Friday, April 3, 2015

Iconography II

There was an article on Salon about the backlash to the recent increased diversity of characters in comics.  The article was brought to my attention by David F. Walker of  I thought about just re-releasing My Boys Can Be Idiots article.  That article talks about the misogyny in and directed at Comic Book fandom.  It did not talk about racism or behavior against any other minority (racial, religious, cultural, or ethnic).  I thought about releasing my Iconography article about the changing of race, ethnicity, gender or sexual identity of Iconic characters. I realized I needed readdress this subject.  The Iconography article talked about changes these attributes.  This article is about how that diversity is viewed and can help positively.

 Much of the backlash had been direct towards a slew of new characters or character taking on new mantles.  The examples are the new Female Thor, the Muslim Ms. Marvel, and Sam Wilson AKA the Falcon becoming Captain America. All three of the original characters still exist and could reclaim their mantles at anytime.  Mind you, I doubt Carol Danvers will return to being Ms. Marvel after becoming Captain Marvel.  All of these changes are not to the original characters; they are new or existing characters taking on the mantles. People forget War Machine began as a replacement for Tony Stark as Iron Man when Tony’s alcoholism was at its worst. A female Thor is not even unusual to Norse mythology, he has posed as female or been turned to female in some of the myths.

Diversity is a big deal to me.  I grew up in a predominantly Mexican-American neighborhood in a city with a large Japanese-American community.  My family includes people of Filipino, Mexican, Jewish, and Native American descent. Some of those heritages I share and some I do not.  Since I was differently abled with a facial deformity, I felt even more different growing up.  To me there were very few people like me, so my heroes would not be like me.  I grew up with heroes like Zorro, Sinbad, Bruce Lee, Mohammad Ali, and Cesar Chavez.  None of them looked like me.   I did not care I thought they were cool and people I could look up to.  When I was younger I created my own superhero universes I always made them diverse, it was not a stunt for me.  It was about reflecting the world as I had known it.

The meat of the matter is that many responsible for the Video Game misogynistic brouhaha are now setting their sights on Comic Book and the Big Two’s recent pushes for diversity.  In the community itself there has been debate about whether or not these characters or mantle changes are just a marketing ploy. In the past when changes like these have happened more often than not the original version of the character is restored sooner or later.  The new more volatile voices in the debate are saying, “How dare you change our predominantly white straight male comic book paradigm”.  They claim that the two companies are bending their will to some leftist liberal and feminist agenda. This is similar to their outcry in the Video Gaming arena.

These changes do not take away the already existing plethora of White Male Straight comic book characters that already exist as cultural icons.  It is strange that the controversy happens when a character crosses gender, racial, ethnic, religious, or sexual identity lines.  No one got upset about Frog Thor, Spider-Ham or Beta Ray Bill (an Alien Thor).  It also seems suspect that the recent spout of attacks on this occurs when the Video Game misogyny controversy began to quiet to a point.  These people are reactionary to the change of the status quo.  They dislike things changing to better everyone.  In a way, more diversity means those offended are not a special as they thought.  They want everything to be about them and reflecting their myopic view of the world and their hobbies.

From a marketing standpoint, the more people interested in comics the more money you make.  With that dynamic the Big Two are going to want to cater to as many possible markets.  There has been a debate in the fandom and industry of comics about this.  The need for more diverse characters and diverse creators is there. It seems to be getting better, but there is definitely room for improvement.  Those critical of diversity would be critical of any change to the status quo as they see it.  The sad thing is traditionally the more diverse characters do not always sell well.  In the past sales for Blue Beetle and Static Shock led to their cancellations. That seems to be changing too with the popularity of the new Captain Marvel and Ms. Marvel.  Vote with your wallet.  

The reason to have such diversity is to give people of differing backgrounds representation in our popular culture.  It has been proven to help inspire youth of those backgrounds.  Studies have shown that representation in popular culture helps build self esteem in children.  It gives them hope that they too can participate in our larger society and world.  Racism tends to come from fear of the unknown.  A more diverse representation in popular culture shows everyone we are all people and all members of the human race.  There are differences, but there are even more we have in common with each other.  Is this going to solve this?  No, these issues are too complex to be solved by a more diverse popular culture alone.  It will help in the long run.  This Has Been My Not So Humble Opinion. 

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