A little while back I wrote an article about why I felt the next Doctor on Doctor Who needed to be female. Not why I wanted a female Doctor, but why things I had noticed in the show and in fandom demanded that a woman be given a chance in the lead role. And then I posted said article to the large Facebook fan page that I help administer to watch the arguments roll in.
There were legion. There were myriad at the very least, but they essentially boiled down to five basic, fallacious premises that seem to crop up whenever anyone talks about non-whiting, non-manning a famous character. Today, let's look at those five and explain why they're bullshit.
"The Character Has Always Been Gender/Race" There is an actual logical fallacy named after this reasoning. It's called Appeal to Tradition, and it's utterly meaningless. There is no inherent worth in a thing being done the way it has always been done. If there were then getting a hamburger would involve a lot more than driving through McDonald's.
A side-step on this is the old adage of "If it ain't broke, don't fix it". While not quite the same thing, it tends to miss a point. Long-running characters are often broken and fixed all the time. Why else would we have gold and silver ages of comics? Why else would series end and undergo rebirth? Why else would they reboot movie franchises?
What used to draw an audience 30 years ago doesn't necessarily draw a new audience now, and that's important because content creators are more interested in getting that new audience and holding them for three more decades than trying to keep you. It's just a sound investment.
Being Race/Gender is Inherent to That Character Sometimes this is true. Steve Rogers could probably never be anything but a hayseed-looking white male. That's part of who he is. He is the symbol of what the majority of World War II-era Americans considered perfection reborn into a more complicated and diverse world. Change his gender or ethnicity and you lose a lot of what makes him endure. Likewise, changing Wonder Woman to Wonder Man would remove virtually everything that makes Diana who she is.
But these are rarer than you think. If a disillusioned Steve Rogers was replaced in the role by a black Captain America to better fit America in the 21st century it would probably work great. If you want an example that goes the other way a white Al Simmons as Spawn would probably make no difference. Hell, the only real reason to have had a black man play Falcon in Winter Soldier was because of Sam Winston's reputation as an early black superhero. His race is not really an essential part of his character as much as his status as a pal to Cap that can hold his own and help him feel the soldierly camaraderie of his past days.
You have to remember that for a very long time the people creating all these iconic characters were all for the most part white men, and because writers are all inherently lazy they made all their heroes white men like them. In almost 90 percent of the cases with a white male protagonist that's as deep as the subject of race gets in the case of someone like Superman.
This story continues on the next page.
"You Already Have Character of Race/Gender" When we talk about portraying a character as another race or gender some people point out that there's no need to do that because there are already characters in that universe that fulfill the "strong woman/person of color" role in the story. The Doctor has his female companions. The Justice League has Cyborg. The X-Men have Storm! Surely she counts twice, right?
Guys... it's not a numbers game. You don't tick off a box for a chick and a black dude and declare your comic/movie/video game "diverse enough". These aren't union demands; they are artistic expressions that are trying to be tailored to fit in a world that is very different from the world where many of them were created. This is usually where someone says...
"Stop Forcing Politics Into This!" First of all, when someone says that they'd like to see a few more non-white, non-male heroes in the world and you consider that to be "politics" then all you're doing is admitting that you have been dragged through every bit of progress over the last hundred years kicking and screaming. It's not politics to want to see people like yourself better represented, and the only reason that you don't see that is because you've never had that problem.
Back when Marvel decided to kill off Peter Parker in the Ultimate line and replace him with a half-black, half-Latino kid named Miles Morales people honestly blamed Barack Obama. Marvel editor-in-chief Axel Alonso (Himself mixed race) responded better than I ever could when he said in an interview, "When the opportunity arose to create a new Spider-Man, we knew it had to be a character that represents the diversity -- in background and experience -- of the 21st century. We have a president of mixed heritage; in fact, I'm of mixed heritage, this is just the world we live in."
I know I'm belaboring the point here, but it bears repeating; this is a different world now. It's a world where women are coming to have the same demographic power as men and where mixed-race children are looking for heroes to do for them what your heroes did for you as a kid. And I'm sorry, but I don't feel like explaining to the little Indian girl next door, or any child of any race or gender, that he or she can't be Spider-Man. Everyone should be able to be Spider-Man.
"Oh Yeah? Well Then How About a Male/White Version of Character" When asked about a female playing the Doctor Steven Moffat famously sneered that he'd love to see a man play the Queen of England. In other news, Steven Moffat is brilliant, but he's also a jerk who misses points unless they make children cry.
But I see your stance, and I raise you one better; Go. Ahead.
Seriously, let me see someone portray Barbara Gordon, out of her wheelchair now and basically walking around being a symbol of the difficulty overcoming a gruesome assault designed to mentally scar another man, as a male. I'd love to see that kind of strength from impairment and how it would play out.
You want to make Black Panther white? Be my guest, and watch how that story moves to its eventual, logical conclusion. What a struggle it would be. A white Black Panther trying to hold that title in a country full of people of a different race.
But I suspect the reason you won't do those things because when you do so you'll be forced to admit how women and other races have had it in pop culture over the years.
Keep the Houston Press Free... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Houston with no paywalls.