Sunday, June 24, 2007

'Whiny' Feminists and comics

SO over at Girl-Wonder.org someone posted this (there's been a lot going on lately in the comic book world, including the Heroes for Hentai cover that rightly pissed off a lot of people. If you don't know what Hentai is, there's a description in the article, I wish I didn't know, but they left off the whole part about it being tentacle porn.)

The Heroes for Hentai (it's actually Heroes for Hire) cover looks like this:


and the one we're 'overreacting' to is this one:


My comments after the article:

Certainly everyone seems to be spoiling now for a fight. A few weeks ago it was Marvel's suggestive HEROES FOR HIRE cover, which was worth taking them to task for, since it was representative of widespread and growing trends in the general American comics market. (I weighed in on the matter for Publisher's Weekly, in the context of the trend.)

But Zombie Mary Jane?

Okay, citing a comic allegedly starring "strong women" for a cover that portrays them as held in bondage and apparently sexually exhausted while a swarm of evil eyes watches lasciviously - even if Marvel's staff is totally ignorant of the clich├ęs of hentai (a cartoon subset of Japanese porn obsessed with the domination and sexual torture until the female victims are overcome with sexual pleasure and eagerly submit to their master's advances, albeit with modest initial resistance) it's hard not to see it as highly suggestive unless you're doing it willingly - but citing a zombie cover for not being tasteful?!

What planet are you people living on?

Now repeat after me: zombies are an inherently tasteless concept. At least since George Romero sunk his fangs into them in 1968 with NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, where they became not just occasional bodies resurrected by voodoo (what one publisher told me was "old school" zombies) but shambling, implacable flesh-eating machines that all the dead become until the world itself is overwhelmed by the hungry, mindless dead, zombies are the total antithesis of tasteful. I'm not a fan of zombies and can't imagine writing a zombie book, because from my perspective they're boring; despite the multitude of zombie books on the stands today, there isn't one that has taken the concept any further than Romero has or done anything new with it, and even the decently done ones, like Warren Ellis' BLACKGAS at Avatar or Robert Kirkman's THE WALKING DEAD at Image, are mainly interesting when they're not focusing on zombies, and even they didn't manage to go anywhere Romero didn't. Creatively, it's a - sorry - dead genre, and probably has been since John Skipp and Craig Spector produced their BOOK OF THE DEAD prose anthologies in the late '80s.

Commercially, though, there's no doubt it's thriving, and it's obvious Marvel's entries into the sweepstakes - essentially dark comedy zombie versions of their famous superheroes, which about the depth of creativity to which the genre's likely to aspire so give them some props for hitting the zenith of a pretty shallow field - are doing well commercially. They're cashing in while the cashing's good. What would you expect them to do?

I've read a lot of complaints about the Mary Jane Watson-Parker zombie cover, how it exploits women, links death and sexuality, savages a character for a throwaway gag that Marvel's been marketing to children via various series, etc., and while the HEROES FOR HIRE cover definitely embodied issues that Marvel and other companies would be wise to pay attention to, the hysteria around this approaches Parents Television Council-level nuttiness. A couple points:

1) The "linking death and sexuality" thing. Grow up. Death and sexuality have always ridden tandem in western culture, and you don't have to take my word for it: Georges Bataille has written whole books on the subject (including, as it happens, one called DEATH AND SENSUALITY, which sits on my bookshelf). The whole modern zombie phenomenon ties in psychologically to a fear of both sex and death, and if the Mary Jane cover taps into that, it's the fault of the genre, not the image.

2) The cover isn't sexy. The Mary Jane figure on the cover isn't sexy. She's cute, except for missing a nose and part of her face, and having a gaping hole where half her bowels ought to be... but that's hardly the same thing. As opposed to say, the much condemned Mary Jane statue on sale a few weeks ago, there's nothing in her stance that suggests "sexy pose." No hint of cheesecake or nudity. In fact, except being dead she's presented as exactly the same bubbly personality she has always been, but aside from being a woman there's nothing particularly sexual about her. There's no need to break out the burkas over it.

3) It's Mary Jane Parker - but so what? "The girl next door" as zombie is a staple of the zombie genre, and it carries no moral significance but this: regardless of one's pronounced take on morality, once one becomes a zombie one behaves like a zombie. Sure, she's the sole figure on the cover, but Marvel has done the same with virtually all its top characters by now. No one can claim the company's singling her out for special treatment.

4) Boom! Studios did effectively the same thing on the cover of their first ZOMBIE TALES, with an even more iconic figure, Paris Hilton. The book was pretty popular. No outcry. Of course, Marvel gets much more exposure than Boom!, but, again, while there's something to be said for Marvel thinking about the types of images of women it puts on its covers, given that it is pretty much marketing it all as a "one size fits all" publisher, that's not an argument for no images of women on Marvel covers, and, as with most comics covers, a cover with no jeopardy or twist isn't likely to attract anyone's attention - and the whole point of publishing comics is to attract attention.

Like it or not, a comic featuring Mary Jane Watson-Parker as a zombie is likely to have a picture of Mary Jane Watson-Parker as zombie on the cover. The difference between that and the HEROES FOR HIRE cover is this: if Marvel were publishing HEROES FOR HIRE as a hentai book, their cover would be appropriate. They weren't. Marvel is publishing the Mary Jane story as a zombie book, no question. Is it appropriate to feature Mary Jane as zombie? Sorry, that's a matter of personal taste; if you don't like zombie stories, you don't have to read them. If you like zombie stories, you know what you're getting.

As near as I can tell, this issue cropped up because somebody figured Marvel was on the ropes so we should keep at them, but, c'mon guys. Learn to choose your shots. This is one thing pro wrestling has never quite learned: if you treat everything as being equally serious, your audience will stop taking any of it seriously. If you want Marvel to take complaints seriously, you can't start complaining about even innocuous things. And if you can't tell the difference between serious and innocuous issues, if you're not willing to critique things in their context, the problem is yours, not Marvel's. Why shouldn't Marvel produce zombie comics? The zombie seems to be the dominant metaphor for our current culture, equally representative of mass market culture and a pervading fear of an apocalyptic future that's been a consistently growing, if cancerous, part of the national psyche since at least the Nixon years. It's just the zeitgeist, baby, and zombies, even a Mary Jane zombie, are just a symptom.


1) Linking death and sexuality is common place so stop yer whining.

See it happens everywhere, so we shouldn't get upset about it, because people like it! But death and sexuality only seems to be linked when it comes to women. The whole horror movie industry is built on sexually exciting the teenage boys in the audience as the woman gets chased and killed. (For more on this see Jackson Katz's Tough Guise: Violence, Media, and the Crisis in Masculinity.) Let's not even delve into the relationship of sex and death in porn in the interest of brevity. It's all over TV with the stream of abused, battered, and dead beautiful women shows. Death is only sexy in our popular culture when it applies to women. I can't understand why anyone (i.e. men) would get upset by this!

2)It's not sexy

Except the fact that everything on her torso is rotting except her extremely perky breasts, and the whole lads mag type body language and face. It doesn't look like high school Mary Jane, it looks like some model from the pages of GQ or Nuts. Not very in character for the cover that Marvel is spoofing.
Original cover here:

Not really the best for a drawing of a high school girl, but she also doesn't have the whole 'come hither' look or lads mag facial features.

3) Blah blah blah...girl next door is so cliche, forget that it's spoofing this exact character.

We're doing it to everyone! Shut up!

4)Other people are doing it too.

Well will you all jump off a cliff all ready?

As near as I can tell, this issue cropped up because somebody figured Marvel was on the ropes so we should keep at them, but, c'mon guys. Learn to choose your shots. This is one thing pro wrestling has never quite learned: if you treat everything as being equally serious, your audience will stop taking any of it seriously. If you want Marvel to take complaints seriously, you can't start complaining about even innocuous things. And if you can't tell the difference between serious and innocuous issues, if you're not willing to critique things in their context, the problem is yours, not Marvel's.

Really, I mean African Americans should have only complained about the lynchings and the flaming crosses, I mean using separate entrances and separate facilities isn't AS BAD as those first two, so what are you complaining about? GAH! I am so sick of this argument. Anything that is sexist is NOT innocuous and just because we have it better then we used to is no reason to only complain about the big stuff. basically they're saying if you aren't getting killed, don't complain, or that's what it sounds like to me. I shouldn't complain about harassment or when somebody grabs my ass or my breasts, because on a scale of things they're not as bad as say, rape or death. All I can say to these assholes is a big FUCK YOU.

2 comments:

salymander said...

Preach it sistah!

lost clown said...

For the person whose comment I deleted because I am just sick of the patriarchy supporting bullshit.

Vampires are not the same thing as women being beaten, mutilated, and tortured to death for the pleasure of the viewing audience.

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