MARTHA THOMASES: Last Man Standing
When I was a teenager, the environment of my hometown became poisonous. To save me, my parents sent me to an alien environment that seemed to be a universe away, filled with people so different from me they might have been a different species altogether. No one knew anything about my home, nor about my people’s civilization and customs. Instead, I had to hide my true self until I understood how I fit in and what I had to offer the strangers with whom I lived.
No, I’m not Supergirl. I understand how you could be confused, because the resemblance is striking. However, I did find myself in a similar situation to Kara Zor-El. Instead of being a Kryptonian from Argo City sent in a rocket ship to Earth, I was a Jew from Ohio sent to an Episcopalian boarding school in Connecticut. Instead of being part of the majority as I was at my public school in Youngstown (there were so few kids in class during the High Holy Days that they could bring comics to school!), I had to go to chapel five times a week while the priest swung incense.
Many of my classmates had never seen a Jew before. Others, more worldly, would say things to me like, “You’re from Ohio? I have a friend in Wyoming. Do you know her?” For the first time in my life, I wasn’t part of the majority culture. I learned what it was like to be a minority.
There’s a lot to be learned from the majority culture. Not the least of it is learning where you, as a minority, fit in. You learn your place. You learn how to get by. You learn another point of view, that of the majority. That’s what taught in school. That’s what you see on television and in movies.
If you’re lucky, you take your experience as a minority and use it to understand how other minorities feel. You know what it’s like to be on the outside, looking in. In my case, as a Midwestern Jew, I could imagine how it would feel to be African-American, or gay, or Asian. I could take my own experience as a minority to imagine the experience of people who were other kinds of minorities.
Fiction helps. For example, when I read Amy Tan’s The Joy-Luck Club, I read about a society where, no matter what you did for your parents, it wasn’t enough, and that it was more important in a marriage to find a husband with money than with imagination. I was convinced that being Chinese felt just like being Jewish.
Comics help even more, if only because they are produced more quickly than novels. In The Legion of Super-Heroes, we can see how Chameleon can shape change to fit in – but chooses not to. Princess Projectra tried to hide her snake form at first, but learned to exult in it. The theme of three X-Men movies has been a metaphor for the dangers of the closet, of hiding your true self to pass for straight or, in this case, non-mutant.
Straight white men are the newest minority group to realize that they are, in fact, a minority group, and they’re showing the strain. Globally, of course, they have been outnumbered for centuries. However, until recently, they could take comfort in the fact that they preserved civilization. They were the people who created wealth. They were the authorities who defined what was art.
Today, not so much. The Chinese, the Japanese, the Indians are the ones making money. Even the Vietnamese have a faster growing economy than the U.S.A. These non-white men are the ones with the new ideas, and the means to make them happen.
We’re seeing the frustration of the straight white men in our popular entertainments. I think the increase in graphic violence – in explosions, in the body count, in the legions of zombies – is a reflection of the encroaching sense of loss on the part of those who bankroll movies, television and comic books.
The tentacle rape, the statue of Mary Jane Watson finding Spider-Man’s costume, the idea that an angry, man-hating feminist Amazon would wear spike heels – all demonstrate a fear and ignorance of women and a need to put them in their place. It’s the last desperation and denial from a new minority group.
Try to see it from their point of view. And help them adjust. It can be difficult to find your place when you’re no longer at the head of the table.
Writer and creator of Marvel Comics’ Dakota North and contributor to their Epic Illustrated, Martha Thomases also has toiled for such publishers as DC Comics and NBM before becoming Media Queen of ComicMix.com.