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This essay is a very belated response to a " part 1 " published in February 2015. The gist of that essay was a response to a corre...

Saturday, March 28, 2015


I try not to comment often if at all on the HOODED UTILITARIAN site. If I responded to everything said there, I'd never have time for my own stuff, and I'm almost certain my efforts to score points there would prove futile. Thus from my POV the site would be more appropriately named FUTILITARIAN.

Still, every once in a while I get the itch to argue. And on occasion, I happen across some post that illustrates the huge philosophical gulf between the speculative mode of philosophy (that's me) and the reflective mode (that's them), first discussed here in this 2013 essay.  As a result of my latest UTE-post, I gained new evidence for the theory that the biggest gulf between the two modes is that the former is based in a long-term investigation of human nature, while the latter is strictly concerned with the short-term effectiveness of rhetoric regarding current issues.

The remark that moved me to argument wasn't even by the author of the main essay, but by a commentator associated with the site (NB helpfully provides copious links for anyone who cares to investigate said history, but I'm not obliged to follow their careers any more than they are mine.) I choose not to comment on any other position taken by commentator J. Lamb, only upon what I consider the absurdity of Lamb's remark in the comments-section.

Noah and I participated in a Twitter discussion yesterday where fans of increased race diversity among superheroes lamented my idea that the superhero concept is inherently White, and therefore inappropriate for substantive, authentic non-White characterizations. The conversation reminded me that many superhero comic fans could care less about substantive, authentic Blackness when reading or watching superhero media — they just want someone who looks like them in the role of the Hero. They want to appropriate the fantasy, without questioning it’s logic.

Though I knew that it would be pointless to challenge someone so enchanted with his own empty rhetoric, I posted in response:

Alternately, they [these fans Lamb references, who are implicitly "people of color"] want to claim a fantasy that belongs to them as much as to white people, just as black hero-myths belonged to pre-European African tribes as much they did to Europeans.
But if you think, along with Barthes, that the only type of stories you think “people of color” can tell are about their being stigmatized as “people of color,” then I guess you’re welcome to that belief.

Not surprisingly, Lamb would not acknowledge that his essential argument was voiced by Barthes. That may be because he doesn't know Barthes but has picked up the same basic idea from another source, or it may be that he just didn't want to detract from his own rhetoric. Anyone who cares to delve into this farrago can read his three responses-- I'll deal with Noah Bertlatsky's in a separate essay-- but the closest Lamb gets to responding to my original point is this:

The appeal of the superhero concept is not relevant when discerning the racial nature of the superhero concept. People of color far and wide enjoy media that lampoons and denigrates them; corporate hip hop would not exist if rappers who used anti-Black racial epithets in their music faced boycotts from the Black community.

I note also in this post that he repeats his pet theory that "Superheroes require Whiteness to operate," which he might believe that he has justified elsewhere, but which remains little more than special pleading here.

I note in passing that in these posts Lamb consistently denigrates those who don't buy into his concept of Blackness. These fans, he tells us, "could care less about substantive, authentic Blackness" and are willing to "enjoy media that lampoons and denigrates them." In simpler terms, they are sell-outs for wanting to "appropriate the fantasy." To care about "substantive, authentic Blackness," then, would be signaled by a refusal to be implicated in White Fantasies, whatever one conceives them to be, in an act of cognitive albeit not literal separatism.

This line of reasoning perfectly illustrates the mode of short-term rhetorical orientation. If persons from your own ingroup aren't on board with your separatist "logic," then it's because they're "inauthentic." Lamb doesn't use the term "brainwashed," but he would entirely in line with related Marxist arguments about authenticity if he did.

Now, my view of Blackness is that it is secondary to Black People, much in the way that the Sabbath was made for Man, rather than the other way round. I define myself as a true Liberal, and for me the mark of a white Liberal is that if he has had any Black Friends, he'll never tell you about them-- unlike both Ultraliberals and Ultraconservatives, who can't shut up about their supposed racial validation. I will say that I have had Black Acquaintances, and that I don't think them "inauthentic" because they buy into the superhero fantasy-- which, as I copiously pointed out in the discussion, is not some sort of germ that can be isolated from other germs upon the plate of a microscope slide. The chance to have one's own race, religion or ethnicity represented within the sphere of popular entertainment should be deemed as much a fundamental right as the right to vote.

Lamb, like Berlatsky, chooses to define the superhero genre narrowly, not only by separating it from all other genres in a wholly artificial fashion, but as a White Fantasy. This must be why "the appeal of the superhero concept is not relevant when discerning the racial nature of the superhero concept." By implication this is because such discernment can only be done by someone who has accepted Lamb's "logic" on "racial nature," and those persons of color who find the concept appealing are inauthentic and illogical because they don't appreciate just how goddamned White their Fantasy is. If they did, they would presumably be as hip as Lamb about how the media "lampoons and denigrates them"-- a conclusion Lamb supports with a scattered selection of comics stories he didn't like, mostly involving Luke Cage. I'm tempted to explore the early 1970s run of the title to see if there's any justification for these complaints, but I feel sure that even if Cage were a more positive role model in those years, Lamb would not see that as a negation of all the lampoons and denigrations he perceives.

As I said in the comments, my mention of tribal myths was advanced only to provide a grounding for my hypothesis regarding universal right. Few persons, if any, would assert that Black Africans don't have the right to articulate their own myths at the tribal level, as much as do tribal Europeans.  It follows, then, that when a nation evolves into a plurality of ethnicities, then every ethnicity still has the right to elaborate hero-myths of a modern commercial nature, whether those myths take "literary" or "subliterary" forms. If such a nation evolves so that one ethnicity (narrowly defined though terms like "White" and "Black" may be) is numerically ascendant, creators can either seek to formulate heroes that speak only to their own ethnicity, and thus sacrifice any shot at the "appeal" Lamb scorns, or they can formulate heroes who appeal across racial and ethnic divides.  Either is a choice that may come with undesirable consequences.

Unlike J, Lamb, I won't claim that only one of the choices can be right.

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