Representation politics, and the purpose of fantasy
What do I mean by “representation politics”?
Just like how identity politics means the obsession and preoccupation with defining oneself and identifying with a group no matter how particular, granular, or arbitrary and making sure everybody knows it and takes account of it in any given situation, I offer the term “representation politics” as a corollary to identity politics: the maniacal obsession to get every form of media and enterprise to represent any given category, group, and identity, as if their members cannot go on without this representation that they would destroy any and all who do not comply.
Bending the knee has had unfortunately literal expression in the past few weeks, but we can safely say that knee-bending has been taking place in one form or another long before that, in which male-occupied roles in movies, comics and shows have been replaced with women for the sake of representing women, white replaced with black, characters made into LGBTQ. Stranger yet in the present day, representation politics has taken a bizarre turn in which actual images of a black person, a huge example that comes to mind being Aunt Jemima, are being erased.
To add to my classification of representation politics as the demand to represent more and more groups no matter how in the minority they are, it should be mentioned that the path to increased representation often entails the de-representation of those who had earned their place by merit or otherwise original intent. When people, real or fictional, are being replaced to fulfill a quota in this way, we cannot trust that the result will be of anything close to high standard quality.
Tokenism on the Screen
Even before the initial news broke out that 2016’s brand new Ghostbusters film was to consist of an all-female main cast, one big concern I have had was the tokenism that I feared would become rampant in the modern era of movies, shows, and other media portraying the fictional. I had hypothesized that we would increasingly enter a situation in which we cannot trust which characters are in fact portrayed based on honest, competent storytelling.
Ask the average person and perhaps they’ll say that it’s good that women and minority races are getting representation to the point that they may not even question having all-female primary casts in a movie that was once a male one; no doubt they may process that as fair game or revenge for the past, even in an unconscious way. Either no thought is given to the fact that the inclusion of characters for the sake of representation, or perhaps they are afraid to question it.
We seem to have been crossing a place for a long time in which when a nonwhite character is cast or portrayed in anything, the active-minded cannot trust its intent. Was the black character cast because of character-first writing in which it didn’t matter primarily whether he or she was, or is the motivation of this character’s inclusion to appeal to the current zeitgeist of inclusion for the sake of “diversity”, representation for the sake of “diversity”? What about for an Asian? What about for a gay, lesbian, or a bisexual? In the present day, what about transsexuals?
Speaking even as someone who doesn’t watch Doctor Who, I too am aware of the Jodie Whittaker Doctor’s existence…I understand that the show had not exactly been performing well with her. She had her white knights when it was first announced, but again I ask the question – was it a natural progression, or just pandering to the new sociopolitical atmosphere that parrots “The Future is Female” at every turn? What of this Rey character in the new Star Wars films, or the Finn character, or the practical dominance of female and/or “POC” characters in the absolutely atrocious Star Trek: Discovery in which once proud, sometimes intimidating characters like Captain Christopher Pike get reduced to simpering milquetoasts that let the women around them denigrate them, no matter what rank?
Speaking of Star Trek, let’s talk about that for just a moment. At the moment I am writing this, not counting my commentary podcast Trek Through Trek which just got started on the 2nd season of The Original Series, I am currently in the midst of a runthrough of Star Trek: Voyager and the episode “Message in a Bottle” is still fresh in my mind. A subplot of the episode (the main plot takes place in the Alpha Quadrant where the Holographic Doctor is transmitted to a Federation ship there) takes place on Voyager and involves the monitoring of a vast communications network as they wait for The Doctor. There is no need to get too deep into plot details, but they then discover who the network belongs to and they respond by demanding they terminate their link. This part mostly involved Engineer B’Elanna Torres and Seven of Nine, with a plot point between them involves B’Elanna confronting Seven for being rude while working together, hence the pairing. Captain Janeway gets more involved too when the Hirogen come in (that’s the people the network belonged to).
[Images taken from memory-alpha.org]
As I was watching this episode, one thing absolutely astounded me as it crossed my mind. I didn’t realize it until deep in, but as it turns out, there were three women main characters working to solve a problem. And I didn’t even notice it. That was the eye-opening part. I didn’t even care that they were women because I processed them beforehand as distinct characters important to the series just as much as Chakotay, Paris, Kim, Tuvok and Neelix (yes, even Neelix). The fact that they were women mattered no more than if any men took their place in the writing process. As it turns out, when you don’t actually have some hardline sociopolitical agenda in the writing, everything feels natural and honest and not forced. There are other moments like that, though this very fact is something I’m more conscious to pay attention of in terms of respect how natural everything felt back in these good old days of Trek. I recently watched the episode “Think Tank” and that had Janeway and Seven boarding a ship together and that too felt natural.
Compare and contrast to the world of “new” Star Trek, where all female characters are shoehorned in and Starfleet’s higher echelons apparently seem to be dominated by rather bitter, condescending women (and it’s allegedly supposed to take place during the pre-Kirk TOS-era timeline). The lead character is a woman named Michael Burnham (isn’t that telling, huh?) and in the series as well as the jarring Short Treks the men are usually bumblers and incompetents being looked down upon by women completely Mary Sue’d into the scenes. Watching this in this current atmosphere in the real world, there is no doubt in my mind that there has been an active “woke” agenda inserted to create a revisionist canonicity of the Star Trek timeline, where nothing adds up and everything either exists to pander to people who aren’t previously Trek fans with visuals and technology that would make Star Trek: Nemesis era USS Enterprise-E crew shit their pants, or pander to the what they think is the new state of mind of the people, where the future is female and men have to be “put in their place”.
The Purpose of Fantasy
For a moment, let me talk about the purpose of fantasy. I know what some of you are thinking – fantasy is just escapism and it can be whatever at all. What then, is the motive of your fantasy? If it is indeed escapism, then no doubt it’s to leave the drudgery of the real world behind so as to enter a different one. Fair enough. Then, what purpose do you have of entering this different world? Perhaps it’s to experience, relatively speaking, a world in which things turn out the way you’d want them to play out for you. Perhaps it could be a world where you can be more like yourself. Or, perhaps it’s just a way for your creativity to flourish, or for you to indulge and bask in the creativity of someone you are on the same page with. In any case, this new world is a superior one. It is an ideal one in the proper sense of the word. You’d either trade the world for it…or you’d want to make the real world closer and closer to this ideal fantasy.
Assuming that this is the predicate for fantasy put out in the world for an audience to consume like any given fictional TV show from soft fiction such as a real life drama or comedy, or something more creative like a piece of science fiction or fantasy lore such as that found in Lord of the Rings, Magic: the Gathering, or Dungeons & Dragons. In terms of their creators, either they’ve found an outlet and format for their creativity, or they’re trying to portray an ideal world.
I would like to quote Ayn Rand in her work The Romantic Manifesto, under the chapter “Art and Cognition” – “Art is a selective re-creation of reality according to an artist’s metaphysical value-judgements. Man’s profound need of art lies in the fact that his cognitive faculty is conceptual, i.e., that he acquires knowledge by means of abstractions, and needs the power to bring his widest metaphysical abstractions into his immediate, perceptual awareness. Art fulfills this need: by means of a selective re-creation, it concretizes man’s fundamental view of himself and of existence. It tells man, in effect, which aspects of his experience are to be regarded as essential, significant, important. In this sense, art teaches man how to use his consciousness. It conditions or stylizes man’s consciousness by conveying to him a certain way of looking at existence.”
Then I would like to expand upon Rand’s definition and provide a context that accounts for fantasy:
The purpose of fantasy is to depict, using the formats available to an individual or that which he has affinity for, an ideal world that draws directly from his metaphysical abstractions, that is, his values and proper ideals.
If my above definition has either sunk in or you’ve become able to entertain the idea for the sake of argument, let’s turn our attention back to the existing fantasies and fictions of the modern world. At this point you’re probably wondering, what does defining the purpose of fantasy have to do with representation politics and idiots bending the knee for virtue signaling reasons?
Consider what Star Trek for the most part used to be when it was founded, and dare I say was true for what I consider its golden age (that is, all the way up to Star Trek: Enterprise and I will defend that show at any given time so don’t try me): although there was a push to be more inclusive and diverse in a world, to be fair to Trek, was not too caught up in treating people of different groups like normal human beings, it did so in as natural a way as a show with writing restrictions like the earliest of Star Trek can afford at the time. The Original Series juggled an Iowan Caucasian captain, a Vulcan first/science officer, a Southerner doctor, a Scottish engineer, a Japanese-American helmsman, a Swahili communications officer, and by 2nd season a Russian ensign. Speaking briefly about The Next Generation, LeVar Burton’s character Geordi LaForge, who was black, never ever had his race made a big deal out of. In short, everybody involved in what I refer to as Trek’s golden age made a gigantic deal of their ethnicities. Well, Benjamin Sisko in Deep Space Nine had a small amount on an episode or two, but that deserves an analysis having taken in context for a future discussion.
Looking ahead to today’s “Trek”, Star Trek: Discovery and Star Trek: Picard, we see practically dystopian tropes in which men are knocked down and made to be humiliated, apologize, and bend the knee to any given snide and bitter woman in any given situation as the formerly dignified Christopher Pike and the formerly beloved Jean-Luc Picard are indications. Take also Spock himself, being overtly emotional under the narrative in which the stoic Number One from the Original Series pilot “The Cage” is retconned into being the source of Spock’s logical attitude. From pathetic Captains being talked down even by his subordinates, to crazed awkward Edward obsessed with genetically engineering Tribbles (which aren’t supposed to be introduced yet in the canonical timeline when the Short Trek episode he was featured in was introduced), men are basically the dirt on the floor, while women, crowded in vast numbers, always take care of the job. Then we see a world where “organics” and “synthetic” life forms continuously being at odds with one another, whereas older Trek may have come up with solutions to bridge the gap in terms of relations, in new Trek we see no other indication than “organics” are privileged oppressors of the “synthetic”. Instead of standing against the status quo of the drudgeries of real life, the same drudgeries and pathetic excuses for addressing them seep right into the mindset of the new series calling itself Star Trek and offer nothing better than a shaming of those it vilifies in the present world.
What is the metaphysical abstraction of the mind at work when it comes up with this sort of cynical drivel? Is this the ideal world that they wish to convey and for the audience to take in? A world where men, the few that are permitted to exist, are pathetic creatures serving as rungs on the narrative’s ladders they don’t hesitate to step on? Is this the kind of future or vision of humanity they want?
In the rabid pursuit of representing every perceived minority as well as women (who in themselves as a broad category are hardly minorities), writers have sacrificed storytelling and natural character development for representation and pandering to identity politics. We now live in a time in which every depiction of those non-white or even non-male is met with suspicion by the active-minded, and accepted without question by those that can’t even begin to contextualize the cultural implications. We don’t know whether the presentation of a non-white, especially if they are female, is done so out of sheer inspiration straight from the fountainhead of character craftsmanship, or to be sure they make the correct representations out of fear of being cancelled their reputations vilified. As I’ve stated before, there is no goalpost. Pander to the mob, and they will still never be satisfied each time you do it and apologize.
Don’t Let Representation (and the Demand For It) Rule You
Speaking of pandering, J.K. Rowling’s been given the big draw-and-quarter treatment as of late, hasn’t she? How sympathetic am I of her, really? She’s been pandering enough, as far as I am concerned, to the “woke” crowd, with one big example being she’s basically accepted the presumption of her own character from her Harry Potter series, Hermione Granger, as a black girl, under the excuse that, and I paraphrase, “her race wasn’t explicitly established”. This, despite an image of her in the public consciousness of being basically modeled after Emma Watson, her actress in the Harry Potter films, appears to be something that J.K. was willing to promote, to appeal to the crowd that wants more and more representation for blacks, even if it means changing already-existing establishments.
The same crowd she appeared to be appealing to went after her when she was speaking in recognition of the fact that biological sex exists. Referred to as a TERF (for those not actually in the know [and have you been living under a rock?], Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist), J.K. Rowling has been attacked in the media, publishers refusing to work with her if I understood recent news correctly, and even faced vilification from the very otherwise insignificant actors and actresses that have benefitted from portraying characters on the big screen for movies based on her most famous series of books.
To answer the question, perhaps I have some vestige of sympathy for her and I ultimately don’t agree with what’s happening to her. But there is another part that says that she largely brought this upon herself. She pandered in this new era of virtue signaling for representation politics, and all she got in return was a goalpost that was yanked away from her harder than Lucy van Pelt pulling away the football from Charlie Brown. To quote Paul Elam, there are no victims, only volunteers. She went into this herself and perhaps should have realized from the get go what would happen to her. Only in the here and now she can begin to set things right for herself and cease with the pandering and stand up more and more for herself.
What I am hoping more and more people would do, and this is the exact same that I am hoping I myself can accomplish, is to be honest from the get go about viewpoints that are now being considered grounds for a vigilante witch hunt. Instead of remaining silent, let us speak our minds, openly disagree with any given potential thing, and strengthen our own skin in the face of this volatile crowd of woke SJWs. Let the fact that we have nothing to lose since we have the truth to stand on be our immunization against the intellectual pandemic that is politically correct identity politics and representation politics.
A word of advice to those who keep on seeking representation in the very media that they consume: knock it off. Identity is wasted on those who identify primarily as a member of a group, as a pawn or a cog for a collective. If you are of a personality or presentation that falls outside the norm of what is considered, well, the norm, then own up to it and be able to defend yourself in your own right and represent yourself for yourself. Don’t count on others or force others to do it for you. You are responsible for your own validation and actualization and your place in this world. Do not rely on Magic: the Gathering cards or your favorite fantasy or sci-fi shows or your pancake mix products to represent you in particular, nor even be upset that it’s not excluding you. They aren’t you know; they’re just representing themselves at best when they aren’t pandering , and that is fine. Don’t define your life by how others pander to you and profess to represent you.
Original Story on AVFM
Author: Vernon Meigs
These stories are from AVoiceForMen.com.