Pop Culture

The Real Story Behind #BoycottStarWarsVII is About Normalizing Racism

Two things happened involving the upcoming seventh Star Wars film recently. One, a new trailer debuted and two, Twitter was flooded with a new hashtag: #BoycottStarWarsVII. The reasoning behind this was that the prominent position of a white woman and black man on the theatrical poster and as the apparent main characters in The Force Awakens was indicative of white genocide and white erasure in media. Also something something THE JEEEWWWSSS because it just isn’t a day on the Internet without a little bit of anti-Semitism.

I was all set to write up a piece begging the people posting these tweets to go rewatch Return of the Jedi because the whole first act is basically the tale of a young white guy who mastered his emotions and learned how to trust his diverse group of friends to be competent participants in a complicated endeavor. Salon did its Salon thing on the “movement” and The Mary Sue Mary Sued the heck out of it. It’s all the same old dance where people who are actually capable of thought and personal growth try to have an argument in good faith about why being this upset over diversity in film is a numbskull thing to do.

The problem is that #BoycottStarWarsVII isn’t an argument in good faith. It’s a scam. It’s a ploy. It’s just another 4chan op, and its true purpose is insidious and disturbing.

For the uninitiated, 4chan and other mostly anonymous imageboards are famous for launching military style propaganda wars through Twitter. GamerGate started as a 4chan op that spiraled out of control. Or you may remember last year when it seemed like radical feminists were calling to end Father’s Day. Nope, 4chan op.

Basically a small group of angry young men will launch a fake bit of online activism using sock puppet and burner accounts, hopefully drawing in a few duped true believers in the process to spread it. Then the media (*small bow*) will legitimize the whole thing with outrage coverage because no matter how many times we are proven wrong we really believe the problem with race in this country is honest misunderstanding. Then the channers sit back and congratulate themselves on having duped people into… caring about making the world less shitty, I guess? You can see them crowing about the op’s success here, here, here and here.

However, don’t write this off as a joke because no matter how much channers want you to think it’s a joke it really isn’t. Things like #BoycottStarWarsVII have a definite purpose and that purpose is to normalize and make centrist the average racist and anti-feminist attitudes common on 4chan by creating a ridiculous strawman to compare it to. Making the public believe that there is a huge contingent of dopey uber-bigots out there so angry at Star Wars for starring a woman and a black guy they have to start a Twitter campaign automatically shifts lesser racist attitudes to the left.

What it does is carve out a niche where someone who honestly thinks Star Wars represents a radical liberal diversity agenda can have a cartoonish bigot to point at and say that he is nothing like that other guy. It enables someone to remain deeply uncomfortable about the increased presence of women and minorities in mainstream media, but still call himself the good guy because there is someone worse than him, even if that person is largely imaginary.

There was a really interesting piece done by Brian Clifton a while back showing what we already knew: that GamerGate and other similar movements are overwhelmingly male. They are also typically, but not exclusively, white and cis and straight. They are an angry, privileged group that assumed they were destined to inherit the world and now find themselves having to actually compete for it with women and minorities who have been fighting for decades to approach parity.

4chan remains a hive popular with rabid and unfortunately influential racists. Many of the people on there are legitimately upset about Daisy Ridley and John Boyega helming the latest trilogy in a galaxy far, far away instead of Rando Mansir. God forbid the two become love interests to each other because the reactionary Internet will explode like the shark in Jaws the Revenge if a black man and a white woman kiss as if it was a perfectly normal thing to do (Spoiler: it is)

However, channers know that the world is moving on and that they can’t actually hold back the loss of white supremacy. All they can do is postpone it, and #BoycottStarWarsVII is designed to do exactly that. It’s a paper Nazi and a decoy for critics and journalists to tear apart, pretending they’ve struck a blow in the name of unfucking the world. Meanwhile, in that niche between everyday racism and imaginary Sunday best racism there is an entire culture trying to drag other angry young men into what now looks like the “moderate” position so they can whisper about the evils of Social Justice Warriors and share links claiming to prove white people and straight people and men are now the truly oppressed.

And we just keep on falling for it. 

Jef's collections of stories about vampires and drive-thru churches, The Rook Circle, is out now. You can also find him on Facebook and Twitter
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Jef Rouner (not cis, he/him) is a contributing writer who covers politics, pop culture, social justice, video games, and online behavior. He is often a professional annoyance to the ignorant and hurtful.
Contact: Jef Rouner