So, I was perusing Facebook groups as I’m known to do to see what my nerd brethren are discussing these days and Arrow, for better or worse, became something of a topic in its second season with the introduction of heroes like Black Canary and the Flash. Of course, the fact that Arrow airs on the CW means that there is a degree of focus on romantic interactions and physical aesthetic, but I noticed a major complaint among a lot of the male population was….
“This show is blatantly pandering to women.”
First of all, I would argue their definition of specifically “pandering to women” in this case because I could see their point if this were a story told specifically through the eyes of Laurel Lance or Moira Queen or the Black Canary with Green Arrow were a secondary character to the narrative. However, a show that’s specifically about (because it tells us most of this in the opening) a guy who was stuck on a deserted island with a hot blonde and a secret agent (who was basically his personal trainer), returns with hip hop abs, martial arts proficiency, runs a Fortune 500 company and sleeps around more than J.R. Smith in the off season (Oliver Queen has slept with at least five women in two seasons)…..only equates to “every WOMAN’S fantasy” if you seriously believe there aren’t men fantasizing about doing this kind of shit. And if you seriously believe that, the sales for the last Batman game and Injustice: Gods Among Us before that certainly argue against you.
The other thing I would ask is “What’s wrong with pandering to women?” Let’s really think about that. This is a question I think it’s past time we asked for a straight answer to. Say what you want about the Big Two (Marvel and DC), but a lot of the stupid shit they do that fans complain about (DC these days a little more than Marvel) is them attempting to respond to The Problem With Nerd Culture.
The Problem With Nerd Culture: Accessibility.
Comics in particular, despite being an important layer of pop culture (that’s really for another time), are a medium that has historically had an extremely niche readership. In the digital age when the printed word is (let’s face it) fighting to stay alive, it’s important for Old Media to get creative in attracting new readers (same day digital, redeemable downloads available in hard copies, exclusively digital titles) that may not have previously considered comics. That means that to appeal to other audiences, you actually have to start appealing to other audiences. Therefore, it’s not an outlandish idea that you might see some stories employing themes and elements that might appeal to the fairer sex (that’s not to say that there aren’t female readers that wouldn’t enjoy watching Thor bludgeon an alien conqueror with a hammer the size of a boardroom table, but you see what I’m saying here).
Also, do you see what I did there when I said “appeal to” instead of “pander to”? Enough of us work 9 to 5 jobs and have likely seen training videos to know that language makes all the difference between a friendly, welcoming environment and a closed circle atmosphere akin to a fraternity.
It’s very simple, fellas. We learned this in grade school. If you want other kids to play with you, you have to share your toys. We learned this again in relationships. A good way of strengthening your relationship is teaching her how to play your video games or, buying video games that you will BOTH be interested in or at least not completely dismissing. With this same attitude in mind, to broaden your audience, the bare minimum requirement is that you not treat potential consumers with as the dreaded THEM, the clandestine cabal tasked with selling stuff by making a Thor movie prettier to look at.
Don’t get me wrong. I get it. There is definitely an agenda on the part of big business to drape cultural window dressing on hot bodies to sell nerds advertisements, pages and clicks much like Lowrider magazine. However, the way to combat this trend is NOT threatening rape against women for writing about awful comic covers or basically slandering Shailene Woodley because you might think she’s “not sexy enough” to play Mary Jane Watson (which completely misses the point of Mary Jane, by the way). This isn’t Vietnam and “Charlie” isn’t waiting in the trees to ambush you and take your geek powers away from you. I’m very specifically looking at you, Tony Harris.
Now, I’m not saying ALL of us are guilty of these things. Obviously, we’re not. Part of why I signed on with the Black Nerd Problems collective is because of their commitment to creating a safe digital space for people of unrepresented walks of life to geek the fuck out. But part of the problem is that it seems like the two major factions in The Problem With Nerd Culture consist of either a). the “if we just ignore them, they’ll go away eventually” crowd and b). the trolls. And quite honestly, the “a” crowd has to do a little better.
Do we have to be “gatekeepers”, if you will? Hell no. The whole point of geekdom is that, ideally, there are no gatekeepers but “gate” implies there should be some restrictions on loving the shit out of Superman (or whatever your poison is) other than “don’t be an asshole to non-Superman fanatics.” But aren’t comics that much more fun to geek out about when you have more people to geek out WITH? I really didn’t want to pull out the old “great power/great responsibility” nugget for this one, but I’ll be damned if Spider-Man’s uncle wasn’t onto something. If you love a thing, you need to want that thing to stick around and if you want it to stick around, more people have to consume the thing. “I’m not listening to this today” doesn’t make nearly as powerful of a statement as “I won’t be tolerating this shit.”
In other words, creating a safe space for more people to come out and play has to be about more than just ignoring the trolls. It has to be about standing up to them shouting them down once in a while. And we have to do it ourselves because there’s not nearly enough creators out there doing the shouting. Granted, I do get that they’re trolls so odds are they won’t be brought into the arena of reason where they might be swayed to more moderate points of view. And, yeah, the best we can hope for in this situation is for them to chill the hell out, but that would be a lot better than the current situation, wouldn’t it?