Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share on Google+ Share on Reddit Share on Pinterest Share on Linkedin Share on Tumblr 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. 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. 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. LUKE CAGE and The Importance of Community 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? 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. 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. 6 LGBTQ+ Comic Creators You Should Be Reading 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.