couldn’t possibly know anything because I am female. The media we consume is overwhelmingly white, straight, and CIS. I don’t let that discourage or silence me, though; we are missing female voices in nerd culture as it is.
What does it mean to be a geek and be a woman?
I’ve been a geek for a long time; not all of my life, but a good chunk of it. I was around five years old when my father first introduced me to Lord of the Rings. Around that same time, my grandfather would let me stay up late with him to watch horror and science fiction from the 1940s and 1950s. My geek expertise is mainly in feminism and its relationship with pop culture. I’m a multi-fan and I love learning about new facets of geek and fan culture. I love fandom, even if fandom isn’t always deserving of that love.
Being both a geek and a woman means not only are you navigating the world of geekdom, only recently transcending the fringes of society, but that you are also navigating a deeply misogynistic realm. From the writers and artists of comics, movies, and TV shows to the fans themselves, sometimes it feels like being a woman and being a geek isn’t possible.
It’s not impossible, but it is very frustrating and disheartening to see the same sexist, racist tropes replayed over and over again. While it’s been slowly improving, comics, video games, movies, and television shows are still very white, very straight, and very male. This makes finding media I relate to difficult at times. While I love movies and comics like Thor and Iron Man, I also long for more stories that are more female focused.
So, what are we supposed to do when faced with the same old tropes over and over again? Do we turn a blind eye and ignore it, or do we speak up about it? Personally, I choose to speak up—loudly—with my dollar. I will not support racist, sexist, or homophobic content creators. This has caused me to give up on once beloved stories, but I refuse to support media that negatively impacts me or my loved ones.
Controversy in Fandom
In the following articles, I want to discuss the various topics that impact my life. One of these is GamerGate, which all started because a man was bitter about his ex-girlfriend [ 1 ]. Adam Baldwin (remember Jayne from Firefly?) “coined” the term so to speak, and now he’s barely getting booked for jobs. To be clear, he has a lot of problematic views, but his role in GamerGate didn’t help. While GamerGate could have become a door to open a discussion on ethics in video games, it quickly turned abusive with (mostly) men harassing and threatening women [ 2 ].
Other topics for examination in this series will span issues affecting women, especially those in fandom. A big one for me is body positivity and female representation. Far too often video games depict women in the most ridiculous costumes [ 3 ]. “Bikini mail” is a term that is heard a disappointingly amount of times. While I don’t disparage anyone, especially women, wanting their avatar to wear skimpy costumes, I’d love to see more diversity in the costume choices. I just want that really cool breastplate my male character wears to look just as cool on my female character. This shouldn’t be controversial, but it is for some reason. Lara Croft of Tomb Raider fame is a go-to example of ridiculous costuming; not only was it designed to be as sexy as possible, it was completely out of place in her game’s setting, though in later games, her outfit improved, marginally. World of Warcraft also suffers from “bikini mail” but has implemented a system called transmogrification in which you are able to wear the best gear you own, but make it look like any gear appearance you have previously collected. This is beyond helpful when you get a significantly upgraded piece but you hate the way it looks on your character. Your character can be either fully clothed, or run around nearly nude. The point of transmog (as transmogrification is referred to) is to give the player a choice.
Another controversy is fat characters. Before I go any farther, let me explain something: fat is not a bad word. I am fat, I have friends who are fat, and fat is a descriptor, not a dirty word. The first step in body positivity is fat acceptance. There aren’t enough fat characters that aren’t made into jokes because they are fat [ 4 ]. Fat is the butt of the joke, thus making the character a simple trope. Faith, a plus-sized comic hero, is one of the few fat characters who isn’t turned into a joke and is shown in a positive light.
Video games are notorious for unrealistic depictions of people, especially women. Women in video games, movies, and television shows are expected to look a certain way and act a certain way. They are to be skinny, but not so skinny that they are flat chested; they need to have the “perfect” curves. While I do believe that video games should be a form of escapism, there needs to be some form of realism in them. Being body positive and adding a variety of body shapes is one of the easiest ways to be inclusive. It’s also easy to add a variety of skin tones as well.
Even More Tea: Racism and Homophobia
Racism is prevalent in all media and geekdom is no exception. The Walking Dead tv show has struggled with this so much, that it’s been fodder for memes: Every time a black male character was introduced, the fandom said goodbye to the previous black male character. The show has gotten a little better on that front; however, the toxicity of the fandom has not. Women on the show are not allowed to have emotions after the fandom has deemed them “strong” [ 5 ]. The character Michonne has to deal with the double-edged sword of misogyny and racism as being the first black female character who has stayed around for a significant amount of time. The Walking Dead has another trope problem: killing off queer characters [ 6 ]. Now, people like to point out that “anyone can die at any time” (unless your name happens to be Daryl Dixon). Unfortunately, they tend to kill off gay characters at an alarming rate. Out of the seven LGBTQ characters that have been on the show, there are only three left. There are several shows that do this.
Tropes aren’t necessarily “bad” or “good.” Just because a piece of media relies on tropes doesn’t mean there is no worth in it. Everything is a trope at this point, everything is a fanfiction of something else. There is no getting around this. What does make a piece of media bad is when those tropes enforce racist, sexist, and harmful stereotypes. You can use a trope, subvert a trope, and still make good art. However, you can’t make good art by ripping off a foreign language film and presenting it as your own. Asian-language television shows and movies are often remade for American audiences; i.e. The Ring, The Grudge. These remade films are rarely as good as the original. Take The Eye for example; the original is a Chinese film that was actually very well made. The remake was… Well it had Jessica Alba and that’s about the nicest thing I can say about it. This isn’t a new trend though, most of the more popular westerns from the ’50s and ’60s are remakes of Akira Kurosawa films [ 7 ].
To be clear, this is not a debate about subs versus dubs. Foreign-language films that are dubbed into English are fine. In fact, I think more films need to be dubbed for accessibility. We are strictly talking about remakes. One example is an American remake of Train to Busan. This film has been in talks for a few years now [ 8 ]. Train to Busan is a fantastic horror film about a zombie apocalypse that takes place in South Korea on a train [ 9 ]. Much like Japan, South Korea has a very healthy public transportation system that revolves around trains. America, however, does not have that same train culture. A remake set in America would not work. The other way this remake could happen is if the story was set in South Korea and starred American actors.
This leads to the problem and another topic of this series: white washing, which is casting a white actor in role that was traditionally played by a PoC [ 10 ]. Think Khan in Star Trek, who was originally played by Ricardo Montalban. In the 2013 reboot (cursed be thy film) Khan was played by Benedict Cumberbatch. Despite the backlash this received, many people defended this choice saying, “he must have been the best actor for the job.” This is an excuse used anytime a role is whitewashed. Scarlett Johansson “must have been” the best actress for the role of Major in Ghost in the Shell, even though Rinko Kikuchi exists. Whitewashing is particularly grievous when the character being whitewashed is based on a real person.
This is not the same as recasting a “traditionally” white character like Captain America. Recasting, or passing the mantle, is something that has been in media, especially comics, for decades [ 11 ]. In comics, when a character is killed off or retired, they can pass the mantle to an heir; another character that embodies what that superhero stands for. This becomes an important, if controversial, part of the superhero’s lore, particularly if the recast is a person of color. While I don’t like to focus on controversy, it is important to acknowledge and refute these claims. This is doubly controversial if the new superhero is in any way queer. Every time a non-white, non-straight, non-male character is introduced, the writers are accused of “pandering,” as if queer, non-white people don’t exist or something.
We can discuss all the bad parts of fandom all we want, but sometimes it’s fun to focus on good things as well. There have always been wonderful examples of female characters in video games. One of my favorites is Final Fantasy X-2 in which you take control of Yuna and her friends as they live their lives as sphere hunters [ 12 ]. When feminine characters are given agency and a plot of their own, is when story telling really shines. When they’re just set pieces, even in their own games, is when the story really starts to fall apart.
Everything is fanfiction of something else. We see this all the time. Whether or not it is done successfully is another story entirely. Retelling myth can be difficult. There needs to be a balance of tradition and innovation. American Gods is a perfect example of that balance. This is a diverse series, with a lot to say. Racism and sexism have run rampant in these spaces, and unfortunately they tend to overshadow the good things. Diversity isn’t a scary or bad thing and it’s not going to make your favorite characters go away or change their decades long histories. As we diversify the content we consume and create, we break down boundaries separating “us and them” and we become a more unified world.
- “The 2017 Women’s March brought issues of both of gender discrimination and Intersectionality, into sharp focus. Not merely in the mainstream U.S., but globally.” npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/01/21/510932265/demonstrators-gather-early-to-kick-off-womens-march-on-washington. Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images.
- “Lucille Ball and Mary Shelly’s contributions to pop culture and speculative fiction (amongst those of countless other women over the years) are undeniable. The time is long since past to make fandom spaces intersectional and progressive.” Wikimedia Commons (Fair Use/Creative Commons). businessinsider.com/lucille-ball-is-the-reason-we-have-star-trek-heres-what-happened-2016-7
Courtney is a writer, editor and videographer for Steam-Funk Studios. Passionate for fashion design with nerdy flair, her family has always nurtured her love for speculative fiction and creativity. Joining the firm as a writer, Courtney’s distinguished herself as editorial staff and as a production assistant for The Living Multiverse’s photography shoots. She has also participated in and acted as assistant troupe manager for our performers and panelists, at shows like C.O.G.S. Expo and PhilCon.
- Hathaway, Jay. “What Is Gamergate, and Why? An Explainer for Non-Geeks.” Gawker, 10 Oct. 2014, gawker.com/what-is-gamergate-and-why-an-explainer-for-non-geeks-1642909080.
- Baio, Andy. “72 Hours of #Gamergate.” The Message, Medium, 27 Oct. 2014, medium.com/message/72-hours-of-gamergate-e00513f7cf5d.
- Totilo, Stephen. “The Problem With Women’s Armor, According to a Man Who Makes Armor [UPDATE].” Kotaku, 19 June 2013, kotaku.com/the-problem-with-womens-armor-according-to-a-man-who-m-5868925.
- Johnson, Scott. “Top 10 Fat Supervillains.” Comicbook.Com, 7 Sept. 2017, comicbook.com/news/top-10-fat-supervillains.
- Century, Sara. “Let’s Talk About the Women of ‘The Walking Dead.’” Bitch Media, 20 Feb. 2015, bitchmedia.org/post/lets-talk-about-the-women-of-the-walking-dead.
- Riese. “All 211 Dead Lesbian and Bisexual Characters On TV, And How They Died.” Autostraddle, 11 Mar. 2016, autostraddle.com/all-65-dead-lesbian-and-bisexual-characters-on-tv-and-how-they-died-312315.
- “Remakes and Films Influenced by Kurosawa’s Works.” Akira Kurosawa Info, 2 Oct. 2016, akirakurosawa.info/remakes-and-films-influenced-by-kurosawa.
- Yckim124. “‘Train to Busan’ to Officially Be Remade into a Hollywood Film!” Allkpop, 7 Dec. 2016, allkpop.com/article/2016/12/train-to-busan-to-officially-be-remade-into-a-hollywood-film.
- Sang-ho, Yeon, director. Train to Busan (부산행). Next Entertainment World, 2016.
- Halliwell, Kate. “Whitewashing of Asian Roles Is an Ongoing Hollywood Issue.” Indiana Daily Student, 14 Feb. 2017, idsnews.com/article/2017/02/asian-whitewashing-in-hollywood-ghost-in-the-shell-the-great-wall.
- Berlatsky, Noah. “The Incoherent Backlashes to Black Actors Playing ‘White’ Superheroes.” The Atlantic, 20 Feb. 2014, theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2014/02/the-incoherent-backlashes-to-black-actors-playing-white-superheroes/283979.
- Final Fantasy X-2. Playstation 2, Square Enix, 2003.