Saturday, December 04, 2010

On Hatred

A few days ago on Tumblr, Sharon Carter fans and Sharonhaters came head to head over a post on the increasingly poorly named "Comic Secrets" tumblr. Seems someone felt that Sharonhaters were falling prey to sexism, but didn't felt comfortable calling them on it and naturally they did an anonymous posting that pissed a large number of them off. Even though Tumblr has gone to great length to make it nearly impossible to have a conversation, a post claiming that Sharon Carter "gives men a reason to be sexist" and that, based on examples solely from Ed Brubaker's Captain America run, the character is inherently worthless has led to an intense fight via reblogs (across a second post, too). I'm particularly fond of how she cites Sharon's advice to kill Bucky as her being a "bitch", but claims she hates her because has no agency whatsoever.

Despite it being a glaringly irrational argument based on a single writer, it nevertheless reminded me of my recent Crystal irritation, my old Donna Troy hate, my old Jade hate, and my history of calling for the deaths of Spoiler (which ended up sucking), Jade (which also ended up sucking), and Cassie Sandsmark (which would probably end up sucking so I've stopped wishing she'd die). The entire affair has me thinking about the nature of character hate, especially in a genre like superhero comics where the storytelling is serialized across portrayals by different writers and artists. When is it really hating the character for something in their core concept and not simply being angry about the role in the story or the writer's individual view of the character? And how often is it simply based on another character? How much of a role do demographics like gender, race, sexuality, ethnicity/nationality and religion play? You can't divorce it completely, and many of us are harder on the ones with demographics in common with us. What about exposure? A character you're indifferent to can soon become hateful if you see it way too often. There's a number of characters I can't stand because they dated other characters I like, and a significant portion of the books I read were dedicated to a character I had zero interest in. Too much time of that and a lack of interest turned into disgust and misery whenever the character appeared.

I can't speak for anyone else, but I know that every character I read gets measured against a number of traits and values I try to cultivate in myself. (Yes, villains have these too. They just don't have a moral compass.) I find myself taking little interest in characters without those traits, and that turns to hate if I read too much of that character. There's a few character traits I despise in myself and other human beings, and I'll take a strong dislike to anyone fictional who displays them. It's simply things I don't want to read about. Sexism plays a role here. I know of some traits (such as Daddy issues) and storylines that are more palatable with a male character than with a female character to me.

But then we get into the problem of what's a character trait and what's just the writer. This is especially problematic because what's just the writer can soon become a character trait if taken on by the next writer, and the writer after that and so on. See Crystal's infidelity: the first could simply have been an accidental falling for Pietro, the second they tried to explain away as mind control, but by that point writers had gotten too attached to her and Pietro in some sort of love triangle so then there was the Black Knight infatuation, and Johnny Storm was played up again, and the next thing you know the fucking Sentry's been retconned into her past (this does make me pity her more than I hate her, though). I'd say anything transferable between writers can be argued as a character trait, with the clincher being three or more writers with no mind control/imposter plot or a majority of the character's recent appearances.

Fortunately, character traits can change and the right growth plot can turn a hated character into a tolerated or even beloved character (though I think it's safe to bet you won't see a post on this blog entitled "How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb Queen" anytime soon).

A trait that's in the core concept is tough to change, though. You can't suddenly decide that Huntress isn't a temperamental Italian woman with mob ties without making her into a completely different person, so if your problem is that Huntress is an ethnic stereotype than probably nothing is going to change your mind. There's a number of characters I can trace my hatred back to things that are inherent to their characters, and that's just the way it is. In such a case, though, I can usually tell I'm not going to like them from the description and it's not a reflection on any writer other than the one who created the dreadful waste of panel space.

Still, there's a place for reasonable dislike and hatred that takes the gender of the character into account without focusing that hatred on the femaleness of the character alone, and without extending it to real live women. You may hate a character because you object to sexism that's become inextricably entwined with them in stories, but when you throw gendered slurs at the character when ranting about them, you problem may be more rooted in sexism itself than objection to sexism. I'm not above saying "Emma's a bitch", but anyone offended by the vocabulary certainly has a point that I'm letting misogynistic attitudes creep into my rhetoric.

Now, before you accuse me of thinking myself inherently better than someone else... 5 years ago, I wrote this post. It's another thing that has me thinking about character hate. This may seem like an inappropriate subject for the holiday season, but the celebration of Yule is the expectation of dawn after a long darkness and I'm in one of those religions dedicated to personal exploration, so I can't think of a better way to spend December than wading through the depths of my hatred of female characters feeling blindly for the root cause. I believe I'll look into some individual cases in my upcoming posts. Feel free to join me.


  1. What concerns me is how focused this is on female characters, both in your post and in general. I absolutely agree that it can be based on the core concept, but how often is that core concept either "she's a woman and she does things I don't like!" or "she's a woman and she doesn't do things I like!" Male characters only seem to generate this level of hate if they're a really major character (Wolverine, Hal Jordan) with several books of their own. There's no hordes screaming for Foggy Nelson, say, or Luke Cage to die because a fat sidekick or a black guy who is bulletproof are just so inherently offensive.

  2. Exactly! The Sharon hate is not only tied to gender, but supported by the run of a single writer and extremely strange in rhetoric, just like my old Jade posts and probably the much worse Cassie ranting (that was all done in message board time, and CBR doesn't have archives that far back or else I'd show you).

    It's like the sexism of writers has oozed onto the characters themselves and is provoking a reaction. They're designed to be hateful women, so we hate them.

  3. I don't know. I wouldn't mind if Geo-Force were to be killed off, because I simply can't STAND him. I also think that I'd hate him if he were female, but that's just me.

    Nevertheless, there are some women characters that I don't like much. Maxima for example. I can't even explain exactly WHY I don't like her...I just don't.

    I do have to say that your "How I learned to stop worrying and love the BombQueen" line made em laugh out loud.