Before an hour ago, I didn’t know who Neko Case was, nor did I know about Ellie Kemper or Kelly Hogan. But it would seem I’ve been missing out on a whole realm of awesome music and comedy, as a recent post by The Mary Sue introduced me to a new music video called “These Aren’t the Droids,” with vocals by Neko Case and Ellie Kemper, and lyrics by Rachel Axler, Tamara Federici, Neko Case, and Kelly Hogan. Give their video a listen first, then we’ll talk:
We’re dealing with comedy music at its finest: socially critical, humorous, and artistic. This video and the music were done for a charity music album called 2766, produced by the Levinson Brothers and Rob Kutner, a writer for The Daily Show. The album is being sold to raise money for the charity One Kid One World, and is given the following synopsis:
The year is 2776, and on the thousandth birthday of America, an evil Alien (Martha Plimpton) threatens to destroy the nation, unless the President (Will Forte) and his Secret Service agent (Aubrey Plaza) can convince her it’s worth saving. Together with a cranky George Washington (Paul F. Tompkins) they travel through our nation’s history—past AND future, taking on everything American — immigration, religion, the media, sports, politics, sex, droids, and rock n’ roll. Along the way they meet notable Americans, from God (Patton Oswalt) to the Common Cold (Aimee Mann). Can America be saved? Kind of. It’s complicated.
Despite its quality, humor, and message, The Mary Sue didn’t exactly appreciate the video, and instead stated that:
Neko Case knows there are female superheroes, right? And that women and girls are actually a huge part of the geek sphere, and have been for decades? Please, someone, show her the light. Because her music video with Kelly Hogan for “These Aren’t the Droids” would’ve been really cool—Ellie Kemper is saved by science! Feminist utopia! That rocking Leia/Spock outfit! And it’s for charity!—if not for the part where geekery is explicitly stated as being the realm of immature manboys.
Meanwhile, io9 seemed quite confused about the video as well, summing up the confusion by saying:
It’s hard to tell exactly what Case and Hogan are trying to say here, because a lot of this is just them goofing around. But they are very clear about one thing: they think geek culture is for 13-year-old boys, and that women have no place in it. They sing about a feminist future where geek culture is replaced by girl power and kittens, which is frankly weaksauce. Why not just join the geek girl revolution that has been going on for — oh, ten years or so? Still, the video also features a woman (Ellie Kemper) who is liberated by science, so I’m honestly not sure what the hell Case and Hogan are trying to say.
I have to say, frankly, that I’m surprised at these reactions. Very much so. These reactions commit a complete misinterpretation of the video that results from a not so careful reading, as it were, of the lyrics. Case and Hogan do not explicitly state that nerd culture is the realm of immature manboys, or, to use their words “teenage guys.”
Instead they argue that “the future was designed by teenage guys.” And what they have to say, if attended to with more than a casual listen, is pretty damn feminist. And funny. I took some time to write out the lyrics; granted, I missed some words here and there, and I’m not sure if my line breaks are ideal, but I think reading the lyrics while listening to the song another time through is worthwhile.
The future (the future!): It seems so exciting. It looks so inviting.
Space-drinks,space clothes, space silver jumpsuits, space world harmony,
space silver moon boots (so much silver!).
But we didn’t realize: the future was designed by teenage guy-uy-uys!
So now we’re here in 2091 and it looks like a permanent comicon.
There’s robots and aliens from every realm
And all the dudes are psyked but we’re kind of underwhelmed.
These aren’t the droids, these aren’t the droids I was looking for. Designed by boys for [word?] boys.
Welcome to the future, ladies! Booooooring.
There’s Aquamans and Supermans and Spider-Mans,
Ant-Mans, Batmans, and Wing-mans, Y the Last Mans.
There’s a man of ice who can freeze himself.
[Something about a map to Mars or Venus?] Where’s our Shackleton?!
Baseballs and basketballs and tennis balls and footballs and eyeballs and guy balls and
balls, balls, balls, balls.
Three-boobed aliens on stripper poles who want shiny sex-bots with only holes.
So that’s [something, something, something] ’cause, hey, we love a Wookiee, but I mean, come on!
It’s way past time for a revolution to your hairless post-apocalyptic constitution,
Which is, let’s face it, basically Maxim, mixed with MAD and Cracked…it’s Craxim!
If we designed the future, it’d smell so much better.
There would be no war, just some Greco-Roman wrestling (hairy dudes in singlets!)
And we’d still have guns, but they’d shoot feee-eeelii-iii-iii-ii-iii-iings.
No waxing! No shaving! Everybody’d have more hair!
A fundamental appreciation of literacy but less shades of grey;
There’d be an entire section of government devoted to inventing no [poodle shapes?].
Girl power would be an actual fuel source with zero carbon footprint.
(Made of actual girls?
Ah, you know what I mean!)
Kittens everywhere! Yeah, baskets of them, everywhere.
In restaurants! (Yeah!) In bathtubs! (Yeah!) In the Senate! (Yeah!) On the moon!
And when our clocks start tickin’, we just point to a dude’s body anywhere,
And that’s where the baby grows, and kittens and puppies come out.
And a cougar is an animal. An animal that eats you whole and poops you out on a rock.
Yeah, and we’re finally gonna get equal pay, but no one’s gonna work, so who cares anyway?
But don’t worry, guys, we’ll keep some same stuff like before, like actions figures still in their packages
Because, duh, they’re worth more!
These aren’t the droids, these aren’t the droids, these aren’t the droids I was looking for.
[Something about noise?] These aren’t the droids I was looking for.
We’re gonna own 2091 with reading and crossbows and way more fun!
It’s gonna rule!
Come join us, dudes, but if you don’t dig it well that’s still cool.
We’ll just grow our own custom dudes.
Hydroponic dudes. Hairy dudes with pubes. Dudes with boobs. Yeah, dudes with boobs!
Growin’ in tuuuuuuuuuuubes.
Case and Hogan present the argument that nerd culture is made by dudes for dudes, in a nut shell. And while some online commentators have critiqued the music video, saying that it seems to be ignoring what progress has been made, Case and Hogan are asking they’re viewers not to take pittances and minor allowances for widespread, industry or society-wide change in gender inequality.
Pittances. “These are the droids I was looking for.” Social change in geekery and nerdom will not come about because half-a-dozen female comic book creators were hired at DC, or because Marvel has half-a-dozen female-lead series. Compared to the hundreds of comics that come out every week, these are pittance.
And whether humorously for humor’s sake, or humorously to mask the sad fact that the industry diversifies greatly below the rate of an expanding market that demands, quite angrily, books about us (women, PoC, LGBTQ, etc.), the point made by Case and Hogan is a powerful one.
Yes, my daughter, who is two and a half, will grow up in a nerd culture that knows (at least right now) a very diverse cast of comic book, video game, and science fiction/fantasy characters. Some well written, others shells of faux feminism or icons of the “we need a black character because, well, they sell” persuasion.
But this doesn’t change the fact that the people making these decision, by and large, are men. The titans of nerd culture, the bastions of ungodly power who decide what games we’ll get to play and what comics we’ll get to read, are largely men.
And while The Mary Sue is as fantastic and as useful a source on feminist nerd culture that there is, I’m disheartened to see their response to this video. Especially because what Case and Hogan are arguing is that the centers of power and authority in nerd culture are not in the hands of women (or, to push it further, though they don’t say so, people of color, LGBTQ, individuals with varied ability, etc.). This is a fact that nerd feminism is acutely aware of, since the past decade, and especially the last five years, have witnessed an arduous uphill battle just to get the pittances currently available!
And yet: rape threats, online gaming harassment, rampant sexism and violence against women in comics, and a general inability to handle even iconic female characters, like Wonder Woman, well (read my discussion of the Finches here) persist. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be in a fury about a new screwed up thing that happened to backtrack the fight for equality in nerd culture ever few weeks!
“These Aren’t the Droids” shouldn’t be confusing. It shouldn’t be ambiguous or difficult to parse. It’s full of jokes about men birthing kittens and guns that shoot emotions because the people involved and the project that it belongs to is comedic in origin.
We comic book lovers don’t shy away from masks, and certainly we don’t shrink from the challenge of unmasking heroes or villains or industry “secrets,” so why is the Internet collectively failing to unmask the clear messages of this song and music video?
“These Aren’t the Droids” challenges and mocks and overturns, albeit in a funny and non-threatening way, patriarchy and misogyny-ridden nerd culture, and demands a nerd culture dominated by Kelly Sue DeConnicks, Ursula K. LeGuins, Anita Sarkeesians, Wonder Womans, and Gail Simoneses.
If even light-hearted, humorous attempt to point out the need for change can’t be interpreted as politically motivated and endowed with a will to make change, then how can we hope to enact change through and in comics?