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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...

Wednesday, May 30, 2012


At the end of FEMALE OF THE SPECIES PART 3 I said:
...though I have just two more Thompson-related essays to get out of the way, I may have come across another resource that supplies me with more debate-worthy fodder.
The "resource" to which I alluded was this 2-26-12 essay on Hooded Utilitarian, where Noah Berlatsky takes issue with several current offerings of comic-book superhero cheesecake, comparing all of them unfavorably with the cheesecake offerings from such bygone artists as Jack Cole and Dan DeCarlo, as well as current artist Larry Elmore.  Though Berlatsky does give a nod of approval to Frank Miller's sexed-up version of Catwoman, most of his superhero-comics examples he regards as "moronic."

I don't agree that current superhero comics are quite as bereft of what he calls "feministploitation," where:

the fetish clothing and the putative power of the character are coherently working together, both in that the power makes the character more sexy and in that that the clothing adds (not necessarily logically, but still) to the sense of the character’s potency.

However, I will agree that the particular examples Berlatsky chose are indeed incompetent exemplars of current hyper-sexualization.  To take just one example, he notes that "Star Sapphire’s costume, for example, goes right past sexy and on into ludicrous," and I can hardly demur:

I mentioned in Part 1 that in real life women often had to dress in social situations to show themselves off to good effect without showing too much and looking like sluts.  Apparently this version of Star Sapphire took her social cues down at the Boom-Boom Room.

That said, I find some problems with Berlatsky's justifications:

I think there are a couple of reasons. In the first place, super-heroines are, you know, heroes. They’re supposed to have stuff to do, crime to fight, justice to uphold, and so forth. For Dan DeCarlo and Jack Cole, the woman are just there to stare at; they’re hot, hot hot. That’s the whole raison d’etre; there’s no effort to pretend that you care what these women think, or how they act, or whether they defeat the villain without falling out of their tops and being exposed to the vastness of space.

And shortly afterward:

If you make it simply about visual stimulation, it’s simply about visual stimulation, and doesn’t have to have anything to do (or at least, not much to do) with real women. Once you start pretending that you’re talking about a smart, motivated, principled adventurer, on the other hand, you end up implying that said smart, motivated, principled, adventurer has an uncontrollable compulsion to dress like a space-tart on crack. Which is, it seems to me, insulting.

Though I would agree that all of Berlatsky's chosen examples are indeed bad, I don't quite agree with the idea that a given heroine cannot be a "motivated, principled adventurer" and still wear something a little on the sassy side, as per the "belly shirt Supergirl" that I've defended earlier:

The above drawing is certainly a little on the cheesecakey side-- what I've termed the "TITILLATION" category elsewhere-- but is there anything about it that makes the character look unprincipled or stupid because she's chosen to show a little flesh?  I would say no, though I have the impression that a lot of fans protested "sexy Supergirl" to the extent that the new incarnation sports a safe generic costume with zero titillation elements.

To many fans there seems a major disconnect, similar to Kelly Thompson's false "idealization/sexualization" dichotomy, between portraying heroes as characters with high ideals and principles and as characters who look good and obviously have the power to attract many sex-partners.

Thus I'm surprised that anyone, such as the blogger for this BEAT post, would intimate that the existence of "superhero sexuality" might not even matter. Maybe I'm biased in that I didn't start collecting the genre until I was eleven (having only dallied with kid-and-teen comics prior to that), but to the best of my recollection I always thought that even the "all ages" superhero books of the Silver Age had a strong sexual vibe, even if the sexiness appeared in very simple form, as with Lois Lane or Vicky Vale trying to "unmask" Superman or Batman, and thus play Delilah to their Samson.

More later.

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