A Food Analogy to Explain the Resistance Against Diversity in Comics (and Why Diversity is a Good Thing)

Marvel placing blame for its declining sales on its push for characters outside of the white, male archeype has provided the latest arena for critics and fans to come out for and against diversity in entertainment. Looking at the online discourse, however, I find that there are many championing diversity who have difficulty seeing why anyone would resist. A major part of the problem, I believe, is that there’s a failure to understand that the two sides are coming from unique points of view built on very different foundations.

The Story of Trans Fats

Here’s a food analogy (because I love food analogies).

For years in restaurants across the US, frying oil was reused over and over by default. Then it was discovered that this process produced what came to be called trans fats, and that these fats were more harmful to health than just frying in general. Because of this, every place began changing their practices and eliminating or minimizing the presence of trans fats.

In addition to the added expense of having to rethink how food is prepared, this transition came at arguably another cost: flavor. Fried food just tastes different when old oil isn’t being reused. If the reason for eating at, say, your favorite fried chicken joint was because of what that reused oil imparts to the meat and skin, it could have felt like an unnecessary sacrifice for “health.” Even though having food be healthier is unarguably a good thing (if people could eat versions of the food they do now that tasted the same but was better for the body, they would), health benefits are not necessarily what any given person will prioritize.

The Establishment of Critical Values Among Fans

This is where I think some of the contention over diversity in comics and media lies. While the notion of “I don’t mind diversity in my entertainment, I just won’t want it to turn into some SJW hugfest,” is an argument borne out of certain biases and blindness towards privilege, it’s also on some level based in the standards established in a given circle of media consumers. In this environment, there are criteria by which a comic or television show is judged as “good” or “bad,” e.g. narrative consistency. To a different audience, narrative consistency could be important too yet still take a backseat to something accepted as a “higher priority,” such as a visceral feel to romantic interactions. Personally speaking, different groups of fans I’ve interacted with can have wildly different elements they value, to the point that it can seem as if two groups are watching completely different things despite it being actually the same product.

In other words, the push-back against diversity isn’t only about right and wrong, but about what people are accustomed to—what they’ve accepted as truisms of the medium. When a given community is built and reinforced over time, certain values become stronger in turn. If the specific reason you ate fried foods was for the savoriness that trans fats provide, then no amount of “it can increase the risk of heart attack!” will placate you.

Old vs. New Criticism

To move this away from deep frying and towards actual examples from comics and entertainment, I present two examples. The first is the changing reception over British comics writers such as Alan Moore and Grant Morrison. The second is the increasing prominence of character-over-story manga series from around the early to mid 2000s.

In years past, Alan Moore and Grant Morrison were praised by comics fans as writing incredibly intelligent and mature comics. Works such as Watchmen (Moore) and Seven Soldiers (Morrison) are genre-defying/defining creations that present complex and cerebral arguments that challenge comics readers. However, a lot of their works involve anywhere from minor to heavy doses of misogyny, so if your priority is the positive portrayal of women above all else, then it might not matter how “smart” Moore and Morrison’s comics are. On the other side, if you’re from a community space that believes the intellectual elements of their comics are what define good comics, then misogyny might be viewed as a lesser complaint or a non-issue.

Somewhat similarly, manga scholar Ito Go has written that manga criticism was historically biased against manga that emphasize character over story. When manga began coming out in the late 90s/early 2000s that focused on the stylization of its characters above all else, these were considered “bad manga” by established critics. Ito, on the other hand, argues that this because of the values that have been built and reinforced around the cult of Tezuka Osamu (the most celebrated manga artist ever), and that the visual “realness” of characters (kyara, as Ito calls it) has been just as much a part of manga all along. Essentially, the idea is that the only reason why kyara-heavy manga is considered inferior is because of the ossification of the criteria for “good” manga. Yet, for those who still want strong story above all else, Ito’s point of view holds little weight.

Whether the contention is based specifically in diversity or not, the general tendency for a group of like-minded individuals is to assume certain truths and then build around them. Disagreement can happen within these parameters, and sometimes those boundaries can even be stretched or broken, but in time certain truisms develop. Attacking that structure or praxis from the outside can appear to an insider as if you’re saying “1 + 1 = 3,” even if what you’re expressing merits consideration.

Noticing the Problem

On a certain level, I believe that the resistance against diversity in comics and other forms of entertainment is because we’re in the middle of a paradigm shift. Where once comics fandom and criticism was built on a long established marketing focus on white, male, and straight readers, other groups are making their voices heard in ways that the entrenched fanbase can’t help but take notice. The reason that they didn’t notice in the past is because they were unaffected by it, plain and simple. Many likely didn’t even know there was a problem, and this is because the values emphasized and prioritized in that community left little room for diversity to be brought up except in very broad strokes. The sand is shifting underneath them, and it’s not surprising that some would double down on what they’ve learned to be true.

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Ogiue’s Hot ‘n’ Juicy: Ogiue Maniax Status Update for September 2017

As summer comes to a close, I hope that the autumn weather might spark some interesting ideas for posts. I’d like to give some food for thought to my readers, and for my own satisfaction. Speaking of food, there’s going to be an extended restaurant analogy for this update. I hope you don’t run away!

Before I start, though, I want to extend a thank you to my Patreon sponsors for the month of September.

General:

Johnny Trovato

Ko Ransom

Alex

Diogo Prado

Viga

Yoshitake Rika fans:

Elliot Page

Hato Kenjirou fans:

Elizabeth

Yajima Mirei fans:

Machi-Kurada

I recently ate at Wendy’s, a trip that had me reading about some of the fast food chain’s recent changes. Apparently, Wendy’s in recent years has suffered from being seen as behind-the-times in spite of the relatively high quality of their food—ironic, given their slogan of “Old-Fashioned Hamburgers.” Customers still thought the food was great, but Wendy’s has had to play catch up, which is why they changed their signature burger a few years ago, re-introducing it as “Dave’s Hot ‘n’ Juicy Single/Double/Triple” before changing it to just “Dave’s.”

I feel like Ogiue Maniax is in a similarly precarious position. I know my readers still enjoy my posts, and I feel like I’m still serving what made people come to my blog in the first place, but it feels a bit stuck in another era. This is perhaps because of the blog format itself; this sort of anime/manga criticism exists much more readily on YouTube these days, and even that format looks like it might be in trouble given all of YouTube’s recent monkey wrenches that mess with people’s abilities to make a livelihood through the streaming video service.

I wish I had a new burger to provide something fresh, but I don’t. At least, not yet. I don’t rely on Ogiue Maniax as a career, so maybe I’ve gotten complacent, but the last thing I want to happen is for this blog to lose its core identity of thoughtful analysis.

At least, I hope they’re still thoughtful. Here are my personal highlights from the past month of Ogiue Maniax:

Capitalizing on a New Home: Otakon 2017

My Otakon 2017 con report! It also includes links to interviews, film reviews, and such.

Hell Hath no Fury: Benten in The Eccentric Family 2

Benten is one of anime’s most intriguing characters, but the second season of The Eccentric Family takes her portrayal to another level.

A New Way to Look at Precure Character Archetypes


This one’s kind of unusual: a look at how some recent Precure merchandise categorizes its extensive character list.

Patreon-Sponsored

The Star that Shines Brightest: Thoughts on the Aikatsu! Five-Year Anniversary Crossover
Five years of Aikatsu! Really?!

 

Closing

This doesn’t have to do with anything, but I should really write about Voltron: Legendary Defender one of these days. I have a lot of thoughts I want to get out there.

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Approaching Smash Bros. Games on Their Own Terms

Over on the Smash Bros. subreddit a poster by the name of Revven made a post advising people not to go into the upcoming Smash Bros. games hoping to find the key aspect that makes it more like Melee (the competitive gold standard of the franchise) but to approach it on its own terms.

In order to help people understanding this point, I wrote up an analogy that’s turned out to be pretty effective, so I’m posting it here for posterity.

Imagine that Melee is pizza. People love it, it’s got all of this flavor and depth.

Then Brawl comes out and it’s chicken soup.

Obviously, a lot of people would prefer pizza over chicken soup, but then you hear some of the complaints: “What the hell is this? This tastes all wrong!” people declare. “I’m trying to pick up a slice but my hands just get all wet, and I try to eat it with a fork but I barely get anything!”

But there are people who are eager to “prove” that chicken soup is fine, and all it takes is finding and adding the right key ingredients. “Hey, it might be chicken soup now, but if we add some mozzarella and some tomato sauce, you’ll see that it’s great!” No matter what they do, though, it just doesn’t taste like pizza, it doesn’t feel like pizza, and people are disappointed in it even more.

In the end, it’s not wrong to like pizza more than chicken soup, and it might even be possible argue that pizza is a superior food in general. Hell, maybe Brawl wasn’t even a particularly good chicken soup and was just soup in a can. However, because people were unable to see or accept the fact that chicken soup isn’t pizza, they also failed to approach it on its own terms. Instead of trying to add the right seasoning that would match the flavor profile of chicken soup or using a spoon, all they had were hands dripping with broth, and a look of dissatisfaction.

 

 

Yes I Am Quoting Myself

For the Reverse Thieves’ second Speakeasy Podcast they compared Gurren-Lagann and Shin Mazinger, discussing why the former has a much more universal appeal among current anime fans than the latter. One of the topics that interested me was the false assumption that if a person likes Gurren-Lagann then the next step is Shin Mazinger, or similarly that if a person likes Gundam W that they will like the original Gundam as well. I thought of an analogous situation which I think sums up this problem quite well, and I wanted to have it on-hand and on-blog.

So consider, if you will, the following hypothetical conversation.

“Hey, what’s your favorite cereal?”

“Frosted Flakes!”

“Well if you like Frosted Flakes, I think you’ll enjoy CORN FLAKES! It’s the ORIGIN of Frosted Flakes!”

The person recommending Corn Flakes has his heart in the right place, but doesn’t realize that the reason why the other person likes Frosted Flakes so much might be mainly because of the sugar frosting, i.e. everything that Frosted Flakes have that Corn Flakes do not.

Reducing things down is not the answer for everyone, and just like Frosted Flakes vs Corn Flakes, I think people enjoy the total package of Gurren-Lagann, making it difficult to sell some fans on the idea of Gurren-Lagann stripped down to its bare essentials.