The Black Panther

It is easy to go through life consuming the cultural artifacts that one has always consumed, especially because trying something new can be so daunting. The NPR podcast discussed this topic and described lack of diversity in ones consumption as a “cultural rut”. Based on their discussion, I would say that it is important to break out of one of these ruts because of the satisfaction that can be derived from trying something new and finishing it regardless of how easy it is to consume. As they said in the podcast, reading something like The Odyssey can be challenging but ultimately rewarding in the end. If you enjoy what you try, it adds a new realm of possibility to your consumption; if you hate it, you at least know from experience.

At the moment I am without a doubt in a cultural rut. My roommates and I watch nothing but The Office, Parks and Recreation, and Bobs Burgers. To be honest I have not felt that this was a bad thing up to this point, but I do wonder what we are missing. One aspect of the podcast discussion that I thoroughly agreed with however was the statement that one should never lament the current state of a certain cultural aspect. A large pet peeve of mine is when people say that a show or song these days is shallow and dumb compared to something from a previous generation. I assume people often feel this way because of the phenomena that was mentioned in which people’s musical tastes are created for good in their formative years.

In order to step out of my cultural comfort zone I chose to consume something for which I am not the target audience in a format that I rarely use. My choice was a comic book released to much fanfare earlier this year: Black Panther #1 by the prodigious writer Ta-Nehisi Coates. I was lucky enough to find a website that allowed me to read the entire comic book without having to purchase a physical copy. Below is a picture of the cover, which shows the Black Panther in all of his glory. This experience was certainly out of my wheelhouse seeing as I had never read a comic book before and I am not the target audience of Marvel’s first black super hero story.

ta-nehisi-coates-talks-about-black-panther-and-writing-from-a-black-experience-body-image-1459801922

Black Panther 2016 # 1 Cover: https://vice-images.vice.com/images/content-images/2016/04/04/ta-nehisi-coates-talks-about-black-panther-and-writing-from-a-black-experience-body-image-1459801922.jpg?resize=*:*&output-quality=

Throughout my reading of this comic I found myself feeling cognitive dissonance about the fact that I was reading a book with minimal writing and copious amount of pictures that was covering such dense and important topics. There was certainly a strong need for active reading which is a good way to take a break from the mindlessness of television. Once the comic was over I was surprised by how disappointed I was in its brevity. I think part of the appeal for me was the feeling of gaining a new perspective from Coates, who is renowned for his activism and wit. Before reading Black Panther I assumed that it was not made for me, but I realize now that I am probably in the target demographic. The power of Black Panther stems from the fact that he was Marvel’s first black super hero, and the popularity of the comic diversifies a pretty homogenous group. I most likely would not read other comic books in the future, but I would be tempted to continue reading Coate’s adaptation of Black Panther because of the way it challenged me.

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Original Black Panther Comic: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/5/59/Jungleaction23.png

I was pleasantly surprised to see that the popular culture item I chose to consume happened to contain themes that were very relevant to those we have been discussing in class. The first issue of Black Panther is used to set up the remainder of the series, and in it is said that Black Panther is the king of a utopian society in which recent outside attacks and disasters have disturbed the equilibrium. The main focus is on the king and the feelings of his people towards him. In fact, elements of Marxism underscored the entire issue which focused a lot on struggle between the classes. At one point the Black Panther visits an important mine to show the workers that the kingdom appreciates their work. To me this seemed like a hegemonic move the king was using to keep the working class content. There are also scenes that feature the Black Panther and his advisors discussing how an outsider has come into their city and turned the working class against him. From his point of view, this woman is a terrorist; in her eyes, she is a liberator. In the end, it was these mental games of tug of war that made me appreciate my time consuming something new.

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