For several years I had the ridiculous good luck to be a paid instructor of a museum-based Dungeons & Dragons summer camp program. One of the great accomplishments I had during this run, along with spending an entire week discussing zombie prevention, was helping to transform the typically awkward teenage boy group into a group of awkward teenage boys and girls. It wasn’t a quick process, and credit goes to the first girls that felt comfortable enough in their weirdness to join the group, but it happened.
The reason I bring this up is because it makes me think of the most recent geek culture character gender/race swap, Dr. Who. After 13 men have taken on the role of the “man in a blue box,” his most recent regeneration has seen him become a her. Fanboys took to the internets and more or less did what you would expect.
While it’s tough to find a defensible position among the mean Twitter posts and YouTube blogs, there is something worth looking at.
Being into super heroes has not always been a mainstream activity. With the ever expanding Marvel and DC cinematic universes, and all the followers who have come along, it’s easy to forget that there was a time comic geeks didn’t run Hollywood. We used to pick up our books every Wednesday and have debates about who would play our favorite characters in movies we never dreamed we’d see. Five Batmen later, everybody not only knows who Rocket Raccoon is but also can’t wait to see him in a scene where he steals something with Ant-Man.
This mainstream attention has dragged into the light a truth about the medium: most of the heroes are white dudes. When the characters were created, they were created by and for their audience, the aforementioned white dudes. Whether we were fantasizing about spider bites curing us of our lack of strength, or having that Bruce Wayne money, comics were an escape to a world that was just for us. And now, all of a sudden, we have company.
It a funny to think that a classic geek trope is the notion of the nerd in the basement staring at Power Girl’s boob window wondering why he can’t meet a girl that’s into comics. Funny, because now he can. Girls and women are reading comics, geeking out and enjoying it. But the thing about liking something is that you like it more if you can relate to it. This has meant that comics have attempted to change with the times. Costumes have become more practical, female characters (that aren’t Wonder Woman) headline their own series, more female creators are writing higher profile books, and women have taken over the roles of male super heroes.
The need to diversify has seen changes like a black Captain America, Muslim Ms. Marvel, Asian Hulk,and female Thor, Wolverine, and Iron Man. While this is progress by any measure toward a more inclusive and contemporary geek landscape, it is still possible to identify with guys that have been on board since the beginning feeling like they, the ones that brought comics, sci-fi, and fantasy to the dance are now the wallflowers while the party is in full swing.
Which brings me back to Dungeons & Dragons. There isn’t anything quite as awkward as a watching a shy, geeky 13-year-old boy try to talk to a shy, awkward, geeky 13-year-old girl. However, throw a d20 and a maze full of giant scorpions and zombies, and the ice is broken. Yes, the girl in the group (an elven bard with lots of charisma) might have a different solution to the problem facing them besides “kill them all and loot their corpses,” but that’s the fun of the game, right? Different voices sharing a table, all trying to help craft the best story possible.
So yeah, it’s harder now for Joe Fanboy to put himself in the shoes of The Doctor now that she wears heels from time to time, but to be fair… isn’t it about time we were the companion for a bit? Can’t we, white guys, be the side kicks, dude-sels in distress, and plucky reporters while strong powerful women swoop in and kick some ass?
Honestly… I can imagine worse things than being plucked from the everyday by a lady in a time machine and swept away on an adventure. But hey, that’s just me.