This article is a response to a YouTube video made by comic book commentator Just Some Guy, who posed the question of why there appears to be a shortage of diverse villains. However, the video is fraught with generalizations, ambiguities, and lack of context and history, as though implying that his own audience will figure out what he is talking about; which of course is the cornerstone of a positive feedback loop.
You talk about the “far left” throughout the video, yet the label is itself ambiguous, since you did not name any of the specific precepts or policies that they uphold besides diversity. You did not even name anyone from this “far left” that you like to talk about. I do not know if you refer to Mark Waid, like you do throughout your channel; yet you have acknowledged that his comics are not selling as well among the comic book demographic. So, if he does not have the social capital to have widespread influence, then who exactly is he trying to indoctrinate?
You then talk about how people like Waid do not see people as individuals rather as part of collectives. You then explain that the creators who come from these disadvantaged demographics–whom you do not even name in the video yet do so frequently in your comic reviews–have this type of thinking that it is impossible for them to create a villain who matches their own demographic because then they will think their own demographic is bad. It is a simplistic way of analyzing how characters are written. I do not deny that the realm of identity politics is inherently divisive and plays people off against each other, though I do not see the appeal of reading a simplistic story about how good people are good and bad people are bad because the way they are and everything was hunky-dory until the bad character does something bad. That is not the type of story that makes people think deeply about the tragedy of the human condition. What does is creating grey characters in inherently corrupt societies which are the Campbellian beasts they must slay.
You mention Killmonger from the 2018 film Black Panther and claim that the “left” sees him as an anti-hero. As an English major, I would definitely say that he does represent an anti-hero within the same vein as Macbeth. Like Macbeth, he starts off his career in war, then he sees an opportunity to become king, so he takes over the throne and enacts violence against his enemies, only to be killed by the heir to the throne. It is the perfect making of a tragic hero, who is one who starts off as an honorable soldier, only to become tempted and corrupted by power, and ultimately slain in the end.
You call him Black Hitler, even though he had yet to enact his war against the entire world; whereas Darth Vader and Kylo Ren (both of whom are played by white actors) would each be considered Space Hitlers (especially considering how the helmets and military attire of the Galactic Empire and the First Order resemble the Nazis). They did not even have believable rationales for destroying entire planets yet they are given characterization within the canon. Although the characterization is true for Killmonger, he has a far more believable rationale for committing his war. You even mention Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson talking about how anyone can be culpable of becoming a Nazi in Germany during World War II; which is exactly one of the most powerful aspects of villainy, which is to be persuasive and make even the most pacifistic people gravitate toward them. In the case of Killmonger’s war, anyone can be won over to his side, which definitely makes him a villain to be wary of.
Coming back to the “far-left,” is Ryan Coogler, the director of the film, a part of it? You give credit to Stan Lee for writing believable characters, yet he himself along with Jack Kirby created Killmonger and Magneto. So are they both responsible for stoking the “far left?”
Not only do you not specify who the “far-left” is, you did not specify in which medium this “SJW Fiction” is prevalent. That “genre” is where the supposed shortage of diverse villains and a supposed overemphasis on white villains without characterization are located.
You seem to ignore the prevalence of white villains with characterization, such as Darth Vader, Kylo Ren, and various POV characters in the Song of Ice and Fire series such as Jaime Lannister and Victarion Greyjoy. In the case of video games, there is the Assassin’s Creed series, which involve mostly white protagonists throughout world history. They originate in many locations, such as Victorian England, Colonial America, Italy, Ancient Greece, and the Caribbean. In the case of the latest installment to the franchise, Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, it takes place entirely in Ancient Greece (with Atlantis being in the DLC) where almost all of the characters are Greek. Not only that, but you get to choose a protagonist between two siblings while the other sibling becomes the villain who can be either male (Alexios) or female (Kassandra). Technically in the canon, Alexios is the villain. Keep in mind that Ubisoft is a multinational video game company and the Assassin’s Creed series is one of the most popular video game franchises of all time, so they took a huge risk by defying their own canon just to create a nuanced story.
It is not just in that installment, but throughout the series, there are characters who experience complex circumstances because of their family background, their loyalties, or the ethical choices they make. In the case of three of the characters–Haytham Kenway, Charles Lee, and Shay Cormac–who became villains of the series, they were–yes–white men with characterization, which included their own rationales for becoming villains.
One complex circumstance that the protagonists face is when they have to explore locations that are completely alien from one another in terms of demographics. This is especially true for Connor and Aveline–two biracial protagonists–who because of their synthesized identities have to negotiate their way through the colonial society and their own native society (in the case of Connor, it’s his Mohawk tribe; while in Aveline’s case, it’s the runaway slaves and Maroons). In the original Assassin’s Creed game (2007), the protagonist travels to both Crusader and Saracen locations throughout the Levantine region with targets of both persuasions.
Which brings me back to your point about finding diverse villains, as expected in a video game series that is described in a Wikipedia category as being “panhistorical,” there are plenty of villains who come from a variety of ethnic backgrounds. There are of course the Saracens of Assassin’s Creed (2007) and Turks in Assassin’s Creed: Revelations, as well as Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans in Assassin’s Creed: Origins. And every time the protagonists kill one of their targets, there is a digitization scene where they explain to the protagonists why they did the things they did.
I can go on and on about the intricacies of the Assassin’s Creed series, but keep in mind that every Assassin’s Creed installment always provides a preface, explaining that it was produced by people who come from a wide variety of ethnicities, religions, and sexual orientations. This is the corporation you would accuse of being “woke”–hell, they were woke before such a label was coined–and yet they provide even white male villains depth. Of course, there is Crawford Starrick, the main villain of Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate, who meets the villain cliches, such as the twirly Snidely Whiplash mustache, playing a piano, and having unexplainable amounts of wealth and power. Even he has a little characterization when it pertained to his relationship to his cousin–albeit a very taboo one though not uncommon among European nobility.
Of course, if you look past Starrick and at the other white villains throughout these media, you begin to notice a pattern, which is that they are in positions of authority and make life difficult for the protagonists and the other characters. I think the main reason why so many villains are white (at least within the scope of works taking place in America) is probably because in the real world the majority of people in positions of authority are also white–plenty of whom have engaged in abuses of power in various degrees.
You provided the counterargument that non-white non-male villains cannot be evil because they do not have the institutional power to enact state violence. My response to that is that they can have institutional power, though the point is that it already belonged in the hands of a small group of powerful people. The reason why Killmonger is an exception is not because he is fighting against an unjust system (though that is his rationale behind his tyranny which does make him a well-grounded, Shakespearean villain), but because Wakanda is its own society not influenced by Western powers. They have access to their own alluvial and financial wealth, including the vibranium used to created their own technologies; and has its own institutional power that Killmonger takes advantage of.
You mentioned Killmonger and Magneto as being among the well-known non-white villains, though there are reasons why they achieved prominence as legitimate threats to the protagonists in the first place. While Killmonger already had connection to power in the first place by being in line of succession to the Wakandan throne, Magneto was a Holocaust survivor, though he had mutant powers and was able to escape oppression (and enact it himself). Not only that, but he had access to Nazi gold which allowed him to unite mutants together just like Charles Xavier did, though their views differed greatly. Magneto had access to the wealth that the oppressive class possessed–in this case the Nazis.
So the villains within a modern setting would not have their social, economic, and political power without it being codependent on a system of governance that had a history of colonization that dates back half a millennium, starting with Christopher Columbus’ decimation and slavery of the indigenous population of the Caribbean. If you were to count all of the European empires as a single entity, for 500 years, 84% of the Earth’s landmass was colonized by them, with exceptions being Ethiopia, Liberia, and–if it existed–Wakanda.
Of course, that is an article in itself, so I would want to focus on what you consider the media’s interaction with these types of villains you claim are taboo, whom are humanized white villains and female villains.
The real reason for the media freak-out over the Joker film was not because Arthur Fleck was humanized, rather it was because of the fear that incels would be inspired by the film to commit acts of terrorism. Of course, there were no such instances of incel shootings inspired by Joaquin Pheonix’s Joker, but everyone tried to stay vigilant since incels claim that the 2012 Aurora theater shooting was inspired by Heath Ledger’s Joker. Of course, because the Joker is fictional, he does not have any real-world power and is not responsible for those mass shootings. If anything, figures in literature and other media act more as tutelage spirits than as actual agents of real-world consequences. Though, the point being that people with bad intentions can always rely on a character who was already associated with violence, with Pepe the Frog being a notorious example of a children’s comic strip character used as the unofficial mascot of the alt-right.
As for a noted female villain, when half of the critics of Game of Thrones were upset that Daenerys turned near the end of the series, it could be argued that it had to do with the fact that she was essentially a Mary Sue and the idealized version of what “the far-left” would consider a woman hero; and making her destroy King’s Landing was an absolute betrayal. However, it had more to do with the structural issues behind the show, in other words the fact that the show outpaced the book series it was based off of, which ended abruptly without a satisfying conclusion. As for how this applied to Dany, there were very shallow explanations for her turn, which has yet to happen in the books if it ever does.
JSG then expands upon the point that villains who are not white men are considered anathema by saying that it relates to the real world, where the left supposedly does not want to talk about crimes committed by minorities and immigrants.
Here’s the deal, JSG. There has been a political strategy known as dog-whistling which has been used by conservative politicians in the United States and Britain for fifty years. Dog-whistling is a way of using language that in appearance would not appear racist, but have implied meanings that relate to racist ideas.
Republican strategist Lee Atwater and far-right British politician Nick Griffin have explained how to subtly attract votes through racist code-words. Former Chairmen of the Republican National Committee Michael Steele and Ken Mehlman have admitted that the Republican Party had been spiting the black voters in favor of the white voters. These two men (Steele being the first African-American Chairman of the RNC) were incredibly important figures in the Republican Party and would have had access to its darkest secrets.
A notable example of dog-whistling came from George Wallace, who was the firebrand politician who wanted to preserve segregation in the South. When he ran as an independent presidential candidate, he could not use the n-word, so he had to use subtle language, so he started campaigning about “state’s rights.” That is just one coded phrasing, with others used throughout the years including “centralized government,” “forced integration,” and “law and order.” Ian Haney Lopez, writer of “Dog-Whistle Politics: How Coded Racial Appeals Have Reinvented Racism And Wrecked The Middle Class,” noted that racist ideas in political discourse became less focused on physical and supposed genetic features and more about moral temperament, such as laziness, violence, and lustiness.
This is especially true when commentators talk about Muslim grooming gangs and South African rapists and murderers. When some people like those on the alt-right talk about these “silent” issues, they do not do so out of any genuine sense of compassion for the victims, rather they do so for mainly cynical reasons, because they understand that fear and hatred are precious commodities that will generate money and attention.
You never mention any news outlets that are actively silencing these types of crimes. If there really is a prohibition against reporting about crimes committed by minorities, how else did you come across these types of information in the first place? When referencing the alt-right’s favorite dog-whistle of the white South African farmer genocide, you reference a news article published on the Independent, which is a left-leaning mainstream media outlet in the United Kingdom. If people on the left are trying to hide it, why would they freely report on it? You also did not provide any context to the article itself, which points to data which indicates that most of the South African farmland (when taking into account both enterprises and individuals) is owned by white people while black South Africans own just 1.2%. Of course, this has to do with Apartheid, which people are alive to this day who remember living under it, which goes back to my point about the legacy of Western imperialism throughout the world affecting non-white peoples to this very day.
You focus on the pathos of the story–with accounts of white people who are victimized by these attacks–and not on the actual data that highlights the conditions that drive these types of attacks in the first place.
I think the main issue with reporting such crimes within these demographic groups has more to do with not appearing cynical and irresponsible. It is clear that you did not read the article about the white South African farmers all the way through, since it mentioned how exactly those attacks are inspired. If the inflammatory rhetoric of the radical South African political party The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) is inspiring these attacks on these farmers, then who is to say that the inflammatory rhetoric of people on the right who report on it are not also having the same results against minorities?
You mention that the reason that the “left” does not mention minority criminals is because they would make the entire demographics they represent look bad. The issue is, JSG, that this essentialism is not determined by the “left” rather by the alt-right who routinely use minority criminals as a feature of their propaganda.
Interestingly, you mentioned Dylann Roof as an example of “that one white mass shooter” that everyone on the left wanted to talk about. You know that he rationalized his own mass shooting in his own manifesto by citing that type of information that you believe is “covered up.” He did not have nihilistic tendencies when planning it, rather he was inspired by an organization called the Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC) who vigorously published articles about black-on-white violence. When people on the “left” talk about crimes by minorities, they would do so in a toned-down, contextualized way so as not to inspire a mass shooting like the one that Roof did.
I’m not a preacher, but I will say that if anyone reading this belongs to these minority demographics and you think about committing any crimes, remember that you will not only harm yourself, you will harm everybody who looks like you; because you give conservatives and the alt-right free propaganda. Think of yourself as an ambassador. You have the power to either ennoble or destroy an entire demographic. So use your strategic essentialism wisely.
Coming back to Magneto, you pose the hypothetical scenario of what would happen if Magneto was a South African farmer and discovered his own superpowers and decided to stop the killings. You then conclude that the media would talk about his racism. I would hope that if a comic is ever made of a white South African farmer protagonist, it would take into account the ramifications of apartheid and not be an alt-right propaganda piece. Maybe he would have a black South African friend who came from a family who were disenfranchised due to Apartheid and he has to work together with the protagonist in order to break the cycle. Of course, I do not mean him as the “black friend,” rather as a personification of one side of post-Apartheid South Africa while the protagonist would personify the other side. They do not have to like each other at first, but they would need to work together to get what they both want.
Since you know way more about comic books than I do, I think you are in a better position than me of creating this non-white non-male villain. We live in the self-publishing age, so you could subvert everything you see wrong with the comic book industry. You must have skills in illustration if you keep using your own artwork in your videos. So what is stopping you from putting it to use? Another point is that one of your videos was essentially a “If I wrote it…” what-if scenario for one of the comics you reviewed, so why not make that into a reality?
Although I would write an article like this with such flare and vivacity when I am angry, in this case, the video made me introspective and excited within me passions that made me write this response. I want to be clear that I do not think JSG subscribes to racist beliefs or anything like that, rather I think he is among many left-wing commentators trying to act like he’s “beyond leftist dogma, man!” by taking alt-right talking points and dog-whistles at face value–and not seeing the implications or contexts of them–and irresponsibly parroting them. If JSG discovered this article, I would hope that he understands that when people on the left are reluctant to talk about crimes committed by minorities, it is because they know that they are already topics that the alt-right disseminates to their own audience and to potential recruits. The alt-right always tries to monopolize the historical narrative by posing as the curators of a supposed White history, who claim know more than “them” about Medieval Europe, Irish indentured servitude, and–in this case–white South African farmers.
So, a few responses to the question: “Where Are The Diverse Villains?” would simply be:
- “Have you looked hard enough at the white male villains we already have?”
- “What systems and conditions would create these diverse villains in the first place?”
- “What’s stopping you from creating one?”
But, what would I know? I’m just some blogger.