Dec 5, 2017

Cloak and Dagger Are Homeless Teens

There is little nastier than someone who has nearly everything, who’s at the top of the socio-economical heap — which in America is to say adults, white, straight, native-born, middle-to-upper-class upbringing — complain about diversity in entertainment or diverse presences, with, “Well, I was raised to respect heroes for who they are, not the color of their skin,” “I am able to put myself into characters who aren’t like me, so why can’t this hypothetical black girl just read about white men forever and like it?” I cannot stand these people. I cannot abide these sanctimonious, prevaricating statements.

Cloak and Dagger Are Homeless Teens
Travis Hedge Coke

Cloak and Dagger, as a concept and in execution, is so problematic you could stick their picture next to the definition in a really nerdy dictionary. It’s a black kid with a stutter and no hope, and a white girl who’s pretty and talented and grew up rich, and they have run away from home and are kidnapped, drugged, get super powers from the drugs, and then live in the back of a condemned building, squatting and fighting crime. And, by fighting crime, I mean, mostly they beat the hell out of pimps, dealers, pedos and Spider-Man villains. Early Cloak and Dagger appearances, either as guest characters or on their own, are mucky, brutal things, where everyone’s predatory and coked up. Which, it being the 80s at the time, is not an unnecessary reflection of what would be in a New York City teen’s eyes when they’re homeless and abused.

The racial dynamic’s inanity is further exacerbated by the fact that the black guy is in love with the white girl, just obsessively so, but she’s half the time trying to go have a nicer life without him. Cloak is cool, his visual is cool, but this is bullshit writing. It is offensive. Worse, it’s inane.
But, racial dynamics often are inane. They are, almost by design, certainly by collusion, stupid.

Cloak and Dagger gives kids something that pretty much no other comic does, though, when it’s played to its classic format, and that is that they’re homeless. They’re squatters. And, it does not make them less than, it does not imply they are not carrying their weight or have not achieved something. They aren’t colonizing the space, they are not entirely just hiding away. It’s what they can afford. It is what is afforded to them. And, that’s a livable life.

Starting the summer before 8th grade, we were homeless, my family and I, living mostly in a campground in Montana, next to a family in a trailer whose walls were literally, in part, taped together. That family had been living this way so long, only the eldest girl remembered anything different.

The girl was my age, two months younger than me, and seemed to know so much more than I did. Possibly, named Amy. I spent my childhood feeling I was very bright, in the sense that you say someone who’s off, is “bright,” but that all kids knew more than I did. I was probably in love, the way kids fall. In awe and mystified, fore certain.

Amy asked me to be her boyfriend. "I've only had one boyfriend before, but he was a teacher, so we had to stop.” Twelve years old, and that’s how she put it. The kind of thing that will get more horrible for me, the older I become.

She was the one who connected our predicament to Cloak and Dagger. Because, you see, television did not portray homelessness as an ongoing situation or homeless people, even kids, as entirely acceptable. They were Very Special Episode fodder, especially in children’s entertainment. The Bayside kids meet a homeless girl and learn she’s actually human just like them, but she’ll never be seen again, because of course not. You couldn’t keep on it.

But, Cloak and Dagger were always homeless. They were always home in their squat. They were home together and they were badass superheroes. They were cool. They didn’t have shit, and they were cool.

You can’t measure out the significance of what that can give a child, without being an asshole.

It is with no small amount of a twelve year old’s fantasizing, and an adult who works with children’s prayers, that I want Amy’s life, then, at that moment, to have been fixed. Just sorted out and made comfortable. I couldn’t do it, then, and I obviously lack the time machine and other mechanisms to do it now. What I am capable of, is trying to be decent to people, at the moment, in the moment, and to be vocally thankful for what Cloak and Dagger comics, in all their scuzziness and anxiety, all their pomp and melodrama, for what that could do for her, and for us, back then when we needed it.

It is not that Cloak and Dagger is the only comic, the only entertainment, that could do that. But, it was the only thing falling into our hands that did. That made that very important, entirely necessary to survival point. Even if Amy and I were so naive and confused and otherwise helpless about our own real life situations, we could intuit that one important fact thanks to those comics; we did not matter less for where and how we lived. Something that should be completely simple to communicate and to understand, that no other entertainment cared to even address.

1 comment:

CP Bananas said...

This is a beautiful piece of writing. Thank you for sharing your experiences so movingly.

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