Ed Catto: Who’s Clubhouse Is This Anyways?

This week, we’re going to talk about identity politics and geek culture. One of the themes (or, perhaps, lessons learned) of this political season was about people who feel left out. These are the folks who aren’t really climate change deniers and certainly most aren’t bigots. But they are folks who feel like no one who is talking to them, listening to them or speaking up for them.

Clearly, some bristled when women and minorities jostled past them to assume positions of power and responsibility in their workplaces and communities. They might have big hearts and a welcoming mindset when they meet new people who don’t look like them or act like them… but they get a bit resentful and preoccupied with cultural differences. It’s the little things, like when they notice there are so many with kids “strange sounding” names in their grandson’s 2nd grade class.

Many of these folks tuned into the message from a candidate who promised to make them feel more comfortable in their own hometown.

That’s all clearly a generalization, but I see the same thing happening in Geek Culture. I hear many older fans lamenting that comics today miss the mark. They are uncomfortable with the new stuff and the changes to the old stuff.

I find this so hard to understand, as I do believe we are living in a Pop Culture Renaissance. There are so many innovative and brilliant comics being produced that just keeping up with the really excellent choices has become a Sisyphean task.

I hear fans, and some comic shop owners, complain that Marvel doesn’t get it. They are frustrated that new characters have taken on the mantles of their favorites like Thor, Captain America, Hawkeye, Iron Man, Hulk, Captain Marvel and even the Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. Much like corporate America in the real world, these title roles used to be occupied by white males, but now they are held by women and minority characters.

Last week in The New York Times, Nicolas Kristof wrote about a Bernie Sanders’ identity politics quote. Basically, Sanders was saying that it’s less about the person’s background and more about the job they do.

I wish it was that easy, but it’s not. So many of us want to see a certain person in the job role and then want that person to do the job our way. Some of us want to see people just like themselves, while others, like me, celebrate the strides made and appreciate and applaud diversity.

I visited a comic shop last night. While there, the owner talked about how Marvel is still producing comics that his customers don’t want to read. The one recent win he mentioned was a new comic called The Unworthy Thor. In the Marvel Comics mythology, a woman has taken over the mantle of the Thor, and this new series puts the traditional Thor character (a white Asgardian or Norwegian – take your pick) back on center stage and in the title role.

It’s a tough balancing act. On the one hand, a publisher wants to appeal to our better angels and invite new people to the party, and on other hand, they need to appeal to what some of their original long-time consumers say they want.

There are no easy answers …not in the Geek Culture Club House nor on America’s political stage.

And folks on both sides might be talking about this upcoming issue of Sam Wilson: Captain America.

As for me, I can’t wait.