A humble admittance by M.Schinke
To all my Opinionnerds
Ok guys, I’m going to drop all my writer’s pretenses and we’re going to talk like people just sitting around shooting it; just you and me. No bullshit. So, I gotta know something;
Am I part of the problem?
I’d like to think I’m not. Though the conversation has been ongoing for decades the last couple of years have practically exploded with public debate on diversity in media. TV, movies, comic books, cartoons – it’s all up for grabs as to how deep the reality of white, male dominance and bias goes as it touches on all the things that have made me; me.
So, full disclosure; I am a bi-racial, bi-sexual (I believe) cis-male who grew up and lived his whole life in the Detroit, MI area. My father is a white guy from Wisconsin; my mother, an African-American woman who also grew up in the Detroit area. Both of them are college educated with Master’s-Degrees. My wife is a 100%, Michigan born and raised Polish woman, college educated with a Masters Degree in social work who is currently working in her field. I myself, for all my talk of writing and film making on this blog, studied computer sciences and I currently work as a calibration lab tech. We went to a Presbyterian church until I was about 12 or 13 and then we all just kind of stopped going. I think this was around the time my mother started studying eastern philosophy and Reiki energy healing. I grew up in a suburb that was undergoing a radical shift in racial demographics from mostly Jewish to mostly African-American. The city where I currently live is populated by people from all over Asia, India and South America as well as being white and African-American. I personally do not feel I have ever felt he sting of racism in my life, and though I’m far from a, “Man’s man” I have would have no idea what it’s like to experience life as a woman. I know exposure doesn’t preclude bias, but it sure as hell makes it more difficult to maintain. The reason to share this personal info is to give you an idea of where I come from before I getting into the meat of this. It’s gonna ramble, as there is no way to get all of thoughts in here. And it’s going to be self indulgent, as all I can indulge in with this is an openess of self.
Looking At Comics
Comic books have been a staple source of entertainment and thought all through my life. I can’t say I learned life from comics, but they gave me bigger ideas to consider than I was getting While I was growing up the comics I was reading were mostly silver age books from Marvel and DC. While Marvel definitely had a more diverse roster of characters in the 60’s and 70’s it was only by a little, so the great majority of the books I was reading had white, male heroes. I can’t say I ever identified with those characters; tI never felt they represented me. I don’t recall that ever being an issue I was concerned about. I wasn’t Peter Parker or Dick Grayson, and I was fine with that. Characters didn;t look like me but I guess I felt I was close enough that looking at them didn’t feel alien. Maybe that was enough?
When I read a book that has a non-white hero be they Asian, or African-American, or Indian or what have you; I genuinely believe I have no issues with that. I like to believe that I don’t have any issues with characters of other races taking on the names of existing heroes. For instance; I never had an issue with John Stewart as a Green Lantern; he’s a character I like a lot. But I also recognize that he didn’t replace Hal Jordan; not that I was ever the biggest HJ fan in my youth. When Sam Wilson took over as Captain America I was perfectly fine with it; it was a choice that made sense. Jim Rhodes War Machine; I dig it because it made one of my favorite actors (Don Cheadle) a super hero. So I can say with a great degree of certainty that having a diverse cast of super hero characters doesn’t bother me. But these characters are the race they were created as. If given a good enough story reason I wouldn’t be bothered by a black character or an Asian character taking over from Bruce Wayne as Batman; but something inside me gets squiggly when I start thinking about Bruce Wayne’s race being re-cast as anything other than white and I don’t understand that. See, I don’t care if Captain America, a character holding the name, is any other race but I would have an issue with re-casting Steve Rogers as such. Batman isn’t white, but Bruce Wayne is. Same with Steve Rogers, or Bruce Banner. I feel the same about the characters of other races but I understand the reason not to change their race is not to further minimize under-represented groups.
At the same time though, when Michael Clark Duncan was cast as Kingpin in the Ben Affleck DareDevil flick, I celebrated it. I was genuinely thrilled; and he killed in the part. But Kingpin is a villain; so am I only comfortable with the bad guys being re-cast as races other than white? Then Sam Jackson became Nick Fury and I was equally as thrilled cause who doesn’t love them some Sam Jackson? Then I think about how much I would love to see Idris Elba playing James Bond. How do I square that? Is it because I don’t have an issue with James Bond not being white, or is it just because I think Idris Elba is a fantastic performer and so unrealistically attractive and I would watch him watching paint dry? The difference between the character casting in the movies and the comics should not be significant, but we are talking about actors I love taking on characters I honestly didn’t care about. Would I have been as cool with Daniel Oyelowlo or Daniel Dae Kim being cast as Hawkeye? I want to say no, but again; Clint Barton is not a character I hold near and dear. So right now it’s easy for me to be blase about this issue becaue it has yet to touch upon a character that I really love.
When looking at the gender issue in comics I also believe, I stress BELIEVE, that I’m not carrying a bias. I’ve never had an issue reading any books with female characters or being fans of them. Yes, I like when these characters are attractive but I like it when ALL of the characters are attractive, men and women. I like looking at drawings of attractive people; fucking sue me. When Carol Danvers was, “promoted” to Captain Marvel I thought, like Sam Wilson, it was a decision that made sense. And while I don’t think Kamala Khan is the fantastic, game changing character that others do I really like parts of her run as Ms. Marvel. Carrie Kelly is in my top 2 for favorite Robin. Again, I could go on. At the same time there are few female led solo books that I collect. She-Hulk, Batgirl, Batwoman, Wonder Woman…. these feel like safe givens in the, admittedly, narrow field of comics that are female led. Marvel has had a real push in the last few years to create more high-profile female led books and while I don’t have any issues with the idea, I don’t read many Marvel comics and I was never a fan of the way they vacated certain characters specifically so they could give their names to the women that replaced them. Specifically with Wolverine and Thor, these are not the characters titles but their actual names. That didn’t sit well with me for reasons I can’t really explain. It wasn’t about the gender, or the race in some cases, but about how the characters were brought in that I had a problem with. As for the other books I don’t read I don’t think it has anything to do with the character’s gender as much as the books just don’t appeal to me. I’m not disparaging the books at all or trying to take them away from anyone but, is simply not being overtly against something the same as being an ally? Do you have to actively support a particular product to support the overall idea?
To take that a step further, I don’t pay that much attention to who is writing or drawing the books I read. I’m not making a claim at being gender or color blind; I just don’t put any personal emphasis on the identities of the writers and artists; I honestly just don’t care. However, when it comes to the names I DO know the majority of them are male and white. There are a few scattered women and other races, but for the most part; white and male all across the map. So, am I doing something wrong by not making more of an effort to make sure I know of and support the female and non-white creators? Gender and race of the artists won’t stop me from reading a specific title but having that information isn’t necessarily going to make me go out of my way to pick up their work.
Film Under Bias
Turning my attention to film I find myself in pretty much the exact same situation as I do with comics. I don’t believe that I have any issues that would keep me away from films directed by or starring women or people who are not white but I also don’t go out of my way to see films by those people if it isn’t something that looks interesting to me to begin with. I’ve seen Wonder Woman and Thor: Ragnarök and Lady Bird and Detroit and Get Out and I feel pretty, “Meh” about all of them. Not because of who made them or who is in them but because I just didn’t think they were spectacular films. I understand how important it is that these films were made not only because of who made them but also when; and it is important that all voices be heard in the media we consume. And while I know I genuinely wanted to see Detroit and Wonder Woman, I have to admit I must question if I saw Get Out and Lady Bird because I’d heard they were good, or because I’d heard who made them; and I don’t like that idea. I just flat-out didn’t like Thor: Ragnorak, directed by Taika Waititi, but I also didn’t like Guardians of the Galaxy 2, directed by the very white and male James Gunn. So where does that put me? Hell, I’ve seen George Clooney’s last two films and I didn’t think they were all that great but I never once thought to ask myself if I was knocking them because he was a white guy. So am I being equally fair to everyone, or am I just making sure not to be too critical to some? The fucked up thing is I have written pieces on exactly two movies directed by women on this blog, Wonder Woman and Lady Bird, and I wasn’t easy on either of them. I believe it’s because they didn’t impress me, but I always feel this need to ask, “is that really why you’re so hard on them? You jump at every chance to defend Zack Snyder, a guy who’s movies fail critically all the time? so where is your head really at?” But, I just watched Tank Girl for the umpteenth time, directed by Rachel Talalay and starring Lori Petty. It’s a movie I genuinely love despite all the issues it has and I will fight anyone over it. Does that even mean anything though? What does that say about me? Grrrrrr……….
So What The Hell?
It should come as no surprise that this piece was prompted by the #MeToo support at this years Golden Globes, but there has been so much in the last year in terms of the racial divide and the debacle with Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey and all those guys getting busted for being awful that I knew it was time I wrote something down just to a public confession that I officially don’t know anything. My belief is that I’m not, “exactly” a part of the problem; but that doesn’t make me part of the solution. So if I don’t feel I’m part of the problem, and I don’t know if I’m part of the solution; then what the hell am I?
Believe me, I know good and well that anyone birthing self-indulgent shit like this into the world is just looking for someone to pat them on the head and say, “Oh, don’t worry sweetie; you’re one of the good ones”. And yes, I know how fucked up and privileged that is. It’s not anyone’s job to make me feel better about not having had to deal with the same stupid shit others have had to. The first part of dealing with an issue is to recognize that it exists, then you have to start asking yourself if you’re part of the problem. Well I’ve been asking for a while now and I’m nowhere closer to understanding then I was when I started.
I am not a perfect person. There are things I see and hear from those that fight for the cause that really make me question their goals. I think I know what’s right but I don’t know how to get there, and the fact that I don’t always agree with how some go about addressing the issue makes me feel like I am part of the problem. I don’t have any power to make changes on the scale that’s necessary to be helpful but I do what I can by just trying to be fair to everyone I meet.
I have conversations with my wife about these issues constantly and I can only have faith that she is being honest in what she shares with me. Between her and my mother I feel like I have the best teachers I can get. So I listen. I mean, that’s about all I can do; right? But I feel like I should be able to be part of the conversation as well. We’re not only working on a gender problem or a race problem, we’re working on a people problem and, as hard as I try not to, people is what I be.
So I’m serious this time; I have no clever ending here. This isn’t a subject that gets tied up with an intellectual statement or a sad joke to distract from how bad the rest of the writing was. I literally have nothing else to say except; I’m trying. I’m doing the best I can within the boundaries of what I believe is right and fair. I’m listening even when I don’t understand; even when it feels like, “I’m” being attacked for something. I don’t want to be a part of the problem but being a part of the solution can’t just mean throwing everything on the other side of the boat and hoping it stays upright.
So what do I do?
Clever endings aren’t my bag.