Thursday, February 24, 2011

Rethinking White, Straight, Cis Gender, Comic Book Superheroes


My brother and I are extremely different and just about every time we chat, we find something that we disagree on.  Last night our conversation turned to comic superheroes.  I will say right upfront, that I am not a fan of comic books.  Captain America: The First Avenger is due out in July 2011.    Not being a comic book fan, I am not overly excited, but I can say that I am irritated.  We have seen a spate of comic book movies recently, and now Wonder Woman is set to return to the small screen.  Wonder Woman was played on the original show by Lynda Carter , who is a Latina; however, the new show does not star a Latina. In her interview with Latina Magazine, Carter expressed her desire that the Wonder Woman be played by a Latina woman. Interestingly enough, the original Wonder Woman was Greek. The very fact that she was played by a Latina in the 80's, indicates that the comic has already been changed, and was found acceptable. What if instead of being Greek, Wonder Woman was a dark skinned Latina, or even Blatina?  What would it mean for these women who are constantly constructed as irresponsible breeders without agency or power to seem themselves portrayed in a positive, affirmative way?

As I think about the new Wonder Woman show, Captain America and even Iron Man, I cannot help but believe it is time that these comics get updated to reflect society.  The majority of the comic books that have a long mythos, have been drawn and written by White, cisgender, heterosexual, able bodied men, and this is highly reflected in their subject matter.  Comic book purists would claim that it would destroy the story to consider a different kind of characterization, and to that I answer, that these stories should have been inclusive to begin with. The glorification of Whiteness and in most cases White masculinity, as well as heterosexism, cis gender and able bodies, has lead to extreme difficulty for marginalized bodies.  Knowing this, I fail to see the importance of holding onto the archetype as primary and necessary.

In the Archie series, Archie's mother has envisioned what it would have been like, had Archie been a girl rather than a boy.  Monica of TransGriot, has suggested that this is an homage to trans bodies and their experiences.  Based in this, it causes me to ask the question, what if Captain America were Latino and gay?  I know that he is a product of WWI,I and that he supposedly battled a villian trained by Hitler, but I see no reason why this could not be changed.  Imagine that Captain America attempted to join the military after 9/11 and then spent his time fighting to ensure the American policy of policing the world.  Imagine that he spent part of his time fighting to ensure the end of DADT.  What would it mean to update this character, so that it is reflective of the world we live in today, and places a marginalized body in a position of power, instead of trusty sidekick?  What if Captain America spent part of his time arguing to legalize same-sex marriage?  Being a gay man this would be a primary concern and based on the fact that he is representative of America, it would further normalize the rights of LGBT citizens.

How much more palatable, would Tony Stark of Iron Man be, if he were for instance gay or trans?  Think of the instant reduction of the sexism he engages in along with an end of the overt  sexualization of female bodies.  He certainly could still sleep around, but imagine seeing a sex scene with two gay men without the 9ft of space between them, and the head butting that passes as making out?  Think of the possible challenges if he were trans man and the way his views on gender might shift. How would this benefit these communities?  Do White, Cisgender men of class privilege really need the support that the character of Tony Spark offers them, more than LGBT people who have been soundly erased?

Many of the times that I have made this sort of argument, it has been suggested in return, that marginalized bodies should make their own comics.  If the world were equal, this would be a valid suggestion, but we know that it isn't.  Disabled people still have to explain their bodies, Trans and gay people are erased and ridiculed, and Blacks get to be the handy sidekick or the wise negro, that exists to save the White guy from himself.  Marginalized bodies simply do not as a class possess the class privilege, or the power to create, in the same manner as dominant bodies, and until such time, we need to demand equal representation in the mainstream in all available manifestations.  It is the privilege of comic creators in the first place that created this void, and so I see no reason why a historical erasures should not be changed to make these stories more inclusive and reflective of the world that we live in.  Each step that we move towards visual representation in the media, normalizes historically marginalized bodies. To treat these comic books like they are the holy grail and above change, means that many in society can still can only conceive of power being manifested by White, cisgender, straight largely male bodies.  We are not post anything and our choice of media proves this.