Sometimes, it’s about predictability
You know what they say about horror movies? The black guy always dies first.
It’s expected. People see one black character, and they figure he’ll be the first person to die. If he isn’t, they are impressed. The moviemakers took an old trope and played against the expectation. If he does, some people will be annoyed, some will shrug it off, but no one will be impressed. This was expected.
Moviemakers might play with this, point it out, turn it on it’s head and poke fun of it. They might purposefully make the black character be the only one to survive. The movie might still suck, though. Acknowledging and overturning a racist trope doesn’t automatically make something better.
Adhering to it doesn’t help either.
Unlike the tropes that make up certain genres, discrimination doesn’t enhance the experience. The hero wins in the end of a superhero story? Great, the audience is happy, even though they saw it coming. The last-minute scare at the end of a horror story? Also great. It allows the audience to leave with a chilly feeling that evil exists in the world. Killing off the black guy first? A minority sidekick having ridiculous dialogue no living person would use? Motivated by the dead girlfriend? It pisses off some of your audience, disappoints some of your audience, and in all likelihood fails to impress the rest of them. So what’s the point?
And this is what people are saying when they bring up racist stereotypes in critical reviews. They’re saying “same old, same old.” They’re saying “You didn’t impress me” to the creators and often they’re saying “You not only failed to impress me, you offended me at that.”
Why should creators care? Well, I talk a lot here about how comics are communication. They are the creative team communicating a story to the audience. And when some of your audience is angry and disappointed when they aren’t supposed to be, that communication has failed. And often for no good reason, for an idea that is in no way original or interesting, for an overused trope that isn’t necessary to the purpose of the story.
Critics aren’t always right, sure. Critics aren’t always nice, certainly. But the subject of social stereotypes and how they affect the finished product should always–ALWAYS–be open for discussion. Because these stories don’t come in a vacuum. They are told against a backdrop of our society. They’re told against the traditions of the genres. They’re told, if not with politics in mind, to a world that is very political in all aspects of life. These stereotypes, these traditions, these tropes, these politics affect the message being told. So they are something that should be considered when evaluating a story in any medium. That’s something important to keep in mind when crafting a story in any medium.
Why should the rest of us care? Because discussion of this–even when it comes down to us screaming at our computers and writing COMMENTS IN ALL CAPS and taking people off our blogrolls over petty disputes–is of the utmost importance. Discussing these issues takes them from the background, where they affect things without being noticed, to the foreground where we consciously look at our own attitudes and how they manifest in our daily lives, be it through telling stories, occupational decisions, or direct interaction with living, breathing people.
Okay, sometimes it’s about more than predictability.