Debate and Discussion

The difference between a gimmick and an offensive stereotype
Prototaph at 8:22AM, Jan. 20, 2008
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In literature, especially in comics, heroes and villains alike have been created around a cultural idea or ethnic stereotype. Some examples would be the entire line up (basically) of the Global Guardians in DC Comics during the 1980s, any of the Soviet teams in Marvel during the Cold War era, or regional stereotypes like Bronze Tiger or Luke Cage who were angry, militant black men from the ghetto or characters like Shang-Chi or Katana, who are from ‘the Orient’, who's sole ability is martial arts/samurai skills.

Characters such as these have surfaced and been around nearly as long as the comic genre itself and some purist may argue that they are important to comics. However, especially in today's more ‘PC’ world, it can be a very touchy issue, if it isn't completely off-limits. The issue comes down to this: When does a gimmick based on a cultural or ethnic stereotype cross the line between useful story device into the realm of offending an entire people? If examples are needed, I can provide them later.
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last edited on July 14, 2011 2:53PM
ozoneocean at 9:24AM, Jan. 20, 2008
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Offensive stereotype s are in the eye of the beholder.. With the ones you mentioned, people are usually idiots to get “offended” by that crap. The use of them just highlights the hilariously shallow nature of their creation and the people who utilise them. With other's, like the villains in Tin Tin, the WW2 Warner brother cartoons, or ww2 cat in the hat pics, you HAVE to put them in the context of the time and situations they cam from. They don't belong outside of that and shouldn't be perpetuated, but also validly own their place in history and shouldn't be airbrushed out of it.

The REAL problem comes with people's intentions: bringing back old DELIBERATELY racialist stereotypes and using them in the same way as their original intended purpose- demonising or marginalising certain groups.
Or, creating new ones for that purpose.

The hamfisted superhero/villian creations you name are gentle intergrationst stuff more than anything else these days. lol!

But any problems with them are symptoms of overreactive false PC instincts.
 
last edited on July 14, 2011 2:29PM
TitanOne at 10:33AM, Jan. 20, 2008
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I don't consider Luke Cage or katana-wielding Asians to be negative racial stereotypes. Not if they are costumed superhero characters.

For starters, almost all costumed characters in superhero comics are reduced to an exaggerated image; that's what it's all about.

Stereotyping would be if EVERY black character in comics was an angry man from the ghetto, or if EVERY Asian character in comics was a martial artist. That is not the case. Is Robbie from the Daily Bugle a racial stereotype from the ghetto? ‘Storm’ from the X-Men? Green Lantern Jon Stewart?

But even if they were, if the characters were presented as heroic or forceful, would it be prejudice? Or banality?

Actually the most clumsily-stereotyped characters in comics are white people. The endless psychotic protestant preachers. Fat Slob Harvey Bullock, who is constantly eating pizza and doughnuts while the thin cops stand around looking handsome and cerebral. Almost any white person from the Deep South in the history of comics. I haven't looked in on ‘Rogue’ lately. Have they figured out yet that “y'all” is something southerners only say to more than one person in a room?

But again, that isn't exactly prejudice. It's just cheesy writing.

last edited on July 14, 2011 4:30PM
StaceyMontgomery at 11:29AM, Jan. 20, 2008
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I have to disagree with you, TitanOne, at least in part.

Luke Cage rarely gets to be more than an angry black man, you can usually write his dialogue on autopilot just by knowing that. Robbie Robertson is worse, in my opinion - the black man as “truth speaker” and friendly mentor to the white hero. That's a “positive” stereotype i guess, but it's just as tiring, and just as insulting in the end. I happen to know for a fact that older black men do not just exist to teach life lessons to young white guys - but if you grew up in the marvel age of comics, you might have been fooled!

I agree that in comics - where almost everyone is a stereotype - it may not seem so important a point. Fair enough. But it isn't just bad writing - it a particular kind of bad writing.

I certainly agree that it goes much further than race, though in a visual medium like comics I think that the more “visual” stereotypes like race play a larger role.

My own bugbear on this is queer characters. Gay men do not exist just to be beaten up so you can feel righteous. Gay women are not just “more exotic and magical” versions of straight women. Transgender people do not just exist so you can feel redeemed when they die (Im talking to you, Rent).

That doesnt mean you cant play with these ideas. I've read comics where Luke Cage was well written - there's no reason that a stereotype can't be the first step in creating a real character. When Joss Whedon turned Willow into a gay Witch, he was teasing the audience and having fun along the way.

There's nothing wrong with having an angry black man in your comics - or a magical gay woman. So long, of course, you have something for them to say.

Sure if you write well enough, almost anything can be forgiven. But bad writing isn't just all one thing - we get to name what's bad about it.

last edited on July 14, 2011 3:55PM
DAJB at 4:44AM, Jan. 21, 2008
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I'm with TitanOne and Ozone on this one. Yes, there are badly written and designed characters in comics - black, white and Asian; male and female.

But, very often, the self-appointed spokespersons for those groups are far too quick to read prejudice and agendas into those portrayals, even when there clearly isn't any. It's a shame because, if they saved their ire for the relatively small number of cases that actually deserve it, it would have so much more impact.

And as for the over-use of katanas - that is a gimmick but it has nothing to do with being Asian any more. These days it seems every character has to carry a katana! (I blame Tarantino …!)
;-)
last edited on July 14, 2011 12:03PM
mlai at 6:29AM, Jan. 21, 2008
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DAJB
These days it seems every character has to carry a katana! (I blame Tarantino …!)
;-)
I'd blame Highlander first.

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last edited on July 14, 2011 2:06PM
RabbitMaster at 9:04AM, Jan. 21, 2008
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Titan One
Actually the most clumsily-stereotyped characters in comics are white people. The endless psychotic protestant preachers. Fat Slob Harvey Bullock, who is constantly eating pizza and doughnuts while the thin cops stand around looking handsome and cerebral. Almost any white person from the Deep South in the history of comics. I haven't looked in on ‘Rogue’ lately. Have they figured out yet that “y'all” is something southerners only say to more than one person in a room?
Well said.

“Perhaps you would care to try your villany on a less defenseless opponent?”–Kung Fu Rabbit
last edited on July 14, 2011 2:57PM
Lokidoll at 9:27PM, Jan. 25, 2008
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ozoneocean
Offensive stereotype s are in the eye of the beholder.. With the ones you mentioned, people are usually idiots to get “offended” by that crap. The use of them just highlights the hilariously shallow nature of their creation and the people who utilise them. With other's, like the villains in Tin Tin, the WW2 Warner brother cartoons, or ww2 cat in the hat pics, you HAVE to put them in the context of the time and situations they cam from. They don't belong outside of that and shouldn't be perpetuated, but also validly own their place in history and shouldn't be airbrushed out of it.

The REAL problem comes with people's intentions: bringing back old DELIBERATELY racialist stereotypes and using them in the same way as their original intended purpose- demonising or marginalising certain groups.
Or, creating new ones for that purpose.

The hamfisted superhero/villian creations you name are gentle intergrationst stuff more than anything else these days. lol!

But any problems with them are symptoms of overreactive false PC instincts.


Ditto.
last edited on July 14, 2011 1:38PM
Dockworker at 9:01PM, Feb. 6, 2008
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I don't know if an Luk Cage is really an offensive Stereotype. I mean, yeah, he's an angry black man from the ghetto, but have you ever met anyone from the ghetto, regardless of race, who had a particularly sunny disposition? on the other hand, all of my experience with mr. Cage have been in more recent comics, so it's possible that I've missed some Key examples of race based poor writing.

I'd say the point at which a Gimmick becomes a stereotype is when the character as a whole has no more substance than the sum of their stereotypes.

Oh, and Titanone, when I read your comment about John Stewart NOT being an angry black man from the ghetto, I had to dig this issue out of my collection. If I'm not mistaken, this is the first appearance of John Stewart


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last edited on July 14, 2011 12:12PM
TitanOne at 8:39PM, Feb. 7, 2008
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Dockworker
Oh, and Titanone, when I read your comment about John Stewart NOT being an angry black man from the ghetto, I had to dig this issue out of my collection. If I'm not mistaken, this is the first appearance of John Stewart




Oh well, so much for that theory!

last edited on July 14, 2011 4:30PM
kyupol at 6:39AM, Feb. 8, 2008
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EVERY Asian character in comics was a martial artist.

I'm cool with that. And I'm asian. 8)

Seriously, I notice an asian inclination with martial arts. If this isnt true, then all types of manga in the ‘fighting’ genre wouldn't be big hits in even their home countries. (Naruto, DBZ, Yuyu Hakusho, etc.)

While not all asians actively do martial arts, I've noticed a that those who dont do martial arts are at least a fan of any fighting anime.

And speaking of fight genre stuff, I've noticed that they're not as popular in North America than in Asia. In N. America, its more of this separate group of people who are in to anime… and within that subculture of anime is this smaller group that is in to fighting. While in the Philippines, I remember that at 6:00 pm, when DBZ or Yuyu Hakusho is being shown, every TV is tuned into that. Even the ones in the Electronic stores.


As if its something genetic. The stuff about martial arts and fighting.

In WW2, The Japanese were fiercer fighters than the Nazis. According to military accounts, the Japanese fought to the last man while the Germans would stop fighting if they find themselves in a tactically disadvantageous situation. They were also reported to be more brutal than the Nazis.

In Vietnam, USA was driven out by an inferiorly equipped army.

In the Philippines, we resisted more than 300 years of occupation by colonial powers. And the US occupiers had to invent a more powerful gun (their original gun worked on native indians but didnt work on us) to stop us.

As far as street fights are concerned, the ones I saw in the Philippines were alot more brutal and the level of aggression of the combatants was alot more compared to what I've seen here.


Just my 2 cents… and I'm proud of the ‘stereotype’ that all Asians are martial artists. :)
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last edited on July 14, 2011 1:25PM
Prototaph at 4:31PM, Feb. 24, 2008
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Alright, I meant to get to this sooner, but here's some potential ideas for characters that are at least moderately ethnic in who they are and what they do. I can elaborate/use my justification if needed, but here:

-A kenyan with super-speed
-An Australian who uses a boomerang
-A Russian who turns into a bear
-A native American tribal shaman
-An Oriental martial master (gone over already)
-An English big game hunter who gains animal powers

Based on what has already been done before by the big companies and even what's on here, is any of those close to the line, over the line, or should I even be worried?
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last edited on July 14, 2011 2:53PM
mapaghimagsik at 6:54PM, Feb. 24, 2008
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I dunno if I can speak to the whole “what makes a black stereotype offensive.” I'm not black. Its also not my place to judge for an individual about what is offensive or not. If someone is offended by the portrayal of a stereotype, I think they have the right to explain what they see as the issue. I think its our place to really take them at their word – they're not trying to ruin our fun, they really see something damaging or hurtful.

I don't think its fair to take every examination of a stereotype as anything less than good faith.

To me its a little odd because it seems that conservatives and racists are the first people to play the victim card – somehow they are being persecuted because they get caught being racists. Lovely songs like “In Coontown” have modern videos and modern singers still covering them.

A few years ago, I did a Christmas diorama with a bunch of gingerbread men hanging themselves by nooses. We all thought it was funny and didn't think of the implications until someone ‘splained it.

I guess I blame the racists for ruining my fun than “oversensitive black people”

You could really see it with Katrina. Black people were ’looting' while whites were getting what they needed to survive. Neighboring counties were posting armed guards and bridges not to let the ‘Katricians’ in. Gun shops actually put up ads talking about keeping ‘them’ out.

My point is that its a shame that you have to be careful what meta messages you send with the characters you create. In a ‘perfect world’ you wouldn't have to. But in that same perfect world, we wouldn't have racists ruining it all for us.
last edited on July 14, 2011 1:51PM
dueeast at 11:35AM, March 11, 2008
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Wow, I forgot about that stereotype – “conservatives are all racists!” lol!

You know, there are liberal and green and libertarian racists…and it would stun some of us (myself included) to learn who they are.

Just coming from the South or having a conservative political leaning doesn't make anyone more inclined to be racist. You don't have to be white to be racist, either. I just dealt with this topic in Due East, so it's fresh on my mind.

mapaghimagsik
To me its a little odd because it seems that conservatives and racists are the first people to play the victim card – somehow they are being persecuted because they get caught being racists. Lovely songs like “In Coontown” have modern videos and modern singers still covering them.
last edited on July 14, 2011 12:17PM
dueeast at 12:11PM, March 11, 2008
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The Kenyan with superspeed was done in the animated X-Men.
The X-Men comic book also had an Australian aborigine who used a boomerang (and that string/stuck device that makes a whirring sound)

I don't think the Russian turning into a bear has been done, but I may be wrong.

Native American tribal shaman was done in Alpha Flight.

Oriental martial artist, as you said, already discussed.

Kraven the Hunter (from Spiderman), though Russian, was a big game hunter who gains animal powers.

Over the line? None of it is over the line.

Prototaph
Alright, I meant to get to this sooner, but here's some potential ideas for characters that are at least moderately ethnic in who they are and what they do. I can elaborate/use my justification if needed, but here:

-A kenyan with super-speed
-An Australian who uses a boomerang
-A Russian who turns into a bear
-A native American tribal shaman
-An Oriental martial master (gone over already)
-An English big game hunter who gains animal powers

Based on what has already been done before by the big companies and even what's on here, is any of those close to the line, over the line, or should I even be worried?
last edited on July 14, 2011 12:17PM
TheMidge28 at 1:55PM, March 11, 2008
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Prototaph
Alright, I meant to get to this sooner, but here's some potential ideas for characters that are at least moderately ethnic in who they are and what they do. I can elaborate/use my justification if needed, but here:

-A kenyan with super-speed
-An Australian who uses a boomerang
-A Russian who turns into a bear
-A native American tribal shaman
-An Oriental martial master (gone over already)
-An English big game hunter who gains animal powers

Based on what has already been done before by the big companies and even what's on here, is any of those close to the line, over the line, or should I even be worried?

no not at all.
the word stereotype has a negative connotation in this day and age. But that's only because people have given it such and speak and write in sweeping generalizations. But specific to the character descriptions listed, I wouldn't think for one minute any one sharing those nationalities or races would find them offensive. But honestly each country have their views of other nationalities and work under those preconceived notions of how they are and what not. But for the most part stereotypes ring true. That's why we have them. There are those who don't fall in line with a stereotype, negative or positive, but they normally just are exceptions to the rule or stereotype.

The whole PC push is over.
last edited on July 14, 2011 4:24PM
Llama_Comic at 9:43PM, March 11, 2008
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I think it all depends on perception and how good one's sense of humor is. My comic uses some racial stereotypes to humorous end. We have a lot of jokes that haven't even seen the light of day that play with those stereotypes even more in ways that Family Guy and Southpark do. Some of these jokes are pointing out how overt the stereotyping was in the early days of comics, like Black Lightning's name, the ethnic craziness of the Uncanny X-Men (the team formed in Giant-Sized X-Men #1) and things like that. We portray Wolverine as a Canadian redneck and Throwbacks (Power Man and Iron Fist) play with race like JD and Turk from Scrubs. We might offend some people, but I just don't care. There are lines we have drawn that we won't cross. We won't ever go as far as Southpark has in some instances, but I really like Southpark. One person's perspective is a joke is funny, while another person may be offended. You can't please everybody.

last edited on July 14, 2011 1:38PM
Prototaph at 10:22AM, March 13, 2008
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And here I thought this topic was a dead one. Thanks for the feedback, guys. It's helping solidify some of my ideas. I'm glad to hear that others think like I do and that PC-ness is overrated and overblown. I'd have been saddend to find out I was being outdated, offensive, and unimaginative. I'm loving the comments, by the way. Keep them coming.
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Do you like….avenging?
Well then….

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last edited on July 14, 2011 2:53PM

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