It was a seemingly innocuous thing…a group of friends on a work break enjoying a milkshake take a selfie and post it to Twitter. Harmless enough, no big deal…one of thousands, nay, millions of selfies posted throughout any given day across the social media-verse. Except that it wasn’t. See, this selfie was posted by one, Heather Antos, editor at Marvel Comics, notable for her work on comics such as The Unbelievable Gwenpool, and it featured six of her female co-workers enjoying their tasty treats. Still don’t understand the controversy? Don’t worry, you’re not alone.
Let me see if I can help here. You see, apparently, this particular selfie raised the ire of a very specific pocket of geek subculture which revels in dishing out keyboard abuse for anything that challenges the “status quo”. I’d call them trolls, but I don’t like to offend actual trolls. They rail against such horrors as “diversity” or “social justice warriors” intruding on their beloved fandom and of course, women in comics who by virtue of their existence are deemed “fake nerd girls” (i.e. women who enjoy the trendy aspect of geek culture but don’t really know the first thing about it. For the record, every geek girl I know is the bonafide, real deal, so the whole “fake nerd” thing is a mystery to me). Clearly, Antos had no idea that this would be the selfie that launched a thousand angry Tweets, but when she awoke on the morning of July 30th, she was met with a deluge of attacks, some in the form of public tweets and others in the form of harassing direct messages. The vast majority of these nasty grams were sent by men. Men who were apparently offended by Antos and her crew because they represent a change in the old guard of the world of comics. While Antos removed the initial responses, they went a little something like this:
“Fake Geek Girls”
“The Creepiest Collection of Stereotypical SJW anyone could imagine”
“Gee, I can’t imagine why Marvel’s sales are in the toilet”
And then, there were these gems:
This incident, although a spectacularly vivid example of internet anger directed at women and minority presence in comics, is sadly not unique. Several months ago, I wrote about Marvel’s Editor in Chief who blamed declining sales on readers who were disillusioned by the company’s push for diversity in some of its most popular titles. Even more troubling is Zaniab Akhtar who literally shut down her Eisner winning Comics & Cola review site after being barraged with Islamophobic, racial and sexist attacks. Add to that, talents such as Chelsea Cain, author of Mockingbird who was forced to quit Twitter simply for asking her followers to buy her comic and Leslie Jones, who had the temerity to play an African American Ghostbuster in last year’s reboot and paid for it by enduring vicious internet harassment and you have a blatant pattern of hate. Sure, the purveyors of this brand of trolling will justify their actions by dressing them up in the cloak of “free speech” and legitimate gripes with the tinkering of their beloved characters. There may be a kernel of truth in that reasoning, but the blatant gender and race based attacks on anyone who disagrees with their politics or vision for the future of the comic industry destroys any and all credibility that may have been had.
If there is one silver lining in this whole sordid tale, it’s that for as many detractors and haters that crawled out from under their Twitter rocks, there were just as many supporters. Fellow Marvel employees, icons from the gaming industry and yes, even “rivals” over at DC Comics helped get the #makeminemilkshake rallying cry trending across the internet. Link
The show of support has spurred news outlets that may have been otherwise unaware of this story to shine a light on some really reprehensible behavior in a world where fantasy and escapism are supposed to reign supreme. Yet, even so, there will always be those who will resist the notion that the world of comics and superheroes is a big enough sandbox to permit a variety of genders, orientations, ideas, and perspectives to play nicely, side by side. Internet trolls aren’t going anywhere, but from here on forward, they’re not going unchallenged. So, grab yourself a straw, throw on your cape and settle in. Change never comes easy, but its always been the best heroes who have taught us that some things are worth fighting for.