Monday, February 15, 2016

On Pandering and Why it's Stupid

My blog is once again back from the dead. It typically comes back when I have feelings, and today I bring some feelings. I wanted to talk a little bit about pandering, and why it’s bullshit, specifically in geeky media.

Now, there is a lot going on in geekdom lately. People who haven’t been represented well in the past are standing up and demanding to be noticed. Either as a result of creators listening to those voices, or alternatively but probably less frequently, underrepresented people becoming creators, we are seeing a boom in media that has more representation of race, orientation, sex, religion, whatever.

This is a good thing. I can’t imagine how anyone would think that this is not a good thing, or is specifically bad or hurtful to one’s favorite form of media. Maybe some of you don’t understand what I’m getting at. Let me use an example.

Comic books. Comic books have long been dominated, in terms of creators and their creations, by straight white males. Superman, Batman, Spiderman, most of the X-Men, I could go on, but for the most part that’s what was out there. White dudes. Comics have gotten better over time, but for a long time there wasn’t much else. Just white dudes. Today, for whatever the reason, there are a lot of comics that follow female characters, black characters, gay characters, etc. Captain Marvel, Black Widow, Squirrel Girl, Midnighter, Captain America, Thor, Cyborg, Batgirl, Black Canary, Gotham Academy. There are more, but you get the picture.

I’ll choose the new Ms. Marvel as an example. The new Ms Marvel, Kamala Kahn, is the daughter of Pakistani immigrants. She is pretty far from the white male superhero readers are used to. Additionally, the book is written and edited by women, which is not unheard of but still somewhat rare.

Also, get this: It’s a really freaking great book.

And that’s it. That right there is all that should matter. It’s a really great book. It’s one of the best comics I read all of last year, and granted I didn’t read everything out there, but still, really great. It doesn’t matter that it features an immigrant female muslim protagonist (all things that I am not). It told a very human story that translates well to any experience, and it did it in a new and different way. (Variety is the spice of life, people).

Now, I told that story to tell this story.

I frequently go to comics websites to get news of what’s coming, or to get a feel for how a book I’m interested in is doing. I also, unfortunately scroll down to the comments sections. I wish I wouldn’t but I do. It makes me angry. Let me use another example.

There is a lesser-known comic hero by the name of Mockingbird. She is featured in the Agents of SHIELD TV show. She is, as of the writing of this, going to have her own solo series in a couple months, most likely as a result of the popularity of the show. I read a preview article on it that showed some panels and a few variant covers (which is a whole separate issue) and just a basic blurb of the upcoming comic. Then I came down to the comments section. Oh boy…

It wasn’t a torrent of vitriol, to be sure. There were a few comments that said, “hey this looks cool,” or “I don’t care for that art,” and other stuff like that, which is all well and good. Nothing is for everybody. But there were a couple of ranters. (I’m paraphrasing here)

“Enough, Marvel, quit ramming these characters down our throat because they are women or black or gay. I wish they would stop pandering to mindless liberalism.”


I have seen these sentiments again and again. And I stress, this isn’t everybody, but there is at least a vocal minority who are genuinely pissed off that there are Lady Thors and Black Captain Americas out there, and seem to feel like shaking things up a bit is “pandering” to some invisible Social Justice Warriors enclave that is sitting somewhere pulling the strings at Marvel. These are probably the same people that feel like “girls don’t read comics anyway” or that “This hero has always been white since the 60’s why change it”.

Are these people honestly thinking that a publishers are intentionally giving the middle finger to “true fans” (read: straight white male fans) in favor of these “token” minority characters? How would that be in any way good for their business? There may be SJWs pulling the strings, but they can’t make the fans buy the stuff. The assertion is that these characters and stories would be unworthy to publish if it weren’t for their minority status. And, if that were the case, these books wouldn’t sell at all. They would die a quick death. But, they are selling. People are buying them. If people didn’t buy them, the companies wouldn’t be making them.

Look at DC comics. DC has improved in its representation as well, but not quite as well as Marvel. Their flagship characters are still white dudes, and DC is getting trounced by Marvel in sales. (Again, that is direct market sales which is another thing for another time). So I don’t know guys. Maybe these are actually good stories? Maybe, just maybe, we are all tired of the same white muscly dudes in every story?

The idea that the industry would pander to a few knowing they would lose money in this capitalist society is ridiculous, especially given the current hunger in geekdom for new and different things. Comics as an industry are struggling, but it isn’t because of diversity. Quite the opposite. The fans are tired of the same old events and variants and moneygrabs, which is why independent creator owned books are doing so well. And again, those independant books, a lot of them feature diversity, and there is nobody up the corporate ladder telling people what to do. These books are creator-owned. So what does that tell you? Are they pandering too?
No. they are telling good stories. And good stories have good characters. Not white characters, not black characters, not straight characters, not gay characters, not male characters, not female characters, not trans characters. GOOD CHARACTERS. Period.

Pandering isn’t real. In fact, if straight white fanboys were the only ones reading comics, then pandering by definition would feature more straight white dude characters. Right? Huh?

I guess I’m done.

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