I’d like to start off this article by having you, the reader, look at the following image:
When you don’t want to acknowledge the politics of the games you played because you couldn’t see them before.
On the surface, this tired old argument is every bit as ignorant as it is, but what it is is part of a falsehood that game companies have cultivated, going back all the way to the days of the NES when it came out in the 80s.
Sorry about the radio silence here! Between work, dealing with anxiety, and my computer finally dying and the new one taking its time to get here, my output has been really, really low.
I’m trying to turn it around, so I figured I’d talk about blind spots in relation to writing diverse characters, specifically the case of Brian Michael Bendis and Spider-Man Issue #2.
I admit to being a bit late to this party, as I’m not a regular reader of the adventures of Miles Morales, mainly on account of just not being a fan of Bendis’ writing. I just get this sense of how much he hates writing superheroes and was, from what one friend told me, instrumental in ripping apart the relationship of the Vision of Scarlet Witch.
Also, randomly killing off Ultimate Gwen Stacy for no good reason? Yeah, never was a fan of that.
So, when he made Miles Morales, the half black/half-‘hispanic’ new Spider-Man of the ultimate universe, I gave it a pass, same as I did for Silk, as created by Dan Slott.
After all, when your introduction of the character is of someone hidden away by men ‘for her own good’ and shown to wear webbing in a sexy pin up pose, it’s loaded with Ick Factor, made all the worse for Silk being Asian.
But enough about Dan Slott… heck, the less said about him when he’s not checking up on google alert for his name and bad writing, the better.
In the latest issue of Spider-Man, a vlogger excitedly discusses how cool it is that there’s a new Spider-Man on the scene after footage of him fighting a demon is uploaded online. The footage shows that part of his costume is torn and his brown skin shown through it.
Miles’ reaction to the vlogger is to not like being the black Spider-Man, which the vlogger does not call him, and wants to be counted on the content of his character instead of the colour of his skin.
And while you’re at it, listen to Fresh Out Of Tokens. It’s a great podcast about diversity in games, but in the latest episode, episode 39, they spend some time on this topic as well. It’s roughly in the last 10-15 minutes of it and definitely worth a listen.
What troubles me, and was highlighted by a discussion I had yesterday, is the age-old idea that because one has relationships with people of colour, either as friends, colleagues, family, or lovers, it does not mean that you’re suddenly immune to being racist.
It is, as one friend once told me, not a one time immunization shot, but an ongoing process.
And yet, all I could hear was “I have black friends! I have black friends! I can’t be racist, I have black friends!”
Yeah, so do I, but that doesn’t mean I won’t automatically say, do, or write racist things. I’m constantly educating myself and watching what I say and examining it because as a straight, white, cisgender, able bodied male from Canada, I am at the top of the privilege pyramid.
Privilege is a hell of a thing, and it comes in many forms. In her book Why Are All The Black Kids Sitting Together In the Cafetreia?, Beverly Tatum, in her exploration of racism and how it affects us, points out that she has privileges others don’t. She might be a black woman living in America, but she also has straight privilege, cisgender privilege, and able bodied privilege.
So even though Bendis is Jewish and has a black daughter and knows many black people and other people of colour, he has privileges others don’t, and that can result in blind spots.
And damned if there wasn’t a glaring blind spot about Morales dismissing his blackness which is, again, better explained and discussed by the people in the links I provided.
It also doesn’t help that Bendis has said to tune in next time, continue reading, when facing criticism over this. That feels like an excuse to run away and not face up to what people have said of his writing, and seeing as how he is someone writing a character who is afro-latino, he has a greater responsibility to ensure he writes a good message.
Yes, he’s human and he makes mistakes, same as the rest of us, but it’s especially harmful when Bendis is so dismissive, to say nothing about the character of Danika Hart, the vlogger. It feels like a shot at all the SJW tumblr types, as though to say they care more about diversity than quality, when really one can have diversity AND quality.
After all, look at the latest Star Wars movie.
So, while hardly being enamored with Bendis’ writing to begin with, I think I’m going to be sitting this one out. After all, when our writing ensures that Miles Morales is going to become Gamergater’s Vivian James entry into comics, you’ve fucked up.
Also, hispanic means you speak Spanish. It’s not the same as being latino. Get it right, Bendis.
I’ve had some thoughts, let me share them with you.
So, awhile back, Episode 5 of Life Is Strange, an indie-developed game, was released, and I finally finished episode 4. I learned from my time playing The Walking Dead that sometimes it’s good to have another episode to play queued up so that I’m not left on a cliffhanger, and a good thing too, because the ending of Episode 4 hit me like a punch in the gut.
So, I started playing, took a break, and of course, there were spoilers on some of the blogs I follow on tumblr. Spoilers don’t bother me because they’re just words, and they can’t take away from the enjoyment or full experience of watching a movie or playing a game.
So when I read the spoilers, to say I was not happy was an understatement. In fact, I quit the game and deleted it off my hard drive. I’m not here for the baiting of gay people, and the dead lesbian trope is one that needs to die itself, especially when used in the context that Life Is Strange used it.
Now, some people had some objections and incredulous statements to say to this, basically implying that I’m being selfish for not giving the story a chance because of spoilers I’d read.
It wasn’t just spoilers I’d read, but videos I’d seen as well. I knew that whatever I encountered after the first half hour of the game, let alone everything else that happened in the previous 4 episodes, would be dashed aside by either of those two endings.
But what made me think about those comments was the idea that stories are owed a reading before judgment is passed, and while that might seem fair on the surface, I couldn’t help but detect the hint of power and privilege behind it.
That is, straight white power and privilege.
See, despite the gains made in representation in various mediums of entertainment, be it comic books, video games, TV shows and movies, we still live in a world where straight, white, male, and cis is the default, sometimes to the detriment of small details like, ohh… history.
And there’s no current greater examples than the recent white washing of Egypt in not one, but TWO movies, the Gods of Egypt, and Exodus.
So to say that stories are owed a viewing or reading completely in order to judge it truly rings false to me, seeing as how so much of our media is based in straight whiteness.
It’s a presumption that because much of what is made for straight, white, cis males is for everyone, and it’s something I’ve seen in various fandoms that this extends to straight, white cis women as well.
I once had a friend who had three clear rules he followed for what stories he watched or read, and they were:
It, in some way, supports our goddess on Earth Gina Torres, by either starring her or someone close to her.
It has someone who is gay or black, or a combination there of, that was not treated poorly in the story.
It came highly recommended from one of his close friends.
If it didn’t meet those first three rules, he wasn’t interested, and frankly, I couldn’t blame him.
Someone I follow on tumblr has as her first questions for anything she reads or watches or plays is does it have transgender, bisexual, or lesbian women in it. If not, she’s going to give it a pass.
Now, while the first instinct is to say it’s going to narrow what they read or watch, it’s true, but also very understandable. After all, why is it presumed that anyone who isn’t straight, white, cisgender and male going to like a story in which they do not see themselves?
Heck, why is it even asked of them to like it in the first place?
That’s not to say they won’t, but the presumption is often a derailment for people who aren’t interested in stories where they can’t see someone they can personally relate to having a grand adventure, solving a mystery case, or finding the love of their life.
One very recent and notable example of this was the horribly whitewashed dramatic retelling of the Stonewall Riots in Roland Emerich’s Stonewall. It featured a white, gay, cis male lead while relegating several people of colour to the background, even going so far as to mishmash two of them into one central, fictitious character.
Basically, it all but erased Marshal P Johnson, a black transgender radical woman, and Sylveria Rivera from the actual Stonewall riot, replacing the shotglass thrown that was heart around the world with a brick thrown by a fictional gay white guy from a midwest Farm.
People rightly called it out for its whitewashing, pointing out how most LGBTQ movements have done much to erase gay people pf colour and transgender people, but the director and actors said not to judge the film based on the trailer, and to wait until the film was seen.
Well, no one took his advice, and Roland Emerich, white, gay and cisgender himself, lost out, with Stonewall garnering barely 130K in its release.
And nor should people who are minorities, be it through the colour of their skin, gender, or sexual orientation be under any obligation to see a movie where they’re played with like a fan writing fanfiction.
Heck, one can look at the recent release of the Zoolander 2 trailer, and spot several transphobic jokes.
Trigger warnings for the garbage jokes.
It’s mainly based around Binklefink Twiddlebottom’s performance as the newest, hottest model named All in All, who refuses to give their gender, and the film’s two main leads expressing confusion and frustration and not knowing what’s in All in All’s pants.
Can you blame anyone then who is actually transgender to not see this movie? Or just anyone who doesn’t like transphobia?
It probably doesn’t help that, even though Zoolander lampoons the world of fashion, they made Beneditch Pumpernickel look like a god damned alien.
And that’s just movies. What about games? I started off in video games when it the common plot was beat the bad guy, and save the princess, as exemplified by Super Mario Brothers and Legend of Zelda. Metroid’s ending of Samus being a woman was a surprise, and not exactly quickly spread common knowledge in the days before the Internet.
So what about today? Unfortunately, it’s still a lot of the same. Even games as diverse as Bioware’s latest big hits, Mass Effect and Dragon Age, still were marketed with straight white men on the cover for most of them. We only got a female Shepard after after a rather deplorable beauty contest held on Facebook and elsewhere, and it wasn’t until the third installment that we finally got Shepard some male love interests.
And these two articles give a good overview of the Beauty Paegent Bioware held for the default female Shepard.
Then there are all the first person shooters out there marketed towards straight, white cisgender dudes.
Yeah, nice package indeed.
So is it any wonder that some people might feel that some games aren’t for them? Or that there’s nothing in said games for them to be interested in or see themselves in?
Again, it’s not to say that there aren’t a diverse group of men and women from different backgrounds who enjoy these games, but that the marketing of these games, and movies and TV shows, are still fixed up in a straight, white, cisgender able bodied package as the default setting to sell to customers.
And that not all customers fit that package.
So in case you haven’t noticed. I’m not saying anything more than what a myriad of other people have noticed and discussed before, and I haven’t even scratched the surface of superhero comics, or sci-fi and fantasy stories. But it’s something worth discussing and talking about to this day, and every day until we no longer see this kind of expectation.
And if there’s anything to take away from this video, it’s that no one is under any obligation to like a story in which they do not see themselves or aren’t represented in a positive, deep, and meaningful way.
I’m Triple J, and that’s all I’ve got left to say. Take care!