We’re less than halfway through May and companies are already advertising their Pride merchandise. I love it, but representation in the properties that are getting the rainbow treatment is still severely lacking.
Most of the Pride merchandise I’ve been tracking lately has been coming from Disney since they own the two main American properties that I follow (Marvel and Star Wars), but they are far from the only ones who have been vocal about their upcoming rainbow wares while seriously lacking actual onscreen LGBTQ+ representation. There’s a whole line of Funko POPS! that span many fandoms, a lot of which suffer from the same issue. Straight characters and generic franchise logos and symbols are being dipped in rainbows and sold for Pride. The corporations churning out these products view it as a job well done.
The worst part of this situation is I actually really like how this merch looks and may actually buy some, but this conflict makes me incredibly uneasy about my impulse to buy this stuff. It makes me wonder if these companies are having their cake (selling us Pride merchandise) and eating it, too (conveniently keeping us offscreen to appease conservative markets). And it works. I write critically of the lack of representation but am ready to slap down my wallet on the counter and walk away with a rainbow Marvel pin right away. I don’t feel great about this, but it’s the truth of the matter, and I’m definitely doing some self reflection on my own contributions to this hypocritical Rainbow Capitalism.
The Marvel rainbow merchandise, for example, comes after Disney gave itself a huge pat on the back for its incredibly brief bit of representation in Endgame. The moment was small enough that conservative markets could conceivably cut the moment out if they wanted to, which is exactly what happened with the Russian dub. The brevity of this moment was intentional for this exact reason. If they were to have, say, given Captain America a boyfriend, this would not have been something that could be easily worked around. Disney knows this, and very carefully straddles the line between supporting us and minimizing us for maximum profits.
Star Wars has the same issue. The brief kiss between two women in Rise of Skywalker was so small that I didn’t even notice it even though I was very consciously looking for it. It was so tiny, certain conservative markets didn’t even bother trying to remove it this time around, though they very easily could have. What does it say that the moment was so unnoticeable that heavily-censored markets let it get through? It says that it was insignificant, unnoticeable, and not worth the time it takes to cut it.
Rainbow Capitalism is an issue that we’ve been having to contend with for a few years now, and I don’t at all pretend to have any sort of moral high ground on this matter. I love it when companies slap rainbows on their logos and piss off conservatives! Heck, I even stalk the Target stores waiting for them to throw their Pride merchandise displays so that I can descend on it with fervor (thankfully, Target does donate some of their profits to good causes, so I don’t feel too bad). But this is different than a retail store or an airline sporting rainbows for a month. Media companies could support us in a very real way with a queer protagonist in one of these franchises, but they choose not to do so in order to make profits in places that discriminate against us, and that feels like a bit of a slap in the face. They want our money, but don’t want to give us any significant screen time in their properties.
The one bit of Pride merchandise I’ve found that actually actually has some significant on screen representation for us is the Deadpool Funko POP. In the comics Deadpool is canonically pansexual. In the movies, he makes jokes to the effect that he isn’t heterosexual and can be easily assumed to be pan or bisexual, and one of the major secondary characters, Negasonic Teenage Warhead, is queer. Deadpool is legit with its representation, and I’m pretty pleased with it. If there are examples of merchandise from franchises that actually support LGBTQ+ characters, please do drop the links in the comments. I can’t possibly see all the merchandise that’s available on the market, but I’d love to see more!
It doesn’t escape my notice that the only property that I’ve noticed that’s been emblazoned with rainbows with actual quality LGBTQ+ representation is one that would likely be too edgy for the conservative markets in the first place. A market that has issues with queer people would also likely have issues with the rest of the violence, sexuality, and profanity in these films, too, so it’s a bit safer for them to push these sort of boundaries as the rating will keep it from being assumed to be ‘family friendly.’ Both films are rated R in the United States, too. But being LGBTQ+ shouldn’t automatically be considered ‘edgy’ in the first place, which is what the kind of minimization in MCU and Star Wars content feels like. My very existence is too ‘edgy’ for MCU or Star Wars. I’m only allowed to exist in the Rated R superhero film, and that hurts.
What can we, the consumers, do about this rainbow hypocrisy? We don’t exactly have a lot of power here. We make hashtags trend, write think pieces (like the one you’re reading right now), and even threaten to boycott, which likely wouldn’t have much of an impact on the bottom line of these huge corporations. So far these actions have moved the needle only slightly. But I guess moving it slightly is better than not moving it at all. We will be getting a queer Valkyrie, after all, though I want to see the film first before calling it ‘good’ representation. We don’t have a rainbow Valkyrie POP, though, or have her on any of the Disney store merch. But maybe next year. That’s when Thor: Love and Thunder will come out, after all, so we can celebrate significant representation with hopefully some thematic merch for her.
So, happy Pride! The Rainbow Capitalism will continue to flow and we’re largely left with mostly scraps of representation, but perhaps the future will be brighter. Let’s see what they plan to do, I guess. I hope I won’t yet again be disappointed.
Author: Angel Wilson
Angel is the admin of The Geekiary and a geek culture commentator. They earned a BA in Film & Digital Media from UC Santa Cruz. They have contributed to various podcasts and webcasts including An Englishman in San Diego, Free to Be Radio, and Genre TV for All. They’ve also written for Friends of Comic Con and is a 2019 Hugo Award winner for contributing fanfic on AO3. They identify as queer.
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