Spider-Man & the importance of race

Probably the most appropriate use of this image outside of marketing...ever.

Spider-Man is the greatest superhero to have ever been imagined. You might not agree, but that would make you wrong. We should not dwell on that disagreement. We should instead focus on the fact that Spider-Man and his life as Peter Parker make him such an intriguing character that Sony is willing to reboot the movie franchise despite Spider-Man 3’s more than excellent job in terms of disappointing people. Why not discard the old and move forward with the new?

Marc Bernardin, one of the more interesting contributors to the io9 blog, posted a rant about the preliminary casting for Peter Parker in the upcoming movie. He asks a great question: “In this day and age, why does Spidey have to be a white guy?” The only good response is to point out that the character has been white for the last 48 years. The only exception is Miguel O’Hara from Spider-Man 2099, who is part Mexican. Seeing as most people are not even aware that O’Hara exists (here’s to praying for his appearance in the Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions game), that is not quite enough.

Spider-Man 2099 would make for a great animated series, especially since his costume is less busy (and easier to animate) than classic Spidey's.

A good question to ask is what makes Peter Parker/Spider-Man the character he is? Here are the qualifiers for the proper 616 Spidey:

  • Nerd/genius-level intellect
  • Outsider status in high school and college
  • Down on his luck but somehow dates super attractive women
  • Perpetually broke
  • Raised by aunt and uncle in Queens, NY
  • Learned an important lesson about power and responsibility from Uncle Ben’s death
  • Aunt May is the only constant in his life
  • Worked at Daily Bugle taking photos of himself
  • Uses wits more often than fists to defeat foes
  • Cracks wise when fighting to deal with the fact that his life is always in danger
  • Wacky science fiction plots surround his life, inclusive of: a radioactive spider that gave him powers, far too many clones, an alien symbiote that wanted to be his clothes, and many of his foes are experiments gone wrong

Those are all of the necessary elements for creating a proper Peter Parker. None of those preclude him from being non-white. He does not even necessarily have to be American, but that is something I might say should stay the same. Otherwise I do not see why he cannot be a little black boy from Queens. Heck, maybe even a little Chinese boy from Queens.

I guess what I am saying is that if you have everything else right, his race should not matter. It has never been integral to his character. He is not the Wakandan prince Black Panther, the Kenyan princess’ daughter Storm, or the Nazi interned Jewish Magneto. His race never informed his character. His experiences did.

Peter Parker has always been white, but why? I imagine that if they cast a non-white teen for the role there would be an uproar. It would be unpleasant at first because people would argue the preservation of his race for no good reason and come across as potentially racist, but following that there might be some sort of open dialog. Why must our iconic heroes in America be white? What is more important, the race of the character or the lessons he teaches us through his trials and tribulations? Why must we cling to the superficial elements?

Just food for thought. I am absolutely certain the next Spider-Man will be white. Not even a mixed white. He will be monoracial. Spidey for the next decade will remain the same in all incarnations, unless Spider-Man 2099 is revisited. His being white is not a bad thing. The adamant stance people take when it comes to their childhood icons is.

In the event that a non-white is ever chosen for the role of Parker, I would hope that we could avoid the race topic altogether and get to what really matters - how much better this guy is than Tobey Maguire.

The Last Psychiatrist on American Sexuality

You want sexy pics? A simple search will find those. But this picture? Adorable! The Last Psychiatrist is a blog that I only wish I had written. Occasionally the posts are pretty out there. They strike me in mental exercises that the author is letting people view, nothing more. Then there is this recent post about our Miss America, Rima Fakih (notably from Michigan!), and American sexuality. Great, great observations.

When you’re by yourself and the sex scene in a rated R movie comes on, do you change the channel?  "It seems wrong to watch the expression on her face change as she mounts him.  I choose to turn away."  

But with every passing year of marriage those scenes frustrate, you try to avoid them.  Not when you’re Alone, of course, but when you’re watching with your spouse: you worry it is reminding them how inadequate you have become.
It happens also when you’re with people you’re not intimate with.  Are they watching how you are watching it?  If you’re too interested, will they think you’re a pervert, and if you appear bored, will they think you’re a prude?  So there’s dead silence as everyone in the room  pretends they’re not pretending.
The word for all of this is shame.

It’s perfectly normal to feel this way.  But you chose this world, this is the one you wanted.  What kind of a world is it where we want sexuality in everything, have normalized sexuality in everything, but are ashamed to be caught looking at it?  

A world that prefers to be alone, of course.

Ebert on 3-D

I generally do not like Ebert. I have seen reviews that were too critical of the lowbrow and others that were too light on those that considered themselves highbrow. Some reviews have revealed that he is not as observant as he should be. Then there is his whole argument about video games not being art, which basically sums up to, “I know art when I see art. I don’t play games, so I don’t see art there. Since I haven’t seen it, games cannot be art.” (Check out this blog post or the other blog post he has written on the subject. I am not inaccurate here.) Ebert does not sit well with me.

What makes me dislike him more is when I do agree with him. It just does not seem right. However, he made some great points about 3-D. I see 3-D as just another marketing gimmick, and Ebert seems to agree and then some. Check out his latest in Newsweek: http://www.newsweek.com/id/237110

Community: Modern Warfare

Sometimes I think I should spend more time on this blog shilling my favorite things instead of just responding to what I see online. It would certainly make for more upbeat writing, at the very least. There are things in the media that I enjoy more than I let on. For instance, I spent the last couple of weeks playing Okami on the PS2, which is essentially a love letter for Miyamoto’s Zelda series but dolled up with fancy scroll-esque artwork and Japanese mythology. I finally watched both Gran Torino and Slumdog Millionaire, which were amazing movies. Heck, I could have written a million things about the 100th episode of Bones.

But instead I want to draw your attention to a show that did not really catch me until late December – Community. Last night’s episode exemplified everything good about the series. This show has strong characterizations, pokes at some of the major tropes in films and television series (to the point where the show is far too self-aware), and vicious but friendly pokes toward rival new show Glee. The weakest part of the episode, though, is the unsatisfied sexual tension – mainly because the lead female is written the weakest out of all characters on the show. Still, the episode was great because it paid homage to many war and post-apocalyptic films while still keeping the backdrop of a community college.

A remake of a Nightmare

The reviews for the latest A Nightmare on Elm Street film are mostly negative. Given that this is the update of a slasher series, that is to be expected. The simplicity of the plot, which exists only to move the viewer from one creative death sequence to the next, should rightly be derided by critics and those who consume high art. This is not the kind of film made for the purpose of earning praise. This is the kind of film that is supposed to make people go, “Oh shit!”

It is certainly up to the individual to determine whether that happens. What I saw in the theatre was a film with an interesting pace and focus. Instead of having one protagonist who is followed throughout, with incidental scenes featuring the supporting cast, the film roams from character to character. The viewer follows a character until his or her death, then the next, then the next, etc. Like I said, the plot exists to move from one death to another. This creates a film without a central protagonist, despite longtime fans’ rightful expectation that everything will come down to Nancy and a scheme to bring Freddy Krueger into the real world. The effect of this roaming focus suggests that the viewers are not seeing the film from the perspective of any of the teens with whom we are supposed to sympathize but rather from the killer himself as he slashes a path to his favorite. I consider this a merit of the film, personally.

But one review I read, by Sam Bathe of Fan of the Fire, managed to mention the one major shortcoming I found with the film. Offhand in a statement quoted by Rotten Tomatoes, Bathe says that the film is “[d]evoid of personality[…]”. This is average critic-speak for “the film did not strike me as particularly original”, which in itself is not a particularly original statement of complaint. But the statement hits on something that is very clearly there.

The remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street seems to have spent too much time in its development toward becoming a mainstream box office hit. The edges were rounded off too well, and someone needs to put some dirt on the film. The movie fails to take any chances and just does not stand out. It is just another supposedly darker and grittier reboot. It is definitely darker than the original, with Krueger being a child molester working at a preschool rather than just a child murderer this time around. It tells its tale well and Jackie Earle Haley’s performance as Krueger is everything it needed to be – but the film was still lacking.

Another concern: Liz (pictured) and Dean (first death in the film) DO NOT pass for high schoolers. Not even seniors. I loathe this kind of casting. Either make the characters or hire younger actors. This just insults the audience.

Beyond its not having an edge, another concern I have is that the horror and slasher film genres are moving uncontrollably in the direction of appeasing emo and Twilight fan cultures. Slashers found their prime in the 80’s, where the goal was to titillate the audience. The teenaged victims would have gratuitous sex, show some cleavage, and then get hideously murdered. Here we have Kyle Gallner (Cassidy on Veronica Mars) and Thomas Dekker (John Connor of The Sarah Connor Chronicles) wearing ridiculous amounts of eyeliner while making dopey eyes at girls they wish they could share their beds with in a mostly platonic way. Topless women are replaced by the entire boy’s swim team in Speedos, followed by a sequence featuring Gallner standing in the cold in his Speedo while watching the original death of Fred Krueger. This is by no means a complaint aimed at a return to the misogyny of the 80’s form of the genre, but I think pandering to this new demographic is a quick way to pull the trigger on the death of the genre in the new decade.

There are at least two more Nightmares planned as of this writing. To be clear, I want these films to be made. The only thing I really request is that they have a little more kick to them. These films need balls.

Bechdel Rule: Pass. I suppose this depends on your interpretation of the rule, though. When any of the women talk to each other in the film, they talk about Krueger – even if only vaguely. They do not talk about which boys they like. However, in a bit of turnabout, Dekker’s character chides Gallner’s character openly about his being unable to ask Nancy out. (Of course, fans of Veronica Mars might assume their own reasons…)