Tag Archives: Postbourgie

Spidey Sense Knows No Color

Marc Bernardin at Io9:

We just ran down the five bland white guys that are, reportedly, in the running to play Peter Parker in Sony’s Spider-Man reboot. Yawn. In this day and age, why does Spidey have to be a white guy?

Yes, I know: “Because that’s how Stan Lee and Steve Ditko created him.” There is no worse argument for anything than, “because that’s the way it’s always been.” Lee and Ditko created a wonderfully strong character, one full of complexity and depth, who happens to be white. In no way is Peter Parker defined by his whiteness in the same way that too many black characters are defined by their blackness. He’s defined by the people he cares for, by his career, by his identity as a New Yorker (incidentally, one of the most diverse cities in the world) — as too many good people died to prove, a man is defined by his choices, not by the color of his skin.

So why couldn’t Peter Parker be played by a black or a Hispanic actor? How does that invalidate who Peter Parker is? I’m not saying that the producers need to force the issue; that they need to cast a minority just for the sake of it — but in the face of such underwhelming options like Billy Elliot and the kid who played young Voldemort, why not broaden the search? It’s not like any of these blokes are lighting the world on fire like a young Johnny Depp or Leonardo DiCaprio.

And don’t tell me it’s because an actor of color would hurt the box office: Not only is Spider-Man one of the most recognizable fictional characters on the planet, and managed to do just fine with Tobey “Snoozeville” Maguire playing him, whoever they cast WILL BE IN A MASK FOR HALF THE DAMNED MOVIE. AND ON THE POSTER.

Jamelle at PostBourgie:

Bernardin is right on target; most superheroes aren’t defined by their race or ethnicity (indeed, as he points out, the only exceptions are black heroes), and you wouldn’t lose anything by mixing up the racial background of a character. Indeed, changing the racial background of a character isn’t exactly new; in the 1970s, DC passed the Green Lantern’s power-ring to John Stewart, an African-American architect and Marine veteran. And in 2002, Marvel introduced “Ultimate” Nick Fury, a black version of their long-standing character modeled after Samuel L. Jackson. And as Bernardin points out, Marvel went even further with the limited series Truth: Red, White & Black, which told the story of Isaiah Bradley, the sole survivor of a group of black soldiers forced to act as test subjects for the super-soldier serum that turned Steve Rogers into Captain America.

You could easily pen a non-white Peter Parker that retains essence of the character while reflecting the fact that he is African-American. Black Peter Parker, for instance, might not have grown up in Forest Hills or attended Empire State University, but he would still be a struggling photographer with a good head for science, and a huge crush on Mary Jane Watson. I would welcome the director who cast a non-white Peter Parker, in lieu of another twenty-something white guy. And if there’s anything I’d worry about, it’s that screenwriters might try to add non-white “signifiers” to this hypothetical Peter Parker, with horrible results.

Caroline Stanley at Flavorwire:

Community’s Donald Glover wants to be the next Spider-Man. And he’s hoping a Facebook petition (Donald Glover 4 Spiderman!!) and Twitter campaign (#donald4spiderman) will at least get his foot in the door. “Some people are mistaken,” he has said. “I don’t want to just be given the role. I want to be able to audition. I truly love Spider-Man.”

As io9 notes, there’s nothing about Peter Parker’s history that requires him to be played by a white actor — other than tradition. We love Glover in Community, and from what we’ve heard about his performance in Mystery Team, he has the chops to carry a big-screen part. And he’s certainly more interesting to us than any of the other actors currently in talks for the role (sorry, Billy Elliot and young Voldemort).

Stephanie at Informavore:

I once read an interview with one of the DC Comics executives where they discussed interpretations, legacy characters, and the immutable elements of their mythologies.  He argued there are three elements in defining the way a character is represented: 1) the absolutes; 2) the negotiables; and 3) the things up for grabs.


As such, I feel it’s best to refer back to our three-tier system for understanding the mythology.

1.  The Absolutes
Teenage Peter Parker is raised by Aunt May and Uncle Ben after the death of his parents.  On a field trip, he gets bitten by a radioactive spider and gains superpowers.   To make money, he participates in underground wrestling matches.  When the owner cheats him, he lets a robber get away.  That robber later murders Uncle Ben.  Feeling responsible for his uncle’s death, he realizes “with great power comes great responsibility.”   Red and blue suit (though sometimes black), New York City, Daily Bugle, Mary Jane Watson, J. Jonah, Jameson, etc. are all part of the mythology.  You can’t replace these parts of the story.
Though Peter Parker has always been represented as white in the comics, I think it is fully reasonable to change the character’s ethnicity without destroying the core elements of the mythos.  Here’s why:
Peter grows up in the outer borough of New York City and becomes from an economically-disadvantaged background.  Family is an important part of his upbringing.  He works hard in school and hopes for a better life.  Due to short-sightedness, he takes the easy way out and makes the quick buck.  He suffers great loss due to senseless urban violence.  He deals with the mistrust of society because of his identity (Spider-Man, vigilante, masked hero).  Each of these elements are plausible within the context of an African-American character.  They are also plausible for a white or Latino character as well.   Superman might not work in the same way due to the Jewish overtropes and middle-America upbringing that are a part of the character’s creation.   Spider-Man could easily be an African-American teen.
For too long, comic scholars–both professional and casual–have lamented the white, homogeneous make-up of our superheroes.   Storm, Black Panther, Steel, and Green Lantern (Jon Stewart) are some of the most recognized heroes of color.  I was encouraged when WB decided to use Blue Beetle Jaime Reyes as a central character in the Batman: Brave and the Bold cartoon series.  For every Great Ten, Super Young Team, and Global Guardians that comics produces, you have the senseless killing of Ryan Choi (The Atom) in order to return Ray Palmer to the spotlight.
Could Spider-Man be black?  Sure.  Why not.  There’s lot of great discourse that come from it.  Is Donald Glover the right person to take up the mantle?  Maybe.  I’m a big fan of his comedic talents on Community.  He plays a character that is confident, cocky, goofy, and at ease with himself.  I think those are important things that fall under The Negotiables label.  Race, in turn, could very well be Up for Grabs.

Erin Polgreen at Spencer Ackerman’s place:

As of last night, the campaign #donald4spiderman was a trending topic on Twitter, and a slew of comics bigwigs and other industry luminaries are hopping on board.

I think it’s a good thing. More diversity in casting of stories from the comic book canon means more interpretations and layers to the character. Look at what Brian Michael Bendis did for Nick Fury in Marvel’s Ultimates line. Samuel L. Jackson plays the historically white character in Marvel’s Iron Man franchise.

Jeff Sneider at The Wrap:

Meanwhile, Brooklyn resident Michelle Vargas has created a Facebook group, “Donald Glover 4 Spiderman!!,” which has amassed 5,060 fans at last count.

And another Twitter attack is planned for Tuesday night — this time orchestrated by Glover himself, who plans to have his fans tweet the hashtag at 6:30 p.m. The plan is to make himself a trending topic again, since retweeting doesn’t count for trending.

Said Glover in a tweet over the weekend about the campaign: “Some people are mistaken. I don’t want to just be given the role. I want to be able to audition. I truly love Spider-Man.” Neither Glover’s represenatives nor Sony would agree to comment for TheWrap.

Talk show host Craig Ferguson (who, keep in mind, works for a rival network) endorsed the potential casting by retweeting Glover.

So who is Glover, other than Troy on NBC’s “Community”?

The 26 year-old, NYU-educated comedian won an Emmy as a writer on NBC’s “30 Rock,” and his comedy troupe, Derrick Comedy, recently released its first feature, “Mystery Team,” on DVD and On Demand. More crucially, his comedy videos have become a YouTube sensation, amassing millions of views.

While it’s unlikely that Sony and director Marc Webb would take such a huge creative risk by reinventing the beloved character since they each have a lot riding on this 3D reboot, Glover does have a devoted fanbase that’s roughly the same age as the audience that Sony wants to attract with this teen-centric project.

And Peter Parker is from the ethnically diverse neighborhood of Queens, New York. In fact, there’s nothing in Marvel’s “Spider-Man” comics that dictates that the character must be white.

Indeed, if Facebook earned Betty White a gig hosting “Saturday Night Live” and Twitter made Justin Bieber a household name, why couldn’t their combined powers help Glover land an audition for Sony execs?

It couldn’t be worse than Brandon Routh as Superman.

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Filed under Art, Movies, New Media, Race

Ladies, Bring Your Samurai Swords

Clay Shirky:

Some of the reason these strategies succeed is because we live in a world where women are discriminated against. However, even in an ideal future, self-promotion will be a skill that produces disproportionate rewards, and if skill at self-promotion remains disproportionately male, those rewards will as well. This isn’t because of oppression, it’s because of freedom.

Citizens of the developed world have an unprecedented amount of freedom to choose how we live, which means we experience life as a giant distributed discovery problem: What should I do? Where should I work? Who should I spend my time with? In most cases, there is no right answer, just tradeoffs. Many of these tradeoffs happen in the market; for everything from what you should eat to where you should live, there is a menu of options, and between your preferences and your budget, you’ll make a choice.

Some markets, though, are two-sided — while you are weighing your options, those options are also weighing you. People fortunate enough to have those options quickly discover that it’s not enough to decide you want to go to Swarthmore, or get money out of Kleiner Perkins. Those institutions must also decide if they will have you.

Some of the most important opportunities we have are in two-sided markets: education and employment, contracts and loans, grants and prizes. And the institutions that offer these opportunities operate in an environment where accurate information is hard to come by. One of their main sources of judgment is asking the candidate directly: Tell us why we should admit you. Tell us why we should hire you. Tell us why we should give you a grant. Tell us why we should promote you.

In these circumstances, people who don’t raise their hands don’t get called on, and people who raise their hands timidly get called on less. Some of this is because assertive people get noticed more easily, but some of it is because raising your hand is itself a high-cost signal that you are willing to risk public failure in order to try something.

That in turn correlates with many of the skills the candidate will need to actually do the work — to recruit colleagues and raise money, to motivate participants and convince skeptics, to persevere in the face of both obstacles and ridicule. Institutions assessing the fitness of candidates, in other words, often select self-promoters because self-promotion is tied to other characteristics needed for success.

It’s tempting to imagine that women could be forceful and self-confident without being arrogant or jerky, but that’s a false hope, because it’s other people who get to decide when they think you’re a jerk, and trying to stay under that threshold means giving those people veto power over your actions. To put yourself forward as someone good enough to do interesting things is, by definition, to expose yourself to all kinds of negative judgments, and as far as I can tell, the fact that other people get to decide what they think of your behavior leaves only two strategies for not suffering from those judgments: not doing anything, or not caring about the reaction.

Tim Cavanaugh at Reason:

I’m too much of a sniveling gamma/epsilon male to draw a conclusion as beefy as Shirky’s, but I am surprised to see what levels of subordination some professional women remain willing to accept, at least in traditional office environments. But I would emphasize the some back there, and in fact the biggest self-promoter I ever met was a female of the opposite sex. Maybe things are different at the Interactive Telecommunications Program at NYU, but I’m not sure how representative of the private sector ITPANYU is.

Before addressing the issue of what women don’t want, I note that narcissism has never in my experience added to the magnificence of any project, nor has self-aggrandizement created any wealth, nor has self-advancement achieved anything other than capturing a bigger share of an existing pie for the self-promoter. It may be true that these qualities are well represented among world changers, whoever they are. And I presume the majority of world changers have been men up to this point. But we don’t have a counterhistory wherein some effort to protect equal rights for women has been in place since ancient Greek civilization (or I should say: the matriarchal civilization that the Greeks stole everything from!). So I’m not sure we should complain that the workforce might be seeing comparatively fewer of these male virtues in the future, or expect that the world will be changing any more slowly as a result.

As to whether women need to be more pushy, less pushy, or just right, I believe this falls into Cavanaugh’s General Theory of 33.3. About a third of women are Daddy’s Girls; another third are dominant, secure, self-confident, nasty, violent, selfish, independent, proud, thrill-seeking, free-wheeling, arrogant females; and the rest don’t care enough to have an opinion. These percentages vary with events and movements, but regress to stability. There are mirror categories for men, and for the most part members of each group mate and procreate with members of their corresponding categories.

The recession has revealed more brittleness in the job market for men than for women. In school, girls are outperforming boys at rates that alarm the squares. Women’s relative financial attainment continues to grow at a rate remarkable for an economy as advanced and sclerotic as America’s. So I’m not sure we have a problem, other than the ancient problem that men continue to give women something they don’t need: advice.

Ann Friedman at The American Prospect:

So which is it? Should women be amplifying their aggression to mimic successful men? Or should they try to get ahead by playing up what supposedly makes them different from the testosterone-fueled CEOs who fed one financial bubble after another? The more time you spend thinking about women’s stalled progress in the working world — they were only 6.3 percent of corporate top earners last year — the clearer it becomes that neither of these two options is working.

Shirky does not acknowledge that his answer (which says women just need to man up) sets women up for backlash. Women who are loud and proud about their abilities and experience will be declared uppity bitches — or at least privately thought of that way. Studies have shown that employees, both male and female, are wary of working for high-achieving women. And what about women who follow Hoff Sommers’ advice (which says women just need to, well, woman up)? They won’t even get their applications read, let alone taken seriously. When was the last time you saw “responsible femininity” among desired qualities in a job listing?

This is a broad, cultural problem. If, like me, you believe that your biology is not the primary factor in determining your strengths and weaknesses in the workplace, you believe that we are shaped by the society in which we live. Which is to say, there are cultural, structural reasons why men are typically more assertive, more self-promotional, and more successful everywhere from the boardroom to the op-ed pages to the halls of Congress. This is much bigger than women’s individual behavior.

To use Shirky’s own example: Just as self-defense classes are not a solution to the problem of campus rape, self-advancement classes will not, on their own, improve things for women in the professional world. It will take a long time — and a lot of conscious effort — to dispel deeply ingrained stereotypes about work and gender. Women can’t do that alone. The burden also falls on people in positions of power — those who are doing the hiring, promoting, recommending, and mentoring — to understand the gender dynamics at play and to push back against them. In my line of work, that means I not only write publicly about the “byline gap” between men and women in political journalism — I actively seek out women writers and encourage them to pitch their ideas. And I’m fairly certain I see more results than an editor who simply professes to care about this issue in the abstract.

For decades, we’ve told women how to get ahead in an unjust system. It’s high time we all work to change the system itself.

Will Wilkinson:

My problem with Shirky’s argument is that, assuming that men and women are wired a bit differently, and that this explains some part of observed differences in behavior and achievement, why should we ask women to be more aggressively competitive and self-promotional instead of asking men to be less so?

I think a lot of people want to say that it is simply unrealistic to ask men to chill out. Boys will be boys. And women are more pliable than men. They at least can ramp up the aggression, while competitive men will go all out no matter what. So the “everybody act like an a**hole” scenario is at least stable. And, in the end, women who otherwise would not have made it to the top will have.

First, it’s not clear to me that a new norm of more aggressively competitive women won’t encourage even more aggressively competitive men. I don’t think this would entirely prevent the greater success of a more aggressive class of women, but it may also make our professional culture even more unpleasant than it already is. Do we really want to do that?

Second, it’s not clear to me that actively stigmatizing the kind of ridiculous, overreaching self-promotion Shirky thinks is characteristic of men wouldn’t work. We want people to be “go-getters,” but we don’t want them to be obnoxious and mendacious while they try to go and get it. Why shouldn’t we tell Shirky that he should have written that guy a recommendation letter that makes it clear what an a**hole that guy is? I think he should!  Hey Clay, stop writing positive recommendation letters for self-embellishing strivers!

There are certain habits of behavior characteristic of some men clearly rooted in a desire to intimidate and assert social dominance. If the ability to intimidate and dominate — to act like an “alpha” — doesn’t have anything to do with performance at a job, then “alpha” behavior should be recognized as the unproductive social aggression that it is and accordingly discouraged through disapproval, mockery, and social and professional sanction. Decent men and women with natural talents for dominance and status competition can channel their aggressive dispositions productively by bringing them to bear on those who flout fair and productive egalitarian social norms.

And Friedman is right that those who dispense opportunities can and should become more conscious of an entrenched bias toward rewarding a certain kind of competitive zeal and can and should do more to identify and reward talented people disinclined to grasping self-puffery.

Pascal-Emmanuel Gorby at The American Scene:

Shirky’s post addresses this by calling on women to level the playing field with men. What I liked most about it is that it’s pragmatic. It doesn’t put forward a grand theory of gender backed by partial studies in neurology or genetics or psychology or cognition or astrology. It simply draws simple lessons from everyday observations: women don’t do nearly as much as men to advance themselves, and they should.

Will’s high-minded response fails at a simple reality test. We can’t ask men to not be obnoxious when advancing themselves for the same reason that Iran won’t give up developing nuclear weapons just because it would be nice.

Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about Bill Gates’ testimony in the case of United States v. Microsoft:

He argued with examiner David Boies over the contextual meaning of words like “compete”, “concerned” and “we”. (…) As to his demeanor during the deposition, [Gates later] said, “Did I fence with Boies? … I plead guilty. Whatever that penalty is should be levied against me: rudeness to Boies in the first degree.”

This is a man who is cornered, who might be lose the company he spent 20 years to build, and he doesn’t give an inch. He fights tooth and nail, to the point of absurdity. Well, that’s not very nice. Perhaps we should make it so that men like that are nicer. But if Bill Gates was a nicer guy, we wouldn’t have a nicer Microsoft, and he wouldn’t be a nicer Bill Gates. He wouldn’t be Bill Gates at all. Some other guy who every once in a while acts like a bastard would be Bill Gates. Maybe this guy.

Will is a stalwart defender of free markets, God bless him, but free markets are based on competition. And the reason why competition works is because the people who win competitions are, well, competitive. That’s what all that stuff about animal spirits is all about. What Will is proposing is a sort of cultural socialism, where those who have more drive are coerced into toning down so that the rest can catch up. I don’t think that would work much better than socialism in other areas.

So yes, actually, women need to man up. You don’t show up with a knife for a gunfight.

And I intend to equip my daughters with rocket launchers.

UPDATE: G.D. at PostBourgie on PEG

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Filed under Feminism

Yes, Virginia, There’s Been An Uptick

Belinda Luscombe at Time:

Pregnancy rates among U.S. teenagers, which had been dropping since 1990, took an upturn in 2006, according to newly released data. The figures, obtained from government sources and abortion providers by the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive-health think tank, echo previous Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that births among teens had risen. But the new Guttmacher report rounds out the picture: in 2006, there were 71.5 pregnancies for every 1,000 women under the age of 20. That’s 3% more than in 2005. The increase was concentrated among 18- and 19-year-olds — pregnancies among those 17 or younger rose only marginally — and occurred in a year when the number of abortions among teens rose 1%.

These upticks will no doubt be scrutinized by the schools, churches and governments that had been achieving some success in lowering the teen pregnancy rate. After rising steadily with the sexual revolution of the ’70s and ’80s, the rate dropped sharply in the ’90s — and then more slowly from 2000 until 2005 — before turning upward. But even in 2006, the most recent year for which figures are available, the rate was 39% lower than 1990’s peak of 117 pregnancies for every 1,000 teen girls.

The Guttmacher Institute released a study today that shows that the rates of both teen pregnancy and abortion were on the rise for the first time in over a decade in 2006. In a press release, Guttmacher senior public policy associate Heather Boonstra says that the increase “coincides with an increase in rigid abstinence-only-until-marriage programs, which received major funding boosts under the Bush administration.” While all the research shows that abstinence-only education doesn’t really keep kids from having sex, if you look at the state-by-state data, there isn’t a strong correlation between abstinence-only ed and the rise in teen pregnancy.

As the new data from Guttmacher show [pdf], North Dakota has one of the lowest rates of teen pregnancy in the country—and teens are more likely to use condoms in North Dakota than in many other states. And yet, they have a state-funded abstinence-only education program. By contrast, Arizona, which has one of the highest rates of teen pregnancy, rejected federal funding for abstinence-only education.

E.G. at DiA at The Economist:

Whenever studies show a rise in teenage pregnancy rates people start hammering on the table and talking about George Bush’s funding support for abstinence-only sex education. But as fun as it is to bash the religious right with this, the causal web is obviously somewhat more complicated. As DoubleX points out, the lowest teen pregnancy rate is in North Dakota, which has a state-funded abstinence only programme; one of the highest rates is in Arizona, which doesn’t.

Also consider that girls from different ethnic groups have different rates of pregnancy, even within the same states (with Hispanic teenagers having the highest rates, and the rate among blacks having dropped dramatically since the 1990s). I’ve heard researchers cite half a dozen factors, ranging from health-care access (particularly among the Hispanic teenagers) to “prevention fatigue” after the safe-sex zeal of the 1990s. In the next few years, considering the country’s staggering high-school dropout numbers, and the high rate of teenage unemployment, I would expect the pregnancy and birth rate to keep rising. The knee-jerk tendency to turn it into a culture-war issue means that we’re circumscribing our ability to address it.

David Sessions at Politics Daily:

The teen pregnancy rate in the U.S. rose 3 percent in 2006, reversing a downward trend that began in the 1990s, USA Today reports. According to new data released Tuesday, pregnancy and abortion rates were higher across all demographics; the falling rates that preceded the change had also occurred across the board.

About 7 percent of girls aged 15-19 became pregnant in 2006. When the numbers peaked in 1990, about 12 percent were pregnant. The data showed a 1 percent rise in the abortion rate among teens.

// <![CDATA[// The Guttmacher Institute, which analyzed federal statistics in compiling its report, suggested that the rise was a corollary to the Bush administration’s emphasis on abstinence-only sex education. Funding for abstinence education, to which the Institute is outspokenly opposed, doubled from 2000 to 2003, and reached an all-time high of $176 million by 2008.

“To me, it appears to be another opportunity to throw a barb at abstinence education,” says Valerie Huber of the National Abstinence Education Association. She said that only a quarter of federal funding for teen sexuality programs went to abstinence in 2008.

Jill at Feministe

When the teen pregnancy rate dropped in the 1990s, it was largely because of increased contraception use. With the Bush administration in power, though, Congress directed a whole lot of money towards abstinence-only education — telling kids just to keep it in their pants until marriage (because we all know how well that works as a life-long “don’t get pregnant” plan). The result? A four percent rise in teen births, and a one percent rise in abortion.

The United States also has the highest rate of teen pregnancy, birth and abortion of any industrialized, Western nation. Seven percent of all teenage girls here get pregnant.

UPDATE: Ross Douthat in The New York Times

Amanda Marcotte on Douthat

UPDATE #2: Hanna Rosin at Double X

Douthat responds

UPDATE #3: Reihan Salam

UPDATE #4: Maggie Gallagher at The Corner

More Douthat

UPDATE #5: M LeBlanc

Jamelle at Postbourgie


Filed under Abortion, Families