'We’ll set aside for a moment the question of whether seeing women “bloodied and bruised” is sick as fuck or not. No, what’s really interesting about this site is how similar so much of the imagery is to actual comic books.'-- Heidi MacDonald, "The One with All the Comments," THE BEAT, 1-31-08.
'If the red slayer thinks he has slain,So. Back to the main topic of the GROOVY AGE post "Superheroines Lose:" given the nature of pornography in all its manifestations, is it as "sick as fuck" for a given consumer to indulge in images of women, whether superheroic or otherwise, being physically abused/degraded? Curt Purcell expresses some ambivalence:
'And the slain think themselves slain,
They know not well my subtle ways,
I keep and turn, and hold again'--"Brahma," R.W. Emerson.
Sometimes it worries me, the fantasy material that fascinates me most. I'd like to think I'm nice and "normal" in real life, but when it comes to imagining and looking at make-believe stuff . . . well, you'll see.-- "Superheroines Lose."
Curt promises to explore the matter in more depth in a future post, BTW.
Like Curt, I'm not entirely sanguine about this particular kind of spectacle, sometimes simplified in fetish-culture as "m/f," meaning "male over female ". Despite Heidi's blanket condemnation, I think it feasible that a majority of comic-book readers, and perhaps even a majority of men, are either repelled by or at least made queasy by images of women being abused. Not to say that any male protective instinct toward women-- whether hardwired by nature or input by society-- cannot be overruled; obviously it can. At the same time, however, the forced degradation of fictional figures of any gender cannot help but have a different tonality than any experience relating to real violence, be it Elizabethan bear-baiting or a fascination with serial killers.
In HERE COMES DAREDEVIL, THE MAN W/O IDENTITY, I suggested a literary "law of identification" to complement Aristotle's real-world-oriented "law of identity:"
Because Daredevil is a construct whose sole purpose is to be identified with, whenever anyone does so, that person brings into being the only reality (or "truth" if one prefers that term) that Daredevil can possibly have.
Therefore, neither a foolish child nor a discriminating adult is in any way wrong to say "I'm Daredevil," as long as either of them has actually identified with the character. Both would be wrong to apply that identificatory process to the world of real phenomena, as the poster points out in his tut-tutting manner. But if the act of identification is real, one can say with complete accuracy, "I am Daredevil-- or David Copperfield-- or Captain Ahab-- or Freewheelin' Franklin Freekowski."
With this phenomenological law in mind, one may fairly ask, "How sure are we that the sick fucks who patronized the "Superheroines Lose" material are identifying only with the 'slayer,' and not with the 'slain?'"
At one point Curt Purcell suggests one item that might be viewed as such a proof. He notes that in all the Japanese materials he surveyed, he found almost nothing that had the jokey tone one can find in less fetish-y forms of pornography. That's a significant datum. All forms of entertainment, "mainstream" or "specialized," use comedy as a leveling-mechanism between fictional characters-- particularly those of opposing gender. Arguably comedic interchanges also bring about a leveling between the characters, who exist to be identified with, and the real-world customer, who is there to do the identifying. Comedy can be a powerful reminder that "hey, guys, what you're seeing isn't phenomenologically real in the positivist sense" (or words to that effect). In pornography, one may conjecture that a lack of comedic byplay might suggest that the identification is strictly one-way: the customer wants only to be the "red slayer," getting even with his bitch-boss or his wife or the girl who blew him off in high school.
However, simply because it's a logical conclusion, that doesn't make it correct.
I have encountered testimony from some patrons as to the "doubleness" of the identificatory process in related types of pornographic fiction: the experience of being both the slayer and the slain. However, I don't advocate the belief that, because some people have made this testimony, this process must be true of all fetish-fiction, either in the "m/f" category or in others. There's no survey one could ever devise that would show the truth of all human hearts, in this regard or in any other. All one can do is to state, "Some people have made Statement X. Is Statement X corroborated by a Statement Y in any related venue?"
Well, one could point to the fact that in mainstream comic books, many patrons do have what are commonly called "favorite villains." The villains, it will be remembered, are the characters who continually lose, at least in traditionally oriented superhero stories. If a contingent of comics-fans-- call them Contingent R-- consider the Red Skull a great villain, does that mean that they admire the villain and secretly want to be Nazis? Or does it mean that Contingent R, observing that the Skull gets pounded to a pulp every time he fights Captain America, is secretly getting off on the Skull's sufferings, as if they were Sade's readers enjoying the torments of Justine? Or does Contingent R, while identifying with the villain in some fashion, appreciate him largely in the function of a fictional creation that makes the stories more visceral, simply because "Everybody Hates Nazis?"
Readers of this blog will probably guess which of these three views I would tend to champion. In addition, this example may show that humor, while useful, isn't especially necessary to encourage free-flowing identification. There have been lame Red Skull stories that used him as nothing more than a stock opponent, and there have been superior Red Skull stories that gave him some consistency of character to explain why a figure of considerable talents turns into such a monster. But hardly any of the good stories used humor to get across that identificatory message: at least in the thirty-plus years that I read the CAPTAIN AMERICA feature, I knew it as Marvel's most humor-challenged series, eclipsed only by the Silver-Age SILVER SURFER.
So the identificatory process remains a mystery.
Though not necessarily the same as "the mystery of mastery."
More on which later.