Featured Post


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...

Friday, June 24, 2011


Pornography and art are inseparable, because there is voyeurism and voracity in all our sensations as seeing, feeling beings."-- Camille Paglia, SEXUAL PERSONAE, p. 35.

I noted in THE SHE-RA MAN-HATERS CLUB that during the BEAT's discussion of the Great Feminist Postcard Mystery, hardly anyone said anything about Ladydrawers' WAP-like denunciation of "rape and abuse" at DC and Vertigo Comics. In my essay I disagreed with Ladydrawers' unsubstantiated accusations as well as with Trina Robbins's counter-reaction: that female creators ought to "let the boys have their superheroes."

I've gone on record here as agreeing with Johanna Draper Carlson that the superhero genre is what Carlson called a "gender-identified genre." At the same time I added that the genre might benefit from some input from the less dominant gender:

To some extent I can respect the attempt of a minority audience to make its voice heard, to make an impression on a genre dominated by the opposite gender. But when the demands seem determined to leech away those absurd or larger-than-life aspects that characterize the genre itself, that comes down to a case of cutting off the nose to spite the face.

And at the end of MAN-HATERS I reiterated this:

The fact that I find Robbins' statement without logical basis does not in itself mean that I necessarily defend the idea that either mainstream comics or artcomics publishers should be a "boys' club." I do think that female creators can bring a lot to the table. But I don't believe they can do so in the mainstream without a clear vision of how modern genre-comics work, no matter what success they have in the greater world of graphic novels.

What element most obstructs the vision of most female (and some male) creators with regard to "how modern genre-comics work?"

The beam in the eye of such creators has a familiar name: "objectification." For such creators, it does not matter that the superhero genre is one heavily dependent on what Paglia calls "voyeurism and voracity." Depending on who one asks, such creators are either (1) foursquare against all depictions that suggest objectification, or (2) deeply offended that there should be any inequity in depictions of sexual objectification, as per Ladydrawers' complaint that "829 women were depicted naked or partially nude, compared to only 486 men."

I should repeat, as in the previous essay, that Ladydrawers does extend its complaint to such non-superhero publishers as Fantagraphics and Last Gasp, so said complaint isn't confined to the superhero genre, despite attempts by BEAT-posters Trina Robbins and Kim Thompson to make it All About the Supah-Heroes. Still, when Ladydrawers complains of "rape and abuse" from DC-- which does concentrate most of its efforts within the superhero idiom-- I have to wonder what idealized notions of the genre the protesters must have formed.

Paglia isn't correct to conflate all art and pornography, but her extreme statement is a good counterforce to the overintellectualization of the arts. Thus her avowed project-- to identity the "amorality, aggression, sadism, voyeurism, and pornography in great art"-- is a worthy goal. Finding these elements in popular art is no less worthy, whether said elements appear openly or in veiled form. In both " high" and "low" art, one cannot have only the crystalline intellectualism of *themis;* one must also have the more earthy world of *moira,* the world that appears to be one of bodies and objects, no matter how distorted or absurd they may seem from a realistic stance.

Or as Kant said in PURE REASON, albeit from a different vantage: "Thoughts without content are empty, intuitions without concepts are blind."

Are there bad iterations of the rape, abuse and violence that has sometimes been styled "superhero decadence?" Of course there are. But there have been times when "decadent" elements have been necessary to well-crafted superhero stories-- not least Gail Simone's impressive series BIRDS OF PREY, which explored the avenues of objectification with a distinctly feminine outlook.

Given the aesthetic success of Simone's BIRDS (and the relative popular success of the original series), I'd say that any female creator who shies away from using sex and/or violence in a "gender-identified" genre may be doing nothing more than covering up her own inadequacies. Further, to insist that a male-identified genre should surrender its particular appeal to male sensations is merely a new form of gender-marginalization, and one not guaranteed to bring in the supposed hordes of "new readers" who are, like one of the BEAT posters, less offended by nudity than by Power Girl's big hooters. Admittedly, I suppose that if the superhero genre were to be as de-objectified as some female readers wish it, some male creators, who for one reason or another reject their snake-n'-snail origins, would probably also be on board with the neutering.

But I would rather they could all just get on board with the notion that human art always depends on "objectification" of some sort. Paglia takes feminists, and women as a whole, to task for this inability to see past pure self-interest:

“Let us stop being small-minded about men and freely acknowledge what treasures their obsessiveness has poured into culture."

In other words, give us puppy-dog devils our due, already.

No comments: