Comics / Cult Favorite

Cultural Inappropriation


By Philip Schweier
October 27, 2021 - 08:31

I am a willing participant of nerd culture. I read comic books, I watch Star Trek. To me, it’s just entertainment, and not intended to be taken too seriously.

I appreciate cultural representation in my entertainment as much as the next fan – when it’s done well. I am not privy to the editorial/creative mandates of DC Comics, so I can’t say if its recent announcement regarding Jon Kent coming out will be managed well or not. But past experience makes me doubtful.

The comics and television industries have a history of taking established characters and modifying the nature of their role in some way. In the 1970s and ‘80s, it was common to add a layer of ethnicity to existing characters. Today, the trend seems to be to modify their sexuality.

Regardless of the chosen approach, modifying existing characters seems lazy and cheap. It’s a disservice to long-time fans of the character, and also to the socio-ethnic group in question. Some might regard as akin to offering them hand-me-downs.

An example of this might be the forthcoming My Adventures With Superman, a new cartoon series. On the show, Jimmy Olsen is African-American. Forward thinking, but I can understand where some might regard it as token in nature. Long-hailed as a de facto sidekick, Jimmy remains subservient to the hero, regardless of skin color.

Laurence Fishburne as Perry White
If producers genuinely wished to more effectively elevate the profiles of people of color, perhaps a better strategy might be to make Perry White, editor of the Daily Planet, an African-American. After all, it’s not without precedent. Laurence Fishburne played the role in Man of Steel (2013).

I believe the better approach would be to develop original socio-ethnic characters from the ground up. They should be intended to be African-American, Hispanic, gay, Jewish, Asian, lesbian, Navajo, etc. Whatever the aspect of the character might be, it’s also important to keep in mind that the socio-ethnic layer is only one aspect of their persona. For instance, Daredevil is not a Catholic character; he’s a character who happens to be Catholic.

In the past, DC Comics has taken supporting characters from its flagship franchises and created variants. That way if the modified version fails in some way, they can be swept under the rug and forgotten, without any damage to the market value of their original forebears.

I could be wrong, but perhaps by having Jon Kent come out, DC Comics is turning sexual identity into a commodity to be exploited. Some might consider this to be cultural appropriation, but I’ll let those in the LGBTQ+ community be the judge of that.

I don't believe this change is about "cancel culture” or "being woke." Such labels and any kind of movement behind them are meaningless to me. Superman, and Star Wars, and Elvis, and Coca-Cola, and McDonalds, are all brands with a global reach, and the companies that manage them have to think beyond U.S. borders.

America first, sure, but other markets next. Increased profits are the reality.

For those of us in comic book fandom specifically, I feel as if our entertainment is being cheapened further in an effort to make DC Comics relevant and marketable. As an audience member, I’d much rather a comic book publisher focus on telling good stories.

Last Updated: August 31, 2023 - 08:12

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