Ruining My Childhood! Updating White Male “Franchises,” Part 3

Friday’s post about updating all-white, all-male franchises left one major, legitimate question unaddressed:

Why change existing franchises? Why not just make some new characters?

The answer is pretty simple:

These are the cornerstones of our popular culture, and right now they are all white or all male or both.

Think about it: Superman, The Avengers, James Bond, Doctor Who, Star Wars, and many others are white male territory. To be sure, there are exceptions, but they tend to either be niche products or come from the mind and estate of Gene Roddenberry (Star Trek, Andromeda, etc.).

Any new, diverse properties will be competing against these titans for a spot in the pop cultural pantheon.

And we’ve seen how that turns out for the “comic girls.” They’re seen as lesser, also-ran versions or sidekicks. As good as the new Supergirl tv series is, there’s no question that she’s a knock-off of Superman. And Batgirl is in many ways a sidekick character, at least in mass media (comics, alas, are no longer truly “mass” in the sense that tv and movies are).

And look at She-Hulk, as awesome a character as she is (civil rights lawyer, cosmopolitan fun-loving single woman, Avenger, Fantastic Four member, and fourth-wall breaker long before Deadpool was a twinkle in Deathstroke’s eye patch). She’s never seen on tv or movies, and on the rare occasion she ends up in so much as a cartoon, she gets demoted to a disgruntled “living greenscreen” stunt double.

But if the baton is passed in some way in a major mass media production, the popular culture is changed to better reflect the reality of the world it both represents and influences.

Star Wars: the Force Awakens added a new generation of leads: Rey, a woman, Poe, a Latino man, and Finn, a black man. It expanded the franchise, and certainly served as a refreshing counterpart to the tin-eared racism of the prequels.

For ensembles or teams like the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Avengers, this is easy. As the original (white, male) actors rotate off, bring a more diverse group of characters to the forefront. Marvel’s already starting to do this, with Black Panther and Captain Marvel movies already in various stages of pre-production, and with the addition of Scarlet Witch and Black Panther to the cast of Captain America: Civil War.

James Bond replaces its lead actor every decade or so anyway. Give Idris Elba a turn and see how it goes. If you want someone younger, try  It can’t be worse than the last half of Pierce Brosnan’s run.

Doctor Who has the same situation, with the Doctor’s regenerations. It’s easy enough to cast a woman, and/or a person of color.It isn’t hard to do. Some franchises are already doing it. It just requires the will to make it happen. And maybe if enough of us ask, it will start to happen. It’s already starting. The momentum might be unstoppable. I surely hope it is.Or we could just watch another 10,000 shows about white male antiheroes. Blech.

The Great American Persecution

The Christian Martyrs' Last Prayer by Jean-Leon Gerome, 1883

The Christian Martyrs’ Last Prayer by Jean-Leon Gerome, 1883

Let me start by saying one thing:

Losing our privileged position as the default religion and arbiter of culture is not the same as enduring persecution.

Let me repeat that:  Losing our privileged position as the default religion and arbiter of culture is not the same as enduring persecution.

This sentiment bothers me, because it not only promotes an ugly, us-versus-them mentality among American Christians, but it cheapens the blood of actual martyrs worldwide.

According to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) as quoted in 2011 in Catholic World News each year approximately 105,000 Christians are martyred.

That means they were killed.

Some were hacked apart with machetes (common in sub-Saharan Africa).  Some were shot (common everywhere).  Some were tortured to death, even raped (unfortunately, that’s also common everywhere).  Some just “vanished” thanks to repressive governments and their secret police.  That is persecution.

Not being able to have mandatory school prayer, or even authority-figure-led school prayer at government-run, tax-funded schools is not persecution.  It’s the government actually taking the First Amendment seriously.  Students can still lead prayers, so long as other students’ presence is not mandatory.  Religious student associations can still meet and pray or study the Bible (Fellowship of Christian Athletes, for example).

I grew up in a small southern town, surrounded by grandparents and great grandparents, an unincorporated community that time forgot.  So don’t get me wrong, I understand how much of an adjustment it can be to go from a safe, comfortable set of small differences (Baptist vs. Methodist jokes, all in good humor, and told over cold, tangy coleslaw and crispy-hot catfish breaded in cornmeal) to a wide world that defies such easy categorizations.

Interracial marriages?  Gay couples?  Immigrants with brown skin and “strange” religions?  Body alterations, online communities, people creating new categories to put themselves in, satire-religions like the Pastafarians, the Dischordians, and the Church of the Sub-Genius?  Is anything ‘normal’ anymore?

No, and it never was.  Homogeneity can become an idol, and we end up worshiping the time when our cultural brand reigned supreme, unchallenged by tides of immigration, litigation, and information.  Losing that isn’t persecution.  Losing that stranglehold on culture isn’t persecution, but it might feel that way sometimes.

Losing our cultural supremacy may even be the beginning of authenticity, of being more like the Apostles:  a dozen good Jews who’d been raised in their Judean monoculture, but who carried the Gospel to Greeks and Asians and other foreigners who spoke with strange accents, ate strange foods, and followed strange customs.

It may even make us more like Jesus, who actively engaged with and loved people society placed as outsiders – racial and religious outsiders like the Samaritans, social outsiders like the tax collectors, and economic outsiders like the poor and disabled.