The other week I lost my temper and said some stuff about Marvel’s announcements of Captain America and Thor, who are replacing White Captain America and Dude Thor. I’ve been thinking about it a lot, mulling it over, because it’s been pretty inescapable.
I like Marvel’s characters. I think that much is obvious. I like the creators, too. I might quibble with some story details, but big whoop. That’s the smallest thing ever, “I don’t like this specific aspect of a comic that isn’t being written for me.” No me importa, basically. But it’s the marketing that’s killing me, and I think I figured out why.
Marvel’s making moves to increase the character diversity in their books, and drawing ire from the usual gang of idiots. Which I’m all for, even though I’m way more for creator diversity, and believe is a good thing. But the thing that’s grating is that instead of putting the work out on its own merits and marketing it about how great it is, a lot of the conversation around it has been about the basics that hate it.
I’ve been seeing Marvel folks, mostly white dudes but not entirely, retweet or address or bring up racists and scumbags and sexists while pushing their books, positioning themselves as taking a stand against these people talking trash.
They’re hijacking hate to a certain extent, in the Situationist sense, and are using it to market their comics. The new black Captain America, the new lady Thor, both of these announcements were followed, within minutes, by people talking about the people who are hating on the project. “Big ups to all my haters!” is such a soft position, because it positions you as good because these other people are worse.
On top of that, it also colors the reaction to the announcement. If you disagree with whatever for genuine reasons, but you phrase it as “I don’t like that the Falcon is Captain America,” the reaction to that is now tilted heavily toward “Oh, what’re you, racist?” instead of it being something more reasonable. By putting those people front and center, by tweeting about them and giving interviews about how you won’t change the project no matter the response because you believe in your stuff, you’re…it’s not ham-stringing criticism, but it’s definitely preempting it, in a way.
And I think that’s the gross part. I spend a lot of time consciously pushing back against the messages society tells me about being black. The unworthiness, the laziness, the dumbness…all of it’s fake. But I have to stay on the ball, I have to keep Black Is Beautiful in the front of my mind, because black IS beautiful, and it always has been, and it always will be.
But I remember being in kindergarten and getting called nigger on the playground. I remember fachas screwing with me and my friends in Spain. I remember getting followed around stores, people looking at me like I don’t belong, and getting ignored when trying to do my job because there’s a white dude next to me who people assume is the boss of me. This weekend I got confused for a few other black dudes in comics who I don’t even resemble, and it stings every time.
And I think it’s messed up to see somebody who doesn’t know that pain harness it to sell some comics. That’s what’s been grossing me out, that’s what I haven’t been able to properly articulate. It’s the corporate version of dudes crowing about how feminist they are, like being a decent human being means they deserve groupies. “One episode of The Wire, what you know about dope?” right? And I feel like Marvel gets it on a certain level, and they certainly employ people who get it, but they don’t get it yet.
Somebody calling you a nigger ain’t a badge of honor. You don’t show off your gunshot wounds. You don’t crow about how people hate you in the name of making yourself look good. You let the dead bury the dead and leave the garbage men in the rear view or in the ground. They should not matter to you or me not nary an inch.
That’s why it feels like diversity-as-marketing to me. The creative teams are killer, and I like that Marvel is putting the full weight of their machine behind these books. I respect the people creating the comics. But I can’t take seeing people be proud of getting hated on in a way that doesn’t hurt them but forces me to think about how crap and dangerous it is to be black (or anything else) and alive in America in 2014.