Experience And Exploration

As often is the case, Serdar and I were discussing media and creativity, centered around exploring media properties. I was discussing how I enjoyed “Lower Decks” and how it explored elements of the Star Trek universe that needed it. He noted missed opportunities. This got me thinking (which obviously, as usual, turns into something like blog posts).

I began thinking about “universe” projects, projects that involved a deep exploration of the setting and often via multiple books, movies, etc. When you have a big setting to play in, there’s a lot one can do. What one choses to do on the other hand can vary.

First, the universe one creates can be explored. You can understand the repercussions of the world(s), track cause and effect, dive into possibilities and results, and so on. A setting can be a huge playground that lets you do all sorts of things – often to your own surprise. It’s a place to ask “what if” and see where you go.

Secondly, a universe can deliver experiences. Settings with a given flavor allow you to have certain feelings, scenes, and so on that are desirable to you and the audience. Settings have certain emotional, cultural, and psychological resonances that some will want to experience. They can deliver the “hits” people want.

In any media franchise, big-universe project, single-setting series, creators can deliver both. Now I am biased towards exploration but the experience is important because sometimes that “feel” is what helps you get the exploration.

However I think we see that big, corporate-owned franchises tend towards the experience part of the equation. The big universes create certain feelings and people want that. Companies want to make money, so they deliver said experiences If you explore too much, you risk changing things and not delivering the experiences people want.

We’ve probably all seen cases of series, series endings, books, etc. that explored a bit too much for people’s expectations because they were used to things hitting certain emotional resonances. I could point to recent examples, but it would A) date this column, and B) probably make some people I know mad at me.

But you set some expectations, don’t allow too much change, and that happens.

On the other hand, we’ve also assuredly seen cases of big, moribund media franchises getting a chance to explore and going hog wild. I’ve sung the praises of Star Trek: Lower Decks because it “went there” on so many occasions I really felt things – and it somehow delivered the Trek experiences I’d come to expect. I feel the positivity towards The Mandalorian was well deserved – especially as it’s thematics of a slow-moving character drama seemed at odds with much of Star Wars media.

I mean I didn’t care about Star Trek and still don’t care about Star Wars anymore and I’m praising these works.

The Exploration and Experience labels give me a better way to understand media and creation. I consider Exploration to be valuable – it’s what I’m inclined to do and if part of the value of fiction. I consider a focus on Experience I can be a trap – but also that you need a certain “feel” to communicate the Exploration part I love. I’m not saying they’re equal or opposites, but useful tools.

Now I wonder how I’ll see various media differently.

Steven Savage

Star Wars – The Force Awakens: Fear Of Another Blackness And Another Femininity

Few of us who are geeks on the internet (perhaps I repeat myself) are unaware that some people are offended at “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” – over racial and gender issues. It’s not hard to find people complaining that:

  • There is a Stormtrooper who is black.
  • There is a heroine who is female.

I’d go into why people seem to be disturbed by these completely unremarkable things, but it’s a bit hard to describe it beyond “bigotry and weird conspiracy theories” that seem to be a cover for assorted personal insecurities.  Actually that is my explanation and what you do see on the internet.

We may shrug off these reactions as simple racism or sexism. We may laugh at the strange reactions or convoluted conspiracy theories conjured up about the cast and film. We may be offended (and understandably so). But there’s another issue about those offended at the race and gender of the leads I’d like to address.

Whatever the reason or the convoluted explanations people seem to take offense at a lead that is black and a lead that is female. For whatever reasons they doubt they could or should be that color or that gender. This indicates not just bigotry but a fundamental aspect of their bigotry that tells us far more about the biases of those so offended at John Boyega and Daisy Ridley being in the movie.

The setting of “Star Wars” is, simply, in the past in another galaxy. It is not our world, let alone our galaxy, nor our time. THe inhabitants of this setting, though we may call the human, simply are not us. They are, at best, “essentially human.”

But in the end these humans are aliens.

If someone subscribes to the idea that people of a certain skin color or certain gender have specific traits, there is no reason to assume they apply to “humans” in the universe of “Star Wars.” The people we think of as human are, as noted, aliens.  Whatever bias you have towards humans of a given race and gender, why should they apply to these humanlike aliens?

The racism and sexism flung at the new film, all other factors aside, reflect a lack of thought, a lack of depth, and a lack of imagination. There is little attempt to imagine a different setting or universe by those so biased against the cast.

Looking at this we realize that those acting in bigoted manners (beyond those just causing trouble) are treating their ideas of “blackness,” of “whiteness,” of “female” as universal traits. These concepts are immutable and inviolable to them. They are, essentially, religious beliefs.

(And this doesn’t even address the ridiculousness of said beliefs period.)

At this point we can see that these biases are even more limiting than they may originally seem. The bigots cannot imagine differently, or dream of a different world – or its equally likely they don’t wish to. Hey assume a tale of space wizards and psychic powers is constrained by their mundane ideas of skin color and genitals.

This likely explains the conspiracy theories and the like around “The Force Awakens” – if one sees race and gender traits as universal constants, then the only explanation one is left with for leads who are different races and genders than expected s some kind of conspiracy.  To imagine race and gender are as universal as the speed of light or gravity, then the only explanation a fevered mind can make is that those that deny these things are doing so actively and maliciously.

This is easy to understand as people who are highly biased are invested in said bias. It defines identity. If you must believe that a lead has to be your race (however you define it), your gender (however you define it), then any deviation is an existential threat. Much as these biases infest politics, they’ll infest anything.

It reveals how limited, how sad these bigots are.  They’ve taken simple bias and made it the Word of God, and can’t enjoy a film because of it.

  • Steve


Straight White Male

This is the blog post that has been months in coming. Not because it’s good, but because I kept finding other things to write, and because I kept rephrasing it.

What got it to finally be written was watching people freak out over a black actress playing Herminonie Granger in a play of Harry Potter. If you haven’t heard of this, yes, really. When even J.K. Rowling chimed in that Herminoie didn’t have to be white it didn’t seem to help.

Really, people are offended at a character form whom her racial background does not have to be white are angry she’s white? I mean, really, why?

I also see this with gender in culture – the latest being people calling Rey, the heroine of Star Wars: The Force Awakens a Mary Sue (which has come to mean “female character as outrageously competent as male heroes, but she’s female so it bugs us.”). Or annoyance when a male character is gay. Or . . . the usual.

Most of this seems to come from Straight White Guys. Being a Straight White Guy I have to wonder what the hell is going on.

A character being white or nonwhite probably doesn’t impact me – as long as it makes sense (remind me to post sometime of why Clark Kent should or could be Hispanic). Gender doesn’t really matter as long as people avoid annoing tropes. And gay or straight? Are we still worrying about that? I mean I’m pretty straight, but hey, Chris Evans . .

I mean seriously, damn.
I mean seriously, damn.

Anyway, Chris Evans’ pecs aside, I try to understand just how Straight White Male becomes something people are so invested in – and thus it’s so easily challenged by anytthing. Between Lady Thor and a Black Stormtrooper in Star Wars it seems there’s always some people ready to freak out about something not being right, or white, or having the requisite number of penises.

The thing is . . . I just don’t get it.  I mean I can guess, but there’s not a lot of “there” there.

I’ve wondered why, and I think it comes down to that my identities were never totally along racial, gender, and sexual preference lines. They were constrained by those. My experiences were affected – I mean I’m a straight white guy who looks like Hugh Beaumont, I’m privlieged as hell.

Hugh, my brother in conventionality. See, I’m 1950’s sitcom character.

But freaking out over John Boyega or whatever?  Not doing it.

The truth is I may be a Straight White Dude but my identity is not constructed about this nor dependent on it.  I am a geek, a coder, a writer, a thinker, a cook, and I see no reason to assume that looking like me and having the same sexual preference I do means we’re that alike.  In fact it seems the people who are big on being Straight White Guys live in a kind of prison of the mind.

In the end, I think a few things helped me:

  • I had a lot of strong role models that weren’t straight white males – mostly straight white women, but still.
  • I took an interest in religion and ethics early on. Though I went through many “phases” it got me thinking and expanded my horizons.
  • I was a geek, and I identified strongly with that. Common interests were more important than common skin.
  •  As a geek, and as a person that liked to stay aware, I was aware of the impact bias had.
  • I grew up in the 70’s with shows like “Star Trek” and even “The Jeffersons” that confronted social and racial issues. Come to think of it a lot of shows I enjoyed had multiethnic casts.
  • As a geek in the 70’s I believed in A Better Future.

I know I’m not free of bias, bigotry, or the affects of Extremely White Dude Privilege (see my above Beaumontness). I’m glad for the friends and family who point out when tse affect me (and they do). But I’m also damned glad my experiences and the people I know mean that I don’t go ballistic because Idris Elba may play James Bond.

I wish I better understood how to get other Straight White Guys to lighten up about things like that. The world’s much more fun when it’s diverse and you’re not some false default you can never live up to.

  • Steven Savage