Tag Archives: prejudice

A (Non-Preachy) Lesson In Tolerance In Supergirl #19

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Growing up, every TV show that aired between 3:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m. seemed air some sort of pro-tolerance, anti-bigotry message. These shows assumed, rightly in my case, that a lot of kids who’d just gotten home from school would plop themselves in front of the TV and rather than doing their homework. In terms of targeting a market, it was pretty brilliant.

Having been fed those messages for over two decades now, I think they’ve been belabored to the point where most kids and young adults have gotten the message. Some are even annoyed by it. Even I admit there’s only so many times I can hear some poorly-rendered cartoon character say that tolerance is good and bigotry is bad.

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In recent years, especially with the rise of certain regressive elements within popular media, these pro-diversity, anti-bigotry messages have gone to distressing extremes. It’s no longer enough to just send the message. It has to be angrily protested by media critics, internet mobs, and hyper-sensitive crowds that push political correctness way past its previous extremes.

I could spend fill several blog posts of instances of people whining about a lack of diversity or complaining that political correctness has gone too far. I can understand the frustration of both sides to some extent. Both see a problem with the way tolerance is being promoted within society and they want to fix it. They both want to make society better and that’s entirely commendable.

Instead of focusing on the frustrations, though, I want to highlight an example of a pro-tolerance, anti-bigotry message done right. By that, I mean it sends a message in a way that doesn’t sound preachy, heavy-handed, or denigrating to another group. As it just so happens, it unfolds in a comic book, a medium that has provided me with many deeper messages in the past.

In this instance, the comic is Supergirl #19 by Steve Orlando and Vita Ayala. Being a fan of the “Supergirl” TV show and of beautiful, lovable female heroes in general, I’ve been following this comic since it relaunched in 2016. It’s a series that deals with heroic conflicts typical of DC Comics and anyone remotely associated with Superman. This issue, however, takes a moment to get personal.

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The story itself is a brief, self-contained narrative often referred to as a one-shot. You don’t have to know the full story of the character or even the events of the past several issues to understand what’s going on. You don’t even have to know the first thing about Supergirl to appreciate the message that this issue conveys.

It’s built around a personal story told by a character named Lee Serano, a character whose life Supergirl recently saved. That, in and of itself, isn’t too remarkable. Supergirl, Superman, and pretty much every major DC hero saves the life of a random character in almost every issue. However, it’s Lee’s struggles beyond being in the wrong place at the wrong time that make her note-worthy.

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Lee identifies as genderqueer or non-binary, a concept that tends to make headlines for all the wrong reasons. More often than not, stories about people who identify with this label are only identified as a way to point out how far political correctness has gone. It’s often a classification that certain people cite when making fun of those who think there need to be over 58 genders.

Whatever your attitudes towards gender, it’s still generally a dick move to ridicule and degrade someone for identifying that way. Throughout Supergirl #19, Lee doesn’t come off as someone who is just craving attention by identifying as some extreme minority. She comes off as someone who is genuinely conflicted with her gender and is afraid how it’ll affect her.

That’s where Supergirl comes in and this is where the anti-bigotry message gains some unexpected, but welcome dimensions. Like any good hero, Supergirl goes out of her way to help Lee beyond saving her life. She offers her both consolation and sincere affection, as any decent person would to someone who is in distress. The fact she has superpowers is basically an afterthought.

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It’s here where Lee stands up for Supergirl in a way that might catch even the anti-PC crowd by surprise. She acknowledges that there are those who look at Supergirl and only see this blond-haired, blue-eyed, traditionally beautiful, able-bodied, cis-gendered woman with superpowers. Her very presence is seen as part of the problem.

The fact she acknowledges this has an important context. This issue takes place at a time when Supergirl is trying to regain the trust of the public. Unlike her more famous cousin, she hasn’t been around long enough to earn everybody’s implicit trust when she makes a mistake. The extent of that mistake is covered in previous issues, but you don’t need to know them to get the message here.

In one of the most revealing scenes, Lee confronts the argument that certain regressive types would use against Supergirl if she ever tried to get involved with gender minorities, social justice, and everything in between. She makes this important comment that sets the tone for the entire story.

“People are out there talking, saying Supergirl’s dangerous, that she can’t be trusted. Saying that her hiding her dad – trying to help him get better – is wrong. I heard the talk. Believed it for a while, even. I mean, she’s the “All-American Ideal – blonde, white, pretty – and she can fly. She MUST think she’s better than us – above us,” and, “There’s no way she could understand,” right? But that’s not the truth.”

This statement is critical in that it highlights the most frustrating part of discussing these issues with the overly-regressive crowd. Their politics and attitudes are so skewed in one direction that they see anyone who doesn’t line up with their particular group, however eccentric it might be, as somehow unworthy of being part of the conversation.

It often happens in discussions involving race, gender, religion, and most other minority issues. For certain people in those discussions, often the angrier, more radical wings, just associating with the majority is seen as fraternizing with the enemy. It doesn’t just limit the conversation. It dehumanizes the opposing side.

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Supergirl #19 takes the opposite approach in that both Supergirl and Lee are humanized to the upmost. Lee isn’t some confused, attention-seeking teenager. Supergirl isn’t some arrogant, stereotypical stand-in for majority. They’re just two individuals, connecting like mature individuals do to help one another in a time of need. It’s basically a template for simple human decency.

Contrast that with those who claim white people shouldn’t contribute to conversations about race. Contrast that with those who claim beautiful people shouldn’t contribute to issues surrounding body shaming. Contrast that with those who claim men should shut up when discussing women’s issues, scorning anyone who dares to follow Matt Damon’s example.

These instances don’t just take the anti-bigotry, pro-tolerance message to an unhealthy extreme. It angers and alienates those on the other side of the argument. It gives them no reason to listen to what someone who considers themselves gender non-binary has to say, relying instead on prejudices and assumptions.

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Neither side benefits from that approach. Nobody helps anyone when two sides of an issue harbor so much animosity that the very presence of another is seen as an insult. Yes, Supergirl does check most of the boxes for someone who faces far fewer issues than a non-white, gender non-binary individual in the United States. That doesn’t mean she’s part of the problem.

I don’t want to spoil the rest of Supergirl #19. Like other comics I’ve singled out in the past, I’d rather people take the time to read it in order to experience the breadth of the story. It’s a story worth heeding during these contentious times. I would argue it offers something far more important than those old after-school PSAs.

More than anything else, it emphasizes treating people as individuals and not lumping them into a particular group with a particular agenda. Lee points out that people just assume Supergirl thinks and feels a certain way because of how she looks and acts. That’s a flawed assumption that dehumanizes and denigrates her.

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It doesn’t matter if Supergirl, or anyone else who gets involved in contentious social issues, looks a certain way or doesn’t check the right boxes. She’s still a human being, albeit one with alien origins. Unless you can actually read her thoughts and feelings, as some DC characters can, then making those assumptions is just a different form of bigotry hiding behind the guise of anti-bigotry.

Supergirl #19 is a solid story with an important message. I would argue it’s more important now than it would’ve been in the days of after-school specials. It’s a good thing to promote tolerance, but not to the point that it inspires intolerable attitudes. Supergirl’s compassion helped Lee in her time of need. Her life and Supergirl’s are better because of it.

The fact that Supergirl didn’t even need to use her powers that much to help Lee is a testament to her character, as well as an inspiration. If she can help a total stranger that much, just by being decent and compassionate, then what’s our excuse?

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Filed under Comic Books, Jack Fisher, Superheroes, Current Events, gender issues, human nature

What “The Gifted” Reveals (And Warns Us) About Ourselves

Every now and then, a TV show comes along at just the right time. Like bikinis in the summer, hot chocolate in the winter, or beer at a football game, it just makes the right connections for all the right reasons.

You could argue that shows like “Married With Children” or “South Park” were shows that just happened to come along at a time when audiences were eager for something different, but didn’t know it. Some, especially “Married With Children,” couldn’t be made today because of changing standards. The fat jokes alone would’ve triggered endless whining on social media that would’ve gone on for years.

That brings me to “The Gifted,” Fox’s latest effort to squeeze every cent of profit from the X-men franchise. Yes, this is going to be another one of those posts. As I’ve done before, I’m going to tie real-world issues to one of my favorite superheroes. Unlike other posts, though, those ties go beyond getting romance tips from Deadpool.

While I’m usually skeptical about efforts to shamelessly exploit the glut of superhero shows on TV, I gladly make an exception for “The Gifted” and for a good reason. Compared to superhero melodrama on the CW or the gritty violence of the superheroes on Netflix, it’s a very different kind of show with a very different kind of struggle. Unlike aliens, blind lawyers, and secret armies of ninjas, this struggle is more relevant.

That’s because “The Gifted” doesn’t focus on heroes. Sure, it takes place in the same world as the X-men, but they aren’t the focus. Instead, the show builds its story around the Von Strucker family. They don’t live in a mansion. They don’t have their own personal hypersonic jet. They don’t even have their own personal high-tech training room.

The Von Struckers, unlike their comic counterparts, are an ordinary middle class family. They aren’t concerned with superheroes, super-villains, and insane love triangles between heroes. They’re concerned with work, school, taxes, and taking out the garbage. In a sense, they are a reflection of real people in a world with unreal challenges.

That’s a perspective that rarely manifests in the X-men movies. In fact, other than a memorable scene in “X2: X-men United,” the impact that mutants have on ordinary people is rarely touched on. Sure, they’ll show humans running in terror from a Sentinel or a pissed-off Magneto. That doesn’t give us much insight into the lives these people live.

The Gifted” builds an entire narrative around a family that lives in this world and during exceedingly tense times, no less. This is not a world where seeing the X-men take down a Sentinel is the sort of thing that happens every other Tuesday. This is a world where both the X-men and the Brotherhood have disappeared in an event that has only been referred to as “The July 15th Incident.”

That incident, much like 9/11 or a major assassination, created a dramatic/traumatic shift in society. Suddenly, mutants aren’t just another minority issue. They’re an existential threat, like nuclear weapons or mass pandemics. Mutants aren’t just a distant threat anymore. They’re a real threat.

From the perspective of the Von Struckers, at least in the first episode, the danger of mutants is like the threat of terrorism. They know it’s there. They accept the systems and precautions that society has put in place to deal with it. They’ve learned not to think much of it. They’re too busy just being an ordinary family in a world that happens to have individuals who have the mutant ability to turn into ice cream.

In a sense, we’ve done the same thing in the real world. We accept that we live in a world where the NSA reads all our emails, the CIA tries to assassinate world leaders, and gross injustices happen every day. We know, to some extent, that it’s manifesting all around us. We just shut it out and try to live our lives.

What happens, though, when that injustice hits you or someone you love? That’s what happens to the Von Struckers in the very first episode of “The Gifted.” Their blissfully oblivious lives are shattered when Reed and Kate Strucker find out their children are both mutants. Not only that, one of them ends up trashing the school gymnasium when his powers first manifest.

Their happy, middle class lives aren’t just disrupted. They’re shattered, spit on, and covered in fresh whale shit. To make matters worse, Reed Strucker, played by Stephen Moyer, was a prosecutor who made his living sending mutants to prison. Short of beating mutant children with a baseball bat for a living, he couldn’t have had a worse job.

The mutants he sent to prison weren’t always guilty of crimes. Sometimes, it was just a matter of being in the wrong place when their biology decided to act up. It would be like a teenage boy being arrested for an awkward boner, something we can’t always control. Granted, mutant powers tend to be more destructive, but they can be just as unpredictable.

It’s this revelation, as well as the events that unfold in the episodes that follow, that really highlight the impact that “The Gifted” leaves. It’s an impact more relevant than most X-men stories, including the ones that involve jealous ex-lovers. In a sense, it’s one that many minorities already understand all too well.

From the beginning of the show, there’s never a sense that Reed Strucker believed that he was hurting anyone. He never came off as the kind of guy who hates mutants and longs for the days where men like him can throw mutants into internment camps. He’s just doing his job, which he believes is making the public safer.

It’s really no different from those who genuinely believe that homosexuality is inherently harmful or that gun control will only lead to more violence. Most of the people who believe these things, the Pat Robertsons and Richard Spencers of the world notwithstanding, are decent people who want to live in a world where they’re families are safe.

Then, something traumatic comes along that shatters this worldview. They find out they have a gay son or they find themselves in the crossfire of a mass shooting. Suddenly, they can’t ignore these injustices anymore. They can’t go about their happy lives as though the system isn’t victimizing someone. It’s one of those rare situations where no amount of excuse banking can change the truth.

In a sense, the Von Strucker family are reflections of the families in the real world that find themselves on the wrong end of injustice. Whether it’s a Muslim family victimized by racial profiling or being on the wrong side of a sexual harassment claim, it’s not possible to avoid or ignore it anymore. These injustices are hurting you and the people you love. It’s soul-shattering, but that’s what makes “The Gifted” so compelling.

In the fourth episode, this message really hits hard. Reed finds himself in a jail cell right next to Polaris, a mutant who he prosecuted in the first episode, who also happens to be Magneto’s daughter. In these bleak conditions, she basically lays out all the hard truths that he and others like him avoid.

Yes, there was an incident where a group of mutants, which you could substitute for any minority, did something terrible. That was a terrible incident, but efforts to prevent other incidents like that are just hurting real people who don’t want to be superheroes fighting killer robots. Polaris is just one of them. Reed’s children are two more.

That harsh message is one that carries over in the real world, often in tragic ways. Back in 2007, a documentary called “For The Bible Tells Me So” highlighted deeply religious families who had been vehemently anti-gay, only to have one of their children turn out to be gay. Sometimes, it changed their perspective. In some instances, though, it ended tragically.

It’s a harsh, but necessary truth. We can’t control our circumstances. Much like Reed Strucker, we sometimes find ourselves in the worst situations at the worst possible times. The world is chaotic, full of strange people who do terrible things. The fact we can’t control or prevent those things is agonizing, at times. We, as a society, will do as much as we can to mitigate that danger.

In the process, though, we’ll try to fight injustice with more injustice. We’ll obsess less over what is real and more about what is potentially real. It leads us to do extreme things like throw innocent people into internment camps or create killer robots to protect people.

The Gifted” reveals the cost of those measures. It goes beyond the eccentricities surrounding superheroes and focus on the real impact that real minorities feel. Most who are lucky enough to not be part of that group remain content to ignore it. Then, when it finally affects them, they realize just how unjust it is.

At a time when injustices are harder to hide and minorities are a growing part of society, these are important messages. The X-men have been exploring these themes for years, often with colorful adventures involving cosmic birds. “The Gifted” goes even deeper and during these troubled times, these are messages worth heeding.

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Filed under Current Events, gender issues, X-men

Why Bigotry And Prejudice Can NEVER Be Resolved (For Now)

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It’s all around us. It generates protests, outrage, and angry rants of every variety on cable news. It floods social media, infects college campuses, and drowns out any and all meaningful dialog that might actually lead to productive change. I don’t even have to reveal it at this point. Everybody knows what I’m talking about on some level or they at least have a vaguely accurate idea.

It goes by many names. Call it racism, reverse racism, sexism, man-hating, homophobia, islamophobia, or transphobia. It all falls under the same overly-divisive rhetoric that is bigotry and prejudice. It always seems to be in the news. It always makes a conversation awkward and unsexy. It seems to get better some days and regress the others.

Now I know I’m making everybody’s panties very dry by bringing this up, but bear with me. This post is not going to get as bleak or depressing as it would if it were a Michael Moore documentary. I prefer to convey a more optimistic spirit to my audience. It puts them in a better mood, which is important if you’re trying to sell erotica/romance novels.

On the surface, though, there’s no way around it. This is as ugly a topic as it gets these days, the concepts of bigotry and prejudice. If it isn’t the stereotypical white male patriarchal types bemoaning how lazy and violent minorities are, it’s the radical left-wing hippies who call everyone who doesn’t support interracial gay couples kissing in the streets Nazi supporters.

It really is a strange, distressing state in which we find ourselves in. There used to be just one extreme in terms of prejudice, namely that which tried to preserve the overtly-unequal status quo that favored one particular group, be it white men or one particular religious group. Now, the extremes are all over the place.

I’ve talked about a few of them, like radical feminism. They’re just one of the many extremes that have emerged in recent years, often in conjunction with trends in identity politics. It’s not peace-loving hippies who put flowers in guns anymore. It’s angry, entitled, hashtag-starting narcissists who go into a Hulk-like rage whenever someone dares contest their utopian worldview.

There’s an extreme for women, who want men to suffer for their historical crimes against gender. There’s an extreme for race, some of which favor completely disenfranchising all white men for their historical crimes. There’s even an extreme for those who dare to use the wrong pronouns when describing boys and girls. Yes, it really has gotten that crazy.

That says nothing about the craziness that has emerged from extremes within religious groups, but we’re all kind of used to that. We expect extremes in religion, whether they’re favoring the execution of cartoonists or demanding that their particular religion be given a right to discriminate. It’s just the same bigotry and prejudice, but with holy decrees and a convenient excuse to not pay taxes.

No matter the extreme, the outcome is the same. It divides people. It makes them angry, unruly, and hateful. It makes the comments section in every YouTube video about feminism and race relations a raging tire fire that undermines whatever faith in humanity you might have had at this point.

It’s as frustrating as it is tragic. It often leads us to ask the same question Rodney King once asked. Can’t we all just get along? Well, with all due respect to Mr. King, I’m sorry to say that there’s a wholly valid answer to that question.

Unfortunately, the answer is a definitive no. We cannot.

That’s not the solemn musings of cynical man who has read one too many BuzzFeed articles. It’s a cold, inescapable fact. However, there is a context here and a fluid context, which means we shouldn’t be too cynical. If anything, we should be even more hopeful.

The reason why prejudice and bigotry exist is simple and it has nothing to do with some vast, elaborate conspiracy by cisgendered white heterosexual males. Any conspiracy involving that many straight men probably involves fantasy sports or a “My Little Pony” marathon. Once again, this immutable problem in our society has roots in our biology.

It’s another byproduct of caveman logic. Those same settings in our brains that haven’t been updated in 200,000 years essentially guarantee that there will always be some level of prejudice and bigotry. The fact we’re able to function as well as we do as a global society is nothing short of miraculous.

To understand why this is, you need to recall the circumstances of our distant ancestors. They did not live in big cities full of a diverse mix of people from various cultures and ethnicities. They didn’t even live on farms in rural towns where cow-tipping counts as entertainment. They were hunter/gatherers, roaming and foraging in small, close-knit tribes.

For most of the history of our species, that’s how we lived. As such, that’s how our brains are wired and that wiring has not changed much. Due to the slow, clunky processes within our biology, it really can’t and that’s the crux of the problem.

Modern neuroscience has revealed a great deal about our brain’s capacity to form groups and cooperate. These groups become tribes and we, being the very social species that we are, come to tie our identity to those tribes. We work with them. We trust them. We rely on them. Most importantly, as it pertains to prejudice, we defend them and make endless excuses for them.

Picture, for a moment, how this works in our hunter/gatherer context. You’re an individual living 100,000 years ago. You have only a loin cloth, a spear, and functioning genitals. On your own, you’re not going to survive for very long. In a fight against a hungry lion, you’re basically a walking snack.

Then, you join a tribe. You ally yourself with other people who can help you, share resources, and give you an opportunity to use your genitals with others in a more enjoyable, intimate way. Suddenly, that hungry lion loses its appetite. One human is easy to maul. A hundred humans, each armed with spears and an incentive to impress fertile women, is much harder.

Being in that tribe, you come to rely on them and cherish them. Being around them gives you a sense of purpose and identity. You come to love and respect them. You form your own rituals and quirks. You sing certain songs. You do certain dances. You wear certain loin cloths that you think are stylish as hell. This tribe makes you feel complete.

Then, one day, you encounter another tribe. However, this tribe is not yours. They look different. They talk funny. They believe weird things. They wear weird clothes. They follow different rules. Everything about them is so strange and that freaks you out, so much so that you cling harder to your tribe.

Maybe there’s something about that other tribe that’s scary. Maybe they have weapons that are bigger. Maybe they have talents that your tribe can’t do. Maybe their food tastes better and their gods are more powerful. This is all causing you some serious stress and when your brain gets stressed, it does a lot of crazy things to mitigate it.

The next thing you know, your tribe goes to war with the other tribe. Your tribe loudly proclaims that theirs is the greatest tribe in the world. Their gods are better, their food is better, and their rituals are better. The other tribe is so wrong and misguided that they can’t be human. As such, killing them or demeaning them isn’t a big deal. It’s no more distressing than putting down a rabid dog.

Now, extrapolate this tribal mentality, carry it out a billion times in a billion ways within large multi-cultural societies, and apply the reaction to the comments section of a Justin Bieber video, and you now understand why prejudice and bigotry exists. You also understand why nothing can be done about it for now.

Remember those last two words though. I bolded them for a reason. This is where I offer readers a sliver of hope. Does racism, sexism, and homophobia truly disturb you? Do you wish that our society could move past it and forge a more peaceful existence? Well, you may live to see that day.

Keep in mind, these traits that make us so hateful and divisive all stem from our brains. It’s that flawed wiring that still thinks we’re hunter/gatherers picking nuts out of elephant shit on the African savanna that fosters so much bigotry and prejudice. We humans are capable of a great many technological and intellectual feats, but we cannot circumvent the wiring of our brains.

Thanks to companies like Neuralink and advances in human enhancement, like smart blood, we are very close to finally tweaking those outdated settings that make us mute certain people on Twitter. It may very well happen in our lifetime. We may see a new breed of humans whose brains can function beyond brutish tribalism.

We don’t know how these humans will think, how they’ll function with those still stuck in caveman mode, or how they’ll relate to one another. If they aren’t as hateful or petty as we are today, then perhaps they’ll find creative new ways to relate to one another, connect with one another, and make love to one another.

We can only imagine/fantasize for now, but I do take some comfort in the progress we’ve made as a species. We’ve done remarkably well, despite our caveman brains. It’s fun to imagine how much more we can do once we update the software. It may make for a more promising future and some very sexy stories, some of which I intend to write.

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