Nerd Guys, Pandering, and “Forced” Diversity

Pandering is bad....but only when it's for someone else.
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In the online nerd community, diversity is a hot topic.

Which is to say, every time there’s a video, article, or blog post calling for greater representation and diversity in fiction, the comments section and subreddits will implode with indignation.

You’d be amazed at the number of reddit rants and YouTube videos (sometimes entire channels!) dedicated to laying out why diversity and representation in media are completely unnecessary, and why anyone who says otherwise is a member of a cultural Marxist cult and part of a leftist conspiracy to ruin their fun.

Seeing as I’m a masochist, I’ve spent little time scrolling through the comments, and a recurring train of thought piqued my interest. In nearly every comments section of a piece on diversity, a sentiment similar to this one can be found: “They shouldn’t be forced to pander to women/minorities/SJWs. They should make what they want to make!”

“Pandering” is a word that comes up quite a lot in these sorts of discussions. They’re totally fine with diverse characters, these people (mostly guys) say, so long as it isn’t pandering to a certain group. “They should make a female protagonist because they want to, not to please feminists,” as a redditor put it.

Artistic integrity comes up in these situations too…but I’ll come back to that.

Hilariously, these same people declare it “pandering” anytime a piece of media features anything that deviates from the standard gruff white antihero-centric formula that dominates so much of current entertainment.

This was seen with the releases of Dragon Age II, Mass Effect 3, and Dragon Age: Inquisition, where forums full of angry straight male fans bemoaned Bioware “giving in” to the “SJWs” by providing romance options for sexual preferences other than their own.

The same thing happened with Marvel comics after it started diversifying its character roster by handing Captain America’s shield to Sam Wilson, Mjlonir to Jane Foster, and the mantle of Ms. Marvel over to Kamala Khan. The “artistic integrity” argument goes completely out the window here.

“Stop forcing diversity down our throats! Do it naturally! SJWs ruined comics!” Apparently, most of these guys completely missed the irony in this situation.

To my fellow straight white guys, let me say this: You have been pandered to for your entire life. Nearly every piece of media you have ever consumed, from comics books to TV to cartoons, has been tailored made with you in mind as its primary audience.

In fact, pandering to us is one of the greatest driving forces in entertainment today. I’d go as far to say that it’s responsible for many of the creative shortcomings of today’s media.

Pandering to us is the reason that the majority of action, sci-fi, and fantasy movies all star roughly the same character archetype, usually a scruffy white guy with the same handful of personality traits shuffled around. Triple A video games are much the same.

Marketing departments, wielding an enormous amount of sway over the creative process, believe that if guys, the intended audience, see a woman on the poster or game box, they’ll turn up their noses and refuses to watch/play it.

This kind of mindset is, to put it frankly, a cancer that’s rotting away at the creative core of the industry.

It’s the reason that Legend of Korra almost didn’t get made, because Nickelodeon was afraid that a female main character would scare away young boys. Never mind that she can throw fireballs and do astounding martial arts that are awesome to watch, and rides a giant polar bear around.

Here’s the thing, this bias in favor of the straight white male audience is so thoroughly ingrained into the heads of those it’s pandering to, that anytime it’s broken away from, it’s seen as a deviation, a betrayal. Or, in some cases, it’s seen as corruption.

This is where artistic integrity comes in. They’re not against diversity in their media, they’ll argue. They’re just against it being “forced”.

The main problem with this sentiment is that the guys with this mindset would honestly rather believe that poor, innocent developers or writers were forced to include women, LGBTQ+characters, or people of color in their work to please a cabal of slavering SJWs, than to believe that creators honestly want to tell those stories, or appeal to someone who isn’t them.

“I’m not against diverse characters,” is what they say outwardly, but what they say implicitly is “but why would writers ever want them?” Well, the reason they’d want to, apart from being more creative and telling a greater variety of interesting stories, is that diversity also sells.

Artistry is vital to creative media, but they also have to make money in order to be financially sustainable. Appealing exclusively to one demographic is one of the chief causes of the games industry’s many problems. Bloated game budgets, derivative stories with little depth, and general creative stagnation as we follow gruff white anti hero number thirty seven billion on his trite quest to avenge his murdered wife/daughter/girlfriend.

But then again, by their logic, doing anything other than that formula is “too politically correct.”

When it comes down to it, the angry dissenters aren’t against pandering. They’re against pandering to anyone who isn’t them, because they’ve been taught for a good portion of their life that fiction with their viewpoint at the center of everything is the default.

Joe Cain is an Indianapolis native writer, currently working out of a small Liberal arts college in the middle of nowhere. He is a lover of comic books, video games, and sci-fi/fantasy. He reviews video games for Nuvo, an Indianapolis newspaper.

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