Sunday, October 12, 2008

Warning: You Might Not Be a "Mature Reader".

Multiple things today, if anyone's still out there:


An addendum to my last post on the "torture porn/people should be making decent comics" subject: Greg Burgas performs the not-unexpected trick of saying he doesn't want "to go all 'Won’t someone think of the children?' here" and then tacking the reverse-flip BUT into the routine and complaining that there's no "mature readers" label on Nightwing #146.

Well fine, but that right there shows where someone's attitude is towards the medium and its maturity. Because if you walk into a Barnes and Noble and look at the many books there, in only the most extreme cases is a book ever labeled "mature readers". (In point of fact, I can't think of ever seeing anything like that. Usually a book with explicit visual imagery is shrink-wrapped to prevent curious little fingers from browsing for naughty bits, and I don't know of any text-only paperback that's screened in any way to prevent someone from reading some lurid romance sex scene or sci-fi ultraviolence.)

It's books for children and for "young adults" that are singled out and put in their own ghettos; the mark of Cain goes on those books, not on even the most salacious pulp-style paperbacks. To call for any comic to carry a "mature readers" label is to acknowledge that on a fundamental level that you think the medium as a whole is intended for kids; that you do not consider comics a mature medium at all.

Just so's you know.


Can I just say how much I enjoy hearing about this story, that a gay guy was upset by the blatant objectification going on at some yaoi-oriented convention? Because I will say it, anyway. One of the things I like about it is that those defending the con and its activities are using many of the same defenses used against charges of sexism and misogyny brought by some feminist fangirls. The only real difference is that yaoi is pretty straightforward about being by women and for women; mainstream superhero comics are ostensibly for both genders.

I'd be more sympathetic to the idea that a genre that says it should be accessible to either gender should tone back some of its excesses if it weren't for the fact that anyone with a shred of awareness greater than that of a fruit fly should well know that in practice, superhero comics are made mainly by men and for men.

All that aside: ha ha, female fans are just as warped and pervy as male fans when given their own playground.


It just keeps piling up, doesn't it? Now some guy in Iowa is on the hook for obscenity, related to comics imported from Japan. Already the assumption is that the material that sparked the investigation was of the dread "lolicon" variety, but as pointed out elsewhere, it's been established that laws designed to equate drawn child porn with real child porn are unconstitutional, so all they can do is charge the guy with "obscenity". (Which puts the USA up one over the UK, at least.)

In the comments section of that last link, an interesting point is implied: that what the prosecutors really want to do is bust the guy for possessing drawn kiddy porn, but they can't directly, so they're continuing on with something they think can stick instead.

I'd be willing to believe that theory, having stumbled upon the Adult Swim Message Board and this particular topic, featuring a few thoughtful opinions, as well as a few examples of genetic brain disease rearing its bulbous, hydrocephalic head. I mean, there's one guy intoning darkly about how there's "got to be more to this", which is, I'm inferring, shorthand for "I just KNOW this guy has got real child porn and is probably molesting real children right now based on the fact that he has lolicon manga". Sadly for his deductive reasoning, it's quite correctly pointed out that if there were other more serious charges that could be brought, they'd already be brought.

The other drooling retard likes to go on about how society has a right to excise bad elements from itself, which is a great theory, but is too often a justification for a small but loud minority to impose their will over the true majority. Not to mention that "weeding out the undesireables" is the same kind of rationale that leads to things like, oh I dunno, institutionalized racism.

Now, you may be reading this (or maybe not, with the way WFA's been... should I start linking to Journalista?) and rolling your eyes, thinking "well, there he goes defending child molesters again". But let me suggest to you that whatever you think of lolita manga, you should be very concerned about how this case turns out.

Because, since it's about obscenity, not necessarily child porn, it doesn't have to stop here. For instance, what about yaoi? Remember, you may exist in a tolerant Internet world where two idealized gay guys can happily fornicate on your screen, but do you think it's so beyond the realm of possibility that some hick postal worker from Iowa would react just as negatively to visual sodomy featuring two guys (and let's face it, some of those subjects don't always look particularly ancient, either) as they have to lolita porn? Even if you consider the latter worse than the former, you have to be aware that others see it all as filth, beyond the pale. Let them cross one line, and all you get is that they're that much closer to the next line. And the next line may be "torture porn".

That'd solve the issue, wouldn't it? You wouldn't need to put a "mature readers" label on it, because it wouldn't be allowed to exist.

Wouldn't that just make the medium healthy, mature and respected?

ADDITIONAL: Adding this link to Tom Spurgeon's comment on the matter, to which I want to say, right on, or "motto", like the LJ kids do it.

Friday, October 10, 2008

I Loves Me Some Torture Porn!

Well, not really. Not like that.

So via Journalista, I've learned that Nightwing #146 (There's been that many issues of Nightwing? Dang) is a depraved cesspool of "torture porn", featuring the death, both illusory and real (as real as anything in a comic is, of course) of some woman character Nightwing was trying to protect. Don't read the title, don't really care. However, the ancillary discussion brings back the old canard about comics and how they should grow up, and by grow up, (some) people mean become more mature, more meaningful (as opposed to sexy and violent, goshdurnit), and not only that, comics fans should learn to discern quality from crap (goshdurnit!), and stop telling everyone else they really thought Infinite Fanboy Bloodorgy #666 was right up there on a par with Gravity's Rainbow.

It occurs to me that those who critique comics and bemoan the lack of maturity in modern superhero comics are looking at this thing completely ass-backwards.

What a lot of folks seem to be doing is setting a high bar, expecting certain standards of literary quality to be delivered to them, and then bitching and moaning whenever what is thrust into their mitts does not meet that standard. Whatever it is.

But if you picked up Nightwing #146 expecting something more profound than "Nightwing beats the bad guy" or "Nightwing fails to beat the bad guy", if you weren't prepared for "torture porn", I contend that you are quite probably a fool.


For one thing, this measuring current comics by the standards of 80s, 70s, 60s, 50s comics and so forth, comparing them to the innocent, pure days of yore, it's just nostalgia. It's your dad or grandpa grumbling "why, back in my day the heroes were heroes!" Superhero comics have this kind of shock content in them now. Deal with the present, for good or ill. This mumming of outrage at each new desecration of your childhood is passé, don't you know this is how comics are by now?

Also: Thomas Pynchon was reviewed for the Pulitzer Prize; the people considering the novel probably were never within fifty yards of whatever the current Mack Bolan book at the time was, let alone cracked it open, let alone entertained the slightest notion of voting for some Destroyer book to win the Pulitzer, not that it would ever have been nominated except maybe as someone's joke. "Very funny, Jim, now let's get to the real nominations."

Greater literary expectations brings a certain amount of filtering to it; dropping pulp and schlock and things below a certain benchmark from the radar entirely.

If you're going to be elitist, be god-damned elitist. Serious art-film critics don't even bother with the question of whether American Pie 8 lives up to the potential of the artform; it is beneath their notice.

Look: there have been serious, artful, friggin' deep, oblique comics around for quite a while now, so maybe there's not as many as some people would like, but they're there. But if you're worried that the medium of comics isn't going to be taken seriously because of all the juvenile blood and boobs, I counter with: how can the medium be taken seriously when supposedly serious people are inflicting themselves with this stuff and then bawling about it? When Mr. Serious Art Critic dignifies the crap by responding to it, instead of just chucking it in the trash? Yeah, the Lester Bangs-inspired review style of snarking That Which Does Not Measure Up apart into its component particles is soul-satisfying, and even fun to read for others (up until the point the reviewer begins to run out of clever new ways to snark the same ol' crap and descends into spiteful unintended self-parody), but what that in no way does is suggest to the reader that These Comics, Hmm, There's Some Potential For Great Works There, no, all it says is Here's Some Guy Bitchin' About Crap.

Other media are NOT repeat NOT deemed "mature" or "worthwhile" on the basis of whether the mass of it measures up to some rarefied ideal. Pick any other supposedly mature media you like: is it not as a whole dominated by crap? Does not Sturgeon's Law apply to any and all? And is not crap consumed in great quantities by the public at large, regardless? The difference is that if I'm getting opinions from some source with a supposedly more highbrow bent like, say, NPR musical reviews on the radio, I can be pretty sure I'm not going to hear a soft but intent voice whining about how Paris Hilton's album is some form of Pop Leprosy, even if it is.

Here's how, for example, Greg Burgas' review of Nightwing #146 should have gone, if the true purpose and intent of his column's POV is that "comics should be good":

VERSION 1: [Actually, you never know that he ever got a copy of the book, because he tosses it away upon seeing the splash page and types not a single character regarding it.]

VERSION 2: This is dreadful and I'm throwing it in the trash.


Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The Words We Use Are Strong, They Make Reality

(I may be showing some age by the titles of this and the last post, but heck.)

I'm not going to link to it, because I found it by accident, and it's old, and I don't want to dredge up something from someone's archives and fling it through the WFA mill (though that's been pretty moribund lately). What I saw does bear thinking about, however.

Looking on Google Images for something completely unrelated to anything I talk about in this blog, I happened on an old-timey advertising image, and followed it to its page, which turned out to be the blog of someone who's previously been linked to on WFA and/or Journalista for their comics commentary. The image was, as I recall, from the 1940s, or thereabouts, and featured a pair of young girls in their underwear in their bedroom (so I guessed from the minimal background), possibly in the process of changing clothes. One girl was entirely topless.

The blogger described the scene as being innocuous when it was published, but "creepy" today.

Now, think about that for a minute.

What's changed?

In 1940-something nobody would have thought twice about the image, but now in the Naughties people go, "ohhh, how creeeepy"? Why? Has the intent of the illustrator somehow changed in all this time? Do we now understand that the artist was some sort of pervo, lusting after prepubescent girls in their underthings?

Is it that we think there's more pedophilia lurking in the hearts of citizens now than there was sixty-odd years ago?

Or is it that we, as a people, are today just freaking obsessed with pedophilia and have some burning need to point out any instance of children being depicted as anything less than fully-armored clothed?

The blogger obviously thought something was wrong, but how did they come to that conclusion? Were they themselves a pedophile, and reacted to hidden lusts within them to understand that yes, the ad was pimping children to people's taboo desires?

See, nowadays people know how pedophiles think, so they know what will "trip their triggers", so they know when something is "creepy" even when it was harmless for decades.

While I'm at it: Man, if I were Supreme Ruler of all the universe I would institute a ten-year ban on the word "creepy" for those who discuss/review mass media. It falls out of peoples mouths/keyboards far too readily, a pre-fab label for people who don't like something but can't be bothered to truly dissect and understand what it is that makes them feel bad. "I read that one issue of Power Pack, and you know, creeeeeepeeee."

I hereby decree that using the word "creepy" makes you fail and diminishes the validity of anything you write. In fact, I'll go further and say that if your main criticism of any work is that it makes you feel uncomfortable in some way, but you are unwilling or unable to analyze those feelings of yours in detail, then that's extra fail and just don't talk to me.

Or maybe I'm just not in tune with modern hyperbole. Yes, I'm going to dredge up something I've discussed twice before, so you know it must be annoying me still, on some level, but when someone calls a picture "gross" these days, do they really understand the word, are they using it in proper context, or are they just looking for maximum snark value? When in the same comments section someone mentions images that make their "stomach turn" (you'll have to go back a couple posts and follow links to see what I'm referencing; today I'm too lazy to hyperlink), are they really describing a true physical reaction (in which case, how sensitive is that?) or are they just trying to emphasize their distaste so you know how tsk-tsk appalled and disapproving they are?

I dunno. I just wish there was a better, more reasoned sense of proportion out there, you know?