GAME OF GROANS: Calling out sci fi/fantasy is the social justice equivalent of shooting fish in a barrel
The crux of the argument is summed up here:
The Klingons are the Dothraki of Star Trek - the scary, warmongering Other from the Heart of Darkness out in deep space. The great thing about imaginary black and brown people is that white sci-fi/ fantasy writers can project their repressed oriental fetishes onto a blank canvas without taking responsibility…
But this isn’t just about imagery and brown people looking bad on TV – the Dothraki storyline is just a stepping stone for Dany’s overall storyline which is more deeply racist - essentially, a liberal white woman who goes around saving and civilising brown people. The subtext of Dany’s story is a cultural war where Dany’s enlightened values triumph over lesser ones, where whiteness is both a conquering and civilising force.
My only thought is: duh.
Yes. Obviously. Of course.
It’s not that science fiction and fantasy are two of the most regressive genres around. It’s that that regression is built right into the fabric of the genres themselves. Science fiction started as a satire of the ‘travel log’ genre, where writers would share their – often fictional – accounts of travels and interactions with ‘exotic’ locations and people. Western fantasy is derived from European folklore, where kings were divinely chosen, peasants were worthless, and a scary, exotic culture loomed to the East, and every glimpse of that culture was given through white eyes.
There’s a reason science fiction and fantasy are often mashed together, and it’s not because people want to know who’d win a fight between Yoda and Merlin. Both genres are built on the same illiberal notions of conquest, sexism, violence, hierarchy, and everything else that makes progressives squirm. They almost always include tropes of white travellers, rulers in exile, and white saviors: Lord of the Rings, Zelda, Dune, Star Trek
And now Game of Thrones. Listen, I haven’t seen Game of Thrones. I haven’t read the books. At most I’ve browsed the wiki and read a few thought pieces. But I know the genre. I know what to expect when if I’m going to sit down and absorb however many hours of something with dragons magic & knights. If Game of Thrones broke the mold on race, it would’ve been mentioned, along with the thought pieces on the strong female characters.
But unless I’m told a series about knights and dragons is progressive on race, I’m not going to assume it is. And I’m not going to be shocked when, gasp, it isn’t. Yes, Game of Thrones is (probably) racist, but it’s built on an entire genre steeped in European racism.
This conversation comes up in just about every adaptation of sci fi/fantasy, and in the countless discussions among the sci fi/fantasy groups about these tropes. Because, yes, it’s a breeding ground for really regressive notions on society. It’s also a magical world that takes the motto ‘anything can happen’ to its logical conclusion and beyond. There are amazing artists who subvert and defy these tropes (RIP Olivia Butler).
So, take this rule when looking into sci fi/fantasy: unless explicitly told otherwise, assume it’s problematic. It’ll save a lot of time and energy. Besides, what sci fi/fantasy needs is more attention given to the artists that are breaking the mold.
Until then, I’m going to re-read Parable of the Sower and do some laundry.