Thor’s a lady. Captain America is a black dude. Ms. Marvel is Muslim. Spider-Man is a Hispanic kid. Groot is a tree. Adam Christopher and I, along with artist Wilfredo Torres, have reimagined the original patriotic superhero — The Shield, once of Red Circle comics, now of the Dark Circle reboot — not as Joe Higgins, but, rather, as a full-figured ass-kicking woman.
It’s exciting stuff. I’m like, It’s not enough! It’s addictive. Let’s see Idris Elba as James Bond. Or Emily Blunt as Jane Bond. Hey, Japanese Batman. Or flip the Luke and Leia roles in Star Wars. Transgendered Pakistani Doctor Who! More, more, more!
*flips the table*
*then gender-flips the table*
*now the table is a chair and also a Chinese lesbian*
Actually, a while back I suggested flipping the gender of the Doctor, and dang, you’d think I was dropping a hot deuce on a Gutenberg Bible. Some people get mad when you say stuff like that. Like, religious war mad. Like, you just insulted my mother mad.
And I’m seeing that again. Not about our variant of The Shield — but about beloved characters like Thor. Like, ahhh what the fuck if Thor is a woman then anything can happen what if my Mom becomes my Dad and my dog becomes a plant and then I fuck the plant and then we have dog-plant babies holy snack-nuts this is worse than global warming.
People rail against this. They find excuses why it shouldn’t happen — “But Thor is mythology,” they say, as if mythology is history and as if comic book fiction is meant to be an accurate, factual depiction of historimythic events. (Sidenote: I now quite like the word “historimythic.”)
Thing is, I kinda get it.
Fifteen years ago (cough cough, maybe even ten), I probably would’ve been in the same camp. In my 20s, geek shit was more important to me. You bind yourself up with these things — Star Wars isn’t just a movie you like, it’s an emblem for things you believe, a sign of who you are, acting as both aegis and mantle. Someone fucking with that feels like someone fucking with your DNA. (Doubly ironic then when it’s troublemaker George Lucas mucking about with the work of legend George Lucas.) You say, “But I am That Thing, so if you change That Thing, then who the fuck am I?” Geeks don’t like change. That includes anybody who geeks out about anything. Washington Redskins? GASP HOW DARE YOU. Changing the name wouldn’t change the team. It would simply be a name that stops pissing in the eyes of Native Americans. But changing it is like saying, “If you change of the name of the team I love, what does that say about me?”
It says nothing about you, of course, but we’re weird creatures, we humans. Hard-wired, it seems, to associate with the things we love in a way that goes beyond mere appreciation. We aren’t distant. We mesh. We merge. We braid ourselves up with the things we adore.
And so, we rail against it.
Let’s hack away at some of the issues surrounding the gender-flip.
But This Thing I Love Is Different Now
It is. And I know that’s hard. I don’t say that glibly — I mean, yeah, no, I get it, change is hard. Even in something simple as the comic books we read. But, here’s a vital reminder:
The whole reason you have the affection you had is because the original version existed in the first place. Which means it still exists. Nobody is taking away your old Thor comics and drawing boobs and a vagina on him. You still have those things. The version you loved hasn’t gone away. Now it’s time, as all children must learn, to share. Let somebody else drive the Big Wheel around for a little while, okay? Someone who maybe doesn’t look like you or sound like you.
It Breaks The Rules Of The Story
Again, Thor can’t be a lady because Thor is a dude in the mythology. The Doctor can’t be a woman because [insert some cryptic rules-lawyering from some episode 20 years ago].
These are made-up stories, though.
This isn’t science we’re trying to defy. We’re not spitting in the Eyes of the Gods. I can literally, right now, go write a story where Harry Potter is a pansexual goat-being. It’d be absurd and I’m sure somewhere J.K. Rowling would quietly harrumph in her tea, but I’m just saying: this stuff ain’t gospel. Stories are meant to be flexible, malleable — even religion and mythology allows the teller to adjust the tale to the listener. That’s a feature, not a bug.
This Is Tokenism
You misunderstand tokenism. Tokenism is, and here I’ll quote The Internet:
the practice of making only a perfunctory or symbolic effort to do a particular thing, especially by recruiting a small number of people from underrepresented groups in order to give the appearance of sexual or racial equality within a workforce.
So, to be tokenistic, Marvel might say, “Thor isn’t going to be a woman, but look, there’s a woman in the next issue. She’s a toll booth attendant and she’s a Strong Female Character because dang, look at those biceps. She handles loose change like a champion. She’s her own boss. #feminism.” Instead of making Captain America black, they’d say, “We’re racially diverse because his dry cleaner is Asian, and his real estate agent is a homosexual African-American, and look! Page four! Someone with mocha-colored skin walking a dog.”
Tokenism is doing the bare minimum to look like you’re meeting the maximum.
It’s Just A Publicity Stunt
I do not know the heart of anybody who decides to invoke greater pop culture diversity, but what I do know is that media companies are pretty much always engaging in publicity stunts because that’s how they get attention. If something like this is at the heart of a publicity stunt — hey, whatever. You only do publicity stunts when you think they’ll work, and if they think engaging in greater diversity would net them valuable media attention, that’s suggestive of a better world than I think I lived in ten years ago. The publicity stunt used to be that HOLY CRAP THEY’RE KILLING SUPERMAN. Now it’s HOLY CRAP THEY’RE SPACKLING OUR COMIC BOOK PAGES WITH DIVERSITY IN AN EFFORT TO READ MORE READERS.
Perhaps I’m just not cynical enough, but recognizing that this kind of news will grab attention and hook new readers — readers representative of the diverse world in which we live — uhh, okay, yeah, sign me right the fuck up.
It’s Just Politically-Correct Snarghlewarble
“Politically correct” is a phrase so often (mis)used, it’s entirely worthless. My opinion is that if you’re trying to score points with a political party or with folks to get votes, then that, my friends, is politically correct. If you’re trying to make an earnest change to whatever (media, policy, education, workforce) and that change happens to be about sexism or racism or some other perceived imbalance, that’s not political correctness. What you’re calling “politically correct” is really just someone trying to make the world a better place according to their ideals. “Don’t say that hurtful word” isn’t an expression of political correctness. It’s an effort to be Ask You To Be Less Shitty. “Let’s see more diversity on the pages of this comic book” isn’t somebody trying to score political points. It’s trying to address what the person or company sees as a problem.
Why Can’t They Make New Heroes Instead, Jeez
The logic here is, “Why do they have to make Captain America black? They should make new heroes, instead, that are black.” I get the point — and at the core, the creation of new and diverse characters has value. But you also have to realize that new characters regardless of gender / sexual preference / skin color / nationality / etc. have a hard time reaching new readers right out of the gate. They run the risk of being marginalized heroes. One of the great things about taking iconic pre-existing characters and flipping them around is that it says, hey, these top-shelf characters aren’t just restricted to one segment of the population (i.e. the Straight White Dude contingent).
Also, this excuse runs the risk of sounding like, “Yeah, sure, you can have your super-ladies and whatever, just keep them over there. Go play in your own sandbox. This one is ours.”
No, What We Really Need Are More Diverse Creators
Can’t fault that argument. Entirely true. Thumbs-up. High-five. Put it to a vote — you got mine.
That being said: as a fellow creator, I can only do so much here. I can support and signal boost.
Further, this isn’t a one-or-the-other dichotomy.
But yes, you’re entirely correct: more diverse writers, directors, artists, even executives.
But These Characters Don’t Look Like Me
Nope, they don’t. And they may have experiences not indicative of yours. So what? What do you think everyone who isn’t like you has been experiencing all this time? That same feeling. And yet they still read Batman or watch the same television shows.
Confession time: I’m a jerky white dude. I’m clumsy in my assumptions and preconceived notions and — hey, I acknowledge my privilege. The privilege of privilege is being blinded by it and blind to it. You can walk around all day, whistling like a happy asshole, completely unaware of all the toxic douchebaggery splashing all around. We step on flowers we don’t even notice.
Sometimes, though, you have your eyes opened to it, and it’s a real holy-shit-we’re-in-some-kind-of-sexist-racist-Matrix moment. Rape culture doesn’t seem like a thing until someone starts pointing it out and then it’s a really awful Magic Eye painting, except instead of seeing a dolphin you’re seeing how we ask rape victims what they did to deserve getting raped. Once someone tells you, “That Terrible Thing is really an actual thing,” it’s ants, it’s dust, it’s fingerprints-on-glass. Didn’t notice it before, but now you realize it’s freaking everywhere.
And one of those “it’s freaking everywhere” moments is when you realize, oh, yeah, okay, our pop culture has been speaking very directly to heteronormative middle-class white-guy culture for a long time. Comics, television, novels, whatever. It’s time to share the storytelling. Time to pass the Talking Stick. Besides, maybe if we saw more diversity on the page, we might be willing to acknowledge the diversity outside our doors. I often say that the most valuable multitasking we can teach our kids and express in ourselves is to dual-wield Empathy and Logic, and if this helps in that, so be it. If this makes people more open? More aware? How is that possibly a bad thing?