Saturday, February 15, 2014

The Balkanization Of Everything

I post this as more a cultural anecdote than anything else.

My kids and I recently went to a comic book convention. There was a panel there that featured a famous creator walking the audience through the process of making new characters. Well over a dozen ideas were tossed around by the fans there.

What I noticed about all of these ideas was that they were all reliant on the character holding some sort of ostensible ethnic, cultural, gender, etc. diversity to make them interesting. Characters were Hispanic, female, homosexual, half black/half Asian, autistic, Muslim, etc. but with no other real personality or exceptional qualities.

Here's the funny part I see in all this. First, it pretends to make something exceptional that isn't. For example, Black Canary isn't exceptional because she's female. She's exceptional because of the things she does and the challenges she overcomes in the stories she's in. Those might be related to her femininity, sure, but she doesn't instantly become a good character because she's a woman. The mindset of would-be writers these days (and not just my fellow audience members at the panel) is that some set of appropriate cultural qualifications automatically makes something readable.

This is laziness and a great example of how dumbed down things have gotten. It also makes good stuff that stands on its own merits subject to criticism for no other reason than it has a white male as the main character.

Second, anybody remember this guy?

This, dear readers, is Vibe. Vibe was a break-dancing Hispanic guy from the inner city who was made a member of the Justice League during it's abominable "Detroit" phase. Anyways, Vibe (and the rest of the new members for that JLA team) were brought in to make the group into a young, hip team that would appeal to a new audience of readers. In other words, a lot of the same gimmick that you see media doing now.

Vibe was rightfully reviled at the time as a cheap racial stereotype with nothing else to offer but his contrived "Hispanicness." Now, we seem to be trying to inject characters with contrived personalities like Vibe into everything.

This leads to a weird Catch-22. It's like when The Cosby Show wasn't black enough. Characters get criticized for not being genuinely black/Jewish/Muslim/Hispanic, so the author ramps up their whatever factor by appealing to the exact same stereotypes that are ordinarily regarded as manifestations of prejudice under other circumstances.

All this makes for more lazy writing because now the folks with the pens rely on cheap stereotypes to make their characters "authentic."

And this doesn't even begin to address the issue of trying to make plain old crap famous in the name of diversity.

And so forth.

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