RWBY’s Adam Taurus: A Revolutionary Design in Popular Media

(WARNING: mentions of incidents of rape and sexual assault, islamophobia, as well as Spoilers)

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The word “terror” is a funny constellation of mixed opinions.

What I learnt in my college history class, and the definition I have adopted since then is that terror is “a political or war-like act of violence against a civilian population.” That means that (as we learn it) the first recorded act of terror was the British bombings of Copenhagen during the Napoleonic wars. I no longer entirely agree that this must have been the first, while I haven’t looked up examples, I’m sure Europe wasn’t the first, and if we were, then colonialism and slavery must count as well.

But I also know that not everyone agree with this statement. I remember walking home with a friend a couple winters ago. He has a masters degree in geophysics. He spent most of or early uni days recounting funny stories about how some of his physics friends couldn’t wait to finish their degree and start working on weapons of mass destruction (I’m not kidding). But on this gloomy Christmas day where fog has replaced the snow of earlier years, we’re talking about something that happens on the news, one of the white terror acts we usually refer to as “mass shootings”, and he insists it can’t possibly be an act of terror, because “only muslims can commit acts of terror”.

Yes. This white man educated from the best and oldest institution of higher education in the country, who has a paper published on the dangers of climate change, believed that only muslims could commit acts of terror. I’m sure you’re surprised.

Why am I telling you this?

Because American and European militarist propaganda since 9/11 has convinced most white people that white people can never be terrorists. And after what happened yesterday in New Zealand and scrolling through twitter’s response I wanted to talk about why representation in popular culture matters in this terror, as well.

There’s a parallel here to how Rebecca Solnit describes rape: 

“Here in the United States, where there is a reported rape every 6.2 minutes, and one in five women will be raped in her lifetime, the rape and gruesome murder of a young woman on a bus in New Delhi on December 16 2012, was treated as an exceptional incident. The story of the sexual assault of an unconscious teenager by members of the Steubenville High School football team in Ohio was stil unfolding, and gang rapes aren’t that unusual either. Take your pick: some of the twenty men who gang-rapred an eleven-year-old in Cleveland, Texas, were sentenced shortly beforehand, while the investigator of the gang rape of a sixteen-year-old in Richmond, California, was sentenced in that fall of 2012 too, and four men who gang-raped a fifteen-year-old near New Orleans were sentenced in April, though the six men who gang-raped a fourteen-year-old in Chicago that year were still at large. Not that I went out looking for incidents: they’re everywhere in the news, though no one adds them up and indicates that there might actually be a pattern.” (19-20).

What this paragraph illustrates (other than the still-present Othering and orientalisation of non-Western countries), is rape in America hits such high numbers that if you started dotting a map with them you wouldn’t have dots but just a large red blob shaped as the united states.

Do dots that we can’t draw lines between because there are so many create a pattern or a societal problem? Both. Clearly.

And while there aren’t as many incidents of white terror (I’m sorry “mass shootings”) as there are of rape yet, the key-word here is “yet”. But, as Solnit further points out, if we were to start talking about rape and terror as patterns and as a societal problems we’d have to start talking about race, and patriarchy, and those are topics that the white masculine hegemony of the West (the entire west, not just the United States), would rather sweep under the carpet.

And that’s where Adam Taurus comes in.


THE TAURUS PROBLEM

See, one of the problems that we face in the discussion of the word “terror” is the way it’s portrayed in the media. It’s portrayed purely as a religious act by Hollywood identified “muslims” on a white (usually American, sometimes European, plus your Token Black characters) population (or, you know, in movies glorifying the acts of western soldiers in countries or regions where military operations do not belong).

But Adam Taurus, a terrorist and misogynist who committed extreme acts of partner violence, doesn’t simply lack the stereotypical “muslim” coding, but is about as white as you can get.

For those few who read this and haven’t watched the RoosterTeeth animation, RWBY: Adam Taurus is a branch leader of an organisation called the White Fang, which fights for Faunus Rights (the Faunus are a species of humanoid people, separated from humans by their anima traits, and their design is a huge criticism of colonialism). He had a relationship with one of the main characters (Blake Belladonna), but she eventually decided she couldn’t follow his radical views, that she couldn’t handle his emotional (and most likely physical) abuse anymore, and left him. After this he’s a prime actor in a terror attack that kills numerable children and adults, as well as leaves an entire country without protection, access to information and contact to the outside world. He also brutally murders the female head of the White Fang and attempts a similar attack on a different nation, and is eventually killed as an act of self-defence when he stalks and attacks Blake in the newest volume of RWBY.

Of course, the creators of RWBY have been receiving a lot of heat due to Adam’s characterization this volume, as well as his death. And I understand why some might be upset at his character portrayal and being so obviously turned into a villain before he completely lost to two Queer girls. After all, Adam shares a lot of traits with idealized, traditional white masculinity.

He has the White Voice.

For those of you who don’t know what this is, the White Voice is explained in a film called Sorry to Bother You which tells the story of a young Black phone salesman who has trouble getting his sales through, when his elderly Black coworker advises him to “use your White Voice”. This leads to a series of successes that ultimately criticizes the idea that people have to perform White in order to succeed in White society (a good example of why White Privilege is not just a figment of your local POC’s imagination). This is also a racialisation of what we linguists and cultural theorists have long known to be true: that the standardisation of language back when the written word became automated and we all started falling in love with books, was a grab for nationalist power by the elite. It’s why most people who actually study grammar today will hiss at you if you call yourself a “grammar nazi”; correcting people’s grammar, or their accents, or their dialects, is way to support already established social hierarchies. (If you want a great example I recommend Jack Saint’s video Essay on youtube titled What’s Wrong with Eddie Brock? – Character and Type)

But Adam speaks like your basic upper-middle class white American man. Adam has a White Voice.

He’s the “hero vigilante”.

(Here’s a clue: he’s not)

Adam doesn’t care for human society. In fact, he’d like to do nothing more than punish humans for all the pains they’ve caused him (personally; not the faunus, though that is how he tends to word it. Sometimes). In many cases his rage is primarily taken out on government and similar institutions, however. He doesn’t care about rules, he demonizes structures of order, and he takes action. Much like how many recent marvel and DC characters are portrayed as being uncaring about rules and laws, and eventually seek to act on their own sense of justice.

Adam follows powerful traditional masculine tropes.

If you want a full piece of research on masculinity I recommend you read James Messerschmidt’s research (or Raewyn Collins, or Rebecca Solnit). What they all agree on is that traditional masculinity teaches boys that they have to act in certain ways to be considered proper “men”. One of the elements that especially play into this is violence. When the ability to be a proper man (strong. powerful, responsible, in charge, be considered rational and have your arguments affirmed as right, not to mention being capable of sexual conquest) is thwarted in any way the primary response is generally violence:

“Aggression has become a touchstone for American adolescent boys, and violence among them is epidemic. Kaufman noted that men construct their masculinity amid a triad of violence: men against women, men against men, and men against themselves (…) and it results, at least in part, from their internalizing the masculine ideals and attempting to live up to its precepts (…)” (Messerschmidt 237)

His method of killing Sienna Kahn, the former leader of the White Fang and a Black coded woman, is a good example of this. His weapon, a sword that enhances his strength and basically gives him superpowers (seriously, does it get anymore phallic than that?), pierces her abdomen and as he kills her, he leans in to whisper intimately in her ear. By piercing her abdomen doesn’t just kill her; he destroys the internal organs that make her valuable as a woman in traditional patriarchal society: her reproductive organs. What makes her a woman. In other words, he’s committing an act of femicide in a violent sexually coded act.

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So Adam Taurus is your basic Man of Power. He’s the patriarchy’s dream: powerful, well spoken, people want to follow him, he’s in control of both men and women, he doesn’t let government stop him, and he has the strength to keep what is his.

It’s no wonder a lot of men (some men) idealise him and want him to be the hero that we have learnt men ought to be to be “real” men. It’s the ideal they’ve been taught to honor and follow and reach.

But he criticism they’ve used of RT is that the terrorist and misogynist frame was only added to him after volume 3 (as far as I’m aware) and that “Monty [the creator of RWBY] wouldn’t have wanted this”.

To which I, as a lit student will say, first and foremost: the author is dead (quite literally in this case, but it’s a quote by Roland Barthes for anybody who’s interested) and his views of the show should have no power over how it is interpreted by the audience. And second: Adam is shown all through the seasons, even in the BLACK trailer to have malicious intentions, and his influence on the White Fang is implied from the first episode:

“This Saturday, faunus civil rights protests turned dark when members of the White Fang disrupted the ceremony.”

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Now, there’s a lot to be said about Black criticism of the White ideal of “peaceful protest” (which I officially cannot agree with, because Danish law doesn’t permit the encouragement of illegal actions(though it’s worth mentioning that when most laws in the US are drafted by white men, those laws will be in favor of they own social group, but that is a discussion for another time)) playing a role in Sienna Kahn’s policies. But Adam is the one in charge of the Vale branch, and it’s the Vale branch that disrupts demonstrations and supports Salem’s campaign against humanity to the point of committing acts of terror throughout the first three series. In other words, Adam’s influence betrays consistent writing and character goals throughout the entire series.


BLAME THE SCHNEES

Okay. So RWBY tells us that white terror is still terror. Great. It’s not as if that hasn’t been acknowledged before, right? Like with the Norwegian far-right terrorist, Andes Behring Breivik, from 2011, who attacked a socialist youth league camp and bombed government buildings, killing a total of 70 people.

Well, as mentioned above, it’s really easy to forget just one individual, right? I mean, they’re obviously insane, and acted completely on their own, based on their own convictions, entirely independent of society. Like every single rapist and white terrorist, as portrayed by the media. Right?

Uh, no.

As mentioned above there’s a pattern, and when there’s a pattern, there’s responsibility to be found in the structures, ideals and policies of society. Which means, society is partially responsible for the actions of terrorists.

That is, white society.

One of the lessons I heard a lot as a kid, growing up in a socialist country, was that “social policies are security policies”. It goes hand in hand with the idea that ‘crime is a direct result of how society is shaped’, and suggests that society as a whole creates crime, which also means that the change of society can remove of create crime. Denmark is a good example of this. I know that a lot of left-wingers abroad like to use us as an example, but from where I stand we are no longer a socialist country. We were. 20 years ago. Now we’re moving towards a liberal/capitalist country. What does that mean? It means the gini coefficient (an official measurement of equality) has moved from the closest to zero on a global scale to 27% in 2016 (the UK was at 31% and the US at somewhere between 40-45%). In other words, we’ve moved from almost entirely equal to fairly unequal in a very short period of time. And at the same time the crime rate has risen along with it.

In other words, poverty and social inequality leads to acts of crime and violence (of course, it’s a matter of 13000 incidents to 14000 incidents between 2017 and 2018 but still a massive increase comparatively).

Take a more qualitative example, one that protesters against mass incarceration in the US uses often: You’re a Black man living in an impoverished area (impoverished because racial segregation is still a part of strutural racism whether it’s official or not). You have a wife and two children, and a living wage doesn’t exist in your state. White privilege and racial profiling ensures that nobody wants to hire you, or at best, they will only hire you for 7 USD an hour. But you still need to make ends meet. So somebody you know offers you a position to move or sell drugs. You don’t have to be part of any other criminal activity, and maybe it’s just weed. It doesn’t seem all that harmless, and you actually have money for your family now. So you accept. That’s a serious crime in the US and will earn you ridiculously high in the US (seriously, read Foucault’s Punishment and Discipline; Incarceration was never meant as the most used type of punishment), and when/if you get out you’re unlikely to get a decent job, and more often than not your ability to vote and participate in society is taken away. For such a paltry act of trying to support your family in a system that actively works against you.

So society is responsible for creating its own criminals. The same can be said about migrant people from Arab countries that do end up supporting acts of terror. If you’re constantly treated as an outsider, as a threat, as somebody dangerous, you become alienated and risk ending up feeling resentful towards that hegemonic group that you’d never done anything to offend or harm in the first place. Or because you’re alienated the only place to take you in are already radical groups (British hooliganism is a class example of this in a class context).

What am I getting at? Poverty, racism, privilege, class, race, religion. Marxists will tell you that society is structured so that the ones at the top, the rich, white men, pit minorities and marginalized groups against each other so that we end up squabbling amongst ourselves, killing each other so we don’t dust of the guillotine and get to work on the ones who really cause suffering and inequality in society.

That’s why the media rarely acknowledges white terrorism, and quickly distracts us if they do. Because the media corporations also represent the hegemonic voice in society.

That’s why Adam Taurus is so revolutionary as a character.

Because Adam’s character design doesn’t stop at white terror. Adam’s character design tells us exactly who is responsible for creating Adam:

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The Schnee Dust Company.

We know that the SDC has used “controversial labour forces and questionable business partners”, as Blake tells us in the second episode of the series. Faunus are a reflection on colonialism, they were the group used as slaves, reduced to their animal traits, and robbed of their freedom. And Adam having been branded so cruelly tells us that the SDC isn’t finished treating its Faunus workers as cattle.

I’m not going into the SDC’s entire list of crimes in the interest of the Schnee Family Name and fortune, as I was planning on discussing that in a different analysis. But I want to mention one other example here: After the Great War and the establishment of Atlas Academy, one factor that aided in the segregation of Atlas and Mantle was the emergence of the Schnee Dust Company. As it came into power it started monopolising the Dust business in the entire world of Remnant and therefore the family doesn’t just have a seat on the Council in Atlas–and therefore has immense political power–but they also have the ability to set the prices, the laws and the regulations for how the work force is treated and paid. Which has, obviously, resulted in a huge devision of wealth and that physical/geographical separation of classes in Atlas that we see at the end of Vol6:

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Not only that but this one line from Episode 6 of Vol 4 always really struck me:

“No one asked them to move here.”

“…but companies like the SDC promised jobs.”

This conversation heavily implies that the big corporations in Atlas promised positions to the poor and desperate in Mantel which convinced them to move, only to have been hit by that impossible requirement: they needed privilege in order to be hired, and because they weren’t privileged they were either given dead end jobs, where some or all their coworkers were branded like cattle, or no job at all, leaving them even more impoverished than before.

And who’s responsible for that? Certainly not the Schnee Dust Company

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The entire constellation of personal responsibility kind of reminds you of this woman, doesn’t it?

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Of course, as soon as you look at the structures fo Atlesian society, there’s no question that people like the Schnees, which represent the rich of our own world, are responsible for the social, cultural and economic disparity between Faunus and humans, rich and poor (not to mention, men and women, because that’s for another day).

And while Adam Taurus should be held responsible for his act of terror, violence and murder (because, as the series constantly emphasizes: we always have a choice), those actions are a direct result of class, gender, and race.

Adam Taurus’s character design is revolutionary because it’s part of a popcultural production which states that terror, of any colour or ideological persuasion, is a product of the rich, the white, the powerful. Terror is caused by those most idealised in society, caused by their greedy accumulation of riches and power, and their strategies and structures to push most of humanity as far down into misery, conflict and hatred that they can manage while still retaining their pure privileged pedestal of having had no responsibility for the pain of others.

———

With that being said, please consider aiding the victims of the Christchurch shootings as well as their families: https://www.launchgood.com/project/support_for_the_families__victims_of_the_new_zealand_mosque_shootings#!/

——

SOURCES:

Messerschmidt, James W. Gender, heterosexuality, and youth violence: the struggle for recognition. Plymouth: Littlefield Publishers Inc.. 2012. Print.

Solnit, Rebecca. Men Explain Things to Me. Haymarket Books. Chicago: 2014. Print

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