Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Free Speech... But Only For Me.

This is getting slightly ridiculous, I think after this there's gonna be a blog moratorium on this for a while. But for now...

I can only speak for myself, of course... although I have been critical of Valerie D'Orazio's stance on the Simpsons porn case and related issues, I haven't seriously called for her silencing on any issue, though I have floated the idea that perhaps she should be subject to the same forces that some bring to bear on media they find distasteful. That isn't me becoming what I hate in others, it's trying to point out, "see? annoying when it happens to things you care about, ain't it?"

Honestly, I haven't delved too far into the comments section of many of the Occasional Superheroine posts I've read, because who has the time for that? So it may be that she is receiving unreasonable arguments from people on the Free Speech side of things.

But if others are misinterpreting what she says, I think it's only fair to point out that she seems to be reinterpreting the arguments of others herself. And, some folks may very well understand what she's saying, or failing to say, and taking her to task for exactly that.

To wit:

"So I shed no tears for the absence of porn based on underage cartoon characters on the Internet. Nor will I miss feeling like a party to an illegal act every time I do an image search for cartoon and comic book characters.

However, there must be a rather sizable number of people actually visiting these XXX cartoon parody sites -- not just those who get off on such images, but just regular people looking for some gross-out humor. Will the latter category find themselves roped in with these crackdowns, even arrested? Would having an illustration of a "Peanuts Orgy" on your hard drive be enough to convict you as a sex offender?

It would be helpful, I think, for these boundaries and determinations of what is or is not legal to view and download to be clearly delineated and widely broadcast, as to prevent misunderstandings."

This is what I wrote in my first post on the Simpsons child-porn case. Please note the last two paragraphs.

Of course, this post has been misquoted and misrepresented ad nauseum. Why?

I believe it's because within that post I dare to merely suggest that there might limits to moral conduct. That, I think, is the real problem.

That might be a problem, but it's not exactly my problem.

The issue I have with Valerie is the same one I've had with many on the feminist side of the spectrum since I began blogging. The idea that media ought to be censured for some supposedly greater good.

What does Valerie believe about this idea? Not that drawn child porn is bad, I'm pretty sure she thinks it is, but, well, let's let Valerie say it herself:

The biggest question I received in this debate has NOT been, "do you think people who possess Simpsons child porn should be arrested."

It's been:

"Why do you think illustrated child pornography is harmful when it's just drawings?"

The latter question, you will note, she doesn't bother to answer (at least not in this post), she just calls it "naive" and moves on. That in itself is kind of troubling, in the way discussing Jesus is with a fundamentalist; you know that faith is involved and certain things are just accepted as fact on belief alone and no discussion will really get anywhere.

But she also, at least nowhere I've read, doesn't answer the other question, the one about being arrested. And that's a bit more worrying.

Kind of ironic too, since what I did read of one comments section called for people to say something along the lines of "I support the right of people to make and possess drawn child porn" (and for the record: I support the right of people to make and possess drawn child porn). So let's pose the question to Valerie (in a purely rhetorical fashion, I doubt she reads what's over here) and everyone else: Do you believe those who make and possess drawn child porn should be arrested, jailed and/or fined?

No, I'm not just talking about those who might accidentally get it smeared on their computers while walking through the Internet late at night, I mean everyone, all of them, the righteous and the perverts alike. (In a practical sense, after all, what laws get applied will be far less discriminating than even Valerie herself.)

Also high on the iron-o-meter is Valerie's complaint that all this is abridging her own freedom of speech, and you can read that and see practically word-for-word things I've written talking about people trying to squash what they consider sexist or otherwise wrong.

Oh, but I like this part:

A Danish cartoonist who makes fun of Mohammed is allowed to have free speech -- but the offended Muslim who marches through the streets to protest it is held up as a symbol of a repressive mindset.

I've been seeing offensive and stereotypical portrayals of Christians in comics for at least the past fifteen years straight -- but I see no complaints from the same pundits who decry other stereotypes in comics. Why is that? Why is it ok to use the symbol of the evil preacher over and over and over again, but if that brand of stereotyping was done regarding any other religion it would be thrown off the stands?

Why is the person who possesses illustrated child porn supported and befriended by comics celebrities, fandom, and pundits -- but the same respect for "free speech" is not extended to me? Why?

1) The offended Muslim who merely marches has the right to do so, but we can still call that person repressive, if what they want is to forbid another human from drawing whatever the hell they want: because it IS repressive, and so is trying to get stuff taken out of comics, and so is opposing drawn child porn. When imposing your moral code upon others passes from persuasion to coercion, that's repressive.

And then the Muslim who issues fatwas, death threats, guns or bombs, that's something else entirely.

2) Here's a thought: conservative Christianity has attacked and ridiculed those who disagree with their viewpoint for decades if not centuries in America. They like to crow about how they are the dominant religion in the US (meaning they should always get their way, majority rules), but when they happen to get caught in less-than-favorable criticism, they're quick to whine about how across the globe they are a minority and then paint a picture with coliseums and hungry lions and persecution, wah.

Maybe nobody outside of Christianity actually feels sympathy for Christianity and the negative stereotypes. Maybe the stereotypes used by prominent Christian figures themselves have something to do with that.

3) Maybe because their brand of free speech doesn't endorse arresting or fining you for practicing yours.

It's free speech -- but only for some. Those who do not fit in with the "program" do not get the benefit of free speech or respect. Those people must be thrown out of their jobs, ostracized, and attacked.

Isn't this exactly what people are saying about Valerie? Isn't the case being made that free speech isn't about standing up only for what you do approve of, what you do believe in, but standing up for it all, for the right of people to say stuff you actively hate?

And drawn child porn is part of that "all", right? Especially if we're talking legal actions, right??

Why pretend you are tolerant? Stop the charade, already, and embrace your fascism. J. Caleb Mozzocco, embrace your fascism, embrace your intolerance. Stop pretending you are some beacon for free speech when you are just a Karl Rove hangover and a mediocre blogger to boot.

I didn't catch what this "J. Caleb Mozzocco" said, but this just begs a question, no, several questions:

Does Valerie consider herself "tolerant"?

Does Valerie believe that she is in favor of truly free speech?

If "Yes", why does drawn child porn seem to not fall under that umbrella?

If "No", why does Valerie feel entitled to the considerations of Free Speech when she herself isn't willing to extend those considerations to others?

Does hypocrisy in others excuse hypocrisy in one's own self...?

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Mary, How You've Grown.

And one more thing:

When Mary Marvel debuted her black costume in Countdown, after receiving Black Adam's mystic powers, that was what Black Adam said. Certainly she didn't look particularly demure. And chunks of the blogosphere began to froth.

Okay fine, raping your childhood, despoiling pure innocent classic characters yadda yadda yadda.

But with the flap about this latest picture, now we're adding the fact that she's either a minor, or "barely legal".

But is she?

Oh, sure, in the original classic stories, and even when DC started making "Shazam" stories in the 70s, Mary Marvel looked pretty much the same normal or superpowered.

But as her brother shows, that doesn't have to be the case. He gets aged (well, he did before he got transmogrified and took old wizard Shazam's place), swapping between being a young lad and a strapping mature he-man. In fact, depending on who wrote the story, Billy Batson and Captain Marvel often seemed like two discrete individuals.

What was he? A little kid that inhabits a grown man's body? Or a separate individual who swaps places?

This raises the question: just what is Dark Mary Marvel? Adam said, "how you've grown," which would seem to imply that her form matured. Is she a teenager in both forms? A teenager who becomes grown? Two separate entities? How would you differentiate between minor Mary Marvel and adult Mary Marvel, anyway? Do you have to give her a huge bust just to show she's grown-up? She doesn't look particularly immature in the pic Alex Ross has painted. How do you tell, besides just assuming she's of some certain age? (As if pictures have ages, anyway.)

Here's a more interesting question: if drawn child porn is as reprehensible and evil as real child porn, does that not mean that the image is more important than the substance? That what appears in front of your eyes is what counts? Therefore, just to make it easy, take Billy Batson as an example. If Captain Marvel were to have a sexual experience, would it be statutory rape? Captain Marvel sure looks like an adult, but he may have the mind of a minor, so, what is that, exactly? And by extension, what is that with Mary Marvel?

It's a simple choice.

If adult Captain Marvel and/or adult Mary Marvel are taboo, sexually, then it is the inside, the heart and soul if you will, the mind, that counts. That, regardless if they have adult bodies, they are off-limits because of their minds.

If it is the exterior shell that counts, then it's the image, the exterior form, that matters. Captain Marvel is not off-limits, because he has a fully-grown adult body, and it is natural to view him in a sexual way if you like big buff guys like that. Same with Mary Marvel, if her body is that of an adult.

But here's the thing: If you think drawn child porn is bad and harmful, you are proposing that it's the image that matters there, too. If it looks like an underage person, that's what it is.

That is in direct opposition to a stance against the Mary Marvel picture, if your complaint is that she's underage: because she doesn't look underage, not in that picture.

So to anyone protesting this new Mary Marvel picture on the basis that Mary Marvel is underage: Just what is it you're objecting to? Because once you get down to the facts of the matter, it's kind of hard to tell...

Do you really even know, yourself?

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Behold, the Highest of Horses. I Call Her Stilty.

And yet, comic book bloggers are going to still complain about this image and that. It's inevitable. And implicit in those complaints is the idea that though these images and stories are "imaginary" -- they have a potential to negatively impact others. And if those images have a potential to negatively impact others -- that means they are not essentially "harmless."

There you have it. The core idea that fuels the fight. The idea that pictures have the potential to negatively impact others.

Break it down. Pay attention to what she says.

The idea that the images can impact someone. Not the certainty, not the fact written down, proved by science, no: the idea.

A potential to cause harm. Again, not a certainty, no, it might, if the stars align properly, cause harm. Maybe.

If those images can harm. Not that they necessarily will.

Valerie wants, so many people want, not just feminists, so many want to deprive you of something they feel is repellent. After all, you don't need it, do you, really? It's just your freedom. And they want to do it for what they feel are the noblest of reasons.

But they are the most ethereal of reasons, as well.

Let's be clear: we're not talking about the right to protest something. Valerie doesn't have to worry about going to jail because she spoke out against things she objects to. All she has to deal with are cranky bloggers. You want to talk hypothetical situations, harm and risks? I feel a need to remain anonymous because I am well aware that many people hate what I preach: drawn images should not be censored or banned by governments or moral busybodies. My risk of being pursued by some self-same busybody is far greater, since for some suspicion equals guilt, and association equals complicity. Because someone thinks drawn child porn is the same as real child porn, and because defending drawn child porn in some eyes means that I must like it, then I risk real persecution, should someone decide to make a call and point out where "the guy who likes kiddy porn" is.

No, I'm being silly? Tell that to Christopher Handly, or the guy who's going to jail for Simpsons porn.

Let's put it another way: Do you seriously think that the reductions in freedoms that resulted from the Patriot Act (or the equivalent in countries besides the USA) have made us safer, or, as propagandasts claim, it has preserved our freedoms?

Do you think, seriously, that jailing a guy who posesses Simpsons porn is going to make even one person safer? By what measure?

That guy is really in jail. And you cannot find one single person who you can point to and say "that person was saved from rape or child molestation because we banned such-and-such a work, or made this-and-this illegal".

Lastly, if we are saying that any drawn image is "okay" because it's only imaginary and not hurting anyone, should there be any complaints about racist imagery? For example, those who are against Memin Pinguin. Or how about Jack Chick? To rail about Jack Chick's portrayal of a number of groups of people -- homosexuals, Catholics, Pagans, etc. -- would be really railing against free expression, right? Even to be critical of the images undermines one's stated belief of "images are harmless." If the images are truly harmless -- why criticize them? Why not just live-and-let-live, like one big happy family of creative ideas in a free society?

Again, "criticize" isn't the issue. It's the seeming endorsement of jail time for cartoons. Should Jack Chick or whoever makes Memin Pinguin go to jail for hate crimes? Do the cartoonists who drew unflattering representations of Mohammed deserve the death threats?

I don't think so. Does Valerie?

[For the record, I am of the "even Nazis have a right to speak" brand of free-speech supporters. So I believe Jack Chick and others, though their ideas are terrible, still have the right to express those ideas, and always should have that right.]

Let me float an idea out there. If Valerie does not believe in "live and let live" when it comes to images, then should she be exempt? After all, if she doesn't believe in truly free speech, then that's a moral stance I disagree with. Do I think her writings won't let some of this stance bleed into them?

So do I think I or anyone else should read the forthcoming Cloak and Dagger miniseries? Do I really want to see Cloak and Dagger beating up evil cartoonists, busting up rings of Eros Comix readers? Should I propose and/or support a boycott of this series or any other she writes? Rack her up there with Frank Miller or Greg Land or the late Michael Turner or whoever else is on the hit list this week?

After all, that's how it works, right? Speak out against porn and panty shots. Pressure publishers to get your way. Drive out what you dislike, what you feel might cause harm, so that nobody else can have it. Because Cloak and Dagger might harm free speech. And all this is, in fact, within the bounds of Free Speech. And nobody would feel outrage that something might be taken away from them, because protesting and boycotting isn't really censorship.

Not really.

[Edited/Afterthought: You know, it just occurred to me that Dagger, depending on who's written and drawn her, has sometimes been depicted as a minor, wearing that costume with the dagger cut-out in areas precariously close to the danger zones. And does Cloak ever wear anything besides his cloak?

So you have a possibly naked guy hanging around with a barely-legal (or possibly not legal) teen in a daring, skin-exposing outfit.

So, hmmm.]

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Riding My Snowboard Right Down the Slippery Slope

The issue of gay marriage really isn't my "thing", as far as this blog goes. I believe gays should have the right to get married, but I don't preach about it here. After all, this blog has been a mechanism for insulating me from retaliatory bullcrap from the kinds of people who can't tolerate dissent or uncomfortable ideas. I don't think I'm sexist; I'd rather not have someone going around saying how sexist I am behind my back (on the internet, where you never know whether something is going to fall into the lap of, say, your employer). However, if someone were to spread the word that I supported gay marriage, well, I'm fortunate enough to be in a position where that would have little impact should it come out. So I normally don't have to exercise caution over that issue, and don't shunt it to this blog when I wish to speak about it.

But as will become obvious as I write this, I've had a thought where discretion is probably a good idea, so ta-dah, here it is.

Mad Thinker Scott's been discussing the antics of Mike Huckabee lately, and for the most part, he's been doing a good enough job picking the guy apart that I couldn't add anything meaningful. But watching the clip of Huckabee on the Daily Show reminded me of the continual refrain from many conservative opponents to gay marriage: "Well, if we legalize gay marriage then we'd have to allow all the other wierdos who want to get married! What about polygamists or incest or what if a guy wants to marry a dog???"

This is designed to appeal to the "ick factor" built into most humans, the line that, when crossed, makes one go "eew". It's evident that for those who oppose gay marriage, the idea of a gay relationship itself crosses that line; recognizing that others don't share that view, the tactic is to equate gay marriage with other things that make people go "eew".

This places someone trying to argue for gay marriage in an awkward position of having to scramble to distance gay marriage from all these other nasty things or simply call it a "slippery slope" argument and dismiss it without actually discussing it. That or avoid taking the bait entirely and changing subjects, because who would dare defend all that other nasty stuff?

Well, me. (Albeit anonymously.)

Here's my thesis: who actually gives a fuck into what relationships consenting adults arrange themselves? Polygamy? Well, there's good reasons not to do it, just for the legal and emotional headaches, but as long as everyone in the arrangement is truly willing, why not, and why would anyone care?

Incest? Well, inbreeding isn't smart, but as long as everyone's an adult and there's genuine affection, why should it matter, otherwise?

Okay, I'm not going to defend bestiality. Issues of consent and all that. But any other thing that involves humans of legal age (in other words, things that are not already inherently illegal), I would think there'd really be no reason to forbid marriages among just about any combination you can think of.

Except that "ick factor".

And that's what a lot of things come down to, isn't it? Someone gets a squirmy feeling in their belly just thinkin' about all them queers havin' queer fornications, and praise jaysus we has ta stop this gay marryn' thing raiht naow! It all comes down to people being so repulsed by things that shouldn't actually be any of their damn business that they want to deny those who practice said icky stuff the right to practice that icky stuff, regardless of whether it actually affects anyone else at all. I've said it before: I do not believe that one's personal distaste should become legally binding policy.

Meanwhile, someone sees a superheroine get mistreated in a comic and is disturbed by the position of the character's body on the floor.

Meanwhile, someone reads a comic and sees a picture of a fully-clothed girl sitting on her bed and says, "ew, gross."

Meanwhile, someone else in Iowa opens a box of manga imported from Japan, and gets the same feeling looking at all the cartoon pictures of gay sex and young girls.

Meanwhile, Valerie D'Orazio reads the story of the guy convicted of having Simpsons-based cartoon porn and thinks, "Good, serves him right."

And meanwhile.

And meanwhile.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Why It Fails

Pornography and Rape: Is There a Connection?

The literature in this area is substantial and growing. A few examples follow:

  • In a comparative study of rape rates in the USA, Scandinavia, Britain, Australia and New Zealand, Court (1984) found a connection between the availability of pornography and the level of rape. He specifically refutes earlier studies that purported to show otherwise, particularly in relation to Australia, where the uniform crime data:
  • actually support the case for an increase [in rape rates after the liberalisation of pornography] quite convincingly (Court 1984, p. 158).
  • In the USA, the eight major men's magazines (Chic, Club, Gallery, Genesis, Hustler, Oui, Playboy and Penthouse) have sales that are five times higher per capita in Alaska and Nevada than in other states such as North Dakota--and rape rates that are six times higher per capita in Alaska and Nevada than North Dakota. Overall a fairly strong correlation was found between rape and circulation rates in the fifty states, even with controls for potential confounding variables, such as region, climate, propensity to report rape and police practices (Milne-Home 1991; Baron & Straus 1985 cited in United States Attorney-General's Commission on Pornography 1986, p. 944-5).

The above was linked to by Valerie D'Orazio in an attempt to buttress her stance that bad things in the media (specifically porn) cause bad things in real life. It appears in the comments section of that post I linked to last time, and since by that time in the debate people were throwing around (and/or rejecting) references to Wertham and Orwell, I kinda wonder how many actually bothered to read this and other links.

But the problem with the theory behind this document is the same problem with Wertham's reasoning regarding crime comics: Correlation is not cause.

Wertham was convinced that kids were reading crime comics and getting "worked up" by the sex and violence therein to the point where they'd start committing crimes of their own. But anyone even vaguely familiar with genuine scientific methods for establishing facts knows that you do not start out with a conclusion and then work backwards to find the proof. Such an approach taints the process with bias, colors the result. It's easy to "prove" damn near anything that way, but there's no real truth inherent in that process.

Wertham assumed that crime comics were the cause of youthful crime; from that he gathered anecdotal evidence showing that juvenile delinquents of various stripes read crime comics and were corrupted by them. His research (at least what is revealed in his writings), however, ignores or glosses over many other potential causes for the delinquency, such as poor parenting or societal pressures. What's more, it nearly ignores the possibility that he got it backwards: that kids were attracted to crime comics because they were already in a reprobate frame of mind.

To her credit, Goldsmith does give a nod to the "correlation is not cause" idea, and she ends with what she calls theories, without declaring them facts. Still, what she writes appears to be working from a foregone conclusion: porn causes rape.

I've quoted two things above to demonstrate the, frankly, bullshit nature of this reasoning, as well as compare it with Wertham's own writing. For example, here's Wertham's own words, as I've quoted before, from an article he wrote:

Dorothy Thompson recently wrote about comic books: "The harm done is incalculable, even if it results in no overt acts, and even if at last it is overcome by other influences."

What's so wrong with that? Compare it to the quoting of Court by Ms. Goldsmith, above.

This is not evidence of cause and effect.

This is the quoting of someone else who believes in the same thing as those who quote them, but neither quote offers any proof of the actual cause and effect, just a declaration that there is such a link. That's not real truth. That's an attempt at truth by aggregate; "See how many of us believe the same thing? It must be true!" I shouldn't have to tell anyone that a majority opinion is never a failsafe guide to what's right and true.

Not only that, but there's the issue of whether your sources are trustworthy. I don't know who this woman Wertham quoted is, so how do I know her opinion means anything regarding this issue? I never heard of Ms. Goldsmith before now, let alone this "Court" person, so have I any reason to trust their judgment?

You know who can get away with this kind of stuff? The Bible, and Dick Cheney. (That's right: The Bible, whose main evidence for its own truth is itself, and Cheney, who has a history of releasing "facts" about stuff to sympathetic ears, letting them spread the word, and then quoting those self-same ears when someone asks him where he got his data...)

As for the rest: Look, I can see how people make these connections. Kids see crime comics, and they commit crimes! People see porn, and want to commit sex crimes! You see things with similar themes, and think there must be a connection, you assume there is one and work from there. But that's called jumping to conclusions, no matter how supposedly obvious you think the connection is.

So according to Goldsmith, there's increased porn circulation in Alaska and Nevada, and higher incidence of rape as well in those states. She also claims this trend holds even with "controls for potential confounding variables, such as region, climate, propensity to report rape and police practices". Region and climate are variables? What about population density? The percentage of the population who've been convicted of crimes? The fact that both states have Republican Governors? If you framed your quest right, you could make a strong case that Sarah Palin was as responsible for an increased rape rate as the availability of porn.

The truth is, there's so many variables at large that trying to find a "cause" for rape in porn is difficult at best, unless you're willing to give up honest, unbiased fact-finding and just go with your gut. Well, my gut tells me that it's far more likely that a high porn-to-rape rate is a symptom, not the cause: those likely to commit rape are more likely to consume porn, not the other way around.

But that's just my gut, my instinct. I don't know that for a fact, and there is, to my knowledge, no clear unbiased proof that porn causes rape, either. How will we ever know the truth?

I don't know. I don't know of anyone willing to look at the issue from an objective, unbiased position. I don't know who would be willing to abide by such a study if one did occur. Without those things, all we have is theory and emotion, and really, more should be required.

This is why the refrain "if we could save even one person from rape" fails. You can't say for certain that any censorship would save anyone from anything. Certainly nobody claims that eliminating porn would make all rapes cease. Where then is the guarantee that if I just let people take porn out of my reach, X number of women would definitely never be raped? There can be no such guarantee as things stand now, and the guaranteed loss of freedom if porn and other objectionable material is banned is not as yet outweighed by the nebulous "maybe" of rapes that might be prevented.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Gee, Thanks a Lot, MOM.

The last thing is, I think child porn of any type and brutal sexualized violent material is unhealthy, and kills your soul a little bit every time you see it and get off on it. If you want to indulge in it, and you are not harming anyone, fine -- but I feel it is unhealthy, cancerous. It's not something kind to do for yourself, even if it gives you immediate gratification.

And if we, as a society, can support the right for this type of porn to flourish and be distributed -- we are not separate, without responsibility, off-the-hook. How quaint to say, "I support the right to view drawn child porn, but I hold no responsibility for my fellow man or woman or child who may be psychologically crippled or physically harmed as a result of it."

The question, for me, is even if we only save ONE child from rape or attempted rape, or even just lots of uncomfortable hugs from Creepy Uncle Dave, is that not worth leaving a couple naked bodies out of a comic?

--"Jess", from Neil Gaiman's blog

I once would have thought that, steeped in feminism, which usually rejects the overbearing, patriarchal notion that Daddy Knows Best, some folks would be wary of falling into an overbearing, matriarchal position where Mommy Knows Best.

I find it somewhat amusing to read the Occasional Superheroine blog and see a hesitance to voice certain opinions for fear of the reaction; welcome to my blog, structured so as to remain anonymous while I challenge a few feminist orthodoxies (such as porn causes rape). Or, hell, Scott the Mad Thinker's blog. (His even better, since my readership seems to be minimal at the moment, while he still gets all kinds of criticism for doing the "There's so much rape in comics! No there's not!" back-and-forth again.) Negative reactions? Oh yeah. That goes multiple ways.

So Valerie is all in favor of banning drawn representations of children having sex. And, you know, she's wrong to think that way, but it's her right to have a wrong opinion. And hell, if Neil Gaiman couldn't convince her (like he ultimately convinced "Jess"), if a dogpile of opposing opinions on her own blog doesn't sway her, hey, fine, I won't try to change her mind. Write her off as one of the lost, get on with life.

I do, however, think this viewpoint ought to be opposed. And I could reiterate and regurgitate many of the points raised by so many others in that comments section. I've said most of them in one form or another before, and may again, but this time around, I want to come at the issue from a somewhat different angle.

So to Valerie and those who think like her: Cut it out. You're not my goddamn Mom.

I don't care what your views on drawn child porn are. I don't care what my views on drawn child porn are. What I do care about is that you in effect want to tell me I can't do something over some nebulous worry that it will cause something bad down the road. You'd have a better chance of convincing me of the evils of cigarettes and alcohol, and look how well Prohibition and the War On Drugs worked.

As a responsible adult, I take measured risks every day, as do we all, and just as I wouldn't expect to have my own right to drive a car, drink, smoke, own a gun removed because other people are idiots who are too irresponsible to keep from doing themselves or others an injury, so too do I resent the idea that just because other people are jackasses who can't or won't control their urges, I should have the right to view material that other people dislike taken away from me.

No, I neither need nor enjoy Simpsons porn (blech). That's not the point. Whether or not I choose to indulge in any of this stuff should always be my decision, not yours. And no matter how much you dress it up by referencing the bad acts of others, the end result is that you're looking to take away some of my rights.

Really, what a patronizing matronizing attitude! "Don't run with scissors! You'll put an eye out! And that porn is going to give you soul cancer!"

You don't like it? Fine. Want to protest it? Lovely, be my guest. But if you want to play Mommy, tell me I can't do something (for "your own good", it's always for your own good), and then run to Papa Government to spank me when I go ahead and do it anyway, that's when I tell you to cram it.

If issues of Free Speech fail to convince you, then let's settle on the more basic premise of you not telling me what I can or cannot do.

Especially if you have similar issues about others telling you what you can and can't do.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Mary Sues Me for Violating Bechdel's Law

I'm writing a screenplay. (Actually, no I'm not, but just play along, okay? the magician says as he reveals the trick before the show.)
Mary is a cheerful, athletic woman with only one dream: to play football in the NFL.

She's buff and energetic, but at a distinct disadvantage against some of the huge testosterone factories they breed for the game. Still, she wants to try, wants to give it her all, wants to live the dream.

First she must fight the system that prevents women from playing on men's sporting teams right out of the gate; overcoming that she must deal with the prejudices and sexism from managers, coaches and fellow players. Most of all, for her own dream, she must not only withstand all this but also go out there and play a badass game of football, proving to herself and everyone else that even if she isn't the best, she can be a valuable addition to a team.

Scores the winning touchdown, gains grudging admiration, roll credits.

Whattya think? Could be, from a feminist perpective, powerful and uplifting, hm? And heck, maybe it could attract some non-feminists with the prospect of a sweaty woman hitting the showers. Or maybe the yaoi enthusiasts, if the showers are co-ed.

Anyway. If you're not fond of football (heaven knows I'm not), just plug Mary in to some other male-dominated profession. First woman surgeon, if you want a historical piece, maybe?

No, maybe it's not an entirely original plot, though I've only heard of it in kid/teen/young adult fare, the girl who wants to play sports as an equal with the guys, at least as far as the rougher sports go. (If you have heard of some "woman joins the NFL" movie, feel free to mention it.)

The only problem with this premise, from a feminist standpoint, is that it doesn't live up to Bechdel's Rule. Or rather, it could, but doing so would be incidental to the purpose of the story. After all, the focus is on Mary and the people she finds in the NFL, which one assumes will be a mostly male group. So right there, it's quite possible that the very first part of the rule is broken: At Least Two Women. You could shoehorn Mary's friends or members of her family in there, or introduce some woman character in the managerial staff as a foil, but that has nothing to do with the main plot, it's just window dressing.

The other parts of the rule, Who Talk To Each Other About Something Besides a Man, would likewise be superfluous to advancing the story, and particularly difficult, if Mary's trying to unload her frustrations over male behavior during her quest.

There's been quite a bit of citing Bechdel's Rule over time, but it's worth keeping in mind that many rules such as this one have their flaws, and it's probably not a good idea to treat them as absolutes. (Hint: do you call it Bechdel's Rule, or Bechdel's Law?) Not only does one have to reject Mary's story if you strictly adhere to the rule, but how does it work in a practical sense? In the original strip, the rule is presented as the only conditions under which a movie is watched: how do you know beforehand whether the movie complies with the rule? Do you send in people with lesser standards to vet the movie for you? Or does it all boil down to some sort of binary pass/fail judgment after the fact?

You know what it reminds me of? There's a stereotype about men and women watching movies that's common enough that it crops up in commercials and popular media a lot these days. You know the one, where a couple has gone to see some movie the woman is really interested in, and the movie turns out to be some overwrought "chick flick" with drama and romance and tears (for bonus points, make it a foreign art film), while the guy is bored out of his mind, wishing he was watching something with a greater quantity of naked breasts and explosions.

It's actually a form of prejudice, taken at face value. Certainly if you're determined to only watch movies that live up to a predetermined set of guidelines so that you're never ever annoyed by your entertainment choices, hey, that's your call. But in the end, Bechdel's Rule serves only the concern of feminism or female empathy with female characters, it says nothing about the quality of the story itself.

In a similar vein, I'm getting pretty tired of hearing "Mary Sue" being used by people critiquing various media.

Look, there's only a few instances where I think that phrase is an appropriate way to critique something: One, if you're discussing fan-based works, and two, if you're a submissions editor.

The term, after all, originated in fanfic and fans who submitted ideas to the owners of popular franchises. "Mary Sue was so perfect and wonderful that both Spock and Kirk fell in love with her and argued about who would escort her to the Starfleet Cotillion", or whatever. Fans who wanted to bend existing characters to their will, make them submit to whatever fetishes they harbor, by providing an extraordinary foil as a catalyst.

Which may be interesting to the fanfic writer and whoever shares their particular kink, but is usually pointless and boring to everyone else. Not to mention that Paramount (or whoever owns whichever franchise is being fanfic'ed) isn't likely to embrace these creations. The label does have its uses.

But lately I'm seeing "Mary Sue" applied to a very wide variety of things, many of which are sanctioned by the owners of whatever franchise is being used, or even fully original works made by a single creator. And the variety of offenses qualifying as "Mary Sue" has expanded as well, to encompass not only that which plays to fannish wish-fulfillment but characters that simply display a lot of extraordinary qualities.

And that's silly. It's doubly silly when applied to superheroes, which are by definition extraordinary. And like Bechdel's Rule, the standards are too often applied as a prejudicial checklist with little regard for the quality of a story.

After all, Superman is the quintessential example of the Mary Sue character, nearly unbeatable for much of his fictional career, with token achilles' heels to offset the fact that he can move planets. But the things that some would call him a "Mary Sue" over do not prevent writers from making interesting stories with the character, even if it is a bit more difficult and challenging to provide meaningful conflict.

And if "armchair psychiatry" is considered a faux pas, then the charges of "Mary Sue" that imply the author is inserting their own self into a story must rely on the critic sinking deep into that overstuffed La-Z-Boy; how can one know these things unless the author confesses?

What I would like to impress upon anyone who bothers to read this far is that personal dislike is not, in and of itself, effective critique. I suspect too many lean on rules and labels, not as general guidelines, but as crutches to avoid the hard work of serious thought regarding the substance of what they read or watch.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Yaoi Told You So


Neil Gaiman comments on the recent obscenity case from Iowa, and it turns out there's not only lolicon involved, but yaoi as well.

Remember me telling you that this case could have broader implications than "ew, he's a perv that likes little girls"?

Well now it does.

I will be really interested to see how yaoi fans choke down this conflict between having their own fetish on trial for obscenity with any distaste they feel for lolicon material.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Warning: You Might Not Be a "Mature Reader".

Multiple things today, if anyone's still out there:


An addendum to my last post on the "torture porn/people should be making decent comics" subject: Greg Burgas performs the not-unexpected trick of saying he doesn't want "to go all 'Won’t someone think of the children?' here" and then tacking the reverse-flip BUT into the routine and complaining that there's no "mature readers" label on Nightwing #146.

Well fine, but that right there shows where someone's attitude is towards the medium and its maturity. Because if you walk into a Barnes and Noble and look at the many books there, in only the most extreme cases is a book ever labeled "mature readers". (In point of fact, I can't think of ever seeing anything like that. Usually a book with explicit visual imagery is shrink-wrapped to prevent curious little fingers from browsing for naughty bits, and I don't know of any text-only paperback that's screened in any way to prevent someone from reading some lurid romance sex scene or sci-fi ultraviolence.)

It's books for children and for "young adults" that are singled out and put in their own ghettos; the mark of Cain goes on those books, not on even the most salacious pulp-style paperbacks. To call for any comic to carry a "mature readers" label is to acknowledge that on a fundamental level that you think the medium as a whole is intended for kids; that you do not consider comics a mature medium at all.

Just so's you know.


Can I just say how much I enjoy hearing about this story, that a gay guy was upset by the blatant objectification going on at some yaoi-oriented convention? Because I will say it, anyway. One of the things I like about it is that those defending the con and its activities are using many of the same defenses used against charges of sexism and misogyny brought by some feminist fangirls. The only real difference is that yaoi is pretty straightforward about being by women and for women; mainstream superhero comics are ostensibly for both genders.

I'd be more sympathetic to the idea that a genre that says it should be accessible to either gender should tone back some of its excesses if it weren't for the fact that anyone with a shred of awareness greater than that of a fruit fly should well know that in practice, superhero comics are made mainly by men and for men.

All that aside: ha ha, female fans are just as warped and pervy as male fans when given their own playground.


It just keeps piling up, doesn't it? Now some guy in Iowa is on the hook for obscenity, related to comics imported from Japan. Already the assumption is that the material that sparked the investigation was of the dread "lolicon" variety, but as pointed out elsewhere, it's been established that laws designed to equate drawn child porn with real child porn are unconstitutional, so all they can do is charge the guy with "obscenity". (Which puts the USA up one over the UK, at least.)

In the comments section of that last link, an interesting point is implied: that what the prosecutors really want to do is bust the guy for possessing drawn kiddy porn, but they can't directly, so they're continuing on with something they think can stick instead.

I'd be willing to believe that theory, having stumbled upon the Adult Swim Message Board and this particular topic, featuring a few thoughtful opinions, as well as a few examples of genetic brain disease rearing its bulbous, hydrocephalic head. I mean, there's one guy intoning darkly about how there's "got to be more to this", which is, I'm inferring, shorthand for "I just KNOW this guy has got real child porn and is probably molesting real children right now based on the fact that he has lolicon manga". Sadly for his deductive reasoning, it's quite correctly pointed out that if there were other more serious charges that could be brought, they'd already be brought.

The other drooling retard likes to go on about how society has a right to excise bad elements from itself, which is a great theory, but is too often a justification for a small but loud minority to impose their will over the true majority. Not to mention that "weeding out the undesireables" is the same kind of rationale that leads to things like, oh I dunno, institutionalized racism.

Now, you may be reading this (or maybe not, with the way WFA's been... should I start linking to Journalista?) and rolling your eyes, thinking "well, there he goes defending child molesters again". But let me suggest to you that whatever you think of lolita manga, you should be very concerned about how this case turns out.

Because, since it's about obscenity, not necessarily child porn, it doesn't have to stop here. For instance, what about yaoi? Remember, you may exist in a tolerant Internet world where two idealized gay guys can happily fornicate on your screen, but do you think it's so beyond the realm of possibility that some hick postal worker from Iowa would react just as negatively to visual sodomy featuring two guys (and let's face it, some of those subjects don't always look particularly ancient, either) as they have to lolita porn? Even if you consider the latter worse than the former, you have to be aware that others see it all as filth, beyond the pale. Let them cross one line, and all you get is that they're that much closer to the next line. And the next line may be "torture porn".

That'd solve the issue, wouldn't it? You wouldn't need to put a "mature readers" label on it, because it wouldn't be allowed to exist.

Wouldn't that just make the medium healthy, mature and respected?

ADDITIONAL: Adding this link to Tom Spurgeon's comment on the matter, to which I want to say, right on, or "motto", like the LJ kids do it.

Friday, October 10, 2008

I Loves Me Some Torture Porn!

Well, not really. Not like that.

So via Journalista, I've learned that Nightwing #146 (There's been that many issues of Nightwing? Dang) is a depraved cesspool of "torture porn", featuring the death, both illusory and real (as real as anything in a comic is, of course) of some woman character Nightwing was trying to protect. Don't read the title, don't really care. However, the ancillary discussion brings back the old canard about comics and how they should grow up, and by grow up, (some) people mean become more mature, more meaningful (as opposed to sexy and violent, goshdurnit), and not only that, comics fans should learn to discern quality from crap (goshdurnit!), and stop telling everyone else they really thought Infinite Fanboy Bloodorgy #666 was right up there on a par with Gravity's Rainbow.

It occurs to me that those who critique comics and bemoan the lack of maturity in modern superhero comics are looking at this thing completely ass-backwards.

What a lot of folks seem to be doing is setting a high bar, expecting certain standards of literary quality to be delivered to them, and then bitching and moaning whenever what is thrust into their mitts does not meet that standard. Whatever it is.

But if you picked up Nightwing #146 expecting something more profound than "Nightwing beats the bad guy" or "Nightwing fails to beat the bad guy", if you weren't prepared for "torture porn", I contend that you are quite probably a fool.


For one thing, this measuring current comics by the standards of 80s, 70s, 60s, 50s comics and so forth, comparing them to the innocent, pure days of yore, it's just nostalgia. It's your dad or grandpa grumbling "why, back in my day the heroes were heroes!" Superhero comics have this kind of shock content in them now. Deal with the present, for good or ill. This mumming of outrage at each new desecration of your childhood is passé, don't you know this is how comics are by now?

Also: Thomas Pynchon was reviewed for the Pulitzer Prize; the people considering the novel probably were never within fifty yards of whatever the current Mack Bolan book at the time was, let alone cracked it open, let alone entertained the slightest notion of voting for some Destroyer book to win the Pulitzer, not that it would ever have been nominated except maybe as someone's joke. "Very funny, Jim, now let's get to the real nominations."

Greater literary expectations brings a certain amount of filtering to it; dropping pulp and schlock and things below a certain benchmark from the radar entirely.

If you're going to be elitist, be god-damned elitist. Serious art-film critics don't even bother with the question of whether American Pie 8 lives up to the potential of the artform; it is beneath their notice.

Look: there have been serious, artful, friggin' deep, oblique comics around for quite a while now, so maybe there's not as many as some people would like, but they're there. But if you're worried that the medium of comics isn't going to be taken seriously because of all the juvenile blood and boobs, I counter with: how can the medium be taken seriously when supposedly serious people are inflicting themselves with this stuff and then bawling about it? When Mr. Serious Art Critic dignifies the crap by responding to it, instead of just chucking it in the trash? Yeah, the Lester Bangs-inspired review style of snarking That Which Does Not Measure Up apart into its component particles is soul-satisfying, and even fun to read for others (up until the point the reviewer begins to run out of clever new ways to snark the same ol' crap and descends into spiteful unintended self-parody), but what that in no way does is suggest to the reader that These Comics, Hmm, There's Some Potential For Great Works There, no, all it says is Here's Some Guy Bitchin' About Crap.

Other media are NOT repeat NOT deemed "mature" or "worthwhile" on the basis of whether the mass of it measures up to some rarefied ideal. Pick any other supposedly mature media you like: is it not as a whole dominated by crap? Does not Sturgeon's Law apply to any and all? And is not crap consumed in great quantities by the public at large, regardless? The difference is that if I'm getting opinions from some source with a supposedly more highbrow bent like, say, NPR musical reviews on the radio, I can be pretty sure I'm not going to hear a soft but intent voice whining about how Paris Hilton's album is some form of Pop Leprosy, even if it is.

Here's how, for example, Greg Burgas' review of Nightwing #146 should have gone, if the true purpose and intent of his column's POV is that "comics should be good":

VERSION 1: [Actually, you never know that he ever got a copy of the book, because he tosses it away upon seeing the splash page and types not a single character regarding it.]

VERSION 2: This is dreadful and I'm throwing it in the trash.


Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The Words We Use Are Strong, They Make Reality

(I may be showing some age by the titles of this and the last post, but heck.)

I'm not going to link to it, because I found it by accident, and it's old, and I don't want to dredge up something from someone's archives and fling it through the WFA mill (though that's been pretty moribund lately). What I saw does bear thinking about, however.

Looking on Google Images for something completely unrelated to anything I talk about in this blog, I happened on an old-timey advertising image, and followed it to its page, which turned out to be the blog of someone who's previously been linked to on WFA and/or Journalista for their comics commentary. The image was, as I recall, from the 1940s, or thereabouts, and featured a pair of young girls in their underwear in their bedroom (so I guessed from the minimal background), possibly in the process of changing clothes. One girl was entirely topless.

The blogger described the scene as being innocuous when it was published, but "creepy" today.

Now, think about that for a minute.

What's changed?

In 1940-something nobody would have thought twice about the image, but now in the Naughties people go, "ohhh, how creeeepy"? Why? Has the intent of the illustrator somehow changed in all this time? Do we now understand that the artist was some sort of pervo, lusting after prepubescent girls in their underthings?

Is it that we think there's more pedophilia lurking in the hearts of citizens now than there was sixty-odd years ago?

Or is it that we, as a people, are today just freaking obsessed with pedophilia and have some burning need to point out any instance of children being depicted as anything less than fully-armored clothed?

The blogger obviously thought something was wrong, but how did they come to that conclusion? Were they themselves a pedophile, and reacted to hidden lusts within them to understand that yes, the ad was pimping children to people's taboo desires?

See, nowadays people know how pedophiles think, so they know what will "trip their triggers", so they know when something is "creepy" even when it was harmless for decades.

While I'm at it: Man, if I were Supreme Ruler of all the universe I would institute a ten-year ban on the word "creepy" for those who discuss/review mass media. It falls out of peoples mouths/keyboards far too readily, a pre-fab label for people who don't like something but can't be bothered to truly dissect and understand what it is that makes them feel bad. "I read that one issue of Power Pack, and you know, creeeeeepeeee."

I hereby decree that using the word "creepy" makes you fail and diminishes the validity of anything you write. In fact, I'll go further and say that if your main criticism of any work is that it makes you feel uncomfortable in some way, but you are unwilling or unable to analyze those feelings of yours in detail, then that's extra fail and just don't talk to me.

Or maybe I'm just not in tune with modern hyperbole. Yes, I'm going to dredge up something I've discussed twice before, so you know it must be annoying me still, on some level, but when someone calls a picture "gross" these days, do they really understand the word, are they using it in proper context, or are they just looking for maximum snark value? When in the same comments section someone mentions images that make their "stomach turn" (you'll have to go back a couple posts and follow links to see what I'm referencing; today I'm too lazy to hyperlink), are they really describing a true physical reaction (in which case, how sensitive is that?) or are they just trying to emphasize their distaste so you know how tsk-tsk appalled and disapproving they are?

I dunno. I just wish there was a better, more reasoned sense of proportion out there, you know?

Monday, September 29, 2008

Wake Up! It's 1984


No sooner had I put my last post up, than I heard that a UK man has been convicted of possessing child porn, in the form of computer-generated "Tomb-Raider-like" images. (Found via ¡Journalista! and Icarus Pub NSFW.)

Let's be clear about what's going on here.

No actual children were involved. So you can't really say this case protects children, unless you want to tread close to some kind of prior restraint-style protecting; that is, protecting children against what you think someone might do.

One person in the linked article says faked child porn "feeds the demand". That, however, is remarkably stupid. Of course pedophiles will try to create material that appeals to them. With the advances of technology, they may be able to create more-and-more realistic images without involving real children, but what do you think is really going to happen if you deny people those tools or the images they create? I fear that if fake child porn is aggressively pursued, it will just mean a resurgence in real child porn. What's the difference, if the penalties are the same either way?

So you can't say this guy was actually molesting real children, and attacking it as somehow supplying the need of pedophiles is short-sighted and moronic. What you're left with, then, is convicting this guy on the basis of his alleged fantasies. His thoughts upon seeing these images.

And I know what some of you may be thinking: "Well, he's just some pedo, he doesn't deserve the same rights as the rest of us." Which, if you really did think that, only makes my point for me. The accused denies interest in child porn. (And who wouldn't?) We can't truly know another's mind, so you have to assume the suspicions are true and then decide that simply having taboo thoughts or fantasies is by itself worthy of criminal conviction. This is, as George Orwell once put it, thoughtcrime.

Parents should begin stitching up those burqas.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Moelita (Torches and Pitchforks Ahoy, part 856)

Do you remember the McMartin Preschool abuse trials? I do. In fact, I bet a lot of folks recognize it when it's mentioned, though I bet fewer actually know how it turned out.

It was, at the time, quite the sensational scandal. Our Kids! Being Abused by Teachers! Satanic Rituals! How Could This Be Happening Under Our Very Noses???

Only, turns out it wasn't, at least not in any way anyone could prove. I will bet you dollars to dunkin' donuts that you, Dear Reader, if you recognized the name of the incident, had a brief inner monologue that went something like "oh, yeah, that thing where the people molested those kids", which is the kind of response I've heard about 90% of the time I've ever mentioned it to anyone else post-1990 (which, to be fair, isn't really all that much, it doesn't really come up in conversation easily).

People tend to remember the accusation, remember the media storm, the public outrage, the assumption of guilt, but few, if any, recall that ultimately all charges were either dropped or the defendants acquitted. Not to say that everyone believed no abuse at all took place, but that there simply wasn't enough evidence to support those accusations.

Was there really abuse or not? A bit of Occam's Razor applied here would seem to tilt probability in the favor of there being no abuse at all, if we cannot truly know the entire truth of what went on. For what is more likely: that the McMartins were fiendishly clever abusers that could conceal mass abuses enough to avoid conviction over several years of prosecution and testimonies, or that the accusations were either overhyped overreactions or even in some cases, blatant forgeries?

It was, I think, the beginning of the wave of Child Abuse Paranoia, the turning point where life began to be filtered through the assumption that Everyone Wants to Rape Your Child (or You, if you are a child). And while it seemed that (if you watched the news, at least) the country was simply awash in horrible tales of child abuse and murder, it's difficult to say with any certainty what really increased: the instances of abuse, or its being reported on the news.

Now, push that jerking knee back down, I'm certainly not saying there haven't ever been just dreadful instances of child abuse, or that the media attention hasn't helped produce great strides in protecting children. I would, however, suggest that some of it treads into some pretty hysterical territory.

Skorts, for instance. Not that I have anything against them in particular, but I remember the first time I saw one hanging on the rack at some store, and I mentioned it to the person I was with, in a "what the heck is that?" manner, and was introduced to The Skort, which apparently had been around for a couple of years without me noticing.

"If you're wearing a skirt, why do you need to also wear shorts?" I asked, thinking it was all simply some sort of fashion trend, and even as the other person fumbled for some answer, I realized it was to keep people from seeing young girls' panties if a skirt should flip up. Who would care about seeing that? Why, pedophiles, of course! I mean, really, they ought to just call it PedoShield™, though "skort" probably charts better in marketing studies.

In a similar vein, I happened to be looking through an old department store catalog from the early '80s, and saw, in the clothing pages, a section featuring girls' underwear being worn by teen and pre-teen girls. My first thought, upon, seeing the images, was "well, I bet they aren't doing that anymore!" And sure enough, the next time I was in a department store I quickly ruffled through one of their more-recent catalogs: if girl's underwear was featured at all, it was pictured as laid flat on a table, certainly you wouldn't want to show how it looks on an actual girl, for fear that some pedophile somewhere might also see it and, you know, like it.

Look, this isn't the fall of Western Civilization or anything, but there's a thousand little things like this that have crept in over the last couple of decades that show just how utterly worried sick the general public is about the relentless tide of Pedobear's over 9000 penises. And the unutterably vast majority of it all is predicated on the one notion that, should a pedophile see something that appeals to his/her pedophiliac tendencies, they will be compelled to immediately assault a child.

It's as simple as that. "Look there! That girl tripped and fell, and her panties are showing under her skirt! Let the raping begin!" That's EXACTLY what people fear when they get worked up about this stuff. And, frankly, I think that reasoning falls on the wrong side of the stupid line.

Which is why, when I see well-reasoned statements like the following, it warms the black, moldy cockles of my heart:

And for moe that can be interpreted by its readership as sexual? That’s like calling something slashable, and as we all know, everything is slashable.

[...]Making broad statements about a culture that produces a particular type of popular niche media is a very, very dangerous game to play. And saying all media aimed at men has to be somehow sexual? Why, because men only care about sex? That’s pretty much the most unfair thing I’ve ever heard.

[...]Why do some critics think a girl niche genre is okay but a boy niche genre isn’t? A lot of this reeks of misandry, and that ain’t feminism, I tell you what.

There’s an ugly, holier-than-thou trend going around these days, especially among teen girls, that compel them to post PEDO in all caps every time they see a character in a short skirt (even when they don’t seem to mind shota-esque yaoi). I think too many people are trained to be easily offended, and the Web especially encourages their habit of knee-jerk judgmentalism.

The argument may be made that the mere existence of lolicon art is a violation of basic human rights in principle, but if that argument is made, the same argument must also apply to fictional depictions of violence against human beings that occur in television programs, movies, video games, theatrical drama, and prose fiction. Common sense has to apply in order for the conventions of society to function.

[...]At its most simplistic level, this argument is valid when conjoined with an absence of social conditioning and rational intelligence. In effect, the argument against lolicon only works if common sense is set aside. And if the argument against fictional depictions of child sexuality are applied, the same principles must also be applied to all art, sports, politics, and religion - concepts which all have a potential to desensitize and influence behavior.

[...]If a large number of people observed lolicon material then transformed into vicious sexual abusers, I would have to concede that lolicon is dangerous material with a harmful influence. However, that has never happened, and, I believe, never will happen. So I consider lolicon material no more “wrong” to enjoy than, say, a tall glass of beer - which also has a potential to influence behavior and is also restricted to consumption by only rational, responsible adults.

Let me just say, amen to all that. It does me good to hear that there's people out there who actually have two sticks of common sense to rub together in order to make a fire of enlightenment, because (before my metaphors get any more ridiculous) there's days when it all seems to be along these lines:

I want you to know: sexualizing underaged kids is wrong. I have personally suffered because of it. An older family member, one who I trusted and loved dearly, decided that his boner was more important than my well-being and sexually abused me. His temporary sexual pleasure was more important than my psychological health.

Open your mind for a minute. You dislike the eeebil feminists because they don't give you sexual favors, which you see as a god-given right. I am apprehensive about boys like you (because you are not worthy of being called a man) because I have been FUCKING RAPED.

If there were any justice in this world, you would be tied to a post by the docks and used as nothing but a squirming human jizzjar.

Well lets see, you’ve now for the second time accused me of saying lolicon is harmful which I’ve repeatedly denied. You’ve also told me “what I must think”. So yeah, I’d say you’re straw-manning.

Your assertion is flawed. Lolicon is not simply “depictions of immoral acts”. I have no problem with pedophilia or even child molestation being depicted. However, lolicon goes way farther than that. It panders to that “immoral act”. (That’s your choice of words here by the way, not mine). When someone watches violent anime, it is not because they want to go around killing people but can’t in real life.

I do not have a problem with the depiction of immoral acts. (obvious)

I have a problem with people indulging in something that panders to their desire to perform a despicable act.


So what's wrong with these bits, you may ask?

Let's start with the former comment, left on one of my own, earlier posts. I've wondered for a while whether this was a serious post or a troll; for now, we'll assume it's a genuine statement and the person really is that stupid.

Because it is, really, it's a pretty stupid thing to say, on many levels. Right off the bat there's the equating of drawn fantasy images with someone actually physically raping a real person. It's capped off with a wish that I endure the poster's graphic yaoi fantasy for the crime of defending the right of people to draw what they want and for others to see it, if they want. Assuming this isn't a troll, it'd have to be a mind with little sense of proportion, a very off-balanced perspective on "justice".

But that, although moronic, is at least an open and more-or-less honest viewpoint - they hate my opinion and hope I meet a bad end for expressing it. It's the vacillation of "ikillchicken" that really rubs me wrong as he/she continually protests that lolita-themed manga isn't bad while at the same time stating it's bad for people to read it. (This is ludicrous just on the face of it; extended logically it would mean that people could create and publish stacks of lolita manga without any sense of wrongdoing but that they'd have to be crated up and sunk to the bottom of the ocean to keep them out of the hands of readers.)

The dichotomy of those people who don't want to seem like censors or prudes but at the same time want to tell everybody how much of a sin it is to do certain things, well, that's bound to be fertile growth medium for years of therapy down the line.

It's been a couple decades since the McMartin case began, and that's enough time for kids to be born and grow to young adulthood in a world where it is drilled into their heads repeatedly that THE RAPIST IS GONNA GET 'EM and under these conditions, it isn't too surprising that, as Jape suggests, we've produced a generation that not only resists taboo sexuality, but a lot of other sexuality as well, as well as reacting to the slightest hint of sexuality or things that could possibly maybe by someone else be considered a little sexy.

This would explain why you have people calling a picture of a little girl that features no nudity, no lascivious posing, no overt sexuality in the least... "gross". Because that person seems to think someone, somewhere will find it sexy, thinks that the artist made it that way to appeal to perverts.

That person is a dumbass. I'm sorry that there's no politer way to put that, but sometimes you just gotta stand up and say, "hey, you got a wrong thought in your head, there, and you're an adult, you should know better than that".

I have yet to hear any argument against lolita manga or other similar (let me stress, fictional) works that doesn't turn on some unprovable assumption. Many of same people who will agree with the premise that Grand Theft Auto isn't really going to make a whole lot of people go out and murder people for their cars for real somehow can't accept that a lolita comic, by and large, isn't going to make someone rape a child. Certainly those who argue against lolita imagery have a whole rash of reasons why that is an exception to the "media does not control peoples' actions" rule, and I defy anyone to prove how any of those reasons make a lick of sense.

Ikillchicken's series of statements seems to revolve around the idea that one shouldn't "pander" to one's base fantasies, on the assumption that lolita material in comics appeals to pedophiliac desires. Somehow it's implied that this is different than pandering to violent urges with videogames and movies, that pedophiles want to rape children while most people don't want to kill other people.

But this line of reasoning only works (as far as it goes) if you assume those things to be true; that pedophiles do want to rape children, and that those who play violent video games don't want to hurt people. And even assuming that, you have to play kind of loose with the definition of "want".

I believe that anyone who says they've never wished to hurt or kill anyone else in their life, not even a little, deep down, is probably deluding themselves. I can't imagine a human being that has never been enraged by another at some point in their life, that has never once had a fantasy bubbling around inside them where they take vengeance out on whoever did them wrong. But the fact that most of us successfully keep these urges in the realm of fantasy and never act them out in real life does not mean that we don't want these things on some level; we just want other things more, like preserving our empathy to our fellow humans, or not going to jail.

It seems obvious to me, although apparently not to others, that "child molester" and "pedophile" are not necessarily the same thing, that what differentiates the two is carrying out the act in real life. You could be the latter without ever being the former, just as you could be homosexual but never have sex with a man.

To imply that pedophilia is somehow a more potent desire, more inevitably bound to cross over into real life, well, there's no real way to know that, is there? It's an assumption based on personal revulsion, no basis in reality.

Plus there's the chicken-or-egg factor to it: does material that "panders" to a base desire trigger an urge to commit an act, or is it (I feel, more likely) that such material is sought as an alternative to indulging such base desires in real life, until such time as a person loses their self-control?

Whichever: ikillchicken offers no basis for these statements, and little in the way of consequences (that is: so what if someone reads something that appeals to their pedophiliac desires? What does ikillchicken think's gonna happen if they do?), or even an explanation of why it's bad. At best it's spouting off generalities and implications, at worst it's more of the same knee-jerk i-hate-it-and-therefore-it-must-be-bad rationale that drives most would-be censors.

We're at that point now, in this post-McMartin world, where people are not only attacking expicitly sexual "lolita" comics, but anything that can be slightly construed to be appealing to pedophiles. Are we heading for a world where all persons under 18 must be dressed in a burqa to keep them safe from the eyes of perverts?


Monday, September 22, 2008

Diana's Costume, On or Off

And really ultimately gets to the bottom of my irritation of people who continue to insist that Wonder Woman needs a different costume to be taken seriously.

Okay, granted, she's in what amounts to being a slightly armored (depending on the artist) bathing suit. That's remarkably ridiculous! No one's going to take a woman fighting crime in a bathing suit seriously!

It's not quite the same argument, it seems, but this reminds me much of my posts in the past regarding Wonder Woman's costume, and complaints of the character being sexualized (such as on the Playboy cover).

(The Internet is a marvelous tool for conflating different points of view; if anyone out there was reading Kalinara's post and thinking, "yeah, that's just the kind of attitude that Uh Noon Uh Moose guy had a while ago, the sexist hog", let me correct you with a sharp nun-style rap to the knuckles with a standard Catholic-issue wooden ruler.)

I'm assuming Kalinara's reaction is aimed mostly at movie speculators wondering what form Wonder Woman's costume would take in a movie, but it's another one of those little parallels that I find so interesting: When Kalinara argues for the use of the iconic costume (essentially, with a few minor modifications), she cites athletic clothing for its ease of movement and lack of armor. When Nenena argued that Wonder Woman shouldn't be viewed in a sexual manner, she also cited athletic apparel as a "uniform" with a non-sexual "message". (As I said then, intended messages can differ greatly from perceived messages: muslim clerics agree!)

Let me tell you, in case anyone had any doubt at all: If a Wonder Woman movie were to be made that closely resembled that fan-made movie poster, almost immediately there'd be eroticization galore. Because, really, that poster? Pretty hot, in the same vein as Xena Warrior Princess.

Which isn't to say I wouldn't take WW seriously in such an outfit; in the comics her costume isn't all that more outlandish than any other superhero in comics, and these things can be translated well to movies, as shown in said poster. But I'd also find it sexy in an unashamedly objectifying way.

Yes, I can do both. I contain multitudes.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008


So I was listening to the radio, and caught a bit of an interview with Stanley Fish, who's written a book called Save The World On Your Own Time, the premise of which appears to be that colleges and universities should focus on teaching how to critically analyze material and abstain from attempting to instill "moral character" in students.

The Fox News crowd has an argument that dovetails with this; that higher learning institutions are infested with radical liberals that are indoctrinating Your Kids to become flag-burning atheist gay-marrying abortionists or worse.

While I'm not as hysterical over it as the right, I think it's actually a valid claim. Fish himself seems to be fairly liberal, so it's interesting to hear him voice similar concerns (in what I think is a far more rational manner).

You may or may not agree. But if it's true that universities and the teachers that staff them are attempting to mold the moral and political shape of their students rather than simply giving them the tools to think critically (in a truly academic sense), it has some interesting implications for other things.

It got me thinking about some discourse by and about fangirl feminists. Much of the terminology (as well as the writing style of many bloggers) has an academic taste to it: "patriarchy", "privilege", "I'm not here to teach you Feminism 101"; there's a lot of terms used in these discussions that I, personally, have never heard used in common parlance, at least not in the way they're used in feminist discussions. And there's a good many of them that come off sounding young-ish, if not in writing style, then in the inflexible self-assuredness that comes from being young and knowing that your opinion about everything in the goddamn world is the one right and true opinion.

I don't really have an issue over it being right or wrong, but it makes me curious enough that I wish I could insta-poll the blogosphere and find out how the fangirls skew in age and education. A more esoteric poll would seek to find out where the roots of their feminist awareness lie; whether they came to certain conclusions on their own and did their own searching and analysis apart from academia, or whether it was spoon-fed to them by some professor with a mission. Certainly academia seems to have bled into the discussion regardless of the route taken.

If there is any fault in framing feminism in academic language, it's that the basic concepts ("Feminism 101", if you will) can be difficult to convey to those not familiar with the jargon, limiting the message's effectiveness if one insists on speaking in an academic manner.

In fact, the phrase "I'm not here to teach you Feminism 101" itself comes across (to me, at least) as somewhat condescending: you are not worthy of conversation unless you already understand (and stipulate to) certain core concepts. This bypasses any question as to whether the core concepts themselves are flawed; but aside from that, it's an odd sentiment coming from people that (you'd think) have a vested interest in communicating with (and convincing) other people.

Sure, if you only want to discuss things with other like-minded people, so as to reassure yourselves that your positions are flawless and beyond critique, you can take that route. Anyone who wants to spread their wisdom to others and have it not simply roll off like water on a duck's back should (I think) be very prepared to teach Feminism 101, or ANYism 101, for that matter. Everything is new to someone once, and maybe it's not your job to teach them, but who will teach them, if not you...?

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Nothing You Know is Wrong!


We hold these truths to be self-evident...
--The Declaration of Independence

There are certain points of assumption that one must make in order to understand the reasoning behind women-centric feminist blogs and groups.

Over on Mad Thinker Scott's page, the discussion over Mickle ("shut up, asshats") and her call for privileged males to maybe not talk so much rambles on far beyond my own expectations. Since "S.D." apparantly has judged my opinions not fit for continued discussion, I'll leave the meat of it to her(?) and Scott; however, I do want to point out something relevant to the quote above.

Starting out with an assumption, with (if you will) a "self-evident truth" is, quite often, starting out with an article of faith. Very few things are actually true, in a self-evident fashion.

Even the Declaration of Independence, though inspirational and stirring, features statements that aren't really factual truths so much as they are philosophical talking points.

"All men are created equal"? Well, leaving aside the issue of how you define "men" (as males? or all of humanity? do races factor in?), we are not all created equal if for no other reason than simple accidents of genetics makes that impossible. A man born blind is not the same as a sighted man; people differ in height and weight and relative intelligence. You may be too short to ride the coaster. People are inherently not equal to each other (and thank goodness, otherwise it'd be pretty dull). This may not be fair, but that's the way it is.

"Endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights"? Right there, you have to take as a given that there is a "creator", and whether that's a diety such as Yahweh or some anthropomorphicized view of Nature as all-encompassing system manager, that's still an issue of faith, believing in the truth of something without any real evidence.

As for "unalienable rights", there's no such thing, except as large bodies of humanity gather together and agree that there is such a thing. If you doubt me, think about it: what right do you think you have that could not, if an authoritarian state came to power (jokes about the current Administration notwithstanding), be easily taken away with guns and dogs? Right to Free Speech? Right to Equal Treatment? These are all legal constructs, a social contract we all (more or less) agree to abide by. There is nothing inherent in the human condition that automatically grants them.

We agree to these things because (most of us) want people to have the right to their own life and their own freedom, and even the pursuit of happiness. Many of us will fight in some way to preserve (or attain) rights that are important to us. Even then, we allow for exceptions, otherwise, how could we imprision criminals or even execute them?

Deconstructing something that people take for granted like the Declaration of Independence should demonstrate a couple things:

One, that people do take some assumptions for granted, and the most basic assumption of all is that Nothing You Know Is Wrong, that everything you think is right and true is just that, right and true;

and Two, assumptions are Not Truth. An assumption you make might turn out to be true, or perhaps not, but it is not in and of itself a fact.

So when someone begins a statement with "we start with this assumption", my skepticism turns up a notch. Many times such a statement intends to shunt aside debate over very fundamental differences of opinion.

If I were to debate sexual ethics, and open by saying "we must assume that homosexuality is inherently immoral", I would essentially be saying "it just is wrong, and I don't want to hear any argument over it". That's not really a truly open debate, is it? It's stacking the deck.

It's a somewhat more clever version of the question "Have you stopped beating your wife, yes or no?"

Feminism (fangirl or otherwise) certainly isn't the only sociopolitical viewpoint to carry its own articles of faith around as assumptions. I have my own. Everyone does, to some extent. But it behooves all of us who claim to be thoughtful, introspective people to try and recognize our assumptions when they're brought out, and acknowledge them for what they are.