So, in the latest edition of the official comic book adventures of the original Captain America, Steve Rogers, the writers (and editors and surely a few other powers that be at the comic book subsidiary of the massive Marvel/Disney conglomerate) decided to publish the shocking plot twist that Steve Rogers has been an evil double agent all along! And by the initial reactions they have had to the less-than-happy reaction of at least some of the public, they seem to be taking great glee in this “amazing” and “clever” twist which they had to take in order to keep the story “fresh” and “relevant.”
This twist is neither fresh, clever, nor amazing. The most polite way to describe it would be as click-bait. And as Jessica Plummer pointed out in a post on Panels.Net (ON STEVE ROGERS #1, ANTISEMITISM, AND PUBLICITY STUNTS), it’s not just ordinary click-bait, it’s using the deaths of the 11 million victims of the Nazi Holocaust as click-bait, which means that it is a bigoted publicity stunt, at that.
I’m not saying that the writers intentionally set out the make an anti-semitic (not to mention homophobic and white supremacist) statement. What I’m talking about is the thoughtless bigotry of people who don’t recognize their own privilege nor the inherent unconscious bigotry that permeates our culture at large. The only people who think that someone who is admired as a hero being revealed to actually be a villain is a surprise are people who have never personally experience systemic prejudice. As Sashayed pointed out in a blog post a few days ago:
There is a particular kind of shock that comes with discovering that someone you care about holds a belief or set of beliefs that is dehumanizing to you personally, if not actually – LOL!! – inimical to your existence. Many if not most women have suffered and weathered this shock. Many people of color have. Many LGBT people have. Relevantly to this specific discussion, MANY Jewish people have. It is not Shocking to anyone in an unprivileged cultural position that someone you like, someone you care about, someone who is a “hero,” even someone you thought cared about YOU, can be revealed to have been metaphorically Working Against You All Along. Nobody thinks it’s fucking SURPRISING that you CAN’T TRUST ANYBODY to be on your side! Of course you can’t! You just adjust to that and try to get through your life in spite of it. No shit, white dudes.
From my own personal experience, I would amend “Many LGBT people have” to “nearly every single LGBT person ever.” As Solarbird commented, elaborating on Sashayed’s observations:
I’ve had three people – three people – that I thought were various degrees of friend start posting things from anti-queer groups just this spring. This “ha ha really evil” thing is fucking routine. One of them was even one of the tiny, tiny number of Christians I’ve always brought up to myself whenever I’ve tried to tell myself, “they’re not all like this, they’re not all like this, remember, there’s X and Y and Z” and SURPRISE! X IS TOTALLY WILLING TO POST ANTI-QUEER MEMES AND DEFEND THAT! so I’ve just been through this again recently.
Hell, I’ve been through this so many times it almost – almost – doesn’t even faze me anymore. (Well, okay, X did, and I have now learned that lesson.) It’s more a matter of, “okay, move this one to “Surprise Explicit Enemy” category, and two more to add to the absolutely do not trust list.“
If you’re queer in this society, you have to keep lists like that, you see. It sucks.
So yeah, this is not new to my life, and more of it is the opposite of shocking. It’s more just…
…one more goddamned disappointment. Of which I have had enough.
One of my experiences along this line was a friend who had been arguing emphatically on a particular public forum for a law that would “quarantine” all gay men in “medical camps” (this was back in the late 90s or early 00s); when other people pointed out she was being homophobic, she actually named me as one of her gay friends whose existence proved that she wasn’t a bigot! She didn’t hate me, she just firmly believed that every single gay, lesbian, and bisexual person was deeply and incurably mentally ill, and that we needed to be locked up for our own good. But she wasn’t a bigot.
Or the many times my aunt who regularly posts articles and memes and so forth saying that god is going to destroy america because of marriage equality or queer rights or trans people using public bathrooms, and then sends disappointed messages wondering why I and my husband don’t visit more often. And how can I say she’s bigoted? She loves me and all of her gay and lesbian friends, and has said so many times.
So, yes, don’t color me surprised by this shocking and tone-deaf development.
And there’s more. I reblogged some observations on Tumblr that it is very telling that the producers of Captain America are quite willing to make him a Nazi or Hydra double agent, but remain adamant that the character couldn’t possibly be bisexual. Equally telling is that the same fanboys who come out in angry droves when someone posts fan art or fic that depicts Cap as bisexual, have remained completely silent at this revelation that Cap has been secretly a Nazi all along. Someone felt the need to admonish me about that, because “making this about queer representation is dismissive of the persecution of Jewish people.”
No. No it is not. First of all, we can be upset about more than one aspect of an egregiously bad storytelling decision. We can point out that it is both anti-semitic and racist towards various people of color. We can point out that a situation is anti-semitic, racist, homophobic, and sexist all at the same time. Mentioning one or more of the problematic aspects doesn’t erase or diminish any of the others.
Furthermore, reducing a comment about homophobia (and the linkage between it and other bigotry) to the phrase “representation” is a form of erasure. It’s playing oppression olympics, saying that one group is more oppressed than another. It’s saying we can’t talk about homophobia until all other “more important” issues have been utterly solved.
And that’s pure B.S.
Besides, I hate to have to be the one to point this out, dear anonymous Tumblr commenter, but those 11 million victims of the Nazis you mentioned? That included between 5,000 and 15,000 gay men. In fact, homosexuals were among the very first groups targeted for internment in the camps by the Nazis in 1933. Even worse, when the allies liberated the camps, while prisoners who had been locked up because they were Jewish or Roma or biracial and so forth were set free? The homos were transferred to regular prisons.
The death toll of the Nazi camps also included nearly a quarter million Roma (who were targeted as an ethnic group), tens of thousands of Jehovah’s Witnesses (the denomination was identified as an enemy of the Aryan race relatively early because of its public resistance to the racist policies of the Nazis), biracial people, and pretty much every ethnic group the Nazis didn’t consider Aryan. They also locked up a lot of white folks for the horrific crime of being married to someone that wasn’t Aryan, having had children with someone who wasn’t Aryan, and so on. This gets to the real reason I made the link between the refusal to consider that Steve Rogers might be bi and anti-semitism:
The bigotries tend to go hand in hand. If someone is homophobic, that’s a very good indicator they are also sympathetic to misogynist ideas, racist notions, and yes, anti-semitic assumptions, too. If supposedly heroic people being bigots comes of no surprise to many of us, the fact that people who are homophobic are bigoted toward a lot of other groups should come as even less of a surprise.
I understand this is a comic book, and that comics have a long tradition of rescinding storylines or retroactively changing continuity whether it be telling us in a few issues it was all a clever plot to trick some of the bad guys, or that it is really a Skrull shapeshifter pretending to be Captain America, or some other hand-waving. If that’s what they had in mind all along, that makes it even more of a cheap trick. It’s a publicity stunt that tramples on the history of a character that was created by two Jewish men: Joe Simon (born Hymie Simon) and Jack Kirby (birth name Jacob Kurtzberg) explicitly as not merely an anti-Nazi symbol, but as the embodiment of what they thought were some of the most noble aspirations of the human heart.
I’m not saying the writers don’t have a right to tell this story. I’m not arguing for censorship. I’m simply pointing out what it was a bad choice. I’ve tried to explain why it isn’t a clever or creative plot twist, but rather a dickish stunt. It’s disrespectful of the audience. It is using the horrible murders of 11,000,000 humans as clickbait. And it is a bad choice artistically. As Pablo Picasso said:
The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.
This is trampling the hopes of some people in the dust of mockery in order to try to make yourself look clever. That isn’t art at all.