Oh, I Wish A Human Would
Dont get it twisted. Brian Michael Bendis not all that wrong in his take on the new half black half Spanish Spidey, Miles Morales. Mind you, that assessment also depends on how “in love” you who is reading this is or was, at one point or another, with the Spider-Man mythos in the first place. Which pretty much amounts to an underprivileged dweeb making it out here in these NY streets as the high-flying, deering do-having, Spider-Man after getting bitten by a radioactive spider that endows him with all types of arachnid-like powers from sticking to walls, climbing them, an enhanced sense of proprioception, to pulling off all manner of acrobatic shit. Per the usual too, then, this results in all kinds of coincidental calamities, of which we can pretty much thank our web slinging protag for bringing upon hisself as a sort of cosmic punishment for being awesome the way he is, including the classic unraveling of the immediacy of said protag’s world, which, in this case, stands for Peter Parker constantly wrestling with his sense of priorities as his sense of priorities do end up changing because, duh, he’s Spider-Man.
This paper, however, is hardly an indictment of Bendis as having done something wrong in his creation of Miles Morales, for it’s certainly fine and good that Miles is that way he is – all clean cut and eloquent and shit.
It’s more of a speculative (ad)venture as to what the hell is up with Miles’, with his language, and here’s what I mean. That Miles as a clearly black-faced youth in his assumption of the mantle of Spider-Man should of sounded less like his predecessor Peter Parker, who is white, and more unlike that. What does that mean, though? For this author it meant or means imbuing Miles with a linguistic variant historically associated with black and latino peeps, perhaps, a language classically associated with just some random dumb nigga who dont know better/wanna be better, one believed not to do nobody any favors when it comes to just about anything in life, except for maybe the purposes of spitting some dope behind rhymes on a rap track or, like, affording you yourself a good comeback for when you who is reading this is finding yourself needing something hurtfully clever to retort with when you’re pride is on the brink of shattering because some motherfucker(s) call(s) you a motherfucker and how yo mama so fat with her fat-self that her belt size equator or something. I’m talking about a language that as recent as Trayvon Martin has been a point of provocation for peeps in a debate as to what is an appropriate way of speaking that can or will or should afford one honor and R E S P E C T in the midst of a Push For Diversity Movement that amounts to, basically, the blackening and gaying up of pretty much every historically straight, white fictional character under the sun.
But don’t get me wrong. This author is not saying that Miles as a brotha has to or had to be or sound a certain way in order to be taken seriously as another kind of Spidey, a “Spider-Man for kids of color, adults of color,” as Bendis say. I mean please, far be it from me to tell peeps how they should speaking, let alone what kind of rap music is the type of rap music they want to listen to because it’s not Iggy Azalea or something. What I am saying is that if the point is to diversify, right? If today the consensus is that, say, #blacklivesmatter, or even that #alllivesmatter, that diversity matters, or that we should be celebrating difference in all of it’s forms and persuasions, then Miles, et al were opportunities for their creators to make centerstage historically ostracized, demonized, stigmatized, marginalized, disenfranchised, criticized aspects of real life equivalents that, for them, make it hard to just live their lives. It means putting at the forefront of these “all new, all different” super-peeps sensibilities and qualities traditionally seen as unacceptable, undesirable, though certainly not a basis for discrimination or their absence.
From the standpoint of comics, then, it means not just altering the way a given character looks but also the way the character talks, because how else are we who are reading to tell the difference between the the black and white one, especially if and while they’re in costume. Think Marshall McLuhan “the medium controls the message,” then. Performance – call it diversity – in comics is underpinned by a text-image binary, i.e., pictures plus thought and speech bubbles. Insight into who and what these characters are, want to and don’t want to be – or at least who the writers and illustrators want and don’t want them to be – is gleaned from from that intersection. In turn putting the spotlight on speech patterns and physical appearances. Usually diversity is limited to superficiality, whereby readers and creators substitute appreciating substance for appreciating skin grafts and sex changes, as if that’s all that make a person different, as if those’re the only grounds on which a person get discriminated against. They don’t go beyond epidermal or genital concerns, which fail to acknowledge the other factor to be taken into consideration, which’s how these characters are represented linguistically. Certainly an author’s voice is an author’s voice and ideologies and sensibilities clash all of the time. But what does it mean when a supposed “all new, all different” “Spider-Man for kids of color, adults of color” is blessed with a language ideology that reinforces a white is right dogmatic approach not just to language but also to ethnic performance? – that is, what is considered palatable.
Certainly ideologies and sensibilities vary; one homie’s experience isn’t necessarily equal to another no matter how alike they might be on whatever points of identification they might have. But if the point is to give certain peeps something to be proud of then fear shouldn’t dictate what a superhero is going to do, or how a superhero is going to behave, because I’d bet any money that if a superhero were to come crashing down to planet Earth right now only to be hit with all kinds of politics as to how to “superhero,” that superhero would come out her or his or its face saying, “Oh, I wish a human would.”