*pinches bridge of nose*
Of course there’s a Star Wars Episode VII boycott. And there’s a hashtag to boot. Because of course there’s a hashtag. One-click buffet-style serving of shittiness, coming right up.
(Behold, the Mary Sue article about it.)
Apparently people are mad because blah blah black dude protagonist with a lightsaber, or girl protagonist, or Latino X-Wing pilot protagonist, and not enough straight white dudes. And folks are mad enough to join in on the hashtag and — nngh. Bleh. Meh. Gnarrgh. I mean, what version of Star Wars did you watch? The one where Luke Skywalker is a racist hick shitbird? The one where the Empire are the good guys because yay oppression and fascism and totalitarian chic?
Okay, first, let’s talk about the efficacy of such a hashtag, which is to say, it will have literally no effect at all. You’re throwing pebbles at mountains, bro. Boycotting Star Wars is like boycotting the sun. It will do nothing. The sun will keep on shining. Its heat will remain radiant and globally present. It will remain at the center of this space and we will continue to orbit it in an elliptical manner. Your efforts will have no meaningful result except to reveal yourself as a cruddy dingleberry dangling from fandom’s ass-hairs.
My greatest desire is to yell at you. To just rant and gesticulate and do the internet dance of anger all over you, because what special dumbness, this is.
But instead I’m going to try to talk to you, in the assumption that somewhere out there in the seething throng of crappy people exists some who are not yet all the way gone to the Dark Side.
There is good in you. No, not you. Not you either. YOU. Right there.
I’m talking to those who can be reached.
As one straight white dude to other straight white dudes, let’s talk.
You are clearly consumers of sci-fi and fantasy pop culture, which is at least a little bit suggestive that somewhere under that stormtrooper mask is a brain with an imagination.
I want you now to imagine along with me, Mister Rogers-style.
Let’s imagine that you are, as you are now, a straight white dude. Except, your world features one significant twist — the SFF pop culture you consume is almost never about you. The faces of the characters do not look like yours. The creators of this media look nothing like you, either. Your experiences are not represented. Your voice? Not there. There exist in these universes no straight white dudes. Okay, maybe one or two. Some thrown in to appease. Sidekicks and bad guys and walk-on parts. Token chips flipped to the center of the table just to make you feel like you get to play, too. Oh, all around you in the real world, you are well-represented. Your family, your friends, the city you live in, the job you work — it’s straight white dude faces up and down the block. But on screen? In books? Inside comic panels and as video game characters? Almost none. Too few. Never the main characters.
It feels isolating, and you say so.
And as a response you’re told, “Hey, take what you get.” They say, can’t you have empathy for someone who doesn’t look like you? Something something humanist, something something equalist. And of course you can have that empathy because you have to, because this is all you know, because the only faces and words and experiences on-screen are someone else’s so, really, what else are you going to do?
Then one day, things start to change. A little, not a lot, but shit, it’s a start — you start to see yourself up there on the screen. Sometimes as a main character. Sometimes behind the words on the page, sometimes behind the camera. A video game avatar here, a protagonist there. And it’s like, WOO HOO, hot hurtling hell, someone is actually thinking about you once in a while. And the moment that happens, wham. A backlash. People online start saying, ugh, this is social justice, ugh, this is diversity forced down our throats, yuck, this is just bullshit pandering quota garbage SJW — and you’re like, whoa, what? Sweet crap, everyone else has been represented on screen since the advent of film. They’ve been on the page since some jerk invented the printing press. But the moment you show up — the moment you get more than a postage stamp-sized bit of acreage in this world that has always been yours but never really been yours, people start throwing a shit-fit. They act like you’re unbalancing everything. Like you just moved into the neighborhood and took a dump in everybody’s marigolds just because you exist visibly.
You have 100 toys, and someone comes along and asks for a toy of their own, and you start screaming about DIVERSITY SJW GENOCIDE REVERSE RACISM SEXISM AAAAAAH.
That’s fucked up, right?
That’s what’s happening, except it’s not happening to you.
I was at NYCC this year and last, and a friend — the artist known as Joey Hi-Fi — pointed out quite correctly that the audience at NYCC is incredibly diverse. And they are at NYCC consuming media that is incredibly not-diverse. I saw it in my own signings. The people who came up and had me sign books at 47 North or for Star Wars? Not a bunch of straight white guys. A lot of women. A lot of faces that were not my own. And some self-identified LGBT folks, too. That’s awesome. Awesome in a lot of ways. Awesome because the audience is bigger than anybody expected. Awesome because it’s expressive of a world that is not singular, not simple, that is far-reaching and full of variety and tons of people who don’t look or act at all like each other but still find common ground in cool stuff like Star Wars. And it’s also sad because, y’know, the content is not equal to the audience. The stories have not yet caught up to reality. That’s true on the page, on the screen, and behind the scenes with the creators and the executives and everything.
Listen, I get it — this problem is not my problem. Inclusion isn’t for me. I’m covered. I am already included. Luke? Me. Han Solo? Me. Obi-Wan, Qui-Gon, Anakin, Wedge, me, me, me. And it’s not just Star Wars. John McClane, Harry Potter, Frodo, Iron-Man. All a bunch of white guys saving the day. Hell, Santa Claus. Or damn near every painting of Jesus, who was clearly not a white guy but is often depicted as a white guy. We do our level best to paint ourselves as the heroes of our own narrative. It’s white guys all the way down. I’m golden over here. I don’t need more representation. I have had my fill to the point where my pop culture belly is a-burstin.
In fact, I’m so glutton-fed I figure it’s time for a diet.
Which is why I’ve tried very hard to vary my reading. Which is why in Aftermath the protagonists are: a Mom, a gay dude, a lady bounty hunter. It’s why the Imperial antagonist is a powerful woman of color. (I’m no culture hero here, to be clear — I did the bare minimum in including different characters. It’s not like I have Sinjir engaging in sweaty man-love with Wedge Antilles. He is gay and he is present and he is visible and that has been enough to conjure 100+ negative reviews and an unholy host of comments, hate mails, and social media ‘interactions.’ Don’t believe me? Here’s four pages of reviews — 1, 2, 3, 4 — and that’s just me searching for the term “homosexual” across the one-star reviews. It’s just the tip of that septic shitberg.)
Point is, I don’t need to see me on the page as often as I have. And while I wouldn’t want to steal someone’s voice and make it my own, at the same time, in a sci-fi novel, I think we’re okay. And writers of any salt or stripe are expected to know how to write beyond the singular experience of being who you are. And readers should be able to read just as capably. What, you can get behind a protagonist who is a dragon, or a Wookiee, or an animated monster, but you can’t get behind another human being who looks different? You gotta have some empathy. No one can make you understand different people. You have to try. You gotta draw the bridge between you and other humans. It exists. But you have to see it. You have to believe in it. You have to be the one to reach out and look for the similarities of experience, not just the differences. (But differences matter, too. And it’s important to grok why that is and not erase those differences or those experiences.)
You gotta realize the world isn’t for you.
It’s for everyone.
And that needs to start happening in media, too.
Nice thing with Star Wars is, it is happening. Look at the protagonists of The Force Awakens. Look at Lucasfilm. They’re openly committing to finding a woman director for Star Wars. Kathleen Kennedy notes: “Fifty percent of our executive team are women. Six out of eight of the people in my Story Group are women. I think it’s making a huge difference in the kind of stories we’re trying to tell.” Some of the story group are also people of color. It’s a start. Especially when it’s starting in one of the biggest SFF franchises ever. Perfect? No. Nothing is. But it’s nice to see changes happening. It’s nice to see some equity there between the audience that consumes this stuff and the people who make it. Stories matter to people. Characters matter. Creation matters. Nobody should be excluded. Inclusion is awesome.
And if you oppose that — you know, hey, fuck you. Go on and throw pebbles at mountains. Go on and boycott the sun. Let me know how that works out for you.
Meanwhile, I’m gonna be over here enjoying what’s to come. I suggest trying it. Loving stuff instead of hating it. Accepting the world as it is, not the world as you mistakenly hope it will be.
To everyone else: may the Force be with you.
And hey — NEW TRAILER TONIGHT.
*teeth vibrate with sonic joy*
*fingers become lightsabers*