What does SJW mean?

Ok, ok, not everyone at once!

Right, yes. It is an acronym for Social Justice Warrior, a term typically applied to either people interested in equal rights or EVIL people interested in equal rights, depending on whom you are speaking with. Those who complained about Social Justice Warriors harming comics tend to focus on the “insertion” of politics into the medium, specifically liberal politics.

Two of the earlier examples I can recall of this approach to comics criticism appeared a year apart in February of 2010 and 2011. The first came from Marvel Comics in the pages of CAPTAIN AMERICA #602 when writer Ed Brubaker and artist Michael Lark depicted an anti-government rally as involving, at least in part, the Tea Party.

Fan-Film KAMALA Embodies the Spirit of Ms. Marvel

A year later it was DC’s turn in the spotlight as they came in for criticism because of the “Batman of France.” The character, Nightrunner, was a member of an Algerian Muslim family and the story touched briefly on the experience of being a Muslim immigrant in France at the time.

Both were simply too political for some to stomach.

But, I would assert it stopped meaning explicitly political content in 2017, if not sooner.

Currently, all SJW means is either “has stuff I don’t like in it,” or “that term people on the internet use to attack me and the stuff I do like,” depending on whom you are speaking with. It is a term that conveys little about what is being criticized and plenty about the person saying it.

Ms. Marvel
Courtesy of Marvel Entertainment

A Bit of History

Before we get too deep on this, I should be clear: SJW has always been a myopic reactionary tool wielded by those with a profound sense of personal injury that art does not reflect their opinions or perspectives. Despite often being the first to accuse others of being overly sensitive, they seemed to be consistently the most offended individuals on the internet.

In other words, screaming “SJW” — or using diversity as a pejorative — at art is and has always been a bullshit move employed by reactionaries and bigots of all stripes. Additionally, they seemed to have zero historical awareness of the mediums they were critiquing, all of which had long offered political opinion, encouraged advocacy, employed metaphor, and argued for equality since the jump.

To get specific, take a look at the first two truly successful superhero characters. Superman was an alien who could best any human and chose to use that ability to roust abusive husbands and frighten goodness into slumlords. Batman was a plutocrat who largely rejected the life of luxury set out before him to pour his future and his physical and mental health in eradicating crime in and out of costume. They were not even subtle here.

And so it has continued since. Wonder Woman was and is once more a hero of feminism. The X-Men are allegories for almost every social justice movement from Civil Rights forward. Spider-Man showed us what it was like to barely scrape by day in and day out. Luke Cage explored the exploitation of prisoners and the lack of aid flowing to black neighborhoods.

Social Justice isn’t new to comics. It was baked in.

A Term Evolving

Again, as annoying as the SJW cudgel was back then, it has morphed into something even more irritating. It became a catch-all term to be applied to anyone who differs from the reader’s perception of the mainstream. That means characters of color, non-binary characters, explicitly non-Christian characters, those whose sexuality fell anywhere on Kinsey’s Scale past a .2 or so, and, of course, women.

Why Our Art Needs to Stay Political

While most of those other categories had proven inflammatory prior to this moment in time, women came as, perhaps, the biggest surprise. With an increased focus on not reducing women heroes and villains to walking cheesecake art came an aggressive pushback against women characters as a whole. To write a woman lead was an act of SJW-ing in and of itself. Even if she spent all 20 plus pages proclaiming she would have rather been at home cooking, cleaning, and attending to her wifely duties, the criticism remained. The very act of a woman being heroic became some sort of bold political declaration, apparently.

And god help you if the woman character was a.) new or — and this one really got people’s goat — b.) took the “codename” that used to be held by a man. This went double for people of color or characters who didn’t identify as Christian or, perhaps, passively Jewish. The only thing that stopped the anti-SJW brigade from labeling Ms. Marvel the #1 enemy of America and the ruiner of comics, I remain convinced, is that the name Ms. Marvel remained relatively free of associations and had only previously been held by another woman.

Rose and Finn
Courtesy of Lucasfilm

A Recent Sampling

It has spread from there. In the past months, let’s take a random sampling of what I have seen proclaimed to be “bad” SJW works

  • HAWKEYE: Kate Bishop is not the first Hawkeye, has two X chromosomes, and so does the writer!
  • Eddie Berganza: Somehow DC letting him go was representative of a live by the sword, die by the sword as the serial sexual harasser was apparently an SJW.
  • LUKE CAGE: “Black-themed.”
  • SNAGGLEPUSS- The titular feline is himself a “gay SJW” evidently
  • Ironheart: A woman and black.

And so on.

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A Bad Way To Evaluate Art

Is it possible to dislike any and all of the above for good reason? Certainly. There is no truly perfect creation. Even works that reflect diversity are not guaranteed creative successes. However SJW criticisms do not interrogate the art.

Their criticisms are not based on writing, art, music, shot selection, or other aspects of performance or presentation. Instead, they insist the only good art is the art that does not challenge their existing view of the world. Art that only glorifies people that look or think like them and doesn’t present ideas or expressions of love, religion, or politics that they would disagree with or judge as “wrong.”

The very existence of gay or bi people becomes political to them. The very idea of flawed men or heroic women becomes political to them. Acknowledging that millions with no desire to hurt or kill Americans are Muslim becomes political to them. If they do not like it, if they do not agree with it, well it must be political, right?

Batman and Signal #1 Cover
Courtesy of DC Comics

A Little Reality Testing

What’s worse though is that the need to focus on the SJW-ness of it all to check the “purity” of the works has warped their very perception of reality. They repeatedly say things like, “I guess you can’t be a white straight male superhero anymore,” — the cisgender is implied — when the industry remains dominated by white straight cisgender male superheroes and white straight cisgender male writers.

Take last week’s shipping schedule for the big 2 as an example. Marvel shipped five solo books. Of the five, only two featured male leads. Four featured straight leads. Three featured white leads. Both white cis male leads are straight.

DC, on the other hand, has 7 solo superhero books. Since the “hero” is part of the consideration above, I’ll cut Harley Quinn as she is still more villain than hero. But for the record, she is straight, cis, and white. Of the other six, five feature men as their leads. Six are white. Five are straight. Five are straight, white, cis men.

Between the Big 2, seven out of 12 books have the exact parameters anti-SJW folk INSIST cannot be found.

A Further Step Back

Lest you think this week is an aberration, let us scope the week prior as well.

EAST OF WEST: Nuanced Native American Representation

For Marvel, the stats were 11 solo books. (Minus DARTH VADER and VENOM for being villains.) They featured 10 white leads, six cis male leads, and 10 straight characters. (I’m accepting the idea of Deadpool as pansexual here.) Once more, in considering the full request above, Marvel is just under half with five of 11 featuring straight white cis male heroes.

DC, on the other hand, had 11 solo books last week. (Again, subtracting Harley Quinn’ s two titles) Of them, eight had cis male leads, nine featured white leads, and 10 are straight. (Several creators have indicated that they considered Wonder Woman bi while working on the character). DC ends up with six straight white cis male leads on solo books out of 11.

Thus, combined, you could read 11 out of 22 — 50 percent — books and never have to see a non-straight, white, male lead. Over two weeks, you could read 18 out of 34 or about 53 percent. Considering women alone are over 50% of the population, white straight cis male leads are out-performing the real world quite well. And all of this is before what fans and critics alike are pointing to as Marvel’s culling of diversity via recent cancellation news.

Oceans 8 promo SJW
Courtesy of Warner Brothers

A Plea for Change

If I could, I’d just straight up eliminate the acronym SJW as a term of criticism. The idea of opposing equality is, on its face, bizarre. Alas, that train left the station long ago.

Instead, I offer these honest pleas.

First, try, TRY, to make your criticisms a little deeper; try to ground them in presentation, plot, dialogue, art, coloring.

Second, if you must invoke SJW make sure the book is, in fact, political. This not the same as presenting characters who aren’t white, men, or straight. Mere existence is not now, nor should ever be, political.

Third, be honest with yourself and others about the world around you. Look at how many people of color exist in your world. How about how many people who identify as gay, bi, ace, or trans people? Or how many non-Christians. Now ask yourself if comics are really over-representing their numbers.

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Fourth, be honest with yourself and others about the comics themselves. Don’t act like there are no male heroes, straight heroes, or white heroes when they still dominate. If you must point out that less than half of Marvel’s books had leads who weren’t cis men AND white AND straight, well, fine, I guess.

Although that leads me to my last but not least request: be fucking human beings. Don’t make death threats. Don’t dance because a character you judge as too political gets canceled. Say you don’t like a book, fine. Stop acting like a whole company or the whole industry is against you because you are of white European descent and the a book features a Latinx lead or you say Merry Christmas and the lead celebrates Ramadan though. Don’t create an entire reality to do so and don’t dress up your hate as concern or legitimate artistic criticism.

11 Comments

  1. Dyoni

    May 16, 2018 at 2:52 pm

    The issue with SJW comic is not diversity, marvel has had that in spades. The issue is the new comics being forced on the readers who’s only point is to tell the readers that they are evil people because they are white/strait/cis/male and/or American. Need examples? Riri Williams a black woman character who literally has to tell her white teacher who is not racist to be racist so she can ‘work to overcome adversity of a racist society’. You have an all black team of superheroes fighting ‘Americops’ which are basically sentinels that replace ‘mutant’ with ‘black’ designed by ‘white government’. You have female Thor translating anything said by a Norse god with no concept of modern politics into political based banter. You have Trump as M.O.D.A.K, and Nazi Captain America. You have eventless She-Hulk comics that focus on how strait people are so evil to lbgt to the point of mutating a gay guy into a rampaging monster for YouTube likes.

    None of this is entertaining, the new characters arn’t Relatable or likable, and it’s only purpose is to tell the readers, ‘hey, your in this group so you are morally wrong or right’. You want to call it art? Fine. Then it is bad art. Good art meets a standard, this doen’t, it’s the equivalent of someone throwing blood on a canvas and saying it’s the new Mona Lisa, and anyone disagreeing is just artphobic. Try not being so close minded that you can’t register other people not liking something as being an attack on some supposedly oppressed group.

    Reply

  2. Justchecking

    April 1, 2018 at 2:28 am

    Oh and ““Batman of France.” The character, Nightrunner, was a member of an Algerian Muslim family and the story touched briefly on the experience of being a Muslim immigrant in France at the time.”.
    The last time I checked, the Algeriam Muslim of Paris were championning killing hundreds in a concert hall…That’s the thing with you. You create a fake reality in your culture, and you can’t take that the REAL world is way more complex, way less pinkish than your fantasy world…that’s why people like me don’t like your stories. They are propaganda.

    Reply

  3. Justchecking

    April 1, 2018 at 2:26 am

    Go check the sales. SJW (aka far left ideology based) comics DO NOT SALE. YOU are NOT the majority. You are killing the business.

    Reply

  4. Jody

    March 9, 2018 at 9:04 am

    You don’t like comics nowadays? Then go and fund your own comics publishing companies, you whiny babies! And fill them with many many many writers who can write about how evil, stupid or moronic sjw’s are. And I’m sure you’ll have a lot of artists makimg line to start working on your projects; for, sadly, the world’s never short a supply of whiny white men… And women! Why not?!

    Lot’s and lot’s of white straight men and women, making their own sad little comics… Wouldn’t that be beautiful?!

    Reply

    • Pierre

      August 12, 2018 at 11:45 pm

      Thats EXACTLY how comics were miss SJW! And why they were so popular. Now self hating whites have teamed up with all the other far left freaks to tell everyone how baaad it is to be NORMAL.
      So if you’re a tranny, lesbian, gay or whatever else, sure, I feel sorry for you. You’re in the minority. But you have to live with what you are. Stop trying to make everyone else feel guilty because you’re NOT normal.

      Reply

  5. Lora

    January 26, 2018 at 3:02 am

    So glad to see the comments box in full opposition to this biased and moronic article. Tim, no one cares about the gender or orientation of a character, they care if the story is good, if the character’s motivations make sense and have continuity based on the character’s long standing attributes (if it’s an older comic book character), etc. and that the writers and producers stop pandering to bullies. The only comic producers that are going to survive this massacre are the independent ones who make the comics they want to make, and that isn’t enough to save the comic book stores from going out of business.

    Reply

  6. wreed1

    January 24, 2018 at 2:54 pm

    Linking SJWs to Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman, and X-Men is an insult to Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman, and X-Men. If you’re glorifying/defending SJWs, you’re a part of the problem.

    SJW is a term of criticism for a reason. They don’t get criticized for promoting equality. They get criticized for injecting politics into everything 24/7 (gotta lay off politics sooner or later), have irrational/nutty logic, and get offended over non-offensive things. These are the people who think there are more than 2 genders, not standing for the Anthem is patriotic, the NRA is responsible for mass shootings, and, in the case of college students, go to therapy sessions or a safe space when a conservative speaks on campus. And look up Bret Weinstein and all that happened with him at Evergreen State College last spring. It was an SJW-led riot.

    Last summer, SJWs were upset that Wonder Woman wasn’t feminist enough and was portrayed by an Israeli jew. https://www.dailywire.com/news/7863/liberals-indignant-over-israeli-wonder-woman-harry-khachatrian

    And some thought it wasn’t intersectional. https://www.bustle.com/p/wonder-womans-feminism-is-strong-as-hell-but-its-not-intersectional-62798

    After Charlottesville, some felt Captain America would’ve gone after just the neo-Nazis that showed up. They’re wrong. In reality, he would’ve gone after them AND Antifa.

    Some additional examples of what an SJW really is:

    https://img.memecdn.com/feminist-logic_o_7095637.jpg

    http://i.imgur.com/9zvgRKj.jpg

    Reply

  7. GatoWentSplatto

    January 24, 2018 at 2:31 pm

    I agree with you on one point only and that is the SJW label. How about Store Killers considering there are comic pros that say, no, demand that if don’t share their beliefs then they don’t want us, the customers, to buy their books. Seeing the the first customer is the store who will buy those books we are told not to buy from the comic pro that is killing their sales? The store owner is now left with a product they cannot sell and it sits on the shelf until it hits the 25 cent box. Now that store owner has to eat most of the loss for that book times however many books unsold. That is something the store owners cannot afford and will eventually have to close up for good.

    Reply

  8. Morgan Slade

    January 23, 2018 at 5:32 pm

    And don’t get me started on Wonder Woman. It’s not like she was created by a guy with affiliations to the suffragist movement who was in a polyamorous relationship with two bisexual women whom he modeled the character after or anything.

    Reply

  9. Morgan Slade

    January 23, 2018 at 5:30 pm

    Yep. And that’s why the first Superman comic was made by two low-income Jewish immigrants to represent their feelings of being outsiders who just wanna help people. Or why X-Men is so deliberately a metaphor for oppressed groups trying to have pride in a world that hates them. Nothing to do with social justice at all there /sarcasm.

    Reply

  10. Bob

    January 22, 2018 at 10:23 pm

    Comics have always been about diversity not social Justice there is nothing just about social Justice. Justice is supposed to be blind not based on idenity of a specific group. Justice is only just when everyone is treated equally.

    Reply

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