Thursday 15 October 2015

When things you love stop being yours...

It’s a strange feeling when something stops being yours.

Superhero comics and wrestling have been two hobbies that have been mine since the early 90s. I’ve been obsessed with both for decades.

When I started watching, both were aimed fairly firmly at me. Boy hobbies very much aimed at boys. And as I grew up, my tastes in both matured, and they continued to be aimed at me, with the (relatively) clean cut Bret Hart and Batman replaced by the stubblier and more violent Wolverine, Gambit and Stone Cold Steve Austin. Aimed squarely at me and people like me.

And recently, this has changed. Because they’re no longer aimed at me. I have a fairly major and specific complaint about this. They’re aimed at girls. Not even women. Girls.

That’s not the complaint. Let me give some context first.

The latest issue of Ms Marvel came out yesterday. Now, Ms Marvel, if you haven’t heard, is a superhero. She’s also a teenage Muslim girl named Kamala Khan, who has to juggle saving people with hoping that her strict family don’t find out. It is one of the best comics Marvel have put out in years, and one of the best comic books of the last decade. It’s funny, heartfelt and smart.

And Kamala has created a fandom that’s brand new. Just look at this letter (left) in the latest issue from a little girl called Charlotte.

This, believe me, is not the usual level of letters that you see in comics. Absolute adoration for a great character by a little girl. And treated in response warmly and without mocking.

This isn’t my complaint. I’m getting to it though.

Wait. Let me explain with some wrestling stuff. I’ve written before about problems with racism and homophobia in wrestling, and at some point, I’ll address sexism, but this is a bit different.

This is Bayley. She is the NXT (WWE’s smaller league feeder division) women’s champion. Unlike the past ways women have been treated in wrestling, she’s been main eventing. And she’s been having a series of great matches. She’s also wholesome, cute, wears headbands and shirts with ‘I’m a hugger’, which sell enormous amounts already.

She's throwing a hug to the audience. And because they love her, theyre throwing it right back.

This is Izzy. She’s Bayley’s biggest fan and comes to lots of the events dressed as her.

Again, it’s fair to say that this is not your typical wrestling fan.

Izzy gets emotionally into it to a huge degree. She’s young enough that this is real for her, and Bayley is her absolute hero. When Bayley was fighting Sasha Banks (an arrogant ‘heel’) in one of the best matches of the year, Sasha started teasing Izzy.

Now that's a heel.

She even stole her headband, reducing Izzy to tears.

The most horrible thing to ever happen in wrestling.

Bayley fought back, finally celebrating. Izzy’s reactions throughout the match told the story almost as well as the women in the ring.

Twitter and Tumblr may have got a bit emotional.

And the following day, she forgave Sasha (who also gave her the flowers in the background).

I have never seen anything like this in wrestling before.

Nor in comics.

And this is my complaint.

What the hell took so long?

There’s nothing to gain by limiting your audience. Nothing. When you look at anything – be it movies, books, horror, wrestling, comics, or (and yes, this is a big one) videogames – the longer that it’s purely aimed at young (and, in my case, not so young) men, the longer it becomes a defensive monoculture.

A monoculture that gets defensive and sarcastic, in places like wrestling forums I’ve seen, where Bayley’s repeatedly criticised for not being attractive enough. Because a lot of fans still think that it should just be for them.

A monoculture that ends up just like Gamergate. One that will abuse people for not liking things the right way. Not allowing them to even be fans in their own way.

I can understand wanting to keep part of a culture to yourself. There’s a level of ownership, which can give a sense of control – a control that can often feel lacking in other parts of life. Sometimes, this can be a positive, but the longer it goes on unchecked, it can go from affirmation to a strange “I am special because I like this” approach. It becomes exclusion rather than expansion.

When I look at Izzy and Charlotte, fans of things that I love at an age that’s younger than I ever got into it, I’ve found myself oddly emotional. There’s something rather wonderful about this, and about seeing some of the things that I love opening up to new audiences – ones that couldn’t be much further away from me.

This isn’t mine any more.

And that’s a wonderful thing.


  1. "A monoculture that ends up just like Gamergate. One that will abuse people for not liking things the right way. Not allowing them to even be fans in their own way."

    This is the opposite of the Gamergate ethos and - for me - your point gets lost when you lash out based on disinformation in such a way and gamedrop a bogeyman you know nothing about.

    GG is for ethical journalism and against censorship. It values the FREEDOM of the creator, across mediums and genres and wants the kind of people who seek to force creators to _conform_ and to box tick in their work, to back off.

    Please look into it with a more open mind. The sentiment here is good, but not everything needs to be or should be universal or 'PC', or 'kid safe'. There's room for a plurality of content rather than a universal 'safe', low, standard.


    1. Since you're commenting on Twitter I'll expand on the other point this raises for me which I bring in in the last paragraph.

      Not everything needs to be universal. Not everything needs to be safe for or appeal to everyone. Universalism CAN reach everyone, but it does so at cost to artistry, freedom and hives off adult content, difficult content, challenging content and a great many themes and concepts that make for great art.

      Can you imagine a world only of safe media content? Of Carebears the Movie and no Scarface?

      Universalism is one way to reach a lot of people, the other is to provide niches and to empower the consumer to pick and choose. Not all wrestling needs to be suitable for little girls, not every superhero needs to be a disabled, gay, racial minority who posts to Tumblr between saving people from microaggressions? Those can exist too and we'll see how they do (*cough, Sunset, cough*) but the underlying conceit behind this wearisomely common criticism is that things made with the 'conventional' audience in mind are necessarily 'bad' for some reason. I don't think that's so and I think the pre-existing wide audience of all these media makes a lie of the accusations.

      The paradox of universalism is that in appealing to everyone you often end up appealing to nobody and ending up with a grey, inoffensive - but tasteless - cultural gruel.

      Oddly, the people who advocate for multiple niches never seem to seek to silence the universalists, but vice versa the silencing happens a lot.

    2. Grim, The Punisher didn't go away when Ms Marvel arrived, and John Cena's job isn't threatened by Bayley.

      The above article isn't advocating a universal, "safe" average across all media, simply an expansion and diversity of approaches to appeal to different audiences.

      Wouldn't it be great to have a world with Carebears The Movie AND Scarface?

    3. This comment has been removed by the author.

    4. Huh, judging by its actions GamerGate has fuck all to do with game journalism, and a lot to do with being mysogynistic shitheels.