The gender stereotypes and sexual representations we are all familiar with are slowly changing. And it is happening through the dominance of pop culture, which is particularly effective in communicating with the younger generation.
In May, two of the biggest comic publishing companies, DC and Marvel, announced that they were introducing gay superheroes. Marvel went first, introducing openly-gay superhero Northstar.
He proposed to his boyfriend and the story ended with a wedding. A day later, DC announced one of its superheroes would come out of the closet. Later, fans discovered that Alan Scott — the original Green Lantern — was rebooted as a homosexual superhero.
“I wasn’t surprised about the gay wedding,” said Jaka Ady, a self-declared comic geek from Jakarta. “I think it’s about time, as Northstar has been out since the ’90s, and it was rather emotional when they finally had the wedding.”
Jaka said he was too young to follow foreign comics back then, when Northstar came out, but said it must have been even harder back then for the publishing company to have a gay character. But Northstar is not a prominent character in Marvel comics, Jaka said.
As for Green Lantern, the conversion is more shocking for fans. The character Alan Scott is a married man who has a family, so his coming out had some long-time fans protesting.
“Some of them were really harsh on online forums,” Jaka said. “I think fans were mad because nobody saw it coming and the change was quite drastic.”
This year, young writer Madeline Miller received the Orange Prize for her debut, “The Song of Achilles.” The book is her take on Homer’s “The Illiad,” and focuses on a love story between Achilles and his companion Patroclus.
Adhityani Putri, an avid book reader, said that the love story in “The Song of Achilles” is an integral part of the plot, and not merely an effort to spice up a mythical tale.
Adhityani read the abridged version of Homer’s “The Illiad,” although she did not recall the Trojan War as memorable. Not only does Miller make an effort to rewrite a big classic work, but she also reinforces that love is a potent force in humans, regardless of their sexual preference.
“In the end, ‘The Song of Achilles’ really is a parable of love in a universal sense,” Adhityani said.
In the music sphere, stylist Thornandes James, who has dressed Indonesian boyband Smash, said that J-pop and K-pop waves are now changing the way men look. After rock and punk dominated the ’80s and ’90s, men are now expected to appear well-groomed.
A makeup line from South Korea, Faceshop, sells makeup for men. Two weeks ago, French makeup brand Enter Pronoun began selling a gender-neutral makeup line. For Thornandes, this is merely a marketing strategy.
“Well, any makeup can be used for both men and women,” he said. “But it does seem that pretty, well-groomed men have begun taking over the entertainment industry.”
Thornandes pointed out that these makeup lines are targeting metrosexual men. For him, metrosexual men can appear in two forms, well-groomed gentlemen who emphasize success, wealth and power, and flamboyant pretty men who emphasize sensitivity.
And this is not just the influence of Asian pop music, but hip-hop, as represented by Kanye West, Ne-Yo, Usher and P. Diddy as well. This change seems to benefit the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, which has a history of discrimination.
In the United States, drag queen icon RuPaul has been campaigning for LGBT rights through her drag-queen-themed reality show competition, “RuPaul’s Drag Race” since 2009.
“The LGBT community has recently been more vocal in getting recognition and equality for their rights,” Thornandes said.
Anthropologist Iwan Pirous said that anything related to pop culture has an aspect of marketability, which means there is a market segment for every thing that they represent. The LGBT community, which is not a part of mainstream culture, is now getting recognition because it has always been a part of society. For Iwan, society has always been hiding differentiation.
“LGBT is not new and even in Indonesia, it is not difficult to accept,” Iwan said. “We have known the term ‘banci’ for a long time.
“If the industry thinks it is interesting to point it out now, it’s because their consumers are bored with the usual motives.”
From an anthropological perspective, these differences are a portrayal of a modern society that tends to label and put things in a box, and favor one category over another.
Some traditional cultures, Iwan said, have long believed that power comes from a feminine male or masculine female god, for example Arjuna in Javan or Indian mythology.
Iwan said it was quite possible that LGBT culture would continue to feature in emerging trends.
“It is about time to appreciate androgynous characters and homosexuality and I think it’s too late to see them only from a moral perspective,” Iwan said.
Rather than bringing up discussions of morality, Iwan encourages critical thinking toward pop culture, which has shaped and differentiated the world for men and women from the beginning.
Discussing the latest gay superheros, Adji Widodo, from the community of Indonesian US-Comic Readers, said it was quite unlikely Indonesian comics would follow the lead any time soon.
“There are signs that local comics are beginning to rise in popularity, like some really good ones like ‘Volt,’ but they usually involve a mix of foreign superheroes and local values, such as mystical power,” he said.