Men in Tights

 

I had a weird conversation with my mother. I don’t quite know how it started but the fact that Sam Wilson aka The Falcon was replacing Steve Rogers as “Captain America” and Thor now being a woman in the new comics came up. My mom was not happy.

“Why do they need to replace Steve Rogers?”

“I guess it’s partly for representation. What’s wrong with a black Captain America?”

“Why does he have to black?”

“Why can’t he be black? How does that matter?”

“It’s to be politically correct, that’s what it is.”

“Does it matter that he’s black? How does it change anything? Bucky Barnes was Captain America too! There have been a whole bunch of Captain Americas that were not Steve Rogers.”

“I don’t care that he’s black, now. I don’t understand why they have to replace Steve Rogers? What’s wrong with the old character? Is he not relevant anymore? What’s wrong with old things? Why can’t Sam Wilson just remain The Falcon? Was there something inadequate about being The Falcon? My point is, why do they need to rewrite a character? Why can’t they just make new ones or give more priority to the existing ones, if representation matters? Why does Thor have to be a girl? What’s wrong with having a female superhero who’s a new character in her own right?”

I got so confused over this. Let me give you some background on us. My mother is pure Filipino, her parents emigrated to Malaysia and she’s struggled with being from ‘the nation of maids’. My father’s parents emigrated from Ceylon, so I’m part Filipino and part Ceylonese. I guess in the Asian setting, I fit right in with my tan skin but people can never quite place me.

If you don’t quite get what this post is about, it’s about representation. My mother is old-school in some ways. Heck, she’s very old-school. Hemlines should not be too high, you should court and not date, you don’t call your parents by their first names, those kind of things. Very un-modern so to speak. I’m that way too for the most part, because she’s the biggest influence in my life.

My mother’s concern was about the need to be politically correct. “‘Social agenda’ is what is being presented in comic books, subtle ways to get into our psyche.” But comic books have always been set in the era that they’re made in. Political agenda is everywhere. 

Captain America was made in a time when America needed hope, the 1940s. Steve Rogers was blonde, well-built, blue-eyed, handsome.. the perfect Aryan model that Hitler strived for. But he was everything against the Nazi agenda. He used a shield and not a sword or a gun. Captain America was a political statement of his time.

By placing Sam Wilson in the Captain America suit (a persona he did take on in 1999, temporarily), I guess the intention is partly to represent the ‘new America’, the land where there is acceptance of being a POC, supposedly showing that there is no longer the oppression of the African-American population, like there used to be. Sam Wilson as Captain America is again, a political statement.

Is there a need for this? Is there a need for the replacement of old ‘heroes’ with new ones in the same suit? Are we to forget the previous struggles of a nation by simply highlighting new ones? Is replacing Steve Rogers in the red and blue suit a good decision? 

I see my mother’s point of view. Her concern may be a bit overblown, but I kinda get it. To her, people need not change existing roles but create new ones because she had to break through many stereotypes, those that exist till today. The worry that traditions may be lost or that the past may be forgotten is a real one. History is distorted by the people who rewrite textbooks the way they see things. 

But Captain America is just that.. he’s a symbol of a certain moment in time. One day, Captain America may be a Hispanic superhero or a Native American superhero. But before we wait for that day to come, should we not celebrate the superheroes that represent minorities now? Should we not create the superheroes and make them matter without having to change existing ones? The Falcon stepping into Captain America’s shoes is one thing but wouldn’t it be better to make more superheroes that show diversity?

If Marvel came up with a new female superhero instead of rebranding an existing one, I think the crowd would still take to it as long as she’s well written. Would changing Thor’s gender matter, if Thor is still Thor? Wouldn’t it be better to create a new Asgardian heroine (or heck, do more on Sif, for goodness sakes), build a great backstory and let girls be represented with a fresh face?

What do you think? Does it matter that comic book characters pass the mantle or should they remain in their original forms?

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