Star Wars VII accused of promoting ‘white genocide’. Gamergate. The Puppies and the Hugo Awards. The 1-star reviews for Chuck Wendig’s Star Wars novel, ‘Aftermath’. If I wait a few days, there’ll be another controversy in fandom that I can add to this list. But that isn’t necessary. I, like most other writers, readers, and fans, am moving on.
The recent conservative backlashes against changes to fandom—more people of color (writers and characters), more alternate lifestyles, more LGBT representation—shouldn’t surprise anyone. It’s easy to ask, ‘how can sci-fi fans be so racist and backward, when they love aliens, robots, and future worlds’, but really, these social issues transcend fiction. A person will cheer for Lando when he blows up the Death Star in Return of the Jedi, but then stare in distaste as another black character, Finn, removes his Stormtrooper helmet in The Force Awakens. Why?
These early decades of the new millennium are seeing many social changes, and they are coming faster and faster. There remains much to be done about equality, women’s rights, the divide between the rich and poor, the environment, and a host of other issues, but progress is being made. That a black actor can even be on screen as a key character in the new Star Wars film, or that the gaming industry is paying more attention to women after the Gamergate mess, is proof that the real world is slowly becoming more inclusive.
Some people doesn’t want that.
Their mindset reminds me of modern conservative thinking: that America should be like the Andy Griffith Show, or return to its ‘Christian roots’, or have more 1950s-style nuclear families. Reality flash: this country was never like any of those things. That is someone’s twisted, wishful thinking. Some believe this fantasy, often with a fierce, stubborn passion, but they are a minority. The world is leaving them behind. Not because it’s excluding them, but because they don’t want to live in the new one.
This was never a Christian nation. The nuclear family of the 1950s was an irrelevant societal ideal, then and now. And though I find Andy Taylor and Barney Fife’s antics entertaining, in no way would I want to live in Mayberry: everyone is white, Christian, speaks English, there’s no sex, there’s no diversity, and there’s no interest in changing these things. I’m not criticizing the actual television show, which is a classic, but rather, people’s portrayal of it as the perfect community. It isn’t.
The same is true with science fiction. Yes, white male authors and actors have long dominated the field. That too is changing. That anyone would take issue with this is simply immature and bigoted. The sheer amount of conspiracy theories, name-calling, and uncompromising rage that has surfaced reveals an inability to deal with change. Certain (but not all) Puppies during the 2015 Hugos drama exemplified this behavior. Some even had their works on the ballot, and still flung vitriol at critics, presenters, and the award itself.
I mean, damn.
The Puppies, the Gamergaters, the morons who engineered the hashtag boycotting the new Star Wars film—they’re all trying to claim something for their own, that belongs to all of us. There’s no need to be greedy, afraid, or negative. I promise you, there’s plenty of science fiction to go around. But, deep down, people like that already know it. The real issue is a darker one that has long been at the heart of our society: they fear, and thus hate, those different than themselves. Especially when they feel the big, scary, Other is encroaching on ‘their’ territory.
Excuse me, but paraphrasing what Arthur C. Clarke once said: flags don’t wave in space.
One wonders how such people would really handle first contact with aliens. My guess is that they’d react like those militaristic idiots from old UFO films: they’d shoot first, and not even ask questions later. Because if you can’t accept another human being that has a different skin color, speaks another language, believes in a different (or no) deity, or has an alternate sexual preference, then how the hell will you deal with aliens? How will your tiny mind cope with the technological changes we’ll likely see by 2050? How will you interact with the next generation, one reared with ubiquitous access to information?
Maybe these people feel betrayed by a future they didn’t want. They don’t have my sympathies. This year alone has seen the legalization of gay marriage and the Confederate flag receiving its rightful reputation as a racist anachronism. Hatred of science, of knowledge, is no longer in vogue. The public wants humans to land on Mars, it wants to preserve women’s reproductive rights, and it wants to hold civil servants accountable.
People want their entertainment to reflect that. Science fiction has always been about progress, and how we as human beings deal with it. How we ultimately make ourselves better by working with change, not fighting it. Would you cheer for a hero who hates others, derails social progress, prefers argument to discussion, and condemns any who dares challenge an unequal status quo? No, me either.
I say all of this as a straight, white, male author. I say it knowing what I will never experience, or fully understand, the challenges those different than myself face each and every day. I say it because I am cognizant enough of my world to care about the people in it.
The new face of science fiction has no color, no gender. It isn’t looking backward. It’s looking forward. And it represents all of us.