Not Just an OTP: A Place For Everything, And Everything In Its Place

 “We Are The Flash.” Or, The Phrase That Triggered a Thousand Fanboys

During a conversation with her then-fiancé, Iris West-Allen utters these fateful words because she wants to reiterate to her fiancé that when he asked her to marry him and share their lives together, it meant that he was no longer alone and that they face whatever happens to them together. Ignoring those in the audience who will be attending remedial English classes this year, fandom reacted with the vitriol of her telling Barry that they would be serving baked kittens as an entrée at their wedding. People called her selfish, a bitch, and an “abusive speed force digger.” Memes abounded – some funny, most just a version of the same meme – and even four months later saying “We are the Flash” will send your typical Flash fanboy into cataclysmic rage, system failure, or both. It was – and is – kind of amazing. It’s quite entertaining because not only were those not Iris’ actual words, but because Barry’s said it to Iris a million times before but it’s only a problem when Iris says it. For some reason. But this is about shipping, primarily, and the reaction of fans to “We Are The Flash” is one of the most damning pieces of evidence for calling them racist.

Iris West, in the comics, is a reporter. The show started out with something of an origin story for her as she went from writing about The Flash to instill belief in Barry, then for the whole city, and then was offered a job on this basis. During the second and third seasons, her job was shown a lot less, and during season 4 as Iris becomes leader of Team Flash, she hasn’t mentioned it at all.

While I was happy that Iris became the leader of the team because it gave her more agency and the team a level-headed leader while allowing Barry to lead everyone in the field, I was somewhat disappointed with this. Not because I think Iris quit her job – the writers have a rather ridiculous habit of leaving things ambiguous until they want to address them, so at some point in the future they’ll probably reveal she was working there all along and doing this in her spare time, like Barry does, and we’ll all roll our eyes at the lazy writing. This isn’t implausible, as Barry, Joe, and Iris regularly showed up at STAR Labs during all hours of the day in previous seasons but still kept up gainful employment, apparently. But I was disappointed because Iris – along with Joe and Barry – is one of the few characters on the show who could be used to explore the world of The Flash. Basically, it was a way to get out of the S.T.A.R. Labs basement, which is quickly becoming my most-hated set. Seeing Barry, Iris, and Joe at work, or Wally talk about school, or even Ralph act like an ass to his clients reminded us that there was a world beyond that place, and gives us a reason to get invested because people – not just Barry and his friends – could get hurt. Iris being the team leader and never being shown at work, in conjunction with Barry and Joe basically making cameos at work, Ralph joining the team, and Wally disappearing entirely, just means that we’re always sequestered in S.T.A.R. Labs.

In any case, Iris as the team leader this season is logical, and a great way to make her the anchor of the team since she’s usually the anchor in the comics. However, there are people that disagree with me. Rather than get into why they’re wrong, let’s look at one of the justifications for Iris not being the leader – that everyone liked Iris much better when she was a reporter, she needs to get back to it, and that she’d be better written if we could see her doing her job.

First of all, that’s a lie. Everyone did not like her better when she was a reporter; they called her a reckless idiot who didn’t listen to instructions and had to be rescued by Barry because she kept wandering into danger, and that her journalism was useless and had no place on a superhero show. They liked her at a specific point in season 2 because she appeared just enough times to let the audience know she was still breathing and had a job, but not enough so that she could get in the way of Barry dating Patty Spivot. But, like I said, it’s hard to see the sincerity when these same fans have already been so hateful to Iris and so unwilling to give her the benefit of the doubt. Why, after three years of hating on her, on her job, on her position in the narrative, would Iris writing some articles here and there suddenly make them love her? Why would anyone with more than two brain cells to rub together to make three believe them when they say that? Easy – they wouldn’t. I’m sure that there are many who want Iris to have a reporting arc, especially as it could be a way for the team to get information. And I’m sure they’d like to see Iris interacting at work with different people. But for some fans, their main purpose is twofold: to distance Iris from the main plot of the show as a main player, and to put her back in her rightful place.

The show, unfortunately, does not like to change its format, so fans should expect to spend the vast majority of any given episode inside S.T.A.R. Labs. Putting Iris back at the newspaper will give her an arc, yes, but since she is the only character native there, they’ll necessarily have to devote less screen time to it, so we’ll see her less. Since, as we already know, Iris getting more than three lines per episode will make it “The Iris Show,” and we can’t have that, can we? Showing Barry and Joe at work, and Iris at work, and Cisco, Wells, and Caitlin at the Lab consistently, and for enough time that Barry/Joe’s work and Iris’ work have enough depth, means relegating those three to background characters, as their main role on the show is support. That, as we all know, would be blamed on Iris, who is always the first on the chopping block when it comes to undeserved screentime. Putting Iris at the paper while knowing that the show won’t leave S.T.A.R. Labs much is a great way to make it seem like they care about Iris’ development while knowing it’ll probably decrease her screen time, and her overall importance to the main plot. And, like I’ve continually said, some people think that Iris just doesn’t deserve to be part of the Flash stuff; despite being one of the few canon characters on this show, Iris should be relegated to being Barry’s wife and a journalist and that’s it. Equality, right? While this post talks about distancing in terms of fanworks, fans who don’t like Iris yet want her to go back to her job are trying to create distance between Iris and Barry, and therefore Iris and the plot.

Then there’s the journalism itself. I’m not going to bother to pretend that those fans will suddenly see journalism as a worthwhile profession if we see Iris doing it more, especially as there was a whole podcast about how two of them thought she was nothing but a baby machine in the comics. They want her to be able to give information to the team, but what does that make her? An informant, not as important as the scientists, in their eyes. You can bet that if Iris were bringing information through her contacts, they’ll be talking about how Cisco could get the information through a computer. Eventually, they’d just start calling her useless again, and as soon as she got into a little bit of danger because of her job she’d be a damsel in distress who needs to be killed off. They want her to go back to a job and a position that they can decry as less important. Because right now, she’s upsetting the hierarchy.

And what hierarchy would that be? We’ll explore this more in the next section, but I can hypothesise something from what we’ve talked about. Barry, of course, is at the top. They want Caitlin to be with Barry, because the white woman deserves the hero of the series. Cisco keeps them together, fulfilling his role as funnyman who builds things for Barry and gets to kick ass with him, filling the Diversity™ quota that doesn’t threaten any of the white characters – as long as he remains in his place, that is. Wells is the asshole mentor that loves them despite their hijinks, and The Flash’s father figure – and therefore the most important father figure. (Fandom loves its asshole mentors – it makes them feel good in their soft, gooey centres. See Tony Stark/Peter Parker in Spider-Man: Homecoming and Bruce Wayne to the children he keeps adopting).

The Wests don’t tend to fare so well. Joe, Barry’s Mammy, can give him motivational speeches and give fuel to those who think Barry and Iris are brother and sister, but he’s not permitted to have his own personal life. Wally is okay as long as he doesn’t get too full of himself, but they mostly ignore him unless they complain about the fact that Iris is getting so much screen time. Iris can make appearances here and there, but only giving information; then she and Joe must melt into the background so the scientists can have all the glory. Then Barry can go home to Iris so she can get her five minutes of screentime per episode, boring Barry to tears while blathering about her work that isn’t as important as ~science, play her part as his emotional labourer, then go upstairs so she can fulfil her other role of satisfying Barry’s carnal urges. All so that they can sigh wistfully because Caitlin is the most important girl in his superhero life, and Caitlin is the most useful woman on the show, and why doesn’t Barry love Caitlin? Iris is just a useless journalist, they don’t need her, Cisco and Ralph can do her job, she’s Barry’s dickrider etc. etc. Being serious about making Iris a journalist, after three years of them calling her job stupid, is about getting her back to a position where they could more comfortably make fun of her, not about caring about her.

(I’m exaggerating, of course. Mostly. Partially. Eh).

“We are The Flash” ruins everything. It destroys the hierarchy. It puts her on the same position as Barry with regard to the narrative, and gives her credit for Barry’s success because she’s always been his inspiration. Iris, with her non-science and her lack of superpowers and her melanin (the real problem), don’t have to work for Barry to get to claim being part of The Flash’s success. It destroys the idea that you need some sort of world-changing special skill, like being a doctor or engineer or super-genius, to be important to the show. Black women are expected to labour for their position and especially for the love of anyone, let alone the lead character. It shows that Barry doesn’t need anyone but Iris.

Now, Barry has said this kind of thing before. Sure, he likes to wax poetic on the daily about Iris, but he’s said several times that there’s no Flash without Iris, or he couldn’t do this without her, etc. etc. It’s probably an allusion to the whole lightning rod scenario from the comics. But the reason people are still butthurt weeks later and Candice Patton has people wanting her killed off in her mentions (though that’s nothing new) is because Iris said it this time. It wasn’t a platitude bestowed upon her by her white husband; the Black woman claimed it for herself, and the narrative validated it. Barry’s even repeated it a couple of times, swiftly handling all the fanboys in their feelings because they think Barry’s being emasculated. While Barry once told Cisco, Caitlin, and Wells that they were all struck by the lightning and Caitlin once affirmed the fact that the four of them stopped a threat, Barry hasn’t dropped a memo in the group chat that they’re all The Flash. He allows her to share in his glory and take credit for it and, to fans, she hasn’t “worked for it” (Welfare Queen, alert!). Don’t forget, Iris’ emotional labour is meaningless, her contributions could have been done by someone else, and she doesn’t really love Barry.

So when they talk about Iris going back to being a journalist, it’s not just about cutting Iris out of his superhero life so they can claim she isn’t important to it. And the primary reason isn’t “maybe then I’ll like her better.” It’s because she’s rising too far above her station and they want her to be in a position they can comfortably devalue. The reasoning here is “I don’t like Iris and I don’t ship her with Barry because she’s Black and doesn’t remain in her place.” We’ve seen the place they want for Iris, and it’s exactly where racist white women have always wanted Black women – out of sight, out of mind, and not stealing their shine.

The next section, How Do You Solve a Problem Like Snowbarrisco?, will be published shortly. In the meantime, please leave a comment to keep the discussion going.

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