July 18, 2014

Does Loving Captain America The Way He Is Make Me a Racist, Sexist Homophobe?

This past week, Marvel announced that iconic superheroes Thor and Captain America will be passing their hammer and shield to a woman and an African-American respectively. 

And then the shit hit the fan:

“They are ruining classic characters!” said Jev Miller 

“All these feminists need to chill out. THOR IS A MAN! Leave him as he is!!!!” cried Anitaaaxo.

“Remember when #marvel wasn’t run by a pack of political (sic) correct gelded men”, grumbled Juggernaught.

“Can’t wait for their transgendered superheroes, The Ex-Men,” barked Alan Cox. 

Racist, sexist rednecks all! Right? Mmmm, not so fast.

I’ll be the first to admit that Marvel’s decision and the reaction to it looks, at first blush, like a standoff between corporate political correctness and diversity-phobia. And no doubt, these forces are at play somewhere beneath (or even above) the surface. But it would be, in my opinion, a huge mistake to let this issue get mired down in yet another endless strawman debate that misses valuable points raised on both sides. 

The fact is popular entertainment has always made changes as society has moved forward. Maybe not as quickly as we’d like, but yes, always

For years, I’ve wallowed in the non-male, non-white diversity of action heroes in film, TV, comic books, and popular fiction: Ellen Ripley (Alien), Katniss Everdeen (The Hunger Games), Hanna (Hanna), Black Widow (Avengers), Hit-Girl (Kick Ass), Beatrix Kiddo (Kill Bill), Trinity (The Matrix), Princesses Leia and Amidala (Star Wars), Sarah Connor (The Terminator), Lisbeth Salander (Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), Jean Gray, Storm, Mystique, Emma Frost, and Kitty Pryde (X-Men), Leeloo (Fifth Element), Alice (Resident Evil), Gamora (Guardians of the Galaxy), Lara Croft, Buffy, Xena, Supergirl, Batgirl, She-Hulk, Wonder Woman. . . I could do this all day.  

I suspect that many who object to Marvel’s recent announcement - male and female - are also big fans of these ladies. Let's call that Exhibit A.

At the same time, I love War Machine/Iron Patriot/James Rhodes, Falcon, Vulcan, Black Panther, Blade, Shaft, Morpheus, Knighthawk, Amazing-Man, the Original Hulk, The Atom, Yellow Ranger, Batwing, Spider-Man/Miles Morales (African-American), Bane (Caribbean), Green Lantern (Mexican/Irish – 1994), Jubilee, Green Lantern/Kai-ro (Chinese), Nakamuro Hiro from Heroes (Japanese), Glenn from Walking Dead (Korean) – not to mention every thoroughly-idolized, non-white martial artist of the past half century (Bruce, Jet, Jackie, Michelle Yeoh, Chow Yun-fat, Zhang Ziyi, Tony Jaa, Hiroyuki Sanada, Iko Uwais, etc.) I could give a damn about where they come from or what colour they are, they’re my heroes. 

I suspect that many who object to Marvel’s recent announcement - white and non-white - are also big, colour-blind fans of these multi-ethnic saviours of humanity. We'll call them Exhibit B.

In other words, I’m not convinced that the current frustration is due simply to the fact that Captain America and Thor (or more specifically, those receiving the mantle) are about to be non-white and non-male. Nor do I think it’s reasonable to automatically assume that those objecting must be racists, sexists, or prophets of a tyrannical liberal agenda. That kind of lazy generalization does nothing to foster a positive exchange of ideas much less come to any meaningful conclusions, and perpetuates the divisive, black-and-white stereotyping we’re all trying to get past, right?

With that in mind, here is my non-racist, non-sexist, liberal-friendly reason for hating to see Captain America disappear or change (and yes, that includes when Isaiah Bradley took over in the comic books): Steve Rogers’ history as a slightly nerdy, white-bread American WWII vet, combined with his particular brand of conflicted patriotism, is at the heart of his character and, therefore, what makes him interesting. It’s not that Cap’s storyline or ability to be heroic depends on his being white or male. It's about who he is, where he comes from and ultimately, the relationship I've built with him. Throw his suit and super serum on someone else and we lose the iconic character we’ve grown to love.

The question then becomes, why bother? Marvel can have their cake and eat it too by simply introducing a new character. To jettison one for another, and to do so in the name of “diversity” when diversity doesn’t require such a change in the first place, is not only illogical, its hurtful to fans in a medium where fandom is everything.

Don’t get me wrong, I love change. I love hefty surprises, smashing the status quo, and throwing the field open as far as that mofo can go! But if I want to hold on to what is unique and meaningful about a story or a person I look up to, and I happen to be a white man, I’d like to believe that doesn't qualify me as a racist, sexist, or anything else that ends in "ist" or "phobe".


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