Racefail and the SciFi Ghetto: Why It's Really All About High School
As you may or may not be aware, there is a maelstrom brewing under the surface of the internet regarding racism and sexism in the world of Science Fiction. Generally referred to as "RaceFail," the simplest way I can think of to describe it is as sort of a metaflamewar that's been bouncing around the blogosphere for a few years now. It's been going on so long and has involved so many different players that I don't think anyone involved in it really understands the whole thing. To this gigantic clusterfuck of fevered egos, I have decided to add my own small contribution, in part to try to at least sort of map the whole thing, and also to try to talk about what I see as the real underpinnings of the whole controversy and where it comes from. No, it's not Nick Mamatas's fault.
The latest battle in the war was apparently kicked off because Elizabeth Bear is not a very good writer. This latest is clearly a result of earlier race problems in the SF ghetto that at least a few commentators claim they can trace back to Usenet in the early nineties. Apparently once upon a time the SF ghettoites were even more goofy than they are now and some commentators claim to remember a time when they had to defend against such asinine positions as "women can't write science fiction."
Basically, my take on the situation is that Elizabeth Bear, a writer of limited talent, wrote an essay about how to write The Other. The Other in and of itself is a tough concept that I don't think most people involved in the conversation really understand. Its introduction into the critical mindset of the west is relatively recent, coming from Hegel by way Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex which applied it to the notion of woman inspired in part by a passage in Julien Bend's novel Uriel's Report where he described woman as Hegel's Other. The original idea which inspired the existentialist notion of Otherness was Hegel's Master-Slave Dialectic, the mechanism by which Hegel understood humans to attain consciousness. The whole thing becomes convoluted in the noble but ultimately misguided attempts by the existentialists to use the notion of Other as a foundation for objectivity, and this then is further misappropriated by all manner of folks in talking about difference in terms of The Other, I think mostly because it sounds sort of poetical and intellectual and gives the false impression that the person using the term is well-read. Put very simply the Hegelian Other is any other self-conscious being the recognition of which constitutes a challenge to a naive subject who believes he has mastery over the world. The two subjects, the Self and the Other engage in a fight to the death in which one of the two will ultimately submit because its fear of death is greater than the other, this one becomes the Slave and the one that does not submit becomes its Master. This then proceeds through a very convoluted argument to state that the Master does not achieve true self-consciousness because it has yet to recognize the existence of other subjective beings. In short, we must all submit ourselves to The Other before we can become fully self aware. To further complicate matters, all of this is supposed to go on in our own minds. To which I must say, um what?
Hegel inspired all manner of divergent thinking with his idea, some of which was taken up by philosophers of race and sex in the latter half of the twentieth century. Taken from an individual to a social level, it is relatively easy how one wanting to criticize Masters in whatever form one is casting them might want to compare an oppressed group to the Other. I think Marx is the first to do this when he cast the Proletariat as the Other enslaved by the capitalist and land-owning Master self. Nietzsche inverted the whole thing, claiming that the ubermensch would recognize all of this as nonsense (and he was on to something there) and overcome it all by rejecting the slave morality of western culture and, thus liberated, rule supreme (that part is less cogent). The existentialists in France got hold of it by way of Marx and Nietzsche and combined it with the important but difficult to understand insights on being that they picked up from Heidegger, and, by the time Jean-Paul Sartre got through with it, The Other became an essential component to existentialist psychology which reveals to the self the self's own alienation as it discovers itself to be the Other for Other selves (this is what he means when he talks about "being-for-others"). This conflict then between self and other becomes rooted very strongly in existentialist and later more broadly continental understandings of social systems. Beauvoir applies this to sex/gender in her epoch making The Second Sex.
It bears mentioning here that it is difficult for English speakers to fully apprehend exactly what Beauvoir was on about in The Second Sex because the English translation is notoriously awful. Beauvoir herself felt that it needed a new translation, but one is as of yet forthcoming from Knopf, who own the English foreign publication rights. What is clear though is that this application of the concept of the Other to marginalized social groups was a watershed notion, and from there the idea truly began to have legs. Fritz Fanon applied it to the idea of race in his excellent but often grossly misunderstood Black Skin, White Masks where he examines the interaction between the master slave dialectic and the historical experience of Black slavery in Europe and the Americas. Fanon was at one point at least extremely fashionable among the American academic left. President Obama name checks him in Dreams From My Father as an influence in his intellectual development as a young man trying to come to terms with his mixed race heritage and virtually no introductory course in post-colonialism or African American Studies can get by without referencing his important work. What matters for this discussion, however, is the problem that Fanon, or more correctly Fanon's many readers, oversimplify the idea of Otherness to the point where at this late date, The Other is used mostly as shorthand for The Marginalized. I would tend to argue that this basic error can lead to only further marginalization as it denies at root the subjectivity and personhood of members of marginalized groups. And It is that problem that lies at the root of a lot of the problems going on in the Racefail flame war. But more on that in a bit.
In any case, Elizabeth Bear's essay was not well-received, primarily because as it turns out she's not in a particularly good position to be giving advice on the subject since she's written all manner of stereotypical and boneheaded stuff on issues of race, eg the bit of dialog excerpted from Shadow Unit linked above. So following her essay, lots of people started calling her on that, pointing out to her that she hadn't done such a good job of "writing the Other" as she claims. Which backlash was then was followed by a backlash against the backlash, which generated it's own backlash and on and on, until now it's a few months and hundreds of thousands of words later and all of this has apparently spilled off of Livejournal where it started and into the blogosphere in general. The long and the short of the story is that it has finally become apparent to the SF ghetto that much to their chagrin as a group that likes to think of itself as inclusive and open minded, they really aren't that inclusive and open minded at all.
To anyone who is paying attention, this should not come as a surprise. Science Fiction and Fantasy and its ghetto has always been the refuge of middle class white males who do not feel at ease with the dominant expectations of white middle class masculinity found in the dominant social mores of Western Culture. More importantly, much of the most influential work from the earlier days of what has come to be call Fandom is outright apalling in its depictions of the marginalized. There is an irony here. Fandom is a catch all social group fundamentally indentified by a shared fascination among its members with fictional depictions of the fantastic incorporating Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror literature; Superheroes; Japanese Anime and Manga; Roleplaying Games; Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror television and film; and lately, Video Games, Fan Fiction, Comics of all kinds, and all manner of Conventions or Cons where fans of all these things come together in mutual admiration societies to talk about their favorite things. The irony is that Fandom itself is a marginalized group. To get at why this is, it's necessary to take a step back and look at the psychological roots of the wish fulfillment that has always been part and parcel of Fandom, the group that I lovingly refer to as the SF Ghetto.
Let's begin with Horror. Horror fiction, interestingly enough, grew out of the Romantic movement in the early nineteenth century. The Romantics, at least in one mode, were an anti-rational reaction against the neo-classicism then prevalent in the Protestant enlightenment of western europe. Their poetry, for which they are most famous, championed the individual, best examplified by Byron and his Childe Harold, as both a subject for valorization and as a foundational element of their poetics. Poetry for the Romantics was to be written spontaneously, in the thick of the emotions and feelings of its author and should exalt the spirit rather than do as their classicist forebearers did and appeal to the intellect.
As a side note, it is an unfortunate aspect of education in America that this is where a lot of people think poetry stopped. Generally speaking, most High School poetry units run roughly from Coleridge to Dickinson with a gross over emphasis on the likes of Shelley, Keats, Byron, and their ilk, with a brush against modernism in Eliot and Frost that tends to over emphasize the personal expression mode of poetry. I blame this for the problem of all the crappy confessional poetry that the internet is swamped with today.
But more important, perhaps, to our discussion is the challenge to science that is found in Romanticism. In Beethoven and Chopin, there is a rejection of the formality and stoic adherence to (misapplied) Pythogorean harmony in classical music. In Byron and Coleridge, the rejection of the scientific Aristotelian heroism on the neo-classical greek model. And in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, there is a rejection of the prevailing enlightenment belief that science and reason will bring about a new utopian world. Thus is Horror born in a combination of folk tales of monsters and the idea of science gone wrong, and from this proceeded all that will follow.
Most important in the development of Horror for the SF Ghetto in the 20th century, however, is probably the strange case of Howard Phillips Lovecraft. Horror, unlike science fiction and fantasy, has a bit of a life of its own predating the pulp fiction empires of the twenties and thirties where the SF Ghetto was born. Frankenstein, after all, is both a classic of 19th Century literature and a touchstone for Feminist Critical Theory. Steven King, the most well known Horror writer ever, is hugely popular in the realm of mainstream commercial fiction. Some of the most popular and enduring films and television shows have been from the Horror genre, and ghost stories and folk tales about creepy monsters have never lost their grip on the wider popular imagination where Horror fiction was born. To put it simply, Horror had to be brought in to the SF Ghetto. Unlike Science Fiction, and to a certain extent Fantasy, it was not born there. And the person who brought horror in to the SF Ghetto by means of the pulp magazines was, more than anyone else, New England writer HP Lovecraft.
Lovecraft, for anyone who loves his writing, is, or perhaps should be, a troubling figure. An effete snob, he was anti-semitic, classist, racist, sexist, and homophobic to an extreme. While it's not difficult when casting about the history of literature and the arts to find talented artists who were personally repugnant, Lovecraft is unique in how his vile beliefs formed the foundation of his fiction. The French author Michel Houellebecq has gone into great detail analyzing this aspect of Lovecraft's misanthropy and how it informed his fiction in his book length essay HP Lovecraft: Against Life, Against the World and I recommend that book to anyone seeking to come to terms with the writer and the man. For my purposes, it is enough to say that the creeping unease with which Lovecraft populated his work is a direct result of the same feelings in himself towards Blacks, Jews, and women. More to the point, however, one has only to look at the essay written by an SF Ghetto Champion like Neil Gaiman, in his introduction to the Del Rey Lovecraft collection The Dream Cycle of HP Lovecraft to find the general treatment of Lovecrafts politics in the Ghetto, where it is mentioned in an offhand way and dismissed as having no bearing on the appraisal of his work. In short, the dismissal of racism as unimportant in SF Ghetto Horror fiction has a long history.
The case against Fantasy is much less straightforward. Fantasy is a bit of a historical anomaly in that it does not really have the providence it claims for itself. Fantasy is also a much broader genre than either Horror or Science Fiction, and as such it is more difficult to pindown exactly how it found its way into the SF Ghetto. Again, it was a very popular genre in the pulp magazines of the 20s and 30s where I argue that the SF Ghetto was born, with writers like Robert Howard and Fritz Leiber setting the mold. What makes Fantasy strange though is that it, unlike other types of genre fiction, there is a division between the general mainstream acceptance of fantasy depending on whether it is written for children or for adults.
Fantasy has always been a staple of children's literature stretching back at least to the Mother Goose collections of nursery rhymes from the Georgian era. More importantly, Fantasy in children's literature--or "Young Adult" literature as it has been rebranded by the publishing industry--exists outside the SF ghetto. Children's fiction writers from Lewis Carroll to Susan Cooper to Lloyd Alexander have written complex fantasies for young readers and have been widely successful doing so. This breadth of fantasy among writers for young readers and the fact that this group of writers have largely operated independently of the SF ghetto has given birth to one the stranger facets of the present publishing field. Given the rampaging success of J.K. Rowling in writing YA Fantasy, there has been an attempt by members of the SF ghetto to lay claim to the YA genre's use of fantasy and as a result many adults within the SF ghetto have taken to reading fantasies for young readers in an attempt to pull the wider and more complex stories and ideas of children's literature into the more limited and generally more poorly constructed realms of adult fantasy. It remains to be seen exactly how this is all going to play out, but my guess is that it won't work. Children's literature is more open to fantasy largely because it is more socially acceptable for children to engage in the sort of imaginative play that goes on in a well constructed fantasy. Adults are expected to have a more developed palate and not engage in the sort of simple escapist fantasies present in much of fantasy literature that occurs within the SF ghetto. Which is an important distinction, because while it's not nearly as prevalent, there is a wide range of fantasy literature for adults that exists external to the SF ghetto. But more on that in a moment. What is important to note is that within the SF Ghetto fantasy, by and large, is so absolutely terrible. The readers within the SF Ghetto are more than content to read all manner of crap so long as the title is written in the correct font and the type of escapist fantasy contained within the covers is the right sort of plot. That plot, of course, is the Standard SF Story that was introduced into modern literature via two primary sources. The first and most important source is, of course, JRR Tolkien.
Tolkien is absolutely abysmal. His prose style is stilted and boring and his characters are wooden and possessed with a latent homoeroticism that is largely ignored by most readers. His stories, while probably the most unique element of his work, was largely borrowed from medieval romance literature and anglo saxon mythology as it is preserved in epic poetry like Beowulf and Gawain and the Green Knight. And all of it is highly reactionary and politically questionable in it's teutonic supremancy. It's worth noting that the questionable nature of this sort of literature is not something new. Don Quixote, after all, was written 400 some years ago as a satire of this exact same medievalism as it was present in the 16th and 17th centuries. There has been a current within western literature since at least the protestant reformation that exalted the past of europe, the feudal age prior to the magna carta, as some sort of lost golden age. In context of the rise of mercantilism and the growth of the middle class, it is understandable why that sort of nonsense would appeal to the literate landed aristocracy of europe who were nostalgic for the days when their ancestors had run rough shod all over the western world doing precisely however they pleased. This nostalgia, as it was carried forward through the Enlightenment, it became ever more anachronistic and out of touch with the emerging values of western literacy. What use is monarchy, chivalry, feudalism, and the fear of social outcasts ensconced in the romantic literature of the Renaissance like Le Morte d'Arthur in a world that is rapidly learning to be more civil in it's treatment of others as evidenced by the values of the American and French Revolutions.
Fantasy writing, then, has always had this reactionary bent, and this has carried forward into modern fantasy where medieval ideals of masculinity and the divine right of kings have become the core values of SF Ghetto fantasy. This is present in Tolkien, in Howard style Sword and Sorcery from the Weird Tales era, and it is present today in the other source of modern fantasy, the tolkien inspired Fantasy Roleplaying Game Dungeons and Dragons. Dungeons and Dragons, despite it's brief association with satanic heavy metal in the nineteen eighties, is about as uncool as social institutions gets. I know this for a fact because I myself have played Dungeons and Dragons, both as a teenager and during brief lapses of reason as an adult, and if I am completely honest I have to admit that I feel a certain amount of shame because of this. Which is not to say that such shame is necessarily a part of Roleplaying Games, as an activity it should be something that can be as interesting and fun as any other activity involved in fictional story telling. The fact that this particular urge for interactive storytelling has largely been supplanted by Video Games for me and for probably thousands of other one time D&D fans is telling. Because the real problem with Dungeons and Dragons is not the game itself, but the fact that over the last fifteen to twenty years, Dungeons and Dragons has become the sole property of the SF Ghetto. Which means that in order to play D&D one must descend into the ghetto, and that is where my shame is located.
And the reason for this is simple. Despite the move towards greater inclusiveness over the years, at root the basic principles of fantasy roleplaying is a middle class white male fantasy of control and conquest. The attraction is fundamentally the fact that the world of Dungeons and Dragons is set in undemocratic feudal societies ruled by absolute monarchs. The characters within these worlds live within them either in concert with or in opposition to specific kings, but never question the right of kings to rule. This fundamentally conservative notion is so archaic and out of touch with a modern mindset that it should be unsurprising that people who spend their time dreaming about such a world would have similarly pre-modern notions about race and gender. The fact that there are a lot of these people living in a capitalist society makes inevitable the sort of fiction that has come from Dungeons and Dragons culture. To that end there are the endless series of fantasy novels set in the trademarked and wholly owned campaign worlds of Dungeons and Dragons owner, first TSR and now Wizards of the Coast. Much of this fiction, as previously noted, has overtly engaged in the tropes institutionalized in Fantasy literature by Tolkien as it has been imitated repeatedly within the SF Ghetto. It is in this institutionalized form of fantasy as handled by largely incompetent writers that one can see the ridiculous attitudes about race and gender that are being played out in the Racefail debate.
Note, for example, the stock idea of fantasy races. Few fantasy novels, on the Tolkien/D&D model, don't have non-human races present. Some of these races are stock and straight from Tolkien even in D&D. These are the haughty elves, the gruff and grumpy dwarves, the subhuman and violent orcs, etc. Rare is the fantasy novel that steps beyond stereotypical portrayals of non-human races. The characters of these races almost always fit into the established genre conventions about them. They are used as shorthand for characterization by fantasy writers. Why bother to spend time developing an arrogant character, exploring why that character is the way he is, when it will be taken as read by the reader who just knows that's the way elves are after all? In those rare occuerences where a character does break with type, the Dark Elf Drizzt from R.A. Salvatore's novels set in the Forgotten Realms universe for example, they are portrayed not as an exploration of misunderstood types but rather freaks not in keeping with the monolithic understood one dimensionality of these fictional races. One wonders why a group like the SF Ghetto so content with this kind of stereotyping in fiction would have a problem with stereotyping in the real world. As it turns out as evidenced in the racefail debate, many writers don't have such problems, and even when they are vaguely aware that it is problematic, as is the case with Elizabeth Bear, their involvement in and overexposure to the tropes of the low grade of fantasy literature tolerated only within the SF Ghetto has rendered such writers incapable of a more nuanced and capable take on race. In the end, their attempts to break with the tradition are ultimately just the same old thing, and inevitably so given the underlying values of their audience and the subculture they have built out of their strange reactionary values.
Of course it doesn't have to be this way. As mentioned previously, there is a wide range of fantasy writing for adults that has nothing to do with the SF Ghetto and that the SF Ghetto seems completely unaware of. Largely coming from the influences of Kafka and Borges on the one hand and the French Surrealists on the other, there is a current within literary fiction throughout most of the postmodern period from roughly the midfifties to the present where fantastical elements have been central to a great deal of literature produced outside the SF Ghetto. Whether it be the wild conspiracy theories in Pynchon's Crying of Lot 49, the strangely unreal events of Delillos Mao II, the magical elements of Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude or Jose Saramago's Blindness, to more recent writing such as the African magic of the Allmuseri in Charles Johnson's Middle Passage or the weird mysticism of the elevator repairmen in Colson Whitehead's The Intuitionist, fantastical elements are all over literature outside the SF Ghetto. By my lights, it strikes me that the key difference is that such books are not the spiritual children of reactionary jeremiads about a noble feudal past that never existed that has descended from Tolkien and the Romantics of the 19th century into the SF Ghetto.
Which leaves only Science Fiction as the element within the SF Ghetto which might prevent a clean sweep of fundamentally wrongheaded ideals informing the fictions of the Ghetto. Here again there is the division between fictions within and without the ghetto tracing to the nineteenth century. But where there were always socialist writers like HG Wells and George Orwell who used science fiction as a way to promote progressive ideals, these were largely absent from the pulp fictions of the twenties and thirties which again formed the foundations of the SF Ghetto's approach to the genre. Within the Ghetto, far from the subtle humanist ideas of Orwell and Wells, writers like Robert Heinlein and Isaac Asimov, when they did approach issues of race and gender, which was often, it was handled in a ham handed and often ridiculous fashion that while ostensibly could be read as having their hearts in the right place, the treatment is so poorly done, and the politics of the issues are so confused that it is unsurprising that their literary heirs don't do much better. Add to this the further problem that as a result of Heinlein's overt libertarian boobery, as muddled and incoherent as it was, and the further influence of Ayn Rand among a large and influential fringe within the ghetto, there is a definite presence of extreme right wing politics within the SF Ghetto that, while notably challenged by a few contemporary writers like Iain M. Banks, persists and gives quarter to the stock straight white male belief in personal exceptionalism and egoist rugged individualism that is inherently anathema to the goal of improved race relations and challenges to widespread institutional racism as it persists in the culture of the SF Ghetto.
The status quo then is not a great place to be. Much of the foolishness that has been on display by the "racist" side in the Racefail debate is ensconced and institutionalized within the roots of what forms the culture of fandom, their most prized cultural artifacts preserve and enshrine awkward and ridiculous ideas about race and gender and tilt toward a right wing politics that is historically and politically opposed to active attempts to promote a more equitable society. To recognize that, however, is not to say that there are not some problems with the "anti-racist" side of the debate as well. The injection of leftist textual criticism into the SF Ghetto is a relatively recent development that probably doesn't stretch back much earlier than the 1980s and a postmodernist urge to break down genre. There have been interesting and fruitful results of that interaction. One might point to the ambitious but flawed work of Grant Morrison in comics, the recognition of Philip K. Dick as an important literary figure by many mainstream and academic critics, and the growth of Michael Chabon and Jonathan Lethem style genre bending in recent years as positive developments outside the ghetto as a result of the intersection of genre and academic criticism. But in true SF Ghetto style, within the Ghetto itself, some of the more ugly and ridiculous elements of academic criticism have been ensconced in a way that doesn't work in the wider culture where more rational voices generally prevail.
Take for example a large feature of the current racefail debate. Much of it has centered around accusations of racism by one group toward the other, which then gets countered by the most ridiculous argument ever to come out of the academic discipline called Critical Race Studies. The argument, rests on a goofy definition of racism generally rendered as "Racism = Racial Prejudice + Power." What the people who hold to this idea believe is that Racism isn't really Racism unless the person being Racist is a member of a dominant social group with the power to oppress others. The fallout of this idea is that it is impossible by definition for persons of color to be racist because they do not possess such power. This argument, when it comes into play, is a sort of nuclear option in that it ends debate. A member of a dominant social group must in the face of it either accede that they have to sit down and shut up and accept without question what people of color have to say about race, or they must begin to argue against the definition that is being asserted at which point the debate is derailed completely into a mindless quibbling over semantics.
To put it bluntly, anyone who believes that there is something of substance in the "Racism = Racial Prejudice + Power" formula is a fucking idiot. The reasons for this are three fold.
1.) It renders invalid all manner of uses of the word racism which are perfectly sensible to speakers of English.
2.) It fails to comprehend that power is not just social in nature and depending on the circumstances a person of color may have more power than someone they hold racial prejudice against, in which case even by this definition they are racist and so the purpose of the definition, that is, making Racism co-extensive with institutional racism benefitting whites, fails.
3.) It excuses racial prejudice as not racist and because it shifts the focus of discussion from issues of personal belief to the exercise of social power generally ignores the fact that the problem of racism is not in fact institutional, but the basic fact that there are individuals who have problems with other individuals based solely on their skin color and then act to oppress those people through whatever mechanisms are available to them, which in turn causes the institutional problem that the argument takes to be basic.
I am fairly sympathetic to folks who make this mistake about what racism is. Most of them have generally made the mistake in order to counter accusations of so called "reverse racism" which in and of itself is a nonsensical claim. There is no such thing as reverse racism, there is just racism and it's opposition, and opposition to racism in the form of programs like affirmative action and challenging white privilege are not racist, they are anti-racist. But just because one's goals are noble, one does not get to get away with sloppy thinking, which is what this is. More problematically, sloppy thinking of this type, on the part of the good guys who are actually trying to get racism to be less of a problem in our culture, makes for an easy bogeyman for racists to attack and distracts the entire conversation away from real concerns to fake ones about what words mean.
Which is, really, what all of this comes down to. Frankly, I am skeptical that the SF Ghetto can be redeemed, and even if it can be, I'm not sure that it should be. As my discussion of the various subgenres of the SF Ghetto shows, everything of value within the SF Ghetto can be found in work outside the SF Ghetto. Moreover, the SF Ghetto itself merely plays into the desire by publishing companies to slice the market for readers into easily marketted to segments which is bad for literature overall. The insularity of the SF Ghetto and its creation of a safe space for social awkwardness and bad literature are not virtues, contrary to what its boosters claim when they champion how "tightknit" and "accepting" the Ghetto is.
Which brings me to the question of why the Ghetto exists at all. Clearly, there is a world elsewhere. Mainstream and Literary writers and creators like the same fantastical tropes that are supposed within the ghetto to be their exclusive territory. So why need there be a SF Ghetto at all? Like much of mass culture, I think it all comes back to high school. In high school culture there is an intense social pressure put on adolescents to define their identities through social affiliation. Even worse, the various possibilities offered to kids are rigidly stratified and tend to define us far more than they should well into adulthood. Everything you do in high school is largely defined which subculture you choose (or, as we'll see, is chosen for you), from the music you listen to and the clothes you wear to the classes you take and the future you plan for yourself. Historically, the subgroups are as they appear in S.E. Hinton's classic novel The Outsiders. In the outsiders as in life, everyone broadly speaking, is divided into Socials and Greasers. Generally speaking Socials or Socs are from wealthier families, like sports, are headed to college and middle class life, and broadly embody the prevailing values of the bourgeosie. Greasers in turn are outsiders, working class, less concerned with school, and generally embody the prevailing values of the proletariat. Of course, things are much more complicated than this in the real world. In contemporary highschool the Socs break down into jocks and preppies with some overlap, the Greasers have been replaced by punks and metalheads, and the Outsiders model leaves out the more segment found in the Breakfast Club model, of the geek/nerd, and the freaks. The SF Ghetto is born in this environment largely plucking its members from the geek group who, in recent years at least, have in an attempt to overcome their social marginalization adopted the outsider mentality of Hinton's Greasers in a vain attempt to try to be cool. This is what leads to all those guys with long hair and neckbears who listen to nu metal while wearing six hundred dollar leather overcoats and twenty dollar payless sneakers. It's not an accident that so many of those guys play dungeons and dragons and work in Information Technology. It is also no accident that they are part and parcel of the SF Ghetto.
Which is to say that in essence the SF Ghetto is the result of a semi-conscious attempt to create a culture where none exists. Dominant High School culture doesn't particularly value the things that members of the SF Ghetto are good at. Generally speaking High School culture values and rewards skill at social and athletic activities and devalues academic and creative aptitude. The cliques of high school are stratified in favor of the kids who like sports and care about school spirit and student governance etc, leaving the kids in the chess club, band, and art classes, as well as the kids who can't stand any and all of the above, largely by the wayside. The kids who can't stand any and all of the above are the traditional outsiders and the kids who like sports and run for class president or homecoming queen are the traditional insiders. Kids who don't fit into either group, and in particular the boys who fail at both insider and outsider standards of masculinity, are then left to their own devices, and the wish fulfillment fantasies and magical or scientifically advanced worlds which equate masculinity with the things these kids are good at have some appeal as a result. The SF Ghetto is created by those kids who never quite grew out of it after highschool. Is it any wonder then that so much of it is oriented at and dominated by adolescent straight white male power fantasies?
Note also that the one thing that is missing from the above analysis of high school culture is the minority experience. There's a reason for that, which is that high school is still a place that ensconces whiteness as the default position and our culture has yet to create a space within it for minorities. Looking to fiction, the only real model we have is of the courageous teacher going into the inner city in an attempt to "reach" disfunctional minority teenagers. With the notable exception of Stand and Deliver, in all cases these teachers are also white. It should be no surprise that a subculture formed by prevailing white male insecurities within the social structure of high school will then create room within it for people who themselves have no place within the prevailing white expecations about high school.
So what then is to be done? Well, given that I don't see much of value in the SF Ghetto to be saved, probably the best thing to be done would be to abandon it altogether. Some things are simply creations of a racist society that need to die, and the SF Ghetto may well be one of them. While it's not exactly the Ku Klux Klan, perhaps the best thing that people who care about the representations of people of color and women within genre fiction can do is to break with the existing social hierarchy in the SF Ghetto and strike out on their own. Stop going to the conventions and ren faires that institutionalize the inherently sexist and racist and right wing attitudes of the SF Ghetto and actively protest authors like Elizabeth Bear and their racist characters. Vote with their dollars to try to support writers working outside the ghetto who write the kind of fiction they like. Stop spending time and money and effort trying to change a system that is fundamentally broken and not doing anybody any favors and try to work to create something better. Arguing with the people who want to live in the SF Ghetto as it is is not going to go anywhere and just legitimizes the mistakes that have led to it existing in the first place.