Friday, July 17, 2015

Marvel's Hip-Hop Covers and Cultural Appropriation

Let's play a game of word-baseball...
I'll say this idea Marvel has at first sounds cool, but then we will see what the strikes are that make me less-than-interested and result in an, "Out." A just a short while ago Marvel announced they were going to be doing covers to their Marvel comics that, "Pay tribute" to various rap albums throughout time. Upon hearing this I thought that sounded neat, and then stated, "Wait, haven't some other folk been at that already on the internet?" It turns out a variety of people have indeed been doing so, and interestingly enough they aren't involved in any capacity with this Marvel cover-event.

Strike One.

It was then observed that Marvel was doing this whilst having basically no black writer or artist working on one of their 50+ comics. While rap is of course by no means something done solely by black people or for black people (after all, I'm as pale as chalk and love hip-hop) there is a question of cultural appropriation in all this (more on what cultural appropriation is in a minute).

Strike Two.

When questioned about this, Marvel's own Tom Brevoort gave a very curt response with someone asking him on Tumblr, "Can you explain why Marvel thinks doing hip hop variants is a good idea, when absolutely no announced writers or artists on the new Marvel titles, as of now, are black? Wouldn't correcting the latter be a much better idea than the former?" to which we witnessed Brevoort simply saying, "What does one have to do with the other, really?"

Strike Three.

So we've got three strikes against what at first sounds like a fun idea, but is basically using a concept done by other folk without inviting them to contribute or giving them credit, lacking much in the way of actual diversity (there are a small amount of black artists contributing cover-artwork, but that is it), and now standoffish words are being said when anyone dare question Marvel's actions. Yeah, this ain't looking good.

What Exactly is "Cultural Appropriation?"
Iggy Azalea: A living, breathing example of cultural appropriation.
The question of what cultural appropriation in fact entails is a valid one. One of the best writers on comics around, David Brothers, states what it is and how it applies in this situation quite expertly. Basically, he points out that if hip-hop gives cultural ideas to Marvel but Marvel gives little back, its a one-way street in terms of sharing ideas.

Then, it goes on to be that with Marvel purporting to support rap culture, and a big aspect of it that is that there are people of color in such a culture while Marvel has little-to-none of them involved...well, as this comic linked-to by David Brother's says at the end, "Culture never has or will exist in a vacuum, but maybe it's not so much about who has control over a design, but whether the people it originates from feel in control of their identities."

As Brothers' then points out, these rap covers put Marvel in, "The house," of rap culture, and to some degree black culture, and when you're celebrating rap and by proxy a solid chunk of "black culture" without actually having much of anyone from the culture you claim to be respecting...well, you're just making a profit off others without them involved, and that is essentially the very definition of cultural appropriation.

Or to put it another way as Sean P. has, " These folks did hot covers for YEARS before anyone at Marvel gave one damn about cashing in on this....It feels as if Marvel, Axel Alonso, and whatever editor wished to push this forward saw all these works over the years, waited for things to cool down a bit, and jacked the concept without a care. And as press releases continue to flow amongst the geek sites regarding these Hip-Hop covers Marvel is doing, you'll read of people praising Marvel for their continued, "Columbus-ing," of a culture that they don't really mess with."

So, It's a Mess

Basically, this is a mess. Tom Brevoort has seen the internet get mad at him and he reblogged a post that kinda-sorta defends him with a, "Hey, it's more than just black people who make hip-hop," comment, which misses the point how of course it is more than just black individuals who rap, but if you're going to riff on a culture that does have a solid history of--for lack of a better word--blackness--it's awkward to essentially be throwing a party for a group without inviting much of anyone from that group to the event.

I am of course white, so someone could easily say, "Well, what right do you have to protest about this?" Honestly, I don't have any extra right to wag my finger at Marvel when it comes to my own background, but as someone who strongly believes in equality and giving people the respect they and their culture are due, I should speak-up in support of those who are telling Marvel, "Hey, even if you have some snazzy artwork this really isn't cool."
Because at the end of the day no matter how awesome some of these covers are, this really isn't cool, Marvel. For that reason I would discourage others from supporting this hip-hop cover effort unless Marvel really gets their shit together and turns this potential fiasco around.

Then again, as most websites are simply going, "Oh fun, Marvel is honoring hip-hop!" in much of the manner Sean P. has observed, Marvel is probably just going to half-apologize all the way to the bank. That's probably the most culturally-honest thing in all of this--corporations making a profit at the expense of others AKA the American way.

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