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NUM-INOUS COMICS PT. 2

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...

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

TRIBAL IN PARADISE

As a quick follow-up to my last essay, I'll expand upon some of the reasons that I don't think it would be a big crisis if all the Amazons of Paradise Island were white, or why previous depictions of this status, whether in comic books or the 1970s teleseries, are not implicated in some sort of racist conspiracy.

In my refutation of Berlatsky, I mentioned that even if WW's creator Marston had wanted to do a liberation-fantasy directed at "the women of either local minorities or of Third World countries," no comics-publisher would have touched it. That calls for two different expansions:

(1) Some ideologues have criticized the early feminist movement for being too centered on the plight of white women, and not of their darker-skinned sisters. This is clearly putting the cart before the horse, in that there was no practical way that the women who had been marginalized by majority culture could have assumed a dominant role in the framing of feminism-- not for lack of ability, but for lack of resources. Simply put, 'POC women" of the 1940s had far less leisure time to spend on politics. I strongly doubt that even progressive males of the period. whether white or non-white, would have agreed to raise the children while their wives went out to raise their consciousness a la bell hooks. The greatest gains of Black Americans in the 1940s related almost entirely to the liberation of black men in the workplace, as seen with 1941's establishment of the Fair Employment Practices Committee.

(2) I characterized DC Comics-- and by extension, all of the comic-book publishers of the period-- as businessmen who "played to the prejudices of the dominant white majority most of the time, while allowing for occasional breakthroughs with particular characters." This means that just as there were vaguely pro-imperialist fantasies circling around, like Marston's African tale in WW #19, there were also a fair number of progressive stories, such as a couple of postwar GREEN LAMA stories that critiqued the poison of racism. But both the progressive and regressive stories were occasional in nature; they existed to entertain the readers of the white majority in one way or the other, not to reform society as such.

No blogpost of mine (and certainly not of Berlatsky's) can do justice to the complex social and economic history that led to the marginalization of POC in the United States, in contrast to the avowed ideals by which many white Americans believed that they lived. Nevertheless, while the tastes of the white majority determined that early comics focused almost on Caucasian protagonists, it's still arguable as to whether a given work, be it a comic book or a movie based on one, is implicated in historical racism simply for the crime of omitting POC characters from its narrative.




STAR WARS was the test-case for racial representation. Not long after the film came out, I recall hearing a black comedian say something like, "Tell the truth, white people; you like STAR WARS because it means ya'll gonna leave alla us behind!" There may be more truth than humor in that statement, and Lucasfilms was quick to remedy the lack of POC in the SW universe by introducing Lando Calrissian in the second movie.

And this was the right decision. In the case of STAR WARS, there was no reason not to have all sorts of POC human beings represented, since it was a fantasy of humans and aliens existing in a universe devoid of any connection to the history of Earth-humans.

Fast-forward 36 years, though, and we have Noah Berlatsky foaming at the mouth because he thinks all of the Amazons of Paradise Island will be white. In contrast to STAR WARS, his righteous resolution does present some narrative problems with the 2017 WONDER WOMAN film, depending on how the Amazons come into existence.

Putting aside the question as to whether all Greeks of the Classical period were "white" as we now understand the denotation-- a discussion best fitted to the adherents and detractors of BLACK ATHENA-- Marston's original idea is that all of the Amazons who come to Paradise Island are descended from Greeks. Quite probably Marston would never have cared to depict any Classical Greeks as non-white, even if he had been apprised of alternative interpretations. But was he racist to default to the common idea that all Greeks were white?

In a word, no. The Greeks of Classical times were, by my reading, an extremely xenophobic race. I'm sure that they, like every other culture on the planet, mingled with other human *clines* when they were so "in-clined." But that likelihood doesn't mean that there wasn't a dominant phenotype in Greek culture-- and that was the logic that Marston and other contributors to the Wonder Woman mythos have followed. It's an ineluctable part of history, as I detailed in this essay, that the people of any given tribe become psychologically attuned to the dominant phenotype, and it becomes an expression of their social identity-- not, as the ideologues would have it, as a means of exerting social control. It can *become* a means of social control, as it was in 20th-century America, but there too it started as an expression of social identity.

The reader should note that when George Perez introduces Philippus to the Amazon mythology, he does through a *deus ex machina,* according to Wikipedia:

3,000 years ago a select few of the Olympian gods, which included ArtemisAthenaHestiaDemeter andAphrodite, took the souls of women slain throughout time by the hands of men and sent them to the bottom of theAegean Sea. The souls then began to form bodies with the clay on the sea bed. Once they reached the surface the clay bodies became living flesh and blood Amazons. Philippus was one of these new race of women.

I suspect that the makers of the 2017 film will probably find some way to inject "diverse" Amazons. Certainly they would be ill-advised to follow Perez's creation-story, which is well suited to an ongoing comic book but not to a stand-alone movie. The interpolation of, say, Middle Eastern Amazons would make a great deal more sense than a character from Black Africa, since the historical Greeks had a lot more contact with the former than with the latter.

But should the filmmakers have to do so? Is it moral to insist that some POC character be injected into every narrative, just so that the filmmakers can avoid the taint of being called racist? I know that the Social Justice Warriors like to think of this sort of kibitzing as righting the wrongs of history. Yet if this passionate call for justice depends so substantially on fear-mongering, then it's not different from the tyranny of the old white majority-- except in terms of whose ox is gored.

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