Friday, August 30, 2013

Cute Sexy Blond She-Ra Amazon Fighter Girl Babe

That's the name of an auction listing. Actually the full listing title is "CUTE SEXY BLOND SHE-RA AMAZON FIGHTER GIRL BABE Action Figurine Figure Statue" -- because, ya gotta get all your keywords in there. Fine, whatever... but what I really found annoying was the photo he chose as the main one for the listing, the one you see in your list of search results:

I removed the seller's username and location because I don't think he needs any more attention.
It's a butt-shot. Of an action figure. /facepalm

Now, I could almost tell myself that he was doing this to show the Mattel mark on her back, except when I look at his other listings, and then narrow those using his keyword of "sexy" within the action figure listings, my search results look like this:

157 listings that are "sexy" *sigh* -- and that's just the action figures I don't think it has anything to do with She-Ra's maker's mark. Scrolling down the first page of the results, there's even this tasteful photo:

The photos for this item are especially obnoxious...
A crotch-shot. /headdesk

Now I know some people are going to say I'm being too sensitive. That these are plastic toys and therefore I can't be offended by how he chooses to photograph his items for sale. And besides, he calls some of the male figures "beefcake" so there's equal sexualization:

40 results for beefcake and not one single butt-shot
Lots and lots of people have argued about the false equivalence inherent in the "males are objectified, too" argument. David Willis' Shortpacked! webcomic illustrates the point well. We could discuss the concept of the "male gaze" in various media from comics to movies to video games. But what it boils down to for me is this: he is selling a whole lot of action figures, and taking many product photos (which is a good thing for a buyer), but the ones he uses for the main photos that show up in the search list are really porny. In fact, a lot of the shots he takes of the female figures resemble a Penthouse photo shoot. The fact that he's taking so many shots of the female figures, and far less of the male figures (3-4 for the males, 6+ of the females) tells me that he knows very well that "sex sells."

The seller has a high feedback rating, and many sales. He puts time and effort into the listings; some even have that annoying automatic MIDI music in the background. The photographs are good, in-focus and clear (some have unfortunate shadows, but overall they're far better than most product shots on ebay). He hasn't broken any rules that I have seen. The listing titles are a little spammy, but there's nothing really wrong with any of the listings I looked at. I think his pricing is a little out of line for loose figures, but that's not against any rules, either. 

So if he's not doing anything wrong with the listings, and has better-than-average photos for those listings, what the hell is my problem? What makes it problematic (for me) is the focus on body parts and "hotness." Boob shots, and lots of 'em. Butt shots, likewise. Even Aunt May gets the sexist treatment: "SPIDER-MAN'S SEXY OCTOGENARIAN AUNT MAY HOT BABE CHICK GIRL Statue Action Figure." (No, really, that's what it says.) It's the overall tone of objectification (which, when you think about it is pretty impressive: he has objectified an object even more than it already was!) that rubs me the wrong way. Will I report him? Of course not! Walking the line of what is "good taste" is a completely subjective point of view. Will I give him any of my money? Nope! (Although it hasn't escaped me that by giving him any attention at all might generate more sales for him.)

What do you think? Porny, or just attention-grabbing? After all, it got mine!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Yes, Actually, My Gods DO Wear Spandex

Our Gods Wear Spandex: The Secret History of Comic Book Heroes
©2007 by Christopher Knowles
Illustrated by Joseph Michael Linser
Published by Weiser Books (I think it's worth pointing out that Weiser Books is an established New Age/Occult book publisher, not your typical publisher for books about superheroes.)

When I saw this at Half Price Books, I was pretty excited. I was taking the Gender Through Comic Books MOOC and this seemed like just another way of looking at comics. The problem is, this book just doesn't hit the mark.

This is my full Amazon review (2 stars):
I wanted to like this book. Unfortunately, it reads like it was excerpted from Wikipedia articles, and I never felt the author had any real expertise or serious knowledge of the subject. The work is superficial at best, and in some cases wrong-headed. (For example, he lists Batman as being a Golem archetype. I have no idea where he's getting that crazed idea, even after reading it. The Thing, the Hulk maybe, but BATMAN?? No.) The brief section on female superheroes focuses a great deal on two things: 1) Marston (who created Wonder Woman) was into bondage and a polygamist, and 2) girls don't really read comics. Even though he quotes from The Great Women Superheroes (Trina Robbins -- a must-read), I'm not sure HE read it with any real comprehension.

The connection to the mystic/religious is spare. He spends so much time discussing Madame Blavatsky and Aleister Crowley (and others) as well as various secret societies like the OTO, but never draws strong relationships from those mystic orders to the majority of the heroes he mentions. Superman is a Messiah figure. Hawkman comes from Egyptian mythology. But these assertions are not explored, examples are not given. I've had more in-depth conversations about these same characters in message boards.

Save your money and strike up a conversation with the folks at your local comic book shop.

It took me months to finish this book; it was just not at all engaging. Seriously, the "Amazons" chapter is a measly ten pages, and two of those are full-page illustrations. He wants to show our gods wearing spandex? He barely touches on Wonder Woman's close ties to the Greek pantheon before going back to bondage references. This paragraph beautifully illustrates why I don't like this book:
Whatever Wonder Woman's feminist virtues, the fact remains that she is a scantily-clad beauty taking part in stories engineered to appeal to bondage fetishists. To read Marston and Peter's Wonder Woman adventures is to confront stories that are absolutely drenched in transgressive sexuality and rendered in a style that betrays a distinctly decadent influence. And Wonder Woman's favorite exclamation is "Suffering Sappho," a reference to the poet laureate* of Lesbos. (p. 163)
He completely ignores so much of her history and creation to focus on Marston's personal life. And if he has so much bias and misinformation in discussing Wonder Woman, where else has Knowles glazed over history with his own beliefs? When I told my husband that he'd labeled Batman a Golem, he told me that he could see where Knowles came to that conclusion but that was really stretching it. Perhaps he's worked in the comics industry for 20 years, but he's no scholar, and his research and analysis are unimpressive.

The only thing I'll give Knowles a pass on is for not mentioning that Frederic Wertham's Seduction of the Innocent† was debunked by Carol Tilley at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. He gets a break only because Tilley hadn't yet published her paper, "Seducing the Innocent: Fredric Wertham and the Falsifications that Helped Condemn Comics" (Information & Culture, Nov/Dec 2012, vol. 47, no. 4).

* Sappho was never a poet laureate of anywhere, as far as I know. Contemporary poets of her time were known to revile her.

Seduction of the Innocent was the book that claimed comics were destroying youths, published in 1954, and was also responsible for the creation of the Comics Code Authority.

Fairy Tales, Marketing, and Heroines

I just finished an online class, a MOOC* at Canvas Network, called Fairy Tales: Origins and Evolution of Princess Stories, taught by Dr. Kevin Yee. This was a shorter course than the Gender Through Comic Books that I took previously, and not as in-depth as I would have liked, but it was only 4 weeks. There was some attention paid to the modern retelling of these stories through the practically ubiquitous Disney movies. In many cases, the Disney version is they only version people know well. I'm not a fan of the message that Disney is selling.

Here's my criticism of Disney, no matter who's at the helm of the company but primarily after Disney's death. Marketing has driven the direction of these movies. Marketing experts determined that if you "brand" your item as for girls or for boys, it will make more money. So instead of having wonderful movies for children (like The Rescuers, which I saw in a theater when I was 7), we have movies that are explicitly for boys or for girls. That brings us to movies that lack male or female characters, depending on which "brand" you're watching. In Planes, faster planes deride slower planes as being "ladies" because they're slower -- message? Being a girl is not as good as being a boy (or a man). If there is a female character in a boy's movie, then she's background only, or perhaps what other writers have called a "minority feisty" - an apparently strong female character thrown in so no one can say there are no female characters. I think this is also problematic of the princess genre movies, with a near-complete lack of male characters in some, and with his role being the most crucial one -- to save the princess, and the day (see Sleeping Beauty). The movie is about the girl, but she's still passive and in need of rescuing; another horrible message for modern girls.

The villain has more agency† than the supposed heroine of the story.
(Maleficent as the dragon, in Sleeping Beauty)
We read through some of these old stories, hundreds of years old: Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, Rapunzel, the Frog Prince, Cinderella, the Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast. They are fascinating to study and read, as well as entertaining, but their messages are not necessarily ones that should be taught to impressionable young children. Brave was important because it was our first really feminist heroine. And just like those of us who are clamoring for a Wonder Woman movie (15 live-action Batman and/or Superman movies, fifteen!), many of us would like to see more stories like Brave for girls AND for boys. That women can be strong and interesting characters is an important message for boys, using feminine epithets to insult other boys is not.

Pop quiz! Which of these girls has agency?
I believe that people who present things for the consumption of a young audience have a responsibility to those kids. Positive messages include things like working together, personal growth, keeping promises, being true to oneself... Why does everything have to be pink and blue?! You can have your message, tell your story, in a framework that is meant for all children, not just half of them at a time.

I have had some issues with Disney for years, before my daughter was born, but now I can see the potential damage of the same message of passivity/inferiority over and over again from them. And the gendered marketing juggernaut that is Disney just gets bigger and bigger.

StrideRite -- girls skip and twirl, boys are powerful;
blogger Margot Magowan is through with you.
I think what puzzles me the most is why so many people don't see what I see. I know there are other bloggers who do -- lots of them, in fact -- but the opposition to our opinions is harsh and swift. It's a backlash against feminist thought, and the "make me a sandwich" trolls abound. So many people are critical of those of us who bother to speak out about this. I was enormously criticized for daring to post on Target's Facebook page about the pink/blue pegboards in the toy department. People suggested I find better (more important) things to worry about. What's more important than our kids? It starts so small... indoctrinating that pink/blue dichotomy is the first step. When they're toddlers, we introduce them to Disney. Girls get the Princesses, boys get Toy Story and Cars (with active male characters). When they're older, they get Spider-Man and the Avengers. The message is repeated over and over, and eventually, some of those girls are going to believe the hype: girls are passive, boys are active. Do I blame Disney for this? Not entirely, but they have certainly played a large role in this. In their quest to make money, girls have gotten sold a bill of goods. It's one of the reasons I was so horrified that Disney purchased Lucasfilm... was Princess Leia -- arguably one of the modern age's best heroines -- going to be Disneyfied? She's already a princess, but are they going to make her a passive Disney princess? I guess we'll find out.

* Massive Open Online Course
† Agency: when an individual is free to make choices and to act independently on them; Aurora lacked agency because she was "cursed" to find a spinning wheel and forced into that long sleep

Friday, August 23, 2013

Why I'm Irritated with Batfleck

It's not just that I think Ben Affleck is all wrong for Batman (I do), it's that Batman and Superman have already had so many feature films that it's ridiculous.
  • Batman (movies, live action): 1966, 1989, 1992, 1995, 1997, 2005, 2008, 2012
  • Superman (movies, live action): 1951, 1978, 1980, 1983, 1987, 2006, 2013
Sixteen in all, if you count the movie Affleck has been tapped for. And we can't get a single Wonder Woman movie???


Seriously, DC and Warner Brothers clearly do not have their fingers on the pulse of reality. Here's what Diane Nelson said about Wonder Woman, to The Hollywood Reporter in July ('13):
We have to get her right, we have to. She is such an icon for both genders and all ages and for people who love the original TV show and people who read the comics now. I think one of the biggest challenges at the company is getting that right on any size screen. The reasons why are probably pretty subjective: She doesn't have the single, clear, compelling story that everyone knows and recognizes. There are lots of facets to Wonder Woman, and I think the key is, how do you get the right facet for that right medium? What you do in TV has to be different than what you do in features. She has been, since I started, one of the top three priorities for DC and for Warner Bros. We are still trying right now, but she's tricky.  (full article)
 And here is a brilliant rebuttal by Alan Kistler:

And lots and lots of other people have weighed in on this: Mark Hughes in an article for Forbes ('Wonder Woman' Movie Will Deliver Big At Box Office For Warner Bros., 7/25/13)
...Warner Bros. needs to release a solo Wonder Woman movie instead of trying to spin her off from Justice League as if she’s not popular enough to support her own series. Ignore the recent wrongheaded Wired article insisting “we don’t need no stinking Wonder Woman movie,” the truth is we DO need a Wonder Woman movie, and soon.
Alexander Abad-Santos for The Atlantic Wire (Wonder Woman Can't Have it All, 8/21/13)
The real question is why this is happening to Wonder Woman. Part of the reason may be that comic books remain a sexist industry dominated by older white men. As DC's most iconic feminist, Wonder Woman is an outlier, and not always a beloved one.
Sede Makonnen and her 6 Reasons We Need A Wonder Woman Movie at BuzzFeed (7/23/13)
We live in society that A) desperately needs strong women in the media and B) really, really wants them. Wonder Woman, for all that she has a messy past, is a character that is recognized as a powerful female lead by people who haven’t read the original comics, people who haven’t read many comics at all.
Tim Hanley in his blog, Straightened Circumstances (Wired Says We Don’t Need A Wonder Woman Movie OR I Disagree Entirely, 7/23/13)
Wonder Woman needs someone who can take the best bits of her incarnations and create a modern, relevant, feminist take on the character, drawing from the past while injecting their own ideas as well.
The bottom line is, the comics and movie industries are sexist money-making machines. They will remake and reboot and make sequels to properties they're pretty sure will make them a lot of money, and rely on formulae they've used for generations, rather than step a little outside the box.

Unfortunately, the somewhat lackluster American sales for Pacific Rim tend to shore up the idea of sticking to the formula. It was an original idea, we saw something new and interesting from a passionate director, and yet what should have earned buckets of cash here, didn't. If Warner Brothers/DC were to write a check for a similarly passionate director for Wonder Woman, would we see the same mediocre box office numbers?

I don't think so. Women are hungry for a superheroine movie. And because Wonder Woman is so iconic (and since a whole generation of boys dreamed about Lynda Carter), I really don't see how a movie would fail... unless it was done poorly. None of us want a bad Wonder Woman movie, no one wants a repeat of Supergirl or Elektra. But we do want a Wonder Woman feature film -- not one where she's merely part of the team, but a heroine in her own right. All you have to do is watch the documentary Wonder Women to know just how much we want this.

Warner Brothers, DC: knock it off and get to work. Seriously. Quick dragging your feet and give us the Wonder Woman film we all deserve. (So long as Azzarello doesn't write the script.)

Isn't it interesting to note how many of the voices calling for a Wonder Woman movie are male? Guess that should help dispel the idea that men aren't interested in a female lead in a movie, huh?