“Diversity Marketing”

July 28th, 2014 by |

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.

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3 comments to ““Diversity Marketing””

  1. As always, you remain one of the sharpest writers on race that I’ve come across on the internet. Maybe I haven’t waded out far enough into the internet to say that with authority, but the compliment is still yours if you would have it.

    As you pointed out, I too was amazed at the alacrity of comments from Marvel and others calling haters racists, sexist, what have you. I was surprised to see that because of the glaring absence of the so-called racist and sexist comments. I would say it went beyond preemptive; I think it was part of the whole PR schtick from the beginning. I wouldn’t be surprised if the next step of the marketing scheme was to shame people into buying these books. (“Not buying our books is like giving money to racists and sexists.”)

    The “diversity-as-marketing” thing you touch on reminds me of the Nike ads featuring Tiger Woods a few years ago. “There are some golf course wheres I can’t play in America.” (Nike Swoosh!) I think that’s dirty marketing, plain and simple. It’s not only disingenuous, the implication is that if you don’t buy Nike and contribute to Tiger’s sponsorship, you’re somehow supporting golf clubs run by the KKK. “We at Nike feel Tiger’s pain. Help assuage our pain with your purchases.”

    Thank you for saying someone can have legitimate reasons for not liking Sam Wilson as Cap and female Thor and not be a terrible human. I like Sam Wilson as The Falcon. Put him in a series and promote the hell out of it like’s it’s the best thing in the world. I like Ultimate Nick Fury even though he is usually poorly written. I hate the new Faux Fury and not because he’s black but because he lacks the gravitas of his predecessor. (Apparently all the Marvel heroes hate him, too. They didn’t call him in to investigate the Watcher’s death, did they?)

    Anyway, it’s late and I’ve said nothing of import. I haven’t added anything to your writing here, but I did want to let you know it was a good read.

  2. I’m the white dude who isn’t the boss of the black dude next to me in the OP and man do I friggen hate it. We both do the same job, he’s just as competent as I am at most of the stuff we do and better than me in some aspects of the job, don’t act as if I’m his boss or like you don’t know who our boss actually is.

    As far as the Thor/Cap changes: The only reason I think they stink is that I know they won’t stick. By the time the next movies come out, both of them will be back to normal.

  3. I guess we should be glad they didn’t give The Falcon robot parts or something . . .