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.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

The Sun Urges Brits of all Faiths That Wear Union Jack Hijabs to Stand up to Extremists.

The Sun's cover yesterday saw them rallying their friends in 'all faiths' that wear hijabs to stand up against ISIS. So, that's erm, Muslims then.

Tell you what, if I was a British Muslim, I wouldn't waste time 'uniting against ISIS' to appease a bunch of blowhards demanding 'whose side are you on?' In fact, if I was previously planning on publically denouncing Muslim extremists (where and specifically how to do the denouncing, The Sun doesn't explain) I sure wouldn't do it now. The Sun's crass cover image and self-righteous bullying in the guise of 'friendly urging' certainly isn't a fair way to encourage anyone. It looks a lot more to me like a fait accompli to justify the unpleasantness that will be unleashed upon the brown people of Britain if they don't do as we say. It gives a new meaning to the phrase 'veiled threat'. It's that drunk guy at the pub that asks you why you've got them tunnels through your ears, or starts slavering over your girlfriend, but thinks it's OK because he's smiling when he does it. And after beating someone up he wakes up in the morning as says 'well, I was just having a laugh, but he had to get lippy'.

If I was a British Muslim, I'd feel pretty unwelcome in my country over the last few years and damn sick of the white 'silent majority' going on about me, not quite silently enough that I can't hear. I certainly wouldn't be waiting for them to tell me what it is they want me to do for them, in order to disprove my allegiance to a terrorist organisation I never pledged allegiance to. The fact that this is 'expected' of Muslims by The Sun and its white readers - on their own utterly arbitrary terms - is typically pig-headed of a newspaper whose lack of credibility or self-awareness has been exposed time and again... and yet for some reason people still draw comfort from its bile. These are people who have shown no friendship, empathy or tolerance of Muslim communities before this and have no real frame of reference for their culture or faith, other than what they contrive and distort. And now it's all 'we're mates right? We've always been mates. Well here's what I need you to do'.

A person of all faiths
A British person of all faiths, yesterday.

Tell you what The Sun, How about we urge Brits of all colours to stand up to racists? How about ridding ourselves of the 'Britain First' culture that reacts to abhorrent behaviour from a Muslim with a racial slur, then reacts to the same behaviour from a white person with the word 'chav'? A culture you and the tabloids exacerbate, aggravate and profit from? Then we can have an adult conversation about Islam, warts and all. Without us having to tolerate these printed hypocrisies day in, day out, people might be able to distinguish the signal from the noise. The we can begin to talk through the specifics of what place misogynistic, illiberal and violent perversions of Islam have in this country without tripping over ourselves to keep things tolerable for the thousands upon thousands that go about their day, run their businesses, eat their tea, and worship Allah. I look forward to that day.

It goes back to the very simple statement I made to people complaining about the 'kid gloves' approach to Muslims in the Rotherham situation; without racism, there is no anti-racism. The reason legislation and political correctness puts ugly red tape all over this country is basically an attempt to redress the the balance of a system historically rife with prejudice, bigotry and, yes, flat-out racism. And that Catch 22 is significantly perpetuated by tabloids that rake this muck up out of everyday people's bins and serve it back to them in the morning. This situation is the utter mess we're left with. This is why we can't have nice things. Not because of Muslims refusing to denounce terrorists we've erroneously and arrogantly assumed stand for 'them' in the first place.