Conflict is common over the depiction of race and gender in speculative fiction. As a middle-class first-world white bloke I recognise that I’m in a very privileged position and over-represented in popular culture. But as a nerd I also recognise why people get defensive about challenges to a frequently mocked subculture. I’ve written a post about this and recent superhero films over one Curnblog. Here’s the start of it…
Where Did Storm Go? Representing Race and Gender in Superhero Films
Superhero films and the comics that spawned them are famous for their traditionally white male fan-base. It’s a fan-base to which the creators play, with the vast majority of superheroes, and particularly the high profile ones, being white men.
This raises issues for the balanced representation of gender and race and for the diversity of perspectives possible within these stories. It becomes even more problematic as these stories reach out to a wider audience, perpetuating norms of white male cultural dominance. But why is this so common? And is an opportunity for change being squandered?
I have a blind spot in my thinking. It’s a blind spot that’s shared by many of us who are privileged in our access to education or technology. It’s a bias that skews our analysis and leaves glaring gaps in our worldview.
Malwen pointed out such a gap in my CURNBLOG piece on changes to film distribution, and I want to address that gap. But first, lets have a look at that bias.
A lesson in logic
Years ago, on the train back from my Grandma’s funeral, I got into a discussion about religion with a Baptist minister. I don’t remember his name, but he seemed like a Dave, so we’ll call him that.
It was an interesting conversation to have with a stranger, especially one who was well informed on his subject. I’d been reading Camus and Dawkins at the time and came out with a lot of well-reasoned arguments around evidence and human experience, explaining why I found the basis of so much faith unconvincing. I just couldn’t understand why people bought into it. I thought that if they just thought about it they’d realise it didn’t make sense.
Then Dave presented a point that completely blew my mind.
Most people don’t think like me.
I was a humanities graduate from a prestigious (read old-fashioned, arrogant but incredibly well staffed) university. I was a post-graduate student trained to dismantle the world through logic and reason. I had spent half my life ploughing through piles of books. I was surrounded by other people who spent their leisure time debating these issues.
The arguments I was deflating, Dave pointed out, weren’t intended for me. They were the way other people got into religion, people who didn’t approach the world the way I did. To them, those arguments made far more sense than my high-level logic. That was why so many people believed in a way that made no sense to me.
Skip forward 13 years, and I’ve just written what I consider an insightful peace on changes in the entertainment industry. I’m pretty proud of it. I’m getting some nice comments on the post.
Then Malwen says:
‘while very many people have access over the Internet to films, there are some who have no access and so are dependent on the old forms of distribution, and those, like me, who have access but with bandwidth too low to download or stream film’
And I’m right back in that train, slapping myself on the forehead for my narrow world view.
It’s not that my argument about where distribution is going is wrong. Hollywood’s most profitable audience is well-to-do westerners, and the ones with the latest toys pull the rest along with them. The changes I wrote about will happen, because the behaviour of people like me will allow certain forms of culture to prosper.
But what about everybody else?
Well, it depends how broad a picture you draw. There are plenty of people in the world with no access at all to the entertainment I’m privileged to have. They still won’t get my bright new future of online distribution, but that’s not a priority for them. Because lets not forget, while I’m watching the latest Joss Whedon film there are people starving. The world is amazing, and at the same time terrible.
For those who watch films but don’t have access to the new distribution technology, old approaches will remain. There will be cinemas. There will be DVD rental. There won’t be as many, and they’ll struggle, but they’ll survive by catering to their audiences, by giving them these same films as quickly as they can. People without suitable streaming technology will be at a disadvantage, there’s no doubting it. But they won’t be entirely abandoned.
Because there’s an ‘and’ to balance the ‘but’.
The technology that’s making all this available is speeding up the pace of change. It leads to people getting what they want sooner. It’s leading to cheaper and easier access to technology.
I’m an optimist. I really do believe that more and more people will get access to technology that lets them experience the whole sphere of human knowledge and culture. Some people are being left behind, but the human desires to know and to share, along with business’s desire to make money out of everyone, are starting to close the gap.
The internet empowers people to take the information they want. The businesses and organisations that succeed will be the ones that support that, not fight it. And so the signal gets shared.
Closing the logic gap
My article in CURNBLOG told half the story. Failing to acknowledge that was an ignorant, privileged way to tell it. But there’s hope in the other half of the story too. Because while not everything humans do is flawless, we are building a better world.