On The New Spider-Man.


British Actor Andrew Garfield seems to have an impressive resume as an actor, but considering that the 2012 Spider-Man movie reboot was meant to place him back in high school, a 26-year-old seems like an odd choice.

Like Spencer Ackerman, I was very sympathetic to Donald Glover's campaign for the job. The thing about Spider-Man is that his major character distinctions have nothing to do with race -- they're primarily class- and urban-based. Spider-Man is probably the first really iconic working-class superhero -- his first real villain is arguably his boss, J. Jonah Jameson. While seeing his parents killed in front of him turned millionaire Bruce Wayne into Batman, Peter Parker's parents are so dead that it isn't even an afterthought, and when we first meet him, he's nothing more than a science nerd who can't get Gwen Stacy to give him the time of day. What teaches him that with great power comes great responsibility is the murder of his uncle -- a murder he could have prevented if he wasn't so worried about hustling.

Spider-Man is basically the story of a working-class kid from Queens who was raised by a nontraditional family. Despite his superheroics and academic striving, he has endless beef with the cops, a ball-busting boss who cheats him out of his rightful pay, an elderly aunt to take care of, and a set of nonnegotiable financial commitments to meet at the age of 16. Anyone who has ever lived in a working-class neighborhood in New York, regardless of ethnic background, knows this kid. Peter Parker could be white. He could be black. He could be Puerto Rican. As long as he's the same working-class kid from New York.

Of course there would have been a geek revolt if Spider-Man had been nontraditionally cast, even with Stan Lee's blessing -- that's only appropriate when the original characters aren't white. I suspect this is more vanity than racism -- most geeks, already being the type of people who are escaping into a world where they can imagine themselves as superheroes, instinctively don't want to further disturb the delicate mental illusion by also having to also imagine themselves a different race, which may actually be more difficult for some people than imagining you have superpowers. It's frustrating, but I suspect it will change as comic fandom becomes more diverse.

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