Pretty, Fizzy Paradise

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Saturday, July 01, 2006

Thoughts on the Damned List: Responses.

Huh, the damned list is starting to get attention. It's interesting. There are a lot of folks challenging our interpretations. That's pretty cool actually. That's why we plan to add information about context, so that the reader can define it for themselves.

For example the Teen Titans Annual...does that count as statuatory rape or not? Conner's physically and emotionally 16-18. He's chronologically 2. Personally as *I* see it, it was consentual.

But it's going on the list anyway. Because it could be read another way. We do intend to add context information, so people can figure out if they count our examples or not. So people can argue with our findings, debate and discuss them. That's what we want. This list is not supposed to be the be-all and end-all. It's a reference, plain and simple.

But some of the reactions are shockingly venomous. Which perplexes me. Take the following from Newsarama (I'd reply there but I'm still in queue for moderator acceptance):

"Originally Posted by Ragnell
However, so many people have suggested Black Canary for the Longbow Hunters it is impossible to keep her off the list at this stage. Whatever was meant, rape was implied."

"sloppy groupthink - rape wasn't implied. Arrested adolescent fantasies took it a step further than was explicitly intended. Fault lies with the readers, not the author. No rape, not even implied. Show some backbone and give your list some legitimacy - strike it. "


An open response to Raoul Duke of Newsarama:

At the risk of being rude, who the hell are you to dictate the terms of our list to us? Who are you to determine the "legitimacy" of OUR list? We are the ones writing this list. No one's forcing you to read it, let alone agree with it. It's not about you at all.

I am not Ragnell, I'm not managing her list. But I'll tell you one thing. If I were doing the women's list, it would be on there.

You know why? Because after a certain point, after the thing is published, authorial intent DOES NOT MATTER. This is a harsh fact but true, the finished product is "owned" as much by the reader as by the writer, and thus the reader interpretations really do have as much legitimacy as the writer's.

Now, naturally, whether that manifests in the subsequent comics depends on the writer. Canon has that Dinah wasn't raped because she said so. And Ms. Simone on Birds of Prey has said that, as her writing is concerned, Dinah wasn't raped.

But that doesn't change the fact that when first reading the scene, many people, myself included, had initially believed it to be implied rape. There were visual clues that added to the interpretation, with her clothing-state, positioning, et cetera. Mr. Grell has said that it wasn't intended to portray that, but by adding those clues, he has allowed for another interpretation. (It would have been possible for example to let her legs remain clothed, to have less suggested positioning, perhaps it wouldn't have been as impactful, but regardless it was possible).

Everyone who's taken a literature class knows that there are multiple interpretations of any one work. Is "The Merchant of Venice" a tale of deceit/betrayal and moral decay or is it an example of anti-semitism and scapegoating? Is "The Lord of the Rings" just a world building fantasy exercise or is it representative of Tolkein's Catholic values?

In the end, it's what the reader gets out of it. And many readers, not all of us in throes of adolescent fantasy I might add, read Dinah's scene differently. Thus, even if I hadn't initially shared the opinion, if I were writing the women's side, it would be on my list.

Now the question is, will it be on Ragnell's? Will she remove it because she herself doesn't believe it belongs there? Or will she believe it remains there and keep it on the list as initially planned, with context notes explaining Grell's own position (Also, as initially planned)?

Who knows. But it sure as hell won't be showing "backbone" on your say so. And if you have a problem with one's forcing you to read.



  • At July 03, 2006 4:46 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I really hope you don't cut anything out because, as you said, it's about interpretation. If anything you could maybe put some comment on it if it needs explanation but i'm all with you on this one. In any case i prefer a long list with sources that i can look up myself if i want to check it out.

  • At July 03, 2006 4:50 AM, Blogger kalinara said…

    Aww, thanks. That's our intention, really. We're going to be as thorough as possible so people can analyze for themselves. :-)

  • At July 03, 2006 9:59 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I agree with the gist of what you're saying, but I think that when we're talking about interpretations of a text we have to consider reasonable interpretations, and not outliers. I think that most reasonable reads of "The Longbow Hunters" would come away with the idea that Black Canary had been raped, despite whatever Mike Grell said about it later; on the other hand, I don't think any reasonable read of the Teen Titans Annual would come away with the idea that Conner Kent had been. His status as a clone is backstory for the character, not context for that scene (which reads as fairly innocuous). Wertham thought that Batman and Robin were having sex off-panel, which would make Bruce Wayne a serial child molester and Dick Grayson a victim of child abuse. Should they go on the list because of the interpretation put forth by Seduction of the Innocent?

    What I'm saying here is that for the list to have power - power enough to dissuade future writers from using rape as cheaply as they do now - it needs to have some standards. If the bar is so low that even fairly innocuous characters get on the list, it dilutes the strength of the idea.

  • At July 03, 2006 10:23 AM, Blogger kalinara said…

    I see what you're saying, but there's a notable difference between Wertham and the Teen Titans story. Batman and Robin weren't having sex off panel. There was nothing to imply that they were.

    Pretty much as comics canon goes:

    FACT: Robin is a child.
    FACT: Batman is an adult.

    The rest is speculation without any sort of real justification.

    Whereas with Conner and Cassie, looking at canonical information about the character:

    FACT: Conner Kent is chronologically two years old.
    FACT: Conner Kent is physically and emotionally/mentally about eighteen.
    FACT: Conner and Cassie had sex.

    Naturally, fact 2 colors the issue, but looking at fact 1 and 3 indicate a possible argument, using established canon regarding the characters, could be made.

    Because the argument exists, I feel the responsibility to put it in the appropriate section on the list. The contextual information will explain both Conner's chronological and his physical/mental age so the reader can make his or her own decision.

    Basically I'm caught in a catch 22. I find it really hard to seriously consider Conner a victim. And I understand the idea that including such an event (even in just the specific statuatory rape section) could possibly ruin the power of the list.

    But then again, how can I rationalize the elimination of a valid canon-utilizing argument just because I don't agree?

    Which is what it comes down to, I ultimately believe that just eliminating the incident/argument altogether harms my credibility far more than leaving it in, clearly marked. The reader can always just ignore it and move on to the next one.

    And honestly, I'd prefer any readers to read thoughtfully, picking and choosing what they believe applies or not, rather than just mindlessly adhere to our account on paper. Any analysis/discussion/debate will benefit by the readers' more skeptical and contemplative approaches.

  • At July 03, 2006 10:51 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    But the entire premise of statutory rape is that apparently consensual sex is actually rape because one of the partners isn't emotionally mature enough to handle it. By conceding that Conner Kent is mentally/emotionally of age, you concede that rape isn't taking place. The fact that he's "chronologically two years old" makes him an edge case, to be sure, but it doesn't change the fact that he appears perfectly capable of making sexual decisions for himself.

  • At July 03, 2006 11:22 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Because the argument exists, I feel the responsibility to put it in the appropriate section on the list.

    But the argument also exists that Batman molested Robin. No, it's not based on anything that happened on-panel, but it is based on subtext that can be easily read into plenty of old Batman comics. In fact, the idea that Batman and Robin had or have sex is so pervasive that it's produced popular, well-recognized parodies and works of art. This is not some crackpot's obscure theory; it's a widespread interpretation of the characters.

    So why isn't it on the list? Because it's absurd. It's not just that Batman's writers never intended to make Batman a child molester, it's that any such inference is drawn more from the reader's own preconceptions than from anything else, and if the goal of the list is to hold writers accountable or to dissuade future rape-plots, then including a "rape" which is drawn mostly from the mind of the reader isn't accomplishing anything.

    A reasonable reading of the Teen Titans scene wouldn't treat Superboy as though he's emotionally two years old, or as if legalistic arguments regarding statutory rape laws should be strictly applied to force-grown clones. We make allowances for the bizarre conventions of the sci-fi and superhero genres, and this is another one - that a man who was technically "born" two years ago is fully capable of deciding for himself what to do with his body (I mean, hell, he's apparently old enough to decide that he wants to risk his life fighting aliens and supervillains, but once he decides to have sex, then we start raising eyebrows?).

    What worries me is that too many absurd examples on the list weakens the list itself. There are already dozens of characters who actually have been raped. Limiting the list to them makes it more compelling.

  • At July 03, 2006 3:57 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    Thanks for your input!

    The fact still remains that the Batman/Robin argument isn't based on a particular plot point. There isn't one canonical scene that could be said to support the idea that they have had sex. As for serious subtext, that's utterly ridiculous. I've seen the scenes argued as subtext and they're nothing of the sort.

    Regardless, we're holding our interpretations to characters that have an actual event that can be pointed to as "That is where the abuse could have happened."

    As for Superboy, the thing is that *I* think he's mature enough to handle it, others may not. I think he's emotionally mature, but he's still *two years old*. His life experience comprises two years. That's it. And that's a factor to consider.

    Basically, it's my judgement call to make, and it's being made. It's on the list.

    (I mean, hell, he's apparently old enough to decide that he wants to risk his life fighting aliens and supervillains, but once he decides to have sex, then we start raising eyebrows?).

    Why not? In America, you can join the army at eighteen but can't drink until 21. You can marry at sixteen but you can't read pornography until eighteen.

    This is a world in which thirteen year olds put on costumes and fight crime. Some are actually much more mature at 13 than Conner is now. Does this mean that in a case where a child character gets assaulted, I should treat it the same as an adult character? I don't honestly think so.

    The fact remains that if I leave this obvious one off of the list, the accuracy of my entire section will be in doubt. Besides, by adding the argument for both sides, we can ultimately make for stronger analysis. What is it about *this* case that makes it different than another case? That information will be right there.

    What worries me is that too many absurd examples on the list weakens the list itself. There are already dozens of characters who actually have been raped. Limiting the list to them makes it more compelling.

    Once more, the list is a *reference*. Let us worry about it's "strength". I don't want this to be something that everyone skims, says "Oh that's terrible" and gets pissed off.

    I want people to read it and consider *why*. Why is this okay when that isn't? How exactly do consent laws apply? What purpose does the incident in question have for the story itself.

    I want people to look and evaluate "Does this count for me?" I want people to sometimes say "No. That's absurd" occasionally because that indicates they're thinking.

    If we want to make a point, there's the list of Actuals and Attempted. Of without a doubt, explicitly stated incidents. (In the proper list, the statuatory incidents will be in their own column).

    If we want to make a point about subtext and what makes a person believe rape/sexual assault happened, we have the Implied.

    If we want to explore the notion of rape as power-related versus sex-related, we have the genre cliches like mind-control/possession. Since power's clearly an element there, the loss of self-autonomy undoubtedly traumatic, why is it treated so much more cavalierly than actual, sexual rape/assault?

    The list is for the examination of trends. How often do stories of each type take place for each gender. How does the number for each section compare?

    For example, thus far, we've seen a lot more female victims of actual/attempted rape/assault than we have of male. But there are a lot more repeat victims on the male side. Especially if we consider visually/verbally suggestive scenes as well. This is an interesting phenomenon, worth looking into. Is it because certain characters, due to perhaps writer sensibility, the nature of the book, or something else, are more acceptable while being placed in the role of victim as others?

    I'm personally not going to attempt analysis of that idea until the list is MUCH closer to completion, but it is an interesting question.

    And none of these analyses would be weakened by the inclusion of Conner Kent's encounter into the statuatory column (Which will probably be renamed to "underage sexual encounters" to cover that many involve same age participants. We're just using "statuatory" on these basic lists as short-hand so that people know that they're not being considered the same as outright rape/assault victims.).

    In fact, with all the married, underage legionnaires for example, Conner's NOT going to be the most questionable member on that list.

    Heck, someone could very well use that section of the list to argue that modern age sensibilities shouldn't be held to comic books at all. Or that they should but clearly are not. Or that they are, and these are special, excusable cases.

    Anyway, the list isn't intended to be an argument, so I don't need to worry about "weakening" it. It's a research/argument tool. And as such, if only for comparison's sake, the Teen Titans encounter is staying.

  • At July 03, 2006 4:17 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    :-) For the record though, I do value your input. It's definitely making me consider changing the section from "statuatory rape" to "underage sexual encounters". That way the *only* real issue is the character's ages, and ability/inability to consent (which really does vary on the person) isn't so much of an issue.

    This way people are more likely to judge for themselves. :-)

  • At July 03, 2006 9:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    What exactly does one gain by saying that Black Canary was raped when officially she wasn't? I haven't read the scene or the book that it comes from, but I suspect a lot of people who read your lists have (hence the static you're running into from the fanboys), and its inclusion will stick out as false--and harm the legitimacy of the list in the eyes of the people who need to see it. There's enough indisputable horror on these lists to avoid clouding the issue with ambiguous cases that'll attract wank rather than light.

  • At July 03, 2006 10:57 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    Actually, we gain a lot from it as I see it.

    Because if you pick out ten people, none of which having any exposure to Mike Grell's own stance, I anticipate at least five will believe rape occurred there.

    And thus this is important to consider.

    What signs indicate, to many people, when a rape occurs? Clothing? Posture? Dialogue?

    Think about Apollo's rape in the Authority, there really was nothing about the beating that actually suggested rape to me. There was torn clothing, yes, and the Captain America allegory grabbing his own buckle, but that's very little.

    But Mark Millar says it happened.

    So then you place the two scenes side by side. What's different? What's similar?

    What are we registering as indicative of rape/sexual assault?

    Besides, implied doesn't technically mean assault takes place, if you read our criteria. It means things like sexualized taunts/threats ("want a piece of this while she's still got a face." is definitely a sexual threat)

    It means sexualized torture, like what happened to Stephanie, where the portrayal served very much to highlight her form and figure and glamorize/eroticize a girl being tortured to death.

    It means suggestiveness in which ripped clothes, injuries to sexual organs (infertility was a result, recall), provocative positioning are all catalogued.

    Basically, this list isn't intended to provoke a knee jerk reaction of horror and revulsion. We DON'T want that.

    We're not about "bringing light to people". This is a resource, plain and simple, where if you want to draw your own conclusions about the use of sexual assault/rape in comics, it'll be helpful.

    We want discussion. We want examination. We want analysis. We want people to look at it, go "wait a second, I don't agree with that one" and start looking at *everything* with a critical analytical eye.

    That's why we *want* the ambiguous cases. That's why they're marked as Implied/Subtextual. Because the important thing about them is to *think*.

    That's what we gain from it. And that's why it's staying in.

  • At July 04, 2006 1:49 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Well, I *think* you're wrong in this instance, but it's not my project, so I'll leave it at that.

  • At July 04, 2006 1:53 AM, Blogger kalinara said…

    Fair enough. :-)

    A lot of this will become clearer in the construction of the full list itself. We're actually starting with the true compilation of confirmed events and I'm very pleased with how it's going so far.

    I'd like to think you'll find the ending project satisfying. Or not. :-) (It won't hurt my feelings. :-))

  • At July 04, 2006 2:41 AM, Blogger Ragnell said…

    Well, then, you all should be happy to know that I just read over the scene in GA: LBH#2 and have decided to take Dinah off the Implied List.

    And put her on the Attempted. I hadn't realized just how clear those signals were until I picked it up, and Mr Greel did maintain that she wasn't raped.

  • At July 04, 2006 2:42 AM, Blogger kalinara said…

    :-) Well then. That settles that issue right up! Awesome!

  • At July 04, 2006 10:22 AM, Blogger Erich said…

    In regard to the question of whether or not Superboy would be considered "underage," I can't help but remember a situation from Mark Evanier's '80s comics "DNAgents" and "Crossfire" (I think the storyline intersected between the two books).

    The DNAgents were artificially-created superhumans rapidly grown to maturity in a lab. In one storyline, Rainbow was offered a lot of money to pose for a Playboy-style men's magazine. She did so, but then had second thoughts and regretted her decision. Crossfire (her boyfriend, a non-powered, human costumed adventurer) eventually got the publisher not to run the photos by pointing out the "date of birth" on the release form she'd filled out, because she was chronologically six years old.

    While Crossfire used this loophole to make the publisher back down, it didn't stop him from continuing his own relationship with her. (As with Conner, she's physically, mentally and emotionally an adult, but there is that chronological technicality...)

    I can't recall whether any of the other DNAgents were established to have sexual relationships. Surge was always hitting on every woman in sight, but I don't think any of them ever responded positively. Sham definitely never had a romantic interest (he was the most immature of all of them). I can't remember whether Amber or Tank ever had a boyfriend or girlfriend...

  • At July 04, 2006 3:05 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    It is an interesting quandary isn't it?

    I think it's definitely worth examining, which is why it's got a position on the list. :-)


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