Saturday, I had the luxury of sitting all day at home on the couch, marathoning my way through the CW hit show Arrow. As I was watching, I felt like wearing one of my favorite pieces of clothing: a hoodie, my light blue hoodie to be exact. For me, before last year happened, wearing hoodies made me feel comfortable yet mysterious. There were not any politics involved the decision to wear hoodies. And then one year ago, George Zimmerman shot an unarmed black teenager, Trayvon Martin under the vigilante auspices of Florida’s Stand Your Ground laws. Before this happened, I did not have to think twice about wearing a hoodie. I just did it because I felt like it. But after that incident, as well as the police pulling out a gun on my brother because of racist profiling, I honestly began to hesitate about wearing any of my bevy of hoodies, and choose to wear just a sweater. Would the police stop me for favoring a criminal on a wanted list? Would a George Zimmerman look at me as a danger to his suburban neighborhood?
I eventually got back into the habit of wearing my hoodies again. Each time, it took an act of overcoming fear on my part because of the recent events that had happened, but I felt emboldened by the Million Hoodies campaign last year, and continue to find strength in doing so. In the t.v. Arrow, Oliver Queen plays a vigilante, someone outside the law that takes justice into his own hands in corrupt Starling City. Queen works with his chauffer/sidekick/security guard, an Afghanistan war veteran named Diggle as they take own white collar criminals as well as the weekly villain. Diggle and Oliver, while they are trying to save the city, are always questioning their own motives, what’s the best way to stop corruption? Is vigilantism the only option? Why aren’t the police doing enough? As much as I enjoy comic books, comic book tv shows, and comic movies, the question of vigilantism looms large, especially with non-powered humans like Batman (my favorite) and Green Arrow.
What makes Arrow interesting is that Oliver (the Hood as he is referred to in the media), works with people on the other side of the tracks, The Glades as it is called. John Diggle, who is African American, is from The Glades, and he and Oliver usually meet in a diner there to discuss how change Starling City. Diggle himself, in the episode “Damaged” wears the green hood to fight criminals. Arrow will not simply be a story about a rich White shining night saving the only the homogenous white parts of the city; “The Hood” vigilante will be a diverse experiment, where even those who are ignored by the Merlyn and Queens’ corporations will have a voice. The only other person who know Oliver’s identity is Felicity Smoak, the geeky IT girl who happens to be Jewish. The chemistry between our three players is quite a mix.
Two my other favorite episodes, “Muse of Fire” and “Vendetta” are the ones starring Huntress/Helena Bertinelli, a member of the Batfamily. Huntress in the comic book and in Arrow the show, has a propensity towards gun violence and revenge. Oliver is no saint, but he believes he can “save” Helena by showing her that killing is wrong. Huntress as a vigilante is problematic for “the Hood” and his crew because she is exactly what Diggle and Queen fear: a figure easily demonized in the eyes of the media rather than a change-agent. I would argue that Bertinelli’s mission, of fighting the mob, is just as noble endeavor as Oliver’s pursuit of most of Starling City’s powerbrokers.
The debate within the world of Arrow (and really, most comic culture) is how moral agents are to behave in the face of injustice. Should persons work through means outside the law (revolution) or within the law (reform)? Also, how is one to determine which vigilante is right? Whose vigilantism are we talking about here? These are, yes, fictional stories, but they are also allegories for how real human being interact in society. I think that the distinction is crucial, especially as it relates to the Trayvon Martin case, gun violence, and mob mentalities. A hero is someone who stands with the oppressed. Someone who can discern through the media’s power with x-ray vision, someone who does not think of themselves first (the very journey that Oliver Queen in Arrow is on) and consider their rights to be privileges to maintain power over others. A hero does not make arguments out of fear, based on abstract “What if?” questions, like “what if a black ‘thug’ walks into my neighborhood?”; a real hero shows love to their neighbor, the Other, and recognizes their invaluable worth as a member of humanity. So, here’s to all of the heroes today, wearing hoodies in memory of Trayvon Martin.
For more on Trayvon Martin: