Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Solution

The S.O. read my post from yesterday about how the powers that be in media industries dismiss female protagonists as not commercially viable, and said, "That's fine, but what do we do about it? I want a solution!"

The larger issue, of course, is that the media giants, by and large, are run by older, white men. Further, they're removed enough from the public that they don't have any real connectivity to us commonfolk. Sure, they get reports on trends and such, but it's inherently removed from the more visceral experiences of real people. All they have to go by are the numbers -- ticket sales, circulation, whatever -- so it's hardly surprising that they base their decisions on those types of criteria.

We, the average Joes and Janes, can't get our messages to the heads of media corporations. They're filtered by secretaries and personal assistants and other media.

So, what's the solution?

You're looking at it.

Obviously, I'm NOT talking about my blog here; I'm talking about the internet. It's a more-or-less level playing field that allows just about anyone to distribute whatever content they want, using whatever pricing model they want.

I know, I know... you're thinking, "Yeah, I've heard this crap before. And my comics are still being published by Marvel and DC, and my movies are still made by Fox and Warner Brothers. Where is this 'internet revolution' you and your ilk have been yammering on about for the past decade?"

Well, first let me say that I'm not about to suggest the internet is going to REPLACE books and movies and comics. It's another outlet that will be added to the mix. And the internet is NOT going to swoop in and become everyone's primary source for entertainment overnight either. It's going to take a generation to worm its way into our brains as the go-to source for entertainment, as the people who grew up on TV become a minority to people who grew up on the internet.

But let's take a few examples to showcase the point, shall we?

What have been some of the best additions to the Star Wars universe in the past decade or so? Certainly not the studio-produced movies that George Lucas himself did! While fans may argue specific rankings, odds are that titles like Broken Allegiance and The Dark Redemption crop up. Or for those who prefer a more light-hearted approach, maybe Troops or Pink Five. These were creations that grew directly out of what fans wanted to see -- they were made by those very fans, after all. All of which gained their popularity and continue to be distributed via the internet.

Example #2 is even more current: Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog. This three-episode show was made by Joss Whedon, using professional actors, sound designers, effects men, costumers, etc. But it was bank-rolled by Joss Whedon himself because he wanted to continue writing during the most recent television writers' strike. And released exclusively online. I think it's a tad extreme to say it's going to revolutionize how we consider the internet as an entertainment venue, as some have claimed, but it's certainly note-worthy in that a decent collection of people who have been working in the industry have opted for an alternate channel. Because anyone who's seen it will tell you that there ain't no way that would've ever found it's way onto television!

Example #3 is one I can speak to most directly. Due to budget constraints, I stopped buying comic books a little over a month ago. Even the really good ones that I actively enjoyed reading. Old ones that I've been looking for. New stuff I ran across that sounded really cool. Didn't even buy anything at WWC. But I don't feel at all removed from the industry because I'm still reading quite a few titles -- they just all happen to be ones that are being created and distributed online. Some are long-form adventure stories, some are gag-a-day strips, some are posted weekly, some show up daily, some use old characters whose adventures I grew up on, some feature heroes I've only just met, some have incredibly gorgeous artwork, some are written brilliantly. In effect, I've got all the options I had buying pamphlet comics at my LCS every week.

Admittedly, the tactile sensation of holding a comic book in my hands is absent, and the creators whose work is designed for print publication tends to fall short in its online capacity. But there are still plenty of other options out there, and I'm using the internet to not only find them, but also interact with them in a way I couldn't before. I experiencing the work of people who couldn't have gotten their work out anyone ten years ago. What do you suppose the circulation of anything by Matt Feazell is compared to the number of people who read Randall Munroe's xkcd on a weekly basis? (For what it's worth, I think Feazell's work is far superior.)

In any case, though, the comics I'm reading now, by and large, can't happen in traditional paper format. Maybe they wouldn't pass editorial muster, maybe they wouldn't be cost-effective, maybe they'd simply be illegal. But those entry barriers have been essentially voided online and it's down to "regular" folks putting up content they want to create and me enjoying those pieces that I enjoy. There're no middlemen hampering the experience for me.

And that's the solution to the issue of getting more good stories about women. Do nothing that we aren't already doing. It's taking place now, as more women and minorities -- who are still being shut out of conventional outlets -- get their work online, we'll see more and more of their stories proliferating. Indeed, most of the web comics I've come across recently and really enjoyed are written and drawn by women: Tracy Butler, Charlie Trotman, Dorothy Gambrell, Jane Irwin, and Lora Innes to mention my more recent "discoveries."

Like I said, this isn't going to change overnight. Gail Simone is going to be the only professional female name most fanboys will recognize for a while yet.* But trying to overcome hundreds, if not thousands, of years of suppression, I don't think we can realistically expect to see things change that quickly. Humans are slow to change, after all, and have a deep fear of the unknown. Which is what true equality really is for us.

Those in power (i.e. older, white men) want to hold on to that power, and they have the resources to do so. And that's why it's going to take a while to change the culture as a whole. But if everyone keeps doing what they're doing, things will come around to where they ought to be. And until then, there are still plenty of talented folks creating great work that, while perhaps not mainstream just yet, is nonetheless wholly enjoyable.

* Obviously, I mean no disrespect to any other women working in the comics industry. I'm just trying to make a point.

3 comments:

R.A. Porter said...

I have a small quibble with what you've written. I don't think the old white men in charge of media care one way or the other whether other old white men take their places when they move on. There's no active movement to ensure the hegemony continues; rather, they promote projects and creators who they believe will strike common chords and therefore gold. It just turns out that they filter all projects through their own biases.

You're on the mark when you say they're removed from the public and have no connectivity to us. Because of that, they're generally slow to recognize trends and slow to follow them. But when they do, you get old white dudes running the record companies putting out rap.

It's not a conscious effort to exclude voices; it's a conservative effort to do what they believe will be profitable. And that means a) doing what worked last year again this year and b) believing that their tastes are a good barometer of everyone's tastes.

Sean Kleefeld said...

Quiet true. I didn't mean to imply that an old, white guy in a position of power is going to hand-pick another old, white guy as his successor as some sort of conspiracy against women and minorities, only that the first old, white guy wants things to stay pretty much the way they are because it's profitable for him. I suspect most of the guys don't care all that much what happens when they retire/die. But they're not going to step aside before they're ready to retire/die just so they can install someone with a notably different voice into their position.

gregusa said...

And thanks to the nature of the internet, the web, it's easy when you find something you like to follow links from there to more things you'll like. It is just "another outlet", but one that promotes exploration.

For instance Rubifruit, which is a banner exchange for comics by/for/about women. Strong female characters, even lead characters, exist in comics on the web much moreso than "traditional" media.

Hopefully as time goes on and there are successes online, it will leech into the other media.