Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Indestructable! Indefensible! REPREHENSIBLE!

Sorry, nowadays whenever I hear the word I think of the They Might Be Giants song of the same name.

So tell me: what do you think of police brutality? The Rodney King incident, for example. Or any number of other examples where the police get a little too wrapped up in the subduing of a suspect, where they cross the line from reasonable force to just wailing on some guy 'cuz they're mad at him for resisting or something.

Reprehensible, right? We expect our law enforcement officials to act in a calm, efficient manner at all times, even the most stressful. It's a lot to ask for, but that's the job, it's an awesome responsibility, and we don't want people beat to death or shot just because they gave some stressed-out officer a little lip at the wrong moment.

Dress a guy up in some spandex, though, maybe a cape, and we're willing to forgive him his little violent tantrums. Give him hair flares and knives coming out of his arm, and heck, we'll applaud when he kills a few people.

Granted, in superhero comics the bad guys are normally pretty clearly labeled as Bad Guys who deserve to get the living crap kicked out of them. Nobody feels too sorry for the Joker, despite whatever sob story he may or may not have for an origin.

Still, step back and think about what would really happen if costumed heroes were taking the law into their own hands in the real world. Oh, the civil rights abuses alone...

And it might give kids ideas. Some kid might think strapping on a mask, tracking down that bully who picked on him, and beating him to pulp with a baseball bat is a virtuous path to take after reading the amazing adventures of Revenge-Man.

Tell me now: in the real world, which is worse? Beating the crap out of someone, or sexism? Leaving aside the issue of whether sexism can lead one to beat the crap out of someone else, can we agree that between sexism and violence, violence is the greater of two evils?

If everything I have said is true, then why would anyone fixate on eradicating sexism from comics before they had been cleansed of violence? Surely, the latter is a greater threat to society, if we believe that the content of a comic book leads the youngins down the slippery slope to a life of crime.

Or phrased another way: If everything I have said is true, why do some people excuse violence but not sexism?


For some reason, the Oscars recently crossed my sight. More specifically, the hordes of celebrities that attended the event. I was thinking to myself (and now I'm repeating the thought to you) that like superhero comics, one could say there's a sexist mode of dress at work there. Most men are dressed in suits and tuxes, most of their body covered, while many women parade around in very revealing gowns, some of which are structurally unsound to the point of needing double-sided tape to keep the naughty bits from being inadvertently exposed. Even more demure gowns expose much skin and cleavage, compared to how much skin men have exposed. Why? Well, to look attractive and glamorous, by the standards of today's western society.

You can certainly say that it is sexist, if you like, but in that light, isn't it reasonable to speculate that if superheroes did exist in real life, they might very well dress as they do in the comics, with women dressing in a more sexually pronounced fashion?

After all, as far as function goes, a cape and cowl are just as ridiculous as a boob window. A real-life Batman would be an idiot if he wore anything other than Kevlar body armor and a riot helmet. Unless you're invulnerable like Superman, most superhero costuming of either gender is pretty damn impractical.

Which leaves "because it looks awesome cool!"* as the only reason any of them dress like that. You dress to be noticed more than anything else. And thus, superheroines dressing in immodest fashion would be sexist, but not more so than real life itself.

*standards for "awesome cool" being completely subjective, of course.


Scott (The Mad Thinker) Anderson said...

Funny, but I was thinking along the same lines lately. Your commentor said that Cheung clearly wants to rape children based on his comic. By that same reasoning, don't we have to assume that the writers of Wolverine, the Punisher, Manhunter, etc. want to murder people but they're to cowardly or whatever to do it?

Yann said...

Okay, I'm going to have to assume you're being somewhat facetious here, and just want to voice general disagreement - unfortunately I'm leaving for a day filled with seminars and exhaustion, so I'd appreciate it if you'd bear with me until tomorrow or so, when I should hopefully have the time on my hands to write something more than a one-note response.

mordicai said...

The thing is-- pretending that people have the same ammount of suspension of disbelief ACROSS THE BOARD is just silly. we know the literary language. we know violence is part of that fantasy. just as we know flying & shooting lasers out of your eyes are part of the fantasy. but that fantasy STOPS at interpersonal relationships. Superman having "cold breath" we can parse, but Superman being all "Yo, bitch." to Louis would vibe wrong. When sexism intrudes, it does so on that interpersonal level. It sneaks under the suspension of disbelief. Cha?

Anon, A Mouse said...


I'd say, first off, that not everybody draws that line where you do. For example, a great deal of James Bond's appeal is that he can be a womanizer and a murderer (in the cause of justice, of course) and get away with it. Sean Connery-era Bond, casually slapping women's butts, aggressively propositioning members of the opposite sex, and having them not slap the teeth out of his mouth, that's every bit as much a fantasy as shooting death beams out of your head.

Suspension of disbelief is one of those things that jars people mostly when something they know or believe is poked; a NASA scientist is more likely to have his suspension of belief fail watching the physics in Star Trek than an average person. And I submit that someone with a heavily feminist-oriented viewpoint is going to be far more sensitive to ANYTHING that smacks of sexism than someone who's less concerned over the issue.

Which is why I don't really believe that it's just "interpersonal relationships" that interfere with the suspension of disbelief for some folks, it's all the other stuff, too, like improbably revealing costumes and cheesecake poses, and anything else others might think is no big deal but that can become a Big Feminist Blogosphere Issue. Some people don't give those things a pass because they don't WANT to give those things a pass.

Sexism in comics has been around from comics' beginnings, and especially in the early pulp-style days of superheroes, with Batman mouthing off "Quiet or Papa spank" and Superman being kinda rough with some "dizzy dame". It's improved in many ways, though you can still find people willing to say stuff like "mainstream comics are porn now!"

The fact is, a lot of sexist tropes that people gripe about today have existed in comics for probably longer than most of the complainers have been reading comics, so saying that we accept violence "because it's part of the language" but not sexism ignores that sexism has been part of the language too.

Which is not, repeat NOT, me saying that sexism in comics is therefore always justified, but it IS me maintaining that there's an irrationally unequal standard at work for some folks between sexism and violence, and which is the greater of two evils.

Anonymous said...

Tell me now: in the real world, which is worse? Beating the crap out of someone, or sexism?

That's easy. Sexism.
Sexism means a system is in place wherein one gender is consistently paid less than another resulting in the impoverishment of an entire gender.

Sexism means victims of violence are systematically denied justice because they don't conform to what people consider is appropriate for their gender.

Sexism means one gender is not allowed any number of social, educational, artistic or economic opportunities.

Sexism locks one gender into second-class status that will last, if it isn't challenged, forever.

All that versus beating the crap out of one person? Sexism is clearly worse.

Thanks for asking.

Anon, A Mouse said...

"Sexism is clearly worse."

Ha, no.

Perhaps I should have phrased it better: Which is worse, an institutionalized system of violence, or an institutionalized system of sexism? Or swap the scale around the other way: which is worse, beating the crap out of one guy or having someone do something sexist to one other person?

Sexism writ large may trump violence writ small. Balance the scale, though, and I doubt any but the most fanatical would still consider sexism more deplorable than violence.

Unless you do want to claim "getting paid less" as being more horrible than, say, the Holocaust or Hiroshima, which, I confess, would be most amusing to witness.

Anonymous said...

Why do you keep this up? Women are not rational in any way shape or form. And you know that. Just pat them on the head and say "that's nice dear"

Anon, A Mouse said...

Anonymous: Oh, sure, that's just what they WANT me to do. It's a trap!