plainly and simply parasitical on the obvious or univocal reading

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.