A Word About Diversity

 

A character, not a "statement"

By now, you’ve probably seen Gail Simone’s fierce, utterly awesome rebuttal to an aspiring comic book writer who said, essentially, that characters should not be forced on publishers for the sake of inclusion. Specifically, gay characters. This person’s argument is annoying for a number of reasons, but what struck me is how frequently I’ve heard versions of this from otherwise reasonable people. Say that you want to see more high-profile minorities in comics, and someone inevitably will respond, “Race/sexual orientation shouldn’t enter into it. I hate it when someone does that just to look progressive. A good character is a good character.” What they’re really saying is the default is white and straight (and often male), and anything outside of that default is possibly tainted by a 1) a quota system or 2) an attempt to appease a narrow, agitated fan base.

I’m sorry, but that is both insulting and outrageously presumptuous. When was the last time someone took issue with the creation of a straight, white, male hero? Fans might deride the character for being lame, but no one will say, “I think the publisher is trying to make some kind of statement here.” Exhibit A: Batwoman. When Greg Rucka rebooted Kate Kane as a modern heroine who happened to be gay, some cynical fans claimed her sexuality was a naked publicity stunt. You could practically hear the sneering. Look, I understand that reporters need a newsworthy hook for a story, and launching a high-profile, gay, female character IS quite a hook. But as Rucka later explained — and readers eventually saw for themselves — being gay is just one piece of who Kate is. Like being an alien is just one piece of who Clark Kent is. Like being obsessive is one piece of who Bruce Wayne is. If Batwoman’s stories had sucked or been strained and inauthentic, that would have nothing to do with her sexual orientation and everything to do with poor writing. Of course, that turned out not to be the case.

Gail came down hard on old boy, but I think she just snapped, and understandably so. Comics are far more inclusive than they used to be, and they keep getting better. But the fact that someone felt moved to complain about a fan’s desire for a marquee, gay, male superhero — in 2011! — floors me. People of color and gays happen to be, I dunno, part of society, not mere artistic fetishes. But what do I know? Perhaps I’m just an angry, unreasonable black geek with an agenda and a quota Excel spreadsheet.

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12 thoughts on “A Word About Diversity

  1. well said E. Considering all the characters we’ve seen in comics who are little more than gimmicks (for example your post about the Hoopster from last night) I think comic fans should be the last ones crying foul on this. Regardless of whether or not it really is a gimmick, and in this case as you said, it’s a part of the character, not what defines the character.

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  2. I think this is key: “If Batwoman’s stories had sucked or been strained and inauthentic, that would have nothing to do with her sexual orientation and everything to do with poor writing.”

    Even if something is a publicity stunt, it’s the execution that matters in the end. For instance, the reason that DC keeps making Batman stories is publicity; he’s more likely to attract an audience than a new vigilante superhero. But it’s given us plenty of amazing stories that rise above it. On the other hand, there are a lot of really, really bad projects that were done out of passion without a thought to publicity.

    Also, I want more diverse superheroes.

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  3. I love that my undergrad gender theory is drenching this article. I think our Western Judeo-Christian culture is comfortable with what it knows and once we deviate, we criticize until the balance is restored. The trouble is that with the addition of stories containing minority characters, we stand to reorganize the balance. It’s the acceptance of disabled, homosexual, black, asian, latin, female, etc characters as plausible heroes that seems to take the longest – as if the stereotype is as far as our collective psyche can allow.

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  4. Hi, everyone. I really appreciate your positive feedback, and though not all of our readers agree, I’m just happy that the conversation is continuing. I love the points all of you made about the importance of story execution above all, and how people are uncomfortable when the familiar begins evolving. Considering the progress that’s been made since I was a kid, I’m hopeful that future generations of comic book readers will look back on this as a quaint topic from yesteryear!

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    • So Batman is causing hate and discontent on multiple fronts. I read an article on another blog about the outcry over one of the Batman Inc. characters who happens to be middle-eastern and Muslim. For every horrible comment posted, there was a positive one as well. That’s a better average than what you’d find in the general populace, so I guess I can be proud of my geek bretheren. Now to find something to put in his utility belt to allow him to get through airport security without a strip search every time.

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        • It would just be nice if the people who were less cool with it would choose to bite their tongues from time to time. Every piece of artwork I’ve seen from that title is gorgeous btw. For all the free advertising the book is getting from you two, you think they’d throw a bit of swag your way.

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  5. “But I’m not homophobic! Some of my favorite superheroes are gay.”

    ~The new paranoid knee jerk response heard in comic book social circles.

    Great blog E. Most of the people who feel they “need to say something” about gay characters in comics or any other media 80% of the time seem to put their foot in their mouth. But we need them to do that so people with a better understanding can “educate” the rest of the populace with their responses.

    Sure it’s kind of like putting up a stop sign AFTER 5 accidents occur at that intersection, but that seems to be how the world works.

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  6. Thanks ever so E. for writing this article for it needs to be told. I am for inclusion because we as a society are made up of many different peoples. Good for Gail Simone for blasting that guy and stellar of Greg Rucka for creating a wonderfully revamped many faceted character. :)
    I myself am beyond tired of the lame protest arguments of “oh they are just being politically correct”.
    When I hear that jank I just want to open a can of whoop-ass! :(
    Being “Politically Correct” which has been turned into a term of derision and disdain, is simply being aware of others needs, feelings and existence besides your own. Another way of looking at is not to be so self-involved and selfish.

    Huzzah for inclusion and may it continue! :)

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  7. “People of color and gays happen to be, I dunno, part of society, not mere artistic fetishes”

    UNLESS! You are Dan Shive of El Goonish Shive, or Josh Lesnick of the comic known as Girly. Dan-o sure seems to have a bit of a thing for lesbians in his work, and Josh just flat-out made a lot of his earlier work all about his girl/girl lovin’. Not that girl/girl lovin’ is wrong, but when it seems to be the whole point of your story, you don’t have a story. You have personal wank material that you’re tricking others into reading.

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  8. I agree for the most part, but there is a difference between characters who happen to be diverse (Batwoman, The newest Blue Beetle Jaime Reyes, John Stewart) and those who are only diverse for the sake of diversity. As much as I hate to say it, Oracle strikes me as one of those characters (Don’t get me wrong, I love Barbara, there’s so much advanced and alien technology in the DCU, they can’t find ANYTHING that can cure her paralysis? Looks like that’s changing in September, though, so there’s that). The problem comes when people blur the line between the two and label any character who is different as “A political statement on the part of the writers.”

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  9. While I agree completely with the sentiments of this article, I also think that very often these kinds of situations get way over blown. The internet draws the trolls, people who feed on anonymity. They will always have that sneering post where they say something completely jackholeish…at some point you just have to write these people off as either uninformed, or just there to get a reaction. Sure the rant may help if it is the former, but the latter you are just feeding into their problem.

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