‘Flame on!’: Minority Superheroes and Privileged Comic Book Readers

Last month, the comic book community discovered the casting details for an upcoming big-budget superhero movie adaption. (I guess there must have been a Y in the day.) Following plans to relaunch the Fantastic Four movie franchise, FOX revealed that team member Johnny Storm would be portrayed by African-American actor Michael B. Jordan in a race-blind casting for the Human Torch. So far, so Hollywood.

However, the backlash against news of a Black Human Torch from certain sections of the fan community quickly proved to be so vicious that the catchphrase ‘FLAME ON!’ suddenly took on a whole new (somewhat racially dubious) meaning. This indignation from predominantly white, heterosexual, male fans both represents an intriguing point in the cultural evolution of comic books from fringe texts to mass media products and raises the question of the cultural ownership of geek culture; to whom exactly do superheroes belong?

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Radical Girl-Power in Sailor Moon

The recent Japanese obsession with high school girls contains an element that cannot be dismissed as merely desire for young women […] the love for the combination of sailor clothing and young girls suggests a tendency towards polymorphous perversion, encompassing a preference for homosexuality and a clothing fetish in addition to pedophilia.

While ‘girl-power’ may aim to empower women of all ages via its championing of ‘a pleasure-centered form of empowerment tied to ideals found in third wave feminism’, (Newsom, 2004) many analyses of girl-power texts marketed towards children appear to focus on predominantly adult issues rather than consider the potential empowerment of young girls. For example, Tamaki Saitō’s analysis of the schoolgirl archetype within Sailor Moon (2011; 57, above) appears to more closely resemble the discussion of an explicitly pornographic text than of a Japanese anime and manga series aimed at children ‘ages seven and up’. (Cheu, 2005; 294)

When Saitō argues that the schoolgirl’s cultural popularity cannot be ‘dismissed as merely desire’, his argument clearly refers to adult (male) viewers as opposed Sailor Moon’s target audience. In this context, any consideration of the schoolgirl as a symbol of girlishness with which young viewers could relate is superseded by her status as a ‘pornographic trope’, (Allison, 2006; 133) her potential as a role model ignored in favour of her alleged representation of latent sexual deviancy. Although it may be important to question whether children’s texts such as Sailor Moon feature controversial content, academia’s narrow focus on adult issues within girl-power media has resulted in a failure to critically consider the intended audience’s relationships with these texts.

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