Sometimes “Pandering” Is Just Responding to the Market

June 8, 2015

Stuff is changing, man. Things just ain’t the same. Almost a year ago now, Marvel announced that the new version of Thor would be a woman. It’s a comic book, so heroes change all the time, right? They die, they’re reborn. They’re good, they’re evil.

But Thor as a woman? NONSENSE! Blatant PC pandering and the further wussification of America!

Or so reacted certain corners of the internet, rather predictably. To some, it seems any change that aims to include less common perspectives is done only because someone has whined about it. Feminists complain that video games are sexist, and pretty soon everything is RUINED for the rest of us.

This is great. Verily. via textsfromsuperheroes.com

You know what? I don’t care if it is pandering in a sense. Another way to describe pandering is “market research.” It turns out the new female version of Thor is outselling the previous version by 30%. Marvel is drying its tears from all the hurtful things people said about the decision with piles of money.

Last Thursday, I wrote about what representation means and why it matters both in real life and in works of fiction. I see a change like making Thor female as nothing more than a response to a demand for increased representation from fans.

Businesses are recognizing these changes more and more frequently, and comics are, perhaps surprisingly, at the forefront in many ways. A few years ago, Spider-Man became a mixed race black and hispanic teenager. The Green Lantern is gay. Captain America is black. The latest iteration of Ms. Marvel, a somewhat lesser-known character to mainstream audiences, is a sixteen year old muslim, and she’s a hit.

From a storytelling perspective, changes like these open up tons of new possibilities, so for that reason alone I think they’re a good idea. It’s probably also a lot more fun for the writers, too. There’s nothing wrong with straight white guys as superheroes, but when that’s almost all there is it gets boring. That these changes also seem to be good for business is great and something I find entirely unsurprising.

These comics may or may not be any good, but that’s kinda beside the point here. Readers will decide. If they are, they’ll sell. If not, changes will be made. They may not even be all that successful at representing different communities, though I trust that the effort to do so is genuine because I think these businesses are smart enough to know that phony stuff won’t sell long-term. It’ll be capitalism at work in the end.

Whether they are or aren’t great comics, it’s clear there’s no turning back from this general trend. If you hate it, I’m sorry. Superheroes as almost exclusively straight white guys and a few white women have had a nice, long run, and they’re still the norm anyway. Personally, I was born without the nostalgia gene, so I don’t mourn the good old days much and I have no ability to empathize.

 

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