Kids know an icon when they see it

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Esther Cepeda
Monday, August 8, 2011
— Here’s the reaction you get from young people when they hear that the new Spider-Man is a half-black, half-Hispanic teenage boy. It’s a big “And…?”

The underwhelmed response is because young children and teens don’t think about diversity—they live it every day. So when an icon such as Spider-Man takes a turn at looking like the kids they go to school with and watch on Nickelodeon TV shows and in their favorite YouTube videos, there is zero cognitive dissonance, nostalgia or fear.

If you hadn’t yet heard, last week Marvel Comics announced that—just in the “Ultimate” Spider-Man series, a universe in which Peter Parker died at the hands of that dastardly Green Goblin last June—the new Spidey will be a half-black, half-Hispanic teen named Miles Morales with a reimagined supporting cast and back story that will echo Parker’s own journey.

At the announcement, Axel Alonso, Marvel’s editor-in-chief, said, “What you have is a Spider-Man for the 21st century who’s reflective of our culture and diversity. We think that readers will fall in love with Miles Morales the same way they fell in love with Peter Parker.”

Love is not in the air for those who believe that what Spider-Man stands for—combating crime and protecting innocents—is the exclusive purview of a shy, white orphan with a salt-of-the-earth aunt and uncle.

Here’s a sampling from the comments-section race wars brewing around the Web:

—“There you go. … Must be a race change due to the census.”

—“Black Spider-Man? The world is going to hell…”

—“Well, that nails it. Spidey’s dead to me.”

—“I wonder what the reception would be if a ‘multiethnic’ hero were killed off and replaced with a Caucasian version?”

What’s the comic book world coming to, anyway? First Superman renounces his U.S. citizenship in April and now this. The most common lament I cataloged goes along the lines of “Is nothing safe from the oppressions of political correctness?”

People, take a chill pill.

No one is going to force you to check out this hitherto under-the-radar series that only frequent comic book readers regularly consume. And despite what you might hear from the loudest of the talking heads, there’s no Barack Obama, White House or minority conspiracy against whites, though shrill headlines pinpointing the end of a white majority will put that sort of paranoia into otherwise level-headed people.

Most of the anxiety over a dark-skinned superhero can be attributed to human nature’s universal hatred of change—just ask the masterminds behind New Coke, or the new Gap logo that was changed back to the old one after people flooded Facebook with passionate complaints. Who even knows if this Spider-Man will stick?

Love Miles Morales right out of the gate or hate him, it doesn’t matter. Neither emotion will change this completely benign development in one of the subsets of the labyrinthine comic book world or the very real demographic changes—already passe to the young among us—occurring in the real one.

Esther Cepeda is a columnist for the Washington Post Writers Group. Her email address is estherjcepeda@washpost.com.

Last updated: 6:11 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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