Not the Way We Play the Game

Thor

I’ve never once criticised the work of another blogger in public, so why start now? Yes, Gene Phillips’s Making a Dirty Breast of the Matter (parts 1 and 2) are appallingly written pieces which express irredeemably ill-thought through and chauvinistic thinking, but the net’s sadly saturated with such sorry fare. Indeed, Phillips’s work is so shockingly out-there, so repeatedly isolated from any reference to either informed academic debate or common civility, that it surely deserves nothing but pity if not contempt. This is, after all, a man quite capable of linking without any apparent irony to a self-composed piece in which Nietzsche is respectfully referenced as an insightful authority whose thinking can apparently help explain why “superhero comics, like many other adventure-orientated genres, are likely to always have a dominant appeal for male audiences”.  There’s clearly no reasoning with such beyond-the-event-horizon, chauvinistic points of view, and any attempt to do so inevitably runs a serious risk of uselessly provoking the kind of highly-charged and futile bun-fighting which Godwin’s Law describes. I’ve always believed in simply ignoring the work of those folks capable of imagining that the words of syphilitic 19th century sexists, no matter how brilliant and fascinating in their own terms, can add anything of deciding worth to our century’s discourse about sex and gender, unless, of course, it’s to sign up the bad examples from the better. (Nietzsche’s work is many things, but a debate-closing authority on the psycho-social reproduction and reinforcement of gender roles, it’s surely not.) And so, I’d normally be quite happy to sit back and let poor Mr Phillips embarrass himself with shoddy thinking and reactionary politics. It’s every citizen’s right to make a fool of themselves in public, and given that I’ve often taken advantage of that same opportunity myself, why should I concern myself with the woeful Making a Dirty Breast of the Matter?

Bat

But then, my problem isn’t so much how Mr Phillips represents his own beliefs, although he does so with a mixture of incompetence, prejudice and ignorance which both astounds and depresses me. No, the problem lies in the despicable way in which he’s opted to organise both parts of Making a Dirty Breast of the Matter around a mean-spirited, mutton-headed misrepresentation of the content of both Kelly Thompson’s article No, It’s Not Equal and the general feminist critique of sexist representations in comics. It’s not exactly clear quite how insulting and reactionary Mr Phillips intended his piece to be, for his English is often opaque and his reasoning consistently ill-judged. But whether we subscribe to the cock-up or the conspiracy theory of history here, Mr Phillips’s pronouncements, which claim to be discussing “logical fallacies” in Ms Thompson’s piece, repeatedly distort her work while consistently pouring what amounts to a sustained campaign of contempt upon her integrity and intellect. With his smug tone of pseudo-academic superiority matched with his disastrously poor debating skills, all he’s managed to achieve is associate Sequart not with the free and fair expression of a broad variety of opinions, but with a sexist’s snotty sneering at a blogger who at the very least deserved the courtesy of far, far better. There will now be folks who know nothing of Sequart beyond the fact that it’s a site where Mr Phillips had the opportunity to launch not one but two full-blooded charges at Ms Thompson’s beliefs and work, and although the company’s reputation is a far lesser concern than the unfair treatment meted out to Ms Thompson, it’s still a deeply regrettable business. Sequart has always been a publisher which has offered space to a variety of political and critical stances, but that platform has, to my knowledge, never, and never should have been, extended to such unpleasantness, such haughty and belittling bigotry.

Moon

It’s telling that Ms Thompson’s work should begin in a generous and transparent fashion, whereas Mr Phillips’s critique is marked by neither of those qualities. No, It’s Not Equal opens with a straight-forward explanation of its author’s beliefs and intentions. Comic books, she argues, tend to represent female but not male characters in ways which are profoundly sexualised and sexist. It’s an argument which Ms Thompson seems to have felt keen to present in its most basic and inclusive fashion; her purpose appears to have been to open up a debate so that everyone could involve themselves without being excluded through the presence of unnecessary theory, irrelevant point-scoring terminology and so on. Indeed, Ms Thompson seems so set on trying to limit the scope of her piece that she makes a point of stating, for example, that she’s not trying to argue that readers can’t express a preference for the presence of objectivised women in the comics they enjoy. When she does add a touch more to the spine rather than the detail of her argument, it’s simply to openly add two straight-forward contentions. The first she openly frames in terms of her own opinion; sexist imagery in comic-books is harmful to women, and young women in particular. The second she presents as fact without supporting evidence at the conclusion of No, It’s Not Equal; comics should appeal to a broader audience than they currently do, and a way to do that would be to present “representations of men and women in superhero comics” which are “a bit more equal”.  In short, Ms Thompson makes it absolutely clear that her work is feminist in its theoretical roots and concerned only with certain specific examples of comic-book representations.

Lois

There’s nothing clear or welcoming about the beginning of Mr Phillips’s own argument. He certainly doesn’t start off with a statement of the fact that he stands in direct opposition to the central tenets of Feminism, although you might think that he owed it to his readers as well as Ms Thompson to make his position as clear as possible from the off. Instead, his first paragraph refers obscurely to “anti-pulpsters”, who supposedly oppose, in one way or another, the presence of “extravagant sensationalism in superhero comic books”. Then he goes on to refer rather mysteriously to a deleted forum which “opposed such sensationalism—particularly of the sex-related type”. Finally, his opening burst ends with a statement that “that’s certainly not the only possible justification for opposing the proliferation of adult pulp.” What’s immediately obvious is that Mr Phillips has no interest, or perhaps lacks the capacity, to make his work clear. Instead, it seems that he’s actively choosing to keep the meaning of his work as well as his ideological convictions as difficult to initially grasp as is possible. He doesn’t define his terms or spell out his intentions, and the terminology he chooses to use is often self-generated and impenetrable. What does he mean by “the sex-related type”, what is this “adult pulp”, who are the “anti-pulpsters”? Why has he mentioned a deleted forum which the reader can’t access? So keen is Mr Phillips, it appears, to determine the context and the detail of his argument that he consistently chooses to ignore the debates and terms typically used to frame discussions of sex and gender in the world beyond the inside of his own head. In fact, you’ll note that even the simplest words such as “sex”, “gender” and “objectivised” are quite missing here. Even the word “comics”, it seems – although I can’t be sure –  has been replaced by “pulp”, which may indicate, or may not, comics supposedly produced for adults. Who can say? Similarly, instead of “sexism”, we appear to have “sensationalism”, and so on. Where Ms Thompson was keen to exclude no-one from the debate she was attempting to inspire, Mr Phillips is from the off apparently set on the opposite. Indeed, his work gives every impression of being concerned only to exclude Ms Thompson’s contentions from being considered worthy of attention. In order to do so, he presents us with a rag-bag of prejudice, arrogance, unpleasantness and contempt. Anything, it seems, is permissible in Mr Phillips’s arguments as long as he can maintain his pose of superiority while he sets about damning Ms Thompson’s feminist principles.

Spider-Woman

And it’s important that we shouldn’t make any mistake about the phenomenal degree of misogyny to be found in Making A Dirty Breast Of The Matter. As I’ll discuss, Mr Phillips’s arguments rest on the belief that there is no sexism in super-books, and that any claim that such exists is the result of women imagining the problem because of their unavoidable, and therefore presumably natural, tendency to resent what he calls “female display”. Given that there’s not a shred of evidence for any such innate or even socially constructed female quality of self-deception and mutual loathing, Mr Phillips’s tilt at Ms Thompson’s work is founded upon the least valid and most bigoted assumptions about women. Whatever else his work may be, it is not logical as he claims, and it cannot be fair, since he’s arguing from a point of view which presumes that most if not all women respond to the comic-book medium, and to female “display”, in exactly the same way. To say that both the science and the social science of the situation would demolish his assumptions is to state that which is obvious to all but the likes of Mr Phillips, but then, that’s what’s so interesting and despicable about his writing. He’s not interested in the evidence at all, coming as he does from the malecentric circle of the faith-based community.

Strange Tales II

However, the reader doesn’t receive an absolutely clear sense of Mr Phillips’s arguments at any point, although he does produce something of a summary of his beliefs at the very end of the second part of Making a Dirty Breast of the Matter. Having spent his time attacking Ms Thompson’s work on a host of often quite-irrelevant details rather than building up a coherent argument of his own, he suddenly springs a bald statement of his platform. It’s as if his constant belittling of her article has brought him to a point where he feels that whatever he chooses to say has to be considered worth listening to simply because her piece is so supposedly poor. And so, we’re rather abruptly faced with the following key sentence, which logic would demand should have kicked off his pieces and been constantly referred to and supported throughout. It is, after all, a statement of the beliefs which have underlined everything that has come before;

I will suggest that it’s a constant that the majority of males will always want to see females on display, while the majority of females will always condemn said display, no matter how “athletically” a given female is portrayed.

So confused and confusing is Mr Phillips’s work that it’s then necessary to track back from this strangely tacked-on conclusion in order to deduce exactly what it is that he’s arguing in response to Ms Thompson’s contentions. What follows is, as best I can manage, a summary of what appears to be Mr Phillips’s view on the issue of the reform of sexualised representations in comics:

  1. Women who disagree with the way in which their gender is represented in comics aren’t actually responding to any objective problems on the page. There is no sexism in comics, there’s only sexism-perceiving women. (Mr Phillips calls these problems “perceived objectivication”, because any and all problems exist only, it seems, in the minds of female observers.) Because sexism is a problem which is invented in the minds of women, men cannot object to misogynistic representations in comics because (1) men can see that the problems don’t exist and (2) it’s only the female of the species who are is programmed to believe that they do.
  2. Both men and women are in truth represented equally on the page as nothing more and nothing less than sexually attractive characters. (“… so the male representation is not more “idealised” than the female.”)X-Men
  3. Those who object to “perceived objectivisation” are women responding negatively not to sexism, but to the challenging presence of representations of attractive females. (“But it’s long been my observation that many women resent any icon of female desirability”.)
  4. Removing sexualised depictions of women wouldn’t bring any more female readers to comic-books, because it’s not the non-presence of the non-existent sexist representations which is keeping women away. Women are staying away because they don’t want to look at the charms of other women, and that problem would remain regardless of whatever form was chosen to represent their gender in comics. (Quote: “I’ve witnessed a couple of women cavil at the charms of 1960s icon Emma Peel, and if any feminine icon had a less “porn star” body than Diana Rigg, I don’t know.”)
  5. So, women would always object to any “icon of female desirability” and continue to unfairly and irrationally “condemn” comics even if the representations they falsely believe to be objectivised were removed. Therefore, Mr Phillips argues, Ms Thompson’s contention that more equal representations would sell more comics is a “logical fallacy”, because women will never buy comics with anything other than undesirable women in them. (Quote: “However, no-one should pretend that this in itself is going to … reduce the amount of protest over perceived objectivication.)

Hawk

A quick glance at the above reveals that his critique of Ms Thompson’s work is grounded in nothing but a spit-ball of bigotry, arrogance and ignorance. His data is nothing but the laughable anecdotal observation that a few women who he knew apparently made petty, slighting references to Diana Rigg matched with his long-standing belief that women “resent any icon of female desirability”. He pays no attention to anything from the social sciences of the past one hundred years and more which discusses the social construction of gender identity, although he does, as I mentioned in part and passing above, link to a piece of his own which references Nietzsche and de Sade. In fact, so colossally uninformed and chauvinistic is his argument that it’s actually hard to criticise it, because to do so would mean beginning with the most fundamental, secondary-school concepts of methodology and theory, of reliability and representativeness and validity. Put simply, Mr Phillips doesn’t seem to be able to tell the difference between a reasonable and an unreasonable opinion, between prejudice and evidence. From the implication that men won’t ever oppose the objectivisation of women in comics, to the argument that blokes will always opt for “display”, whatever that might mean, his work is not so much hilariously poor as pitiful.

Wanda

Yet even the most residual trace of pity soon dissolves when Mr Phillips goes on to rather pointedly state that (1) his belief that male characters are sexualised doesn’t mean that (2) comics inculcate “homosexuality”. Well, we couldn’t have that, could we? Though Mr Phillips believes that male characters are every bit as sexualised as females are, and despite believing that the audience for these sexualised male characters is naturally one with XY chromosomes, the male characters aren’t there to excite male readers. Oh, no. Although the majority of super-people are blokes and the majority of their readers are blokes too, the supposedly sexual male superheroes are actually there, he argues in an astonishing example of wild thinking, to appeal to the women who, according to his other arguments, won’t ever read the books in the first place. Or; there’s nothing gay about the superhero book, just as there’s nothing sexist either.

Catwoman

It’s clear that Mr Phillips’s reasoning has little to do with reason, but it’s still important to note how he bolts together his arguments. There’s more than just a touch of irony in the fact that he constantly accuses Ms Thompson of faulty reasoning while presenting little but exactly that. In the absence of any compelling objections to her beliefs beyond the tenets of his own prejudices, his strategy tends to be to avoid the core issues of Ms Thompson’s argument while quibbling about the details of her debate. And so, Ms Thompson has chosen to compare what she calls the “athletic” appearance of male superheroes with the “porn star or supermodel” representations of their female counterparts. In doing so, she sets out the conditions for a simple, debate-opening comparison between one and the other. But that deliberately limited purpose isn’t one which registers as valid with Mr Phillips, who isn’t interested at all in debating in the terms set out by the person whose principles he’s determined to challenge. Accordingly, he largely ignores the central importance which Ms Thompson gives to comparing the objectivised qualities of female characters with the lack of such in male super-heroes. Instead, he invests a considerable amount of time in trying to establish that male super-heroes actually have the body-types of weight-lifters rather than athletes. The fact that this doesn’t change anything of substance at all in Ms Thompson’s debate is something which Mr Phillips clearly either doesn’t grasp, or doesn’t want to. After all, the issue is obviously not one of whether male superheroes look more like athletes or strongmen, but whether the sexual meanings which the representations of women carry are different and more iniquitous than those associated with men.

Black Widow

It’s something which Mr Phillips never manages to come to terms with, and never, it seems, ever tries to. To him, the idea that the men and women of America’s comics might represent different notions of sexuality and power is one that’s simply not worth engaging with in any detail or depth. Instead, he simply and baldy claims that visual representations of comic-book men and women are equally sexual in their meaning. No evidence is offered, no evidence is considered. What he calls “indicators of maleness”, such as muscles, are simply defined as carrying the same meaning as indicators of “femaleness”, such as “outsized breasts (and sometimes butts)”. Because Mr Phil;ips doesn’t accept that muscles and breasts can and typically do stand for different kinds of sexual identity, they apparently don’t. The opinions of others, the evidence of decades of research, are entirely uninteresting and unconvincing to him. In this, his argument comes down to the fact that Gene Phillips knows best. How does he know best? Because Mr Phillips knows that a bicep and a breast mean no more and no less than exactly the same thing; a form of apparently benign and equal “sexual idealisation”. What could be more futile than debating such an obvious point, despite the fact that Ms Thompson’s work, which he’s supposedly criticising, focuses on little but that?

Suicide

It’s interesting to consider what does pass as “evidence” for Mr Phillips in those situations when he chooses to offer proof to us.. A single photograph of a single gymnast is presented, for example, as inarguable evidence that male superheroes aren’t typically represented as athletes on the page. (Whoever would have thought that a single picture could describe all possible athletic body-types?) Then, said gymnast is compared to a single cover starring Daredevil as drawn by Gene Colan in 1967, and the conclusion is generated that Daredevil, and therefore all superheroes now as then, are actually represented as body-builders rather than athletes. “Thus if one agrees that this depiction typifies most male superheroes in, say, the past twenty years”, Mr Phillips argues, presenting the reader with a dysfunctionally reductionist argument which also manages to suggest that Mr Colan’s cover was actually from 1992 rather than 25 years before that. The ill-logic doesn’t stop there. Four Colan panels of the Black Widow from the early ’70s are then used to “prove” that super-heroines aren’t presented with hyper-sexualised bodies either, although Mr Phillips does concede that Ms Romanoff may have untypically big breasts for a dancer, though, importantly it seems, “it’s not beyond all possibility”.

Arse Lantern

Finally, this bonnet-to-bumper car-crash of barely-connected and entirely invalid contentions reaches the point at which Mr Phillips suddenly tries to justify using such decades-old and untypical examples to discuss today’s superhero comics. Why is it that he’s relying on nothing but two examples from the work of a single idiosyncratic artist from the Sixties and Seventies in order to discuss the super-women and men of 2012? “The visual tropes of superheroes being followed by current practitioners were established roughly around the same time that Gene Colan drew them, the Silver Age” he offers, without reference to any inconvenient facts to help him establish such an obviously ridiculous statement. Who could possibly contend that the representations of gender today are the same in form and meaning as they were in the period from around 1956 to 1971? Who could imagine that there existed a single and fixed code of representations which informed the product of the industry all the way from Eisenhower to Nixon, from Boring to Adams, from Infantino to Winsor-Smith? The evidence simply doesn’t bear any such an idea out, let alone support a claim that the various porn-inspired creators of today are actually presenting Silver Age visual tropes.

Emma

We can see the same process of absurd suppositions masquerading as facts elsewhere in Making A Dirty Breast of the Matter. To try to prove that women have no preference for less hyper-sexualised representations, Mr Phillips attempts to establish that there is a considerable female audience for films which feature actresses with “porn-star” bodies. His “evidence” for this comes from the single observation that Charlie’s Angels was a commercially successful movie. He offers no evidence of who did and who didn’t go to see it, and of course he entirely fails to explain how he can correlate the general commercial success of Charlie’s Angels with an aspect of its audience’s approval or not of a body type. He certainly doesn’t convincingly explain why the women who did go to see Charlie’s Angels – whoever they are, whyever they did so – didn’t disapprove of the “display” on show in that film, since an essential part of his argument is that any form of such “display” alienates female consumers. In this, as elsewhere, Mr Phillips’s own solipsistic reasoning ties him in knots, though he never seems to realise it. After all, his argument relies on women being at the very same time both alienated by “display”, so that they can’t ever be considered potential consumers of super-books, and yet also supportive of the body types of the likes of Diaz and Barrymore and Liu, so that women can’t ever be portrayed as being alienated by objectivised superheroines. What mechanism are we offered to explain this paradox? When are women alienated and cavilling, when do they regard “display” as representing their own tastes? The only explanation comes when Mr Phillips suggests that Charlie’s Angels “presented its female stars with a full-fledged ‘porn star’ aesthetic, but in a jokey enough tone that female audiences could tolerate it.” Suddenly “jokeyness” is the key variable which governs female perception and decision-making, an out-of-the-blue revelation which suggests that female of the species would surely love contemporary superbooks if only comics were, well, more “jokey”. Yet looking at Hollywood’s action/adventure movies and concluding that women prefer “porn-star” representations as long as they’re presented in a “jokey” light seems to be as valid as arguing that the content of North Korea’s TV broadcasts prove its people have no interest in democracy. Mr Phillips’s seems to have no concept of the fact that the media can shape as well as mirror its audiences tastes, and so regards the very institutions which help reinforce hyper-sexualisation as honest brokers merely delivering what the people, and the women among them, want.  Such a belief is as daft as presuming that what exists on the screen can be interrogated without methodology or research data in order to immaculately reveal what an audience’s tastes, thoughts and feelings are.

Starfire

What other techniques does Mr Phillips put to use to try to bolster his case and undermine the appeal of Ms Thompson’s? One of his many remaining tricks is to state that her work implies things which it clearly doesn’t. For example, Mr Phillips argues that Ms Thompson’s work suggests that the only reason why creators would choose to reduce the level of objectivisation in their work would be to further their own financial self-interest. Yet Ms Thompson explicitly states that the moral dimension associated with representations of gender is of vital importance, meaning that she’s actually implied that there’s more than just finance that’s relevant to what gets published on the page. It’s Mr Phillips and not Ms Thompson who’s suggesting that the only motive for change amongst creators is a monetary one, unless the former is arguing that writers and creators have no morality at all. The phrase “putting words into someone else’s mouth” comes to mind. Such misrepresentation goes on and on, and it’s important to mention because it creates the sense of death-by-a-thousand-cuts which his article creates. There are so many problems, he keeps arguing, and all but the folks who have the will to trudge through his daft and dull work in detail run the risk of thinking that there really are a great many problems with No, It’s Not Equal. And so, Mr Phillips has a repugnant habit of suggesting that he’s nobly choosing to think well of Ms Thompson while at the same time implying that she’s not to be entirely trusted. For example, he says, in response to her statement that the furore over sexism would decline with a decrease in objectivisation;

I believe that Ms. Thompson is entirely truthful insofar as she speaks for herself… However I don’t believe she can speak for the entirety of female fans…

Power GirlIt may be that it’s Mr Phillips’s wretched English here which is letting him down, for it seems that he means that Ms Thompson can only speak with any surety for herself. Yet he doesn’t end up actually saying that, and instead seems to declare that he has been good enough to decide that she is being partially truthful. What a kind man he is, to offer his belief that she is sort-of telling the truth when there was never any issue that she was actually lying in the first place.  It’s not the only time that disdainful terms are associated with Ms Thompson. To call her “self-interested”, for example, because she’s arguing according to her own beliefs, is a mean-spirited way of describing an individual’s principled ambitions, regardless of what they might be.  Similarly, it’s simply misleading to state that “Thompson’s real objection” is to “sexualised representation”, because the reader will struggle in vain to find any attempt on her part to hide such a concern. But Mr Phillips is fond, it seems, of implying that Ms Thompson is either expressing herself dishonestly or ineptly, and that results in a progression of statements which unjustly create an impression that she’s not only a stupid woman and a poor debater, but mendacious too.

Voodoo

In conclusion, I can well imagine a visitor to Sequart casting a disbelieving eye over the length of this piece and wondering, with an understandable sigh, why anyone would care to write this huge litany of complaint against Mr Phillips’s work. After all, even if he has been unfair and stupid-headed, aren’t I just doing the same, and at even greater length? Why would I spend so much time writing something which is neither entertaining nor illuminating, for that’s certainly how things seem as I reach the end of this particular piece? Yet there are two simple and straight-forward reasons for my writing this. The first is that I wanted to try to illustrate why Mr Phillips’s two pieces were, according to my own beliefs, so incredibly unfair to Ms Thompson and her work. To consider just a few aspects of the pernicious weaknesses in his arguments would be to ignore the cumulatively unpleasant effect that the various carping aspects of his work create as a whole. The effect if not the purpose of Mr Phillips’s argument is to attempt to crowd out Ms Thompson and her beliefs from any kind of respect. The most important aspects of her work are effectively dismissed with a sneer, while its details and some entirely imagined qualities are dwelled upon in an attempt to recast her modest and humane purpose as a fool’s mission.

Firestar

Of course, the implications of Mr Phillips’s work go far further than just a nasty series of swipes at one woman’s opinions where the issue of sex and gender and comics is concerned. For Mr Phillips is arguing, as we’ve seen above, according to an archaic and insulting definition of women which defines them in the most chauvinistic of terms, and he’s does so without regard for any aspect of the debate which might get in the way of his expressing his own prejudices. As such, Making A Dirty Breast Of The Matter appears to be an unreconstructed sexist’s attack on feminism as well as a protracted mockery of a single female writer who’d dared to express a moderate feminist critique of the superhero book. Insult was added to contempt, meaningless argument added to hair-splitting, irrationality and ill-formed debate all mixed together into a shit-storm of what becomes, as one pseudo argument follows another, nothing else but contempt for both Ms Thompson and her politics. From its ideological underpinnings to its lack of even the most basic courtesy, this was a rotten-hearted, stupid-headed, smug-schoolboy attack on a writer who Mr Phillips neither represented accurately or courteously. In that, it’s not that any one or two of the techniques which he used were so disturbing, because we’re used to sexists arguing with such unpleasantness. It’s hard to be too disturbed when faced with the prejudice of a self-regarding dullard. No, the problem is that it’s easy to under-estimate the cumulative effect of the continual haranguing that makes up the content of his two articles. Though most of us are used to engaging in individual points raised in misogynistic work, it’s regrettably easy to ignore the fact that one effect of such faux-debate is to wear down the opponent’s spirit with wave after wave of unreasonable and therefore unchallengeable disdain. In short, it’s an ugly, hectoring, dismissive way of denying a target the space to defend themselves, and simply responding to the technique, as I hope to have shown here, requires a disproportionate amount of time and effort. In many ways, Mr Phillips wasn’t debating with Ms Thompson, but shouting her down.

Justice League #10

From beginning to end, his work is nothing more than a protracted barrage of irrationality and sexism, and I’d strongly contend that it should never have appeared on Sequart in the first place. To publish these pieces was to enable not an enlightening and inclusive debate, but a one-sided sneering match. By all means, let’s have the broadest range of opinions represented on Sequart, but only if they’re expressed in the form of work which is fair, accurate and respectful, which responds to the evidence and operates in the context of an informed debate.

Of course, it’s not my intention to be racing to a rather pathetic faux-chivalrous defence of Ms Thompson here. I’ve noted her doing far more than just holding her own in the sometimes-bear-pit that’s the comments at Comic Book Resources; she no more needs my defence than she needs an extra set of shoulders. Although I feel it’s appalling that she should have been subjected to what Mr Phillips wrote, I’ve no doubt that his attempts simply bounced off her skin, and that she’s pushed the whole matter to one side as just another example of what happens when certain boys get upset about that whole business of sexism and fairness.

Moon

No, my concern is a far more simple, and far more selfish, one. I haven’t written this to educate, entertain or even vent my feelings. In truth, I’ve found the whole business a deeply dispiriting one, and I have no illusions about anyone reading these words after I’ve posted them. I know what a dull piece this is, and researching and writing it has reduced me to torpor and despair. Believe me, time spent staring at Mr Phillips’s work has been, to co-opt that Nietzsche chap myself, time spent staring into an abyss which soon stares back. But what I did want to do was sign up a clear indication that what Mr Phillips wrote and expressed has nothing to do with me. I too write for Sequart, and I have a huge degree of respect and affection for the bods who run it. I’m profoundly grateful for the chance the organisation has given me to express myself here. But I’m also egotistical enough to worry that anyone might mistake the presence of my name on these pages as an indication that I’ve anything but contempt for the way that Mr Phillips thought to express himself at Ms Thompson’s expense. That was an appalling business from start to end, and I want nothing to do with it. An informed discussion about sex and gender is more than fine by me. A smart, civil discussion presented from a well-informed misogynist could be well worth the reading and debating with. But that wasn’t what Mr Phillips was up to, and I’d be ashamed to be in any way associated with him.

Justice League

By the same token, should I ever happen to pass Kelly Thompson in a corridor at a convention or whatever, I don’t want to be ashamed to look her in the eye. In that, I’m perhaps all too aware of how I myself have felt when such “critiques” of my own work have sprung up without reference to evidence or good manners. I still come across folks whose knowledge of “Smith” extends only to what some unfriendly and unfair soul has written about me. It is not, I will admit, something which has made a warmer human being out of me, and may explain something of why this whole situation has so aggravated me.

You see? It’s all me-me-me.

So, here’s to you, Kelly Thompson, should you ever scan your way downwards through these turgid words of mine to this point. You and your work deserved far better than Mr Phillips’s sad-sack attack, and not just because of the generous, insightful, and principled nature of what you’d written. In the end, you deserved better because everyone deserves better than to be treated in that way. Isn’t that a great deal of what feminism is about anyway?

Terra

NB: I’ve had my say here, and at great length too. I’ve no intention in engaging in any further debate on the issue, I’ve said everything I have to say. I’ve spent so long trying to make this wretched piece work and I’ve had enough of it all. I’m sure my own methods and words will have caused folks to be at the least disappointed, and since I’ve had my say, as Mr Phillips had his at the expense of Ms Thompson, I’m happy for anyone to say what they like. Go on, punk, make my day, since, er, I’m off anyway. I’ll let my own flaws – inevitable and no doubt substantial flaws – damn me in my own turn.

My regular Tuesday pieces will return next Tuesday, if Sequart will have me. Gosh, that’s exciting too, isn’t it?

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Colin Smith is currently Q Magazine’s comics columnist and blogs at Too Busy Thinking About My Comics and on Tumbler.

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Also by Colin Smith:

New Life and New Civilizations: Exploring Star Trek Comics

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72 Comments

  1. David Balan says:

    I dunno, Colin, this was pretty illuminating for me. I read both of Gene’s articles, and I honestly didn’t give them a second thought, because I couldn’t figure out what he was trying to say.

    The fact that you took the time to pull out all of his actual argument points is impressive in and of itself, and it makes me wonder how I didn’t see it myself when I read them the first time.

    • I too had trouble figuring out what Gene Phillip’s point of his articles were little past the fact that he didn’t mind seeing sexy girls in comics.

      • Wait, sorry, I was thinking of his other articles about what he coined “Adult Pulp.” I didn’t even read either part of his “Making A Dirty Breast of the Matter” work after being so underwhelmed by the other stuff of his I had read before.

  2. Wonderful piece. Thank you.

  3. Ben Marton says:

    No debate, Mr. Smith. Just a hearty applause. I read every word, and if I ever meet you at a convention, I will be glad to shake your hand.

  4. First reaction:

    “Self-composed piece?”

    Yes, you’re going to teach me about good writing, I’m sure (not).

  5. Second verse, same as the first:

    “(Nietzsche’s work is many things, but a debate-closing authority on the psycho-social reproduction and reinforcement of gender roles, it’s surely not.)”

    Given that you were so sensitive to the way I quoted others, please show me where I called Nietzsche’s work a debate-closer or any of that other stuff.

    I see, you’re putting forth loads of drivel to tire me out. Good choice.

  6. “Sequart has always been a publisher which has offered space to a variety of political and critical stances, but that platform has, to my knowledge, never, and never should have been, extended to such unpleasantness, such haughty and belittling bigotry.”

    “Bigotry” is always a good charge. It gets people emotionally fired up and unable to think about the issues in any other way than the way you characterize them.

    Though it’s not as good as jumping to my site, scrolling through the topics and jumping on the first “Nietzsche” listing you found, and using the German philosopher as an indicator of all things reactionary.

    Have you met Freddy Wertham? He’s this other guy who liked to use Nietzsche as a club while barely comprehending what the philosopher was about. You’d like Freddy, I’m sure.

    • Just for the record, I think the Nietzsche reference came from the link to your blog included in “Making a Dirty Breast of the Matter, Part 2.”

      • You’re correct; I had forgotten that I’d included that link, so that’s the only reason CL included that reference. Still, the idea that one should not “respectfully” cite Nietzsche speaks volumes about CL’s ignorance of the subject under discussion, as does his claim about the way I supposedly used Nietzsche, as a

        “debate-closing authority on the psycho-social reproduction and reinforcement of gender roles”

        There was no closing of any debate in the essay, and whatever it is CL doesn’t like about Nietzsche, CL did nothing to describe what faults would supposedly exile the philosopher from having anything pertinent to say about matters of gender.

        In short, another straw man.

    • Wade says:

      To be clear, you are comparing Mr Smith to Wertham but complaining that his use of the word “bigotry” is over the top?

      That reminds me of all the politicians and commentators that go straight to Hitler comparisons rather than have a real debate about anything. I wouldn’t call you Uday Hussein because you have defended female “display,” and I don’t think you should compare another comics reader and blogger to Wertham.

      • I wouldn’t ordinarily compare another comics-essayist to Wertham, but his anti-Nietzche and anti-Sade remarks made the parallel more than usually applicable. Here’s the line I didn’t include above:

        “[Phillips] pays no attention to anything from the social sciences of the past one hundred years and more which discusses the social construction of gender identity, although he does, as I mentioned in part and passing above, link to a piece of his own which references Nietzsche and de Sade.”

        As you may or may not know, Wertham also tosses off brief condemnations of Nietzsche and Sade as expousing philosophies he thinks were comparable to the popular, Nazi-like narratives of then-contemporary comic books. Wertham’s solution to the outta-control permissiveness of his time was to stress the insightful social control of modern psychology/psychiatry.

        That’s pretty much the way Colin Liar responds to my citation of Nietzsche and Sade. The only difference between him and Wertham on this point is that Wertham wasn’t responding to anyone else in his broadsides at Nietzsche and Sade. But it’s the same spiel with only minor differences. Against a supposedly conservative ideology (mine) that explores musty old philosophers like Nietzsche and Sade, CL appeals to modern “social sciences” as being much more important to sussing out gender issues.

        To be sure, the “have you met Freddy Wertham” was directly responding to his negative characterization of Nietzsche by himself in a previous paragraph. But I’d already given the CL essay a quick read-over and knew that he had shot his bolt at Sade as well when I made the Wertham comparison. If it doesn’t work for you, that’s the way it goes.

      • “I wouldn’t call you Uday Hussein because you have defended female “display”

        That’s practically the only thing Colin Liar didn’t call me, so I think I oughtta be allowed some leeway, too.

  7. “It’s telling that Ms Thompson’s work should begin in a generous and transparent fashion”

    Transparent, yes, though not the way you mean it. But generous to whom? In what way was she generous, given that you say in the same paragraph that she states that:

    “sexist imagery in comic-books is harmful to women, and young women in particular.”

    I’m not seeing the generosity. Explain it to me.

    “without being excluded through the presence of unnecessary theory, irrelevant point-scoring terminology and so on”

    So you’re saying it’s a plus that her piece can play in Peoria. Whoopee.

    “she’s not trying to argue that readers can’t express a preference for the presence of objectivised women in the comics they enjoy”

    Just that those readers are implicitly guilty of what *you* call “reactionary politics” if they express said preference.

  8. “He certainly doesn’t start off with a statement of the fact that he stands in direct opposition to the central tenets of Feminism, although you might think that he owed it to his readers as well as Ms Thompson to make his position as clear as possible from the off.”

    That’s because I don’t stand in direct opposition to the central tenets of Feminism. This would be impossible given that Feminism is not a unitary movement, but one that historically encompasses a variety of opposed beliefs. I examined one aspect of that history here–

    http://arche-arc.blogspot.co.uk/2011/03/wapsters-vs-factsters.html

    –but I’ll bet you didn’t read that one because Nietzsche wasn’t mentioned.

    The first paragraph of “Making Part 1″ that you critique so fulsomely was simply a reference to a previous essay, “Pulp Friction.” Somehow you forgot to mention that fact in your summation. I wonder why.

    ‘Similarly, instead of “sexism”, we appear to have “sensationalism”’

    That’s because, unlike Thompson, I’m writing about the depiction of fictional sexuality within the spectrum of all sensational affects. Just because she simplified her argument down to the bare nubbin doesn’t mean that I should have to.

    “from the off”

    You’ve used this twice now. Should I assume it’s a colloquialism I’ve not encountered, or do you mean to write “from the outset?”

  9. “To say that both the science and the social science of the situation would demolish his assumptions is to state that which is obvious to all but the likes of Mr Phillips, but then, that’s what’s so interesting and despicable about his writing. He’s not interested in the evidence at all, coming as he does from the malecentric circle of the faith-based community.”

    I wonder if I should take odds on whether you cite any of the “science and social science” (???) in the remainder of your article. Nah, you might invoke some Sunday-supplement piece on Richard Dawkins, so I won’t make the bet.

    I will bet that neither you or anyone can find the slightest mention of faith, religion, or any related topic in those two printed essays.

    And this from a man supposedly opposed to bigotry? Ah, the shame!

  10. “he does produce something of a summary of his beliefs at the very end of the second part of Making a Dirty Breast of the Matter”

    The paragraph you quote is not anything resembling a summation. It’s merely the only part of the argument around which you Colin could wrap your head, and another club by which you can justify passing over all those “quite irrelevant details” like the analysis of the terms “objectification” and “sexualization.”

    POINTS 1 AND 2:

    “(Mr Phillips calls these problems “perceived objectivication”, because any and all problems exist only, it seems, in the minds of female observers.)”

    Nope, I’ve always known that there are men who perceive objectification as well, whether accurately or inaccurately. I didn’t bother saying so because it struck me as so honkingly obvious that it didn’t need to be stated.

    I did deny the notion that men had fewer insecurities than women:

    ‘This is not to say that females are more inherently insecure than males. It should go without saying that men have their own catalogue of insecurities, and some writers critical of superheroes have been known to consider the very idea of the superhero as a “negative compensation.” ‘

    POINT 3:

    ‘Those who object to “perceived objectivisation” are women responding negatively not to sexism, but to the challenging presence of representations of attractive females. (“But it’s long been my observation that many women resent any icon of female desirability”.) ‘

    Nope, I didn’t say that women were wrong to see *some* examples of real sexism. I said that “many women”– which last time I looked didn’t mean “all women,” or even “all complaining women”– resented icons of femininity, and the point was to disprove Thompson’s notion that the greater number of complaints would go away if comics followed her prescription for “athletic, non-porn-star” superheroes.

  11. POINT 4:

    ‘Removing sexualised depictions of women wouldn’t bring any more female readers to comic-books, because it’s not the non-presence of the non-existent sexist representations which is keeping women away. Women are staying away because they don’t want to look at the charms of other women, and that problem would remain regardless of whatever form was chosen to represent their gender in comics. (Quote: “I’ve witnessed a couple of women cavil at the charms of 1960s icon Emma Peel, and if any feminine icon had a less “porn star” body than Diana Rigg, I don’t know.”) ‘

    Classic misreading. I didn’t ever comment on whether or not more female readers would seek out comic books if one did away with hyper-sexualization. That’s within the realm of possibility. But I think the complaints against other forms of sexualization would go on. People– not just women by any means (Colin’s proof of that) like to complain. And they don’t always put a lot of thought into their complaints.

    POINT 5:

    “because women will never buy comics with anything other than undesirable women in them”

    This is a ridiculous straw-man supposition supported by nothing I wrote.

    “He pays no attention to anything from the social sciences of the past one hundred years and more which discusses the social construction of gender identity”

    I buzzed ahead to see if you cited any of these social science statements with which you’re so enamored, and which you think I was remiss in omitting. Haven’t found one yet.

    BTW, Nietzche wouldn’t exactly be the go-to guy for a “faith-based” ideology.

  12. “Yet even the most residual trace of pity soon dissolves when Mr Phillips goes on to rather pointedly state that (1) his belief that male characters are sexualised doesn’t mean that (2) comics inculcate “homosexuality”. Well, we couldn’t have that, could we? Though Mr Phillips believes that male characters are every bit as sexualised as females are, and despite believing that the audience for these sexualised male characters is naturally one with XY chromosomes, the male characters aren’t there to excite male readers. Oh, no. Although the majority of super-people are blokes and the majority of their readers are blokes too, the supposedly sexual male superheroes are actually there, he argues in an astonishing example of wild thinking, to appeal to the women who, according to his other arguments, won’t ever read the books in the first place. Or; there’s nothing gay about the superhero book, just as there’s nothing sexist either.”

    One can probably find genuinely gay motifs in superhero books, but most of those cited by you and others are lazy and indefensible.

    Sigh. No, Colin, I said that the fictional male characters were diegetically constructed to be appealing to fictional female characters, not to female readers. Try to keep up.

    • So, the assumption here is that comic book creators are supplying their female characters with eye-candy? Or are you using “diegetically” to imply that the attraction between male and female on the narrative level isn’t visual (mimetic), but based on characterization, leaving the muscles and spandex as a visual code only read on our level?

      • Dictionary.com’s definition of “diegesis:”

        1. the telling of a story by a narrator who summarizes events in the plot and comments on the conversations, thoughts, etc., of the characters.
        2. the sphere or world in which these narrated events and other elements occur.

        Of the two, number two is the one I’ve seen most used, and the one to which I referred in saying that every comic-book story implicitly has a diegesis. Within that sphere Lois Lane is initially attracted to Superman not because of his “idealization,” but because he’s a handsome muscular hunk.

        If the female charater’s response was of no importance within the diegesis, then Joe Schuster could have just as easily have drawn Superman as a ninety-pound-weakling. Given his powers he could still have performed all the selfless feats he did as Handsome Guy, but Siegel and Schuster would have had to have justified his appeal to Lois without the stereotypical appeal to what the culture of the time deemed “hunkiness.”

      • The “hunkiness” is part of how Superman is physically “idealized.” Especially in Thompson’s terminology, where it’s always used to refer to physical idealization.

        So “Within that sphere Lois Lane is initially attracted to Superman not because of his ‘idealization,’ but because he’s a handsome muscular hunk” doesn’t make sense to me.

        But you’re right that this idealization is sometimes about stirring female interest within the narrative. That is part of its function. So yes, it’s often sexual within the narrative.

        That doesn’t contradict Thompson, who’s not taking about within the narrative sexual appeals at all. In fact, she specifically pardons the costumes of females who have within the narrative justifications, even shitty ones, for dressing in such a revealing way.

      • ‘The “hunkiness” is part of how Superman is physically “idealized.”’

        I think the notion of a “physical ideal” is perfectly adequate in colloquial terms, but it’s a contradiction in terms when you’re talking about the way in which fictional characters are constructed. I think people (definitely including Thompson) have perpetuated this notion that a character like Superman is only an “ideal” out of misguided interpretation of the reading audience.

        It’s true that Thompson isn’t speaking of the diegetic world; her dichotomy is based on a popular notion– one I’ve heard other times– that male heroes are “ideals” for the male audience while female heroes are “targets of sexual objectification.” That’s a worthwhile distinction but even if you’re talking only about audience-reaction, Thompson’s dichotomy still does not work There’s not a radical disconnect between the diegetic and extra-diegetic worlds. Within the first, Lois Lane and other women are attracted to Superman. Within the reader’s extra-diegetic world, the reader is aware that one major reason that Superman attracts so many women is that he is handsome and muscular. That’s not Superman incarnating some abstract “physical ideal.” For the reader as for the character, his good looks are a “tat” that gets him “tit.”

        Those interested in these gender politics might want to check out the 1960s Lois Lane story, “The Ugly Superman.”

      • I’m not sure I understand.

        Diegetically, the function of Superman’s looks is to make him more appealing, not only as embodiment of American ideal and all that but also as a hunk and a love interest. That’s a good point, and people forget how much that romance angle used to be a part of Superman stories. But to the male reader, while some of this function is the same, that hunky appeal presumably isn’t intended to make the male reader swoon like Lois Lane or Lana Lang or Lori Lemaris. If anything, he fantasizes about being Superman and getting that reaction himself.

        That’s quite different, when one looks at more recent female depictions. Diegetically, they may also make male characters swoon — or at least comment on those female characters’ attractiveness, which can be different and may reflect differences in male and female sexuality. But extra-diegetically, these aren’t female aspirational figures, the way boys fantasize about being Superman. These figures’ extra-diegetic function is to arouse the male reader. (And that’s ignoring how these female characters are often captured, tied up, or even sexually assaulted.)

        In other words, yes, their diegetic function might be similar — they’re both presented as sexually attractive within the stories. But extra-diegetically, they’re both male fantasies. And while the male figure’s there (again, extra-diegetically) for the fantasy of being the super-hero, the female figure’s there (again, extra-diegeticaally) for the fantasy of possessing such a woman.

        And that’s quite different. That’s really what Thompson’s saying, when she says “no, it’s not equal.” No, neither type is realistic. But their extra-diegetic functions are quite different.

        Yeah, it’s true that some of these female characters “kick ass.” But their function isn’t really to inspire female readers to dream of being Catwoman, the way a boy might dream of being Superman.

        Now, of course, one can say that this really just comes down to the fact that these are male stories, consumed disproportionately by men. And indeed, this same dynamic is often the case in other traditional male-dominated genres, from action to sci-fi.

        But whereas sci-fi might be filled with characters like Seven of Nine, it does seem like current super-hero comics seem to put this effect on steroids.

        And whether it’s on steroids or not, just as we are free to publish and enjoy this material, we are also free to criticize it or to point out its effects.

        Does this help?

      • “people forget how much that romance angle used to be a part of Superman stories. But to the male reader, while some of this function is the same, that hunky appeal presumably isn’t intended to make the male reader swoon like Lois Lane or Lana Lang or Lori Lemaris. If anything, he fantasizes about being Superman and getting that reaction himself.”

        Right so far. The fantasy of being Superman contains identitification with both the abstract ideals and the concrete rewards associated with being Superman.

        “But extra-diegetically, these [female characters] aren’t female aspirational figures, the way boys fantasize about being Superman.”

        I agree that male readers don’t relate to the female characters precisely the same as they do to male characters. It’s a whole different question as to whether they *should* react exactly the same, any more than female readers should react equally toward male and female characters.

        Still, it isn’t *impossible* for male audiences to respond to “female aspirational figures” in a general sense; when it happens, it occurs in spite of the fact that the male reader knows he will not grow up to be a woman (usually). Buffy seems to draw quite a few male fans who argue passionately about her adventures– not just the size of her boobs– which would certainly indicate some level of identification. Jones’ MEN OF TOMORROW argues, from its view of the advertising in Golden Age WONDER WOMAN, that the dominant audience was male, not female. Jones justifies this anomaly by the standard view that the male readers’ investment sprang from voyeurism, but in the absence of fannish testimony from those times, no one can be entirely sure.

        Next post forthcoming…

      • “These figures’ extra-diegetic function is to arouse the male reader.”

        Statistically it may be dominant, but not exclusive. In one response-thread I mentioned Image comics-series like BALLISTIC and RIPTIDE. From what I can remember of them, there’s nothing in them but an appeal to male desire. A title like BIRDS OF PREY certainly plays to that desire as well, but one may argue that the book– only moderately successful as a pure tuffgirl action-comic– garnered greater popularity with male and female audiences because Gail Simone appealed to that stratum of identification that males and females hold in common (appeals to humor, emotional intensity, etc.)

        “yes, their diegetic function might be similar — they’re both presented as sexually attractive within the stories. But extra-diegetically, they’re both male fantasies.”

        Yet while male readers are not going to identify as strongly with female characters, that doesn’t mean total “male fantasy” in terms of that bugaboo “objectification.”

        “the female figure’s there (again, extra-diegeticaally) for the fantasy of possessing such a woman.”

        Again, this may be statistically dominant but not exclusive. I think it’s demonstrable that in the proper context male readers also enjoy delving into the emotional *tsurris* that come from mingling male and female characters. X-MEN did it well and garnered a substantial melodrama-lovin’ male readership; ULTRAFORCE did it badly and faded once the Image narrative trend faded in popularity.

      • ‘Yeah, it’s true that some of these female characters “kick ass.” But their function isn’t really to inspire female readers to dream of being Catwoman, the way a boy might dream of being Superman.’

        But it’s my impression that most girls dream of being Wonder Woman, Supergirl, or even Catwoman, not Superman, so I don’t see as much of a problem as you do. Laura Mulvey claimed that modern cinema forced women to identify with male figures, but I think she was entirely too reductive as to the way the identification experience takes place.

        As I suggested in MAKING part 1, the desire of men to look at women, fictional or otherwise, is not likely to just go away because it makes women uncomfortable. In contrast to Thompson I emphasize analyzing the narrative to show whether or not the fictional female posseses internality and agency. If it’s there, that’s an indicator that the narrative encourages that identification. Sure, some readers will still goggle at Storm’s legs no matter how much ass she kicks with them, but that doesn’t mean that the narrative has not given other readers the chance for the aforesaid identification.

        “And whether it’s on steroids or not, just as we are free to publish and enjoy this material, we are also free to criticize it or to point out its effects.”

        And to disagree about those effects.

    • “Sigh. No, Colin, I said that the fictional male characters were diegetically constructed to be appealing to fictional female characters, not to female readers. Try to keep up.”

      That is hilarious. If you really believe that, I can stop here.

  13. ‘he invests a considerable amount of time in trying to establish that male super-heroes actually have the body-types of weight-lifters rather than athletes. The fact that this doesn’t change anything of substance at all in Ms Thompson’s debate is something which Mr Phillips clearly either doesn’t grasp, or doesn’t want to. After all, the issue is obviously not one of whether male superheroes look more like athletes or strongmen, but whether the sexual meanings which the representations of women carry are different and more iniquitous than those associated with men’

    And Thompson’s description of the sexual meanings of male characters was oversimple and blinkered. If she doesn’t prove that male bodies are “eminently reasonable” for the activities of superheroes, then her assertion collapses.

    I wasn’t presenting any fewer “debate” topics than Thompson. You simply don’t get the substance of the debate and so are taking refuge in inaccurate summations and empty, politically charged rhetoric.

  14. That’s enough for today. More tomorrow, I’m sure. If that’s Colin at the end saying that he doesn’t want to comment further, we’ll see if he’s any more truthful about that than in anything else he’s written above.

  15. Colin S. S. says:

    Hat’s off, Mr. Smith. A necessary job done in a thorough and mostly unassailable fashion.

  16. “Instead, he simply and baldy claims that visual representations of comic-book men and women are equally sexual in their meaning.”

    Another transparent lie. If I said it, why don’t you provide a quote of me saying it? You don’t think I should be able to extrapolate any general principles from Thompson’s essay, so how do you justify not practicing what you preach?

    ‘Thus if one agrees that this depiction typifies most male superheroes in, say, the past twenty years”, Mr Phillips argues, presenting the reader with a dysfunctionally reductionist argument which also manages to suggest that Mr Colan’s cover was actually from 1992 rather than 25 years before that.’

    I didn’t know “to typify” meant “to share identity with,” but in the Colin-verse, they must. Any reason you pick 1992? I certainly didn’t.

    “Who could possibly contend that the representations of gender today are the same in form and meaning as they were in the period from around 1956 to 1971? Who could imagine that there existed a single and fixed code of representations which informed the product of the industry all the way from Eisenhower to Nixon, from Boring to Adams, from Infantino to Winsor-Smith? The evidence simply doesn’t bear any such an idea out, let alone support a claim that the various porn-inspired creators of today are actually presenting Silver Age visual tropes.”

    See, had you chosen to bother choosing visual examples of the artists you cite (notwithstanding the bizarre citation of Eisenhower and Nixon), you might have been able to mount the semblance of an argument, but apparently you didn’t bother presenting all the “evidence” you claim to have, but either chose a bunch of sexy pictures or let someone else choose them. I can only assume you’re better at empty rhetoic than research, which is the fault you find so glaring in me.

    Not that it will matter to your skewed ideological worldview, but I did mention Infantino as an early exception to the dominant boulder-shouldered depiction, noting how Flash was originally drawn with the physique of a runner but became a bodybuilder in later depictions by Andru, Dillin etc.

  17. “To try to prove that women have no preference for less hyper-sexualised representations, Mr Phillips attempts to establish that there is a considerable female audience for films which feature actresses with “porn-star” bodies. His “evidence” for this comes from the single observation that Charlie’s Angels was a commercially successful movie.”

    No, I said that the fact that CHARLIE’S ANGELS was hyper-sexualized but done with humor allowed it to be accepted by a general audience of both males and females. Its does not prove that women don’t resent hyper-sexualization under other circumstances, but its success demonstrates that female audiences can’t be confined by a single paradigm– which is closer to what Thompson says than anything I say.

    Colin Smith is under the delusion that one cannot mention a few telling examples; one must do what Thompson does, deluge the reader in such a quantity of examples that said reader is overwhelmed by the flood. Colin must be one of these, because as far as real logic is concerned, he’s drowning here.

  18. ‘Suddenly “jokeyness” is the key variable which governs female perception and decision-making, an out-of-the-blue revelation which suggests that female of the species would surely love contemporary superbooks if only comics were, well, more “jokey”.’

    Another stupid lie. Nothing whatsoever was said about whether or not hyper-sexualization would be more saleable in comics if it were more “jokey.” The relevance of CHARLIE’S ANGELS is that it was successful despite the factors Thompson feels are dominantly alienating and repulsive to women, while dozens of A-movies and B-movies starring athletic-looking females– Geena Davis, Brigitte Nielsen, Rachel McLish, Karen Shepherd, Cynthia Rothrock– aren’t even on the radar of the American female audience. Sigourney Weaver and Linda Hamilton presented exceptions, but only when associated with two high-ticket FX-projects, ALIEN and TERMINATOR.

    “Mr Phillips’s seems to have no concept of the fact that the media can shape as well as mirror its audiences tastes, and so regards the very institutions which help reinforce hyper-sexualisation as honest brokers merely delivering what the people, and the women among them, want. Such a belief is as daft as presuming that what exists on the screen can be interrogated without methodology or research data in order to immaculately reveal what an audience’s tastes, thoughts and feelings are.”

    Again with the supposed superior research, and no citations. Will we ever see anything of this enlightening data here? No, but we’ll see lots more rhetoric, blather, and outright lies.

  19. “For example, Mr Phillips argues that Ms Thompson’s work suggests that the only reason why creators would choose to reduce the level of objectivisation in their work would be to further their own financial self-interest.”

    No, that’s the carrot Thompson dangles at the end of the essay:

    (Thompson) “Superhero comics can be (and frequently are) so much more than that, and they can (and should) appeal to a much wider audience, for everyone’s benefit including their own.”

    Did you even read Thompson’s essay, Colin?

    “But Mr Phillips is fond, it seems, of implying that Ms Thompson is either expressing herself dishonestly or ineptly, and that results in a progression of statements which unjustly create an impression that she’s not only a stupid woman and a poor debater, but mendacious too.”

    Still no quotes, big surprise. Naturally my only comments have been about the construction of Thompson’s argument, not her person– a transparent attempt to emotionalize the issue by having noble Colin come to the defense of a poor, put-upon female fan. I do have an insult for Colin, but it’s more a statement of objective fact, and it rhymes with the fact that his pants are on fire.

  20. “As such, Making A Dirty Breast Of The Matter appears to be an unreconstructed sexist’s attack on feminism as well as a protracted mockery of a single female writer who’d dared to express a moderate feminist critique of the superhero book. Insult was added to contempt, meaningless argument added to hair-splitting, irrationality and ill-formed debate all mixed together into a shit-storm of what becomes, as one pseudo argument follows another, nothing else but contempt for both Ms Thompson and her politics.”

    You sure do like that word “shit-storm.” Gets repetitive, dontcha know.

    Since you’ve understood precisely zero of the philosophical concepts addresses, lost in your cloud of know-nothing-ism, you’re the last person to judge anyone’s ability to argue. My detractors can claim that I’ve misinterpreted stuff, but at no time do I lie the way you have above– and lying, contrary to the old saying, is the first refuge of the incompetent.

    “But I’m also egotistical enough to worry that anyone might mistake the presence of my name on these pages as an indication that I’ve anything but contempt for the way that Mr Phillips thought to express himself at Ms Thompson’s expense.”

    That may be the only true thing you’ve written here. even if the point is garbled by the poor syntax. Don’t you know how to avoid lumping all your prepositional phrases together, since you claim to be such a master of good writing?

  21. On another response-thread, Mike Phillips said:

    “By the way, Gene’s opinions do not reflect those of Sequart.org.”

    Is it too much to hope that you would express the same independence from the opinions of Colin Smith, Demonstrable Liar?

  22. Sam Keeper says:

    Interesting point about the body-builder/athlete question’s basic irrelevance. In essence, I’m with you there (although I admit I couldn’t put my finger on why the argument seemed weirdly misplaced when I first read the article). Still, I don’t think it’s completely irrelevant to a feminist critique. It’s just saying the opposite of what Gene wants it to say. I would actually argue that the musclebound heroes are just as problematic as sexualized heroines, in that they also reinforce unachievable and nonsensical gender stereotypes. It’s a distinction that I think you could work with. It doesn’t nullify the problematic sexualization of female characters, though. If anything, it reinforces the importance of a feminist/queer theory reading of comics.

    But, like Janet Weiss, I don’t like too much muscle, so this might just be my own selfish desires at work…

    Anyway, very clever use of images in your essay. It’s amazing to see some of the most egregious examples of this sexualization gathered in one place. I also found it interesting that you presented them without direct commentary. Clever rhetorical move, that. Fitting, of course, for a comics theorist, but I thought it deserved a tip of the hat.

    And I’m glad to see someone else as irritated as I was. Despite your conclusion at the end of the essay, I found some value in that, at least.

    • OMG, Janet Weiss reference!

      Please ignore this comment. It is irrelevant except to say that your comment made me smile at a kinda low time.

      • Actually, Janet Weiss started out not liking too many muscles, than sung along with “I’m a muscle ma-an…” — indicating, from Brad’s reaction, her conversion to liking muscles. At least as I read Rocky. (Though this is obviously my thinking entirely too much about an offhand comment.)

      • Sam Keeper says:

        Oh, you’re totally right about Janet. Rocky just hasn’t won me over quite yet. ;) Incidentally, analyzing that movie is incredibly fun… It’s amazing how much you can uncover.

      • Agreed. And I think, in Janet’s “conversion” to liking the musclebound physique, there’s a male fear at work, as well as a celebration of Frankenfurter’s outre sexuality. In other words, however much Janet might look and act like a good girl, at heart she really wants the Rocky physique. Yes, that’s part of her sexual awakening (“I never ever…”), which I think the film celebrates — and quite rightly so. But I do think there’s a male fear in that particular (admittedly brief) moment.

      • And yeah, I don’t personally get the appeal of Rocky — the character, not the movie — either.

    • Sam Keeper says:

      “I would actually argue that the musclebound heroes are just as problematic as sexualized heroines, in that they also reinforce unachievable and nonsensical gender stereotypes”

      Yeah, I guess if you’re totally OK with misreading the intent of the authors, then go for it.

      • Sam Keeper says:

        You know, I was under the misconception that the intent of the author hadn’t mattered in lit crit since the 1920s, but hey, I could be wrong. I guess my response would be… well… yes, yes I am OK with misreading the intent of the authors. I honestly don’t think the author’s intentions matter in this field. Obviously that’s a critical position, and it’s not even a critical position that feminist and queer critics universally agree with, but it’s one that I think is compatible with this sort of reading.

        My question is: why are you so concerned with preserving and elucidating the “intent” of the author? What is that critical position doing for you? Because it seems to serve the function, at least in this comment, of dismissing and mocking the validity of alternate forms of criticism.

    • ”My question is: why are you so concerned with preserving and elucidating the “intent” of the author? What is that critical position doing for you? Because it seems to serve the function, at least in this comment, of dismissing and mocking the validity of alternate forms of criticism.’

      While it’s possible for the author to channel cultural meanings without being overtly conscious of them, they are still filtered through that consciousness. If you dismiss the author’s consciousness for the purpose of making his works fit some paradigm, you’re putting the cart (the interpretation) before the horse (the actual work that finds an audience and pleases people).

      So when you say you would–

      “would actually argue that the musclebound heroes are just as problematic as sexualized heroines, in that they also reinforce unachievable and nonsensical gender stereotypes.”

      – what you’re doing is eliminating not only the author’s intent but also the audience’s pleasure All that’s left is a sterile pronouncement on the failings of a given set of fictions by a standard of “realism” that those fictions must fail because the author did not intend to address that standard, nor did the audience buy the works for the sake of “realism.”

      If it wasn’t clear to most of those here, I object to Thompson’s essay for similar reasons. I’ve think her categories for sexualization are sloppy, so the effect is that of a generalized broadside against comics-creators as a whole. I’m definitely against any form of criticism that resorts to such tactics.

      • Sam Keeper says:

        How does Death of the Author conceptually sterilize a work? Where, in the entire history of 20th century critical theory development, has the move away from authorial intent diminished the power of fiction? Do you actually know what I’m talking about? Because it seems as though you’re suggesting that we should throw out a century’s worth of criticism.

        Let me explain again my problem with your approach here. You just seem to be arbitrarily basing your beliefs on what makes you feel warm and fuzzy and, ultimately, secure in what you already think. When you say “eliminates the audience’s pleasure” what you really mean is “you’re damaging MY pleasure.” And what really irritates me is that I don’t think you’re even aware of the fact that you’re choosing your critical position for what are ultimately selfish, socially conservative reasons. You don’t actually seem to even be aware of the fact that most of the last century has been spent tearing down the concept of Authorial Intent. I mean, I’m really just flabbergasted at the flippant way in which you just dismissed everyone from Barthes to Foucault. It’s actually totally mindblowing.

        Incidentally, I like how the author writes “his” work. That’s a fascinating word choice. But, I mean, I can’t analyze that, can I? Because the complex issues surrounding that word choice aren’t part of your conscious filter, so they’re off limits. They’re totally hidden from view under your theoretical approach.

        Wow.

        And you say I’m sterilizing things.

      • 1. Authorial intent is a complicated issue. It’s true that, strictly speaking, the notion of authorial intent being somehow prescriptive of interpretation has been utterly discredited. But from what I can recall, it seems that Gene’s talking less about authorial intent and more about narrative function. For example, Superman’s looks might serve a narrative function, as Gene has argued, and that’s true whether any particular Superman creator intended them to do so or not. At other times, it seems that Gene’s addressing genre expectations, which of course need not be realistic. In both cases, authorial intent isn’t really at play.

        2. On the subject of genre expectations (or “cultural meanings”), it’s been true for a solid century that the serious judgment of any given work of art tends to use that work’s own standards. So for example, you don’t judge a Care Bears comic the way you judge Watchmen — they’re different beasts. And a lack of realism is relevant to Watchmen because it sets itself up as a realistic look at super-heroes, not because realism is automatically the lens through which all stories should be judged. On the other hand, it’s dumb to complain that Watchmen is more violent than a Care Bears comic, because they’re two very different works. To say these things is not, in fact, the same thing as invoking authorial intent; it is simply to judge the work as it is, according to what it’s doing and not by either the creator or the reader’s preferences.

        For this reason, it’s a little silly to criticize a work of manga for having girls with big eyes. Yes, that should be pointed out, because it’s in the work. It’s part of a reasonable critique. But a work of manga (not all of which fit this American stereotype, of course) isn’t invalidated because it accords with its genre.

        And let’s be blunt here: we all, to one extent or another, like and respect super-hero stories. And those stories do tend to have women in skimpy clothing — although the submissive, high-heels, come-hither elements of female depictions in American comics have intensified in recent years.

        I can enjoy those stories and still recognize that this trope of female dress is part of a formula that’s potentially troubling. And to point out that formula — just as to point out big eyes in manga — isn’t to invalidate the work of art in question.

        3. Given these facts — and they are facts about responsible interpretation — it seems to me that we’re actually beginning perhaps to get somewhere.

        Gene interprets Thompson’s essay as “a generalize broadside against comics creators as a whole.” He seems to feel — Gene, correct me where I’m wrong — that it paints all super-hero comics with the same brush and that it seems to attack these as sexist or immoral. Whereas, in fact, these are tropes of the genre that aren’t uniform and shouldn’t be used to denigrate the entire genre.

        Put that way, I think that’s completely correct.

        But I don’t think others — including myself — read Thompson that way. Hers is not a feminist screed saying “burn these misogynistic comics” or “all these super-hero comics are sexist to the core!!!” Rather, she seems to be simply highlighting this trope of female presentation and explaining how, despite many fans saying otherwise, it’s factually not the same as how males are presented in the same works.

        Of course it’s a generalization: saying manga girls have big eyes is too. If that’s pointing out the tropes of the genre, that’s good criticism. If it’s a broadside condemning that entire genre for using those tropes, it’s not.

        Admittedly, what’s condemning an entire genre is a bit subjective. It’s okay to say, for example, that action movies as currently written tend to perpetuate the idea that problems can be solved with violence. That’s illuminating the genre, not condemning it outright. It’s something we should be aware of, and it increases our understanding of that genre. And I think it’s fair to say that a large and seemingly increasing amount of super-hero comics present women in a way that is not only designed to appeal to hetereosexual male readers but also often connotes sexual submission. Gene, I think you agree with that too, even if you’re quick to point out counter-examples, which do exist — just as there are some action movies that don’t depict all problems as requiring violent solutions.

        And really, that’s 99% of what Thompson’s saying. There’s this trope, here’s how it works. And here’s how male figures, while unrealistically muscular, aren’t the same.

        Now, of course there’s a history here, of such observations being used to push for censorship and the like, which should be intolerable to all free-thinking people. I’m actually quite sensitive to that, and I remember the bad old days when these kinds of observations were almost always wedded to the sternest of moral condemnations (and some pretty intolerable statements, the history of which we’ve barely begun to culturally admit and address — there were real and damaging wrongs committed).

        Just to make matters worse, a lot of the most censoring, literally man-hating public statements back then were couched in smiling, “we’re just here to help” tones. For example, the mantra that feminism was the “radical belief that women are people” ran concurrent with (at the very least) intellectual respect for statements such as the idea that all men are rapists and that a woman who consents to sex with one is eroticizing her own oppression. (This was told to boys of my generation, at least in my circles — which were overwhelmingly literate. So while there are certainly knee-jerk anti-feminist fanboys out there, fitting the stereotypes of those with that reaction, there are also lots of highly-educated and intelligent American men who, while not as knee-jerk, are sensitive to these issues.)

        And while this is going to piss some people off, I went through that period of American history. And I think it’s reasonable for someone who did to be touchy about this subject. Because the trauma associated with it leads to a reaction against any statement that sounds similar, because we’ve been trained by our personal history to understand that the smiling, polite condemnation of female depictions used to lead, almost inexorably, to the sternest condemnations of male sexuality — and indeed, of art in general. This traumatic reaction might not be fair, but it’s understandable — and it’s understandable not just in men of my generation but also among women, gays, blacks, Jews, Mexican immigrants, Muslims, etc. The traumatic reaction might not be reasonable from an argumentative point of view, but it’s certainly reasonable from an emotional one.

        (And Gene, forgive me if I’ve made assumptions. I’m speaking from my own experience, not from yours. I know that I remain especially sensitive to this issue, because of my experiences, which were real and concrete and horrific. And were also, for that matter, quite violent both literally and figuratively. To even begin to recount them would be a post in itself. But I also know that, while they might give me insight in some cases, I have to make sure that they don’t cause me to treat others with good intentions, blind though they may or may not be in some respects, like they’re the people who abused me.)

        But it’s 2012, not 1990, and I don’t read Thompson as doing any of that. I — and I think others — simply read Thompson as pointing out these tropes and going only so far as to say that they’re problematic. She’s very careful not to call for censorship or anything, nor to condemn people who read and enjoy these stories. (Yeah, you can point to this sentence or that, but she’s pretty moderate and restrained.) Really, she’s just saying that this is going on and we should be aware of it. And at most, she’s saying not that this trope should vaporize or go away, simply that it’s sad this trope should be so extreme and so mainstream in the genre, because it’s obviously something that limits these stories’ appeal and pushes away any readers except heterosexual men, if not actually hurts female readers.

        So for all our jargon-laced discussion, we come down to this: Gene believes that Thompson’s unfairly condemning the entire genre for this trope, which might be prevalent but isn’t universal. Most of us see Thompson as simply illuminating that this trope exists and how it functions, especially compared to male depictions — that “no, it’s not equal.”

        Yeah, we can quibble over lots of things, like about the term “idealized.” Or about authorial intent or whatever. But it seems to me that all of this is obfuscation. Because what this entire argument comes down to is that Gene sees Thompson as slurring an entire genre, and others see her as illuminating a trope without advocating any particular response to it.

        Sorry to boil things down, and please correct me if I’m wrong. I trust my intellectual credentials are strong enough that they’re not hurt by my saying that we might all do well to be a little more emotionally direct about what’s upsets and hurts us.

        If I’ve been presumptuous to anyone involved, please forgive me. These thoughts and feelings are provided for public consumption only with the best of intentions and with a heavy heart.

      • “How does Death of the Author conceptually sterilize a work? Where, in the entire history of 20th century critical theory development, has the move away from authorial intent diminished the power of fiction? Do you actually know what I’m talking about? Because it seems as though you’re suggesting that we should throw out a century’s worth of criticism.”

        Personally I’d love to throw out Barthes, but I’d settle for throwing out the belief that he represents “a century’s worth of criticism.” He’s just one writer, and he spawned a critical following, but he didn’t convince everyone that the author was dead, and you do everyone from the New Critics to the biographical critics (like Fiedler, if you need an example) a disservice by acting like Barthes has subsumed the entirety of literary endeavor.

        ‘”When you say “eliminates the audience’s pleasure” what you really mean is “you’re damaging MY pleasure.”’

        Nonsense. When you seek to impose some psuedo-rational statement on “unrealistic body types” on a genre intended to be unrealistic, you’re doing so as a means of controlling something you either don’t understand or have chosen to denigrate for reasons unrelated to the works critiqued. That was Barthes’ fallacy as well, so I’m not surprised you’re repeating it.

        “Incidentally, I like how the author writes “his” work. That’s a fascinating word choice. But, I mean, I can’t analyze that, can I? Because the complex issues surrounding that word choice aren’t part of your conscious filter, so they’re off limits. They’re totally hidden from view under your theoretical approach.”

        If you’re referencing the use of “his” rather than the cumbersome “his or her,” that’s not even worth answering, except to say that when culture finds a good gender-neutral possessive term, I’ll be happy to use it. Until then the current default is the only rational choice.

        People who want to find “complex issues” are going to find them; the difference is between those critics who can demonstrate a pattern by looking at the work itself and its attendant circumstances, and those who just want to impose their views, as in Barthes’ overblown Freudian reading of Balzac.

  23. I would like to second Sam’s comment about the power and the irony of the pictures in Colin’s essay. Please forgive this personal indulgence, because what I’m about to say is purely anecdotal–no big theories or arguments here–and I’m not sure that there’s any quantifiable worth to what I’m about to share. But when I was reading Colin’s essay yesterday morning, my daughter walked past two or three times. Each time she passed, I found myself instinctively scrolling up or down, moving the pictures off the screen.

    I don’t consider myself particularly prudish. I’ve got my copies of Sin City and Lost Girls and I admire them both. But I found myself embarrassed at the thought that my daughter might catch a glance of one of these images of Catwoman, Power Girl, or the Scarlet Witch. And the embarrassment wasn’t for myself. I wasn’t concerned about what she would think of me; I was embarrassed by what she would think of herself.

    Please don’t get me wrong. I’m not cringing at every hint of sexuality in comics or trying to argue that mainstream comics must be G-rated. Not even close. But the questions Kelly Thompson originally raised are important, particularly when we are talking about images that potentially exploit and demean large groups of people.

    Honestly, before I became a parent, I never used to think in real, tangible terms about the impact of symbolic representations of gender. I only thought about them in terms of politics, identity, law, artistic expression, and theory. All very heady subjects, all quite lofty, all utterly abstract. But these days, I find myself seeing with two sets of eyes. Or as Dylan once put it, “I was so much older then. I’m younger than that now.”

    • This is an incredibly brilliant comment. I agree completely, though I’m not a parent. Including about Sin City and Lost Girls (both of which I also admire) versus some of this material.

      Best line: “I wasn’t concerned about what she would think of me; I was embarrassed by what she would think of herself.”

      That’s so true and direct it hurts.

    • Sam Keeper says:

      All I can do is second Julian’s comment. Very poignant comment, and very, very accurate to my own experiences as well.

  24. Ben Marton says:

    I am so glad this debate is happening. It needs to keep happening.

    Having said that, here’s the thing: I’m not sure there’s much percentage in attempting to read (or criticizing the misreading of) authorial intent in a postmodern landscape; it is, as was just pointed out most eloquently by Greg Carpenter, the effect upon the reader that is the crux of the matter. This seems to be a point up with which the majority of comics commentators have not yet caught. Few of us can cast an eye over another Victoria’s Secret Catalogue swipe by Greg Land and truly know what was going through his head (if anything) when he ‘drew’ it, but most reasonable observers will conclude that the implication of the image’s composition is that hetero-normative sexual objectification is the best marketing strategy for a female franchise property. And that would fall into the ‘sad but true’ category, if a company’s only target demographic was adolescent boys and middle-aged men stuck in arrested development. Perhaps it is true in the case of superhero comics. But that doesn’t make it any less pathetic and insulting, and it doesn’t make this battle for (let’s face it) the dignity of women any less worth fighting.

    This brings me to my real point. If our goal is a culture of equality, is it fair to attack a critique of perceived sexism in comic art with a multitude of outraged intellectual surgical strikes? Possibly not. Should a male commentator be allowed to illuminate some perceived shortcomings and falsehoods in a feminist argument? Maybe. But the power differential of gender (still extant, even today) seriously tilts the playing field; women still have a hard run at centre field, and men need to step back and give some yards. Is it fair? Probably not, but guys, welcome to the culture women have endured since 1938. Until the day DC Comics makes good on their promise to give Wonder Woman pants, I will continue to applaud voices like Colin Smith’s.

    • You seem to be saying fairness isn’t at issue. I reject that personally and stand with fairness, no matter whom it helps. Screw reverse discrimination. However, I just don’t see that operating here.

      Just my two cents. Thanks for your comment, and I’m also glad we’re discussing these issues.

      • Ben Marton says:

        You’re right; it is reverse discrimination, in the same sense that the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ activists reverse discriminated against the so-called ‘job creators.’ Any moral choice is an act of discrimination, by the very definition of the word.

        Or, if you prefer, the pendulum’s gotta swing the other way for a little bit before it finds its equilibrium.

      • As a supporter of Occupy, I don’t believe that’s reverse discrimination. You’re of course free to disagree, but I don’t find it an apt analogy. Focusing on income disparity, and pointing out how Wall Street hasn’t paid for its role tanking the global economy, cannot be compared to, say, thinking it’s okay to hang a “no straights need apply” sign to justify the rampant homophobia of the past.

        And I think we should be mindful of the fact that “the pendulum’s gotta swing the other way” has historically been used to justify a lot of really terrible shit.

        Having said all of this, while I’m against reverse discrimination, I just don’t think that’s at issue here. I don’t see anything discriminatory against men in Thompson’s and Smith’s pieces.

        I think I’m with you. I certainly didn’t mean to pick a fight, and I’m sorry if it came off that way.

    • “is it fair to attack a critique of perceived sexism in comic art with a multitude of outraged intellectual surgical strikes? Possibly not. ”

      OTOH, what doesn’t kill the critiquers (and it’s very unlikely any of them will be killed or even shut down) might make them stronger.

  25. Ben Marton says:

    Well then, by your logic, Mr. Smith was doing you a favor.

    • Hardly. You can accuse me of misinterpreting Thompson as you like, but Colin Liar didn’t prove that I lied about her, whereas I’ve shown above that he lied on several occasions about me.

      There is a difference between taking an essayist’s stated position to an extrapolated conclusion– even if the essayist doesn’t agree with it (as Thompson did not) — and just making shit up for a complete hatchet-job.

      Even if I were the sexist that Colin Liar believes me to be, it’s my belief that outright lying is far worse than sexism.

      But since I’ve cited the examples of Colin Liar’s lies above, and no one’s responded, obviously no one here concurs that lying is a bad thing. As long as it’s against someone whose position you dislike, it’s OK.

      • I obviously don’t think lying is okay, and I hope I don’t have to state this for the record. But what I’ve seen has been claims of misrepresentation parallel to what Colin has asserted you have made about Thompson. I would prefer not to wade into that too much.

      • Nope, there’s no point in discussing the matter. I’m aware of the fuzzy area between a misinterpretation, a misrepresentation, and an outright lie.

        There is one indicator here that suggests that Colin Liar didn’t earn his praise due to the perspicuity of his arguments, thanks to the first poster on this thread:

        “read both of Gene’s articles, and I honestly didn’t give them a second thought, because I couldn’t figure out what he was trying to say.”

        For me, that says it all.

        YMMV.

  26. “Sorry to boil things down, and please correct me if I’m wrong.”

    Julian, you’re only wrong in apologizing for such spot on breakdown of this train wreck. I hope you had a beer after sorting all of this out. I’ve generally steered clear of this discussion, as frankly, I felt like I was having a flash back to the many times I’ve had to slog through the prose of Michel Foucault or Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. *Shudder*

    As you suggest, I did not read Thompson as painting with such broad brushstrokes to generalize the entire superhero genre; instead, I saw her pointing to a highly problematic trend that is continuing to rise. Had we been dealing with someone writing in absolute terms, I think most of us would agree with pointing out such logical fallacies. But again, I think you’ve laid out the arguments quite succinctly from what I’ve parsed together over the past few weeks.

  27. Julius,
    Your mini-response is everything Colin Liar’s was not. I’m sorry you didn’t write it in place of his, because I frankly think it has the tone to which Sequart or any related website ought to aspire, as opposed than a poorly-written farrago of baseless assumptions and suppositions. I find it a pleasure to disagree with you, whereas I only have contempt for the other fellow.

    I only have a few clarifications:

    “He seems to feel — Gene, correct me where I’m wrong — that it paints all super-hero comics with the same brush and that it seems to attack these as sexist or immoral. Whereas, in fact, these are tropes of the genre that aren’t uniform and shouldn’t be used to denigrate the entire genre.”

    You are correct, although the thrust of the first essay was to find fault with what I deem the fuzziness of Thompson’s definitions. I realize that she was responding to a position that some fans have actually stated– that the depiction of women and men was essentially equal– and that she wished to prove that a fallacy. And there’s no question that it is a fallacy. As the response-thread to Part 1 will show, I never have said that the sexualization is equal. I never objected to the assertion that some characters were drawn with “supermodel” bodies, or to the undeniable presence of the “brokeback” trope. But Thompson, in trying to combat one fallacy, perpetrated others, as when she complained about the amount of skin displayed by female characters when most male characters have their bodies just as much on display. It may well mean *something* that the men tend to be more covered up, but I don’t think it means what Thompson thought it meant.

    “And I think it’s fair to say that a large and seemingly increasing amount of super-hero comics present women in a way that is not only designed to appeal to hetereosexual male readers but also often connotes sexual submission.”

    It’s hard to say if hyper-sexualization is increasing or not, but I don’t necessarily agree that “sexual submission” follows from that even if it’s true. I would say that a work like CATWOMAN #1– on which you and I disagreed here– connotes rather “sexual availability,” as I didn’t see Catwoman being submissive at any point in that story. I will give Thompson credit for keeping her argument confined to physical depiction and not diverging off into “women in refrigerators” territory.

    “Because what this entire argument comes down to is that Gene sees Thompson as slurring an entire genre, and others see her as illuminating a trope without advocating any particular response to it.”

    That’s one of my objections, but I also had problems with her methodology. One of those problems that bothered me more than it did others here is that she didn’t identify the time-frame for her visual examples. One of the few I recognized was from 2001, so is that the baseline for her survey? I know, as does everyone else here, that hyper-sexualization had been going on longer than that, but her overview would have been on much sounder ground if she’d provided its parameters.

    I agree that she didn’t call for censorship, though as I stated I was uncomfortable with her holding out the carrot of greater financial success. I stated that I thought if authors made changes, they should do it because it felt like the right thing to do, not because it would make the comics more popular.

    • Thanks for a great response, Gene.

      I personally wouldn’t use the term “hyper-sexualization,” just because I’m not sure of what kind of scale that’s on. I do think, though, that these depictions are increasing… especially with the “new 52.” It’s just unimaginable that so many such depictions would have been published by DC or Marvel even a year prior. I think people are still shocked by that and sorting it out.

      We may disagree on the new Catwoman. You’re right that diegetically, she’s not submissive at all. But it’s one of those cases of tough “bad girl” who’s always semi-naked, or in these revealing poses… in the narrative, she’s a tough feminist, but on the page, she’s anything but. I think that’s what people are remarking about — not that these characters are submissive but that these presentations are, and that’s an extra-diegetic concern. (I’m borrowing your preferred terminology, and it works.)

      I think you’re right that Thompson’s isn’t a careful survey. It’s anecdotal. But that doesn’t mean it’s wrong. It certainly fits the impressions most readers and industry watchers have. Yeah, it’s not quantitative analysis, but I think it would be odd to insist on quantitative analysis in order to make such a critique. I love quantitative analysis, but it’s not insisted upon in such cases, even in academic journals.

      Just some thoughts.

  28. Ben Marton says:

    Okay, Gene, Colin, everybody…I’ll just come right out and say it. Then you can nod sagely and say “Yes. We thought as much…”

    I care just a little less about the specifics of Mr. Phillips’ concerns (and the specifics of Mr. Smith’s reactions to them) than I do about the broader issue at hand. Call it bias (that ‘unfairness’ that I explained oh so poorly), but this (the rampant adolescent sexual objectification of female characters) is something that trips my radar pretty regularly at the moment. So I’m inclined to do several things when this issue raises its ugly head: 1) take the side of those who decry it, sometimes at the expense of objectivity, 2) side against anyone who even comes close to what I perceive to be supporting or defending it (note that I said ‘what I perceive to be’), and 3) weigh in on the issue when possible in an attempt to keep the debate going, all in the hopes of hearing from others who agree with my position (let’s call this last one desperately trying to restore my faith in the possibility of a finer world, but it could just as easily be ego).

    Now, having said all that…I do still wonder what is to be gained by such exhaustive critical deconstruction of a technically imperfect yet perfectly morally justifiable piece, on an issue that is all too often shrugged off by (predominantly male) apologists. Sometimes, can a righteous cause outweigh journalistic integrity? It’s a big call, I know…

    • Fair enough, and more power to you for admitting it. That’s courageous, and I believe it’s through this that we might actually get somewhere.

      I don’t have the same response. I do respect it as a moral view. I just see these as inherently complicated issues.

      That doesn’t mean I’m impartial. But because I see these issues as complicated, my concern spurs more careful analysis, even to the point of paralysis.

      But like I said, we’re all engaged in our own biases here. Myself included.

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