I blame Peter Parker. For me he is the original tortured white guy. Ever since our next door neighbour (friendly neighbourhood white guy) gave me a copy of the latest Spider-Man comic when I was about nine years old, I’ve been hooked on stories about tortured, guilt wracked white guys.
Poor Peter Parker, with his parents having gone and done the utterly selfish thing of dying when he was a youngster, he is brought up by his Uncle Ben and Aunt May. Bullied at school, lonely, nerdy, and skinny just like the kid who gets sand kicked in his face in the Charles Atlas adverts he finally gets a shot at making something of his life when he is bitten by a radioactive spider and receives its proportionate speed, strength and agility. But instead of using his powers for good, as the comic book script dictated in those days, he decides to make some cash instead and in the process gets his Uncle Ben killed.
Enter the tortured white guy into my life.
Thing is, Peter Parker is only one in a long list of them.
So, what is it with tortured white guys? Why are they around and and why do we seem to need them so much?
Maybe it’s something to do with the white male holding the top position for so long. Yeah, we’re at the top of the tree, above women and then any other group you care to mention, identifiable through race, gender, sexual preference and identification, culture, religion. etc.
Did you know there is a disease known as ‘White extinction anxiety’? It’s partly what got, and keeps, Trump in power.
I don’t know, maybe we could extend that to ‘White male extinction anxiety’.
We’ve ruled the roost for so long it’s getting scary now that all those other groups are speaking up and saying, ‘Hey, who put you guys in power?’
Is it that simple?
I’m currently watching, and loving, The Punisher on Netflix.
Oh yeah, you want a tortured white guy? Frank Castle has it in spades for you. Ex-marine, out for revenge after the murder of his family, Frank dispenses rough justice to the bad guys, like permanently dispenses it. The Punisher is a great series, more than just bone crunching, blood splattering violence (of which it has plenty though). It is also very good at looking at the issues of violence and vigilantism. And yet, even while I am enjoying it, I can’t help but feel that the writers of this show are allowing us to have our cake and eat it. That we get to think around the edges of the issues of gun control and violence whilst also enjoying the spectacle.
Sure, the series has a feisty female Homeland agent who crosses paths with Castle and has her own story arc within the series but make no mistake, this is Frank Castle’s show and nobody else’s.
Us white guys, we’re still top of the tree.
You’d have thought we would be more enlightened by now, wouldn’t you?
And yet we are still arguing about pay differences based on gender, about sexual power in the workplace, and burka wearing women being compared to bank robbers.
Maybe that’s why we have tortured white guys. It doesn’t have to be about gender or race or culture, religion, sexuality or anything else that marks out an individual or a group as a minority, as different. Peter Parker fights the good fight because guilt compels him to do so. Frank Castle is the same.
The reasons don’t matter, because they are story elements, plot devices. But our heroes are a long way from Superman, who simply sees it as his destiny to protect people. Hang on, it’s been a long time since I last read a Superman comic, I would guess he’s changed by now. Created at a time when America was secure in its position as the most powerful nation of white guys in the world, I would guess that old Supes is a lot more angst ridden these days.
It’s true that fiction and art reflects and interprets the world we live in. That the more interesting work in the creative fields happens when we are going through times of unrest. Look at the boom in horror during the sixties and seventies which then disappeared in the eighties.
Well, horror has certainly made a comeback in the last few years, wouldn’t you say?
The Walking Dead is probably a perfect example of this. A threat to America that comes, not from the outside, but within. And this isn’t confined to America either. We all feel it.
It could be argued that the zombies of The Walking Dead represent the threat of the minority becoming the majority. Sure, The Walking Dead has its fair share of minority representation (although the main character is a tortured white guy) but isn’t what The Walking Dead represents similar to what Pat Buchanan is scared of? The ethnic and cultural mix of North America is becoming increasingly diverse and the Republican party’s right wing, white base of supporters is slowly withering away.
White extinction anxiety.
The tortured white guy is something I think about a lot. Especially in relation to my own creative work.
Joe Coffin is a tortured white guy. He wouldn’t say that, but then he’s in denial. Joe’s got some pretty heavy stuff going on in regards to his wife and son now being vampires, and he’s going to have to unpack that at some point. Not that Joe is a therapy kind of guy.
And yes, I have a feisty female reporter (don’t you just love feisty females?) in a support role.
But it’s still Joe’s show.
So here’s my problem.
I enjoy fiction which usually has at its centre a tortured white guy.
And I write a series of books with, at their centre, a tortured white guy.
Often I feel guilty about this.
Like, do we really need anymore tortured white guys as leading characters?
Does that make me a tortured white guy, too?