Monday, 20 October 2014

My Reaction to 'Spider-Woman's Big Ass is a Big Deal'

I finally got around to reading The Best Page in The Universe's appraisal of the Spider-Woman cover controversy, which had been recommended and derided to me in equal measure over the last few weeks. On reading it, I got exactly what I expected. To catch up, if you haven't already, you can read a rather more measured appraisal of the Spider-Woman butt controversy on The Guardian.

Parts of it I actually agree with. I definitely concur that once the internet furore among the feminist blogs got blazing, a lot of the criticism of the cover lacked the anchor of the image's context within the rest of comic art. But I consolidated that with the fact that sometimes an issue just needs a 'straw that breaks the camel's back' like this particular cover to bring it to wider attention. At the time, I certainly wasn't ready to take sides and, as with anything on the internet, tried to enjoy and learn from the intelligent debate around the issue, and ignore the ignorance.

But after reading the Maddox blog, I was left in the odd position of agreeing with him but utterly troubled by his means of making his argument - the shaming, blanket generalisations and attacks against people who object to 'this kind of thing' that I've seen time and again. If anyone vocalising unease with certain aspects of entertainment being too misogynistic, homophobic, racially provocative or whatever is going to be lumped into a group of grey, borderline-fascist do-gooders then I've got a few generalisations of my own about the way that a certain type of men on the internet tend to react to reasonable criticism. I've seen many of these arguments on my own Facebook wall recently when I voiced concern about a misjudged joke on a cartoon or bemoaned the commissioning of a TV show by a comedy actor who uses aggressive, sexualised insults on complete strangers. Frothing-at-the-mouth, PC bastard I am.

Dapper Laughs
Knock knock. Who's There? Moist.
 First is that argument about 'don't like it, don't watch it', that simultaneously skirts - and misses - the issue. Just as an American who uses the expression 'Freedom of Speech' to justify deplorable views will quickly be reminded that with that freedom of speech comes our freedom of a suitable response, you don't have to subscribe to a comic or own the DVD box-set to participate in a critical analysis of its content and influence. We have the freedom to watch what we want, just as we have the freedom to respond to it. The irony of the 'don't like it, don't watch it' brigade is that people who use that defence are so often the same ones to argue about how much influence the media - read, too much - has on the West in terms of our outlook, attitudes and lives in general. So why is it so hard to join those dots? If something misogynistic, racist, or homophobic is within our mainstream media, people object to the issue of its influence and effect of 'normalising' certain behaviour. You can minimise it by calling it 'taking offence' or 'being PC' if you must, but it can't be dismissed with 'don't watch it then' because, just like blaming drunk women for their own rapes, the culture it creates affects us all whether we like it or not.

Secondly, I think the straw man 'initiative' of drawing every image of Spiderman as Spider-Woman is the typical internet hardcore-gamer mentality; dodge the issue, move the goalposts, jump on the attack and use a technicality to belligerently, but entertainingly, shame the argument of the opposite party. Instead of listening to their opponent's points and creating a coherent retort, they frame a nuanced argument as a 'game' in which they can use their Photoshop prowess to 'win' rather than a debate where you can learn from each other. Changing Spiderman into Spider-Woman uses a lot of smoke and mirrors but ultimately proves nothing - whether I agree that the Spider-Woman cover crosses a line or not, I can clearly see the difference between that and Spiderman in terms of the sexualisation of that image. I can't believe I'm having to explain it, because we all know it's there. There's a kinetic dynamism in the Spiderman images. There's a sexual slither in the Spider-Woman image. It's the work of a great artist that can bring that out. And I'm not saying I ultimately object to a sexy female comic character in context... but spare me the bullshit that it's all the same thing. I've read super hero comics since the age of four. While you might be able to draw Spider-Woman in a pose that looks the same as Spiderman, that doesn't make women any more equal or make you 'right'. Engaging and sharing your views about the issue, standing by your point while conceding ground, compromising and teaching... that's what makes you 'right'.


Spider Woman's Ass
The 'image game' can work both ways.
I don't want to tell people how to think. And I don't always agree with the leftist, liberal 'voices' he wildly generalises about in this article - but I'm really fucking glad they're there. And while you're going to get people like Maddox that dig their heels in, if the 'Social Police's influence is a drip-drip-drip of producers thinking twice before going with the lazy over-sexualisation of women in comics, or hiring people like Sam Pepper for TV shows, then I for one applaud them for their vigilance and pressure. Ultimately, the entertainment aspect of mainstream media is more interesting and enjoyable for all of us if women aren't lazily characterised as sex objects or damsels in distress. Paradoxically, Marvel's progressive use of female characters in many of their lines is one of the main reasons why their comics have been consistently kicking DC's arse critically for the past decade. Whether, depending on your perspective, it's a scandal or a non-issue that they chose to run this particular cover, what it has demonstrated, once again, is that a certain section of males are still shamefully unable to deal with valid accusations in a reasonable way.