If we are to define a lot of things within geek culture art (comics, games, TV shows and movies) then what must be accepted is that art has never ever in it’s lifetime detached from the world it was created in and the person who created it.
It is a well known fact that the world of the Moomin created by celebrated Finnish artist Tove Jansson is deeply inspired by her experiences of war, her childhood and the relationships she had with her family, friends and particularly her female lover. Would we continue to discuss these stories and the characters we fell in love with as a child if all these never reflected the artist’s experiences and beliefs? We continue to be intrigued and amazed still after all these years by Tove Jansson’s life, her inspirations for the imaginative and deeply personal stories she created and the political environment they were created in.
There are a certain group of people in geek culture that like to assume politics lives in some sort of separate realm; the belief that politics can be separated from everything and anything and that politics is just about political parties, political campaigns and mostly ‘boring’ and ‘extremely formal’ discussion among middle aged and old white men in old buildings (and in some cases middle aged and old white academics in old buildings). The belief still surprisingly exists that the only way to ever engage politically is to participate in elections and engage in organised activities related to party politics.
The reality is that politics is everywhere. It affects us is every part of our lives. Politics cannot be escaped. Politics is around us from the day we were born and sucked milk from our mother’s breasts to the day we die. Politics is that powerful. To wish to not live in a world where nothing is inspired by the politics of the time or past you would literally have to kill yourself. Everything we choose to create, participate in and consume either contributes to achieving the goal of a progressive society, exacerbates injustice and equality around the world or both. Politics is so powerful we take on particular stances sometimes without even realizing it.
That is where the label of “Social Justice Warrior” puzzles me. What does it exactly mean when you ignore the internet’s use of the term (which it is now used as a mere snarl word used by those on the right of the spectrum of beliefs)? Art with political messages are older than modern geek culture itself. Who doesn’t want a just society? Even in what I would define as my golden period for gaming, there have always been games where to goal is to fight for social justice by “fighting the power”. Heroes in games have always represented particular ideologies and the villains representing everything the creators believe is wrong in our society. This theme is present in the most memorable game characters in history.
A perfect example of politics in older video games is the Sonic the Hedgehog series. Looking at the Sonic the Hedgehog games now as an adult you can see beyond what people assume is a simplistic “fighting against villain who wants to take over the world” story and see an environmental message and criticism of modern day capitalism. Here we have a ‘hero’ in the form of a blue hedgehog fighting a ‘villain’ in the form of a fat egg shaped human scientist called Dr Robotnik whose ‘greedy’ capitalist ventures have little regard for the environment and wellbeing of the animals in it. Robotnik is a radical representation of how little the human race can care about the environment and the wildlife in it, all because of our desire to make money, achieve instant gratification and gain power. It’s no coincidence that the first levels of the game are relatively green and the later levels of the game looking more polluted and industrial with little in the form of plant life. Even in the later games such as Sonic Colors darker themes such as slavery are explored with Robotnik enslaving the population of an entire planet so he can convert the planet into a gigantic theme park; using the power of the alien life there to realise his own selfish capitalist dreams.
This is why I see most people who scream “SJW” down the internet not as people who are actively out to beat down the oppressed but as a generation that denies responsibility and the fact adults do not look at the world through child eyes. A generation that is stuck with the mentality they had when they were reading comic books, watching movies or playing games in their bedrooms during high school. A generation that when watching a show like Firefly will scream “shut the fuck up with your feminism, race and class discussions, I’m trying to watch a movie about spaceships, space cowboys, and shit!” In complete denial that maybe, just maybe the people behind the show were deeply inspired by their own experiences and political beliefs and ideologies.
It’s all well and fine to see a show like Firefly as “spaceships, space cowboys and shit” but those who wish to delve deeper should not be beaten down and silenced. The problem with this is we are simply giving in to media pressure to revert to childlike mentalities where we are drawn away from real world issues. To ignore the power that art has to change or conserve the current political environment for the status quo is ignorant.
There is nothing wrong with relating art to the real world and it’s impact on it. Geek culture has become two sided; two sides which are all out extremes: one which believes that art exists to be consumed for the purpose of escapism (to stop us from thinking about issues such as inequality and corruption) and one which believes art should relate to the real world and discuss societal issues such as inequality and corruption. There is nothing wrong with all out escapism, but we eventually need to be brought down to earth. Just like we can take drugs and experience trips, one must eventually come out the trip and analyse the real life damage we have done as a result.
The reality is that we didn’t discover the world through our own creations. We mostly discovered the world through the ideas that those who created the material we consumed most likely were consuming and were inspired by. We were brought up by fictional characters. Spider-Man, Iron-Man, Goku, Sonic and Batman aren’t ours. They can’t become a large part of our lives. They represent the ideas of somebody else.
Currently the impossible goal by some franchises and artists is to give the audience back the feeling they got from consuming something as a child. The problem is children in school are not taught to be critical.
We are all adults now. We can never ever again get the feeling we had from e.g. watching Pokemon for the first time as a kid. Our innocence as gone and we are much more aware to the cruel world around us. Nostalgia is a powerful phenomenon, but the truth is the best things grow up with us. Even with regards to music the best artists have evolved with their audience. For example, De La Soul have sustained their fanbase and gained more fans through constantly evolving their sound, material and image; opening themselves up to new ideas. Even artists such as Immortal Technique and Brother Ali have addressed their changing political beliefs and the changing of their stance on particular topics. Progression means change.