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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...

Monday, May 7, 2012


... and possibly for my own future use, I'm excerpting some of the responses I made to Julian Darius on the aforementioned Sequart thread.  Though I continue to view Colin Liar as an execrable excuse for a comics-fan, the debate about the matter of diegetic and extra-diegetic representations on the response-thread is perhaps the one thing of value to have come out of the matter. But since I don't control Sequart, I don't want to lose my commentary if it goes the way of the dodo for whatever reason.  I imagine any interested readers will get more out of the entire discussion, while available, rather than reading the excerpts. 

First, recouping some of the comments from PROOF OF EMBODIMENT:

'I think the notion of a “physical ideal” is perfectly adequate in colloquial terms, but it’s a contradiction in terms when you’re talking about the way in which fictional characters are constructed. I think people (definitely including Thompson) have perpetuated this notion that a character like Superman is only an “ideal” out of misguided interpretation of the reading audience.
It’s true that Thompson isn’t speaking of the diegetic world; her dichotomy is based on a popular notion– one I’ve heard other times– that male heroes are “ideals” for the male audience while female heroes are “targets of sexual objectification.” That’s a worthwhile distinction but even if you’re talking only about audience-reaction, Thompson’s dichotomy still does not work There’s not a radical disconnect between the diegetic and extra-diegetic worlds. Within the first, Lois Lane and other women are attracted to Superman. Within the reader’s extra-diegetic world, the reader is aware that one major reason that Superman attracts so many women is that he is handsome and muscular. That’s not Superman incarnating some abstract “physical ideal.” For the reader as for the character, his good looks are a “tat” that gets him “tit.” '

'I agree that male readers don’t relate to the female characters precisely the same as they do to male characters. It’s a whole different question as to whether they *should* react exactly the same, any more than female readers should react equally toward male and female characters.

Still, it isn’t *impossible* for male audiences to respond to “female aspirational figures” in a general sense; when it happens, it occurs in spite of the fact that the male reader knows he will not grow up to be a woman (usually). Buffy seems to draw quite a few male fans who argue passionately about her adventures– not just the size of her boobs– which would certainly indicate some level of identification. Jones’ MEN OF TOMORROW argues, from its view of the advertising in Golden Age WONDER WOMAN, that the dominant audience was male, not female. Jones justifies this anomaly by the standard view that the male readers’ investment sprang from voyeurism, but in the absence of fannish testimony from those times, no one can be entirely sure.'

'Statistically [the appeal to male desire with respect to female characters] may be dominant, but not exclusive. In one response-thread I mentioned Image comics-series like BALLISTIC and RIPTIDE. From what I can remember of them, there’s nothing in them but an appeal to male desire. A title like BIRDS OF PREY certainly plays to that desire as well, but one may argue that the book– only moderately successful as a pure tuffgirl action-comic– garnered greater popularity with male and female audiences because Gail Simone appealed to that stratum of identification that males and females hold in common (appeals to humor, emotional intensity, etc.)

... male readers are not going to identify as strongly with female characters, that doesn’t mean total “male fantasy” in terms of that bugaboo “objectification.”

Again, [the appeal to male desire] may be statistically dominant but not exclusive. I think it’s demonstrable that in the proper context male readers also enjoy delving into the emotional *tsurris* that come from mingling male and female characters. X-MEN did it well and garnered a substantial melodrama-lovin’ male readership; ULTRAFORCE did it badly and faded once the Image narrative trend faded in popularity.'

'it’s my impression that most girls dream of being Wonder Woman, Supergirl, or even Catwoman, not Superman, so I don’t see as much of a problem as you do. Laura Mulvey claimed that modern cinema forced women to identify with male figures, but I think she was entirely too reductive as to the way the identification experience takes place.

As I suggested in MAKING part 1, the desire of men to look at women, fictional or otherwise, is not likely to just go away because it makes women uncomfortable. In contrast to Thompson I emphasize analyzing the narrative to show whether or not the fictional female posseses internality and agency. If it’s there, that’s an indicator that the narrative encourages that identification. Sure, some readers will still goggle at Storm’s legs no matter how much ass she kicks with them, but that doesn’t mean that the narrative has not given other readers the chance for the aforesaid identification.'

'You are correct, although the thrust of the first essay was to find fault with what I deem the fuzziness of Thompson’s definitions. I realize that she was responding to a position that some fans have actually stated– that the depiction of women and men was essentially equal– and that she wished to prove that a fallacy. And there’s no question that it is a fallacy. As the response-thread to Part 1 will show, I never have said that the sexualization is equal. I never objected to the assertion that some characters were drawn with “supermodel” bodies, or to the undeniable presence of the “brokeback” trope. But Thompson, in trying to combat one fallacy, perpetrated others, as when she complained about the amount of skin displayed by female characters when most male characters have their bodies just as much on display. It may well mean *something* that the men tend to be more covered up, but I don’t think it means what Thompson thought it meant.'

'It’s hard to say if hyper-sexualization is increasing or not, but I don’t necessarily agree that “sexual submission” follows from that even if it’s true. I would say that a work like CATWOMAN #1– on which you and I disagreed here– connotes rather “sexual availability,” as I didn’t see Catwoman being submissive at any point in that story. I will give Thompson credit for keeping her argument confined to physical depiction and not diverging off into “women in refrigerators” territory.'

That’s one of my objections, but I also had problems with [Thompson's] methodology. One of those problems that bothered me more than it did others here is that she didn’t identify the time-frame for her visual examples. One of the few I recognized was from 2001, so is that the baseline for her survey? I know, as does everyone else here, that hyper-sexualization had been going on longer than that, but her overview would have been on much sounder ground if she’d provided its parameters.
I agree that she didn’t call for censorship, though as I stated I was uncomfortable with her holding out the carrot of greater financial success. I stated that I thought if authors made changes, they should do it because it felt like the right thing to do, not because it would make the comics more popular.'

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