Growing up, the first superhero I loved was Spider-Man. My dad got me into comics at a young age. I think my first comic book was a Marvel Tales reprint of an early issue of Amazing Spider-Man (the issue where Spidey battles the Green Goblin; the Human Torch guest starred). I vaguely remember running around the house, shaping my fingers like Spidey, pretending to shoot webs. A few years later, I remember lassoing a metal coat rack and pretending I could swing off it. I learned quickly that that was not a good idea (see, I’d taken off the plastic pieces that covered the end of the metallic hooks, so when I tried to swing, the coat rack fell on me and a metal hook hit my forehead, causing me to bleed; my mother was nearly in shock when I walked into the bathroom with blood dripping from my head). Even after that, Spider-Man was still one of my favorites.
As the years passed, and I entered puberty, I began having these strange thoughts and feelings. Looking back, those thoughts and feelings signaled the onset of my sexuality. I didn’t know what ‘gay’ or ‘homosexual’ was. I just knew that I was looking at guys in a really unconventional manner, and I knew that was wrong, because that’s the message society was sending in the 80s (and still sends today, to a lesser degree in some places).
To say that I felt alone and isolated is like saying Antarctica is chilly.
I didn’t know anyone who thought things the way I did. I didn’t know anyone who was a male that looked at other men and found them pleasing. I didn’t know what the ‘closet’ was. I didn’t know some of the subtle signs and cues given off by gay people. Hell, I didn’t know what a ‘gay person’ was.
I was lonely and I really would have liked to have known that there were more people out there like me. I would have liked to have seen people on television, in the movies, on the radio, or in books who reflected me (I realize in retrospect, that they were there; I just didn’t know what to look for). I wanted representation. I wanted to see my experiences reflected in the world around me. I needed that. It took years before I got that.
Looking back at my love for Spider-Man, I realized as a kid that I had an affinity for the character divorced from our differences in ethnicity. I somehow identified with the character in such a way that I didn’t mind that he didn’t look like me. But that’s not the case for others. Some kids look for heroes that look like them, or sound like them. They want to be able to identify with people in movies, on tv, on the radio, or in books, and see that these people reflect them and their experiences.
Our culture is suffused with imagery of white males. That’s part of society. There’s nothing wrong with that. I don’t knock the idea of white men being represented in movies, radio, tv, and literature. What I have a problem with is when they are the ones who are overwhelmingly represented, to the exclusion of others.
Others like women, trans people, gay men, or lesbians.
Others like blacks, asians, or hispanics.
Others like the elderly or the poor.
Others like people who are blind, physically disabled, or mentally disabled.
Humans come in all shapes, sizes, colors, genders, ethnicities, religions (and non religions), sexualities, and sexes. For many of us, we want to see ourselves reflected in the movies, in television shows, in music, in literature. It shows that an attempt is being made to portray reality as it is, rather than how it has been traditionally been treated: a world of white men with a few token different people thrown in for good measure (sometimes; after all, those early issues of Amazing Spider-Man were overwhelmingly white).
Again, I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with being white, or having white characters. What I take issue with is the notion from many quarters that it is somehow wrong to reflect diversity in media. Media is a reflection of reality. Of our tastes, our likes, and our dislikes. Media reflects what we care about. When media reflects only-or predominately-the views of one specific group of humans (white males), it fails utterly to reflect what reality is really like. It also reinforces the idea that the only perspective that matters or is of any importance is the white, male perspective.
Today, I read an article at Comic Book Resources on diversity. In it, the author-Albert Ching-quotes an individual who wrote in to CBR to complain about comments Ching made about the Guardians of the Galaxy movie. Despite the fact that Mr. Ching’s comments were largely complimentary, he did have a slight criticism to offer:
“While it is a little disappointing that a movie with such an eclectic cast still has a handsome white male as its lead, it’s hard to take issue with [Chris] Pratt’s actual performance.”
Those who have spent time in social justice circles can imagine what happened next: Ching was criticized for being racist towards white people:
“The racism towards white males in Albert Ching’s review of ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ is unacceptable and I ask that it be removed from the article.”
There’s also this gem:
“Why is that disappointing? Star-Lord is white. It’s that simple. And he’s the only ‘white guy’ on a very diverse team of aliens. So, while I get that CBR feels the need to stroke the mane of the diversity unicorn to appease…someone…that statement seemed completely out of left field.”
No attempt was made to explaim how Mr. Ching’s comments were racist (which one would be hard pressed to successfully argue; after all he merely expressed mild dissatisfaction with yet another lead character in a movie being a white male–cinema is filled to brimming with white male characters who lead films; it’s long since tiresome that people of other genders and ethnicities aren’t reflected more often).
As for the “diversity unicorn”
that strikes me as dismissive of Mr. Chings’ criticism. It’s dismissive of the concerns of a lot of movie goers who want to see more diversity in leading roles in movies. Women go to the movies (and as we’ve seen with GotG, they often go in substantial numbers). Black people go to movies. Hispanic people go to movies. Yet all groups are woefully underrepresented in films. Comments about “diversity unicorns” are demeaning because they treat the concerns of non white men as if they’re unimportant. It does not at all pain me to say this: white men, you are not the center of the universe. Please learn to recognize not only that, but the fact that it is good marketing and business for movie studios (and comics, and music, and tv) to diversify their output to appeal to as many people as possible. Yes, white people are part of “as many people as possible”. Some of us would just like to see less white men and more of the rest of us. Is that so wrong?
No. It is not.