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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 25, 2015


The only pleasant thing about ultraliberal lynchings, as compared to ultraconservative lynchings, is that the former are generally content with killing nothing more than reputations. (Here is an example of one from 2013, albeit one better known to the general public.)

Of course, if you're in a financial league with Joss Whedon, you can afford to ignore the Internet's hanging-judges and their sycophantic juries. Going by Whedon's own remarks, he's been attacked many times by all sorts of  nutbars, presumably ultraconservatives as much as ultraliberals. However, in recent months the comics-related blogosphere generally-- and the Hooded Utilitarian particularly-- have conceived a new fascination for finding ways to take superficial pot-shots at Whedon. In all likelihood this "meme," as I choose to call it, has come about because of Whedon's alleged marginalization of the Black Widow character in AGE OF ULTRON, which I discussed somewhat in CURSE OF THE BLACK WHEDON-TWEETS.

One of the more ludicrous volleys appeared in April: Noah Berlatsky's BE WHITE OR EXPLODE. Given that the essay is two months old, I suppose it's "old news"-- though maybe not quite as old as writing an essay on a single episode of a television series; an episode that debuted a little short of two years ago, on 9-24-13.

In keeping with his standard practice, NB does not analyze the whole episode; only the part of it that he considers ideologically retrograde. The interested reader can wade through it if he pleases, but it boils down to the fact that (a) the show starts out with a working-class black guy performing an act of heroism, (2) NB's thunderstruck realization that the black guy is not the show's hero, but a "schlubby plot point." and (3) NB's criticism of the show for not spotlighting enough people of color.

I consider this muddled argument a "lynching" because hanging-judge Berlatsky conveniently ignores any evidence that might conflict with his prosecution of the show's producers for the crime of not being ideologically advanced. He's particularly annoyed that the episode's one black character is shown as being out of control (hence, ready to 'explode") while the mostly white guys are controlled and in control. (The presence of an Asian female in the SHIELD team is supposedly nullified by the allegation that she's a stereotype, which, even if it were true, would be pretty much impossible to demonstrate in one episode.)

I'm not a fan of AGENTS OF SHIELD (henceforth AOS), for reasons I won't explore here. Nevertheless, it's clear that the show isn't going to get a fair hearing in any court that watches only one episode-- or a court that automatically condemns said show for not having enough POC in one episode to suit the judge. It's significant that even after a correspondent informed Judge Berlatsky that one of the regular, apparently Caucasian characters was actually biracial, he simply inserted that datum into the essay as written but declined to let that fact cause him to reverse his judgment. AOS showed a character named Mike Peterson, who happened to be black, getting pacified with a tranquilizer gun, so therefore this escapist teleseries can be implicated into all the real-world narratives about criminalizing black men (Trayvon Martin is mentioned twice).. Never mind that Peterson, as written, could have been as readily played by a white actor as by a black one. Never mind that the first season's episodes quickly established that Peterson was the only one of several persons who received the destructive super-power treatment. Never mind that SHIELD is responsible for Peterson living through the experience, and that any moral umbrage regarding Peterson's destructive actions is clearly not directed at him acts but at the fiends who experimented on him-- at least some of whom were also white.  AOS is automatically guilty by association-- even though it's an association that's only in the judge's mind, that might read something like, "any disempowering portrait of a black character= automatic racism.".

In addition to considering only one episode as proof of retrograde racial tendencies, this judge also threw out of court any evidence that might have mitigated the verdict. Evidently NB decided that parallels with Trayvon Martin were the only reason that Whedon's team would have had for casting a black actor, one J. August Richards (formerly a regular on Whedon's ANGEL teleseries) as Peterson. The fact that the Peterson character was based on a Marvel character of color was not explored by His Dishonor, because such a consideration would have impeded the all-important "rush to judgment."

While I don't have any more experience than NB in the actual production of AOS, I offer for those interested my take on how this episode of alleged bigotry probably came into being:


AOS WRITER 1: OK, we've decided we're going to have one guy, Peterson, survive the Project Centipede experiment. SHIELD will save Peterson, and their investigation will bring them into conflict with the architects of the project. Are we gonna make the survivor a one-shot, or bring him back?

AOS WRITER 2: Let's make him a reference to one of the Marvel characters we have the rights to adapt. We may work into later stories or not, but using one of the old familiar characters is good for keeping the attention of the hardcore Marvel fans.

AOS WRITER 3: OK, let's do that. Who do we have rights to use? Moon Knight... Two-Gun Kid... Doctor Droom-- jeez, who bought this package?

AOS WRITER 2: Hey, we got Deathlok. He works, 'cause he was already the subject of an evil experiment. Let's make Peterson our version of Deathlok.

AOS WRITER 1: That works, and for a bonus to Whedon's Buffy fans, we could cast one of the Buffyverse actors in the role. What's Boreanaz doing these days?

AOS WRITER 2: Are you crazy, man? You can't have even an off-brand Deathlok played by a white guy. Original Deathlok is black!

AOS WRITER 1: He is? I read the seventies Deathlok; I thought he was a white guy whose skin turned grey.

AOS WRITER 3: No, man, it was kind of buried, but that version was black, too.  Number Two is right. If you have one of Marvel's black super-guys played by a white guy, the bloggers will bury us in shit.

AOS WRITER 1: All right, already; we'll get a black actor to play off-brand Deathlok-- and then, everybody will be happy---


(Fortunately the three writers were spared execution by hanging-judge Berlatsky, thanks to the appeals-court, presided over by Judge Phillips, who voided the lower court's verdict as insubstantial and not based in the rudiments of good literary crticism.)

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