Why I Love Comics: 3 Social Justice Gimmicks That Worked

Why I Love Comics: 3 Social Justice Gimmicks That Worked

We've seen an explosion of political "gimmicks" in comics this week, and that's a good thing. Here are three reasons why.

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Cracked seems to disagree with you on Number 1 and 3, calling one offensive (http://www.cracked.com/article_18502_the-5-most-unintentionally-offensive-comic-book-characters_p2.html) and the other a failure (http://www.cracked.com/article_19105_6-comics-that-covered-serious-issues-failed-hilariously_p2.html). Can't really say I disagree with them on the latter one, having actually read the story in question. It's pretty dame stupid in its own right, but added to that is the stereotype that all gays have AIDS.

Plus, you know, the manifestation of my country punching AIDS babies to death for not being gay kind of erks me the wrong way.

Gimmicks back then are different than they are today. They did things like they did back then in the face of the CCA. They were not allowed to depict any kind of drug use, but they did and consequently published their first books without CCA approval. It was important and an issue at the time.

Disclaimer: My perspective is of someone who lives in the US in New Jersey. I do not speak for anyone but myself. And it's from my own experiences outside of what the media tells me I should feel about a given subject.

Today, most people have no issue with Homosexuality, Racism or Sexism. That is why when gimmicks appear en masse like they are these days, they are viewed to be things that are done to push an agenda verse doing things for the sake of good story telling. The drug issues were important because it was increasingly becoming an issue in all parts of society. In 1970, schools hadn't fully integrated both black and white students. The Supreme Court hadn't upheld integration movements according the constitution yet, so it was not a law of the land yet. Northstar coming out of the closet because of the AIDS epidemic only made it seem more so that AIDS was an affliction of the Homosexual, it hardly showed that it is a disease of the human race so much as a disease that afflicted only or mostly homosexuals.

The Archie example isn't making a stand against anything. The vast majority of society fully accepts gay rights. A majority of US society sees the gun issue as an issue with mental and social health versus the an issue with guns themselves. Color and gender swapping characters that have been around longer than most readers have been alive is far less impactful than creating characters that are inherently what they are and giving them central roles in the stories.

My issue with your example of gimmicks is that most of them were not gimmicks at all. Most of them were dealing with real social issues. Racism,sexism and homophobia are real, but I have not seen any proof that they are anything like Civil Rights, the AIDS epidemic circa 1992 or the growing issue of drug use in the 1960's and 70's, at least not in 2014. Evils do certainly exist, and I'm sure somewhere someone is falling victim to the aforementioned evils right now, but not the same numbers that blacks were segregated, people died of a horrible disease or people OD'ing on drugs.

Most of the issues are blown out of proportion by people like the hard left leaning person who writes this column. Applauding something just because it should be applauded by some arbitrary set of standards that define him as better than someone like myself. I fight the evils where I see them, I just don't see them in every single corner like some people do.

That said: The good thing about this column is that it really makes me think about my positions on these very subjects. Self reflection is very important in these situations. So thanks for that and keep them coming. I'm enjoying these much more than I thought I would.

Zontar:
Cracked seems to disagree with you on Number 1 and 3, calling one offensive (http://www.cracked.com/article_18502_the-5-most-unintentionally-offensive-comic-book-characters_p2.html) and the other a failure (http://www.cracked.com/article_19105_6-comics-that-covered-serious-issues-failed-hilariously_p2.html). Can't really say I disagree with them on the latter one, having actually read the story in question. It's pretty dame stupid in its own right, but added to that is the stereotype that all gays have AIDS.

Plus, you know, the manifestation of my country punching AIDS babies to death for not being gay kind of erks me the wrong way.

Well, taken in context of the times, they're pretty decent. In hindsight, as I said more than once, they fail.

I would say regarding Northstar that the fact that AIDS is, in fact, not related to homosexuality in that story is kind of the opposite of saying all gay people have AIDS.

Baresark:

That said: The good thing about this column is that it really makes me think about my positions on these very subjects. Self reflection is very important in these situations. So thanks for that and keep them coming. I'm enjoying these much more than I thought I would.

That means a lot. Thanks so much!

Huh...all I knew about Speedy was from much later stuff. Or from tasteless jokes about a guy called "Speedy" being on drugs.

Didn't know the comic were that happened was of any note.

Baresark:
The Archie example isn't making a stand against anything. The vast majority of society fully accepts gay rights.

Disagree there. Yes, things are a lot better than they were, but that's far from the problem being fixed.

Whether or not gay people can be allowed to marry is still a contentious issue in many places, for example. Only recently were openly gay people allowed to serve in the US military.

Back in the mid 90's I used to read a comic book called Ninja High School. It was a weird mish mash parody of American Comics and Japanese Harem/Romance Manga.

I bring it up because I recall there being a storyline wherein the one of the main characters who was a girl forced to live as a boy (don't ask) falls in love with a local super hero who turns out to be gay.

As far as I can recall it was probably the first time I saw any comic book really tackle the idea of gender identity and the stress of having to keep your sexuality hidden in a manner that was anything close to serious. For all of it's goofiness NHS did have an earnest heart to it that shone through the less than subtle nature if it's storytelling and that particular arc still sticks with me.

Edit: Boop, there it is.

http://www.comicvine.com/ninja-high-school-42-secrets-or-everybodys-got-som/4000-135909/

.... Damn it.... Ok...

I hate these gimmicks, and here is why.

I don't think we as a society are at the point where these gimmicks are having the intended impact anymore. If you look at any issue as having a finite goal, I would say in the majority of issues we have come a lot farther than I think those who fight for those causes would have you think.

Taking the recent Archie gimmick as an example, it is difficult to explain however I think a lot of the controversy if any this kind of story brings forth is a result not of challenging the attitudes of those who oppose homosexuality, but rather from those that feel that they are being underestimated as an audience. What if Archie's friend is just a person, who happens to be gay? Is Archie's sacrifice still to be seen as some kind of martyrdom? Worse yet is that idea that now, this character has made his "gayness" the quality that defines the character. In fact as someone who doesn't read Archie, the only thing I can recall about this character from the articles I've read is, He is Gay and his name is Kevin, I think he's some kind of politician and I'm not quite sure if he is Archie's friend. Regardless the way the headline spins it, it sounds like Archie is simply defending this character because he is gay, and that alone is somewhat degrading.

But then to the readers, it also has an implication that we need to be told this is important. "There is violence directed toward gay people in this country and you need to be educated about it!!!" and fine, 15 years ago this would still be an apt message, but I know this issue, and I think most of the country does, I think misguided or not, you won't find an American who doesn't understand the issue (regardless of position).

Essentially the bigger implication feels like 1: Archie comics believes that gay people are somehow so different that they should be labelled as such because if we don't put that label in the forefront our ignorance won't let us know who we need to be protecting; and 2: that we as a society are entirely backwards and need a course correction.

Now number 1 is condescending to both parties, but number 2 is debatable, but this is where I want to weigh in. They picked a topic where those who "agree?" will simply nod in approval, and those who don't agree, probably don't read printed material that's not "the bible" and crazy musings about the bible. The point being that there is no "moderate." One thing I can say with 100% certainty is that there isn't a person on the planet that is going to say "well I'm not sure about my stance on gay people so maybe Archie should have just let Kevin die." There might be people who say awful things, but not wishy-washy in the middle things here. Even people who would describe themselves as moderate in this debate, know should probably know which side they fall on.

But I think this all points to an even bigger picture which is, are we smart enough to not be talked down to? I would venture to say that moniker of the "SJW" is more so about the way that these "SJWs" choose to engage with their audience. Even this article relentlessly uses these kind of bating tactics, where people who might otherwise play devils advocate, or lightly explore, get pummeled by accusations of Bigotry in its various forms. BigAssDigest ran the Captain America story with the headline "Sorry White people, Captain America is black now" which is purposefully harmful click bate, but it is also an extremely condescending and heavy handed accusation as well as disrespectful not only to white people but more importantly to the black community and it enforces these race barriers rather then fixing them. Please explain to me why I as a white person should feel remorse that Captain America is now a black man? Is the implication that I am some how being dethroned from my white monarchy supposed to effect me in some profound way? Am I supposed to be some how threatened by racial equality? I'm not threatened by this, and I don't think a lot of people are, and while I won't get into an argument over it, or feel the need to become defensive, the automatic response is to become defensive, and it is in that instance where people say the stupidest things. I don't think it's right to imply that I am implicitly racist because of the color of my skin, and I think asserting that I should be is more offensive to the groups that people are often claiming to fight for then they realize.

So please, explain to me why I should be shocked that Archie is defending a gay man. Explain to me why I should be offended that Thor is a woman. Explain to me why I should be offended that Captain America is now Sam Wilson who is a black man. There are only two possible explanation's the first is that you think I should be offended because you think I'm racist, which I am not so thank you, and the second is that YOU think that all these groups are somehow threatening and want me to feel that way. But these are of course trick questions because both arguments make an ass out of anyone ignorant enough to employ them.

I would say the one good thing that came of these things is it clarified lot of my opinions on these issues and why I dislike the haphazard use of these gimmicks in the entertainment media.

So Lois uses black face and Northstar was going to have HIV because he was gay.
Yep don't see how that could be anything but:
A) Incredibly stupid
B) Mildly offensive

I think conflating marketing and gimmicks is a mistake. There's a difference between covering an issue because the author believes in making a point and covering an issue because the editors thought it would drive the sales up. Sam Wilson taking over as Cap feels like something that happened naturally - Assuming the movie didn't lie to me, he's one of Roger's best friends, and so it makes sense that he'd take the job after Rogers stepped down.

But gimmicks to be gimmicks (And, admittedly without much knowledge, the Thor one sounds like such a thing) don't seem like the best way to increase comics sales. I don't think interest in comics is the issue with Marvel's sales right now. Avengers was an insanely popular movie. Everybody I know has watched at least three of the Marvel universe movies and most have watched all of them except maybe Hulk. The problem is that the comic books aren't available in places that they go.

We don't need gimmicks to drive sales up, we need comics to be available in places where you go even if you don't read comics. Imagine if Captain America and Avengers comics were available on those racks near the checkout at Wal-Mart and Target. I'm sure the sales would go up far more from children being able to beg their parents to buy that comic with Captain America in it than they will from any number of gimmicks.

Just about all the Green Lantern/Green Arrow comics are pure gold. The Lantern Republican - Arrow Democrat dichotomy is handled very cleverly with both of them getting to play the stubborn jerk. One of the highlights of the superhero genre with Ostrander's Suicide Squad and Morrison's Doom Patrol. All superhero comics are gimmicky in some way.

HannesPascal:
So Lois uses black face and Northstar was going to have HIV because he was gay.
Yep don't see how that could be anything but:
A) Incredibly stupid
B) Mildly offensive

Making yourself black in order to understand the black community is not black face. Black face is making your self look black in order to portray negative stereotypes for the amusement of an audience.

thaluikhain:
Huh...all I knew about Speedy was from much later stuff. Or from tasteless jokes about a guy called "Speedy" being on drugs.

Didn't know the comic were that happened was of any note.

Baresark:
The Archie example isn't making a stand against anything. The vast majority of society fully accepts gay rights.

Disagree there. Yes, things are a lot better than they were, but that's far from the problem being fixed.

Whether or not gay people can be allowed to marry is still a contentious issue in many places, for example. Only recently were openly gay people allowed to serve in the US military.

I can say maybe I was a bit off base on the gay thing. As humans we suffer from this nagging need to be consistent, but we can feel one way about a subject and the opposite about a very similar subject, it's part of what makes us human and irrational. But I would like to point out that Gay Marriage is not a social issue for the vast majority of Americans, but that does not include government bodies. It's like civil rights: Most Americans were totally fine with full integration into society, but the government had made rules about where black people were allowed to sit on a bus and where they had to go to the bathroom. Sure, there were a couple of massive hicksville towns that hated the whole idea, but that is hardly representative of the majority of Americans. It's the reason why things like one bus company didn't come along and destroy all the others by allowing citizens of any color to sit where they want and one restaurant chain didn't kill all the others by allowing intermingling of diners and bathroom usage. Gays being allowed to openly serve in the military was always wrong, but then we get back to the rules as they stand issue. These things don't and shouldn't aim to change society, they should aim to change the governing bodies rule set. Most people in general will go with the status quo. If the rules get changed then it will not affect most people. They will go by what the standard is without issue. AKA, that is also why slavery existed for so long, that very tendency to go by what the status quo is.

Edit: We can lead this conversation into about how nearly impossible it is to change a rule that exists when it comes to government. That is why no one should ever buy the line, "if you don't like, then have it changed". That is an extremely rare event and should not be considered to be the norm.

Baresark:
I can say maybe I was a bit off base on the gay thing. As humans we suffer from this nagging need to be consistent, but we can feel one way about a subject and the opposite about a very similar subject, it's part of what makes us human and irrational. But I would like to point out that Gay Marriage is not a social issue for the vast majority of Americans, but that does not include government bodies. It's like civil rights: Most Americans were totally fine with full integration into society, but the government had made rules about where black people were allowed to sit on a bus and where they had to go to the bathroom. Sure, there were a couple of massive hicksville towns that hated the whole idea, but that is hardly representative of the majority of Americans. It's the reason why things like one bus company didn't come along and destroy all the others by allowing citizens of any color to sit where they want and one restaurant chain didn't kill all the others by allowing intermingling of diners and bathroom usage. Gays being allowed to openly serve in the military was always wrong, but then we get back to the rules as they stand issue. These things don't and shouldn't aim to change society, they should aim to change the governing bodies rule set. Most people in general will go with the status quo. If the rules get changed then it will not affect most people. They will go by what the standard is without issue. AKA, that is also why slavery existed for so long, that very tendency to go by what the status quo is.

If only these issues were actually due to legislative inertia. The US didn't keep slavery around for centuries because nobody cared enough to change it, but because it was the major basis of the economy of half the country. It's like saying, "Coal mines have existed for so long, because of that tendency to go by what the status quo is. It's just too hard to change the rules so that everyone has to use solar power!"

HannesPascal:
So Lois uses black face and Northstar was going to have HIV because he was gay.
Yep don't see how that could be anything but:
A) Incredibly stupid
B) Mildly offensive

I'd say more than mildly offensive on the latter, since the plan was to out Northstar, then kill him off right after. (Mantlo got rid of almost all of Byrne-era Alpha Flight characters once he came on board, and that would have been just one more point in his deck-clearing exercise.) Unfortunately, that was in line with the kind of subtle hints readers could expect wrt Northstar's sexuality under Mantlo.

image

I really did not enjoy that guy's time on Alpha Flight.

Okay, here's the thing about gimmicks - they're just that. Gimmicks. Literally all I've heard about Archie is that he dies saving a gay man. All I've heard about Thor is that now Thor's a woman. That's it. I don't know their names, backstories, personalities. No one's talking about them. I know Marvel, at least, didn't even bother to release information on Lady Thor beyond the fact that she's, you know, a lady. And that's it. They apparently think we don't need to know her past, or her personality, or even her name. She's got boobs. S'all that matters. Character of the year.

All I have to say to that is - really? All the bits and pieces and quirks that make up a character, and that's what they choose to advertise? If the most interesting thing about your character is their gender/race/sexuality, you're not being "progressive," you're a crappy writer. Being female is not a stand-in for a personality, and that Marvel choose to advertise Lady Thor's sex before literally anything else is pretty telling about how interesting a character she'll be. Which is to say, she probably won't be interesting at all.

Because that's not really equality. A male character doesn't get introduced with "Hey, this character's a guy! He's got guy-parts that we're not showing in revealing, fetishistic fashion! Oh, he's probably got a name and personality and all that boring important stuff, but never mind that! He's a dude!" But that's essentially what they did here with the new Thor. Why not introduce her as they do other characters, making no spectacle of the fact that she's female? That's what equality would really be. But as is... it's a red flag to me. Like they're doing this just to get points or generate publicity. It already reeks of gimmick and she hasn't even properly debuted yet.

Secondly, I'm a bit miffed by the fact that they're basically just gender-flipping Thor, instead of giving women a brand new character. Marvel's already proven they don't need female characters to stand on the shoulders of male ones in order to sell well or be empowering. Why not just go "Oh hey, remember Ms. Marvel? Yeah, she's a thing. Read some comic books, ladies," instead of this? Do they think women aren't good enough to build their own reputation, they have to crib a guy's? It's kinda ridiculous. Unless the point was to appeal to female MCU fans that haven't gotten into the comic books, in which case... they're kinda missing the point of what got women into Marvel in the first place. Hint: It's probably got something to do with all those chiseled jaws and rippling pectorals. Because trust me, women like fan service just fine.

At any rate, I just don't like how they apparently think women can't stand on their own feet and need to lean on the male characters. In many ways, this is no better than the standard they're trying to go against.

Kameburger:
Snip

image
VERY good read, I agree with just about everything.

Personally, what pisses me off about these gimmicks is that they are, always have been, and always will be nothing more than to cover up lazy writing. While there have been plenty of comic storylines that have been designed to make a genuine valid point about racism, sexism, disease, etc. that's not what gimmicks like this are. The only reason for these gimmicks exist is to sell the comic through blatantly pandering and riding off the ensuring controversy, the writers couldn't care less about the value of the actual STORY and CHARACTERS and most of all RESPECT for the characters in the comic and it's history. For cases like this the writers could easily come up with diverse NEW characters and put them in great storylines and they would if they actually gave a damn about diversity, but these gimmicks are not about and has never been about promoting diversity. It's not even about making something of worth for whatever demographic they're pandering to, the writers don't even bother to do that much. It's about selling as many comics as possible with the least amount of effort and actual value to the reader put into it as they can possibly get away with, that's it. What's worst is they don't even have the integrity and conviction to stick with the changes they make, they just make whatever changes they think with create the greatest possible stir then go back to normal a year or 2 later if that long before doing it again. The unnecessary changes not only result in crappy half-assed storylines that betray the entire history of the comic but they also don't result in any real changes, which makes it as though the changes might as well have never happened and saving everyone the trouble.

As I've said several times before, The Escapist is littered with armchair Social Justice Warriors, so it's very comforting to read posts that feel like real people have written them.

Those of us who have grown up with computers, and the generations after, are used to being bombarded by so many issues and messages about how to live your life, that we get a very clear sense of right and wrong, but without any value to add to it. If everything is important, nothing is.

So as people have already said, these gimmicks become worthless in the general audience's eyes because they have little to no engagement in the medium.
Ross Lincoln writes that gimmicks aren't inherently bad, but they are inherently cheap and give us a sense that this is a trick and not something with actual worth. How can people see it as anything different, when we've been lured in by so many movie remakes and games that rely on similar little tricks and mechanics?

Too many companies and creators rely on the hook, but not the quality. This new Thor could be amazing, it might to everything right and have a brilliant story, but the fact is that this was delivered in a "look how KUH-RRAAAY-ZEE we are!" manner that has people roll their eyes and sigh at how stupid they think the audience is.
Personally, I dislike the idea of a woman Thor because it's a mockery of the mythology, it's a mockery of women in assuming they can't have their own identity or character and it's a cheap trick to pander to a much more "open" society in order to sell more copies. It's not challenging the status quo as much as it's slapping faces all around to dig up even more animosity in an already very angry and socially overexposed audience.

What will be the result at the end of all of this? Hardly anyone will give a shit and people will take comics less seriously than they already do, because of the continued use of gimmicky publicity stunts like these.

I can't comment on the Archie comic, because I don't know anything about him or it.

 

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