I’m sorry, I don’t know what to say today. I had no plan for this.
In 2008, Luke Cage picked up Donald Trump’s limo and Donald threatened to sue him. They were both stars in 2016 (Image: Marvel)
I like to think we have fun here. We write about television, movies and comics — things we unabashedly love. And we write honestly about the faults we find in those things because we think that’s valuable. We’ll keep doing that, as you can see from our front page today, because it’s not only a job for us; it’s our passion.
But I will tell you that it’s hard to write about those things today. For a number of reasons. First of all, because it’s hard not to think that those things just aren’t important when the big story today is that America elected a reality star to the highest office in the land. Second of all, because, at least in our corner of pop culture, it felt like things were getting better. But we were so wrong.
Marvel managed to get Luke Cage and Black Panther right in movies and TV. Even if they fell down on Asian representation this year, it felt like they at least heard the criticism and understood it. Wonder Woman is bi and the biggest surprise there was that anyone didn’t know that. Literally the day before this election, Supergirl told a coming out story that was sensitive and beautifully realised. And, perhaps learning from the backlash The 100 suffered when it killed off one half of its queer pair, the producers of that show are promising to avoid the trope where queer characters exist only to tragically die.
We were, and are, far from anything being perfect, but it felt like at least part of this progress was reflective of a larger trend in America. Instead, it turns out the backlash to those things was the true barometer.
Almost everyone I know has received some kind of response from the nasty and angry contingent of the internet that hates being told that not everything is about them. And who somehow don’t appreciate the irony of sending screeds about “SJWs” “seeing things that aren’t there” while yelling that “it’s just a story!”
And for women, nonwhite and queer writers, a lot of the attacks go beyond being “mean” and edge into “terrifying”. These aren’t insults about the arguments, they’re rejecting our voices because of who we are. They’re threatening us because of that, too. The solace was always the idea that they were just a very vocal minority. When we see Donald Trump win the presidency, we’re hearing that many, almost most, Americans agree with those people.
This election is telling people that you can be a bully and a bigot and a sexist and unqualified and none of that will matter. That it’s a successful way to shut down your opponents. That’s the thing that’s hard to swallow. Not that people have different points of view, but that the worst part of the other side is the one that wins.
We underestimated their anger and we dared to be less afraid than we apparently should have been.
Here, we’ve been covering a lot of dystopia fiction. And a lot of science fiction examining the dark side of human nature. Everyone’s obsessed with Westworld right now, and that show has a very grim take on how people in power act. Superhero movies, Marvel and DC, really do seem to represent America’s obsession with authoritarianism and fascism. I personally have lamented this trend, because my favourite science fiction will forever be Star Trek and its utopian view of humanity. That’s the future I thought we were working towards.
That was another sign that I was going to be an outlier in this election, I guess.
Science fiction, the genre I have loved above all others for my entire life, has moved from fringe interest to the centre of pop culture in the last decade or so. It’s everywhere. Science fiction likes to explore big, existential concepts. It also likes to present possible answers about the human condition. Utopian science fiction argues that, ultimately, our better natures will prevail. Dystopian science fiction argues that our worst impulses often have the upper hand and it’s a herculean effort to turn back that tide. There’s even some evidence that certain types of science fiction correlate to war and social upheaval. When the future seems uncertain, our fiction reflects our attempts to sort that out.
So maybe the speculative fiction boom of the last few years, no matter the gains in representation, was presaging this moment. President Donald J. Trump.
How on Earth are our future science fiction writers going to sort through that?