NYCC 2013: The Vicious Cycle of White-Washing Geeks

Part 3 of this 3-part series will examine how media coverage of New York Comic Con ignored racial and gender diversity among attendees as well as exploring the implications of this kind of media coverage.

As part of their New York Comic Con coverage, Business Insider published a gallery of 112 pictures of cosplayers. A variety of fandoms and favorite characters were represented including Wonder Woman, Loki, Doctor Who, and Game of Thrones. Unfortunately, that was where their variety ended. In the entire gallery, there were only about 20 people of color featured, only slightly more than one-sixth of the gallery.

As a person who was at New York Comic Con, this gallery is baffling to me. I walked the convention from the main floor down to Artist Alley, and I had been blown away by the diversity amongst cosplayers. There were no lack of cosplayers willing to pose for a picture as displayed by sites such as Cosplaying While Black, and yet Business Insider's photographer excluded pictures of these cosplayers while including this picture taken through a reflective Subway window.

Sometimes, I am willing to give media outlets the benefit of the doubt. Maybe the sample of cosplayers they photographed just happened to be mostly white, or maybe they had bad luck and lost the memory card with their pictures of the non-white cosplayers. This year, however, felt different. This exclusion felt intentional and maddening considering the conversations of racial, gender, and sexual orientation diversity that were going on in the Javits Center that weekend.

To outsiders, this might not seem like a big deal. Who cares that a bunch of geeks dressed up in costumes and only the white geeks made the news? Why does it matter? The truth is that it matters when studios decide to greenlight films, publishers pick their manuscripts, and the TV networks review pilots for next season's line-up. These producers will want to put their money towards products that they feel will suit their target audience, and while they have many ways of determining that target audience, producers are human. They are likely to form snap judgments based on what they have seen in the media, like the Business Insider's photographic coverage of New York Comic Con, and come to the wrong conclusion. If they believe mistakenly that the geek community is almost entirely white and mostly male, they will continue making a product reflective of that audience.

Is it wrong to make films, TV, and books targeted at a white male audience? Absolutely not. Audiences of all races, gender identities, and sexual orientations love heroes like Iron Man, Captain America, and Superman. The problem is when these white male heroes are the only ones available to an audience that has always been diverse and will continue growing as the world becomes more interconnected, especially in entertainment. Business Insider's coverage is borderline dishonest, and at worst, it perpetuates stereotypes and presents a narrow-minded view of the geek community. It continues the vicious cycle, that studios cater to their perceived white male audience, their actual diverse audience grows tired of the same kind of heroes and stops buying, and studios think they were right in the first place and stick to the status quo.

Despite this frustrating shortfall by Business Insider, New York Comic Con 2013 was extremely encouraging overall. Change is happening from creators like the writers of Once Upon a Time, from fans who are done waiting, and from advocates who have harnessed social media for good. Looking back on New York Comic Con 2013, the biggest take-away for me is that significant progress will only happen within this community when everyone on board, including the fans, the creators, and the media. 2013 had its missteps and problems, but there were so many positive take-aways from New York Comic Con that I am anxious to see what 2014 and the next New York Comic Con will bring.

Nov
03
2013
Rachel Kolb • Staff Writer

I love movies, writing, and breaking into song in public. You can follow me on Twitter @rachelekolb or check out more of my work at http://rachelekolb.wordpress.com.

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