Diversity in Comics: Extras

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The Wisdom of the X-Men

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By David Michael Newstead.

Way back in the 1990s, talking about the latest episode of X-Men was the thing to do in my elementary school cafeteria. In case you were wondering, Wolverine was most people’s favorite character. And even twenty years later, the Fox animated series still holds up pretty well. But while some of the social commentary was probably lost on me as a kid, the foundation of the X-Men franchise is hard to miss. X-Men is about mutants struggling to coexist with humans who are often fearful, suspicious, or hostile to their very existence.

This became the vehicle for numerous analogies to minority rights issues around the world such as racial and religious intolerance, ethnic cleansing, and more. The group’s leader, Professor X, is a Martin Luther King like figure, while characters like Magneto take a more radical and sometimes violent stance. There is a version of the KKK called the Friends of Humanity. And mutants everywhere often live in fear that the government is going to round them up at any moment.

Skip ahead to my adulthood and X-Men isn’t as fictional as it used to be. The X-Men were concerned about flying robots that could kill them, government databases tracking them, and something nefarious called the Mutant Registration Act. Today, the real tragedy is that I can copy and paste that last sentence almost verbatim and I’d be describing reality. But just as comic books and cartoon shows have gotten me this far in life, it’s worth considering how the X-Men confronted the challenges facing them.

  • First, working towards peace and mutual understanding is the way to go since violence only begets more violence.
  • Second, it’s important to remember that every team member has a backstory, a special talent, and a way of contributing to the cause.
  • And finally, the fight for equality never really ends – not in comic books and certainly not in life.

Over lunch nowadays, I guess things haven’t changed much since elementary school. People talk about the latest show they’ve been binge watching. They mention the characters they like and what they did over the weekend. But now current events make for a strange backdrop to every conversation. It’s a world that’s not so distant from the X-Men and where things go from here is up to us now.

My Failed Writing Projects

By David Michael Newstead.

This is a truth-is-stranger-than-fiction kind of post. For many years, I’ve brainstormed a lot of different writing projects. And I followed through with some of those concepts, while other ideas just never materialized. I bring it up now, because some of the stories were supposed to be so weird that they’d be impossible. They were basically intended as a vehicle for conveying an interesting thought experiment about the world and the people in it. I would make elaborate notes on my idea and I tried to write some drafts, occasionally mentioning it to friends as a “What If?” or “Isn’t this clever?” But not really believing that the world would be where we are now. Two specific examples come to mind and I think they’re pretty relevant. The only problem is, there isn’t any reason to pursue these ideas anymore since the real world has already made whatever point I was trying to make and is far weirder than I could ever be!

The first was called Pangaea. And it was about if the prehistoric super-continent of Pangaea reformed overnight in modern times, reducing the Atlantic Ocean to a small river and closing the geographic distance that separates humanity. All of a sudden, Europe would be directly next to North Africa, Brazil would border Nigeria, and Morocco would sit just off the coast of South Carolina. Then as people began to realize what happened, cultures would clash. Refugees would pour into more affluent countries. Walls would be erected, but eventually the old order would breakdown against the unrelenting tide of change. The world would become more interconnected and globalized and hopefully things would change for the better.

The second was entitled Bat Shit Nation. And the main character was a paranoid, conspiracy theory loving member of the Birther movement who was trying to write a science fiction novel in his spare time. The idea being, the story would shift between the main character’s actual day-to-day life and his post-apocalyptic novel about America’s future. In his book, Barack Obama had become an African-style president-for-life who established a tyrannical left-wing kleptocracy and signed peace treaties with terrorist groups and dictatorships, while arresting his critics. And in this fictional future, any and every nightmare scenario had been realized, requiring a committed band of freedom fighters to come together and save the day. Of course, one of the jokes was that these conspiracy theories were absurd fiction. The other joke was that the main character was basically supposed to be a Bizarro version of myself – doing, saying, and believing the exact opposite of me at any given point in the story.

In both cases, reality defies all expectations. For one, Pangaea doesn’t have to reconstitute itself for cultures to clash or migrants to cross borders. And it turns out, conspiracy theories are standard fare these days and the main character from my story would probably work at the White House now. Today, plenty of people might wonder where we go from here. And far down on that priority list, I think it’s also worth asking what writing fiction even means in a post-truth world.

ReThinking Masculinity

By David Michael Newstead.

Last week, I took part in a Twitter Chat called ReThinking Masculinity #AllMenCan. And of all the issues that came up during the discussion, one question seemed to be the most relevant. I don’t necessarily have an answer, but I leave this as food for thought.

How do you think your ethnic, racial, and/or religious identity affects the way you understand or express masculinity?

A Nation of Immigrants, Revisited

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By David Michael Newstead.

Before his presidency, John F. Kennedy wrote A Nation of Immigrants. The book discusses the different origins, motivations, and numerous social contributions of immigrants arriving at different points in U.S. history. It’s a short book, but a meaningful one since Kennedy himself was a descendant of Irish immigrants. What’s especially noteworthy though is that later in the book JFK advocated for more open immigration policies and an end to the discriminatory national quota system which had been put into place in 1924 to limit immigration in general and non-white immigration specifically. And while Kennedy would not live to see his proposals enacted, America today is much more diverse because of them.

I bring this up for several reasons. First, to underline that contributions to American society by recent immigrants have only continued since Kennedy’s time. Second, this increase in diversity going forward is an asset, not a curse. And third, the racial makeup of the United States was kept homogeneous for so long through means which were blatantly racist at the time and would be completely unacceptable today. This includes things like the Chinese Exclusion Act and as soon as such policies were abandoned, America became more multicultural.

The other reason I mention A Nation of Immigrants is that I have my father’s copy of it sitting on my bookshelf. He was an immigrant to the United States. And while there’s nothing harrowing about his story compared to Syrians and others, it makes it pretty hard not to sympathize with a group that practically everyone’s relatives belonged to once upon a time.