Those moneylending doctors

The Medici is one of the more prominent Florentine families around that were really big in their Renaissance and early modern heyday, if because they influenced banking and culture a lot. They even used the talents of other people to build up something interesting and worthwhile, whether if it’s the artistic talents of Michelangelo or the scientific genius of Galileo Galilei. They started out as a rather humble family in Mugello, which’s another place in Central Italy. Then one of them moved to Florence where he started a business there, dubious as it was before.

That’s due to the influence of the Catholic Church at the time, when moneylending was considered a big sin back then even if some people did it anyways to support their families (as with many Jews and Dante Alighieri’s own father). But the Medici came to justify and dignify usury, using it to finance and support the Catholic Church. This helped when some of their kind became popes themselves, so they got the last laugh in here. Not to mention, some of them got ennobled and these branches of this family still survive to this day.

(As for Dante, the succession of the family line was entrusted to the aristocratic Serego one of whom added his mother’s maiden surname to his and thus begat Serego-Alighieri.)

While the Medicis were still banking in the Renaissance, some of them became rulers of the Florentine city-state and even had one child’s marriage arranged to marry a noblewoman. That child is Lorenzo de Medici, who wrote poems dedicated to Lucrezia Donati but ended up marrying Clarice Orsini (whom he developed affections for). Within almost a century later, their own kin would be ennobled and turn Florence into a duchy of the Holy Roman Empire.

That’s how powerful the Medici have become, they didn’t just accumulate wealth and power through banking they even got to influence the Catholic Church to justify usury as well as having family members marry into royalty, become nobles themselves and rule the Catholic Church twice. Some of their rivals have come close, but as far as I know the Medici got real big in their lifetimes. This may be long past their heyday in the early modern period but they did influence Italy for the better.

Black people and pets

According to statistics in the US, black Americans in particular don’t commonly own pets for whatever reason. Not that pet ownership’s nonexistent among them, it’s not as popular as it is among whites and Latinos and it’s close in numbers to that of Asian Americans. But that doesn’t mean blacks and Asians don’t own pets in large numbers, they actually do in Africa and Asia. Though I’d say that the percentages vary between countries due to religious and cultural differences, so if it’s true for Asia it’s also true for Africa.

Take Nigeria for instance, it’s nearly evenly divided between Muslims and Christians. So many Nigerian Muslims have cats, while many Nigerian Christians have or tolerate dogs at the very least. This isn’t clear cut, given individual preferences but there’s a divide between the Muslim North and Christian South. However this isn’t true for Mali and Togo, the former’s Muslim but not fond of cats and the latter’s Christian but relatively fond of cats. Seems like Nigerian stereotypes get flipped on their heads with these two countries.

Consider Nigeria’s neighbour Cameroon, according to one study in Yaounde around 17% own cats and 12% own dogs. That was taken in 2003, so times could’ve changed a lot since that study was taken. In another more recent study, the number of cats in Bangou (another place in Cameroon) is 15.3% and the number of dogs there is 11.7%. There’s yet to be a proper survey on pet ownership trends in many African countries but it does exist on the individual level to some extent.

As for African attitudes to animals like cats and dogs, it varies for many reasons and factors. In Northern Nigeria (and possibly many Muslim majority African countries save for perhaps Senegal and Mali), cats are valued due to their exalted position in Islam and are also commonly used as pest control there. Dogs are valued to a lesser extent, primarily for hunting and guarding, which’s what they’re permitted to do, though there are some like the Sufis who are very sympathetic to dogs.

In Southern Nigeria as well as Mali, Benin, South Africa (to some extent), Zimbabwe and Tanzania cats are associated with witchcraft and are shunned. That doesn’t mean all of these characters living in these places hate cats, actually some of them are sympathetic enough to raise the alarm about their plight as evidenced in this thread. Likewise in countries that tolerate cats, that doesn’t mean all of them tolerate cats. But they’re much likelier to tolerate cats in larger numbers than say Zimbabwe does.

Likewise, the only African countries I can think of that associate dogs with witchcraft (as far as I know and remember) are Uganda, Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana and Democratic Republic of Congo. Maybe South Africa to a lesser extent, since it does depend on the ethnicity such as the Bapedi and the Hlubi. But not necessarily on a big nationwide scale, as far as I know about several other African countries well I could be around about it. But it does tell me that African and black attitudes to pets vary.

If this were America, then black pet ownership rates would be lower. If this were Africa, then it would be much higher though still variable depending on the country. Cameroon might have a higher rate of cat owners than Nigeria does, but it’s inconclusive as there’s yet to be a nationwide survey there. Certainly, Mali has a lower cat ownership rate than in Cote d’Ivoire due to cultural attitudes there. But I’m not so certain about other countries, since it’s mostly not taken on a nationwide level.

I could be wrong about that, but black attitudes to animals do vary depending on the person, culture and country. There are Ghanaians who dislike cats, just as there are Nigerians who tolerate and/or like cats. But generally speaking, most Ghanaians tolerate cats while a substantial number of Nigerians (especially in the south) don’t. Even then it still varies depending on the person, culture/community and country.

Wuxing in China

Wuxing is pretty much the philosophical theory of the five elements in Chinese culture and related cultures in East Asia to an extent, that’s where it influences everything from taste to sound and colour. Wuxing is considered to be a theory about ever-changing energies of five sorts, per this website. Consider this: wood feeds fire, fire feeds earth, metal carries water and water feeds wood. This is the generating cycle, there are other cycles about these elements working together. This is the other cycle: wood destroys earth, earth absorbs or destroys water, water destroys fire, fire destroys metal and metal destroys wood.

Wuxing has influenced the way the Chinese and their ilk view colours, they too correspond to the five elements. Water corresponds to the colour black, as deep as waters can get underground. Red corresponds to fire, yellow corresponds to earth in terms of sand. Metal’s associated with the colour white in that both of them are reflective and some metals are really whitish, wood goes well with the colour green or rather qing as blue and green weren’t yet distinguished in an early phase of Chinese culture.

Then we get to the five flavours where wood’s associated with sourness, fire with bitterness, earth with sweetness, metal with savouriness and water with saltiness. In terms of mood, wood is associated with anger (prickly), fire with hatred, earth with joy, water with passion and metal with grief (you get hurt when cut). In terms of mental quality, wood’s associated with idealism, fire with passion, earth with honesty, metal with rationality and water with erudition. When it comes to the seasons, wood is associated with spring, earth with the change of seasons, water with winter (cold), fire with summer and metal with autumn (rust).

When it comes to the organs, wood is associated with liver, gall bladder and eyes. For fire it’s heart, small intestine and tongue. For water it’s urinary bladder, kidney and ears (as sound flows through them). For earth, it’s spleen, stomach and mouth (as it absorbs food and makes sound). For metal, it’s lung, large intestine and nose (as metal’s used to detect something or that you smell something with metal). Some of these associations may’ve changed over time, but it’s a big part of how the Chinese and some of their contemporaries see the world as.

Fans turned professionals

While not unique to comics and other forms of storytelling, in fact a good number of athletes started out as fans of sports themselves it does take on a rather fanfictiony quality for some stories. Especially for those that are long-running serials that tend to attract a cult following of nerds, that’s where the fanfiction qualities bring out. In the case with Legion of Super-Heroes, it’s a DC Comics magazine that has attracted a cult following, some of these fans like Jim Shooter and Mark Waid go on to write Legion stories themselves.

It’s not always a bad thing, though the real risk here’s more to do with bringing in a fanfiction like quality that non-fannish writers lacked. As I said before, there are a lot of people who do get into the things they liked and grew up with. Somebody who plays football would eventually do it professionally, same goes for those who gravitate to playing tennis or any other sport they enjoyed before. But the fannish element’s much more blatant in franchises and brands where fans get to work on the things they liked before though this isn’t unique to those either.

You can see it with sports teams like Manchester United and NBA to some extent, though in the case with the geekier brands if a fan does work on a franchise they like they work their headcanons and fannish in-jokes into the stories they write. Not that it’s a bad thing, but the fannish element wasn’t present before.

Fannish Quality

When it comes to superhero comics and actually Disney comics to an extent when it comes to Don Rosa and his positive feelings towards Carl Barks, there’s a tendency for some fans to eventually write the stories they grew up with. This is especially the case with DC and Marvel until recently to some extent, where for the last few decades you have fans writing stories featuring their favourite characters and stories.

Not that it’s a bad thing, but there’s a risk of having a strong fanfiction like quality to it. In the sense it’s full of what others call headcanons and fannish in-jokes written into the stories, a good example of this would be Stucky. That’s a fanmade pairing between Captain America (Steve Rogers) and his friend Bucky, which inspired an in-joke in one official Marvel Comics story or panel. A better example of this would be the pairing of Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn.

This started out as a fanmade pairing between two Batman characters, though one that eventually became canon in 2017 when the two characters kissed each other. In other stories, they even marry each other. This is also a good example of fan-pandering, not all Batman fans are into this pairing but when DC decides to pander to a specific sub-set of Batman fans who like this pairing very much that it feels rather incestuous to say the least.

Nonetheless, there are some cartoonists and writers doing superhero stories and even Marvel comics without having much of a big fannish background. Gabby Rivera, for instance, didn’t come from a comics background (she is a young adult writer) and her take on one Marvel character (Miss America) is rather decent. Interestingly, Peter Bagge (a man who doesn’t even like superheroes and especially Spider-Man) got to write a Spider-Man story where Spider-Man grew fat and old.

These are the two storytellers Marvel has employed that I can think of who don’t have much of a Marvel fandom background, which’s why their stories don’t have much fannish in-jokes and headcanon sentiments the way the more fannish writers do. Comes of think of it, the first generation of superhero cartoonists and storytellers weren’t fans of superheroes but rather those who stumbled upon and pioneer an emerging genre.

It’s not that they’re weren’t fans of something (I could say the same thing about Bagge and Rivera), but since they weren’t big fans of superheroes (though that’s when the genre just started) it does have a greenness that many of the fans turned writers lacked. The fans turned writers and artists emerged sometime in the mid to late 20th century, two of the earliest being Roy Thomas and Jim Shooter. The latter even got to write stories for his favourite–Legion of Superheroes.

These are the characters who brought in a fanfiction quality to the magazines they write for, while they didn’t necessarily exactly write fanfiction in their fanzine days their headcanons were written into the stories they wrote for anyways. It’s like how two Legion members, Light Lass and Element Lad, were speculated to be gay and eventually got to be written as such in some stories by two fanzine writers who went professional.

That’s a good example of fan-pandering and inserting fannish headcanons into professional stories, which’s something Rivera and Bagge would never (seem) to do and never will. It’s not necessarily wrong to be a fan of something, it’s even like that in sports where some sports fans do become athletes themselves and others go on as journalists. But having a non-fannish quality does help, especially in making something less inbred which’s a quality the fans-turned professionals lack.

Well maybe not to the same extent, but still when it comes to crafting stories that don’t reek of canonised fanfiction. Interestingly, this also exists outside of comics themselves where you can see this with Arrow. That’s one superhero programme where it was going to pair Oliver Queen with Black Canary, per comics, but ended up pandering to a certain fanbase who’re more interested in seeing him with somebody else.

I’m saying this as somebody who isn’t a fan of Arrow and Oliver Queen (I was a fan of Black Canary at some point), especially when you see this as a form of fan pandering where you have certain fans doing fanfictions of Oliver with Felicity before it got canonised. While some fans would say that it’s not fan pandering, but since I’m not a fan of Arrow it still reeks of fan pandering whether if they’re aware of it or not.

It’s not necessarily wrong to do the things you love and grew up with professionally, a good number of people in sports and music do this as well. But in the case with superhero programmes and comics (actually anything geeks like), there’s going to be a fanfiction stench to it. Especially when it comes to things that originate in fanfiction that make its way to professionally made stories and publications, that’s where it starts feeling inbred.

And that is the risk of having fans turned professionals around in superhero comics and programmes.

Batman then and now

When it comes to physiques, there’s a marked change in the way the characters are drawn. Some of it might involve bringing in greater realism and draftsmanship to illustrations, others involve a desire to make the character look more imposing. Other times it goes with the changes in expectations for men’s physiques. Batman’s no exception to this, when he first appeared in comics he did have his trademark costume but he was portrayed as leaner than he’d come to be depicted as in later stories. It could be that Bob Kane’s drawing skills weren’t that refined yet, but it does interest me that Batman wasn’t that swole before.

The lean Batman persisted for a few decades and the earliest actors to play Batman weren’t that super-muscular then either. Not that they weren’t fit, but they weren’t exactly that ripped either. Batman wouldn’t get really ripped and big until decades later, in fact some cartoonists have a habit of portraying Batman as bulkier than other superheroes are. Not that he ought to be thin, but if Batman does martial arts yet martial artists and boxers don’t have huge muscles then it seems they want him to look more powerful than he really does.

Christian Bale, one of the more recent actors to play Batman onscreen, had to bulk up to play the character as well as Patrick Bateman in American Psycho. But the surprising thing’s that Bale didn’t like working out (well at first), perhaps he would’ve been more comfortable smoking and eating but had to do it anyways to play the part. He’s not without a doubt a very dedicated actor, but the fact that Batman himself didn’t start out as that bulky suggests either changes in expectations for idealised men or a desire to make him look more powerful than he does.

Admittedly, there are some cartoonists who don’t go overboard with making Batman bulkier but it does suggest something in the way the ideal male physique has changed. Especially in comics where in tandem with improved drawing skills, the ideal male physique has changed. It’s gone from being simply fit to bulging muscles with pronounced abs, quads and traps. Not all modern cartoonists do this, but it does show you a desire to portray more visible muscularity.

It’s like the changes in bodybuilding where’s gone from being this muscular without steroids (and needing to make the pecs bigger) to bigger pecs and steroids for those who really want to take the extra mile. Not to mention when it comes to playing superheroes at all, it’s not enough to learn martial arts and sports to do the things superheroes do but also bulk up to look like them. Even then they didn’t always look like that before, it could be due to the cartoonist’s skill but it could also be that being merely fit was enough.

While Batman and Superman aren’t always portrayed as this bulky, in fact Christopher Reeves himself was merely fit rather than seriously ripped but was the most memorable Superman of his generation. It might be a sign of the times to be really ripped, but it does point out changes in idealised male bodies. That’s going from being merely fit to ridiculously ripped, it even affects cartoon characters like Batman for instance. This isn’t always the case for all cartoon characters, in fact the Jojo characters have gotten slimmer.

But I’m not going to doubt that there’s a change in the way superheroes are drawn, especially now that they’re drawn with more muscle definition than it has been in the past.

Sexymen, beauty standards and whiteness

As I said before, a good number of fandom sexymen tend to be white. I always felt that many sexymen, well sex symbols for cishet geek women, often tend to be white and able-bodied. They’re rarely ever black, disabled or actually deviate from beauty standards proper. There’s hardly ever a black sexyman just as there’s not a dwarf sexyman nor a fat sexyman, they’re often either thin or fit in the case with Adam Driver. It seems for all intents on disrupting beauty standards, many sexymen still uphold rather racist and lookist beauty standards in some way or another.

This is evident that the likes of John Boyega, Peter Dinklage and Danny Devito never become geek sex symbols in the same way Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Hiddleston and Adam Driver have become. The scourge of anti-blackness plagues many geek fandoms, where more often than not the black actors and characters get chastised and distrusted a lot whereas their white counterparts don’t get this treatment. This might be one of the reasons why there’s never a black actor or character considered to be a geek sexyman on the same level their white counterparts are.

There are some fans who do lust for Mr Boyega, but he never became much of a big geek sex symbol the way Driver did even if he might have a better claim at disrupting beauty standards and stereotypes about black men that’s if he might be less-endowed than one expects and less endowed than Driver is. It seems to be a form of white, able-bodied privilege to disrupt beauty standards without actually turning them on their heads the way Boyega and Dinklage would. That’s to be unconventionally appealing without actually differing from beauty standards.

In fact, I even see Tumblr/fandom sexymen to be the equivalent of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl. They’re both seldom ever black, they’re oftentimes white and quirky without being actually different from beauty standards in a big way. Surely, people will be offended by this but I stand by my stance that Tumblr Sexymen are Manic Pixie Dream Girls for cishet women. There’s not a single Manic Pixie Dream Girl who’s actually disabled, fat or black (this also applies to the majority of Tumblr Sexymen by the way).

For as long as white, able-bodied privilege exists there’ll never a black Sexyman due to anti-blackness in many geek fandoms.

A white Westerner’s idea

When it comes to Cheryl Lynn Eaton’s opinion of Storm, she says that the character seems to be written by white people for such a long time that she should’ve been written as more comfortable around whites or something like that. To go a little further with that, I’d say that Storm (at least in the earlier stories, it could’ve changed for the better) comes off as a white Westerner’s idea of an African woman. Not that she’s a bad character, there are certainly African Marvel characters that are now written by actual Africans.

But the thing about Storm is that she’s written by white Westerners for so long that she does come off as a white Westerner’s idea of an African, but she’s not the only one in comics to appear this way. Carl Barks, for all his storytelling talents, isn’t immune to portraying black Africans as primitive and vaguely tribal. So these characters as well as Storm are pretty much a white Westerner’s idea of an African character, othered in some way although Storm (at least in more recent portrayals) is a step up from this depiction.

She was even seen playing her favourite tunes on a device before, so that’s an improvement from all those primitive tribal African portrayals before. Admittedly, this isn’t unique to Western comics as Japanese comics (manga) can be prone to this to some extent. Whether if it’s portraying Africa as a whole country, primitive Africans again or depicting it as super poor and war-torn (regardless of the fact that some African countries are on their way to being first world).

It might be possible to portray Africans as anything other than those stereotypes, but it has to be a sincere interest in and experience with Africans. Otherwise, these portrayals would feel insincere and inauthentic if it weren’t for any real interactions with and interest in Africans. Well, that’s the vibe I get though with Storm and Black Panther there’s a drive or desire to portray African superheroes even if the portrayals may’ve been stereotypical at some point or another.

But I do think it does matter in creating more authentic and sincere takes on African cultures and peoples, especially when it comes to moving away from stereotypical and unrealistic portrayals of them. It does get complicated if some of those attempting to portray Africans end up with rather stereotypical portrayals or unrelatable portrayals, that it seems a mistake can lead to nasty assumptions about them as a people. It might not even be true for a lot of them.

In the same way portraying Africans as primitive leaves out Africans who are into the latest technologies and fashions, portraying Africans as into something like say hunting leaves out Africans who are into other things. Some of which might not align with rather colonialist ideas of them, or if they are only doable if they align well with colonialist ideals of them. That’s disregarding the things they do, which wouldn’t align well with colonialist ideas of them.

Better portrayals can be done, it’s been done before but that involves a lot of undoing in order to get authentic, sincere portrayals of them.

Disney comics in Italy

Disney comics have existed in America since the mid-20th century though they did decline in popularity once the 1990s emerged, so far with the newspaper comics being the holdout for Disney comics in those years. Nonetheless they remain popular in most European countries, that’s excluding the British Isles and Russia where they never seem to get a lasting readership there. One of the biggest producers of Disney comics is Italy, where there’s a continued tradition of and industry for those kinds of stories.

They can take place in Duckburg/Paperopoli or Mouseton/Topolonia, several of the characters do have their names localised there. Mickey Mouse is Topolino, Donald Duck is Paolino Paperino or just Paperino (papero being one of the Italian words for duck), Fethry Duck is Paperoga, Daisy Duck is Paperina and Goofy is Pippo. Of course, this isn’t unique to Italy as several Disney characters do get known by other names elsewhere too. Goofy is Dingo, as in dingue or crazy; Fethry is Popop if you go by the French names.

While Italy isn’t the only country where Disney comics are made and sold, this also happens in the Netherlands and Brazil (anywhere and wherever Disney comics are popular) but Italy’s where stories like L’Inferno di Topolino (parody of the Divine Comedy) and Paperinik come from. The latter’s where Donald Duck’s portrayed as a superhero even, not to mention this is where WITCH (my sister’s favourite) comes from. The latter’s about teenaged girls with magical powers, as far as I remember and know of.

But my personal favourites involve Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse, so that’s where my loyalties lie even though WITCH got published here in the Philippines as well. Disney comics were also sold in the Philippines, well at some point as they’re not that commonly distributed there anymore. Okay, their popularity has taken a bit of a dip in Italy as well but the Italian market is strong enough to sustain prolonged interest in those magazines and stories.

In fact, that’s where a good number of modern Disney comics come from and get translated into several different languages. This again proves my point that Disney comics are popular in many, if not most, European countries. The countries they’re most popular in, as far as I know about, are Germany, Netherlands, France, Italy, Poland, Greece, Denmark, Norway, Finland and Sweden. Only a handful of these countries produce a lot of Disney comics themselves, one of them being Italy.

Let’s not also forget that’s where the current crop of Disney cartoonists, such as Marco Rota and Giorgio Cavazzano, come from though the Netherlands can claim Daan Jippes as one of their own. But again it’s mostly in continental Europe where Disney comics have continued being popular there.

Origins of the boy band

While there have been some attempts at tracing the boy band lineage all the way back to the barbershop quartet/quintet, the actual origins of the boy band lie with the black male vocal group. New Edition was inspired by Motown bands and in turn it inspired New Kids on the Block, though it’s been argued that the black male vocal group didn’t inspire the boy band. If the shoes fits, but to meet them half-way it would be better to regard the boy band as a spinoff of the black male vocal group. The structure’s the same or near identical, the only difference is the intention.

Whilst many of the earlier black male vocal groups were formed organically (and still are with R&B vocal groups like Boyz II Men), the modern boy band as we know it was technically manufactured and in the case with New Kids On The Block, manufactured to be the white counterpart of New Edition. Without New Edition, the modern day boy band wouldn’t exist. They’re now separate traditions, one a tradition of African American culture and the other a corporate tradition to capture the attentions of young girls. But without New Edition, New Kids On The Block wouldn’t emerge and so would the Backstreet Boys.

There were certainly white vocal groups before, something like the Four Seasons, Four Lads and The Crew Cuts but the boy band as we know it is descended from New Edition. While it’s true all of them didn’t write their own songs, it’s also true that boy bands are very much an offshoot of the R&B/doo-wop vocal group. Albeit one that’s made to deliberately endear to youngsters than simply being a commercial pop band the way the Temptations and the Four Tops were in their heyday.