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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...

Friday, September 19, 2014

ABJECTION APOLOGIA PT. 2

In PART 1 I said:

I suggest that Heidi's principal rhetotical point in displaying these NSFW photos is not properly an illustration of sexualization in all its multifarious forms, but to portray a particular state of sexual abjection. This state is more or less identical with Ms. McDonald's estimation of the status of all or most sexualization for female comics-characters, who are not infrequently the victims of "boob-windows, brokebacks, etc."  Abjection is, I submit, just one aspect of sexualization as it has been depicted in art and literature.

First I should specify that I am not using "abjection" after the manner of the structuralist-- or maybe post-structuralist-- author Julia Kristeva. I have read commentary on Kristeva's work, but not her actual work. Wikipedia asserts that in Kristeva's system "abjection" connotes something that is repellent but conceals some aspect of nature or culture that should be acknowledged, asserting that Kristeva "developed the idea of the abject as that which is rejected by/disturbs social reason - the communal consensus that underpins a social order.:"

Clearly this is not in line with the highly politicized descriptions cited by Heidi McDonald. Here's an example of one-sided politicization from Amanda Marcotte's SLATE essay:

But really what it comes down to is who is in control of the butts in question. With Spider-Woman, we're looking at yet another example of a man imposing his ideas about the female body and female sexuality onto a character, creating an image that feels like she's reduced to the ass in question. But "Anaconda" is a video with a woman in charge of her own image. She's shaking her thing because she wants to and she's looking directly into the camera and rapping, too, making it impossible to reduce her to a single body part.

This is the position asserted by nearly all contemporary commentary on sexuality: if a man "imposes his ideas" about female sexuality on women-- even fictional women-- this is meant to reduce real women to a state of abjection in the sense of the dictionary definition: that of degradation, of "a low or downcast state" (Merriam-Webster).  A woman performing the same activity, however, is granted the privilege of being "in charge of her own image."

In Part 1 of ABJECTION APOLOGIA, I've asserted that the detractors of all things male have oversimplified the issue of abjection, overlooking the many ways in which male bodies are also placed in postures of helplessness or neutralization. I've specified that not all of these were necessarily of a sexual nature, though some do carry that valence.  What such depictions of both male and female degradation have in common is the threat of violence, of being simply killed rather than being sexually violated or even put on display.

What I also find fascinating is that while Heidi McDonald and others are unceasingly vigilant with regard to scenes of feminine degradation, one hardly ever reads anyone speaking of scenes of feminine empowerment that are the precise obverse of the supposed degradation scenes. Marcotte's politicized opposition is not an example of this, however, since the author chooses to view the Manara piece as intrinsically degrading to women, purely because a man drew it.

McDonald too has loaded her argument in a politicized fashion, claiming that detractors are "copletely ignring [sic] how boob-windows, brokebacks, boob socks and more are not the same thing as a man with a good physique in a dynamic pose."

I for one have no problem with admitting that a lot of superheroine costumes show more skin than superhero ones, though I've also noted that many ideological types willfully overlook any examples that run counter to their ideological certainties. Yet, even if I gave McDonald the ideological victory on the issue of "who's more skimpily clothed," I would find it egregious not only that she ignores the history of abjection in male heroic postures-- described more fully in Part 1-- but also for ignoring the sexual elements present in depicting heroes of either sex "in dynamic poses." Is McDonald's point covalent with Marcotte's, that dynamism is of no importance when it is propounded by male artists?

I for one can see some sexual appeal in abject postures for either sex. But I see an even greater potential in dynamic postures as well-- and I see no reason to assume that most heterosexual comics-readers are more attracted to the former than to the latter.

For example, the character of Phoenix seemed to captivate a fair number of male readers, and she didn't even need to expose much skin to do so.



Storm has in my opinion has also proved a perennial favorite, whether or not she sports a costume that exposes much skin:



 
I could cite many other examples. I suppose that an ideological critic would assume that any such examples would be automatically disproved by the prominence of the "Bad Girl" craze of the 1990s. I would say, rather, that dynamism and scanty costuming are both independent sources of stimulation. Thus the presence of the latter does not necessarily take away from the former, as in this X-MEN cover, where Storm is showing a bit more skin:




The obvious conclusion should be that while there is not much doubt that many male readers do like scanty superheroine costumes, it does not follow that this is the ONLY aspect that they like, nor that exposure of skin or the focus upon feminine attributes are in themselves sources of abjection.  But I've already mounted the argument for the empowering associations of body display elsewhere, so I refer the interested reader to those essays from here on.


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