"Justice League": Exploring How Superman Returns (Again)
Film, Comic Books
Oh, you know it’s true!
You know, I’ve never met Kelly Thompson. I’ve emailed her quite often, tweeted with her occasionally, received packages in the mail from her, reviewed her work, and read every single one of her columns for Comics Should Be Good! and listened to almost every single one of her podcasts (I think I may have missed one or two). I have read some of the rape threats and some of the death threats against her, but I know I haven’t read the worst of them because they get deleted before they get that far (we can read comments that haven’t been cleared yet, which is why I read some of them). I have disagreed with her and pissed her off once or twice, but like a lot of the people I “know” on-line, I think we have a fairly good virtual relationship. I keep bugging her to go to a convention in the West so that we can meet and have a beer, but she just stays in New York because she thinks it’s just that awesome.
I bring this up because Kelly writes things that I would never write and should never write, and I’m glad she’s doing it. She has staked out a position on this blog that encompasses “female issues in comics” – the name of her column is based on that, for crying out loud. She doesn’t always write about this, but she does quite often. I know she doesn’t want to write about it, but crap like the Infamous Manara Cover keeps coming up. And, inevitably, she gets lots of comments. They’ve gotten better, but they’re still probably more negative than positive. I don’t know how Kelly does it, frankly.
I rarely comment on Kelly’s posts, because I don’t have much to say. I don’t write often about so-called “controversial” issues, because I don’t care enough about it. I also don’t write about it because my opinion is invalid. Yes, you read right. My opinion, like a cow’s, is moo – it just doesn’t matter. Why doesn’t it matter? Because I’m a straight, white, American male – I am, I can say with confidence, a member of the least oppressed group in recorded history. I have never – NEVER – felt discriminated against, oppressed, judged unfairly, or made to feel less than human in any way whatsoever. Almost wherever I go in the world, my view of that world is the “norm” – the measure by which everything else is judged. Now, if I leave America, it’s the world view of whatever ethnicity is the dominant one, but it’s still generally a straight white male view, or at the very, very least, a straight male view. I went to Egypt and didn’t feel out of place. I went to Venezuela and didn’t feel out of place. I went to Barbados and didn’t feel out of place. I’ve been to North Philly and didn’t feel out of place. I go through life with the casual confidence that comes from knowing that I’m on top of the heap. I have never worried about cops pulling me over even if I’m not doing anything wrong. I have never been whistled at because I’m being reduced to a binary “hot or not.” I’m not apologizing for that, because I can’t help it, but it’s still true.
Which makes me the wrong person to write about Milo Manara’s cover for Spider-Woman #1. I saw it, thought, “Well, that’s kind of ugly,” and moved on. It didn’t have any effect on me whatsoever. I was a bit disappointed because I know Manara can do stuff like this:
… but it didn’t have any other impact. It did on Kelly, and so she wrote a column about it. You will notice, since many commenters didn’t appear to actually read the column, that she doesn’t have a huge problem with the Manara cover (I can see why you might miss it – it’s not like it was in the title or anything), because she knows who Manara is and what many people know him for. But she had an opinion about the general thought process at Marvel that led them to hire Manara to draw Spider-Woman in a pose that they had to know some people might find a bit overly sexual. Maybe they didn’t care. But they had to know it would stir the pot. Whatever, right?
I read the comments to Kelly’s posts, because they’re always fun to check out. Nothing brings out the opinionated like a challenge to the dominance of the straight white male paradigm. And boy howdy, Kelly’s posts almost always deliver. Now, many people agree with her, which is nice. But those that don’t bring up the old chestnuts:
Yeah, if only there were more comics aimed at horny dudes. I mean, the drop in the bucket of female-friendly comics is just crowding out the ones that appeal to horny dudes. Where will horny dudes find comics that satisfy them?!?!?!? This is an idiotic argument. If you can’t find a superhero book that appeals to men and need Spider-Woman for that, it’s not that you’re not trying hard enough, it’s that you’re not fucking trying at all.
That’s not a bad response, actually. It’s a question of subjectivity, and while wanting anatomy to work the “right” way in comics is generally a fool’s errand, you can argue the merits of whether Jessica would have her ass that high in the air and her buttcheeks spread out as wide as she does in Manara’s drawing. I think it’s a terrible drawing, but then again, I think most of Manara’s covers for Marvel have been pretty terrible, as it seems clear he’s phoning them in for a paycheck so he can continue drawing beautiful art in stuff that matters more to him.
Bwah-ha-ha-ha!!!! If you can find me a drawing of Spider-Man with his ass that high in the air (from that perspective) and his asscheeks spread that wide, I will pay you one shiny dime.*
* Note: I will not pay you a dime.
I’ll get back to this one.
Yeah, Manara is European, and we’re all a bunch of prudes, even though Kelly wrote that she specifically owns some Manara porn and presumably doesn’t have a problem with it. I’ve often noted that if Marvel wants to get into the business of producing comics with naked people in them, they should just nut the fuck up and do it. This ridiculous attempt to have it both ways is obnoxious.
I’ll get back to this one, too.
Those are generally how the comments break down, and I’d like to respond to those I didn’t already. First of all, if you’re reading comics for your hot chick fix, I worry about you. I hear rumors of some vast series of tubes, I think, or maybe it’s kind of like a net of some sort, where every filthy thing you can think is … caught? Because it’s a net? If only there was some kind of computer program where you type in something you wanted to find and it would just come up on your screen! Man, someone could make a few bucks if they could invent something like that. All I’m saying is, if you’re buying comics and taking them home for some … alone time, maybe you should think about … utilizing something else, because I’m afraid you’re a bit creepy. I read superhero comics for the thrill of the heroic (which is why I don’t read a lot of superhero comics anymore) and the fun of people fighting evil. I certainly don’t read them for Power Girl’s boob window or Zatanna’s fishnets or Black Widow’s unzipped leather.
The “If you don’t like it, you don’t have to buy it” criticism is linked to the “I read female-centric books, so why can’t you read male-centric books?” and even the “You didn’t respond to my criticism nicely, so that invalidates everything you said” response. Yes, it’s very true that if Kelly doesn’t like it, she doesn’t have to buy it. And yes, it’s true that men read female-centric books all the time (Lumberjanes RULEZZZZ!!!!). And yes, I will even grant you that Kelly is occasionally dismissive when she responds to criticism (not all the time, but every so often). The question is why she brings it up even if she’s not going to buy the book and why she is dismissive of people criticizing her. Very often, people bring up criticisms that she addresses in the very post, so those people are just there to whine about something a woman wrote. They are not interested in engaging with Kelly, and I think Kelly knows that, so why give them the time of day? I also think that Kelly suffers a bit from having her columns appear on the CBR front page a lot. Yes, the publicity (notoriety?) is neat, but as anyone who’s ever had a post go to the front page can tell you, a lot of people who don’t read the blog regularly show up and make noise. So if you’ve never read Kelly’s column before and don’t know where she’s coming from, you might think she glosses over things. But she’s been saying the same things for a while now, and I imagine it gets tiring starting at Square One for every post. If those people want to come over here and bitch, they should probably read more than just that column.
Kelly doesn’t need me to defend her, though, as she’s perfectly capable of doing that on her own. What is really amazing is that one commenter thought the response to Manara’s cover should have been written by a man, presumably because of course Kelly was going to bitch about it. Well, I don’t know about that – Kelly is not a monolithic representation of women (although some commenters think she is), and her column has always been just her opinion. I am acquaintances with a straight, happily married woman who loves looking at Playboy Playmates. I showed the Manara cover to my wife, and she shrugged it off. Every person responds to things differently – I know, what a concept. But here I am, a straight male, and I’ll tell you why it’s important even if Kelly – or anyone else for that matter – doesn’t have to buy it if they don’t like it:
This is just another stone in the mountain under which women are crushed.
No, on its own, the Manara cover isn’t that big a deal. But it’s part of the bigger problem, where a “minority” (yes, I know there are slightly more women than men, but we’re talking about power relationships here) is bombarded with images that perpetuate stereotypes about them. Why, for instance, does Scarlett Johansson have to be slinkier than Chris Evans in this poster:
The only reason is that she’s a woman. If that’s the only reason, it’s a shitty one. No one is going to see Captain America to see Scarlett Johansson be slinky. They’re going to see it to watch Cap and Black Widow and Falcon kick ass. Yet Johansson is the one who stands all sexily, even though Evans is pretty damned good-looking too, you know. As you might have noticed, I’ve been dropping covers into this post. They’re all from the last few months, and while none of them are egregious as some covers we’ve seen in the past and I did cherry-pick them, they all have things you would never see on a “men only” cover. There are never men who are sheltered from harm by other men or women, as Dagger is in the first cover. Men rarely wear clothing that doesn’t cover them and protect them from the bad guys – I guess the equivalent of those bathing suits that so many women wear would be shorts, but no superhero wears shorts, so why wouldn’t women cover up their legs? You never see a male superhero being rescued by a female one. Yes, it’s gotten better, but this is just the tip of the iceberg. Women deal with this shit all the time. ALL. THE. TIME. If you’re a sports fan, remember when Michael Sam got drafted and ESPN showed him kissing his boyfriend?
Remember how a bunch of straight people freaked out? I’m sure that all our hip readers are perfectly cool with it, but let’s say, for the sake of argument, that as a straight man, you were a bit uncomfortable with seeing two dudes kissing. It’s not a terribly enlightened attitude, but I get it. You saw that image for a few days, for a few minutes, and then it was pretty much gone from the media. Now imagine being bombarded with that image every day for hours on end for your entire life. That’s what it’s like to be a woman. Yes, many women are in charge at magazines that tell other women they need to lose weight and become gymnasts in the bedroom to keep their man. I get that. But that doesn’t mean that being shown those images every day for years and year doesn’t make you a bit grumpy about it. If Kelly is a bit dismissive of people who just don’t get that, that’s not really her problem.
Do I get a bit bummed out that straight white men on commercials and a lot of sitcoms are wildly buffoonish? Sure I do. But I have literally thousands of options for entertainment that don’t show men as buffoonish (and I don’t watch a lot of commercials anyway, because DVRs rule!!!!). I can’t say anything, because at the end of the day, no matter how buffoonish those men are, we’re still the ones making the fucking rules. You know all the commentators on the news channels talking about the Ferguson situation? All of those people were white. It didn’t matter if they were on Fox or CNN or MSNBC – they were all fucking white. What the hell do they know about it? How can they say that people shouldn’t riot when black people in this country are told every day that they’re not as important as white people? Frankly, I’m surprised there aren’t more riots. How can men tell women they’re overreacting when women are told every day that they’re not as important as men and they’re really only sex objects? And don’t fucking tell me that shit doesn’t happen in today’s enlightened age. Just going through my Facebook news feed over the past few days, I found a story about a woman who got death threats because she suggested that maybe women shouldn’t be treated so poorly in video games, while here’s a story about how performance reviews for women overwhelmingly mention personality flaws more than those for men, where they tend to focus on the work. This is insane. So I don’t think Kelly is going to shut up any time soon, nor do I think she should.
It’s interesting that she gets many more positive comments than she used to, which is nice. I’d like to think that more people are becoming aware of what it’s like to live a different life than they do. I can say that I never used to think about this stuff at all. I don’t think I was a douchebag, because my parents raised me well and I’m just not naturally a douchebag (although I’ll let people who know me tell me I’m wrong!), but I never really thought about my position in the hierarchy and those who weren’t white, straight, and male. Over the years I’ve become more aware of it, and I’ve gotten angrier at people who don’t understand their inherent advantages. It’s willful stupidity, and it’s kind of sad.
So that’s my rant. I like a good rant every once in a while!
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