Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Romans brought devastation, but they called it peace

Following links surrounding the "BUT YOU CAN'T PUBLISH MY RACIST REJECTION LETTER!", I came across a beautiful gem from Betty Candy on The Hathor Legacy.

The essay is entitled; Why film schools teach screenwriters not to pass the Bechdel test. Wikipedia 'Bechdel Test' with 'Dykes to Watch Out For' if you need a definition. This essay is simply beautiful, simply brilliant but not for the obvious reason. You see this essay exemplifies to me the mentality of dominant comic book industry powers. And it's summed up beautifully in this part of the final paragraph.

There was no way Hollywood really believed what it was saying about boys who’d grown up with Ellen Ripley and Sarah Connor as action heroes, and so there was no way to change the system from within. I concluded Hollywood was was dominated by perpetual pre-adolescent boys making the movies they wanted to see, and using the “target audience” - a construct based on partial truths and twisted math - to perpetuate their own desires. Having never grown up, they still saw women the way Peter Pan saw Wendy: a fascinating Other to be captured, treasured and stuffed into a gilded cage. Where we didn’t talk. To each other. About anything other than men.

Why does Dust's niqāb and modest dress, incorrectly referred to in panels as a burqa, have to tug at her body to show the round fullness of her breasts against the black cloth, or pull against the curve of her ass or drape tightly near her waist?

Because Dust is an exotic female other.

Why do female superheroines wear bathing suits without even a modest skirt flap, or not wear pants, or like Misty Knight are portrayed as bra-less with ample bosoms drawn bouncing (despite her level of physical activity, her having been a former cop, or the pull against the flesh her bionic arm would have on her pectoral muscles)?

Because they might be heroes but they're secondary and they should be a bit of decoration and titillation while the real heroes, the white male heroes are getting things done.

Inconvenient and useless peepholes to the navel or chest? Fighting THONGS despite the factual reality of gravity and ride ups? Apparently male heroes think ahead enough to wear a cup to protect themselves in battle. But Wonder Woman, among others, has to stop mid-fight to pick her thong out of her genital cracks or misplace a kicking blow because something just pulled very uncomfortably around her nether lips.

More distasteful and painful for me, within this beautifully rounded theory is the realization that when these men were growing up, there WERE NO minority characters in prominence. So their continued fantasies don't include PoC, or homosexuals, transexuals or the disabled and certainly not anyone over a certain age. These are the fantasies of youth!

Batman Beyond was more ground breaking than I realized when I was watching it on Saturday mornings. Bruce was old but still extremely vital. As was Barbara Gordon! Max was black and female and a genius! Even if she was underused. Dana was Japanese. And even if I couldn't stand her - interracial relationship right there! And Epilogue shows she stayed with Terry to the end (quite possibly life became easier once he told/or she learned of the truth).

So it's not all of this old guard filled with perpetual Peter Pans. But it is enough. Enough that Vixen can't be dark skinned because dark skinned women were never in the youthful sexual fantasies of those now in power. And there's no need for them to pay attention to the message they're sending of "All black men look alike", when they make all the black male heroes bald and only discernible via their costume/colours. Because only politics is forcing them to include black male characters into their power fantasies as other than comic relief and lackeys. So black heroes get stuck in the background as scenery so they don't intrude into the fantasy any more than is absolutely necessary.

Gays? Nonexistent. They never fantasied about queers.

The disabled? Matt Murdock can see via other senses and Barbara Gordon used to be a librarian so she's used to sitting on her ass all day. Do note too that Barbara in a wheel chair didn't come alive as a three dimensional character until Gail Simone 1 because her childhood fantasies sure as hell included a whip-smart woman and a whip smart woman wouldn't let her still functioning brain go to waste.

Transexuals? Please. They're only good for odd bodyswitching arcs for a good laugh. Cause 'eeewh'.

Polynesians? uhmmm What?

East Asians? Hey, we have kungfu masters! Ok, kung fu master who teach white guys! But they're there doing their job, giving the Western world a mystical edge!

South Asians? ...? What's a South Asian?

Middle Easterners? Aren't they always the enemy? We've got plenty of bad sheiks.

North Africans? Say what? Huh, Egypt's in Africa?? Well I guess we have a couple mystical Egyptian powers somewhere, granted to white folk. But that's all mummy's and crap. Oh, Morocco is in North Africa? They have all those women in the mysterious sexy clothing. Total scene background.

South Africans? This isn't a political comic.

Over at K-Box in the Box, Kirk's been keeping track of the sales of Brand New Day. They're not good. And there's talk pooled in corners of the blogsphere about the division growing in Spidey fans because one man got the chance to re-create from scratch his adolescent fantasy about his hero.

In a follow up essay, Betty Candy goes on in another brilliant piece of layered out thinking to discuss the perpetuation of biases and promotion of pro Anglo Westernism and how laziness and stubbornness prevents industry from mining profit from disenfranchised groups.

Laziness and stubbornness .... put them in a pot, stir them around what do you get? Fear of change.

I had someone anonymously comment to one of my recent posts that 'being PC is thought control and changes language by cutting out and forgetting words and phrases'. I'm summarizing, mind you because they sure as hell aren't getting a direct c/p for such tripe. Tripe, because languages change! English wouldn't exist if German and Latin hadn't changed, if Greek hadn't changed. Dutch wouldn't exist if German hadn't changed. The languages that don't change, DIE. Languages also die, because the people who speak it were ignored or killed. A living language often means a living people, non-stagnant, a growing, evolving civilization.

The language of film is stagnant at the core, around the edges, in independents and minority supported festivals it's changed and so lives and grows.

The language of comics is also stagnant at the core. Around its edges are small supported projects, trickles, where there's growth and diverging pathways, where new words are discovered and shared and with it new ways of seeing the world.

I can't help thinking about the fact that Rome fell. It didn't fall in a day. But fall it did and now we have what's left after the ravages of the Dark Ages took their due. There are monuments and clues and hints as to this great civilization and the amazing thought they had at the time. But then they stagnated; they dismissed and tried to ignore others, the need to change, the fact that some words, some concepts would need to be put aside in order for new growth,like a plant that needs pruning, Change was smothered; and while it struggled for breath, it was maybe even laughed at.

The world is changing. The audiences are changing and becoming more global. Film should change. Publishing should change. Comics, should change. They should expand and incorporate. They should be more than the old glory dreams of a priviledged few, who fiddle while it all burns around them.


1. I am corrected by LurkerWithout, who's been corrected by Elayne   Re: Simone & Ostrander / ie Kim Yale (Ostrander).

I <3 my readership! I<3 that I have readership.


  1. One minor quibble (and it is VERY minor) in that Ostrander is the one who made Barbara Gordon into Oracle in "Suicide Squad". But excellent essay...

    It reminds me that I need to look over the characters in my own fiction (if I ever get back to writing it) and ask myself "Is this character white/straight/etc? Why? Would it work better differently? The same? Worse?"

  2. Lurker:

    Footnoted that you corrected me :)

    As for you taking a good look at your writing, I'm going to tell you right now something you're going to run into. People are going to look at your story and go "Hey, it's great, this or that needs a bit more research but it's great. One question though, why is the character black/gay/partially deaf in one ear? It doesn't add anything to the story."

    In other words, be prepared for others to be shocked that you question white, able bodied, heterosexual (and male) as the default.

  3. Lurker is almost right. It was Ostrander's late wife (and my hero) Kim Yale who made Barbara Gordon into not only Oracle but a really interesting person. John has discussed that a few times on ComicMix where he writes a weekly column. Kim totally kicked ass, but alas she couldn't kick breast cancer, and since her death Oracle was pretty misused and underdeveloped. Gail did okay with her (my husband inked a number of those Birds of Prey issues that Gail wrote), but as someone who remembers her under Kim's direction I'm still waiting for someone who can really do her justice.

  4. Some magnificent writing from both you and Betty Candy, there. I think I understand better now why certain necessary changes are not happening in the way that they ought...

    I read an article just this morning which plays into this. It was about the phenomenon of cognitive dissonance, and how miscarriages of justice sometimes get perpetuated even when the truth is known because the powers that be do not accept facts which contradict their image of themselves as dispensers of justice. I think that's very similar to the points made in Betty Candy's article about how Hollywood thinks of itself as liberal and right-on, and thus is able to cloak its discrimination from its own sight with a bunch of lies, damned lies and statistics.

    The article I read is here, and it recommends a book about this very phenomenon, Mistakes Were Made, But Not By Me. I'm going to have to look for that.

    Going back to the film industry, the whole thing is very sad and frustrating. I love film. So much. Just as I love comics. I read Understanding Comics at long last, and I've never been so excited before about what the medium can do. It's very sad that the people who are often its gatekeepers limit it because they've never challenged the archetypes they grew up with.

  5. Angeline:

    I read the article and I found myself thinking of racism. Race has been on my mind a lot the last few days, with Luke, and William Sanders and others. And this article points out a sharp aspect of white guilt, to me.

    Someone says something racist.

    It gets called out.

    They immediately think: But I'm a good person. And I didn't -mean- to insult them. I didn't know. I don't go around hanging people or making them sit behind me on the bus. This has to be being blown out of proportion. I'm a good person. They're the racist one, for bringing this up to try and make me seem like a bad person. They're playing the race card to make it seem like I did something wrong, so they can get away with damning on me. Well I won't stand for it! They can go fuck themselves!

    And then the person never learns squat or diddly.

    Luke, by the way has reached the point of 'But I'm a good person, despite apologising /excusing racist remarks. People who know me in real life say I'm ok.'. I don't think Luke's going to walk away from this whole experience with a greater knowledge of the pervasiveness of racism.

    It's not just racism, btw the way. I'm thinking cognitive dissonance happens in regards to other isms.

    "I'm not homophobic just because I don't want to think about it. And who said I jumped to the sexual thoughts. They're the nasty perverts bringing it up."

    I'm perhaps more familiar with the term after several years in therapy and realizing that it was how I reconciled certain incidents in my past. Children who have things happen to them switch cognitive dissonance around and believe they are the bad ones because surely the person they love can't be bad and only bad people hit/hurt/etc. Therefore they had to have been deserving of the action.

    But there's a difference between accepting blame that's not yours and being too tied up in your own concept of yourself to pay attention to the hurt you've caused someone else or added to society.

    Understanding their reactions better doesn't bring me any sympathy for it.

    Quick PS:

    In terms of comics and heroines in particular, I'm sure you've heard various creators talk about how they have daughters as if this somehow absolves them. I think they're actually so removed from their actions that they think it does. They think having individual women in their life that they respect in those moment to moment real life interactions is ALL of who they are on the topic of equality. And anyone who says they have issues is deluded, because that just didn't fit into their self concept profile.

  6. I'm curious--when you say film, are you referring to the entire form, or are you focusing on American movies, or SF stuff? (That's what you usually write about, American SF and POC issues, correct?) In a general sense, I'd say that your claims, in relation to current American cinema, are pretty spot on--but if you're referring to global cinema as well, I can't really see it. Eastern European film, South American--excepting obvious tripe, the general output from a lot of non-American creators operates more from an art first/producer second mentality. (That's the way I see it, obviously I could be wrong.)

    Just curious, and if the article makes the distinction clear, apologies for missing it.

  7. Tucker:

    The article I link to discusses American production and screen writing and one of my tags/labels for the essay is movies:hollywood. I do have a separate tag for movies: hong kong cinema. And I will add other differentiation as things occur.

    I can't comment on South American film making, for example, since I don't follow it enough / study it enough. Or European film making. I've spent the past five or so years consciously observing media in the US. I feel qualified to speak as a layperson and consumer on it.

    On Hong Kong Cinema I tend to speak as a squeeful fan. And on on East Asian, East Asian Indian and South Asian Cinema I'm just beginning to pay more critical attention.

    Oh! I do make less distinction on animation and cgi animation as I try to follow that globally as much as I can.

    If you want to discuss film, Betty Candy's entries might be the better place, however, as I did turn things very much towards the comic industry here.

  8. Tx. was more curious about your thoughts on it, i'm not as in love with the Betty Candy entry, it's a bit too anecdotal for my taste.

  9. Had not heard that about Ostrander's late wife. Good to know. And sad to hear that she died of breast cancer. Man, is cancer just really common among comics types or is it that its such a relatively small community that its more noticeable?

  10. Lurker:

    It's either the ink, or yes comicdom is a relatively small community so it's much more noticeable. I've noticed a lot of cancer in media fandom as well. I think it's the concept of self made villages, therefore you do actually know or have heard of these people, thus making things seem closer.

  11. Tucker:

    I'll get back to you about the movie industry. I need to think about it some more. Personally I was surprised at your use of anecdotal to describe Betty's essay. I'm not sure if what I have to say would be any less anecdotal.