Sometimes being a Nerd of Color is difficult. Often, the sci-fi you watch marries awesome next-gen splatterpunk visuals with horrid White Man’s Burden political sentiments, or the games you play offer wickedly fun three-dimensional gameplay with healthy servings of amoral misogyny and racial epithets. But often it’s pretty easy – each and every Wednesday new worlds reveal the secrets of earthbound metahumans and iron-masked despots and immortal ronin and sentient bacteria and techno-organic telepaths and rubber geniuses and fighter pilots with imagination rings. The comic industry may not accurately render tomorrow, but it can always take you somewhere you never thought you could go.
But let’s admit, the price of the ticket is Whiteness. When most people close their eyes and imagine a Superhero, the vast majority envision a strapping White male, muscular and determined, with steely blue eyes and biceps that can curl Ford pickups. That’s the starting point. That’s what nearly a century of comic art imprints on the Western mind. Even as every other facet of the shared global experience publicly acknowledges non-European populations’ economic and political contributions, the American comic industry and its burgeoning film components routinely place the same pale Olympian specimens on the power fantasy as global hero altar. Millions of people pay to watch sweat bead under a stringy, half-braided blond mop while a bodybuilder bleeds under a scarlet cape, writhing in agony below an unforgiving world’s cloudy grey sky, the treachery of his wayward trickster brother foremost in his thoughts.
I watched two young women in the audience for a local showing of Thor: The Dark World. These portly, pockmarked brunettes guffawed at every tasteless joke, swooned with every Chris Hemsworth half-smile, and embraced the silence of attraction whenever Thor exposed his shirtless glory. You could pen a long treatise on the tyranny of conformity these images promote, you can YouTube a discussion on the irresponsible corporate socialization inherent in selling a film about a White male god who runs around planet Earth hammering foes into submission, but none of this will change the heady lust in those girls’ eyes. That gaze is uncritical of Thor’s geopolitical implications, his brazen sexism, even his indifference to high school physics. Hell, that gaze could care less that the movie sucked! Taut muscle, metallic spandex and Australian features sold admission. The obvious objective of Thor: The Dark World is capitalist: sell as many movie tickets and as much official memorabilia as possible. All of it — the sweaty masculinity, the computer-generated effects, the human deer impersonation Natalie Portman called acting, the annoying Kat Dennings camp – contributes to that objective. The end result was a terrible forced lobotomy of a movie, devoid of narrative coherence, enjoyable characters, and compelling visuals. Thor: The Dark World is, quite possibly, the worst thing Marvel has ever done.
And I can’t imagine what would improve about that film if they made Thor Black.