Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Dr. Lepore, Meet Prof. Blanch

You've seen it, right? That ridiculous article Dr. Jill Lepore (author of The Secret History of Wonder Woman) wrote in the New Yorker, titled "Looking at Female Superheroes with Ten-Year-Old Boys" is devoid of context. She admitted that she was an academic, not a pop culture nerd, when she wrote her Wonder Woman book, and researching a single character from that angle is an interesting idea -- a fresh perspective, even. For this, she relies on a ten year old boy (and her own biases) for her information about the characters, because everyone knows young boys are right about everything.

Here's where I might have a few strong opinions*. To suggest that "they all look like porn stars" on the cover of A-Force #1 is completely ignorant, literally ignorant. One only had to survive comics in the 90s, in those dark "bad girls" days, to know what "porn stars" look like in a comics context. (See Lady Death, Witchblade, Avengelyne et al. if you want porn stars.)

"Their power is their allure, which, looked at another way, is the absence of power. Even their bodies are not their own. They are without force." There's another utterly stupid thing to say. First of all, technically, none of their bodies are their own, because all of the characters are subject to the whims of the artists and writers currently on the books; that is true of male and female characters. Secondly, she knows nothing about these characters, what their stories are, to be able to say something like that with conviction. She-Hulk, for example, has a helluva lot of agency. She's a character who's had love affairs (often disastrous ones), plus a career, plus be a hero... Jen Walters rocks! She's big and green and has mighty cleavage, but is having boobs a sin now? I have a pretty substantial rack, too. Perhaps I should start binding my chest, since that seems to be a bad thing.

It's true that a lot of the female characters were created as female mirrors to the male, often to lock down the trademarks so no one else could. It's also true that for a lot of their histories, these female characters have been portrayed in a very male-gazey sort of way. But to suggest they have no power, no force, is bullshit. Plus, things are changing. To take these characters and "reclaim" them for a new generation of comics readers is a good thing. If she can't see that, then she's also not paying attention to what the industry is trying to do, even though she admits that's what Marvel is trying to do.

The snide attitude throughout the whole article prompted me to remove the Wonder Woman book from my Amazon wish list. I don't like the stuck-up tone that vibrates off the screen, and if that's how she wrote The Secret History, I'll pass. (And frankly, the clumsy way she stuck that barely-contextual Marston research in the middle of the Marvel/A-Force article, doesn't give me much faith in her abilities, either.)

I suggest that Jill Lepore needs to take a class or three from Christy Blanch at the first opportunity, if (soon to be Dr.) Blanch gets another Super MOOC going. Lepore could learn an awful lot in a Gender and/or Social Issue Through Comic Books class. Assuming her Ivy League tower would let her lower herself that far...

You can be an academic without being a jerk about it. You can be nerdy and geeky and talk about Batman's PTSD and whether or not race-changing affects characters for good or ill. My fellow Super MOOC "graduates" do it every day, in a very civilized and academic way, discussing everything from video game portrayals to gendered toy aisles to mental health in comics. And not one of us has that snarky, superior tone that Lepore does, because she clearly thinks comics are not really worth discussing seriously, and it shows.

I hope she reads the open letter Leia Calderon wrote her. I hope she reads G. Willow Wilson's piece, too. Frankly, I don't care if she reads this or not. She won't like what she reads here, and she wouldn't take me seriously anyway; I'm only a B.S.†, not a Ph.D.

*I always have strong opinions. Ask anyone.
†Bachelor of Science, Psychology, with minors in Philosophy & Sociology

No comments: