It’s past time to admit the stewards of these legendary works don’t really like the source material all that much, so they insist on tearing it down in the name of diversity until it becomes unrecognizable. Sadly, it’s the same impulse driving the progressive left and Critical Race Theory.
This week D.C. Comics announced that Superman would be coming out of the closet as gay, or at least bisexual. Technically, Superman is now the original Superman’s son, Clark Kent. ““The idea of replacing Clark Kent with another straight white savior felt like a missed opportunity,” explained Superman writer Tom Taylor to The New York Times. In addition to gay, Superman is also getting what we might call a woke makeover, shifting gears from battling intergalactic super villains to climate change and fighting for the rights of asylum seekers. “I think Clark said it best when he left Earth in Jon’s hands. Clark was the Superman of tomorrow. Jon is the Superman for the days after,” Mr. Taylor said. “The question for Jon (and for our creative team) is, what should a new Superman fight for today? Can a seventeen-year-old Superman battle giant robots while ignoring the climate crisis? Of course not. Can someone with super sight and super hearing ignore injustices beyond his borders? Can he ignore the plight of asylum seekers?” Of course, not? Rarely, if ever has a complex issue, as in what is appropriate fodder for the superhero canon, been glossed over so blithely.
Nor is Superman the first comic book character to undergo a change in sexual orientation in recent years. If three makes a trend, we’re reaching peak superhero homosexuality. Superman follows Batman’s sidekick, Robin, who came out as bisexual just last month. The entertainment publication Variety notes, “Other major LGBTQ comic characters include DC’s Batwoman, Harley Quinn and Alan Scott (aka the first Green Lantern), and Marvel’s Iceman, America Chavez (aka Miss America) and Northstar — one of the very first openly gay comic book characters when he came out in 1992.” Phil Klein, writing for National Review, says there’s nothing much to see here, with William Buckley’s once great publication now reduced to standing athwart history and yelling go, go, go. “There’s no particular reason to get worked up over a comic-book character, of course. This development — as well as Superman getting more political — just strikes me as a boring and lazy way to try to generate headlines and put the iconic franchise on the correct side of the cultural divide. But the latest turn also seems to be a bit behind the times — in 2021, a character being gay does not quite generate the shock value it did decades ago.”
There is, of course, some truth to that, but comic book characters are not the only established franchises undergoing radical, progressive changes. Daniel Craig’s final James Bond film, No Time to Die, was released earlier this month to critical acclaim as the “anti-Bond,” whatever that means, and the short list of potential heirs to the throne include a mix of minority actors and women with some saying the womanizing Bond himself should be gay. The smart money is that the next actor to play the legendary role will not be a straight, white man. For example, Ben Wishaw, who played the gadget master Q in recent movies wants Bond out of the closet. “God, can you imagine? I mean, it would be quite an extraordinary thing. Of course I would like to see that. I really believe that we should be working towards a world where anyone can play anything and it would be really thrilling if it didn’t matter about someone’s sexuality to take on a role like this. I think that would be real progress.” He added, “But we’ll see, we’ll see where we’re at. I’m amazed by how much has changed just in the last five or six years, so we’ll see.” Of course, no one asked him how we are working towards a world where “anyone can play anything” when fellow British actor, Benedict Cumberbatch, recently had to explain how a straight man can play a gay character, any trans-gender role needs to be played by a trans-gender actor, and even Lin-Manuel Miranda recently came under fire for not casting sufficiently “Afro-latino” actors in his adaptation of In The Heights, even though the lead was actually Afro-latino.
These questions are considered entirely beside the point, however, when the media is pushing for radical changes to James Bond right along with Mr. Wishaw. Brian Truitt, writing for USA Today, argues that if they don’t “revamp” 007, “James Bond has nowhere to go. “Many would like to see a person of color or a woman take on the Bond mantle and break the ‘white guy, black tux’ mold. While franchise producer Barbara Broccoli said Bond will ‘probably stay’ a male character, Daniel Craig has argued in favor of creating an equally great female action role instead of gender-swapping an existing one: ‘Why should a woman play James Bond when there should be a part just as good as James Bond, but for a woman?’” A fair enough point, and Mr. Truitt agrees, but only because it would further subvert the character, saying they should “hire No Time to Die co-screenwriter Phoebe Waller-Bridge to take charge of a new movie and create a woman of action who furthers the 007 mythos but also cleverly touches on and/or subverts Bond’s legacy of misogyny, sexism and colonialism.” However this turns out, “it’s time to drag Bond producers kicking and screaming into the 21st century.”
In the literary and likely soon to be media world as well, J.R.R. Tolkien’s lifetime’s work, the creation of Middle Earth, is also undergoing a woke transformation. The annual Tolkien Society seminar held this past summer paid “more critical attention than ever” to diversity issues. “Tolkien’s efforts to represent (or ignore) particular characteristics requires further examination,” the organizers wrote, creating a series that included “Gondor in Transition: A Brief Introduction to Transgender Realities in The Lord of the Rings” and “Pardoning Saruman?: The Queer in Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.” The pressure is already mounting for Amazon’s on-screen adaptation of Tolkien’s world, coming next summer, to take a fully woke approach. “Spurred by recent interpretations of Tolkien’s creations and the cast list of the upcoming Amazon show The Lord of the Rings, it is crucial we discuss the theme of diversity in relation to Tolkien,” the organizers of the seminar also wrote, while the casting agency for the show itself was busy looking for “unusual” or “funky looking actors.” “Do you have an overbite, face burns, long skinny limbs, deep cheekbones, lines on your face, acne scars, ears that stick out, bulbous or interesting noses, small eyes, big eyes, any deformities, Skinny faces, missing limbs?” BGT Actors Models & Talent asked in an ad to recruit actors for the series.
All told, it’s enough to make one wonder: What, precisely, do any of these people actually like about the original franchise in the first place? Has anyone actually asked them? Reading between the lines, I’m reminded of an old adage in the design and marketing industry. A customer is presented with a new design concept and responds with, “I love it, now change everything.” As with so much else these days, it’s one thing to seek diversity and representation, both can be positive forces in society, but it’s quite another to enforce diversity and representation by tearing down and rebuilding every franchise that came before. Unfortunately for us all, popular culture at large and elsewhere is embracing a subtractive, reductive, and ultimately destructive view of the world that seeks not to build or add to society, but simply to redefine and demolish to the point of absurdity.
Putting this another way: Why not create something new instead of tearing down something old? Is there no more room in the world for new heroes? Consider Superman himself. The Man of Steel first appeared in Action Comics Number 1 on April 19, 1938, the first hero of what would come to be modern comic books, ushering in what is known as the Golden Age for the medium, but he was far from the last. Batman followed a year later in Detective Comics Number 27, on March 30, 1939. Wonder Woman arrived in December 1941. In the 1960’s, Stan Lee took these concepts and revitalized them for a modern, more mature audience creating the Fantastic Four in November 1961. Joined by Stan Kirby, he would go on to present heroes as more flawed outcasts than traditional do-gooders, ultimately creating Spider Man, Iron Man, Captain America, and countless others, what is known as the Marvel Age. There are, of course, countless other examples in the comic book industry, from the absurd, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, to the insane, The Boys, with Watchmen in between.
Likewise, J.R.R. Tolkien launched the modern fantasy genre with the publication of The Hobbit on September 21, 1937. Ursula K. Le Guin would expand on these ideas with the Wizard of Earthsea in 1968. She would go on to explore gender and sexuality in a fantasy setting by introducing a fictional planet where humans have no fixed sex in The Left Hand of Darkness. Robert Jordan would expand the fantasy mythos further with the publication of The Eye of the World in 1990, the first of his landmark Wheel of Time series, also getting an adaptation on Amazon, due out on November 19. Jordan placed women at the center of the fantasy power structure, enabling him to explore a whole new range of ideas. J.K. Rowling created an entirely new fantasy empire with the publication of the first Harry Potter book in 1997. Today, fantasy writers explore every possible theme and then some. Robin Hobb, for example, is one of my favorite authors working in fantasy as we speak. She’s taken up everything from obesity issues in The Soldier Son Trilogy to gender and power structures in The Rainwild Chronicles. There are countless other examples in this case as well, the darker turns of Michael Moorcock’s Eternal Champion or the political thrillers of George R.R. Martin. There is room for everything in the expansive view.
What connects all of these disparate authors in different genres across different decades? They didn’t have to tear anything down to make their mark on the world and their industry. These are all new creations that ultimately revolutionized the genre by adding to it, rather than subtracting from it. One can of course read between the lines like I did earlier and identify the subtle or not-so-subtle critiques of what came before, the subversive interpretations and changes layered on the older edifices, rebuilding and remaking old tropes for changing times. The towering literary critic, Harold Bloom, referred to this aspect of the creative process as the Anxiety of Influence. The aspiring artist absorbs the work that has come before, but true genius cannot be contained by the past, so they internalize it, adapt it, and change it, breaking the rules whether consciously or unconsciously. This is a natural part of the artistic process and the end result is more art, not less.
Unfortunately, this is entirely distinct from what is happening in the world of the woke. They are not introducing new heroes and telling new stories, expanding the space of possible adventure tales to include all of the rich diversity found on a planet of some 7.75 billion people. Their aim is much darker: They’re erasing the heroes of the past and redrawing them in their own warped image. Superman is not gay. He has never been gay. He can never be gay because a gay Superman is no longer Superman, whatever they may claim. This, of course, does not preclude other gay heroes or including gay characters in Superman’s world, but it does point out the obvious: If you change something past recognition, it no longer continues to exist. There’s a thought experiment in philosophy that considers how much you can change something before it is no longer the thing it was, Theseus’s ship. If you were to take a ship, and replace one plank with the exact same wood, so perfectly no one would notice, everyone would agree it was still Theseus’s ship. Most people would likely agree if it was two, three, or even ten planks, but what happens when you replace half, two thirds, or all of them? When does it cease to be Theseus’s ship? In this case, the woke are replacing the planks with those of an entirely different material and color. How long can the ship last in that case?
I understand that today’s “creators” would likely claim they are only updating and reimagining these icons for a modern audience, but I would beg to differ. Superman has survived a World War, the Cold War, and the War on Terror. James Bond has survived the sexual revolution, the AIDs epidemic, and the rise of women in the workplace. The hobbits survived the same, and yet none of them are safe from the ire of the woke. The woke are kryptonite to all of them. This is because they aren’t interested in taking what makes them great and placing them in a modern setting, using their archetypes in new ways. Instead, they seek to change the archetype entirely.
Sadly, this same, insane impulse drives much more than the entertainment industry. This is precisely what is happening in our schools with Critical Race Theory, where students are subtracted from and divided based on their race, and history is taught not via the addition of new facts and uncovering the complex stories of influential men and women regardless of race or gender, but rather through the destruction of ideas the woke simply can’t tolerate in their quest for an intersectional utopia. And so America, the shining city on a hill, the land of the free, and the home of the brave has been replaced with a country founded in 1619 exclusively of the enslavement and oppression of various minorities. The countless struggles by both black and white to overcome racism and oppression, the Civil War, Reconstruction, the Civil Rights movement, once rooted in our founding philosophy, are all now seen as merely ploys to keep the oppressed in chains. Real history is erased, and replaced with something far less grand and interesting. How long before it’s no longer America anymore?