Here’s the thing about women, people of color, and gender queer characters growing closer to the spotlight and taking center stage in entertainment: Most industries, for decades, have been dominated by white men. I’m an artist, I earned my degree in Cartooning, that required I take a history of cartooning class, I sat through lectures on dusty white men for 3 hours once a week. It wasn’t that the subject wasn’t fascinating, but industries such as comics, animation, and video games were once very much “boys club.” But the world is changing and I find that the gatekeepers of the “club” are very often occupying the wide center of a Venn diagram alongside those who say current entertainment is “too political.”

Nearly a decade ago, I observed Call of Duty: World At War’s Nazi Zombies gameplay, a debut hoard mode where your goal is to destroy undead Axis Powers soldiers; Wolfenstein has always been about “what if the Nazis won and took over the world, wouldn’t that suck?” The snarky, beloved Indiana Jones quite regularly thwarted Nazi attempts to obtain dangerously powerful mystic artifacts. So when exactly did people stop noticing the pretty obvious political message (Nazis = bad) in their media and some decide to start marching in the night with torches yelling “Jews will not replace us!” and “Blood and soil!”

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Captain America gets a lot of flack these days, but his history seems to fit the facets of his current mainstream presence. He literally punched Hitler. He expressed disdain at the very idea of deterring students from exercising their right to protest. And yet years later, when Sam Wilson takes up the mantle and faces off with the xenophobic, KKK-esque Sons of the Serpent (who also hold previous malevolent significance in Marvel comic history,) there was uproar. Countless pieces of media have specifically made out the Nazi regime as the truest embodiment of evil in real world history… so when the hell did this change?

 

Recently, I spoke with a lovely friend who has often discussed with/taught me about the subject of Judaism and representation in media. I asked her what she thought of Markus Meechan’s case in Scotland and having been charged with a hate crime (short version: he made a video joking about how his girlfriend won’t shut up about how cute her pug is, so he’d teach him to be a nazi.) To her, the “hate crime” label is extreme, but there was a much more important issue that Meechan’s comedy steps into: Turning a (very unfortunate and increasingly) real threat such as Nazis into a joke can be a great way to fight that hate and ignorance or a very dangerous benefit for them.

 

The Holocaust was one of the most indescribably horrific events in history, the Nazi regime systematically murdered millions of not just Jewish people, but anyone who didn’t fit their ideology of what was to be a sole superior race. To turn the Nazis into a joke is not inherently bad and satire is meant to be a clever, magnificent tool to punch up at oppressors. The tricky part is the landing; bad satire can appear to punch down at those being oppressed, such as certain satirical anti-muslim comic strips produced by Charlie Hebdo (side note, to criticize those works is to by no means to advocate for the tragedy that befell those working for the publication.)

Call of Duty: WWII – Nazi Zombies

My friend and I concluded the following: “the problem isn’t making Nazis the butt of jokes, but there a problem with Nazis being a default fictional villain without really showing /what/ makes them so awful besides what they call themselves to the point where people end up seeing Nazis as something fictional more than as real life evil…If you’re gonna talk about nazis in media, they need to be able to display their evil in at least some context to be understood first before they can be mocked [or fought against] properly.” Furthermore, “It’s like you go through a movie where there’s a bad guy, but the good ones will show you what makes him bad. His methods, his ideology. Loki wanted to subjugate the entire population of Earth on behalf of Thanos, who seeks to achieve peace through randomly selected genocide. Families torn apart, lives destroyed. They explain why Thanos sucks first through Gamora and  Nebula, then by his own words. You show Nazis are bad because they slaughtered millions of people in the name of creating a ‘perfect race/populace’… how cold and calculated that was. It’s insidious on its own. X-Men First Class managed to pull that off [concisely] in my opinion with young Erik Lensherr [in Auschwitz]

So yes, there is a lot of politics in media these days, but those who seem bothered by it either, understandably, are maybe just looking for escapism in general from this stressful reality or, what I’ve been seeing more of, these people aren’t used to having the real-life truth of true human apathy/cruelty. I’d hope the latter will consider that part of their discomfort in such plainly stated true evil is because they see parallels in their own beliefs, thus initiating some healthy self-reflection.

Wonder-Woman-4-Hire with a fan (Nov 2016)

Let’s wrap this up on a lighter note: Have you ever noticed that marginalized groups are almost always entirely focused on inclusion when it comes to entertainment? FlameCon strives for accessibility and love in its diversity, black cosplayers such as Wonder-Woman-4-Hire encourage young children to see the heroes in themselves, Black Panther gives black people of all ages a sense of pride.

Casting Deadpool 2, thus changing Domino’s race and giving her Vitiligo, both gives the character a little extra realism as to her appearance and gives black women another incredible lady of fiction to identify with. By all means criticize the way politics and diversity is handled, no crime in things like saying the fourth powerpuff girl, a black character, had a weak story. Even better if the criticism is constructive! But politics and identity have always had a place in entertainment, especially comics, and the people making them in and around the mainstream aren’t just straight, white guys anymore. If nothing else, the ability to see great characters you can really relate to is a beautiful thing.

24 COMMENTS

  1. “politics and identity have always had a place in entertainment”

    Megan is utterly correct. Comics have always reflected what was happening in the real world, even when it was controversial.

    The gripes about politics in entertainment almost always come from people on the right. They have the strange idea that feminism and diversity are more polarizing than the Vietnam War, Watergate, the civil rights movement or campus protests were in the late ’60s and early ’70s. (All those things were reflected in Marvel comics of the time.)

  2. The gripes about politics in entertainment almost always come from people on the right.”

    That’s largely correct but they’re not complaining about politics, they’re complaining about partisanship.

    For example, how many times have late night hosts mentioned Bill Clinton being an accused rapist in 20 years vs. how many times have they said something bad about Donald Trump in any random week?

    Few actually care about getting any politics in their entertainment. They care when entertainment is being used as a cudgel to bash their side. Such as those Marvel comics of the 60s and 70s,which were read by VASTLY more people and attracted far less criticism. That’s because they may have been political but almost always took pains to avoid partisan hatchet jobs.

    Mike

  3. @Mike – Clinton was pummeled when he was president–often rightly so. But he’s not president now, so of course Trump gets more attention. Also, changing or avoiding the politics in comics wouldn’t return us the readership levels of the past. Technological changes and social entertainment preferences are far more important reasons why comics have declined.

  4. Mike, if you listened to conservative talk radio in the ’90s. you heard Bill Clinton called a rapist, a Communist, a pot-smoking draft dodger, and possibly a murderer. That went on every day for 8 years, and for many years after he left office.

    And when the Lewinsky scandal broke, Leno and Letterman did nothing but Clinton sex jokes for 2 years.

    I’m not sure it’s true that Marvel avoided “partisan hatchet jobs” in the early ’70s. Right-wing villains like the Tribune (in Daredevil) and Sam Bullit (in Spider-Man) were evil incarnate. And, of course, the leader of the Secret Empire in Captain America was Nixon.

    I can understand why Marvel took these stands: they were trying to appeal to college students, who moved to the left in the Vietnam years. The Code prevented Marvel from calling for violent revolution, or glorifying the Weather Underground. But the writers made their anti-war and anti-Nixon views pretty clear.

  5. I think a big problem is that people moved from saying “is this criticism correct – does it have any validity?” to “that’s my side/guy, I’ve gotta defend it.” So all we do is spend time pointing out “whataboutisms.” That leads to crazy things like folks insisting Joe McCarthy “had a point,” etc.

    It’s good to go back and reevaluate history and point out where the accepted orthodoxy has errors that ought to be corrected, and of course “precedent” has value. But I think it’s wiser to not get too caught up on that – look at what’s going on today. Does it seem like a good thing? And without getting into/making your first reaction, “Well, that’s my guy, so I’ve gotta defend him.”

  6. “@Mike – Clinton was pummeled when he was president–often rightly so”

    Again, how many times did late night hosts mention Bill Clinton being an accused rapist over the course of 20 years vs. how many bad things do they say about Trump in a random week? The accusation came out while Clinton was President and he’s remained in the public ever since, with his wife even running for President.

    That other people have said negative things about Bill Clinton has nothing to do with my point, which is that Republicans don’t get mad when late night hosts rip Trump. They get mad when they rip Trump and don’t go after Democrats the same way. That’s partisanship, not politics.

    Go look up how these late night hosts had NOTHING to say about Harvey Weinstein after his sex allegations came out. If he’d been a rich and famous guy who supported Republicans, like the Koch brothers as an example, do you think they would have been as reluctant to comment on that?

    Mike

  7. “Mike, if you listened to conservative talk radio”

    Jimmy Kimmel is the equivalent of Rush Limbaugh?

    “Right-wing villains like the Tribune (in Daredevil) and Sam Bullit (in Spider-Man) were evil incarnate.”

    And Marvel has also had left-wing villains like Firebrand, Flag-Smasher, and a truck load of evil commies.

    Again, when the President of the United States gets caught up in a criminal enterprise, it’s not partisan to write comic book stories about that. It would be partisan to ignore it. But a Mockingbird cover where she’s wearing an “Ask me about my feminist agenda” t-shirt?

    Mike

  8. When I was growing up one of the more popular shows was Hogan’s Heroes. Go back and look at the 3 Stooges take on Hitler with Moe cast as the dictator. It’s always been there. Then again go and look at the Beverly Hillbillies and Grannie’s fanatical devotion to the confederacy. Look at the blatant sexism of Bewitched and I Dream of Jeannie. It was all funny then, and can still be funny if you don’t think about it too hard.
    The difference now is the myth of tolerance has been shattered because everyone can be so very intolerant now because they can find their own crowd. I don’t like the way marvel has handled it’s major characters and storylines, I think most of the writers have lost any real idea of good or evil and now just toss them into a blender to a point where this years major villain is next years major hero. Cap comes to mind, but there are plenty of others. When I spoke out on other boards I was met with stone silence to the point of being ostracized or just flat out tossed off boards. The only way to stay on those boards was to go along or scream as loudly as everyone else. No one is really tolerant anymore. They don’t have to be.
    Another difference is the feeling I have that the major moves toward diversity are less story driven as they are marketing strategies. Stunts such as making Iceman gay, having Thor replaced by a woman, switching out Carol Danvers’ (and that is the prime example in my opinion of a character who is nothing more or less than a marketing strategy) powerset, identity and retconning most of her history; and through out all of these changes sitting back with a smug little smile and enjoying the anger and controversy. It reminds me a bit of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s when being hip became fashionable and counter-culture clothing became what you had to wear. So a college student wearing tie-die T-shirts and torn jeans was copied by a fashion designer and sold at exorbitant prices. Not because they wanted to look good, but because it was the fashionable thing to do. Diversity now in comics is like that; it’s a marketing choice based on how many readers they can pull in. Put diversity against cold hard cash and so long as the cash increases so will the diversity, if it doesn’t then expect the ‘dusty white men’ to make a very rapid comeback. In modern comics it’s all about money, it’s always and only all about money.

  9. “That leads to crazy things like folks insisting Joe McCarthy “had a point,” etc.”

    Or our president trying to draw equivalency between neo-Nazis and people protesting against them. There aren’t “two sides” when you’re talking about Nazis, or today’s neo-Nazis and white supremacists. Something to remember on the Charlottesville anniversary.

    Here’s the sort of thing Simon & Kirby were concerned about when they created Captain America: in 1939, some 20,000 Americans gathered at Madison Square Garden to cheer for fascism. The railing against the “Jewish-controlled press” was no different from what today’s neo-Nazis say.

    Watch this 7-minute film:

    https://fieldofvision.org/a-night-at-the-garden

  10. Mike said: “That’s largely correct but they’re not complaining about politics, they’re complaining about partisanship.”

    Really? Name the comic books that endorsed a Democrat for public office. Of course, you can’t. Because there are none.

    “But a Mockingbird cover where she’s wearing an “Ask me about my feminist agenda” t-shirt?”

    Does that upset you for some reason?

    “Go look up how these late night hosts had NOTHING to say about Harvey Weinstein after his sex allegations came out.”

    Sorry to prove you wrong, but:

    https://www.thedailybeast.com/how-every-late-night-host-took-on-harvey-weinstein

  11. I’m amazed that fanboys are still so angry about that Mockingbird cover, almost 2 years later. They were throwing tantrums over a comic that had been canceled. Writer Chelsea Cain deleted her Twitter account after the hatred rained down on her.

    “There is still a vocal segment of the comic book readership that is dominated by sexist jerks with Twitter accounts,” she wrote.

    As Gail Simone tweeted: “Chelsea is being harassed and targeted by jackass losers for no reason except their own inadequacies.”

    https://ew.com/article/2016/10/26/chelsea-cain-mockingbird-feminist-backlash/

  12. Politics have always been there for sure and there will always be a segment of fanboys who complain that the comic book characters aren’t acting the way they want them to act. Calling someone who doesn’t like Sam Wilson as Captain America a “racist” misses the point but it’s easy to dismiss that person’s opinion because no one really likes to be called a racist (especially people who are not racists)and will walk away from the argument. The faux bravery on both sides (the comic creator who says punch a Nazi but can’t look up from Twitter long enough to do anything about it versus the guy on YouTube who thinks the writer of Black Panther writes T’Challa too African) gets ridiculous. There’s a lack of maturity on both sides and the idea of getting more people to read comics gets lost in the I Want Spider-Man To Be Me (“Spidey should be FILL IN THE BLANK so that he represents me and I can enjoy reading the book/Spider-Man should age with me or I won’t read the comic) thought process that exists on social media. Politics is nothing new to comics but the lack of respect for opposite views taints the medium.

  13. When the writer of this article starts off with a dose of misandry and racism, you know where she’s coming from and true to form the crux of her argument is a strawman. Nobody is saying that there shouldn’t be politics in comics, what people are saying is that comics shouldn’t be a propaganda tool for the writers or editors political beliefs. People want quality stories, not polemics.

    btw George, Antifa are violent anarcho-communists, every bit as bad as Richard Spencer and the alt-right. Why people give communists a free pass when it comes to scorn is beyond me.

  14. Mike, do you understand that Bill Clinton was only president for three of the last 20 years? Is that somehow not clear to you? Do you think he’s still president or something? Is that’s what’s up here?

  15. Shawn said: “there will always be a segment of fanboys who complain that the comic book characters aren’t acting the way they want them to act”

    You got that right. When a lot of fans complain about the way characters act — not just in comics but also in movies and TV shows — what they really mean is, “The character didn’t act the way I would have acted (or think I would have acted) in that situation.”

    A recent example is the gripes about Luke Skywalker’s characterization in LAST JEDI.

    Some fans can’t imagine anyone having different attitudes, opinions or experiences than their own. A total lack of empathy for people who are different than themselves. As Trump would tweet: “Sad!”

  16. Yarg said: “btw George, Antifa are violent anarcho-communists, every bit as bad as Richard Spencer and the alt-right. Why people give communists a free pass when it comes to scorn is beyond me.”

    The difference is that Antifa doesn’t have allies in the White House. The alt-right does.

  17. Yarg

    But a good story can be both and be so subtle you’re not even aware of it. It’s when things get too blatant to ignore that the story falls apart. It’s impossible for an author not to put his own views into the story, it’s very possible for an author to put his and other opposing views in the story. But it can be very rare. Some of them just get carried away with their own outrage and the change to take a shot at those whom they consider ‘wrong’ that they just can’t help themselves and I don’t see editors holding them back that much.

  18. Great piece…will it enlighten as it should probably not much…but remember as said, “allies in the WH” is a real big deal.

  19. George said:

    “The difference is that Antifa doesn’t have allies in the White House. The alt-right does.”

    There’s about as much hard evidence for that statement as the statement that the liberal press consistently minimizes or ignores the illegal activities of Antifa.

    Since the above writer quoted Captain America, I’ll quote Avengers:

    “Remember, it’s still a free country. Any misfit, monkey or mental case can hire a hall, so long as they don’t break any laws doing it.”

    That one has the advantage of applying to the worst elements of both left and right.

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