Thursday, August 28, 2008

Just Don't Care

I don't find your questions difficult to answer because I believe there is a very, very clear line between objectification and sexuality. I can't see how this line can possibly be so blurry to some. Objectification shows a lack of respect while sexy does not (to men as well, because it treats you like you are all big throbbing penis's and nothing else). So, no one would really lose out unless they would prefer to view women as sexualised objects rather than sexy women.

--An anonymous commenter who has read Adam Warren's Empowered

What's kinda interesting about this exchange between us is that it practically encapsulates several of my wordiest blog posts in a comparatively small number of paragraphs. But the above quote treads near something that I've probably said before, something others probably have said before, and if nobody has said it, they should. So if you have heard this before, well, you'll be hearing it again.

Now, maybe this is because I'm me, and not the stereotypical image of the loser obsessive comics geek, but: I don't get upset about objectifying depictions of my gender. I just don't.

Part of this, I'm sure, is because of the reasonings I make regarding fantasy and objectifications and all that, but beyond rational thinking, there is no innate, gut-level twinge for me if I should think about some woman looking at, say, yaoi porn. There is no inner response that says "how degrading!" or "that woman must not respect men... or me!"

The 12-year-old in me may think how cool it would be to be Batman or Superman, but nothing done to those characters in some negative fashion, either in canon or the spooky wilds of fanworks, presents itself as an affront to me.

Am I alone in this?

Certainly fanboys can throw fits over issues, like whether Spider-Man is a clone or what color the Hulk should be. Maybe I don't look in the right places, but I don't see a lot of male outcry against women objectifying them, which, true, could be because women are somehow less likely to objectify men in that way... but it could also be because that for the most part men just really don't give a damn about it in the way some women seem to.

I mention this because more than once I've seen (or been a part of) some debate where someone tries to make a point by saying "well, you wouldn't like it if such-and-so was done to YOU, would you now?" And if the action in question was something like getting beaten by police or having my significant other slap me around a bit, well, no, I probably wouldn't like it at all. Such an argument only works, however, when there is shared ground, and so anyone trying to plead for greater reverence for, say, the character of Wonder Woman, will fail if they try to say "but you wouldn't like it if they put Superman in a thong!!"

Big whoop. Hey, if it'd get people to relax about Wonder Woman's sacred buttcheeks for a while, I'd happily endorse Clark Kent running around in nothing but a cape and string-pouch.

I've seen cartoons in response to certain blogstorms. There's an image of Spiderman in a thong, mimicking the Mary-Jane statue. I think it was Lea Hernandez who altered a Flash cover to make an assault on him by a tentacled monster look more amorous than stressful, in response to the Heroes for Hire cover. And when I saw those images, I also saw comments along the lines of "That'll show those fanboys! Now they'll know what it's like!"

Only... I haven't seen any indication that the fanboys did anything but say something like "eh, man-ass" and hit the BACK button on their browsers. (Certainly, dear reader, if you're aware of fanboys losing their minds over these things, do share links.) Any response there was, was far less visible by comparison, not nearly as energetic.

I don't think fanboys will ever "know what it's like", because I believe that for most they perceive this sort of thing in a fundamentally different way. Even the flap over Alex Ross painting "packages" on superheroes seemed less about "oh gosh that reduces my gender to nothing but a sexual organ" than a quasi-homophobic (well, in some cases blatantly homophobic) "ew, I don't wanna hafta look at some other guy's junk!"

Personally, I didn't even care about that. So the idea that somehow, somewhere, women might be looking at pictures of men and thinking of them as nothing more than hot throbbing chunks of man-meat distresses me not in the least. I certainly don't see it as a personal affront to me, or even to the male gender.

So remember that, please, if you feel you want to try to one-up me with "well, if it happened to you", because depending on what exactly you mean, there's a chance that I just do not care at all.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Mickle, Mouse.

(Simply could not resist.)

Just a quickie for now: Mad Thinker Scott has already pointed out Mickle's reflexive bit of self-contradiction, so there's no need for me to belabor the point, but after wondering why some of it felt so familiar, it hit me:

Oh yeah, I tried saying pretty much the same thing several months ago, only without calling anyone an "asshat".

And what I got in response were a number of folks trying to tell me that:
  • Being nice doesn't work;
  • Telling someone to be nice is like telling them to sit down and shut up;
  • You need to yell at/be abusive to people to get them to pay attention to you;
  • and so forth.
So, Mickle... yeah. Let me know how that concept works out for you. Lord knows I didn't have much luck with it.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Tolerance is a Myth.

For me, the sexy and provocative situations have always just been put down to fanservice, until they cross the line.

However, have manga and anime been quietly pushing that line further and further ahead, so what would have been obscene, say a year ago, is now just normal everyday fanservice.


If i’m honest, i’m immune to this these days. In my reply to her comment i pointed out that by most of todays manga Maximum Ride is actually quite tame. Though i have to admit i wasn’t aware that Max was 14, i thought she was 17/18 lol.

Sexual content in manga and anime has been around for years, but i think it started getting more common place with the two Kodomo no Jikan incidents.

[To a commenter] considering the audience is necessary in determining perception. And it does seem reasonable that women talking among themselves, so to speak, would find different things acceptable.

No matter what your stance is on the burqa or the headscarf (hijaab), it is clear that this scene puts Dust on the defensive. In a place where mutants are supposed to feel accepted, Dust is misjudged because of her dress choices. In later issues, particularly New X-Men: Hellions # 2, we learn, from a conversation with her mother, that Dust is not forced to wear the burqa and she enjoys the protection it gives her from men. For Dust, the burqa is a choice, and that must be respected and defended. [...] The beautiful teachings of modesty for both genders in Islam tend to be mistaken for the stereotypical notion of “protecting women from men.”

Last first: One of the most interesting things (to me) about the examination of Dust's character, and her Muslim faith and dress code, is that the "beautiful teachings of modesty" are never actually defined in the essay, leaving those not familiar with the Islam faith pretty much where they were before reading it. We're told the writers of the character have mischaracterized the purpose of the burqa; we're just not fully told how.

In a similar fashion, Broken Mystic criticizes those writers for not giving Dust a stronger response when Surge is shown arguing with her about the burqa and other points related to her faith, but gives the reader no sense what such a stronger response would be. (Nor would it likely illuminate any present or future writers of the character, unless Marvel happened to hire one versed in Islam, and even then Broken Mystic acknowledges the subject is one of constant debate even among Muslims themselves.)

The essay takes issue with the perceived failings of Dust's character, while at the same time criticizing other Muslims who do approve of how the character has been portrayed, belying a larger issue than whether one character is a favorable depiction of a Muslim woman.

Set that aside for a moment.

I've already gone over Johanna Draper Carlson's "Does Yaoi Normalize Rape" post, and the comments thereof, but I think this one line I've quoted above deserves special attention. The implication is that yaoi, being made largely by women, for women, with a mainly female fanbase to discuss it amongst itself, has a different standard of tolerance than (one assumes) the general population.

The quoted statement offers no judgement as to whether this is a good or bad thing, just that it's "reasonable".

The logical extension to that, however, is that mainstream comics, made mostly by men, aimed primarily towards men, and with a mostly male fanbase (the WFA crowd and other fangirls notwithstanding) can also be reasonably expected to have a different set of standards for what is and isn't "acceptable".

Again, hold that thought for a bit.

I often find myself amused by people who start out debating how good/bad comics used to be in "the olden days" compared to the present... and then as an example pull out stuff that's maybe 10-15 years old, max. It's as if history doesn't start until whoever's writing began buying comics or manga. A lot of people treat manga like it began with TokyoPop and other publishers getting widespread distribution in bookstores; few seem to retain in memory the fact that there was a small steady stream of translated manga long before that, or that manga as we know it started in Japan just after World War II, or that comic books as we know them began in America in the 1930's.

So reading the back-and-forth about whether there's more or less overt sexuality in today's manga gives me chuckles if for no other reason than to hear Lady Death and Witchblade referenced as being "back in the day". Yeah, positively antediluvian, that.

For all concerned: Sex has been a heavy component in both American and Japanese comics since nearly their respective births. It comes and goes, slips in and out of the mainstream, but it's always been there. American comics can look back to Wonder Woman's fetishism, EC Comics' lurid tales of crime and sleaze, Wertham fretting over Phantom Lady's "headlights", and while sex may have been suppressed and sublimated in mainstream comics during much of the post-Comics Code days, the underground "comix" of the 60s and 70s were often downright pornographic. It took the 80s, the rise of Direct Market "indie comics", and the Comics Code being steadily eroded, to work up to a time when Lady Death and the rest of the "bad girl" craze could happen, but that doesn't mean there wasn't any sex, or controversy, beforehand. (Teen Titans, anyone?)

Manga, on the other hand, has rarely had a point in its history when there wasn't sex in comics. Even revered "manga god" Osamu Tezuka, creator of Astro Boy and Princess Knight, had comics with nudity and eroticism, sometimes disturbing sexuality (look up MW sometime). From bikini-wearing space princesses (Lum, Outlanders) to raping samurai (just about anything with Kazuo Koike's name on it, frankly), sexuality is hardly an uncommon ingredient in any era of manga.

What seems to be different today, frankly, is some audience members' sensitivity to anything that slightly smacks of sexuality, particularly in younger characters. Everything that might be considered sexy by anyone, it seems, is judged by some folks as automatically being sexy to everyone (either supposedly being appealing to those who like that sort of thing, or being disgusting to anyone with the "proper" moral standing).

Tiamat's Disciple quotes someone reviewing a manga story called Maximum Ride; let me quote you a fragment of that fragment:

14-year-old Max is introduced standing in a t-shirt and panties, there are several shots of 11-year-old Nudge’s cleavage, and the moe-esque first shot of 6-year-old Angel is straight-up gross.

Well, I've read that sequence as well (featured in the first issue of the Yen Plus magazine), and like Tiamat's Disciple, I wouldn't have thought those were the ages of the characters Max and Nudge. Max's "t-shirt and panties" aren't depicted in a particularly salacious manner, and it's one panel, seen from a medium distance. Nudge's cleavage isn't highlighted in any way. It's there, but never the point of the panel, never referenced in the story.

As for Angel... here's the thing. Angel is cute. She's an adorable young girl. Some feminists might rankle at her being such a stereotypical girly girl, with ruffled bedsheets and stuffed animals and dolls and girly girl accoutrements, leaving little indication the kid's going to grow up to be a racecar driver or construction worker. You might think from the reviewer's reaction that the kid is sprawling around half-naked or flashing panties or something; no, she's sitting in bed having just pulled on, but not buttoned, a ruffled dress. The most flesh you see is a bit of clavicle and some exposed leg.

"Moé" is one of those terms that, like many unique to the Japanese, seems to shift meaning when translated to English, depending on who's doing the interpreting. It's often used (for example, by our reviewer above) as an implication of lolicon fetishism. But it's worth noting that moé does not have to have a sexual connotation, and it should be pointed out that not every instance of a young child in a drawing must, by default, mean something sexual.

There's quite a bit of (media-driven, I think) child abuse hysteria awash in Western society these days, or perhaps it's mainly American society. Certainly some reactions to previous posts I've made indicate that for some people, even talking about the subject brings forth visceral, irrational frothing in response.

The reviewer appears to be a product of that environment: any hint of sexuality, intended or not, is a cause for disdain, disgust. It is assumed the depictions she describes are either intended to titillate, or will titillate someone, somehow. Bring out the Greek chorus to intone it in the background as I repeat: it's being concerned about how someone else may think about the depiction.

But I mention this not to harp on that one point again, but to show how one can be conditioned to adopt certain attitudes, how different environments can engender different points of view. To interpret the picture of Angel as "moe-esque", you must first be aware of the moé concept, know that there is a certain amount of lolicon fetishism out there, and be ready to interpret everything you see under that overhanging dread. Now contrast the reviwer's distaste with Tiamat Disciple's own noncommittal shrug over the scene; two people supposedly steeped in similar manga culture but interpreting the same panels differently. These are our differences.

The burqa: icon of modesty or symbol of male/religious oppression of women?
Yaoi rape fantasies: gay-degrading smut or women talking amongst themselves?
Cute kid in bed: Cute kid in bed or lolicon porn?

You can argue either side of each question; certainly there will be adherents of either side who think they are the "right" ones.

Broken Mystic says, near the end of her essay on Dust, "Perhaps we all can learn from Dust and learn how to accept one another for our differences."

That would be nice, except I don't see it happening any time soon. Unfortunately, the downside to an idealistic statement like that is that if you really mean it, really truly want everyone to accept each other, that means putting up with a lot of crap you might otherwise protest.

After all: Broken Mystic herself takes issue with those who praise the burqa for reasons she feels marginalize and diminish those who don't wear it, but that's one of those very differences she hopes we can learn to tolerate in one another, a difference in culture and perspective.

How many who let male rape in yaoi slide by will absolutely not tolerate depictions of female rape, particularly that, like in yaoi, imply the victim actually wants it or will fall in love with the rapist?

How many express outrage over lolicon manga, produced in Japan, where fictional depictions are legal and have been accepted for years? Who was it behind the push to raise that country's long-standing age of consent to make it more in line with American standards? How many stood up and condemned Dave Cheung for his sexy teenage characters when his own country of residence has a lower age of consent than the USA? Aren't these differences of culture?

And: how many accept the differences of idiot grab-asses at conventions who apparently haven't been taught any better than to reach out and grab other people without permission?

No, tolerance is a myth.

When people talk about tolerance and understanding, what they usually mean is they can be tolerant and understanding until someone pushes their own personal hot-button and then out come the long knives.

Respecting other people's differences, truly respecting them, all of them, is damn hard work.

And damn nigh impossible, since everyone not only has their own differences, but limits to what they can tolerate.

This is not a plea for more tolerance. I don't approve of the acts described at SDCC any more than most of the WFA-linked posts I've read. There's plenty of cultural differences that I won't ever see eye-to-eye on, practices that I'll always speak against. I consider myself more tolerant than most, but even that isn't total and complete acceptance of everything.

I do, however, think it's worth pointing out that there's more to "accepting our differences" than a feel-good platitude. Tolerance and understanding starts with the self. What do you tolerate? Who do you understand? How far beyond your current limits are you willing to reach, for increased tolerance and understanding? How many steps will you take into the enemy's camp in pursuit of that ideal?

Don't cry out "understand me!" and expect it to happen, particularly if you aren't yourself willing to extend that understanding to even the things you despise.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Fashion! Turn To The Left! (watch out for the dog...oops)

On top of Final Crisis #3 being a life-draining vortex of suckitude AND seriously fucking over Mary Marvel in favor of some fetish stereotype from O Magazine circa 1990, spontaneously catalyzing over 290 comments of almost uniform abject hatred over on scans_daily for Morrison's writing in Final Crisis - seriously, Grant, if you think you're being edgy and provocative, you're more deluded than a schizophrenic with late stage syphilis - as well as being insulting to every single female currently reading superhero comics, that's it. I'm so done with DC.

Oh, and by the way, Final Crisis #3: gratuitous animal abuse, fucking over of Mary Marvel - did I mention the fucking over of Mary Marvel part? - AND "Title X," which, hey, why does that sound familiar?

By the way, in Grant Morrison's world, you can unplug the internet the world over with a single mystical e-mail. Or something. An e-mail that Oracle can't hack, of course.

[in comments, later] Because, of course, if a girl turns bad, she must automatically morph into a shiny black vinyl-wearing tart.

I gotta say... I do sympathize with the whole Hawkman thing. I've got similar issues with Donna Troy (MY ORIGIN IS NOTHING BUT RETCON DO I EVEN EXIST HELP ME PLEASE), but it's hard to equate Final Crisis comments as anything more than "Michael Bay, I mean, Grant Morrison raped my childhood!"

Oh noes, magic email is too stupid! Really? In a world where the Spectre and Dr. Fate waltz around, wizards are somehow passe? Did everyone miss the part where the world is being humped by the spirits of the evil New Gods? Are these new improved New Gods, with no supernatural components whatsoever? "Sanitized and de-magified for your protection!"

Oracle can't hack the email! This is so not like her! Yeah. The email appears, there's a few moments of confusion, and it opens itself in those mere moments, and somehow Barbara Gordon should have been able to analyze said email and defend against it, outperforming a million 2Ghz processors across the world. Oracle's good, I'm sure, but not part of the Flash Family.

What a cad to make Mary Marvel evil! And give Wonder Woman a beast face and spread the Anti-Life clap across peoples' icons! It's a complete surprise that things should be this awful and horrible, smack in the middle of a series that's been hyped as "THE DAY EVIL WON" since for-freaking-ever.

Ah, but soft you now, mine is not merely to mock fannish complaints (though it's fun), but to ponder yon Mary Marvel's wardrobe.

Because I wonder how well the scene would have been received had she been wearing her original costume. Either classic red or post-revamp white; the white would have been particularly striking spattered with Atomic Knight and giant dog blood. Would that have been more or less chilling? More or less of an outrage?

Do clothes make the heroine? There were squawks enough as is when Mary Marvel adopted the glossy black variation of her original costume.

It's interesting to note that the original Mary Marvel outfit obviously derives from classic skating outfits, or perhaps athletic/acrobatic costumes. Just a little while ago I saw a bit of the Olympics, womens' gymnastics, and there's an interesting parallel there. Leotards were once colorful but at best satiny spandex, but recently the materials have gotten more exotic, in appearance at least.

I mean, I'm sure nobody's dressing up the gymnasts in actual latex or PVC, but when someone sticks a landing and pokes her butt out (omg she's presenting omg) and there's a shine off that butt rivaling a polished sports car, having Mary Marvel take up a similar look isn't that much of a stretch.

But okay. We've gone from bright and airy, to black and troubled, to black and whacked out on absinthe and meth. But if you don't agree that the wardrobe change properly reflects one superheroine's slide from virtue to decadence, the question is: How would you dress, if you were Evil Mary Marvel?

You know what I would do, if I were an artist, or had a blog more suitable to the task? I'd try to start one of those art-memes that were the rage not too long ago. Remember the "Batgirl Meme"? Or the shorter-lived Supergirl redesign thing? Where everyone drew their own version of said superheroines, sometimes faithfully, sometimes wildly re-imagining them from the ground up? That's what I'd do.

And if I were going to do it, here's how I'd present it:

Draw Evil Mary Marvel. Once a paragon of virtue and goodness, poor Mary has succumbed to the lure of the Dark Side, Darkseid, whatever, and become evil. Your task: choose her wardrobe. Remember, we've had a few variations on this already: the black variation of her costume as she became, not wholly evil, but "darker", the current fetish gear seen in Final Crisis, and another fetish-y look seen on an alternate-universe version of Mary Marvel (from the Justice Buddies JLA story).

Don't be sentimental about Good Mary Marvel. Whinging about lost innocence misses the point. Must a heroine turned evil dress provocatively? Or perhaps a subtler "Devil Wears Prada" power-fashion approach? You can't change her mind, but what she wears while she betrays all the ideals you once loved her for, that you can tinker with.

That's what I'd do. And if I couldn't do that, I'd openly offer the idea to anyone willing to run with it.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Spoiler Warnings (these warnings came way too late!)

Hey, you know what I didn't know? I didn't know that Blogger saves copies of stuff you were writing and that if the power goes out and your computer dies, stuff you wrote may be retained in the guts of your account, so you can dig it out later! Okay now I know, and I'm finding a few things that got interrupted during the whole writing process which I gave up on and decided not to re-write. Hidden treasures of joy or something.

Following is a fragment: I'm not entirely sure if I was going somewhere more profound with this, but reading it fresh after a couple months, I think I had some interesting points...

And like that, DC probably hopes to be finished with the whole ordeal—and maybe they are. Maybe all the people under the feminist banner of Spoiler concerns weren't really feminists at all, and now that they've gotten their character back, they'll sink into the immersive swamp of comic fandom and get back to talking about whether or not Storm's powers over electricity could translate to some form of time travel, and who would win in a fight between igneous rock and the Mole Man.
But if they are the real thing—if that ragtag group of comics readers really do have a problem with the way super-hero comics regularly present female characters as little more than objects of fetishistic eroticism or utilitarian mechanics to minimize the importance of female heroes and exaggerate the emotional component of their male counterpart, then DC's done something even more offensive. They've ignored every feminist criticism of the Spoiler situation and treated a bunch of people with valid complaints as if they're the same kind of rabid loudmouth who threatened to incinerate their parent's basement back when Ben Reilly replaced Peter Parker for all of twenty seconds. They've negated what was so offensive about the whole thing initially—that a female was tortured to death and then ignored like so much cannon fodder. Of course, if DC's right to assume that those who were raising feminist-based criticism were just whiny fans, then resurrecting a third-rate character in a low-selling Batman spin-off was the right move. After all, they brought her back, right?

No, really? DC offend by not seeming to give much of a damn about feminist outcry? What a shocker! Who could have seen that one coming?

There's an assumption in the above statement: that the manner in which Spoiler was killed was the primary problem for the protesters. No, on further consideration, the assumption is a bit more binary: that it's either feminism or fandom driving the protests.

I'm not sure what he's ultimately getting at. My initial impression is that it's a caution of sorts to the feminists, to not take Spoiler's resurrection as a great feminist victory, which is fair enough.

The criticism of DC's actions, though, doesn't make much sense to me. I mean, I understand what he's trying to say (I think), that DC resurrecting Spoiler is a sop to fangirls and not any real move towards alleviating feminist concerns... but since when has DC shown any inclination to reform in line with feminist concerns, anyway? I wouldn't think a DC who's looking to make feminist gains is the kind that would casually let colorists bleach Vixen on multiple occasions, or continue with any number of other causes of feminist complaints, from major to minor.

Of course, that thought is based on the assumption that DC is a monolithic entity and each of its employees is in line with one overarching policy; this is likely not the case. The editor that lets Grant Morrisson give Batman a Stephanie-case hallucination may not be working closely with the editor that signs off on cover colors (or they may be the same guy, who knows). Even if you think Dan DiDio is sitting around cackling as he tweaks feminists in some way or another, he's one guy in a larger machine.

It is, I think, a mistake to attribute one action to the body of a many-headed beast. What's more, it seems like a jump to conclusions that ANY action taken by DC in recent times is a move to appease feminists, or offend them, for that matter. You'd first have to assume that DC as a corporate entity was aware (and cared) about feminist concerns in order to say convincingly that they were out to placate or anger them, and I don't think that's really the case. I'm sure they have people who monitor blog-storms and the like; I'm skeptical that such monitoring plays much of a role at editorial meetings.

But back to the issue of feminists and fangirls and Spoiler: rather than thinking that each protester of Spoiler's demise and subsequent non-memorial status is either fan or feminist, one or the other, it seems logical to me that a great many protesters are/were a bit of both to some extent; if nothing else, in the way the protests have been presented.

I've already put forth the idea that a crusader for a cause may appropriate many parallel arguments for/against a certain position in order to strengthen their own argument (and then be willing to turn around and discard anything that suddenly is not helpful to the cause); I'm certain many who were simply ardent fans of Spoiler would use feminist arguments even if they weren't particularly committed to feminism, and I'm betting that many feminists didn't give much thought to Spoiler as a character when she was alive (the first time) but were willing to use her death to bring up their particular agendas. Put those on either end of a scale, salt most of the rest of the protesters in the middle, I think that'd be a decent picture of people's allegiances.