Next week, after 21 films and 11 years, Marvel Studios are finally releasing a female lead movie, as Brie Larson takes on the role of Captain Marvel. To the surprise of no-one, the usual band of idiots have come out of the woodwork spreading fake reviews and trying to sabotage the movie’s release. It’s happened before with Ghostbusters, and Star Wars: The Last Jedi, and despite the litany of reasons they give, there’s only one that’s at the core of each: a powerful woman.
This piece could go on for seven hundred words hurling abuse at this gang – it wouldn’t be particularly hard. What I wanted to do was try and understand why angry men, in particular fans of popular culture, react this way towards women.
Before I go on, just to be clear, this is in no way excusing their behaviour. It may seem hard to believe with my good looks, charm and interest in geek culture, but I’ve not always been lucky in love. In fact until about the age of 19 I was painfully single a lot of the time, and didn’t quite know how to act around women I liked. I was over the top, nervous and generally awful. I’d had a girlfriend but it was very short-lived (my fault), but in general I bemoaned my state.
In general I was awkward around people, didn’t make friends easily and felt a bit outside of the regular world. My solace came in my ‘stuff’. Books, toys, movies, and comics... I consumed them like an addict. They let me escape, and they were mine. In the early 1990s it wasn’t cool to like comics. It had started to get better after Tim Burton’s Batman, but at school anyone over 10 who admitted to liking it, was a geek and was picked on.
When you’re feeling like I did, like the world doesn’t like you for who you are, like girls don’t like you for who you are, it’s very easy to blame the world and not your behaviour. You fester in it, and with the internet you can swim in those fetid waters fairly easily. When I was younger, luckily Twitter etc. didn’t exist.
At 16, I got my first job in a comic shop. It was possibly the best thing that could have happened to me. I not only made lifelong friends (who were older than me), but it exposed me directly to comics culture and the sweaty underbelly. The guys who I worked with were smart, relatively well-rounded individuals and despite it being a comic shop they worked hard not to be like the dude from The Simpsons (worst example ever!). It was arguably one of the first modern comic shops in London, designed not to scare off normal people with the design or staff.
We had a fairly diverse customer base, but obviously amongst that were your stereotypical weirdos. I’m sure there was a cacophony of genuine mental health issues, but dealing with obnoxious fragrant men is never fun. Bad behaviour and fanboy tantrums did happen a fair bit, and seeing it writ large is sobering. The last thing you want is behave like the guy who shouted because you’re out of Batman.
The story of the young guy hanging with the comics’ crowd is often how the story of these incels starts. They’re lonely, like their weird stuff, and meet older angrier dudes who essentially brainwash them into their point of view. To be fair, it’s how recruiting for a lot of horrible causes start.
I was lucky because my friends, despite being a pack of nutters, were normal enough to influence me the right way. They didn’t hate women, and they had lives outside of their interests.
Around the time I started, there was a letter in a UK comics publication that bemoaned women in comic shops coming in “for stuff for their boyfriends” and not being “proper” fans. One of the guys I worked with wrote in a fantastic rebuttal. Had it been another similar shop at the time, it could easily have been them writing in to agree.
The problem with angry geek men online is they are so heavily invested in their pastimes that they start to believe they own them. It’s so dear to them that any diversion from their prescribed notion sends them into a tailspin.
Their stories and characters have to behave a certain way, or the bedrock of their identity is shaken. Despite the fact that the same old stories repeating is boring, if the character or narrative shifts too much they start firing off tweets or even death threats. Their biggest bugbear is when stories are made more diverse or a woman gets more of a role. Their enemy is suddenly in their space, usurping the fantasy hero that they long to be.
The fact that Carol Danvers’ Captain Marvel has existed for decades is ignored. It’s a feminist agenda, it’s a dilution of masculinity, it’s attacking what they love! Even worse – a proud, successful feminist is playing the lead role.
This is, of course, bullshit. A strong woman doesn’t necessarily lead to a weak man. Brie Larson being powerful, with agency, as Captain Marvel doesn’t mean Hulk is going to become a blubbering simp. But they feel like the way it’s being framed is trying to please feminists and non-fans (their second greatest enemy). The reality is, movies are blockbusters and comics movies are woefully behind the curve. It’s about time Marvel made this movie.
These angry fans can’t handle that their geek culture is no longer maligned by society, so it doesn’t just have to be tailored to their narrow notions of the world. So they kick and scream, and try to destroy. The reality is that diversity in media improves it – stories can be given depth they lacked before, and new kinds of people can enjoy it. I think this time though, the lady they’ve taken on might just smack them down.