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.

11 comments:

Andre said...

"How many express outrage over lolicon manga, produced in Japan,"

I have a theory on that.
people are so scared of being seen as pervs they feel anything less then full outrage might make others wonder.

Also you do have to be watchful or you will get branded and that can be really dangerous to everything to you and your loved ones.

Anonymous said...

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.


Truer words have yet to be spoken.

You know, your piece here reminds me of something the late, great George Carlin said in his last stand-up special early this year. He was talking about relgious types and said the following:

"They always ask 'what would Jesus do?' And they ask this, NOT so they can do it themselves, but so they can tell other people to do it!"

I see a lot of similarities with what he said there and with this continuing crusade in mainstream comics by many "so-called" Feminists.

They preach that you need to be tolerant of their opinions and their feelings. Yet, it never seems to run the other way with them. This is why so many of them DO cry out "understand me!" and expect you to listen. Because their tolerance ends with someone who doesn't agree or heed what they say as some kind of "gospel truth."

I've seen you (and many others) say how those who act out like this are trying to be thought police. I've felt that wasn't quite right, since they know they have no way to actually control your thoughts. But having read this, I think I've finally figured out what they ARE trying to be: The Tolerance Police. They want to be the ones to decide what is and isn't tolerable for everyone. If they are outraged by it, all need to be. If they are okay with it, all need to be.

The rub, naturally, as you noted, is that everyone has a different yard stick on how much that can (or will) tolerate.

And, of course, matters of culture are basically irrelevent (unless it is of benefit to thier own view). I recently saw someone rip into artist Ed Benes, because he draws Wonder Woman's uniform bottoms like a thong. They called him the usual names for it. I asked them if they knew he is actually from Brazil, where, among other things, they invented the string bikini, and so seeing a woman in a thong is as normal to him, culturally speaking, as any of us in the US seeing a woman in a pants suit. So, his drawing her in one might not be because he wants to disrespect women, but simply an aspect of his cultural view of how women dress. Needless to say, they never responded back. Big surprise.

Anyway, this was a very impressive post. I'm sure it will be ignored or ridiculed by those who should heed ti the most, though, as that is how these things often go. Still, very nicely done.

Andre said...

I wonder if finding a culture abhorrent makes me less of a person? How close is that to racism?
Is it one and the same?
I don't go around trying to make people of that culture stop or even try to convince people of this culture they are wrong in any way but...

Anon, A Mouse said...

"I wonder if finding a culture abhorrent makes me less of a person? How close is that to racism?
Is it one and the same?"

Well, literally, no, they are not the same, race and culture are two different things. You're born into race, and unless you're Michael Jackson, you can't change that. (Jackson seems to be in the process of not only changing race, but species.)

You may be born into culture, but you can choose to change or leave your native culture, even if it leaves a lasting imprint on you when you leave.

Culture can also encompass many different aspects of a person's life, such as religion, or style, or even what's considered polite behavior. For example, there's a stereotype regarding Arabs that says that an Arab is far more likely to get physically close to someone they're talking to, close enough to invade what others consider their "personal space". I don't have any personal experience regarding this stereotype, but it works as an example of a fairly minor cultural difference.

Other differences can be far more dramatic. Recently in the USA there was an instance of the government moving in to remove children from a religious compound, where it was alleged they had been systematically abused. The group was supposedly an offshoot of Mormonism, some branches of which believe in polygamy.

That right there, with the double whammy of multiple wives and possible child abuse, leaves that group in the position of almost nobody being willing to "understand their differences".

This is why preaching tolerance has its problems: true universal tolerance would mean finding a way to coexist with even the most taboo of cultural differences, and that isn't likely to happen. The best you can aspire to is to be as tolerant as possible; the most reasonable measure of success is to compare how tolerant you are compared to others (and a certain amount of raw self-honesty is required for the measurement to have any real meaning).

Finding another culture intolerable is part of the human condition; your culture teaches you some things are right and others are wrong, and if some other culture teaches that what you think is right is wrong (or vice versa), there's bound to be conflict between the two when and where they meet.

If that trait isn't particularly admirable, it is at least understandable.

But, like I said, it does make the concept of truly respecting the differences of others far more difficult to achieve than some may think.

Anonymous said...

Hi!

I don't know if you remember, but I was the anonymous on your post about Empowered.

I don't know much about burqa's or lolicon, but I think the thing about yaoi is that it is porn, right? And clearly labeled as porn (in my comic shop it is in cellophane wrapping). It's not really my thing, but I can easily not buy it or read it if I want to stay away from ridiculously sexualised images of men. Just like I don't have to buy a porn vid or mag or whatever if I don't want to see ridiculously degrading images of women.

And I think that's the thing, why I don't like mainstream comics to constantly be objectifying the female characters...because can't we keep porn a separate thing? I just want to see explosions and people kicking ass, really...sexy is good, but let's face it, sometimes that line is waaaaay crossed!

I would be just as weirded out if I all I ever saw were panels of Superman's arse or heavy focus on the bulge of his cock (it always seems to go the other way though and male characters have any representation of the fact they have a penis shaded right out! WTF is that about?).

Does that make sense?

Anon, A Mouse said...

"And I think that's the thing, why I don't like mainstream comics to constantly be objectifying the female characters...because can't we keep porn a separate thing?"

As I understand it, yaoi pretty much is porn, although there is a tamer variation of manga called "BL" or "Boy's Love" that follows many yaoi conventions but is far less explicit.

What you are saying with the above quote, however, is that the sexuality/objectification in mainstream comics is equivalent to porn. Keep porn separate? Isn't it already separate, for the most part?

It does illustrate the point of my little essay somewhat: if you see what goes on in mainstream comics as "porn", and I don't (among other things, I can't accept something that isn't particularly explicit as outright porn), that is a difference in perspective which, if we are to fully coexist and be "tolerant" of each other, needs to be resolved.

Personally, I have been opposed to the shading out of male "bulges" in comics (such as has been done to Alex Ross' art), not because I am a fan of the package, but because 1) in general, I oppose that which censors or attempts to tame art in response to public outcry; and 2) I think it would be entirely fair if there were a comparable amount of male sexuality in comics that (some) women could appreciate.

There have been some instances of female sexuality being toned down, such as the late Michael Turner's drawing of Power Girl and its "boob reduction", but I can see why male bulges get more attention from the publishers and swifter action: the publishers probably look at the fact that the majority of their readers are male, and thus are quicker to respond to complaints by what they see as their main source of income.

Plus, even if there were just as many women reading superhero comics as men, the two genders tend to react to sexuality differently. Would women find Citizen Steel's "package" all that erotic, or are they responding to different, less obvious cues? (If I recall, you yourself weren't impressed with the muscular Thugboy from Empowered...)

But back to the subject of tolerance and getting along despite our differences: faced with this difference of opinion, what can be done? You or I can hold fast to our own stances and claim that we are right and demand that the other person change their outlook; or, we each can try to persuade the other that our own perspective is better, and attempt to create a voluntary shift of opinion; we may even struggle to compromise, to reach a halfway-point that fully satisfies nobody but that both sides can live with; or, finally, we can agree to let each side want what they want and resolve to not let the other side's opinion/behavior bother us.

The last option is the most tolerant response, but also the most difficult to achieve.

Anonymous said...

What you are saying with the above quote, however, is that the sexuality/objectification in mainstream comics is equivalent to porn. Keep porn separate? Isn't it already separate, for the most part?

I feel that objectification is related to porn. I don't feel it is fair to see a woman's (or mans!) body constantly objectified outside of the appropriate setting. I don't see what comics would loose by doing this - for the most part, I reckon they do it very well, but I find it hugely distracting to be reading a mainstream comic and be exposed to it. Stuff like Lady Death and Witchblade, well, that is what they are all about, right? So it is appropriate content to provide objectification in that case. It just really annoys me when it is in JLA!

Personally, I have been opposed to the shading out of male "bulges" in comics (such as has been done to Alex Ross' art), not because I am a fan of the package, but because 1) in general, I oppose that which censors or attempts to tame art in response to public outcry; and 2) I think it would be entirely fair if there were a comparable amount of male sexuality in comics that (some) women could appreciate.

Yeah, but there is nothing inherently sexual about a penis bulge. It is weird that there *is* any sort of outcry. If it was he focus of a over and being pushed into the viewers face, I would be against the objectification. I don't want to see male characters become more objectified (unless that is what the comic was ABOUT).

Plus, even if there were just as many women reading superhero comics as men, the two genders tend to react to sexuality differently. Would women find Citizen Steel's "package" all that erotic, or are they responding to different, less obvious cues? (If I recall, you yourself weren't impressed with the muscular Thugboy from Empowered...)

Lol - true! But just because I am female doesn't mean I can't become visually aroused. Thug-boy's overly muscled bouncy castle look just doesn't do it for me! Personally, I do believe women can react just as visually as men (but I am sure you don't really want to know what goes on in my mind, haha).

But back to the subject of tolerance and getting along despite our differences: faced with this difference of opinion, what can be done?

Well, I just think it is really simple to reach a middle ground. Don't draw people as if they are sexual objects and not characters in a mainstream comic book. There are plenty of other materials (plenty of other comic books) for that. It's sooo distracting in a book, and I have to admit, as a straight female reader it almost makes me feel like they don't even imagine I might be reading it. I just can't work out what readers or comic book companies would be missing out on! It's just simply a matter of respect.

Anon, A Mouse said...

"I just can't work out what readers or comic book companies would be missing out on! It's just simply a matter of respect."

Ah! But respect to whom, and how much, and in which direction?

Consider first that you've just said (pretty much) that too much sexuality in comics is a lack of respect to you. This by itself opens up a whole can of worms: how much is too much, and who gets to decide where the line is drawn? Also, if the artists and publishers aren't respecting you, is this a sign of overt antipathy toward you, or simply the fact that they like producing this kind of material, and whether or not you like it also is incidental? (i.e., is it deliberate or not?)

Mull that over a bit, and then let me pose a few more your way: How much (if any) responsibility does a publisher or artist have to cater to (or respect) the wants of every single member of its audience, especially if different members want different things? And what if one viewpoint has a majority over the others? Consider that some publishers (like those that make yaoi) target specific audiences and aren't necessarily trying to please everybody...

And then after THAT, think about the possibility that actively trying to get the amount of sexuality reduced in mainstream comics MIGHT be interpreted as a lack of respect for the wishes of those who do like it, who produce it and who want to read it.

This is not to say that you ought not to speak out for what you like (and what you don't), but if you frame the issue as a matter of respect, you should be aware that you risk making it a battle of personal offense where none is intended. And, remember that respect goes both ways, that sometimes increasing respect for one side of a debate means decreasing respect for the other.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous Empowered fan here again!

I think I can see where we differ now - 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.

I think the more relevant question is why sexual objectification is appropriate in the JLA (for example). I can see the arguement for Lady Death, Withcblade, yaoi and other such things, but I can't see it for a title that everyone is meant to be able to enjoy.

Hey, if you are ever in Manchester, UK, drop into Travelling Man comic store and we can go through some titles together. :D

Anonymous said...

Anonymous Empowered fan here again!

I think I can see where we differ now - 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.

I think the more relevant question is why sexual objectification is appropriate in the JLA (for example). I can see the arguement for Lady Death, Withcblade, yaoi and other such things, but I can't see it for a title that everyone is meant to be able to enjoy.

Hey, if you are ever in Manchester, UK, drop into Travelling Man comic store and we can go through some titles together. :D

Anon, A Mouse said...

"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)."

Well, right there, that's a big part of it. What constitutes a "lack of respect"? And why does a lack of respect for a two-dimensional construct on paper somehow equal a lack of respect for all womanhood?

Suppose, for example, I'm reading JLA, and the artist has drawn Wonder Woman turned so that the reader sees her butt, and it's drawn very nicely. I might say to myself, "hey, that's one nice butt".

Now, for that one moment, I'm not thinking about Wonder Woman's bravery or battle skills or whether she'll smack the crap out of Luthor or whatever, I'm thinking about her butt. Is that a lack of respect for Wonder Woman, or for women in general? I don't really think so. I'm hardwired to like the looks of women's butts, among other things, and while it WOULD be rude and disrespectful to openly shout "hey baby NICE ASS" to people on the street, I don't see how enjoying fantasy images on paper would also equate to the same sort of disrespect. The line may be clear (I'd debate that point), but what isn't agreed on is just exactly WHERE the line is drawn.

"So, no one would really lose out unless they would prefer to view women as sexualised objects rather than sexy women."

And there's another place the discussion hinges: The implication being that anyone who DOES want to read that kind of thing is a bad, bad person, and all good upstanding citizens wouldn't mind having their comics sanitized a bit.

This goes from making the argument about economics (what sells, what's in demand) to morals (if you want this, you're in the wrong). It is, as I implied earlier, showing a lack of respect for the likes and wishes of those who do read and enjoy this sort of thing. Granted, it's an effort to somehow increase respect for women, but doing so at the expense of respect for those you disagree with (bringing this back around to the "tolerance" subject of my original post).

"I think the more relevant question is why sexual objectification is appropriate in the JLA (for example). I can see the arguement for Lady Death, Withcblade, yaoi and other such things, but I can't see it for a title that everyone is meant to be able to enjoy."

It could be argued that despite the lip-service paid to superhero comics being made for a general audience, really, they're mostly made by and for men, and truly wide-audience-aimed superhero comics are the exception, not the rule.

There is, after all, no sticker or logo on Lady Death or Witchblade that says "hey, this is kinda a guys-only book, so watch out", and even yaoi doesn't say on the cover "ladies only! no real guys allowed".

JLA features iconic characters, true, but does that mean DC has some sort of moral obligation to make its comics completely gender-friendly? Especially if it thinks a bit of T&A helps sell the book?