Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Volatile, Self-Obsessed, and Doesn't Play Well with Others: Post-Avengers Movie Fandom Backlash

Ladyvengers, fan art by _kreugan on DeviantArt
Geek, nerd, gaming and comic book culture have members who claim the culture is inclusive. They say that nerd culture is for outcasts, the bullied, the alone. While for some people this may be the case, for many others nerd culture is a hostile place. It is dominated largely by white males who are also heterosexual and cis. This privileged group not only has a lot of control of the content that is released in the gaming/comic/movie industries, but they are also the most vocal of the fans. This has caused many problems, where certain groups of people aren't regarded as "real fans".
After Joss Whedon's hugely popular The Avengers was released, many new folks wanted to join in on comic book superhero fun. Those who hadn't read comics before were intrigued by the movie and many decided to give comics a try. While this new surge of fans is good for the industry, and debatably the fandom, many new fans received huge backlash.

As a member of the Avengers fandom on various internet platforms, I watched as people were targeted for "not really being fans" because they were introduced through the movies. However, not all "fake fans" were targeted equally. One group that was specifically targeted was women. Women were first assumed to be heterosexual, and then accused of only liking the film because of all the hot men. The prevalence of "hot women" in comic book culture to attract heterosexual males was never questioned. I noticed that men frequently discussed the attractiveness of female comic book character, or in the case of the movie Black Widow, but they were never told they "only liked comics for the hot ladies". Even if a female fan had been reading comics for a long time, they were assumed to "only be fans because of the movies". Many times I saw women being grilled for information about the Avengers team, but men did not receive the same scrutiny. Women were assumed to be "fake fans" until proven otherwise.

Data comparing screen time in minutes to number of character toys at 5 major retailers, including the Disney Store.
Additionally, the idea that only men are fans of comics (and superhero movies) was perpetuated by the merchandise sold in affiliation with the film. While Black Widow, the only female superhero in the Avengers movie, was prominent in the plot she is often missing from t-shirts, backpacks, toys and other merchandising.

One member of tumblr, who created the butnotblackwidow blog, is in the middle of a study comparing screen-time to number of toys. Currently their data shows how drastically Black Widow is erased from the toy sales (see graph below). This also perpetuates the gendered ideas embedded in toy sales  in which certain toys are specifically made for boys and girls. In this case, toys that target boys don't include female characters, even important ones.

In addition, many new fans began to actively ship characters into gay relationships. These ships were attacked with homophobia, and many men in the fandom complained about these members "ruining their characters" with by making them potentially gay. This backlash is also gendered because queer women as superheros are more accepted, like Batwoman.
There are many fans of the Avengers who are not men, who are not heterosexual and who are not white. These fans produce amazing fan art, fan stories and contribute everyday to the fandom in positive ways. But the backlash following the Avengers film demonstrates how geek culture is not always welcoming to everyone. In fact, the industry and members of the culture often actively attempts to remove women, queer folks and people of color from geek circles.


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