So Bully Says... Comics Oughta Be Fun is reopening and I thought I'd link it from here in case anyone's checking the old RSS feeds.
In the meantime, I deleted all of the in-moderation comments because well, spam attack. You understand.
One of the best and worst things about online Nerd/Geek Culture is the overwhelming desire to prove the things we enjoy are not simply enjoyable but intellectually challenging and socially responsible. There are masses of people out there who have built their very identities around being intellectual outcasts with a shared interest in popular genre fiction and proving oneself to be the smartest person in the room is a primal urge no matter what gender the fan. Part of proving yourself the smartest person in the room is proving that your intellectual diet is truly refined, that you are careful to consume only that cultural fare which nourishes the mind and spirit as befits the elite intellectual.
This is why we have things like the Fake Nerd Girl and tests for being a Real Fan. Because not only must our stuff be enjoyed, it must be enjoyed on a greater level. The identities of nerd and geek are based upon not only consumption, but on having superior brainpower over the jocks, the dudebros, the poseurs, the mainstream plebs who watch mindless mainstream fare and consume even our scifi without TRULY appreciating it. This is not mere junk food on your plate, as it is for them, it is a gourmet feast which can only be properly appreciated by YOU! The Geek.
Now don't take this opening to mean I'm turning my back on analyzing the minutia of the commercial franchises which I personally enjoy. Don't take this to mean that I think people in Geek Culture are thinking too much.
No, my problem today is that we're thinking too little.
Consider the Bechdel Test. We all know this one, though I doubt all of us have actually read the initial strip. It's based on a one page cartoon joke that is not really a conversation starter so much as something that hits you immediately with how true and bleak it is. It's a punchline, that's all. The conversation only comes after the initial shock over just how barren the wasteland of our culture truly is subsides and we start applying t to every movie we ever liked so that we can say "Ha! The original Clash of the Titans passes the test in the second act where Cassiopeia and Thetis's fallen head discuss Andromeda! That PROVES it was better than the remake!" (Disclaimer: I have not seen Clash of the Titans in over a decade, I only really remember that Andromeda didn't look Ethiopian and that Mechanical Owl was the coolest thing ever and I want one.)
And it grows from there freeing us of the need to analyze and consider the fiction we consume, it frees of the need to take this variable or that variable into account when discussing the work in cultural context with this simple, blessed formula:
What a relief! To be freed of the responsibility of critical analysis without losing our intellectual identity! And Iron Man 3 passed, so it's okay to like it. And now I can go enjoy Pacific Rim without having to worry about accidentally thinking of an uncomfortable truth in our society.
Oh no! Pacific Rim failed the Bechdel Test. It must be limited. THAT'S the problem, it's limited. That's okay, I'll make a new test that we can now apply to everything. It'll go something like this:
There, Pacific Rim is exponentially feminist.
Phew! That thinking was hard. But that's okay, I can apply this one to everything and then be free to make gifs.
Now, earlier when I pointed out that the Bechdel Test in particular was actually stopping us from thinking at this point rather than causing us to, I got a bazillion responses explaining to me that that wasn't the original point. (That's right, the original point was to get a laugh out of the Dykes to Watch Out For audience.) I get told its still a useful tool, that it's great for pointing out longterm trends, that it's limited but that's okay, that it shows that the screenwriters STILL aren't thinking et cetera et cetera.
No. It WAS a useful tool when it was new. But that didn't last long. That's not how its mostly used and you know it. It's used to argue that your opinion about a work of art is objective reality, as a simple rule that gives us a chance to argue our favorite movie is feminist. And in the area of the Internet where much of the discussion is about the role of women in fiction, being the Best Feminist is the same as being the Smartest Person in the Room.
We know what nerds can be like. Hell, we know what we can be like. There is this great desire to appear More Intellectual Than Thou. We all want to win the argument. We all want to be the smartest person in the room. We all want to have Reality on our side in any given dispute.
And if we can do that with as little actual thought as possible, all the better.
Just taking these rules and applying them to every fucking movie or TV show we see is not analysis. It's simple pattern recognition. We originally came up with up these rules because they are an easy way to introduce complex concepts like "Women are portrayed as revolving around men in fiction" to people who haven't discussed them before, but after having taken the intellectual shortcut once we take it again in another discussion and again and again until we're not really discussing anything of substance anymore, we're just trying to prove something is objectively good with math. And easy math at that. Just plug in the numbers in the formula. Simple calculations and counting that take a lot less work than actually thinking through all of the variables involved in a story.
We're trying to prove that we're the Smartest Person in the Room without having to actually think.
When the Amethyst reboot came out last week and we discussed it on Twitter, Anna remarked that it was always the football players and never someone like the chess club who engage in this sort of criminal activity.
And while certainly there is a toxic defensive masculinity in sports culture that mirrors the irresponsibility and criminality in frat houses, our media has by this point depicted and portrayed such behavior to the point that it is a cartoonish stereotype. And while it would be valuable to unpack the mentality of so-called jocks to see where embracing traditional masculinity requires rejecting femininity to the point that actual violence against women becomes a bonding experience among boys, the treatment in Sword of Sorcery #0 does not attempt this. It is five pages of completely superficial stock jock villains.
It is also worth noting, as Lyle did back during the original conversation, that if the villains had been the chess club it would be an interesting commentary on geek culture right now. Because we're seeing the term "friend zone" take on a bitter, acidic meaning. We're seeing a backlash against female-oriented properties like Twilight while male properties such as Transformers movies that are equally terrible get a pass. We're seeing a woman used as the Quintessential Poseur invading the geek community. We're seeing fanatical straight male nerds demand that female-oriented properties such as My Little Pony cater to them rather than female children. Hell, we're seeing the previously female-oriented Wonder Woman be completely repackaged and repurposed for male adults (See how the goddess of womanhood becomes the villainess as nearly all of Diana's supporting cast becomes male) just as we see the love story that appeals to female fans of Superman cut almost completely (See Lois Lane criminally underused in all Superman books since the reboot) from the story. We're seeing women passed over for jobs in the comics and STEM career fields. We're seeing sexual harassment scandals at gaming tournaments, comic conventions and atheist conferences and rape threats over research projects.
Right now, we're seeing in every aspect of geekdom a complete rejection of the feminine that is every bit as disgusting and pervasive as in the stock jock stereotyped cliques, and every bit as dedicated to defining those aspects as masculine in nature rather than neutral.
And it is nothing new.
Thing is, with this rejection of the feminine comes the same criminal behavior we associate with jocks and frat boys. With this rejection of the feminine comes a feeling of entitlement to female bodies. With that feeling of entitlement comes the belief that you can judge and police female bodies. With that feeling of entitlement comes the belief that you can claim and use female bodies as you want. The wicked underbelly of misogyny is the same whether it claims women can't play football or women can't read comics. Any community that despises and rejects women to the extent that geekdom does has it. Any community that hinges its manhood on "No Girls Allowed" has it.
But our media likes to pretend that sort of thing doesn't happen with nerds. The chess club has no creepy guys angry at perceived rejection, who project assholishness on the boys with dates, and who fantasize about hurting the women who should have been theirs but weren't. The chess club is a bunch of soft, sweet, shy guys who get passed over by girls.
The jocks, those are the REAL misogynists.
So that is what bothers me the most, what I personally think the saddest part about Sword of Sorcery is. It perpetuates the othering of misogyny. It is a geek-focused property that allows geeks to safely file the mistreatment of women as something THOSE guys do. It lets them keep on, in this environment, ignoring their own communities in favor of assuming that they are the good ones while the jocks are the bad ones and someday girls like Beryl will come around. It even offers an outsider girl in Amy ("Oooh, I have the superpower to become blonde!" she says sarcastically, rejecting the stereotyped cheerleader haircolor like any good fantasy goth/geek/manic pixie dream girl would) who can "smell pervs like you guys a mile away."
And I know some of you are going "So, you'd be happier with 5 pages of the chess club instead?" and maybe, I don't know. It'd be different. It'd force the audience to examine themselves. As is, this is yet another stereotyped rape scene on the pile, added to a thousand that allow us to read everyday horrors are things done to and by Other People, things we needn't really pause to think deeply about when there's ogre-slaying to be done.
"It's an honor to be a part of a historic publication like Playboy," said Kirkman, "I'm thrilled to share The Walking Dead with the magazine’s readers, especially such an important story like the origin of Michonne."