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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...

Saturday, May 31, 2014

HOW TO SHAME A BIG GREEN SLUT

Just to finish up my comments on the already waning "She-Hulk controversy:"

I shouldn't have focused so exclusively on the dopiness of the David Goyer remarks w/o commenting equally on those of host Craig Mazin, who started the ball rolling thusly:

The real name for She-Hulk was Slut-Hulk. That was the whole point. Let’s just make this green chick with enormous boobs. And she’s Hulk strong but not Hulk massive, right? … She’s real lean, stringy…
The whole point of She-Hulk was just to appeal sexistly to ten-year-old boys. Worked on me.

Later he wrote the following here:
First off, my point wasn’t that I think She-Hulk is a slut. I don’t. I don’t think anyone is a slut. I don’t think there’s anything shameful about female sexuality or the female body.
What I don’t like is the practice of pushing exaggerated images of female bodies to boys because it sells comic books or video games. Women in comics and video games aren’t accidentally drawn over and over and over again with outsized breasts, long legs and narrow waists. It’s marketing. Having a character remark recursively on that marketing doesn’t negate the marketing, of course. It’s a clever way to defuse criticism with grownups while selling issues to hormone-addled boys. 

I need not repeat my basic defense of She-Hulk from HIGHLIGHTING ANXIETY PT. 2, but I will point out that Mazin wants to have things both ways. He basically says, "Yeah, when I was a hormone-addled boy, I got pleasure out of sexist images." Now, he doesn't say anything about the wrongness of sexist stereotyping in that segment, because no one would have respected a male who didn't admit to some susceptibility to sexual stimulation at that age. To state the converse-- "Oh, I saw others taking forbidden pleasure in nasty She-Hulk comics, but I was too pure for that"-- would be to label himself a wimp, if not a sexual neuter.

His latter-day contempt for "exaggerated images of female bodies," though, allows him to label the She-Hulk concept-- not, as he repeatedly states, the actual character-- as a "sluttish" concept. The equivalence he voices is confused, but I have to presume that he's saying that any such "exaggerated image" qualifies for "slut-dom."

What is a slut? Predominantly, it means a person-- usually, though not always, female-- who is sexually promiscuous.

Yet the two definitions are at odds. Being sexually promiscuous is a pattern of activity, not a collection of physical attributes.

Since the 1980s She-Hulk-- the one on which Mazin claims to base his original statement-- was not sexually promiscuous, though, it stands to reason that her promiscuity is defined, in Mazin's terms, by the fact that she's a "green chick with enormous boobs."  Thus any character with any "exaggerated" attributes-- be they breasts, legs, or waists-- is just a contrivance of marketing, an attempt to get young readers to purchase periodicals and wank off to them.

But then, if a given work features female characters who conform to no more than a basic standard of prettiness, then by Mazin's logic these character-concepts cannot be sluts because they are not "exaggerated."

Like these, from THE LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES:





Or for that matter, a literary character who is entirely underdeveloped:




At the end of his defensive statement, Mazin claims he intends never to write another word on She-Hulk again.

I could hope that he might extend that principle to anything regarding the phenomenon of human sexuality, just to keep a little more garbage off the already littered byways of the Internet.

Friday, May 30, 2014

SOMETIMES HE FEELS LIKE A NUT; OTHER TIMES, HE JUST IS

To David Goyer's suggestion that the She-Hulk was created as an implicit sex-fantasy for all male readers; i.e., " the chick you could fuck if you were Hulk." Stan Lee responded in this Washington Post piece by saying, “Only a nut would even think of that.”

As I detailed in HIGHLIGHTING ANXIETY PT. 2, Goyer's actual comment is lame and smacks of facile attention-whoring-- a verb I find appropriate, given how free Goyer and Craig Mazin with their use of the term "slut." That said, though the specific accusations are all but worthless, they do raise the spectre of unfair sexual representation once more. Note this passage from the "Comic Riffs" section:

So, how about She-Hulk’s tremendous physique, Stan the Man? “As for her looking beautiful and curvy,” Lee tells Comic Riffs, “show me the superheroine who isn’t.”

From a hardcore ultraliberal standpoint, this light-hearted statement would confirm the Goyer allegation that She-Hulk was designed as a "wank fantasy." I don't think Stan Lee would ever admit to having written "wank fantasies," nor that he would ever fully understand modern objections to them. But though I've argued earlier than SHE-HULK was not poised as an especially "sexy" comics feature, there can be no doubt that Stan Lee has edited and created many comic books that fit that bill.

I've previously cited this MY FRIEND IRMA panel as one of the few overt boob-jokes I've found in a commercial comic book of the period.



And of course prior to the Marvel era Stan edited and/or wrote a vast number of "working girl" comics-- none of whom were about the type of "working girls" Goyer and Mazin would've referenced.




And then there were the curvaceous jungle-queens, like the 1950s LORNA THE JUNGLE GIRL, written for the most part by Don Rico.




No one would doubt that all of these female characters are drawn to be ostentatiously sexy-- certainly more so than the 1980s She-Hulk, IMO.  And I for one don't blush to admit that any time a female character was drawn to be ostentatiously sexy, there's a better than even chance that publishers knew that a lot of young horndogs would indeed use such comics for "wank fantasies."

At the same time, overt sexiness was not the only avenue through which young horndogs fulfilled themselves.
I admitted in the previous essay that it's quite possible that the Vosburg-Springer She-Hulk met with approval with some fans, even though the artists did not strive to be extremely titillating. Perhaps the semi-ripped clothing did it for some people-- possibly including the estimable Kurt Busiek-- even though I for one found She-Hulk's attire about as sexy as the Hulk's pants, since it was evident that the clothing was never going to get torn any further, no matter how much physical punishment the character endured.  But there's no accounting for taste, and it's easy to imagine male comics-readers being turned by any number of relatively unexceptional images. As problematic as Frederic Wertham is, his testimony that some readers were turned on by nothing more than high heels seems to be a typical enough phenomenon-- and certainly not one confined to comic books.

Having established that sexual titillation can take place whether or not an image is structured to be titillating, we're back to the Square One established by Goyer. Even if he's wrong, wrong, wrong about the motives behind She-Hulk's creation, there can be no doubt that some comics have been created to be "wank fantasies."

But even when they are created with the conscious intent to have such an appeal-- are they all the same?

Some comics aren't much more than this. Stan Lee features like SHOWGIRLS and MY FRIEND IRMA had occasional moments of snappy dialogue, but I doubt anyone bought the titles for the dialogue.

On the other hand, the example of LORNA THE JUNGLE GIRL presents a different paradigm. I didn't choose the panel above at random; while LORNA certainly is a comic book featuring a pneumatic jungle-princess, it rises above the mediocrity of most jungle-comics with its ongoing gender-humor. LORNA had just one basic gag: the protagonist's boyfriend keeps telling her to quit playing jungle-heroine because women can't hack the adventure-game, and she proves him wrong every time. No one would claim LORNA to be the comics-version of Noel Coward, but there's obviously more than just titillation at work here.

More on these matters in a future essay.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

HIGHLIGHTING ANXIETY PT. 2

This article for THE BEAT is my source for the following remarks of film-scripter David Goyer:


Goyer: I have a theory about She-Hulk. Which was created by a man, right? And at the time in particular I think 95% of comic book readers were men and certainly almost all of the comic book writers were men. So the Hulk was this classic male power fantasy. It’s like, most of the people reading comic books were these people like me who were just these little kids getting the s**t kicked out of them every day… And so then they created She-Hulk, right? Who was still smart… I think She-Hulk is the chick that you could f**k if you were Hulk, you know what I’m saying? … She-Hulk was the extension of the male power fantasy. So it’s like if I’m going to be this geek who becomes the Hulk then let’s create a giant green porn star that only the Hulk could f**k.


Now, though I've often caviled against elitist remarks by critics, whose dominant aim is to persuade readers to read "better stuff." Goyer, a sometime comics-fan himself, is no critic, or even much of a thinker, despite his inappropriate use of the word "theory" above. As far as I can tell, his remarks are merely a means of attention-getting, a common enough practice in the world of self-publicizing, the primary object of the podcast in which the remarks were made.  Making inflammatory remarks for publicity's sake, however much they may or may not be the speaker's real beliefs, is a tried-and-true strategy older than the comic-book medium itself.


Goyer's remarks had the usual effect: triggering objections from fans who didn't like what he said, and keeping his name prominent in the blogosphere. One may object, of course, that a scripter who has become a Big Deal in terms of adapting comic books to big-budget movies hardly needs such publicity. So it's possible that on some level Goyer doesn't just want publicity for his own projects; that he wants to castigate certain aspects of the genre by which he's currently making a living, as a means of convincing himself that he is "above" such politically incorrect content as "male sex fantasies."


I hardly need point out the self-serving superficiality of Goyer's "theory." The only significance of Goyer's screed is that it once more points out the seeming desperation of those who would ascribe "negative compensation" as the defining characteristic of whatever they happen not to like.


Happily, one of the posters on THE BEAT defended the remarks of Goyer and others in the podcast, giving me the chance to make this response:


The problem with your interpretation, as with those of Mazin and Goyer, is that you’re assuming that a character like She-Hulk can’t also be a power fantasy for any male readers. only a sex fantasy, which speaks poorly for your view of your own gender, if you are indeed of the XY persuasion.
(I assume from the way you start off your post– “Women love Power Girl,” and so on– you do admit that female heroes, even scantily clad ones, can be power fantasies for women.)
The fact is, though, female heroes are not only sex fantasies for men, any more than male heroes are only power fantasies for their male readers. There are a small number of male heroes, particularly the Hulk, who are not particularly attractive and who may be judged as almost pure power fantasies. But the great multitude of male heroes are also sex fantasies in the sense that they are designed to be thought of as “handsome” or “studly.” The hetero male then identifies with the character getting action because of his hot bod, his chiseled chin, etc.
Conversely, it should be obvious that hetero men can and do identify with female characters in the sense of power-struggles. She-Hulk wins most or all of her fights for the same reasons the Hulk does; nearly nobody wants to see the main character beat down.
Some female characters sell the sexual aspect more aggressively than others. She-Hulk, though, is not a particularly good example of this syndrome. But people will see what they want to see.
By way of supporting my above claim-- that She-Hulk was not automatically grounded in the appeal of "good girl art," I cite the remarks of the character's first regular penciler, Mike Vosburg, on the subject of She-Hulk's attractiveness:


The oddest thing about that book was that [inker] Frank [Springer] drew really beautiful women, I drew really beautiful women, and yet, the She-Hulk was never overly attractive.


I would concur with Vosburg's appraisal, that both he and Springer could draw attractive women very well, but that for whatever reason, the art of the original She-Hulk magazine was not conceived as "good girl art," as evinced by this example:









In stating this I'm not saying that no male-- or female-- reader ever derived sexual pleasure from this iteration of She-Hulk. I'm only saying that the art here is not oriented on "selling" the character's sexuality. I don't think any fan will doubt that when Marvel Comics wanted to sell sex, they generally knew how to sell sex.








So if anything, despite the character's artfully ripped clothing, the original SHE-HULK comic book does seem poised more to offer the character as a "power fantasy" than a "sex fantasy."  Later iterations could, and did, sometimes place more emphasis on She-Hulk as a "FBB," or "female body builder," which may also have offered sexual titillation.  But even in these versions, the titillation-factors would not necessarily exclude the possibility of hetero male readers identifying with the character's struggles with her assorted opponents, as opposed to seeing her as a "giant green porn star that only the Hulk could fuck."


I'll note, though, that this notion of the sex-object's supposed inaccessibility has been expressed in other venues: I recall one poster who was convinced that the beauty of female stars on some STAR TREK show "proved" that the target audience was convinced in advance that they, the Trekkies, had no chance with such women.  Just as with Goyer, this is merely an ad hominem attack on such fans, rather than any sort of sustained analysis of the mechanisms of psychological coping.

HIGHLIGHTING ANXIETY PT. 1

In this essay I provided an example of what I deem "positive compensation," the type of compensation in which "stress enhances function." But what would be a valid example of negative compensation, in which "persistent stress that is not resolved through coping or adaptation" led rather to "anxiety and withdrawal?"




There are any number of factual stories of persons who become so invested in their fantasy-lives that they lose touch with reality. Ed Gein, the model for Robert Bloch's character of Norman Bates in PSYCHO, is said to have become fascinated with the atrocities featured in "death-cult magazines and adventure stories," though obviously his fixation on his mother was the primary motivation in his short career of murder and grave-robbery.  Bloch has stated that he had only marginal knowledge of Gein when he wrote PSYCHO in the late 1950s. Yet for whatever reason, the author cleaved to the well-known trope of the "geek who reads too much." The original Norman, unlike his cinematic incarnation, was a "book-nerd," so losing himself in arcane volumes that he convinces himself that he has raised his mother from the dead, though as in the film the only way Mrs. Bates comes to life is when Norman "plays" her.






What fascinates me, though, is the means by which this trope of negative compensation takes on ideological status. I've remarked in numerous essays about the ways this trope has been invoked by elitist or ultraliberal critics. But on occasion even persons who make their living with popular fiction can and have done so-- as I'll explore in greater depth in Part 2.

Friday, May 23, 2014

COMPENSATION CONSIDERATIONS PT. 5

Though the other four essays in this series focus on my abstract theory of the combinatory-sublime, I will confine this one to a particular case shared online by horror-fan Brittany-Jade Colangelo, in her essay "How Can You Watch Horror While You're Dying?"

In this essay Colangelo details her struggle with pancreatic cancer, which as of May 2, 2013, was still ongoing:

As of right now, I'm cancer free.  However, I have to wait 5 years to be determined truly out of the woods.  I don't want to sound like a John Green novel, but I really am a ticking time bomb.
The diagnosis affected her viewing habits:

I've always watched a large amount of horror movies, but since being diagnosed I've found myself almost exclusively watching horror

I think it's safe to venture that most persons who don't have a strong liking for the horror-genre would be surprised at this, but Colangelo offers a succinct explanation.

The ultimate and universal appeal of horror is the desire to survive despite tremendous odds and uncertainty. How could sick people not enjoy that?  The other part is the need to realize it could be worse. I may have cancer, but they can cut that out of me and I can (hopefully) move on with my life.  I just watched a chick get arrowed to death by some indigenous people on her spring break.  I may have staples down my stomach, but those will get removed and this other girl just took a nail gun TO THE FACE.  Okay, so I can't have sex for a month or two, but this guy was just killed while he was IN his girlfriend.

While I would not imply that Colangelo's essay "proves" any of the theories I have advanced, I would say that the use of fictional deaths to offset one's own real-life fear of mortality is about the best possible example of "positive compensation" I can come up with, even better than Tolkien's validation of fantasy-fiction for its ability to provide "consolation."  Colangelo is certainly not justifying her favored genre in terms of some airy-fairy "I wish things could be better" sentiment. In fact, Colangelo sums up the appeal of the horror genre not as some vague masochistic impulse, but in terms of "the desire to survive despite tremendous odds and uncertainty."  This emphasis upon strength and will puts me in mind of a quote from the endocrinologist Hans Selye, which I quoted earlier in this essay.

Selye published in 1975 a model dividing stress into eustress and distress.[16] Where stress enhances function (physical or mental, such as through strength training or challenging work), it may be considered eustress. Persistent stress that is not resolved through coping or adaptation, deemed distress, may lead to anxiety or withdrawal (depression) behavior.


So, using Selye's terms, the beneficent effect Colangelo derives from horror-films can only be considered an example of "eustress," since it enhances her power to function positively in the world. That statement does not demonstrate that other individuals might not use the same genre-materials as a means to withdraw from the world, a.k.a. "distress." But as I've mentioned in countless essays, the elitist critic can only see one side of the coin, because his subliminal message is always, "Don't read this thing that *I* think is worthless trash; read this other thing that I think is valuable and enduring."



Fortunately, the venerable William Blake has provided the counter to this presumption, which I can't possibly improve upon:



Saturday, May 17, 2014

PSYCHO VS. PSYCHO

At the conclusion of GHOSTS AMERICAN STYLE I wrote:

The mere fact that the mystery killer is not exceptional in his dynamicity would keep this from being a "combative" film.  However, would things be different if the killer had a more prepossessing aspect, if he had some sort of bizarre identity like "the Bat?"

First, just to get this tidbit off my mind, there actually were a trio of Mexican films from the late 1950s and early 1960s in which a supernatural avenger-- albeit not a ghost like the one in TOPPER RETURNS-- had regular encounters with a villain called "the Bat."  This was what might called the "Aztec Mummy trilogy," in which a mummy named Popoca continually defended an Aztec temple from a mad scientist with a chiropteran cognomen.  He's seen in a shot below, readying a "human robot" for its coming battle with the Aztec Mummy.



But I started here on the subject of "the phenomenality of psychos" by considering the opposition of two megadynamic figures, Sherlock Holmes and Jack the Ripper, taking the initial position that this was also a metaphenomenal combative film because the Ripper almost always qualifies as an "uncanny" being, even though Sherlock Holmes is "naturalistic" in most iterations.  In my system the anti-intelligibility of the "monster" trumps the intelligibility of the "hero" (which terms I put in quotes to denote their relation to my discussion of "persona-types.")

It is possible for one of the two [combatants] to be *naturalistic* in nature-- which was my original estimation of this version of Holmes-- but for a work to be both combative and metaphenomenal, the other combatant must be either uncanny or marvelous.

Most films about "perilous psychos," however, do not employ the combative mode. The dominant mode is subcombative.  Usually a megadynamic character-- whether "exemplary" in his level of power, like Norman Bates, or "exceptional," like the original "uncanny" version of Jason Voorhees-- is able to mow down his (or her) victims like grassblades. Typically the perilous psycho is opposed by a viewpoint character who is either microdynamic or mesodynamic, and this character's survival-- if he or she does survive-- comes about due to dumb luck, not because of superior dynamicity. Films like STUDY IN TERROR or the seventh outing of FRIDAY THE 13TH are exceptions to this pattern.

Oddly, though, "psycho stars" on television in recent years come somewhat closer to the combative mode. While I have not yet examined the original "Hannibal Lecter" novels of Thomas Harris, I found that the first two Lecter films-- MANHUNTER and SILENCE OF THE LAMBS -- did not satisfy my criteria for both the narrative and significant values of the combative mode.



The 2013 teleseries HANNIBAL-- which will air its season finale the Friday after I write this-- comes much closer to the mark. The series' conceit is to trace in greater detail the events of the first encounters of Lecter and his nemesis, FBI  profiler Will Graham-- encounters that were only sketched out in the Harris novel and the 1986 film. The film, directed by Michael Mann, conveys a keen sense of the extent to which Graham has been polluted by the disturbing power of the godlike killer, which he witnesses first in Lecter and later in "the Tooth Fairy."  However, at no time is Graham himself a "psycho." He is, in the end, a figure like Holmes is in STUDY IN TERROR, a man capable of intuiting the thought-patterns of killers but not a "perilous psycho" himself.

The teleseries' version of Graham is far more ambivalent. Even though the internal continuity of the Lecter story establishes that Graham will take Lecter prisoner and go on to pursue the Tooth Fairy in later years, producer Bryan Fuller creates a mood of baroque pessimism that implicates all of the characters, not just Graham, in Lecter's insanity.  Not every episode culminates in a literal combat, though some stories establish that Hannibal Lecter can kick ass on a Jason-esque level of dynamicity. But on further examination of the completed series, I may come to the conclusion that Fuller's version of Lecter and Graham is not "sanity vs. insanity," but "psycho vs. psycho."



Kevin Williamson's THE FOLLOWING debuted the same year as HANNIBAL.  Just as Hannibal is the star of his titular series, Joe Carroll, the Poe-loving leader of a murder-cult, is the true star of THE FOLLOWING. Carroll's persistent foe is another FBI profiler, Ryan Hardy, who like Will Graham has become compromised by his contact with evil. Unlike Graham in HANNIBAL, though, Hardy, though tormented on many levels, does not become quite as implicated in his enemy's madness. In addition, THE FOLLOWING depicts incidents of spectacular violence far more regularly. Joe Carroll's murder-cult also qualifies for the uncanny version of "outre outfits," in that they are sometimes-- though not always-- seen dressed in outrageous costumes, particularly those episodes in which some of the killers wear Edgar Allen Poe masks.  But as with HANNIBAL, I would have to study the collected episodes in order to determine whether or not this is a combative serial.



The novel and television serials of Dexter Morgan will bear further investigation as well.  Jeff Lindsay's concept places the titular psycho in the role of the avenger of crimes, in essence melding the character-types of Lecter and Graham. I have not read Lindsay's novels, any more than Harris.' But based on viewing a handful of the Showtime TV episodes, Dexter Morgan is a man who is born with the same psychotic tendencies as Hannibal Lecter, but who is able to channel them into relatively altruistic acts, killing exceptionally evil criminals who have escaped the justice system. Apparently on occasion he has even contended against other "master psychos" like himself, though on the whole most of his enemies tend to be more mundane, and he is almost as much an invincible dispenser of justice as Jerry Siegel's Spectre. Still, even if Dexter had never encountered a psycho on his own level, DEXTER the teleseries would be as combative as the SPECTRE comic-book series, in that the criminals Dexter attacks represent an exceptional level of evil, as I discussed here in GHOSTS AMERICAN STYLE:

...criminals in THE SPECTRE represent more than just ordinary crooks: collectively they are the evil that forces the undead avenger to keep up his crusade, rather than going to his eternal rest.


Saturday, May 10, 2014

DANCING ON THE DWARF PT. 3

At this stage of the game, I'm sure I could let my enigmatic title go unexplained and no one would ever inquire. However, here's the explanation anyway.



The image above is that of the Hindu deity Shiva, dancing one of his ecstatic dances.  Unlike many other statues using similar iconography, this one shows him dancing upon the body of a dwarf, sometimes represented as "apasmara-purusha (the man of forgetfulness) who embodies indifference, ignorance and laziness."                                 

I interpret the image on two additional levels. In Hindu Samkhya philosophy the world is composed of three aspects, the lowest of which is *tamas,* which also embodies all qualities of inertia and ignorance, which are a fair match to "evil" in Judeo-Christian systems.  The dwarf, then, is also inertia, over which the lively energies of  Shiva have triumphed.

At the same time-- and this I do not draw from Samkya philosophy-- the dwarf is also a foundation for Shiva's dance. Maybe a god could dance on nothing if he so wished, but the fact that Shiva dances on the lower aspect of the universe demonstrates that to certain Hindu ways of thinking, even ignorance and inertia are a necessary part of existence. If nothing else they are the things against which we strive in order to reach excellence.

In Judeo-Christian philosophy there is, generally speaking, less of a sense of the interdependence of what we often call "good" and "evil."  The dominant tradition is that of good casting out evil into a howling netherworld, embodied in the ancient Jewish ritual of the scapegoat.  For me, though, one doesn't always solve the problem of evil by casting it out.

What is evil? I won't strive to come up with a substantive definition here. I will content myself with no more than a working definition instead, stating that for my purposes: "Evil is self-interest to the point of excluding all other interests."

Certainly people who make threats of rape to anyone, male or female, commit an evil act. It doesn't matter if they feel themselves put upon by an author whom they view as having a "feminist agenda." Their act is evil because they have acted in self-interest without any consideration of the commonweal that permits persons of diverse beliefs to live together in society.

And yet, there is also an evil-- lesser by far, to be sure-- in promoting an agenda that does not recognize a pluralistic worldview: one that insists upon a rigid "sheep vs. goats" division between good and evil.

If any readers (?) think I'm going to name Asselin as an example of this, guess again. I've critiqued her writings a couple of times but I've no evidence that she has promoted a one-sided agenda in a flagrant and badly conceived manner.

I would have no problem in locating just such an agenda in Gail Simone's currently dormant website WOMEN IN REFRIGERATORS, though.  In this essay I wrote of Simone's effort: "her criteria for inclusion on this list is horribly skewed, showing a tendency to negatively characterize any violence inflicted on a female character, no matter what justification the violence had within the context of the story." 

Now, the nimrods who attacked Janelle Asselin probably didn't have any elaborate thoughts as the ongoing arguments regarding male and female portrayals in the comic book industry. It is quite likely that they attacked Asselin because they thought she threatened their "male privilege," whatever they might have conceived that to be.

I'm not concerned with male privilege. I'm concerned with artistic privilege, and for that reason I find myself impatient with both creators and critics whose whole idea of solving gender-related problems is to chuck the devils into the abyss. Putting aside the dubiousness of this theory, it doesn't even work in a practical sense, as I noted on THE BEAT:

I should add that no degree of moderation of CBR’s boards would have prevented lurkers in the community from printing the same crap on Asselin’s original survey.


Trolls, the internet's version of *tamas,* will always be with us.  It's certainly understandable for a businessman like Jonah Wieland to distance himself from their activities to whatever extent he can. But for my part, I can only say that as much irritation as I have personally taken off insulting dumbasses on various boards, the stupidity of trolls gives me new targets against which I may pontificate (hello, Chicken Colin) and a foundation on which to dance the dance of Reason.

 


Monday, May 5, 2014

DANCING ON THE DWARF PT. 2

On 4-21-14 I wrote GENDERIZATION GAP PT. 2, in which I took a somewhat cynical view of Janelle Asselin's critique of the cover of DC Comics' TEEN TITANS #1, though not, I should add, of the sexual harassment she received as a result of that critique.

Nine days later, Jonah Wieland announced the change to the CBR forum. This was the first time I'd read that Asselin had been victimized by something more than loose sexual threats on the Internet:

so-called "fans" around the Internet, on various message boards and social media, including the CBR Forums, attacked Janelle personally, threatening her with rape and assault. These same "fans" found her e-mail, home address and other personal information, and used it to harass and terrorize her, including an attempted hacking of her bank account.

After reading that, I wondered if I had been overly dismissive of Asselin's complaints.  Though I prefer not to enter the "rage-fests" that typify so much online discourse about comic books, I'm sure that I would have been as angry as Asselin if something comparative happened to me, or to someone close to me, as a result of having made a critical comment of anything, be it pop culture or politics. I'll further admit that I'd be angry even if I was in Asselin's exact position of not knowing just how many specific hostile activities stemmed from the harassers.

I also wondered if I had been too dismissive of Asselin's comments, which I referred to as "poking the bear." I've poked certain bears myself on many occasions, and I've laid out some of my reasons for feeling that "opposition is true friendship" in this essay.  But what still bothers me about Asselin's original argument is that it lacks clarity as to whether it's attacking the idea of sexualizing teenaged girls generally, or the TITANS cover's failures in the arena of artistic excellence.  So, by the terms of my argument, I don't think Asselin provides a reasoned opposition of the comic-book tendencies she dislikes.

Jonah Wieland's reaction-- or over-reaction-- deserves further analysis as well. Putting aside the question of his motives, which may well be exactly what he claims they are, I have to question the feasibility of his solution. I've had my share of headaches from venom-spouting trolls on both CBR and Comicon.com, but to some extent that's what any poster lets himself in for by venturing into an Internet community.  I only occasionally posted on CBR before the Change, but I don't anticipate joining the new CBR community.

Why? Well, in GENDERIZATION GAP 2 I said that I valued the "evil thoughts" produced in the name of entertainment, even when they were, or seemed to be, sexist or racist in some way.  By the same logic, I suppose that I prefer even the slimy deceptions of moralistic Neopuritans, be they of the Elitist or the Populist persuasions, to any attempts to smooth them over with a bland standard of politeness-- such as we get in this famous HOWARD THE DUCK cover.




DANCING ON THE DWARF

On this BEAT thread poster Charlie Ryan said in part:

"I’m puzzled why some comic book forums have let abusive language, threats and hate talk go on for this long in the first place. Why is the internet somehow different from other media which have always had codes of conduct? Letter sections in newspapers and magazines have always been edited for content. Broadcast TV and radio, the ‘public airwaves’, have always had decency standards — bad words bleeped and the like. Certainly, none of the vile comments in the Teen Titans cover critique discussion would have ever made air or print."


I responded on two levels:

I'm cynically wondering if the potential for legal culpability might have been at the root of Jonah Wieland's Big Change. If you Charlie Ryan take a dim view of CBR's lack of self-editing in this situation, then I would bet dollars to donuts that somewhere, some legal expert has thought of making an issue of Internet forums allowing for the spread of hate speech and the like.
Another issue: though I don't doubt for an instant that Ms. Asselin was harassed by scumbag fans-- particularly since she reprinted some of the commentary-- do we as outsiders have documented evidence that those same fans tried to hack Asselin's bank account?  If Asselin was certain enough of the connection to make the assertion on Twitter, then someone, I presume the police, ferreted out the connection.  I've heard zero follow-up as to the identities of the fans who committed these crimes, but logic would dictate that some party was identified by the cops, or by someone. 
Since this has had a considerable impact on the comics community, I for one would like to see the story investigated in more detail.


However, the moment after I posted this, I wondered if I might have missed something, and looked around a little more.  This Janelle Asselin blogpost, entitled "An Explanation No One is Owed," clarifies that Asselin (a) was unable to interest the FBI in the investigation of the rape threats that appeared on her online survey, and (b) had only circumstantial-- though not improbable-- evidence that one or more of her harassers had been complicit in the attempt on her bank account. 

This statement is somewhat less definitive than the one Jonah Wieland made in his 4-30-14 declaration as to what happened to Ms. Asselin:

Unfortunately, what happened next was unacceptable -- so-called "fans" around the Internet, on various message boards and social media, including the CBR Forums, attacked Janelle personally, threatening her with rape and assault. These same "fans" found her e-mail, home address and other personal information, and used it to harass and terrorize her, including an attempted hacking of her bank account.


Did one or more of Asselin's verbal abusers also hack her bank account? Maybe, but given the dodgy circumstances Asselin related in her Tumblr post, I find it questionable that so many reposts of the Asselin story reported the attempted robbery as gospel.

I'll have more to say on this matter and the CBR board-closings in Part 2, but I'll close out this largely informational post with this question-- why would Ms. Asselin title her post "An Explanation No One is Owed?"  No question that she was sinned against, but why would she, a law-abiding citizen whose privacy has been invaded, not feel herself obligated to provide a transparent account of her reasoning? Yes, I know that it may smack of "accusing the injured party," but we're not talking about shifty lawyers trying to undermine rape victims by commenting on their choice in apparel.  We're generally talking about respondents who seem to be honestly concerned about what happened to Asselin, but who didn't quite understand the chain of events as she represented them.  I think that once she did chose to make her harassment public, she did "owe" her public a concise testimony on the matters she raised. 

But then-- I've been in the minority about a lot of things.