Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in the Lake County Record-Bee.
Sometime between the time I stopped covering the comic book industry circa 2008 and now, a dangerous movement has formed and taken root in various internet forums and in social media, an intolerant form of group think which appears to be crusading against diversity in all forms of entertainment media including film, gaming and the American comic book industry.
Referred to as “Comicsgate,” and comprised of an outspoken group of select members, You Tube content creators and industry professionals, they advocate for less diversity, fewer minorities and the exclusion of under represented groups both within comic books, movies and other forms of mainstream entertainment, while also calling for less diversity in the creators working in these lucrative and influential industries.
Caitlin Dewey in a piece for The Washington Post in the fall of 2014 covering the burgeoning Gamergate movement, described it as “a motley alliance of vitriolic naysayers: misogynists, anti-feminists, trolls, people convinced they’re being manipulated by a left-leaning and/or corrupt press, and traditionalists who just don’t want their games to change.”
Fast forward to the present, and the vitriol and controversy associated with Gamergate has spilled over into comic books in which can only be described as a microcosm of the divisiveness and political malaise currently present in a post 2016 elections world.
The controversy has been stoked further by various YouTube, Twitter and other social media channels with the recent release of trailers for the upcoming “Captain Marvel” movie due in theaters next spring and starting Oscar winning actress Brie Larson, the next blockbuster film by Marvel Studios who are responsible for “Spider-Man,” “Iron Man,” “The Avengers” and other big superhero themed movies.
But what exactly is Comicsgate? And what do the movement’s proponents want? In a nutshell, proponents rile against “social justice warriors” (a pejorative term for progressive fans and creators) and against NPCs (a designation for non-playable characters in video games appropriated to mean people who can’t think for themselves) and are incensed and triggered online by what they perceive to be unwanted politicizing or intrusions into their preferred forms of literature (comics.)
Like Gamergate before it, Comicsgate members can subject those on the other side of the ideological aisle or those who do not conform to their way of thinking to ridicule, abuse and in some extreme cases, doxing (the outing of personal information for the purpose of harassment or other nefarious objective) or worse yet, can make it difficult for the professionals to carry on with their careers without fear of this type of treatment. Some have even been driven out of their homes for fear of retribution and/or harm.
Larson, who is set to star as Captain Marvel, generated a lot of resentment from the Comicsgate people when she accepted a statuette during this summer’s Crystal + Lucy Awards where she also spoke passionately about the lack of representation among film critics. Indie Wire’s Jenna Marotta, writing about the event, refers to a study led by the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative which examined access and opportunity for film critics, a point Larson was trying to drive home during her speech.
The report stated research which found reviews of the 100 top grossing films of 2017 posted on the influential website Rotten Tomatoes, that only 22.2 percent of the 19,559 reviews evaluated were written by females, with 77.8 percent crafted by male critics. This represents a gender ratio of 3.5 males to every one female reviewer. White critics wrote 82 percent of the reviews and critics from underrepresented racial/ethnic backgrounds authored 18 percent.
Similar to the objections to affirmative action or to programs enacted to advance diversity and inclusion of previously thought of as fringe groups in society such as the LQGBT community, the Comicsgate crowd claim they are not against inclusion, but that the various entertainment industries should not be trying to force feed it to them, rather it should be an organic process.
The issue with this narrow type of thinking is that it decreases the amount of opportunities available to a segment of creators and collaborators which have different perspectives and experiences to share which would otherwise not find an outlet in mainstream entertainment such as comic books, television and film. “identity politics” may turn some people off, but in the long run, there is a real cultural boon to popular culture when many cultures, voices and identities contribute to the general zeitgeist of a generation.
As an avid comic book reader, I was once bugged by the fact that Marvel, for example, was using some of their established characters, i.e. Thor, Captain America, Captain Marvel and Miles Morales for what seemed more like editorial mandates for diversity’s sake. I used to claim that they should not alter the original characters and just make new creations, new diverse characters and leave the icons alone.
I now feel differently, I think it’s refreshing to have more diversity because these characters have been portrayed in media through the lens and prism of caucasian personalities, but the world isn’t this way is it? It’s very diverse. Moreover, the stories are fun and the characters have not been diluted at all. And if a Muslim Captain Marvel inspires little girls to be heroic or lead a better life or an “inner city” Spidey does the same and tells interesting, fun or uplifting stories to boot, then I say, by all means. So much the better.
For the longest time, minorities such as African Americans were portrayed as gangsters, criminals and stereotypes. The super heroes and modern mythological figures were given similarly shabby treatment, just think of the overtly stereotyped members of the Superfriends in the 1970s and 80s Saturday morning cartoons which came up with such abominations as Apache Chief and El Dorado, a Native American and Hispanic/Aztec hero respectively. We’ve come a long way since and progress continues to be made in representation in media.
So no, I don’t think the inclusion of “social justice” in the Star Wars universe or other forms of popular entertainment is wrong, despite what bigots or fear mongers or Comicsgaters may think. I think by the same token as in Marvel comics and the films they inspire, it’s a welcome change.
Ariel Carmona Jr is the Managing Editor of the Lake County Record-Bee newspaper in Lake County, California. This article was originally printed in the Record-Bee and is used by permission.