Saturday, February 23, 2008

Dude, I Really Need to Read More Pornificated Comics

I have to confess, I was mildly surprised that nobody ever put a comment on my blog entry about Wonder Woman's costume. Not entirely surprised, mind you, since a number of people calling themselves feminists more-or-less shrugged their shoulders over it. Not that there was overwhelming approval, or anything, but it wasn't seen as anything special by some. Others, however, began the wailing and gnashing of teeth over what they saw as a desecration of a feminist symbol, so I half-expected someone to lambaste me for being another eeevil anti-feminist for not seeing the Playboy cover as a deliberate attack on all womanhood. The lack of any comments made me think that maybe the consensus was that it wasn't such a big deal, after all.

Ah, but I would discover that it was up to Nenena to bring the rage.

It never ceases to amaze me how some feminists can salt their their thoughts with bits about how sexual attraction is natural and healthy and then completely fail to comprehend how male sexual drive operates.

It's almost as if they're operating on an assumption of how they think it should work, rather than how it actually works.

Here, check this out. Nenena says:
Clothing is a form of expression. It communicates. And the way that clothing works - its message and its purpose - relies on a LOT more than just how much skin it covers.
Perhaps. But how much skin something covers is a significant factor in how men respond to any clothing. If it wasn't, you'd never have any woman get ticked off because a guy was staring a bit over-long at their cleavage. This isn't to say that guys are always without fail going to see some flesh and get an uncontrollable boner or something, but it does mean that just because what some woman is wearing isn't lingerie, that men are somehow never interested in that exposed skin.

Nenena, on her blog, has helpfully provided a whole mess of images. Many are of lingerie. However, there isn't a single image in the "not lingerie" range that someone hasn't turned into a Google-able fetish or fantasy. Skintight leotards? Check. Swimsuits? Check. Tube-tops? Yep.

The problem with the "clothing as message" premise is that, like all communication, it's subject to misinterpretations and multiple meanings to different mindsets. A swimsuit may have a primary function of making it easy to swim without being either A) dragged under by waterlogged clothing or B) naked, but there are swimsuit contests to show off women's bodies.

You may think a piece of apparel has a particular meaning, but it would be folly to assume your preferred meaning is the only one, or that you are able to restrict such meanings to only ones you approve of. Like it or not, lots of men see lots of clothing types, even those not intended to be sexy, as being sexy. Nun's habit, anyone?

She goes on to post instances of men's apparel, and even there, I imagine, though biker shorts are not primarily intended as fetish wear, for some gay guys it probably is a fetish, or sexy, at the very least.

Moving on:
First, I have to question how he's using the phrase "sexualized by the male gaze" here.
Answer One: sarcastically.

Answer Two: in the way some feminists, like Nenena herself, use it.

Is it somehow not the premise held by those offended by the Playboy cover that it conveys a level or style of sexuality which is inappropriate to the Wonder Woman character, or the symbolism the character supposedly conveys? And is that not how Nenena's own link to an American Psychological Association page defines sexualization, "inappropriately imposed sexuality"? Perhaps it's not just me who's the "confused blogger".

(Interesting word, "sexualization", as defined by the APA. Just what is "inappropriate sexuality?" Inappropriate can be so open to interpretation. Why is Wonder Woman being sexy on the cover of Playboy inappropriate? I don't recall seeing a lot of Wonder Woman's actual sex life depicted in the comics I've read. Is it so hard to imagine that the character might be willing to pose for Playboy if the mood struck her? Would she be offended that anyone might find her sexually attractive in that outfit, "battle armor" or not? And who makes these determinations? Readers? Writers? Wonder Woman's corporate owners? "Sexualization" can be so damn vague as to be nothing more than a propaganda tool, a buzzword to demonize (to use another word tossed around lately) people who find certain things sexy that other people think should not be sexy (or only sexy in ways they allow). Repeated for the umpteenth time: It's an attempt to "take the sexy away" by saying "you should not find this to be sexy".)

There's more:
If you're writing or drawing Wonder Woman to look or act like Tarot, then YOU ARE DOING IT WRONG. That is bad writing (and sexualization). And that is what most feminist fans of Wonder Woman object to.
I refer anyone interested to this blog entry of mine. If there is no hive-vagina, why assume I'm talking about "most feminists"?

Unfortunately, I am unable to re-locate the specific blog entry elsewhere in the blogosphere that inspired my original post, but my impression of it was that, indeed, the blogger was shocked and surprised that Wonder Woman would be used in a sexy pictorial for Playboy, and part of her thesis was that, since Gloria Steinem selected Wonder Woman to be on the cover of Ms. Magazine and the character was adopted as a feminist symbol, the character should somehow be sacrosanct, inviolable. (Which explained the surprise, she assumed nobody at Playboy would DARE use the character.)

I didn't link to that post at the time due to laziness and the fact that I didn't think her arguments were unique to her viewpoint (Greg Rucka pointed out the Ms. cover, for instance), so call it a strawfeminist if you like, but these were specific points of view I was responding to.

This, now, is the capper:
And really, it's pretty fucked-up to say that just because a woman is exposing a certain amount of skin, it's the same as if she's wearing fetish lingerie. That's a curiously prudish thing to say, coming from a blogger who normally casts himself as crusading against prudishness. Honestly now. Have we never been to a beach, or what?
Can we go in two or three different directions at once, here, or what?

First off: Yeah, I've been to a beach, and while there I've noticed that I'm not the only guy there checking out pretty girls in bikinis. The fact that they wear swimsuits and not lingerie does not diminish sexual attraction, and depending on the swimsuit involved, may even evoke a greater reaction.

Second, if it's prudish of me to equate exposing skin with lingerie, how much more prudish is it to equate clothed characters with porn? The Heroes for Hire cover, Greg Land's tracing, etc., etc... Nenena ought to have a talk with the anonymous poster who complained on my blog about "the pornification of comics" before pulling off some double-twist rationalization so she could call me a prude. (And if she herself was in the HfH=porn camp, then, Pot, Kettle, what-the-hell-ever.)

Third: See the above about clothing and skin exposure.

Well, okay. Maybe it was a bit much for me to compare Wonder Woman's costume with lingerie. How about this, then: If you dyed Wonder Woman's bodysuit a solid single color, what would you get?


Whattya know. With bracelets and a tiara, too!

(Brace for impact)

24 comments:

Anonymous said...

You know, EVERY time I see a post regarding that Playboy cover, it NEVER focuses on LONG-ESTABLISHED social-political nature of the magazine itself. Hef didn't start the magazine just because he liked seeing pretty girls undress for his benefit.

Rucka had the angle right, but other comic book fans are so busy navel-gazing that they keep missing the subversive point of the Tiffany Fallon as WW Playboy cover.

Anon, A Mouse said...

There's a couple reasons that the "subversive point" of that cover gets missed.

First reason is, it strains credulity to think that the cover and the other related photos were somehow deliberately engineered to harm Hillary Clinton's chances to make it to the White House.

That theory assumes that the people creating the photos and publishing the magazine are both clever enough to devise such a scheme and have motivation to do so; it also assumes that the people who read the magazine are somehow, in their subconscious minds, going to interpret body-painted Wonder Woman as a sign that the wimmens are weak and unpresidential or whatever.

The other reason is related to the first, in that it's not that the fans are "navel-gazing" so much as they just don't SEE how body-painted Wonder Woman is going to take the wind out of Hillary's sails. Frankly, I have a hard enough time following the reasoning myself, let alone believing it to have any validity.

An oversensitivity to anything that even HINTS of being less than favorable to women combined with the usual "bad stuff in media makes people do bad things" mentality are the only things I can think of that would give rise to such a theory in the first place. Frankly, I think it's certain feminists and ONLY certain feminists who are going to be affected by the cover, either by taking it as a personal affront, or by fretting that it's somehow going to make Playboy readers MORE sexist than they were before they saw the cover.

Anonymous said...

So, let's see. You look down on feminists for not responding to your entry, and then you look down on feminists for responding to your entry.

Thanks for making your stance clear.

Anon, A Mouse said...

What is it the kids do these days...?

Ah yes: *facepalm*

I don't know how you came to think I "look down" on people for not responding to my posts. Expressing mild surprise isn't a derogatory statement.

But simply responding doesn't grant you some sort of magical bonus respect points. I look down on THAT THEORY because it really doesn't seem to make ANY SENSE, and I have yet to hear anyone explain it so that it actually connects the dots without a lot of meaningless innuendo like, "well, you KNOW Playboy doesn't want Hillary in the White House". That sort of thing proves and means nothing.

Assuming you're the same "anonymous" in both posts, I didn't even really look down on you personally UNTIL you got all pissy that I didn't roll over and buy the theory based on little more than you saying it's so.

Anonymous said...

Well, soon after this issue of Playboy, Obama gained heavily on Hillary. This is an obvious result of the subversive cover. Once again the patriarch strikes a blow to womanhood, hiding under coincidence and blissful ignorance.

Anon, A Mouse said...

"Well, soon after this issue of Playboy, Obama gained heavily on Hillary. This is an obvious result of the subversive cover."

Uh, no. This is IN NO WAY obvious. Plenty of other things have been happening concurrently with that issue of Playboy that are far more likely explanations for why Hillary's lost any ground to Obama.

All you've done is say what you THINK happened, without any real evidence to back up your hypothesis. You still haven't shown proof-positive of how the two things are linked. You have not connected your effect and your cause, you've just assumed they are related.

It's not my fault I don't believe you, if you don't provide anything worth believing in.

John Foley said...

anon-
I have to believe that this other anonymous is yanking your chain. No one could be that credulous.
I hope.

Anon, A Mouse said...

John:

You may be right. The possibility has occurred to me (just as it did a while back when some anonymous left a couple posts about women not being capable of reason, so "why bother?").

On the other hand, Greg Rucka seems nominally intelligent and he's where I first heard that theory. I wouldn't completely dismiss the possibility that someone honestly believes that theory on faith alone.

zhinxy said...

Think that anonymous above you was being sarcastic, anon.

The Heroes for Hire cover, Greg Land's tracing, etc., etc...

Hey, what the heck-o... Greg land's tracings ARE of porn at least some of the time. We've talked about this... You doing that "you're being sensible... no, wait, You're a bad bad oversensitive prudey censor who does not get to talk about comics with the adults" again, mousey? :p

zhinxy said...
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zhinxy said...

Perhaps. But how much skin something covers is a significant factor in how men respond to any clothing. If it wasn't, you'd never have any woman get ticked off because a guy was staring a bit over-long at their cleavage. This isn't to say that guys are always without fail going to see some flesh and get an uncontrollable boner or something, but it does mean that just because what some woman is wearing isn't lingerie, that men are somehow never interested in that exposed skin.


Well, that really wasn't the point there. the point was that different messages are still sent out, not that people won't be attracted to or fetishise the clothing, or even that they shouldn't look at the skin. The point was that a bathing suit or a leotard can still have sex appeal built into it, but not be the same thing as lingerie. And I did read your post as saying it was the same thing as lingerie. The point wasn't that wonder woman's outfit isn't sexy or didn't even have sex appeal as one of it's prime objectives. Just that it was a more practical, everyday, superhero kinda garment. You did come off like you were saying it was the same thing as undies. That's what you took the ribbing for. And you know, do your share of ribbing, take your share, you know?

Anyway, did you check out the latest 'Tec? Nice nguyen drawn bunny girl with a gun in that one. Hot, fun, playfully gratuitious, and non-exploitative. This feminist gives it her all important head-nod of approval.

James Meeley said...

You did come off like you were saying it was the same thing as undies.

Well, to give Anon a bit of credit, how often is a superhero's costume referred to as 'undies"? I mean, Superman alone has had the whole "you wear your underwear on the outside" type of lines said about him too many time to ever recall. Yet, they aren't "undies," they look more like swim trunks.

But they cover the same region as "undies" and the line just wouldn't be as catchy or funny if you said, "Superman, you wear your swin trunks on the outside."

I think Anon's follow-up, with the Playboy bunny suit and Wonder Woman's side-by-side makes the case you could see it as lingerie, of a sort. At least as much as you can cosider Superman's swim trunks "undies."

Anon, A Mouse said...

"Hey, what the heck-o... Greg land's tracings ARE of porn at least some of the time."

I think there's a distinction to be made between being DERIVED from porn, and actually BEING porn.

Put it like this: If you went out to specifically buy PORN, and you got a magazine of nothing but Greg Land's tracings, you'd probably feel pretty cheated. (I would, at least.)

There's a valid criticism to be made regarding Land's porn tracing, but it is NOT to call the resulting comics themselves "porn", unless your standards for porn are, well, prudish.

zhinxy said...

many people call it 'porn poses' 'porn face' and some call it porn in more sarcastic or hyperbolic ways, depends on the person, etc. Again, really, think what you want. I'm out.

zhinxy said...

And you know, lotta the bondagey stuff I like, not always full nudity, no intercourse, certainly porn for me. That can and does include photoshopped on or latex costumes that do look a lot like Land's drawings and they don't tend to disappoint me. Calling me a prude cause I have the wrong porn, are you! Demonizing! ;) But seriously, Don't necessarily think that's prudish standards. There's been more than a few scenes in comics where I've been: Hey, yeah, I'm really into this sort of thing, and this is a bit too much for the context. ;)

Anon, A Mouse said...

It took me a while to find it, but I was certain I'd read a long discussion between a couple folks about just what is and isn't "porn".

I give you Nenena, Mad Thinker Scott, and some other folks, having a discussion about whether the Heroes for Hire cover is "porn".

http://nenena.livejournal.com/77777.html?thread=358609#t358609

Nenena seems to be pretty clearly arguing that it IS porn, without hyperbole, without sarcasm.

If it seems like I'm somehow shifting my position, like "you're reasonable" turning into "you're a prude", I urge you to consider the possibility that some things I say may not be directed at YOU, but at other people who do the very things I talk about.

You also can believe what you want, even if that means you give some people the benefit of the doubt that they know what they're talking about, but not me...

zhinxy said...

You also can believe what you want, even if that means you give some people the benefit of the doubt that they know what they're talking about, but not me...


Don't play the victim there anon. "if you describe x as porn you're a prude, child, etc" is a pretty flat statement. You can make it if you want to, but the point is, sometimes I would, sometimes I'd say it as a joke, some people who say it I think are overreacting, some people who react to people who say it are overreacting, fandom remains a den of many loonies. Sometimes I don't understand what you're talking about, sometimes I think you're not making much sense, sometimes I think you're right on target, etc. And really, you can. And you're free to think I or anybody else is a child or a prude if you want.

The H4H cover, thought it was borderline. Also badly drawn, cheap exploitation, capable of being interpreted as sexist, not a good choice sales and content wise for the comic. Wouldn't call it porn. If somebody did, well, wouldn't necessarily think they had no legs to stand on.

Nenena's got a definition of and opinions on porn I don't necessarily share. Same with Scott, tend to give both of them the benefit of the doubt. Another day on the internets.

Anon, A Mouse said...

Zhinxy, please don't tell me I'm playing the victim when you're conflating me having a difference of opinion with other people with having some sort of "yes-you-are-no-you-aren't" inconsistency.

Do I think anyone who thinks mainstream comics are "pornificated" (as was stated in the comments of an earlier post) is either a prude or a child?

Yes.

This does not mean that there are not moments of excessive sexuality in mainstream comics. This does not mean such moments should not be discussed or even protested.

However, appealing to sexuality or even fetishes is not, in my view, automatically "porn". And one or two instances of particularly excessive depictions does not make a trend (at least not one that deserves a label).

Therefore, I feel that anyone who actually sees today's mainstream comics as being "pornificated" (in the sense of it being an ongoing or even increasing trend) has an overdeveloped sensitivity to sexual content (in other words, a prude), or is unaccustomed to expressions of sexuality (in other words, a child).

Does anyone actually have that opinion? It was expressed, albeit anonymously. To that, I responded. Others have apparently assumed I was talking directly to them, or groups they belong to. Only if they actually share that anonymously-expressed opinion do I consider them prudish or childish.

None of these are mutually exclusive concepts.

zhinxy said...

even if that means you give some people the benefit of the doubt that they know what they're talking about, but not me...


Thought that came off a bit whiney, hence the don't play the victim. That's all. Hey, again, you can still think it's childish. Really, go ahead. Your blog. Nothing against you personally. Still think there's a trend. Might describe it as pornification. (In some ways and some cases and some instances the trend makes me happy. In other ways and other cases and other instances the trend makes me roll my eyes. ;) )You can still think that's childish. Go on, say whatever you want. That's life, you know? Have fun.

Anon, A Mouse said...

After giving it some thought...

"Thought that came off a bit whiney, hence the don't play the victim."

hmm.

"The thing about Mr. Mouse is that he'll tell you you've got reasonable arguments, then go on and rant to the high heavens about the prudish hordes all about, then tell you you're being reasonable in criticising sexism in comics again."

"You doing that "you're being sensible... no, wait, You're a bad bad oversensitive prudey censor who does not get to talk about comics with the adults" again, mousey?"

hmmmm.

"Nenena's got a definition of and opinions on porn I don't necessarily share. Same with Scott, tend to give both of them the benefit of the doubt."

Mmm-hmmm.

But if you don't grant me that same leeway, it is really whining, or "playing the victim" to point that out? Because I think there's a bit of a difference in saying "well, I don't share that person's opinions", and "oh, you know the thing about that guy, he just flip-flops a bunch."

zhinxy said...
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zhinxy said...

I grant you some leeway, the first comment was when I was genuinely confused by you and what you meant, the second comment was more tongue-in-cheek, i.e. "friendly what are you doing here, mouse?" attitude. Not... You are doing this, but are you doing this? i. e. : "I think you could be coming off this way." - and I was partly poking fun at my own earlier reactions to you. I think you reacted as if it were a genuine accusation of something horrible. Wasn't meant that way, and I do apologize. In other words, the second time, I was giving you the benefit of the doubt. As I've said, you do not make sense to me all of the time. Which could be my problem. Really, I do not have a personal problem with you, but yes, I thought you might have been whining there. On the whole, I think I've treated you with respect. I have no problem telling you that I think you can fly off the handle and as somebody I occasionally read on the internet, there can be a charm to your rock-and-roll scorched earth attitude as regards these things. You're a blogger on the internet, my earlier opinions are right there, and I've altered them a little after getting more clarification from you. I'm not your enemy, your friend, or anything but somebody reading on the internet. You've certainly got opinions of other bloggers. I've got opinions of bloggers. We can all express them. And you know, I think that's that, isn't it?

stay good, mousey one, and I mean that from the bottom of my cold evil heart. ;)

Anon, A Mouse said...

Fair enough.

For my own part, if I've overreacted, I also apologize.

It could be I'm a bit sensitive to that kind of thing, as it's close to the reason I decided to enter this arena anonymously in the first place.

James Meeley said...

Anon & zhinxy:

{::sarcasm::} Geez, get a room you two, will ya? If I want to see "mental foreplay", I'll go watch a Dennis Miller stand up routine! {::/sarcasm::}

The above is said with much affection and good natured humor, 'cause I just respect you guys so much.

Besides, someone has to cool you two off, before your keyboards get sticky. ;)