Tuesday, October 17, 2006


Hey Everyone! How ya been?

First up, thanks for the links, anonymous posters on The IMDB and Television Without Pity message boards. With your help, I cracked the 10,000 mark. (and while I appreciate being considered an "expert" on Lois Lane, the idea of "Chlois" just creeps me out to no end, possibly because it sounds too much like "Clor".)

And thanks to Ragnell for conscripting me into Beefcake/Cheesecake Week. It saves me the trouble of having to come up with a separate post. (and HOLY! Is this the kind of traffic you get everyday?)

This response from Robert Kirkman to the strong criticism of the death of Freedom Ring got me thinking. Kirkman cops to being too clever by half, basically, taking two really good ideas for a superhero ("being superpowered isn't enough to make you a superhero" and "being gay is not the beginning and end of defining a character") and muddling them both by combining the two. While clearly not his intention, a very clear interpretation of the result is that Freedom Ring was killed because he was gay.

What I started thinking about was how Kirkman could have told the first idea without getting into trouble. (The idea of a superhero actually suffering and sacrificing to do his job, obviously, interests me.) And I realized the only way he could have done it is if Freedom Ring was a straight white male.

If Freedom Ring was black, or Hispanic, or Asian, or if he were a she, then Kirkman might have been accused (rightly accused) of implying that Freedom Ring was incompetent because he was black, because she was a woman.

But no one would reasonably say he would have died because he was male, or white, or straight. For storytelling purposes, a straight white male is neutral, contains no value that informs or overwhelms other, subtler personality traits.

It reminds me of something I read in... a book whose title escapes me now, but I'll remember later a book by Douglas Hofstadter. It said that you can't start a joke "a woman walks into a bar..." unless the joke was about her being a woman. If the punch line is "I was talking to the duck" then the listener is left wondering why you specified the lead as a woman. This does not happen if you say "a man walks into a bar..." "Man" is a blank template, and if his sex is not essential to the story, no one tries to figure out why you brought it up. For some reason, "man" is less specific that "woman."

Which is crap, of course. In reality, being straight, being white, or being male, DOES inform character just as much as being gay, black or female. So those traits SHOULD inform the writing and reading of characters just as much traits that aren't "neutral". Which is to say a little, but not entirely.

The solution, I feel, is just having more and more varied characters who are gay (or who are black or Hispanic or who are women), so that the "value" of "gay" is weakened until the unique person shines through.

But it does put Kirkman in a bind for writing a character "who happens to be gay," right now. Without counter-examples of competent gay superheroes to compare Freedom Ring to, it's hard to argue that the failure and the gay have NOTHING to do with each other.

He certainly shouldn't have told the story at Marvel, which has so few gay characters. It would have been better, but not much, in the DC universe, where at least Obsidian, Piper, Montoya, and Maggie Sawyer kick ass.

But in the Wildstorm Universe, where the two baddest bastards on the planet also happen to bone each other, Freedom Ring's story would have taken on an entirely different meaning. There, the lesson would be "being superpowered AND gay isn't enough to make you a superhero." And that's a story I can support.


megs said...

Exactly! I've been trying to push the idea of women as Everyman characters, and the same certainly goes for all races and sexuality and whatnot. I think the white, straight male majority of comics buyers can accept and identify with women and gay men and men of different races if it's given to them. But you really can't get to that until you have so many gay characters that they're not unusual. And stop killing them off disproportionately.

Kitty said...

I'm going to make a conscious effort to start more of my jokes with a casual "A girl walks into a bar" from now on.