Not long ago, I wrote something of a lengthy diatribe about why it is America gets up in arms whenever social justice, and identity politics hijack beloved stories and characters in pop-culture. Actually, I wrote two. I really wanted to get the point firmly across.
The punchline is that taking known and beloved characters, and altering them so that they leave behind their characteristics is wrong. Making Captain America gay is a solid example, or a more recent one would be making Iron Man a black teenage girl. People fell in love with these characters because of who they are. Fundamentally changing them – not even for solid story driven reasons, but for socio-political ones – only drives to make readers angry, and turn away.
But aside from all this, it’s just bad story telling. Shoehorning in identity issues into a well established character is just lazy, and makes the character somewhat unbelievable. The better idea would be to create a new character with the personality and identity you would like, and let the character grow within the universe naturally.
It’s the equivalent of planting a seed and letting it grow into an apple tree. Gluing apples to the branches of a pecan tree doesn’t make it an apple tree, but that’s what SJWs are essentially doing instead.
The latest apple gluing came in the form of star and director, Simon Pegg, making Hikaru Sulu – the famed helmsmen of the Star Trek series, into a homosexual.
However, some would think this was fitting, seeing as how the actor who played him in the show, George Takei, is in fact a homosexual. Pegg thought this would actually please Takei, but as it turned out, Takei has the same view many of us do when it comes to hijacking characters for identity politics.
“I’m delighted that there’s a gay character,” Takei told The Hollywood Reporter. “Unfortunately, it’s a twisting of Gene’s creation, to which he put in so much thought. I think it’s really unfortunate.”
Takei recalls his reaction when John Cho, the man who plays Sulu today, called and told him about the decision. What he said is something many of us have been trying to relay to the social justice community for ages.
Takei first learned of Sulu’s recent same-sex leanings last year, when Cho called him to reveal the big news. Takei tried to convince him to make a new character gay instead. “I told him, ‘Be imaginative and create a character who has a history of being gay, rather than Sulu, who had been straight all this time, suddenly being revealed as being closeted.'” (Takei had enough negative experiences inside the Hollywood closet, he says, and strongly feels a character who came of age in the 23rd century would never find his way inside one.)
“I said, ‘This movie is going to be coming out on the 50th anniversary of Star Trek, the 50th anniversary of paying tribute to Gene Roddenberry, the man whose vision it was carried us through half a century. Honor him and create a new character. I urged them. He left me feeling that that was going to happen,” Takei says.
Pegg would go on to say he disagrees with Takei, turn Sulu gay, and say this is what Roddenberry would have wanted. I find that awfully presumptuous for Pegg, a man who never met Roddenberry, to tell a Takei, who knew Roddenberry personally, what he would have done with the character.
Regardless of the blatant disrespect for Roddenberry’s vision, what Pegg has done is nothing short of lazy. It would not have been that difficult to write a gay character in to the story without making that character be defined by his homosexuality. It would have allowed for some great story telling, and a new part of this universe expanded. Instead, Pegg hijacked a character and turned him into something he’s not because…well, no seeable reason except to fill a non-existent diversity quota.
Takei’s advice is solid, not just for Pegg, but for any artist who finds themselves at the reigns of a beloved character or franchise. Introduce new characters, and let that universe expand around the character. Make him or her interesting enough, and it may become a staple within that universe.
Create, don’t bastardize.