plainly and simply parasitical on the obvious or univocal reading

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Recycling my Graduate Work, Part 2

Well, I've reached the end of my first semester of graduate school, and I have now found myself in possession of a plan of study that will determine the course of my work over the next couple of years. For those who might be interested (that is to say, pretty much only if you're a grad student whose name is Dan Jacobson...) I am posting the introduction to my plan here. Hopefully I will be able to use this plan to coordinate with others who are doing similar work and we can help each other out, maybe form some kind of...I dunno...squad. There just aren't enough squads these days.

So here it is:

Cheap, Trashy and Possibly Revolutionary: Comic Book Culture and Social Positioning

Comic books have a history of low cultural valuation, running along a line directly back to their pulp magazine, mass-product roots. It is a history to which they remain tethered, in spite of the work of countless critics, scholars, and serious cartoonists over the past few decades, and, frankly, because of some others. Superhero comic books (which represent the majority of comic books that have been published in the United States) in particular are primarily regarded as escapist power fantasies, for that is precisely what they are, though they are other things as well (it’s largely in how the reader uses them). Non-superhero comics tend to be the same way for the most part, drawing on crime-based power fantasies, science fiction-based power fantasies, horror-based power fantasies, etc. Those that are not power fantasies (at least in the obvious sense) are often self-consciously avoiding that label, and are therefore still in some ways defined by it. In any case, it is not difficult to see the connection between the low status of comic books among arts and letters, the type of fantasy material that most of the work published to date either represents or knowingly disavows, the means by which the work is produced and distributed, and the people who read, consume, and generate demand for more of the same.

Much effort has been made in recent years to elevate comic books in terms of their status among the mass media. From the industry side this has involved entry into bookstores (as opposed to only being available in specialty shops), an emphasis on single-volume publications or collected editions of previously published material and articles in major newspapers and magazines with the occasional appearance on a television news show or National Public Radio broadcast. Among participants in comic book fan culture, it has involved attempts to arrive at a consensus as to which comic books are great works, which decades represent the important eras, and which creators are making the most--and most important--contributions to the form of comics. Academically, it has resulted in volume after volume of apologetics, assuring us that yes, comic books--even superhero comic books--can and do have literary merit. This happens over and over again, and frequently involves the same comic books (Watchmen, The Dark Knight Returns, Maus, Jimmy Corrigan, Ghost World) being used as examples. Librarians, journalists, prose authors, film directors and scholars are all eager to tell us that while we may think of comic books as objects of trash culture, they really aren't.

But they also are. And as a complement to all of the new critical appreciation for certain comic books that “rise above” the regular garbage (which I think is a vital and important subject of its own), I am proposing that we look at the rest of it as well—that is, look at the trash as trash where necessary and see what it tells us about the culture as a whole, about the medium, about its creators, and about how the readers and fans are using the texts and participating in the formation of the culture. While the examination of important and pivotal work is valuable, I believe that to focus primarily on that work and how it is read to the exclusion of the vast body represented by everything else (that is, the trash) will also exclude the experiences and critical responses of the readers of everything else. Such an approach would erase from the scholarly view the contribution that those readers have made to the development of comic book culture and culture at large. It would also blind us to an examination of how readers have used the texts to position themselves within the comic culture, particularly as it relates to their positions in the culture at large. I want to include the reader and the fan in the emerging scholarship of comic books along with the examinations of the other aspects of comic book culture. Fan and reader activity on the internet has demonstrated that the readers are actively engaged with the texts and with the culture. They are also much more diverse than conventional wisdom suggests, as are their reading and participatory strategies. Through an examination of reader participation in comic book culture and the ways that it affects the creation of individual works and the industry as a whole, I hope to discover something about narrative and its relationship to the reader, and how the reader can use narrative to navigate culture, which in turn feeds the production of future narratives. I believe that the size, the history, the high level of reader participation, and the collective and ongoing authorship of the most popular and resonant narratives make comic book culture an ideal place to examine these effects.

Monday, November 06, 2006

All That Heaven Allows and the Case for the Effectiveness of Melodrama

Note: In light of some responses I've been posting over at plok's, I thought that I would post in full a brief essay I wrote for a film class in school, where the first rumblings of my ideas on melodrama, and by extension my development of "Trash Theory," can be documented. Having read over it again after it was handed back and graded (A, thanks for asking--though to be honest, I wouldn't have given it that), I realized that there were some things that could be changed around to make it communicate my points a bit more clearly. However, in the end laziness always wins, so I am just copying and pasting the text. Ah well, enjoy. Also: has it really been over two months since I last posted? Man, that's grad school for ya!

Melodrama, when employed properly as a narrative tool, makes use of ridiculous plots and characterizations to tease out genuine meanings regarding the way in which we understand human social relationships. While often used synonymously with mere poorly-written drama, the melodrama is in fact its own distinct style with its own rhetorical devices. Poorly-written dramas make a genuine effort to have their plots emerge from characterization, and where their dialogue is sappy it is nonetheless a naturalistic sappiness rooted in characters that are meant to be read as individual human beings. Melodrama, in eschewing naturalism, letting characters represent concepts rather than people (and thus resist the change that is necessary to the naturalistic drama), and breaking plot from character development (which allows contrivances to be contrivances), exposes an absurdity in the way that social relationships are constructed and maintained through narratives.

Douglas Sirk’s 1955 film All That Heaven Allows, were it a naturalistic drama, would be about two people navigating the circumstances of their class and age and overcoming the pressures of their community in order to have a successful romantic relationship. However, the film is a melodrama, so while a number of those plot points actually happen, that isn’t what it’s about at all. There is no space in the community that Sirk creates for the love between Cary (Jane Wyman) and Ron (Rock Hudson) to exist because the contrast in their environments is too stark and nothing about any of the characters ever changes. All they can do is stare longingly and lament the immutability of their circumstances, until those circumstances miraculously change. This kind of melodramatic structure is necessary in order to point out the stupidity of elevating the importance of the social order above that of human desires, which actually does happen. Sirk’s method of dealing with this dehumanization is to employ melodrama, which removes the humanity from the narrative and allows the ridiculousness of the plot (and of the society in which it exists) to come forward. In a naturalistic drama all of the characters would have to speak out against the social order for the love to work; the critique would have to be overt, which would violate the Hays Code and generally freak the audiences out (because nobody likes to be told that their civilization is anti-human, especially by the Saturday matinee).

The characters in the film tend to represent states of being more so than individual humans. Cary is the desire of the mature woman, while Ron is the sexual potency of the nature lover and the working class. Accordingly, there is no space for Cary to even exist in her world or in Ron’s. In such a bright and colorful film, she dresses so drably most of the time—the symbolic value of having her appear out of place no matter where she is takes precedence over any personal fashion statements. The exception is the red dress that she wears in the beginning, the last time that she really feels comfortable in the country club environment. Her friend Sarah (class propriety and politeness), by contrast, fits in fine there, and wears vibrant colors to go with her head of outrageously red hair. To go along with her outfits, her outlook on life generally has no place in her community. When Sarah mentions needing to find a date for Mr. Allenby (who is Cary’s age), Cary perks up, but then Sarah not only brushes her off, but steers her toward the older, sexless Harvey. “At least he’s available…” she says, implying that someone her own age shouldn’t be considered so. Cary’s daughter, Kay (the intellectualization of physical desire) invokes whatever Freud lesson she was taught that week, saying, “When we reach a certain age sex becomes incongruous.” She is shocked by Cary’s racy bedside literature. Is it any surprise that there is no space in any of their minds for Cary’s relationship with Ron?

As representations rather than people, the characters resist change because the structures that they embody resist change. Both Cary and Ron are willing to let their relationship end rather than change themselves. Cary’s children are certainly not about to modify their worldviews to accommodate their mother’s desires. As for the rest of the town, come on; its name is Stoningham, which implies a threat of collective retribution for transgressions against the social order. This resistance to change is what Sirk holds on to most tightly, and it is the reason why this film and the critique it presents can only exist in a melodrama. In a naturalistic drama, the community’s attitude toward relationships like the one that Cary has with Ron—that is, an older and wealthier woman involved with a younger man from a lower class—would have to change in order for that relationship to succeed. But while perhaps more naturalistic, that option is less realistic. Either that or Cary and Ron would have to change, but what could they change? The obstacles to their relationship emerge from the fundamental circumstances of their lives--not from themselves, but from a social order which does not allow them a space to exist.

How do they manage to end up together, then? The only way they can: through contrivance. The plot goes on, because it must in order to be a romance. In naturalistic drama the plot is resolved by the agency, decisions, and changes of the characters. In All That Heaven Allows, the plot is resolved by sheer coincidence. Cary’s daughter is getting married and will no longer need to live in her house. Her son is leaving the country on business. Cary finds out that Ron is not, and has not been, in a relationship with Maryann like she had thought. Ron gets injured and needs someone to care for him. And she is under doctor’s orders to re-enter the relationship. The characters have no agency. The obstacles to their relationship simply vanish. A story that has the outward appearance of being a tale of love overcoming social scorn, and of the value of staying true to oneself is in fact no such thing. The only way that the film could end happily, as required, is for it to end stupidly, and therein lies the real message: if you think that romantic love can thrive in such an oppressive, dehumanizing social structure, you’re out of your mind.

By being ridiculous, the film demonstrates that social change is the only option. A drama would either have to end tragically, with broken hearts all around for the good of the community, or with the redefinition of the entire fabric of the community in order to accommodate one relationship (as all of the many, many other relationships in the film fit well within the social constraints of the town—including the flings of philanderer Howard). A melodrama, by contrast, is able to preserve the hopeless social structure and the relationship, and to allow the logical gap between the plot and characterization to function as the critique that it dares not make explicitly.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

A Response to Ragnell's Question (Unabridged)

Ragnell posted last night asking whether something she'd written previously in regard to the Green Lantern refrigerator scene comes across as a justification of the trope of harming members of the supporting cast for the purpose of developing the hero. I said in comments that I didn't think that it did, because the trope really can't be justified, and I promised to elaborate further here because my reasons for saying it are so complex and multifaceted.

*edit* not as much as I thought they were, as it turns out*

The first thing is that I don't think it makes a whole lot of sense. More accurately, it does and it doesn't. Starting from the end goal and working backward through the events, as Ragnell does, it almost works. The goal is to develop Kyle as a character by in this case putting him through some of the risks involved in being a superhero, and to get him to make a break with his old life. Another goal is to show how nasty the villain, Major Force is. Working backward, a common way of doing this is to harm a loved one. So we create a loved one, and give her a fairly developed and likable personality. The villain drops some hints, shows up while the hero is out, there's a struggle, then the hero returns to find the girlfriend dead. It hits the beats and solves the puzzle. But...does it solve the puzzle well?

This is where I have to say no. Like I said, starting at the goal and working backwards, it kind of makes sense. There's a sense that things have to happen a certain way in order for the end goal to be realized. Working forward, though, it really doesn't make much sense at all.

The main problem is with the villain's motivation. Why does he want to hurt the hero at all? Does he see Kyle as an obstacle to his primary goal? Well, given that in this case his goal is to get the ring that's on Kyle's finger, I suppose he is an obstacle. So why not just go after the hero directly and try to kill him, rather than hurting the girlfriend? Somewhere along the line there has to be an indication that there is greater value in going after the girlfriend than in going after the hero himself, and that there is greater value in killing her than in, say kidnapping her (on this point I'm a bit confused. Is he supposed to just be a general homicidal maniac, or just a somewhat unstable government agent?). If the villain is thinking "I'll show him it's dangerous to mess with me," well, that kind of fails in that it wasn't particularly dangerous to the hero. When the deed is done, he still has all of his totally rad powers, and now in addition he has become an even bigger obstacle to the villain's goals because he is pissed off and has a personal stake in stopping him. If the goal is solely to get the ring, Major Force's actions don't make much sense. If the goal is to demonstrate his threat level, he kind of fails there, too. He's just another in a long line of super powered people who has murdered a non-powered person, which is pretty unspectacular. In the end he has demonstrated that he is mean and willing to kill people, but we already knew that. He's willing to kill Kyle, too; he just happens to fail at that.

Now, stepping outside of this one specific story to look at the cliché in general, the point of the villain's motivation is where it most often falls flat. Hurting the hero's loved ones is never going to stop the hero from ruining the villain's plans. So while from an extra-textual perspective it may satisfy the author's plot requirements, intra-textually it doesn't satisfy the villain's goals, and in fact often works against them (this is not such a big deal for explicitly revenge-motivated villains, like Venom). Now, some villains work against their own goals all the time and don't even realize it, but the text knows, if that makes sense. It's sold to the reader. When villains go after the heroes' loved ones, they may accomplish something for the writer, but what do they accomplish for themselves?

The other element that makes the convention a problem is the girlfriend. She is a character, and so presumably she has an arc of her own, which generally culminates with her death. Again, extra-textually, we know it's really about the hero. His name's on the cover. He won't be dying or getting permanently injured, and everything that happens in the book is his story. But inside the text, she is the victim. It's important to know that her death is necessary for her arc. There needs to be a purpose for her arc to intersect with that of the villain other than just "we need her dead so the hero can be driven to the edge." Otherwise it's just a plot point, and she, rather than being a character in her own right, is really just an extension of the hero. Killing her becomes the equivalent of cutting an arm off of the hero or something. She doesn't really have a purpose of her own; she doesn't need to be there. That's lazy writing. There's nothing particularly sexist about it until we contextualize it, until we realize that it exists in a world in which women really have been seen as appendages of the men in their lives for a very long time.

So kill away, writers, but keep in mind how and keep in mind why, is what I guess I'm saying.

Also, to answer the question that Ragnell actually asked: no, I wouldn't consider that paragraph a justification of the phenomenon. There's a difference between explaining the logic behind an instance of the convention and justifying it even in itself, let alone the entire phenomenon.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Wizard World 2006 impressions

Well, I had an awesome time at Wizard World this weekend. It's been about three years since the last time I was there and pretty much nothing has changed. Well actually it did seem to be a bit louder than I remember (thank you, Spike TV).

On Friday I met up with 100littledolls and Shions_Glasses and they are some fine folks. We wandered around mocking silly things for a while, which was not as difficult as you might think, and there was the flier-ing. I'm not saying any names, but someone was clearly handing out fliers and seemed to always be one step ahead of us. Someone may have been slipping them into Frank Miller, Frank Cho and Dave Sim books, and may have been putting some in such inconspicuous places as the men's room. Indeed, wherever there were boobs on robots for no reason, there was a flyer. Also, I've heard legends that someone handed a flier to ol' Pornface himself. The highlight of this alleged flier-ing-that-may-have-happened was that some young women walked past a stack of them, picked one up, read it, and then went up to whoever was putting them out (I swear I don't know who it was) and asked for a stack of them to aid in their placement.

Later, while touring artists' alley (*cough* ghetto *cough*) looking for some of my artist friends I finally found the answer to the Great Supergirl Underwear Question (yes) and that Barbara Gordon gets Brazilians. I have to admit that I never really noticed this kind of thing in my earlier years of attending the show, though it was undoubtedly there. But now that I know how to spot it, I can't shut it off. Every time I turned my head it was there. I kept walking around going "hello, boobs!" "hello, crotch!"

We found ourselves getting the giggles when in the proximity of Dirk Benedict at the snack area, and repeatedly had to stifle ourselves whenever he looked over at us, which of course just made us laugh more. Lousy giggle-loop.

The Peter David writing panel on Saturday was SRO by the time I got there, but I hung out anyway and found it informative and entertaining. He's a pretty funny guy and the hour was up before anyone noticed.

I also went to the Vertigo panel, the highlight of which for me was Bob Shreck's exasperated "Yes, we'll think about reprinting Kill Your Boyfriend..." when a fan asked. Apparently he gets asked that a lot. But I know I loved it when it first came out and I'd love for younger readers to have the opportunity to read it without having to go to great lengths to track it down.

$10. That's what I paid for a Knob Creek at the Hyatt Bar. I must have been out of my mind, but it was exactly what I needed at the time. After two days at the con from open to close a good drink helped.

Sorry I missed the When Fangirls Attack folks, though I can hardly be blamed as they were so inconspicuous as to be wearing matching blue shirts. I did see Johanna running around on Friday, but didn't stop to introduce myself.

And now for my scores:

The first three volumes of Runaways, which I of course loved

Essential Marvel Two-in-One, so I could read what Jim's been writing about

Another Little Lulu collection for my son (we read these at bedtime every night, and I was getting weary of the one volume over and over)

The first two volumes of Astro Boy

Most of the Andy Helfer and Kyle Baker run on The Shadow from the late 80's, which I had heard was some crazy shit (it is)

110 per¢

Babel #2 (I have to wait and read this one last, because David B. is so damn good that he tends to ruin me for all other comics for about a month after I read his stuff, and I don't want my reading of the rest of the material to be a chore)

So there it is, my con experience. I hope other attendees had fun, and didn't have a hangover every day like I did.

On an administrative note, I have darkened my background image in the hope of improving readability. Let me know how it worked.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

29 on 29

So yeah, it's my birthday today. The big two-nine. Hmm, don't really have much more to say than that (WHA!!!???).

I've just finished making my final arrangements, which means that yes, I will be in Chicago for Wizard World next weekend. I'll be staying in the city, where the food is better and the drinks cheaper, and making the ridiculous trek out to the airport in the mornings. Should be exciting. Fellow bloggers who are also going are encouraged to get in touch (dlouisjacobson-atsign-yahoo-dotcom).

*Later Edit* Also, this is what I look like (because, y'know, I can never have too many things competing with my background image).

Monday, July 24, 2006

An Open Letter to Edgy Writers Who Write About Really Real Real Life

I cannot censor you. I wouldn't if I could. As a matter of fact, I may be more interested in the blossoming of your career than you are. I just don't want you to be a talentless hack. You don't want to be a talentless hack, do you? If you do, just say so and we can reevaluate the terms of our relationship honestly, like adults.

I am aware that rape happens in real life. In fact, I am aware that it happens more often than people are comfortable acknowledging. You can be sure that when I critique real life, it's on the "needs improvement" list. Curiously, when I bring it up in reference to real life, I am never accused of trying to stifle anyone's creative vision.

But all of that is rather beside the point, isn't it? The point is the text, and whether it is any good. When I am critiquing someone's work of fiction, I am (and I admit that I was foolish enough to think that this was obvious) not critiquing real life.

See, much as there are good and bad ways to deal with murder, bank robbery, whacked-out cosmic shit and world domination plots (you know, the real-life stuff), there are good and bad ways to deal with rape and its consequences. For example, using rape and/or serial rape as a shortcut to show how really really bad/serious/big threat your bad guy is qualifies as a bad way to do it. Even aside from the rape thing, why do you need to take shortcuts to establish anything about any of your characters? Why do you care so little about your creations? Same goes for using it as a motivation, by the way. If I were to break it down mathematically, it would go something like this: sexual assault + cliches and hackery = trivialization of sexual assault. And that is offensive. And when you think about it, doesn't that make it a less effective way to show how bad the bad guys are? And doesn't it, in fact, undermine any gritty realness that the introduction of such a high-impact real world issue may have introduced? I'm not just trying to bust your chops here, I simply think these are things you may want to consider as you refine your craft.

You may think that this means that I think there's something inherently wrong with dealing with sexual assault and rape in comic stories. This is not precisely true. Dealing with it is fine. But simply introducing it into the text is not the same thing as dealing with it. Simply presenting it as bad, or taking a textual stance against it, is not the same thing as dealing with it. We all know it's bad. You won't be blowing any minds with that stunning revelation. And yes, the same could probably be said for all violent crimes. What sets rape apart, however, is that it is a crime that, the overwhelming majority of the time, happens to women, and happens to them precisely because they are women.

So you see, I'm not interested in stifling your creativity. I am not taking a stand regarding what you should or shouldn't "be able" to write about. I am not calling for your work to be censored, and even if I did, nobody would listen. I don't matter that much. What I am saying is this: as long as you continue to produce texts that deal with rape and sexual assault in a cavalier or trivializing way, especially if you do so because your writing is poor, I will continue to bring critique. I want you to be a better writer. Edgy, even. And good writing starts with good thinking. I wish you well, I really do. See that you don't bring the hackery, though. And if you do, and I express my disappointment, please don't act as though I'm attacking your freedom of expression, when I am merely exercising my own in kind.

Yours always, except when not,

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Hey, there's a navel down there...

So yesterday I was accepted into grad school. I'll be going for comics and gender studies, astonishingly enough. That is, studying comics through a gender studies lense, as well as studying gender as it relates to comics. I'll be looking inside the text and out.

Currently I'm working on an article about homosociality and how it relates to the fandom and industry of comics. I haven't started school yet, I'm just that much of a dork.

Also, I swear I do, in fact, know how to have fun.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

I'll be happy for a second

During my regular nerdly surfing of the comics blogosphere, I noticed something intriguing and exciting from one of my favorite non-explicitly-feminist comic bloggers, Jim Roeg. Well, not from him directly, but it's a thing I noticed on his site that I'd like to point more people to. During his wonderful essay on Steve Gerber's Marvel Two-in-One run he posts the following panels:

I would like to draw everyone's attention to the topmost panel. Do you see what I'm seeing? Well, first of all, out of four characters, two of them, a full 50 percent, are women. But the thing about that that I really noticed, and that got me really excited, is that the two women are completely different from one another (well okay, they're both thin and pretty...)!

Now, I don't know who they are, so y'know, not really any lasting iconic appeal or anything, but look, two different outfits, two different hairstyles and, what's this? Two different types of body language? Yes!!! And the one in the traditional "heroic stance" that is usually reserved for men only (let me say that again: a woman in the traditional heroic stance. Well, except for the whole hand-on-the-thigh thing...) is also wearing long pants. What is this? Is all of Gerber's stuff this awesome?

So yeah, for one brief, shining moment, there are just as many pathways into the text for those wishing to identify with the women as there are for those wishing to identify with the men. So not mind-blowingly spectacular or anything, but nice.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Willing to Concede?

God damn it, dude.

I was all set to begin what I thought was a pretty awesome post about the strained antiradicalism of X3 (supposing that the self-evident misogyny has been covered, and also that, since I can't get the image of Ms. Mota's Arclight out of my head for more than five minutes, I may be undermining myself a bit on that score anyway... but come on! Can't I have one moment of drooling fanboyish weakness? Because I mean, holy shit...), and then I was clicking around on When Fangirls Attack, as I do, and found something that, on this of all days made me go from relatively calm but slightly angry to "Isaidnolunchnogangrenelunch" within minutes.

See, it was yet a third incredulous defense of an entitlement that does not exist (or more accurately exists, but shouldn't) from Erik Larsen that did it. I didn't comment on the first one, or the second, because, well, I'm lazy and update infrequently and also because there were plenty of people saying things that I thought anyway. Besides, his second article was full of "poor me" whining about how everybody was dogpiling him for no reason and from what I could see on message boards, people were actually buying it. So I held back, thinking maybe that was that. But he hasn't stopped.

The first thing that I notice is all the talk about how what he wrote was quoted out of context in people's responses. Fankly, though, that's only a valid criticism if putting the quote back into context changes its meaning. Alas...

And now, to take some quotes out of context:

I'm not saying that we can't do better. I'm not saying we shouldn't try to do better. I'm not excusing anybody. But I also don't think it's necessarily a bad thing to make candy bars for people that would like to buy candy bars.
The thing is, though, it is perfectly reasonable to bring critique against the idea that candy bars make people just as healthy as anything else, in a world where the message that "real" healthy people like to eat their candy bars, and by God it's their right to do so and anyway they just can't help themselves, that's just the way healthy people are after all. To then go on to say that candy bars and the consumption thereof are not harmful to chocolate, caramel and creamy, creamy nougat is a bit disingenuous, no?

And that brings me to this, then I'm done:

If somebody dresses in a way to provoke, is it wrong to be provoked? If you wear a dress with the neckline plunging down to your navel, somebody's going to give you a once over. If you walk down the street in your birthday suit, people will look. Is the person looking at fault? I've heard women get incensed about men checking them out when they're clearly dressing to get the attention that they've gotten.

And somebody's going to get on my case about that statement.

Yeah, me.

Because how do you know someone has dressed in a way to provoke without asking? And more to the point, how do you know they've dressed to provoke you, and not somebody else? Despite what you may have been told, the way a person dresses is not a license to gawk and leer and make them feel uncomfortable. Maybe the reason that women get so mad at being checked out is because they're being checked out by people they aren't interested in, and excessively. Maybe they're getting stared at or harassed (cat-called, for example) by guys who they don't want to talk to or even acknowledge. And what a dodgy statement that is anyway in a world where there are some women who get unwanted attention no matter how they dress or don't dress and there are also women who couldn't get attention of that sort when they do want it (from people they're interested in) no matter how they dress or don't and it has nothing to do with anything about them.

And shame on you for building your own victimization into the statement. Not really very brassy, dude.

So to wrap it all up, there are folks saying he's a decent guy, and I'm sure he is. But that's part of what bothers me: basically decent people do, say, and think this kind of stuff all the time. It's part of what keeps women from being people first. I don't think anyone's saying that the attitudes of individuals are the biggest problem, just that they indicate something deeper, an older and darker magic, if you will...

By the way, I'm not willing to concede that I'm wrong. 'Cause I'm dedicated like that.

Monday, May 15, 2006

And he's hot, too...

Recent discussions about objectification of women in comics have tended to bring up the corollary question of whether men are equally objectified in comics, and if that isn’t “just as bad.” I think we’ve all seen the remixed covers by now that feature the Green Lantern’s Power Battery among other heroes’ attributes. Alas, it is but a dream, a hoax, an imaginary story. Truly it takes more than spandex over muscles to bring the objectification even close to in line with the way that women are presented by default (two of the most important words to remember in discussions such as this) on the comics cover/page. But is it even possible? Certainly the remixed covers provide a good place to start, but even they don’t go far enough. So I thought I’d start to whip up a list of other criteria that would need to be met prior to my being able to accept that men are just as objectified, and that said objectification is just as bad as that of women (and as a note, I’ll add that the dynamics I envision in this list are hetero, for the sake of simplifying the discussion)…

IF…every drawing of a man, even the civilians and background characters, put him in an outfit meant to show off as much of his body as possible, and

IF…every panel in which such a man appeared had him striking some kind of pose meant to show off his body in a sexual way, no matter how awkward and inappropriate to the situation, for example showing off his ass and (ample) package at the same time, regardless of comfort or practicality, and

IF…every time a man threw a punch or a kick, the angle of the image were sure to draw attention to the ass or package, and

IF…men’s costumes were frequently designed to draw as much attention to the penis as possible, while still keeping it covered up, and

IF…at least some men took it upon themselves to go out fighting crime in a thong (hey, it’s no less impractical than when a woman does it…), and

IF…when anticipating getting into a fight, men would slip casually into a contrapposto and still manage to flex something, and somehow land a punch, and

IF… when coming up with examples of cheesecakey exploitation, Gogo Fiasco was just as likely to come to mind as Vampirella, and

IF…in the fan press you would constantly see references to male heroes who are hot and by the way kick ass, with hotness always coming first,

Even then, the objectification wouldn’t be as bad, unless we could say in real life that…

The first measure of men’s worth is how attractive and presumably available they are for women’s use, and

Whenever we see a movie or music magazine with a male celebrity on the cover, he is coyly looking at the camera while pulling his untucked shirt suggestively over his hip, showing off the skin, and

When making a list of the accomplishments and non-physical qualities of a man, we are expected, by default, to add “and he’s hot/easy on the eyes/whatever too!” and if we don’t it is presumed that he is ugly and the previous list of traits is mere compensation for that fact (and it matters), and

On and on…

Anyway, this could obviously be one hell of a list were I not so pressed for time, so hey, feel free to add more in the comments! I know my list is far from complete.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

This Cannot Get Buried

This is too important to allow it to be eclipsed by certain other also-important subjects. Lea Hernandez is starting a grant program to help women who want to make comics on their own terms and still make them available to people to read. Here's the goods:

In order to foster women publishing independently, with economy, and as owners of what they create, I will award three grants annually, of a year's free hosting at, to women making webcomics. The recipients will have unlimited data storage and bandwidth, the ability to choose to support their work with ads, and a storefront for selling merchandise.
Being able to make comics at no cost to yourself is like the equivalent of getting paid at any other job, so this is a big deal. Keep an eye out for the details, which should be coming next month. Lea's got a good eye for talent, as evidenced by the Girlamatic roster, so these recipients should really be people to watch. Another thing that'll be fun to watch is when guys start complaining that it's only available to women. Yeah, I wish I could believe that wasn't going to happen, too.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

And if you think I was pissed before...

Dammit! I just got done baking up a huge batch of chocolate cupcakes with cream cheese frosting when I realized that after tomorrow night I can't eat them. Stupid Egyptians stupid enslaving my stupid people. I really, really, really do not do well this time of year (and I always cheat about five days in anyway, but this is my year, man).

Call for Donations; Also, Thoughts About the Club

I meant to post on this a couple of days ago when I first saw it on Lea Hernandez's Livejournal, but I've got some time now, so I'm joining the chorus (like you knew I would). The Friends of Lulu organization has started to raise funds to provide legal assistance to victims of sexual assault within the comics community. They are taking money donations over at empower at friends-lulu dot org. Also, they may be interested in artwork or collectible items, and you can send an email to ronee at friends-lulu dot org to ask about those kinds of donations. Then head on over to Buzzscope, where the victim of the case that inspired all this way back when steps forward and identifies herself, explaining what happened. From a legal standpoint, it seems pretty complicated, and given the number of times this type of thing probably happens, I can only think that this fund is a good thing. Increased awareness of how to navigate the complex legal issues surrounding these kinds of cases removes one weapon from the arsenal of the abuser, and makes the environment less hospitable for them.

Which brings me to my next point: the hospitable environment needs to go away. Why aren't the gropers the ones forced to scrounge for change to find legal representation? Why, if it's such a small and maladjusted minority doing these things, do they feel as though they are in a space where it is safe to do it in the first place? And why are they right?

I know, I know, it's a boys' club, and the world is a boys' club. But it is important to mark off some territory that is hospitable to decent folks just trying to do their thing, and that means all decent folks, and that will only come with open hostility to those who think it's okay to display harrassing behavior at conventions or over email or in weblog comments; those who think it's okay to go on a message board and make rape threats (yes, even if they think it's a joke); those who make creepy comments about how hot a creator is as though that has anything to do with anything, and then stare lewdly at them in their convention booths; those who get gropey at convention gatherings (camera phones, people. I can't stress their value enough); those creators who try to get a feel off of their fans or otherwise make lewd remarks. These are not the kind of things that basically decent people do in good fun, and they're honestly not the kind of things those of us who are far from decent do in good fun, either. It's what nasty, creepy people do, and I'm tired of accomodating them and living with the hostile environment that they create, and that is maintained by those who are willing to give it a pass because c'mon, it's not like they're hurting anybody. For once, can't they be the ones who have to crawl off to clandestine spaces in order to soothe each other? Can't they be made to feel that fandom and the industry (for God's sake, the professional industry!) are hostile to them?

Comics, SF, fantasy, gaming and like fandoms/industries attract a good number of women, and in fact a good number of feminist women. And you know, there's something about it, and I don't know what it is, but I like it, and I keep coming back to the idea that it's a good place to dig in and insist on change. Maybe it's just a small enough space for such a reversal to work, for the focus of the hostility to shift from women to those who make the environment inhospitable to women. And maybe contributing to this fund is a good place to start, but no, an even better place to start is that when someone tells you a story about an incident happening to her, or about a situation making her feel uncomfortable, believe her. Don't "withhold judgment" until you have "all the facts" or any such nonsense. Just believe. It's easy and you're not out anything by doing it. Believe, but also donate, if you can. Yeah, believe and donate. That'd be awesome.

Friday, March 31, 2006

Musings on Jog, Dworkin, and Vampirella

I can obsessively stew over things for weeks at a time, turning them around in my head and examining them, talking to myself about them and generally driving myself and my loved ones crazy. So it has been with a post I read over at Jog’s a few weeks ago, specifically a review of a Vampirella collection. See, at the time I read it, I was had also just discovered Andrea Dworkin’s web site which is, for one such as myself, a gold mine of brainfood (not as good for the heart, as it turns out, but necessary). I have also been making my way through Julia Kristeva’s essay “Women’s Time” which I can only presume influenced my reading of Jog’s post and the thinking that resulted. Folks know me as a comics nerd, but I am also quite the feminism nerd—though “nerd” maybe implies that my interest is more in scholarship and cataloguing than in justice, which, well, isn’t true, but I don’t know of any way to fully convey my enthusiasm for sexual justice other than to call myself a nerd for it, so there it is. Right.

My regular reading audience will know, of course, what Vampirella is, but for those who don’t know, or can’t infer from the title, it is a pulpy cheesecake horror comic best known for its protagonist of same name who is a busty, floss-clad, black-haired, often chained to something vampire alien woman. So Jog is reading along in this collection of comics from the mid 90’s, when he notices something kind of odd:
"But a little something’s missing - any actual sex or nudity, of course! Indeed, these stories will often go to laughable lengths (not just carefully positioned arms or shadows, but women walking around at an orgy wearing pasties) to avoid showing so much as a single nipple, despite their overwhelming desire to appeal to the most low-down needs of the readership. After all, this is a work where a sixteen-year old girl responds to the death of her father by squeezing her body into a skintight catsuit with the front zipper down to just above her navel, and where the title heroine at one point struts around in a revealing new costume just for the sheer hell of playing dress-up - she never actually uses it.[...] It’s the most puritanical work of sequential prurience I can readily think of at the moment, and that attitude even extends to the very suggestion of sexual activity. In the interview, Morrison makes mention of the "weird sex in the 90s" he’s been getting into, which attracted him to the book; funny then that the only characters in this book that enjoy any (carefully obscured) sex are the villains, who are then summarily massacred."

So why, if it is primarily meant to be a T&A book, does it so staunchly refuse to portray any actual nudity or sex? What is the goal, exactly, in keeping things covered up, despite the bodily contortions, the bindings, the violence? As Jog says,
"Actually, Vampirella manages to get chained down or tied up or otherwise restrained at least once in every story in this book, her dental floss-clad form writhing in chop-licking detail."
At first blush, this might seem like a dissonance, like these things are working in contradiction with each other. But then I got to thinking about how, in the case of this character, the only clothing present has the explicit purpose of just obscuring the nipples and pubic area. And it was during this time that I ran across Dworkin’s essay “Vargas’ Blonde Sambos.” The essay itself is about WWII-era cheesecake good girl art, but I swear she could have been reading comics in the 90’s. For example, about the revealing clothing she says,
"There is a strategy, propagandistic, not artistic. That which is covered exposes the nakedness underneath."
It is entirely possible that the wisps of clothing serve to focus attention on, rather than away from, the covered areas. And of course there is a long history in art, as in life, of women being forced to keep their bodies covered because of the sexual thoughts and entitlement of men; indeed it is rumored that when faced with the all-powerful nude woman a man loses all control. The solution to this problem (if indeed the problem exists, and it doesn’t) has never, at this point, involved restricting the options of men, but has caused all kinds of concern about what women can and can't do (as though, even if it were true, it was their problem). But anyway, the clothing… well, if they don’t show that skin, then it doesn’t count, right? But what they will do is show every possible inch of skin other than that, accentuating and objectifying the covered areas all the more. Referring again to Dworkin:
"Most of the drawings are not anatomically plausible but the idea is to draw attention to what is hidden while at the same time slandering the female form itself."
Well, I expect any longtime comics fans are chuckling a bit at this point, because we do tend to go on about the implausible anatomies on display in comics all the time. But I think that Dworkin touches on something important here when she speaks of “slandering the female form”—there is an implicit contempt for the real, human body in these comic images. I'm reminded of that every time I see a drawing of a woman in a comic who is simultaneously displaying her ass and both of her breasts. People don't bend that way. There's also a good deal of head thrown-impossibly-far-back-in-exaggerated-yet-inexplicable-ecstasy shots. Also there are an inordinate amount of presenting-on-her-knees shots, you know, breasts jutting forward while she's on her hands and knees, sticking her ass up in the air, defying anatomy and sometimes gravity. Occasionally they've got the head thrown back in those, as well. Such depictions and deformities show a contempt for the human body and its limitations, or perhaps a contempt for women and their personal autonomy, a pushing, forcing, extending of the body beyond its shape for the pleasure of men. The bones of drawings don't break for the stretching; their faces don't wince in pain at being forced into any which position to display what the audience wants to see. The eyes are half open, the lips parted; occasionally a lip-licking tongue pokes out. They twist and contort and yet their sexualities are tightly controlled. Control is paramount. Control of the body's postion, control of the face's expression, control of the few inches of covered flesh. These are images of complete and total compliance and servitude.

Is the "bad girl," then, rather than a transgression against male authority, really an assertion of it (by relying not on the presence of actual, human women, but on the absence of the human woman through use of a graphic/narrative representation)? Or, as Dworkin puts it,
"If women existed in any one of the drawings, would men be similarly aroused; or is the absence itself the turn-on?"
After all, the absence of a person means the absence of a will to assert, of a personal agency. So do these comics exist, in a way, as a means of working out these social/sexual control issues on representations of women, who can’t resist or express disfavor? Perhaps that's the answer right there to the question of why not any sex. There's no sex because sex and sexual gratification aren't the point or the goal at all. A hyperrealized sexuality is used as a means of control. Not control of actual human women, of course, but control of the representation, the narrative of women. We do live in a world that is very invested in its narratives and representations and perhaps to control those representations is to reach out into people's consciousness and shape their worldviews a little bit. It’s probably fortunate that the audience for these comics is relatively small, though what you see in the extreme here you’ll see to a lesser (but still visible) extent in more mainstream fare. However, with such a niche audience, we get to have a peak into the mind that creates the demand, for it must exist if these books do, and as Jog says,
"maybe they’re beholden to a certain set of subgenre tropes that lead to such a vehemently contradictory, virginally ‘outrageous,’ blood-soaked ‘n shackled half-naked women = good/nipples and affectionate touching = bad type of atmosphere."
And you know, maybe they are, but why? Why do these tropes exist at all, and how did they become so powerful in that niche market? What is the origin of the contempt on display in these comics? And most frightening of all, how far do the traces of its influence extend to the rest of the industry, and indeed out into the culture at large?

Well, this has kind of been all over the place, but I think my main point is that, to answer the question of whether there is a tension between the hypersexuality and the sexlessness, I would say no, that rather than contradict each other these two things in fact work in concert to reinforce the same controlling and contemptuous narrative message:

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Do me a favor...

Look over this list of characters from the DC universe:

Alfred Pennyworth
Jack Knight
Harvey Bullock
Guy Gardner
Buddy Baker
Hal Jordan
Dale Gunn

Now, this seems to be list of men that encompasses a fairly broad range of personalities, so tell me, if you can...

which among them are not masculine?

The reason I ask is that the subject of what the French call "les hommes avec les boobes" and what we commonly know as "men with boobs" (used in reference to characters who are women, of course) has come up over at Written World. It's probably unsurprising to anyone that I think Ragnell is absolutely awesome, and in that post she handles the subject well, and goes a long way toward dismantling the idea of the ass-whooping, assertive woman as "unfeminine." So it got me to thinking... are men as characters permitted to encompass a broader range of individual traits without being deemed "immasculine" for them? What would a male character have to do in order to be considered "la femme avec le cocque?" I can't say I've ever run across one. Not even Terry Long. So does anyone know? Is there a baseline somewhere?

Oh, and while I'm sitting in front of the computer, something I was wondering...

What is up with this whole "no one should be as powerful as Superman" thing? Specifically in reference to Power Girl, who I feel had her Kryptonian origin unjustly stripped from her just so she wouldn't be as strong/powerful/whatever as Superman, which I think was arbitrary and stupid. Not as stupid as the cleavage window, though, and definitely not as stupid as that Elvis jumpsuit thing she used to wear, but, y'know, it's on my list...

***Update--3/11--I changed the phrase "woman characters" to "characters who are women" after having read Mickle's post on the subject***

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

A friendly reminder...

Only two days left until International Read a Comic Book Naked Day, coming up on Friday, March 3rd.

And me with nothing to wear...

Monday, February 13, 2006

Questioning is NOT Attacking; Relax

Fearsome mythological creatures from fantastic imaginary worlds are no strangers to comics, but generally they appear inside the covers of the books. However, there is a beast that cannot be contained by mere cardstock, who will creep into your mother's basement while you're engrossed in your favorite MMORPG at 3am, grab you, and shake you soul-deep if you're not constantly on the defensive against it. And yet it is entirely imaginary. I'm speaking, of course, of the "Ungrateful Feminist," that horrendous harpy who emerges from the mist to bite the heads off of unsuspecting but well-meaning men who are just trying to help, man.

There has been an alleged sighting of this beast recently, from what I understand, though when people have tried to point out the spot where they saw it, all I can see are a few women with legitimate concerns and a bunch of stalwart defenders running around waving their swords at nothing.

Now, to be less oblique and get down to specifics. I want to state up front that I have no doubts that Mr. Ellis is acting in good faith here. However, and this is an important point to make, I think that those who are bringing critique to the practice of soliciting free work by women in support of a relatively well-known man also do not doubt that he is acting in good faith. Since he is acting, however justly, within the context of a patriarchal societal structure and a very sexist industry, though, it bears commenting--not because of anything he did, but because of the way it already was before he got there. This is why, if you read the critical comments, it's clear that nobody is attacking Mr. Ellis himself, though he and his fans seem to think they are.

I'd like to say that again, for clarity's sake. No one has attacked Warren Ellis here.

Any one of the posts I linked to will get you an impressive list of all the things Mr. Ellis has done for women both in the industry and in his books. In fact, it is because he has a genuine interest in Making Things Better that I think folks assumed he'd be a bit more open to a discussion of some of the more uncomfortable implications, but alas... And why? Why, rather than seeing an opportunity to explore some very important themes about sexism that might actually cut closer to the heart of the problem of women finding paying work in the industry (absent an atmosphere of hostility), do Ellis and his fans immediately get all huffy and defensive? From what I could see, no one was diminishing his accomplishments to date or trying to say he's a lousy feminist or anything. It was a simple musing on the greater implications of a solid offer, not an attempt to bust anybody's chops. And yet people are going on like it's emblematic of Everything That's Wrong With Feminism. So who's blowing what out of proportion? Who's biting whose head off here?

Can't things that are basically good and decent be used as a springboard for broader critical analysis of the surrounding culture without people presuming that the good thing has been attacked? And is it privilege that even allows the very act of questioning or critical commenting to be perceived as an attack in the first place? Maybe it is, though since most of the defensive remarks have also come from women I'm a little hesitant to go there. But what we're talking about when we talk about comics is a creative field, one in which what often separates the successes from the failures is ability to perceive criticism as an opportunity to improve, rather than as a personal attack. It's disingenuous to suggest that critics are just looking for something, anything, to complain about, rather than trying to improve things and push the discussion forward. Rather than attacking, the critics are complimenting, in saying "I believe you really care and want to do good things, so what do you think about this..."

Ahh, I'm running out of steam here, so I can't really even get into the overestimation of the value of exposure, so I would just invite both of my readers to view Mr. Ellis' column whenever it appears, and please, do take the time to check out the banners and click through to the websites of the designers. And hey, if you're in a position to do so, why not offer them paid work? After all, it isn't exposure to the elements that they're after...

Friday, January 27, 2006

Always Remember...

This is a meme that I hope never dies. Thanks, Dorian.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Scattered Thoughts on De-powering

I don't really read that many superhero or superhuman books anymore, or at least not contemporary ones, but I do read a number of bloggers who do. So I have gotten little bits and pieces of information about this "Decimation" event and one particular reaction, and continued thoughts in its comment thread have me thinking a bit about it as well.

While Jenn's concern seems at first to be about diversity of characters within the Marvel Universe, most particularly the X-Men books, and the effect of the event on them, things got really interesting for me with Ragnell's post in the comments and what I think it reflects about firstly the mutant as minority metaphor, and secondly the white guy editor/creator's conception of what minority means (and subsequently how to fit that into the metaphor of mutants). I'll reproduce the parts of the post that I'm talking about here:

Here's the thing about Morrison's run, though. He played up the cultural differences parallel. He created tons of new mutants from all ethnic backgrounds. He gave mutants fashions, and pop culture icons, and neighborhoods where they clustered together and listened to mutant music and dated other mutants. It wasn't simply fighting each other. Morrison took the mutants and justified the "civil rights" analogue by showing us that there was more to the mutant world than violent superheroes. There was potential for an entire new species there.

But Marvel's EIC thought that the opposite was achieved. From this article: "In explaining the decision to cut down on the number of mutants in the Marvel Universe, Quesada said that part of the X-Men's appeal was that mutants were a minority, and that allowed for empathy with readers. As Quesada explained, that feeling of "minority" had been lost over the years."
It's pretty lame, I'll admit, to be nostalgic about something that happened less than five years ago. Even so, I think Ragnell's really on to something when it comes to the appeal of the mutant population during Morrison's tragically short run. Morrison's mutants, more than any others prior or since, embodied--in a way that felt more authentic to me--what it really means to be a minority in a political sense, to be marginalized to the point of having to create your own cultural space in which to grow and thrive. As the post above shows, the mutants as Morrison wrote them had their own culture, and it was fabulous, and it totally freaked out the flatscans, and that was a wonderful thing. And it set up a tension, just like the tensions that exist in the actual world, between striving for equality and acceptance and maintaining what it is that makes mutant culture special. I guess what I'm saying is that if mutants are going to be a minority metaphor, then that's the way I'd like to see it handled (but with more superpowered fights and stuff of course).

By contrast, Quesada's view (if his view is actually as stated; it's hard to know when there is no real line between discussing the work and promoting it) seems mired in the idea of minority status as numerical in nature, which to me misses the point. After all, there are more women on the planet than men, but which one is the minority? Issues of otherness and power-over go way beyond mere numbers. I guess in that sense, though, House of M itself kind of missed the point, too. Well, "missed the point" is kind of harsh. I guess I should say oversimplifies or takes a shallow view of the situation. Within the "established reality" of the regular Marvel Universe, after all, the superhuman abilities of the mutants don't compensate for their political situation. The powers, apart from being responsible for their situation in the first place, don't really affect the political realities of mutant life at all. What I'm getting around to is, even if the situation is flipped on its head from a numerical standpoint as it is in House of M, that's still not enough to establish mutant as the "default" setting, and therefore getting rid of mutants' powers shouldn't have any effect on anything at all. Now I haven't read any of these books, so for all I know Wanda's actions were supposed to read as irrational in both cases (but since when, exactly, is Wanda so irrational? That seems to have come out of nowhere). But clearly some real-life human creators thought that getting rid of most of the mutants would make their status as minorities read more clearly, and I'm curious as to what the rational basis is for that.

I'm aware that it's all going to get changed back eventually, by the way, but the implications of the exercise are still worth thinking about here and now, in my estimation, given that every time a change happens in these comic universes, it's because some real-life person honestly thinks it's a good idea. That is, it's a stunt to sell books, but surely there's an explanation of the mechanics of it in there somewhere.

In many ways, I've tended to see the Marvel mutants as a pretty poor minority allegory not because of the number of them, but because the only thing that separates them from the "default" of humans is their powers, which plenty of non-mutants have as well, and who do just fine culturally and politically. Other than that, they seem to be completely assimilated into the default culture themselves, apart, again, from the Morrison run. In that sense, the political portion of their struggle doesn't ring true for me. Which is okay for the most part because the beating-up-on-the-bad-guys part of the struggle is what drives the books anyway (it's just not what makes them special). Where this ties back into de-powering is that you could reasonably have an enormous number of mutants and keep adding more every year and still never have it affect their political and social position as minorities if that's what you were going for. You also wouldn't have to retrofit the remaining powered mutants with new and contradictory personalities every time the plot needed it. Metaphorically and creatively, the de-powering seems like a dead end to me. And that's not even getting into how de-powered mutants self-identify, but I suspect that will actually be addressed in the various series because, well, how could you not?

Anyway, that's what went on in my head after I read that post. Back when I was actively reading this stuff, if you were a teenager and you read comics, you read the X-Men. I imagine it had a similar grip on others, and I'd really like to know what others think of the de-powering thing as well. Thoughts?

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Refrigerator Culture and Privilege

So it took a scandal to bring the Heap out of its semi-retirement, but I felt like I had some thoughts to add. By now everyone knows about the creator who was sexually assaulted by an industry peer, and several people have had some really great and insightful things to say about it. Too many to link, in fact, so please head over to When Fangirls Attack and scroll down. I noticed that Elayne Riggs mentioned how few of the men who blog about comics have weighed in on this thing, so I thought I would contribute some thoughts that I have about privilege, avoidance and distraction.

There has not been a single post made by a woman on this subject that did not have, somewhere in the comments, a variation on the theme of "most men in comics and fandom aren't like that." This is a statement of distraction and avoidance. For one thing, it goes without saying. People who are not the problem...are not the problem. By shifting the focus off of the offenders and onto all of the decent people, we allow the offenders to keep on keeping on, and that doesn't do anyone any good.If I get mugged, I don't want someone who is ostensibly a well-wisher to come up to me and say, "well, the majority of people don't go around mugging, so relax." It doesn't help. It distracts.

Focussing the attention on the good people of comics has a net effect of zero when it comes to making it a less hostile environment for women. It sends the message that you can't change the way it is, but at least you can ignore it. For men that's true. That's part of what it means to have privilege. For women, however, it's not true. They can focus on the good guys all they want, but the bad guys are still there, leering, grabbing, assaulting, making unwanted drunken advances, and when rebuffed, blaming the women for being uptight, not having a sense of humor, being dressed a certain way, or only liking jerks or something. Most men in the industry/fandom are decent? It doesn't matter. The environment is hostile to women either way. Why isn't it hostile to the gropers, instead? Why aren't they the ones who feel uncomfortable?

When you point out again and again that most of the men are decent, what you are in effect doing is waving your hands over your head saying, "Yoo hoo! Look at me, I'm one of the good ones, don't hate me!" You're making it about yourself. Don't. It's not.

Another fun avoidance/distraction technique is mentioning that things like sexual assault/harrassment happen outside of comics too, it's a larger problem, whaddyagonnado...etc. But you know, you can fight against it inside and outside of comics, if you want to. And if you just fight it in the world of comics, it's certainly not going to hurt. Hell, if everyone who was a geek for something fought against sexual harrassment in their own subculture, say Sci-Fi, auto racing, gaming, hunting, fishing, whatever, that might make a fairly good sized dent in the problem. If comics is what you know, it's as good a place as any to stand your ground.

And of course, the "what can I do if I don't know what to boycott" line is a good one too. Look, nobody has to boycott anything; it won't make a difference to anyone but your DM outlet proprietor (of course, if your LCS owner is one of the jerks...). As long as the movie gets made and the toys and video game tie-in merchandising happy meal stuff gets made, you cannot hit them where it hurts simply by changing your comic buying habits. What you can do is listen and think. When women speak about their experiences and their discomfort, don't try to make it about yourself. If you are not contributing to the behaviors that make them feel uncomfortable, then they aren't talking about you and there's no need to defend yourself. Listen. Find out what it is that bothers them. You may not think it sounds like a big deal, you may think they just need to lighten up, but when you think that way, you are approaching the problem from a position of privilege. Always remember that. Please don't try and pull their attention away from the things that bother them. If someone's giving them trouble and you say, "Oh, he's just like that, ignore him" or "What about all the good people," well, that's a little patronizing, isn't it? You might as well be saying "you're too pretty to be having such unpleasant thoughts." Which pulls you squarely out of the decent guys column and puts you in with the creeps. Even if you mean well.

The anger is legitimate. The harrassment is not. And while I and my sex can get past this and move on if we so choose, it is only because of our privilege. The women who love the medium as we do don't have that option. And I am not moving on until they can, too.