Race-Bending in the Media

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Most avid comic book fans would agree that they were less than enthused when Marvel Studios decided to reboot the Spiderman movie franchise in 2012 – just 11 years after the quasi-successful run of the original trilogy (Proctor). As one of the aforementioned avid comic book fans, Marc Bernadin, writer for “io9” (a technology and lifestyle website), rightfully questioned this decision by stating, “in this day and age, does Spidey have to be a white guy?” (Bernardin). This question fueled an Internet phenomenon that forced creators and fans alike to re-evaluate the way that they see the characters they love so much in terms of their race. Media makers and content creators have an ethical responsibility to “represent the many facets of humanity” (Petrou, Jan. 27). ‘Race-bending’ is when a content creator dresses a character as someone of a different race, or changes the race of the character entirely from one race to another (Ibid). In this paper, I aim to explore the influence of social media on race-bending, as it applies to comic book culture and its meaningfulness to the fan community. My principle arguments will draw from an examination of the Marvel comic universe, the #donald4spiderman campaign and the “Amazing Spiderman” movie franchise in order to show that through the power of social media, we are changing the way we root for heroes regardless of their race or ethnicity– moving society forward as a progressive culture. The conversation about the influence of social media on race-bending as it applies to comic book culture begins with an examination of Robert Morales and Kyle Bakers’ 2004 graphic novel – Truth: Red, White and Black. Jennifer Ryan proposes in her article Truth Made Visible: Crises of Cultural Expression in Truth: Red, White, and Black that the graphic novel depicts a new version of the “great American hero” (Ryan, 67); an African American Captain America by the name of Isaiah Bradley. Truth tells Isaiah’s story, and contrasts his experience with that of the white Captain America (Ibid) – right down to their physical differences (see figure 1). Truth alters the traditional Captain America story, effectively rewriting Marvel comic lore (Ryan, 77). It does so by telling the story of how the super soldier serum that gave Captain America his powers was created; by being tested on Isaiah Bradley and other African American soldiers (Ryan, 67). Axel Alonso, lead editor of Truth, acknowledges that introducing a new character effectively destroys a previously unbroken and consistent existence for Captain America’s origin that allows the creators to “tell a larger story” (Ryan, 70).

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