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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...

Thursday, June 4, 2015


Oh, god. This thing called FIGURES OF EMPIRE-- I gave it too much credit in the preceding essay.

I was right in thinking that author J. Lamb would trump up some connection between the empires of colonial days and modern-day "white power fantasies." But Lamb doesn't even establish the connection in the sloppy, half-assed fashion beloved by Noah Berlatsky and most of his acolytes. Lamb puts forth no proofs at all. As Franklin Einspruch proclaimed of another HU contributor, Lamb's sole rhetorical posture is to establish a narrative, presume its truth, and proclaim it without modification.

Lamb feels so little need to buttress his racially divisive philosophy of superheroes that he spends the first ten LONNGGG paragraphs discussing a 2013 novel about British colonialism, and some of the art of the period. It's only after he's made this leaden attempt to communicate the evils of colonialism that he deigns to assert a connection between the "white power fantasies" that existed in the colonial period and those that he finds in modern superhero comics. I speculate that he chose to focus on British colonial art-- which, according to him, consistently portrays black people as servile-- because he wants his readers to perceive that the same visual tropes of a "master-slave" dialectic infuse not some, but all, appearances of "people of color" in American superhero fiction.

And what does this analyst of empire begin with?  The many "Sambo" images from the Golden Age of comic books? Adaptations of Edgar Rice Burroughs?

No, Lamb's first example of the master-slave dialectic is a scene from a superhero movie, CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER, which I reviewed here. In essence, because "Steve Rogers literally runs rings around Sam Wilson," this is automatically an image of black subservience to white values. To Lamb it does not matter that super-soldier Rogers had been given unfair advantages by super-science, and that he could just as easily run rings around any other non-enhanced human being, regardless of color, Though for the scriptwriters the scene was probably just a "meet-cute" to set up Wilson's initiation into superheroics-- which would put him the same footing as Captain America by giving Wilson super-scientific attainments-- for Lamb the scene is an indictment of American racial politics. To call it an indictment, though, is too broad-minded, given that the word suggests a formal accusation in a court of law. Lamb's accusation follows the logic of Lewis Carroll: "Sentence first, evidence afterwards." Or, in most cases, "evidence not at all."  I'll pass quickly over his complete misrepresentation of the film's theme. While I observed that Captain America's diffidence about the monstrous hellicarriers "reflects an ethos of fair play that doesn't hold with attacking supposed enemies before they attack you," Lamb can only paint the Captain as a fascist for defying weapons "authorized by American policymakers." And yet, as if to prove that superheroes can't win in Lamb's book, the Captain is also a hypocrite because he attacks the hellicarriers but doesn't attack "the floating nuclear version [of the hellicarriers] at sea." The Hydra conspiracy, by the way, is referred to "an ad hoc terrorist conspiracy," which only goes to prove that Lamb does not know what the phrase "ad hoc" really means.

Following this demonstration of laughable intellectual sloppiness, Lamb goes into rhetorical overdrive with a series of purple-prose condemnations of the superhero, showing that he's learned his sense of style not from Ishmael Reed but from Stan Lee.  After this extravagant effulgence, Lamb pretends to ground his next arguments in weighty citations regarding the politics of integration, which are supposedly compromised by the attempts of mega-corporations like Disney and Time-Warner to appeal to customers across racial divides, creating what Lamb calls "business models regardless of race, gender, or sexual orientation." For Lamb this is tantamount to racial erasure, though he can't be bothered to analyze any text in detail, choosing to lump together "Black Panther, Black Lighting, Bishop, Mr. Terrific" and others as endemic of this erasure of racial difference. (Sexual difference is presumably erased too, though given the attention he devotes to the subject, Lamb apparently considers this of secondary importance.)

Having made this tendentious point, he then belabors it for several more windy paragraphs, without saying anything new-- except that he asks his readers to imagine a world where "the superhero has outlived his usefulness." Given that Lamb has defined the superhero as a representation of whiteness, one can only assume that he looks forward to a day when all the legacies of white colonialism will be gone. One wonders how this miracle will be accomplished. He's apparently advising all persons of color to boycott superhero works of any kind, but if one buys into his supposition that superheroes are white power fantasies anyway, then neither big-budget films nor the smaller arena of direct-market comic books would be substantially affected by this boycott.

I sometimes wonder if radicals like Lamb really think their "rainbow coalitions" are capable of a moral rectitude beyond the capabilities of white people. If something caused the miraculous disappearance of all persons of Earth who appeared to be, or believed themselves to be, dominantly "white," can even someone as ideologically driven as Lamb believe that the remaining rainbow-hues would NOT (a) start fighting over the same bones that white people did, and (b) use the exact same tactics.

I know that there's a word for a person who believes in racial superiority, but at the moment, I can't seem to think of it. Let's see-- did it begin with the letter "R?"

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