Posts Tagged ‘i09’

io9 writer Rob Bricken answers letters in a column called Postal Apocalypse. In the January 23rd, 2013, edition, he answers a letter and attempts to explain “Why Nerds Freak Out About Things“. It’s published below in its entirety.

Superman’s Gal Pal

John W.: I got really upset when I heard the rumor that Jimmy Olsen might be “Jenny Olson” in Man of Steel, and then I instantly chided myself. It doesn’t matter, obviously. It‘s not going to really affect Superman in any way. And certainly it’s sexist to disapprove of the gender swap. I know this. I agree with this. But then why am I still kind of consternated about this?

Well, the good news is that you’re handling this is well as you can. For any fan, any kind of change is generally a shock. What matters is if you can look at yourself and realize it’s not actually important. If it’s something in the touchier sex or race category, feeling bad about your own kneejerk prejudice is good –- it’s how we grow more tolerant, actually.

But regarding your consternation, the problem is that you’re a fan. In my head there’s an elaborate math theorem that explains exactly why and how much fans freak when something changes in their favorite franchise. It involves:

• The popularity/prominence of the character/franchise
• How long the character has been around, and how pravelent he/she/it is
• Which medium the character is being presented in
• How much variety the character’ has had already (how many different and/or unusual ways has he/she/it been presented already), both in general and that particular medium
• How great the change is from the character’s fundamentals
• The actual quality of the change

I haven’t gotten the formula worked out, because I’m even worse as math than I am at sports, but I think those factors all directly affect fan freak-outs. So the reason you care about the Jimmy Olson sex change is because it’s a new presentation of the character that we haven’t seen before. New is different and scary, etc. etc.

But the reason you only care a little is because 1) you know Jimmy Olson is not that big a deal, 2) you recognize a gender swap is specifically not a big deal to Jimmy Olson’s fundamental character. It might bring up a slight issue of romantic tension between Superman and “Jenny,” but probably not. I’m guessing you’re not even slightly upset about Laurence Fishburne being cast as the traditionally white Perry White, because 1) White is less important to Superman than Jimmy is, and 2) as Clark Kent’s boss, White’s race doesn’t affect his relationship with Superman in the slightest.

This is also why, in my opinion, people freak out more about superhero movies than comics, because we’ve had so much fewer of them. Over the last 70+ years, Spider-Man has been presented in all sorts of ways — adventure, comedy, horror, sci-fi, he’s been in the future, he’s been Iron Spider, he’s been a half-Latino, half-African-American teen –- so the character has an extremely wide range of ways he’s been portrayed. But he’s only had four movies, all of them played pretty straight to the most basic version of the character, which is why more people freak out when they hear about almost any sort of change happening in the Spidey movies.

Remember when Raimi first announced the organic webshooters? People lost their minds, and really — really — how Spider-Man shoots his webs is almost completely inconsequential, as long as he shoots them. When the rumor went around that Spider-Man might be played by Donald Glover, people freaked out at the idea of a black Spider-Man, because we’d had so few Spider-Man movies to establish the norms (also: racism). But when Marvel announced Miles Morales as the new Spidey in the comics? Some mild grumbling that Marvel was merely pulling a publicity stunt, but no one came as close to losing their minds as they did over Glover, which was still less of a deal than the webshooters in Spider-Man’s first film presentation. But wait another Spider-Man movie trilogy or two — create a larger base of “standard” Spider-Man movies -– and people will begin to feel more comfortable with changes. I guarantee it.

Note: There are a ton of other, smaller variables here. Obviously, the fact that Miles Morales is in the Ultimate universe and not the main universe certainly helped minimize freak-outs. Also, a lot depends on you personally; I’m sure there’s someone who’s collected every issue of Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen who is losing his goddamn mind that Jimmy might Jenny in Man of Steel, because the character is super important to him. But overall? Not that big a deal. Sorry for the super-long answer, though!

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