Friday, January 18, 2008

La Petite Mort; or, "You Got Your Thanatos in My Eros!"



"Are they all into necro, or what?"

Dear reader, whoever you may be, I ask you: did you find the torture and death of Stephanie Brown to be presented in an erotic fashion? Was it erotic to you, or is it what you think someone else might find erotic? How do you arrive at these conclusions?

And: is this really anything new or unusual? Does it even matter all that much?

(You might think these are rhetorical questions, but how you answer, I feel, says a lot more about your perspective and character than you may realize, and even more, I think it would be particularly telling if you could come up with no clear answer to these questions.)

These days, it's not too hard to spot the points where sex and death converge in mass media, from a naked chick in a slasher film being murdered for having premarital sex to James Bond finding a gold-painted dead woman in a bed. It would be a mistake, though, to think of this as a new trend, or even as recent as the last century. You don't have to treasure-hunt for some lost text of DeSade to find where they overlap in classic literature.

Even Juliet, talking about her upcoming nuptuals, dropped in lines like "and death, not Romeo, take my maidenhead!" (Though 'death' was in this case, a euphemism for ecstasy, the real thing would happen along all too soon...)

And that trope of tropes, the person who dies in their lover's arms. "One last kiss, my beloved.... urk."

Armies of embarrassingly mediocre goth poets will confirm it: the macabre can often be very sensual. What of Dracula? Once an allegory for sexual mores, recent re-interpretations of vampire lore bring the symbolic into the literal.

If mixing the two themes is so alarming to you that you consider Stephanie Brown's death to have been fetishized (or, for another example, you believe a reclining sunbather to represent a dead woman), then I submit that you must also be aware of the overlapping of said themes everywhere else it happens in the entire recorded history of art (or at least as much of it as you personally have experienced). To know one but not be aware of the other strikes me as so unlikely that whenever someone reacts with great vehemence upon seeing the themes together in some modern work, my initial knee-jerk reaction is to wonder whether the person having these issues is very young, depressingly ignorant, or deliberately blinkering themselves for controversy's sake.

Now, I'll state again that this is my initial knee-jerk reaction, and shortly thereafter I usually have a more complex thought such as "well, maybe they haven't quite sorted out all their viewpoints yet, it happens..."

Thus, I won't try to classify furikku/the Sooz (whichever is the preferred alias, I dunno) into some pigeonhole, when she wonders whether the creator of Dominic Deegan is a necrophile. I will say that blurting out something like this is the kind of thing that made me create a wholly anonymous blog. Imagine, if you will, had some character in the strip been a minor and she'd said something along the lines of "why do creators make kid characters? Are they all pedos or what?" This sort of snap analysis/judgment/labeling really rubs me the wrong way, and under the right circumstances I imagine it'd annoy any of you, too. It equates the author with the work, or worse, with someone's biased perception of the work, much the same way "she must be a fat lesbian, saying all that feminist bull" does.

AND NOW, A BIT OF A DIVERSION ON THE INEXPLICABLE PHENOMENON THAT IS DOMINIC DEEGAN, FEEL FREE TO SKIP AHEAD

This isn't the first time this strip has passed before my eyes. Self-proclaimed horse's ass John Solomon reviewed it (I'd say "savagely", except that's kind of standard procedure) on his currently-on-hiatus site, one of many entries that prompted me to make a post or two about the Bad Webcomic site itself. And Dominic Deegan is damn near top of the list of the bad webcomics that the site despises, warranting several entries just by itself.

And I am still completely baffled over why some people seem to be unable to handle the concept that someone would produce a work of art that does not meet their personal criteria and not require their approval and validation to do so. But apparently this webcomic's very existence drives some people up the flaming wall. And if you click the Dominic Deegan tag on this LiveJournal, you'll see a prime example of some sort of love/hate thing that must drive a lot of the people who follow the strip, whether to enjoy it or rail against it.

Every once in a while I come across something like this that makes me glad I never tried to "get into" the comics biz, because having this kind of fan(?) would drive me insane. "I love this character, he's so amazing, you necrophiliac pervert!" Like having Two-Face rooting for you.

ANYWAY...

Now, it is true that the art in Dominic Deegan has its technical flaws (as does, say, Dilbert), and the pose in question, of a woman on her hands and knees, bleeding from a throat wound, probably would be difficult to achieve in real life. Is this a case of an inability to draw accurate anatomy, or is it a deliberate attempt to show off sexual characteristics of a wounded, dying character?

What if it is the latter? What then? Do fetish elements in a work completely invalidate that work?

What if it is the former? If there is no real intent to sexualize death, what does that say about the people who see it as such?

And that brings me to the other element in furikku/the Sooz' post: a series of pictures purportedly showing how real bodies would drape over things and come to rest.

In movies and TV, when someone portrays a corpse, you can always tell who is there to really act "dead", and who's just there to fill a spot and be in the picture. Being dead isn't as easy as it seems. When you're dead, comfort isn't an issue, and there should be absolutely no muscle tension, so actually lying like a dead body would involve letting gravity pull you into potentially painful positions, and even lying flat on the ground can be uncomfortable if you aren't allowed to shift position and re-distribute your weight every so often. Try it yourself if you don't believe me. Go somewhere and "be dead" for maybe fifteen minutes. Relax, really relax entirely, let your body settle as it will. For extra points, start by falling down as if shot. A limp, dead fall itself is hella uncomfortable, and the way you land doesn't lend itself to an easy recline.

So the people depicted in these pictures get an "A" for effort, but a few of them still aren't as "dead" as really dead people can be. That's not really what I wanted to point out, however.

Consider the second picture from the bottom on that page, featuring a guy tied up in a chair. Not a bad pose for someone to look like they'd been abducted and then killed. Are we trying to fetishize death here?

Sometimes I wish I were an artist, since it'd be far easier to show you than describe it to you, but just imagine, now, if instead of some guy in a wifebeater, tied up in that chair was a woman in lingerie. The exact same pose: rope tied just under the breasts, hips slid forward, legs parted somewhat... can you seriously tell me that wouldn't be considered a picture of eroticized death? But why? If the original is inoffensive in this regard, what makes the second offensive?

The lingerie?

The gender of the victim?

Now re-imagine the scene, only instead of lingerie, use nearly any superheroine costume in use today. Still erotic or no?

Hell, just say it was a attractive woman in the same clothes as the guy.

If even this last example would make you consider the situation to be eroticized, then we've arrived at a point where "eroticization" would seem to depend not on the position of the dead body, but that the body is female. Had the Black Mask tortured and killed Tim Drake, and had his body been thrown into the exact same poses as Stephanie's, would there have been the same outcry?

Nearly any of the examples on that page of pictures could be considered "erotic" with a few alterations. The schoolgirls at the top: suppose they'd been wearing something more along the lines of the stylized and fetishistic uniforms commonly shown in many manga? What if the camera angle had been changed 180 degrees to have a potential view up some skirts? What if the person of indeterminate gender draped over a couch with their butt in the air had been wearing shorter, tighter shorts?

Just how thin and wavery is the line between death and sex? Are we really beset by creators with morbid perverted obsessions, or are the viewers the ones bringing in their own sets of alarms, fears, and hidden taboos...?

And how much of that really, really matters?

FOOTNOTE:

Nice pic at the top, eh? I'd like to thank Dirk Deppey for doing the work of editing that image so that I could nab it and put it up here. Why that image? Well, just look at it: if you erased the swarm of bees, would that face on Wonder Woman be one of physical distress or rapture? People talk about "the O face" in comics a lot lately without acknowledging that sometimes very similar expressions can denote two entirely different things.

Plus, in light of the recent WW controversy, seeing a comic wherein she's briefly made "slave" to some alien insect queen just tickles me. There's your empowering symbol for girls right there.

12 comments:

LurkerWithout said...

Sooooo. If someone doesn't care for a work of art they shouldn't criticize it and just avoid it? Wouldn't that also mean if you don't like a piece of criticism you should just avoid it?

Unless you just like the attention. I mean thats why I'm commenting...

Anon, A Mouse said...

Oh! Oh! and wouldn't that mean that if you didn't like someone's criticism of someone's criticism you should avoid that too?

Yeah, nice try, chuckles.

It actually works the other way around. Criticize all you want, it's a free world. But criticism is not itself immune from criticism.

Now, having said that: how did you jump to the conclusion, from ANYthing I've said in this post, that I was suggesting people just ignore stuff they didn't like and not comment on it? I mean, that's not exactly the worst idea ever, but how you read that out of what I wrote seems to be a new form of non-Euclidean geometry.

If you do want to use my blog for attention, could you please stay at least VAGUELY on topic, then? Thx.

Sooz said...

a series of pictures purportedly showing how real bodies would drape over things and come to rest.

Actually, that was just showing that one can depict a corpse in a non-sexualised fashion:
"It's not like it's HARD to draw a dead or dying person in a non-sexualised fashion," is what I wrote. If I cared to depict realistic corpse action, I would have trawled for actual corpses.

Anon, A Mouse said...

Sooz: I think you're wrong, actually. I think it would be fairly difficult to draw a corpse in a non-sexualized fashion if, to qualify as "non-sexualized", one had to avoid drawing ANY position that could even vaguely be interpreted as sexy by some hypersensitive criteria.

For instance, if you had a pretty woman in a bikini who was killed, what possible position could there be where someone could not SOMEHOW think of it as sexy, whether personally, or assuming that someone else would find it so? Can there be any position where a woman in a bikini is NOT considered "sexy"?

That character in your example was dressed in a somewhat chest-revealing outfit, and I submit to you that even if (uh, what's his name again...?) Terracino had chosen some other, more realistic pose for her to assume, there'd still be criticism over it being sexy violence, just by virtue of the character wearing a sexy costume.

And, frankly, I think there would have been charges of sexualized violence/death leveled against Stephanie Brown's death or Tigra's beating even if the depictions avoided contorted body poses (Brown) or skimpy clothing (Tigra). Just because they're female and possess breasts.

James Meeley said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anon, A Mouse said...

Okay, James: No more of that, please.

I'm fairly confident someone like LurkerWithout doesn't give the slightest damn whether you pity them, or whether you even slightly disapprove of what they say or do.

I know there's some kind of long-running feud between you and a clutch of the pro-feminist bloggers out there, but like I said before, I don't care, that's a fight I don't want on MY blog, and I'd appreciate it if you would not post something condescending simply for the sake of being condescending, if for no other reason that it's likely to provoke the very kind of thing I don't want here.

And that also goes for anyone out there who thinks they want to respond by posting a comment on how much of a loser James is, or whatever. Chew that bullshit and swallow it.

James Meeley said...

I'd appreciate it if you would not post something condescending simply for the sake of being condescending, if for no other reason that it's likely to provoke the very kind of thing I don't want here.

You're right, Mouse. I'm sorry. I've taken care of it. I'll be more mindful of that in the future.

Sooz said...

Actually, the boobs are not really the chief factor in that one. Yes, they're propped up in a "HAY GUYS BOOBS" manner that's pretty unlikely for a gal falling down. (I know this personally; they would more likely be mooshed under her ribcage.) It's also the fact that she has somehow fallen to her knees and then from the waist in a "presenting" type pose.

There's things like, say, falling in the graceful faint thing that fair damsels often do; that's silly, but not objectionable, and at least slightly believable. But for her to fall IN THAT POSITION, and stay that way, is just plain impossible, and it's really weird that Terraciano would draw it.

I think it would be fairly difficult to draw a corpse in a non-sexualized fashion if, to qualify as "non-sexualized", one had to avoid drawing ANY position that could even vaguely be interpreted as sexy by some hypersensitive criteria.

Well, yeah, duh. Thing is, there's a difference between being hypersensitive and noticing something that looks like the pose animals strike when they're ready to mate, which ALSO happens to be pretty hard to fall into without trying REALLY, REALLY hard.

And the fact that he KEEPS DOING THIS is just kinda weird. I could ignore it if it were an isolated incident, but it's really not.

Anyway, that's my rebuttal, and I'm outa here. There's some Rock Band action in the other room I gotta get in on. :D

Anon, A Mouse said...

"Well, yeah, duh. Thing is, there's a difference between being hypersensitive and noticing something that looks like the pose animals strike when they're ready to mate, which ALSO happens to be pretty hard to fall into without trying REALLY, REALLY hard."

I might argue that noticing a similarity between an animal mating pose and someone on their hands and knees is the very definition of "hypersensitive".

Anon, A Mouse said...

"And the fact that he KEEPS DOING THIS is just kinda weird. I could ignore it if it were an isolated incident, but it's really not."

Well, then, that begs the questions:

--So what do you think IS going on, there?

--If your worst suspicions are indeed true, then what does that mean to you?

--What do you expect that anyone else should do about it and why?

Ragnell said...

Anon -- No, that would be the definition of "observant".

Anon, A Mouse said...

Observant? To the point of seeing things that may or may not exist, perhaps.

Myself, I look at the strip, I see the woman on her hands and knees looking up, I see the boobs and the blood, but I don't see "presenting", aside from the fact that animals who present are often on all fours as well, as many animals also are when they AREN'T presenting.

I look at the other strips Sooz mentioned in that post, I see one that falls into the "sexy costume = sexy death" category, another with a questionable camera angle, and then there is one with a corpse propped up in an improbable position that I'd be far more likely to label "presenting" than the one mainly featured in Sooz' post.

It seems to me that one or two instances that are more suspicious than others are being used to lump anything even slightly "off" into the same category to infer a "trend", and now I suspect every time a female character suffers a fatality in that strip, there's going to be someone pointing at it to call it eroticized death, regardless of how much eroticism is actually present.

Your little crack actually enhances my point a bit, since one of the things I contend is that for some there can be no level of eroticism, even incidental eroticism such as mode of dress or even byproducts of general anatomy, that won't set off somebody's "necro alarm". After all, the more "observant" you are, the more offense you can find, right down to the smallest particle of suspicious detail.