Featured Post

NUM-INOUS COMICS PT. 2

This essay is a very belated response to a " part 1 " published in February 2015. The gist of that essay was a response to a corre...

Saturday, December 5, 2009

CHALLENGE OF THE SEX-AND-VIOLENCE BLOGGERS!!

In the comments section to VIOLENCE AIN'T NUTHIN' Part 1 I announced a challenge to both commenter Charles Reece and to "all comers" within the sphere of pop-culture bloggers, whether of comics, horror movies or whatever.

Some time after I roundly dismissed the ability of either current Jouralistas or former Journalistas (except for yours truly, of course) to say anything substantive about the interactions of sexuality and violence in popular culture, it occured to me: why not challenge others to do so?

I'm not talking about responding to anything I've written or will write. I'll probably write down Part 2 of VIOLENCE AIN'T NUTHIN' in the next few days, but I don't expect much commentary given that I'm coming at the problem from a more radical direction than the usual Freudian/Marxist hand-me-downs.

I throw it open to all pop-cultural bloggers because (1) I don't really expect much of a response from comic-book bloggers, and (2) I'd love to see what people like Curt Purcell and Brittney-Jade Colangelo might come up with.

There's no prize and I don't plan to collate anything, so the only motivation for accepting the challenge is The Pride of a Blog Well Blogged.

The basic topic as I see it might be phrased along the lines of, "Are sexuality and violence different, and if so, how?"

But obviously anyone who accepts will write on any damn thing he or she thinks relevant.

There's no time-limit, either. On a challenge this free-form, it wouldn't be practical. If someone tells me about accepting the challenge, I'll link to it in a post, whether I comment on the topic addressed or not.

That's it.

17 comments:

Charles R. said...

I guess I don't get why you're asking what you're asking. Who's claiming that sex and violence are the same? Even ardent Freudians don't do that. I can think of plenty examples where violence is sexualized, or sex is ... um, what's the word? Well, you get the drift. What's the point in distinguishing between two already different things. A man breaks into your house, you shoot him dead -- nonsexual violence. Personally, I find it more interesting when the line is blurred. When is violence a turn-on? A man kidnaps a girl, tortures her for his transgressive art, girl feels erotic attraction. Stuff like that.

Gene Phillips said...

"Even ardent Freudians don't do that."

Something tells me you've never read Gershon Legman.

Regardless, Dirk Deppey is guilty of a simplistic equation between sex and violence in that he takes the essentially nonsexual violence of the fight in SUPERGIRL #14 and sexualizes it by proxy: by claiming that the attraction for comics-fans is that of seeing a "Supergirl fuckdoll."

It may have been an attempt at humor but if so it's still humor driven by an agenda. That's not even mentioning the detail that since it's Batgirl getting penetrated by the crystals, she would be the logical candidate for "fuckdoll" status.

I don't claim that such a scene as the one depicted in SUPERGIRL #14 couldn't be sexualized, but I don't think the intent was anything but violence like that of your average WOLVERINE panel.

Both the distinctions between sex and violence and their overlapping zones are of interest to me, and that's why I issued the challenge; to see what others had to say about whatever aspect interests them.

Gene Phillips said...

FTR, here's what I wrote about Freudians in a related context:

"I print the second excerpt to illustrate that Kirby's concern when talking of the adult male/young male team-- as with Captain America and Bucky, whom I profiled (not very seriously) as a "sacrificial lamb" here--is not with sex, but with the threat of violence. This is an aspect which Freudians and their fellow-travelers like to dismiss as being a pure displacement for the matter of sexual release."

I think the sloppiness of Freud as to when violence does or does not connote sexuality, coupled with his lack of a good methodology, leads to a lot of confusion on the subject.

Charles R. said...

Regardless, Dirk Deppey is guilty of a simplistic equation between sex and violence in that he takes the essentially nonsexual violence of the fight in SUPERGIRL #14 and sexualizes it by proxy: by claiming that the attraction for comics-fans is that of seeing a "Supergirl fuckdoll."

Again, Dirk was quite clearly not claiming his problem with the image was the equation of sex and violence:

My problem with this image isn’t that it’s misogynist, but that it’s fucking ridiculous. This looks like sexual-fetish material, sure, but it would have exactly the same weird-ass vibe if both of the depicted characters were men. This image isn’t “sexist,” it’s emotionally stunted. Wrapped in the garb of teenage fantasy, it cannot help but take on an air of unreality that no infusion of sex or violence will dispel. Sixty years of accumulated kiddybook clich├ęs won’t suddenly become adult reading material if you add lesbian relationships, hardcore gore or extended scenes of chartered accountancy; the latter only throw spotlights on the childishness of the former. Sexual objectification isn’t the problem; this picture would actually be more acceptable to adults if the women it depicted were naked and going after one another with knives. Genre-mandated sublimation and ritual creates the effect; the creepiness comes from the costumes. Looked at from any other perspective than that of the diehard fanboy or fangirl, these two women are wearing pervert suits.

The sexualized content comes from the bondage gear that the characters are wearing. Dirk (whether you think he succeeds or not) actually tries to separate that issue from what his actual problem with such things is: what he calls superhero decadence and explicitly separates from mere sexual deviance. Obviously, sexualized costumes are used here, but that encompass the problem Dirk sees.

Charles R. said...

err "doesn't encompass"

Something tells me you've never read Gershon Legman.

A couple of essays in comics related books. Didn't interest me much.

Gene Phillips said...

I know what Deppey said his problem was. I don't buy it and I'm calling bullshit on it.

"This looks like sexual-fetish material, sure"

That's the first shitpile right there. Supergirl is attired in a routinely-revealing superheroine costume of the sort that goes back to the Phantom Lady: any fetishy adaptations of superhero garb come after that fact. *Maybe* one could argue that Batgirl's dark costume sparked Deppey's personal asociations with regard to leather fetishes, but there's nothing in the picture to suggest that particular piece of fetishism. Whether in erotica or pop culture, the more popular depiction is a woman scantily clad in leather.

I'm sure if you look hard enough, you can find some erotica depicting a bondage queen in heavy leather garb. But I don't agree that such imagery has been so widely circulated as to become common, as Deppey implies with his "sure."

More in the next post.

Gene Phillips said...

Deppey said: "Wrapped in the garb of teenage fantasy"

See, here Deppey can't even make up his mind. Elsewhere in the post he claims that superheroes were made for "children."

Hello-oo. "Teeange fantasies" are nowhere near covalent with "children's fantasies" even if some teens are not full adults in the eyes of the law.

"it’s emotionally stunted"

No, it's not. It's a fucking fight scene first and foremost, and that's the main connotation in the story (which I'll bet that you Charles have not read-- right?) I can buy that fetishy material can (1) be inserted consciously by the creators, or (2) creep in through subconscious processes. I've seen both, and I don't think either applies here. Deppey shanghais a story that does not have any strong connnotations of sexuality and sexualizes it in order to make his tired elitist point about the immaturity of superhero fans.

That's why I suggested the challenge (though knowing you in particular wouldn't accept it). It might be beneficial to have more people chime in as to when sex and violence aren't equivalent: so that guys like Deppey don't get the cachet you're all too willing to give him.

Charles R. said...

Supergirl is attired in a routinely-revealing superheroine costume of the sort that goes back to the Phantom Lady: any fetishy adaptations of superhero garb come after that fact.

You're assumption is that Phantom Lady was unrelated to the existing erotic art of the time? Yeah, right. Anyway, if you don't want to admit/care to see the similarities between those 2 costumes and what appear in a bondage magazine, I can't really make you. It's pretty obvious to some of us, though.

It might be beneficial to have more people chime in as to when sex and violence aren't equivalent: so that guys like Deppey don't get the cachet you're all too willing to give him.

Again, it's you who's insisting that Dirk is saying that something that he explicitly says he is not. This is pretty clear, so I'll just leave it at that. All anyone has to do to see that you're wrong is read his statement. As to what he actually meant by "superhero decadence," I don't so much disagree with him, but find it enjoyable in the hands of certain writers, Ellis for one. The Authority is a perfect example, and I love that series. I grew up on superheroes, so can still appreciate them. I love it when someone does an "adult" twist on them -- if it's done well, of course. Recently, I really enjoyed Incognito by Brubaker. Supergirl? Doesn't look very good, decadent or not.

Gene Phillips said...

"You're assumption is that Phantom Lady was unrelated to the existing erotic art of the time? Yeah, right."

Am I to assume that you think that erotica was so easily accessed in the 1940s that every Golden Age artist was familiar with it? My impression is that most of it, even the stuff printed by another arm of the DC Comics consortium, was only available with a certain amount of time and trouble and even then came "in a plain brown wrapper."

Some influence is possible, but I'd consider it a lot less likely than said artists using skimpy costumes because skimpy costumes sold a lot of non-erotica, including magazines like TRUE CRIME. I don't think that "girly" or "good girl" art as a whole evolves directly from underground erotica.

Gene Phillips said...

"Again, it's you who's insisting that Dirk is saying that something that he explicitly says he is not."

All Deppey claims is that he's not objecting to the "sexual deviance" he finds in the picture, but to the supposed immaturity it signifies. What I maintain is that this is a bullshit argument with respect to the example he chose and with respect to his choice of the word "decadence," which tends to connote eroticism.

What's so funny is that he could have found dozens of images that actually did what he claimed the Supergirl image did. I'll probably devote a post to one or more of them sooner or later. Such images would not have proven that the entire mainstream readership was "unable to move on," to repeat his inane critique, but at least I couldn't have faulted his example if he'd chosen, say, Frank Miller's portrait of WONDER WOMAN from ALL-STAR BATMAN.

I continue to maintain that liking or not liking superhero stories, whether clean or dirty, has nothing to do with one's level of maturity, any more than it does the enjoyment of any other genre or medium.

Charles R. said...

I continue to maintain that liking or not liking superhero stories, whether clean or dirty, has nothing to do with one's level of maturity, any more than it does the enjoyment of any other genre or medium.

I agree that it doesn't necessarily.

Charles R. said...

I don't think that "girly" or "good girl" art as a whole evolves directly from underground erotica.

Probably not. But, Phantom Lady's costume and look was clearly based on Good Girl art, which is sexualized art. I know there was a shift somewhere along the way, where her look took on a more Bettie Page hairstyle and the costume became much skimpier. And she would get tied up. If you weren't supposed to want to fuck her, I can't imagine why they'd put her in such a situation and with such an attire. Fuckdoll would be pretty accurate.

Gene Phillips said...

CR: "I agree that it doesn't necessarily."

To re-raise a question I raised elsewhere, does an allegedly-perverse image from a "Sopranos-style superheroes" book suffice in your mind to describe "clean fanwankery" as well?

"Clean fanwankery" would be like unto my example of almost any post-70's work by Roy Thomas.

Gene Phillips said...

"Probably not. But, Phantom Lady's costume and look was clearly based on Good Girl art, which is sexualized art. I know there was a shift somewhere along the way, where her look took on a more Bettie Page hairstyle and the costume became much skimpier. And she would get tied up. If you weren't supposed to want to fuck her, I can't imagine why they'd put her in such a situation and with such an attire. Fuckdoll would be pretty accurate."

My yardstick is, Does the imperilled heroine have any power of action, or does she have to be rescued at the end?

If Sally the Sleuth (a risque comics "heroine" from early pulp-mags) gets tied up and has to be rescued by her manly boyfriend, then yeah, you can rationalize (as I think Wertham did) that the last-minute rescue is just protective coloration for the screwing the character would've received otherwise.

However, if Phantom Lady gets tied up, gets free on her own, and beats up the villains, I think we're dealing with a different depiction of power.

In one book whose title I forget, Trina Robbins perceptively pointed out that a lot of male heroes get tied up just as heroines do, and that the experience of the hero of either sex breaking/getting free is meant to give the reader a "hooray" feeling.

I don't see any reason to believe that this situation would necessarily be a cover for Something Else, although of course any individual can rewrite a fictional scenario any way he pleases.

Charles R. said...

Well, not in the Thomas way, no. That suggests a classicist who's more focused on creating/recognizing a tradition. That's one type of wankery.

Another is what I call the holodeck problem, named for the worst invention in the Trek-verse. It's what I believe Dirk was getting at: rather than just move on to something else, you get a perversion of your beloved nostalgic concepts, so that you don't have to go elsewhere for different subject matter. Think doing film noir using Captain Pecard, or the series of books that consisted of telling different generic stories with the Trek characters. This will inevitably produce kitsch.

Not all superhero stories aimed at adults fall into either of these. Incognito says quite a few interesting things about existence while still being an exciting superhero yarn. But it neither demands some silly continuity obsession, nor ignores certain features about superheroes in order to tell or allude to some other kind of story with mature themes. In other words, it says something significant through the superhero concept.

Gene Phillips said...

I haven't read or heard anything about INCOGNITO, though to speak to your reference elsewhere about AUTHORITY, I read one of the TPB collections and it didn't do nuthin' for me beyond recognizing its basic professionalism.

I won't belabor the point I made before re: the inapplicability of SUPERGIRL #14 as a signifier for "fanwankery," but I will note that what I read of the title didn't strike me as particularly convoluted, like either a "clean" Roy Thomas pastiche or a "dirty" Geoff Johns snuff-fest. As with ANNO DRACULA (see review) you probably wouldn't get that much out of DC's SUPERGIRL title w/o knowing a fair amount of backstory, but I'd suggest that there's a particular pleasure in continuity-fests that's hard to identify because it's so rarely done. I'll probably take a shot at identifying same sooner or later.

STAR TREK holodeck adventures would be "classicist" too, right? Only in said stories the references are, like ANNO DRACULA, for public domain literary characters like Jane Eyre and Sherlock Holmes. We do agree that these are horrible, though I for one find them even awfuller than Roy Thomas at his worst.

Gene Phillips said...

Paragraph 2--

Of course I meant "rarely done well."