The weird thing is that Milestone kind of perpetuated that by creating a whole city that was almost exclusively black superheroes. And even Black Panther’s Wakanda, but I don’t really want to get into that again…
The great thing about black superheroes who come out of team books, they kind of get to escape that. The short-lived New 52 Mister Terrific, for example, or the Cyborg books DC has been doing in recent years. I hear a lot of people complaining about Cyborg being a Justice Leaguer these days, but I think it’s awesome, and it’s been handled really well.
Well cause as far as I’m aware Cyborg’s always been deeply associated with the Teen Titans/Titans, as in he’s “the heart” of the team… And so is J’onn for the JL, so they kinda screwed two teams at once by replacing MM with Cyborg… I don’t think it’s got anything to do with diversity or race in this case… (the complains, that is, the switch obviously was a diversity thing).
My main complaint with Cyborg/JL is that hasn’t been used very well. And the only times he has been used well has been when he’s away from the team.
The whole opening arc of Johns’ Justice League was a Cyborg story, which is probably why Snyder’s movie was originally structured that way.
Cyborg was the Macguffin, but it wasn’t his story.
Snyder’s Cyborg scenes were much, much, better.
What if Cyborg wasn’t black? Would it have made a difference?
I remember reading Geoff Johns JLA new 52 reboot and when Cyborg turns out to the be a College Football Star who is mad that his super-scientist dad is too busy changing the goddam world to come to his football games, I was wondering… is he a football star because he’s black?
Seriously, he could’ve been a theater major who was angry because his dad didn’t go see his school’s version of Othello with a white woman as Othello and his son playing Desdemona in a cross gender, color blind production of the Earl of Oxford’s classic play.
Honestly, I think “diversity” in entertainment and especially comics is a distraction tantamount to putting the cart before the horse in many cases.
Lately, for various reasons, I’ve been reading a lot about the Tournament sports in the Middle Ages in comparison to the Gladiatorial entertainments of the Roman Eras and how they influence modern sports, entertainment and the ultimate pure intersection of both… pro wrestling.
Pro wrestling is very white despite the - debatably - most popular wrestler being samoan which is not white BUT also not African American or Latino - the most usual seriously discriminated minority races in the USA.
However, pro wrestling does - or did - have a lot of black fans and the wrestler they looked up to the most was… Ric “Nature Boy” Flair.
The “character” of Ric Flair spoke to the hearts of many black fans and, of course, ALL fans of professional wrestling. Hell, it’s not hard to see how he spoke to just about any person of the 80’s, the guy’s great. But his race wasn’t making a racial statement. His statement was appealing to a racial element - not as the sole intent but something the audience dug out of the performance.
Now, to go into the boring (to others) history of popular entertainment - while literature, drama and philosophical treatises (or is it “treatisi”>?) have always composed the narratives of high art, the combative, sporting tales have been the bread and circuses - I mean, butter - of popular entertainment. In the European cultures, the Olympics and similar contests, Arena sports (Gladiatorial, Matadorial, Chariotorial) and Tournaments and Dionysian Bacchanalia are the foundation of the today’s mass entertainment.
Superhero comics/films, action movies and thrillers, in general pretty much any melodramatic story where a “good guy” must defeat a “bad guy” follow the basic narrative of the Gladiator or the Tournament.
Now, at heart, most people will immediately understand the basic concept - or specifically “cultural expression” - of the gladiator because it’s been used as a dramatic source for many films from Spartacus to the latest Rocky sequel “Creed”. The idea being that the downtrodden “slave” transcends his bondage (or her bondage) through some unexpected success in the arena (I, Tonya also plays with this in very clever and fun ways).
However, the Tournament approach is really much more pertinent to the way we modern audiences approach sports, action movies and popular entertainment. However, it is something whose history has been lost to even the most fanatic of history buffs.
In the so-called “Middle Ages” (honestly, we really only just left that era in the early 20th century, in my humble opinion), knights had a problem. To go into excruciating detail intended entirely for you to reach the esteemed status of TLDR, I’d first like to extemporize upon what exactly a “knight” was.
Essentially… a knight was the Medieval Iron Man. Now, I’m not directly referring to the armor the knights wore, though that became important, but to the status of what the knight was. He (almost exclusively male, though the pre 1000 AD periods boasted of quite capable women warriors) was the pinnacle of military prowess and technology. Rather than the armor, though, it was the ability to use a horse in combat that distinguished the knight from a common peasant soldier or infantry (implying child soldiers from the very name).
It’s actually kinda crazy that the horse could even be used in combat when you think about it. A horse evolved entirely because it could run away from any predator. That’s why it’s so goddam fast, after all. Nevertheless, from ancient chariots to medieval knights, military advantages were built upon somehow overcoming these naturally skittish and admirably cowardly animals’ instincts for self-preservation and turning them into killing machines. As most of you could guess, chival (or cheval) is the old French/Latin for horse and that is why the skills of knighthood are called chivalry and many French gentlemen were know as chevaliers. The horse was the essential element of martial prominence in the Middle Ages.
So, a knight was a violent person who could fight on a horse. Armed with a spear (lance) sword or some other accessory of death (flail, mace, hammer, axe… or sharpened shovel), an armored horseman was pretty much unstoppable on the battlefield compared to the vast majority of indentured idiots forced to fight with modified farming implements for absent feudal lords with a grudge.
The term “knight” itself derives from the same root word for “connected” meaning that the knight was attached to some nobleman and you can see the same sort of concept implied by the “connected” men of the mid 20th century criminal organizations like the Mafia.
Now, let’s get to Tournaments for those of you who’ve persevered thus far.
So, like with all periods where the technology of warfare advances so far that it discourages actually going to war (the “Cold War” for example where nuclear weapons actually scared the shit out of people who would naturally open an enemy’s artery at the drop of a hat – really, it should be called the “Coward’s War”), we had all these hormonally aggressive bastards with serious weaponry but very little in the availability of actual politically murderous opportunities to use those weapons, martial skills or hormones.
Nevertheless, there was incentive to keep one’s murder aptitude at a high pitch - honestly, as an aside to an aside, “dirty little wars” were as much a profitable business then as they are now for the mercenary “warriors” who emerged in the 13th and 14th centuries - was certainly an imperative concern for the knights who’ve managed to reach that position.
If you want to find a “real” Tony Stark, I’m afraid you’d have to leave behind Steve Jobs and Elon Musk and look back to 1066 AD and William the Bastard, Duke of Normandy, the First Norman King of England. Like the Roman conquests, William essentially defeated the English by essentially having better military technology. His knights were very much the first of their kind.
But soon, when the opportunities to hone one’s skills in actual battle diminished, it became necessary to do so in simulated combat. Therefore, the first “tourneys” were held which were just that. Not actual battles, but simulated battles where knights would fight each other with their supporting forces.
Of course, as you can imagine, this was initially far more brutal than an average football match. A lot of people friggin’ died in this “simulated” battle, and often the matches encompassed entire towns where the populace - people and goods - were fair game.
“Of course I raped you and stole all your food. That’s what I’d do in a real war, after all. This is ‘method knighting.’”
Eventually, these matches - primarily through the efforts of the church (there was only one before that a-hole Martin Luther) - became much more regulated and codified to limit collateral damage and settled into the melee (simulated battles) and jousting forms as so diligently demonstrated in movies such as A KNIGHT’S TALE and venues as the Medieval Times Dinner Theatre.
Now as entirely uninteresting as all that may be, what the hell does it have to do with diversity in comics - or any popular entertainment in general?
My point here is that the audiences today approach popular entertainment from a tournament point of view, but the vast majority of practitioners of entertainment are actually gladiatorial by economic necessity. Essentially, if you impose a political identity to popular entertainment, from a tournament point of view, the non-European “colored” perspective is absent and therefore “losing” the tournament. The tournament - like modern sports - was so popular because its participants represented their particular groups to whom they were “connected.” The people looked to the “knight” as their “champion” (all chivalric terms).
However, holistically and culturally that is neither good nor bad. At heart, it is encouraging that movies like Get Out and Black Panther have terrific success. In contrast, though, honestly, movies like Moonlight and Ladybird which are more in the “high art” spectrum of cinema, to me, are much more encouraging and effective. Despite not being “popular”, they express much stronger impact in the deep thought of our cultural evolution.
My point, though, is that it is not really desirable to encourage people to seek to excel in arts and entertainment simply for the purpose of greater recognition for some particular identity group. Being an entertainer is and has been a disheartening position for the vast majority of people in the field. It’s no surprise that Jewish (as well as, lately, homosexual) men and women have excelled as entertainers primarily because they were allowed hardly any other opportunity. Or that black and latino athletes were so successful.
This is, I think, because popular entertainment is seen as the provenance of slaves and outcasts - like Gladiators who were the lowest class imaginable. That may be harsh, but for every “Cosby,” there are hundreds of black comedians whose name we will never know. And honestly, Cosby’s name is not too popular today, is it? Maybe it would be more appropriate to ask why Tom Hanks has starred in so many Academy Award nominated roles rather than Eddie Murphy.
Diversity in entertainment may seem like it is very important to cultural change, but, honestly, I think it’s the other way around. I don’t want the active application of diversity in entertainment - except where obvious like Black Panther or Jessica Jones - forcing identity into entertainment. Rather, I want diversity in real life - in positions of power - to the point where diversity in popular entertainment is not even noticed because it is the natural expression of the culture that is rather than some artificial idea of how it should be.
For me, it’s not an either/or proposition. Of course there should be more diversity in real life and in positions of power. And in “important” films and media. AND in pop culture. No joke, one of the films that had the biggest impact on me growing up was The Last Dragon, a fairly ridiculous blaxploitation/kung fu/musical because it was one of the first (and few) times I saw a hero who looked like I did, and who seemed to have just as much trouble fitting in as I did. Someone who grew up white (and especially white, male, and heterosexual) can’t ever fully understand that because it’s something they’ve never had to experience. There’s virtually nowhere in “real life” or media where that identity isn’t just the norm, it’s ubiquitous, and so it’s easy from that position to make the argument that representation isn’t a big deal, or point to people of color, women, or gays and lesbians being fans of white entertainment. I could absolutely identify with Peter Parker when I was a kid. But it was a different level and quality of identification than I had with “Bruce” Leroy.
My point is that Blaxploitation or any version of it only has appeal because it is a contrast to the mainstream.
Trying to force that in the mainstream is a false promise. You’ll … WE will hurt more people supporting that than keeping it in the subversive films where it has prospered.
I don’t think Black Panther, for example, was a failure. Far from it. But I think to believe it is a model for films that express the serious experience of those minorities or to expect all people cannot identify with mainstream heroes is not possible is mistaken.
You’re not getting what I said at all.
My point is that the “identification” you experienced would never occur if there was no contrast.
I fear that the current fad for ‘diversity’ had it been in vogue then would have robbed you of that identification or, essentially, the quite inconsequential entertainment value it provided.
I think we all have to admit that the movies we watch or the shows or music we listen to or the comics we view and the creators who produce it are not consequential to the lives we lead.
So focusing on that is another welcome distraction from reality like the idea that giving a few dollars to the homeless guy on the off ramp has any effect on the problem of homelessness in your city.
Yeah, some of us consider that “inconsequential” entertainment among the things that make life pleasurable (and writing them off on a message board devoted to a comics/film creator is a bit ironic). Like I said, it’s easy to be dismissive of the importance of this type of representation when it doesn’t affect you. I’d also recommend checking out the Clark “Doll Test” to see the effect a lack of representation can have on non-white children when it comes to self-image.
For me? The “Big 7” are Batman, Superman, WW, GL, Flash, Aquaman & Martian Manhunter. I would’v ebeen equally pissed if they retconned anyone else into the big seven, be it a white or black or whatever else character. I might’ve accepted a Hawkman (they could’ve colored him purple for all I care) or a Green Arrow in place, but Cyborg is a Titan, not a JLer.
Hell I don’t understand why they didn’t use John Stewart for a GL instead of boring Hal anyways… I mean, Kyle is my man, but I much prefer John than Hal.
Because John is more boring than Hal.
Hal’s got spice. He’s the bold in brave and the bold.
Hal is a test pilot.
John is an architect.
Not to diss archtects, but most people wouldn’t consider them inherently more interesting that a test pilot.
DC is trying to make their property look like it wasn’t necessarily invented by a bunch of white dudes in the pre-Civil-Rights era. It’s clearly been a challenge that they’ve grappled with a lot over the years.
There is a case to be made that Cyborg should be the A-lister on the Titans rather than a C-lister on the Justice League, but I agree with their reasons for putting him there and think his character and powers fit.
Are you suggesting I’m not interesting?
“Jerry, we the Guardians of Oa have decided that you are worthy tooooozzzzzzzzzzzzzzz zzzzzzz zzzzzzzzzz… uh, I’m sorry, what were we saying?”
It didn’t help that in the cartoons John was portrayed with the dullest and most monotone voice imaginable.
Wasn’t cartoon John ex-military? I always thought he was played as stoic and not boring.