About a month ago, I wrote a post that was mostly about Michelle Rodriguez kind of putting her foot in her mouth while talking about race and superhero films. It was of the most forgivable sort; she was walking to her car when someone stuck a microphone in her face and she said something off the cuff that had the veneer of being reasonable. She even went back and explained, in a mature fashion, what she meant after being met with backlash. I still think she was wrong. Change the gender, race, ability, and sexuality of white, male, straight, cis, and abled characters. Do it often, and be bold about it, because there’s nothing to lose, and there is only inclusion to gain.
The subject of “loss” brings me closer to my actual point: a significant proportion of white male rage over changing the gender and race of superheroes can be connected to a sense of loss. I’ve previously emphasized that it represents a fear of “loss of cultural property”, but I’d like to broaden my point for a second before returning to it. This fear is a microcosm of the larger fear of loss of those who occupy a dominant position in our society.
Writers are commonly taught to write what they know, but in recent years that’s been held up as the reason why we’ve been constantly innudated with stories of white cishet male protagonists. These stories are certainly still meaningful and approachable, but the white cishet male experience isn’t the only experience that counts as human. So, in an attempt to better representation and show that women and people of color are also part of the human experience, many writers are now doing their utmost to write what they don’t know.
But how to do research on experiences which are not your own? This doesn’t just apply to race and ethnicity—what if your character is Catholic but you yourself aren’t religious? What if your character has mental health issues, but you’ve always been pretty neurotypical? Books and other forms of academic research are a great first step. But as with most things, talking to a primary source—ie, a person who has actually lived the life experiences you’re trying to describe—is the best way to go about it. That’s where today’s web crush comes in.
Attack on Titan (also equally well known as Shingeki no Kyojin, its Japanese name) is set in humanity’s distant future. Around a century prior to the story’s plotline, huge humanoid monsters called titans appeared and began eating humans. Somehow, the remnants of mankind managed to build three massive walls to keep the titans out, and lived in relative peace for a hundred years. But then, one day, a giant titan appeared from nowhere and breached the outermost wall, throwing humanity back into chaos.
Anyone tired of post-apocalyptic story settings? Anyone? Bueller? What about manga and anime where teenagers have to save the world and are better at it than adults for some reason?
Yeah, me too, but this is a pretty good story, all told. It follows Eren Jaeger, his childhood friends Mikasa and Armin, and their team of rookies as they join the Scouting Corps, the branch of the military tasked with learning about the titans and regaining lost territory from them. Eren’s father, who disappeared the same day the Colossal Titan broke the wall, was an expert researcher on the titans, and the Corps hopes to somehow get back to his house in the lost territories so that they can unravel some of the mysteries surrounding the monsters. On top of all this, it appears that some of the humans have the ability to change into titans because of ~science~, and in that form they can either greatly help or greatly hinder mankind’s chances of survival.