Today, I wanted to talk about Forge, one of my favourite Marvel Comics characters. Not in the heavy, self-analytical way I had announced I would, but through a bit of textual analysis. I was going to write a rant about the way he is represented, as a Native American and disabled character, in the 2012-2014 run of Cable and X-Force. The arguments had been in my head for a while, and the post would satisfy my interest in minority representations in popular culture. This was my way of expressing my fandom in a light manner after the disturbing exercise of scrutinizing my attachment to Storm.
But discomfort kicked in as soon as I began planning the post. A little voice in my head was demanding to know why I wanted to write it. I dismissed the little voice at first, thinking it was just fan shame, or guilt over delaying my big self-analysis. But the little voice grew louder and louder until it couldn’t be ignored. The hypothetical post would denounce Marvel’s misrepresentations of Native Americans and disabled people, but I had no knowledge of these group’s experiences. What gave me the right to speak in their name?
In my mind, Forge gave me the right. I felt close enough to him to be a sort of honorary member of the communities to which he belonged. Of course, I hadn’t had the same experiences, but I had a deep and personal enough motivation to be allowed to defend their rights. I began thinking that maybe I had been wrong in distrusting the appropriation inherent to the fan affection; maybe it could give you insight into someone else’s oppression by putting you in their shoes.
Now, all of this is clearly bullshit. You can’t become the member, honorary or not, of groups you’ve never had any dealings with; and you can’t get “insight” into an oppression based on an attachment that only exists inside your own head. In a nutshell, I was pretending to have a connection to Native American and disabled people so I could write about a favourite character. The post was about satisfying my personal interests, nothing more. The real oppressions of real people would become instruments in my pursuit of pleasure.
I am standing down, but all the same, I am concerned. Not because I bought into the illusion that I belonged in my fan object’s identity groups –identificatory fantasies are part of being a fan, and can provide much mental support-, but because I remained invested in the illusion when it was leading me to appropriation and misrepresentation. Questioning the illusion would have meant questioning my connection to Forge, who I feel close to, for the sake of respecting people I don’t know. Why would any fan want to do that?