Friday, December 6, 2013

Dystopians: The Leadership of Cis, Straight, White, Able-Bodied Men.

Dystopian worlds have become very popular lately. Whether it is Revolution, Falling Skies, The Walking Dead or Defiance, the one thing they all have in common is straight, cisgender, able bodied White male leadership. This suggests that at the end of the day, no matter the circumstance White masculinity represents authority, logic, safety, and intelligence. People of colour and women are often relegated to side characters who week after week submit to this authority and often times appear to be grateful for it.  It is no accident that the White male is so revered in dystopians. It plays upon the idea that White straight masculinity is a declining power because of resistance by women, people of colour and of course GLBT people. It suggests that there will come a time when nature will correct itself and once again White men will rule the world, as though that is not the current situation and further; the world will be grateful for it.

Sometimes the writers make the effort to explain why these men are in charge - in The Walking Dead Rick is a cop who people look to for stability; rather more dubiously, Nolan is the only person in Defiance able to step into the Lawkeeper’s shoes (apparently). But often leadership just happens - in Terra Nova Jim rises to become second in command in all but name after smuggling himself to the colony and despite there being more experienced people (Alicia Washington, a woman of colour). In Falling Skies Tom is a history professor who has risen to a leadership role in the military before the show even starts and manages to become a major player in all the leadership councils. There’s no real reason for their leadership - leadership just settles upon them.

Even in situations where the great White leader is in a secondary role like for example Joshua Nolan’s position relative to mayor Amanda Rosewater in Defiance, the man still takes a leadership role, rarely coming close to respecting her position. As the mayor she is supposed to run the town, yet Nolan frequently makes decisions on his own, flouts her authority and has all of the delicacy of a bull in a china shop interacting with the various citizens of Defiance. Nolan hadn’t even been in town for a New York minute before Amanda was placing a badge on his chest.  It was Nolan who led and planned the defence of Defiance when it was attacked and though Amanda participated, clearly Nolan was in charge.

This straight, White, male leadership is also typified by dictatorship. On Falling Skies we have military leadership that eventually reaches ‘democracy’ but only in the sense that the supreme dictator is elected - I saw no legislative body or organs of government. Terra Nova is completely under Taylor’s dictatorial control without a pretence of anything else. The Walking Dead is famous for its Rickocracy - and in the comics, Rick’s refusal to even keep Michonne and Andrea informed of his plans is inexcusable considering what they’ve been through together. Even Nolan, subject  to Amanda’s authority, has to be talked into agreeing with her as much as anything and frequently ignores her.

On the rare occasion when leadership passes  on to someone who isn’t a cis, straight, White man then that leadership will be flawed - either the outright enemy on Terra Nova or such incredible ineptness on The Falling Skies that Marina is suspected of being a mole for the aliens.

One of the most glaring elements of this firm placement of cis straight White men as leaders is how impossible it is to actually depose him from his throne! I am actually genuinely curious as to exactly these men have to do for everyone around them to decide that maybe, just maybe, they shouldn’t be the one calling the shots or the one they shelter behind.

Rick is the most obvious extreme example of this - in The Walking Dead (both TV series and comics) Rick has a breakdown. He hallucinates his dead wife. He completely steps away from any responsibility in the group - becoming farmer Rick, refusing to carry a gun and generally sticking his head in the ground. He is obviously traumatised and terribly fragile - and this is after he deliberately caused the death of several people and some pretty dubious decision making before that. Yet everyone in the prison act like he’s just taking a brief holiday. Everyone expects him to take up the reigns again, everyone’s waiting for him to take control and everyone is even trying to nudge him back into his leadership position. The council is there, but ultimately everyone seems like they’d be much happier if they went back to the Rickocracy; and Rick himself has still clung to threads of power - using his authority to banish Carol. When the Governor called on Rick to speak for the Prison he wasn’t ignoring the Council, he was engaging the power structure as it really was

Rick is a glaring example but hardly the only one. In Defiance Nolan is exposed to have massive prejudices against the Votans in one of Datak’s schemes - yet this is presented as Datak’s deviousness rather than exposing a side to Nolan that made him ineligible to run the mixed town of Defiance (never mind his frequent disrespect for the civilian authority of the town). In Falling Skies Tom Mason is happy to go wandering off on his own quests and projects, even completely stepping down as president to do so. Most glaringly, he once got on an alien spaceship, willingly becoming their prisoner for no discernable reason (I am still utterly bemused by this). After which there was a very real suspicion he would be implanted with the alien’s mind control technology - and yet he still leads! In Revolution Miles is a brutal and notorious war criminal yet he’s still the boss.

Watching these shows makes me think about what White masculinity really means. All of the White male leaders are decidedly hyper masculine and this suggests that hypermasculinity  not only is a necessary quality for leadership but to be considered a true man. Such character traits embodied in a man of colour, for instance, would present as threatening and even terrifying. Such a characterisation would never be portrayed in a gay or bisexual man since it is anathema to how gay and bisexual men are portrayed. This aggressive form of masculinity is only good because of Whiteness and straightness.  That it then leads to bad decisions, violence and emotional scars is deemed a necessary result - and also making marginalised people acceptable collateral damage. It establishes a hierarchy of beings placing the straight White man in a role that cannot be threatened or challenged; the leadership is absolute and authoritarian and it is repeatedly suggested that to even question is to risk the safety of the group - and make you a threat. It’s the ultimate "ends justify the means" philosophy and the resulting stress and traumas caused to the leader merely serve as a justification for even the most extreme actions or horrendous mistakes.

Ultimately, these repeated roles present a world where the straight, cis, able bodied White man simply has to be in charge. It is almost as if, when we remove the trappings of civilisation as is so common in these dystopian words, we become even closer to what is still seen societally as the “natural” state beneath a cis, straight, White male leader. He is the Patriarch. The great protector, the leader, the ruler - and when things are really bad, when we are truly under threat, it is to him we should turn, obedient, weak and unquestioning so he can lead us to safety. He is not only the only person who can be our hero, our saviour - but he is the only one who can be our Lord and that lordship is both necessary, welcomed and even craved by his lessers. In turn, this reduces anyone who is not a cis straight, White, able bodied man to being a dependent, almost a child, of the Patriarch; subject to his rule and cowering in his shadow - too weak, too foolish or too unsuitable to be without his guidance and protection.