Representation and Narratives: Musings from Iron Man

Representation and Narratives: Musings from Iron Man

July 6, 2016493Views

From Time.  From the world of Marvel comics comes an announcement that in a few weeks, Iron Man (Tony Stark) will be replaced by a new character, Riri Williams.  She is an African-American woman who

is a science genius who enrolls in MIT at the age of 15. She comes to the attention of Tony when she builds her own Iron Man suit in her dorm. 

The character is created by current Invincible Iron Man writer, Brian Michael Bendis.  Fans of Bendis will note that he also created or co-created Jessica Jones (with her own Marvel Netflix series), Daisy Johnson (or Quake or Skye in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D), and Miles Morales (African American-Hispanic Spider-Man originally from the Ultimate Universe).  Reflecting on his experience working in Chicago, Bendis notes that

this story of this brilliant, young woman whose life was marred by tragedy that could have easily ended her life—just random street violence—and went off to college was very inspiring to me. I thought that was the most modern version of a superhero or superheroine story I had ever heard.

In the past few years, there has been a lot of brouhaha within the comic book community about how comic book companies’ attempt at increased diversity and representation has ruined their favorite comics book stories.  Oft-cited characters within the Marvel universe include the new female Thor, the Pakistani-American Ms. Marvel, and a female Wolverine.  Oh and by the way, be ready for the introduction of a Chinese Super-man from DC Comics.  Addressing this, Bendis notes that

[t]hey’re individuals just like Captain America and Cyclops are individuals. All I can do is state my case for the character, and maybe they’ll realize over time that that’s not the most progressive thinking….I think what’s most important is that the character is created in an organic setting. We never had a meeting saying, “we need to create this character.” It’s inspired by the world around me and not seeing that represented enough in popular culture.

For those interested in the Bendis’ interview, feel free to click the source link below.  But my intent is more about using this story as an analogue to encourage diverse representation in stories, narratives, metaphors, and images we use in our clinical work.  As someone who speaks different languages, I am often reminded how quickly one image or metaphor’s meaningfulness is degraded once translated (literally) to another language.  Even within the same language, it can be challenge.  Just try speaking to a teenage client about how her life is like the dial on a rotary phone!

As professional clinicians, we adhere to a set of ethical principles and standards that include developing competence in the care of diverse populations.  This, I hope, includes not only keeping our biases in check, but also becoming intentional about lettings ourselves and our clinical narratives be inspired by the diverse world around us.

I would like to hear your thoughts on this matter.  What about this might you agree or disagree with?  How can one develop a more representative set of stories and images for use in the consultation room and outside it?  Might manualized treatment be linguistically un-representative?

Oh, and just because I know this debate will never die–to my fellow comic book fans: Marvel or DC?

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