When I watched “The Men Who Built America” trailer, I saw red partly because this is just one in a long line of trailers I’ve had to sit through where (often rich and/or straight) white men are running around doing badass things and after about the twentieth trailer it starts to feel like you are getting the message, “This is what badassery looks like. And if you don’t look like this–if you don’t see yourself in these people on the screen–then you are not capable of being a badass like they are.” And while it’s possible to identify with someone who doesn’t share your class, gender, race, sexuality, etc., it can be extra hard to when these trailers play up “This is a MASCULINE guy and this is a HIGH CLASS rich person and this is a EUROPEAN American.”
I had a pretty similar experience last year when I watched a trailer for the video game Dragon Age II. I’m an avid gamer who identifies strongly as a gamer and who is invested in gamer culture, so it felt like a slap in the face to see this series play into the same “by white men for white men” crap that currently permeates the majority of gamer culture–specifically the RPGs that I play. It’s fine for any one game to be by white men about white men. But when it’s game after game after game it’s hard to shake the feeling that, “hey, maybe you don’t belong here.” I got this same feeling when I ran around my high school spouting about how much I loved Fight Club until several different people told me, “Oh, I thought that movie was about masculinity.” Suddenly, I felt cut off from this thing that I love, that I identified with. It’s the feeling of This Is Not For You; this thing and you are mutually exclusive.
Here’s the DA II trailer I got all in a huff about:
For some context, Dragon Age: Origins (the first game in the series) was amazing in that you could play as a woman or a man, straight, bi, or gay, and occupy a whole host of different socio-economic positions (commoner, noble, royal, outcast, ward of the state (sorta), etc). On my first play through, my character was from an inner-city ghetto (albeit a white, elfish one) and I had to basically get recruited into a special ops military group (to save me from execution) after I killed a noble who raped my friend and killed my fiancee because he (the noble) felt entitled to a prima nocta. As far as video games go, the gender/class/sexuality consciousness of DAO was astounding. (Not perfect–but definitely above the norm.)
That’s why it was an extra kick in the gut for the trailer of DA II to represent itself–and all the different kinds of heroes you can play as–with the same old trope of, “Here’s you–the beefy nordic-looking male fighter.”
(I’m also pissed that they used the voice of Flemeth–one of the most bad ass characters of the series who is supposed to be this witch of mythic status who may literally eat men’s souls–and she’s sitting there narrating about how there are a few “men” who manage to grab destiny by the balls. WTF. It’s such a weird dissonance to realize, this is not what this character would say. This is a bunch of men putting words into this woman’s mouth. Flemeth, the actual character, would instead say something like this: ‘Some men change the world forever. Then I change into a dragon and eat them. Because that’s how I roll.’)