Pretty, Fizzy Paradise

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Saturday, May 26, 2007

Who Defines Offense?

I'm sure you guys have seen by now, Newsarama has interviews with Adam Hughes and Joe Quesada on the current controversies.

I think they're interesting to read myself, because it can be hard to remember that there are real people behind these things that anger us so, people who I genuinely believe never meant to be so offensive.

That said, there seems to be the prevalent idea in these defenses that the product isn't offensive because the producers did not intend it to be so. That the product is being "misconstrued" as sexist.

It doesn't work that way.

Adam Hughes does not get to determine what of his work offends people. Joe Quesada does not get to determine what covers set us off. No one gets to make that decision except the person who is offended. To that person, the work is offensive.

And someone doesn't have to intentionally imbue a sexist message for that message to be there.

Look, the fact of the matter is, no one truly believes that they are sexist. No one believes they are racist. No one believes they're homophobic. We know that these are bad things. We're from a culture which preaches freedom, equality, and individuality. We each, down in our hearts, believe that we are treating everyone in a fair manner.

Which is why black men are never pulled over by police for no real justification except for their skin. Why women never find their past sexual experiences a matter at a rape trial. Why gay people are never scorned for displaying just as much affection in public as a straight couple. Why every building is wheelchair accessible...

Yeah, I think my point is made.

The thing is, we are all sexist. We are all racist. We all have strange assumptions and prejudices about particular groups because of physical or mental capabilities or who they love, or how old they are. We don't mean to be, but we are.

We get these ideas from our parents. Our friends. The media. Our own limited experiences. Society.

Most of the time we're just misguided. Ignorant. Innocent.

But that's not an excuse. And it's not okay.

It's up to us to learn better. To meet people. To do things. To widen the scope of our experiences so that we can understand ourselves and one another.

And we are going to fuck up sometimes.

I know I've fucked up. Hell, I've fucked up on this blog. I've used ignorant and offensive terms to refer to people. I didn't mean to, of course. I didn't know. That doesn't excuse me from my offense.

I'm not providing links because the ones I know about, I've since fixed. The ones I haven't been called on...well, I'll probably use them again until I've learned better. If you see me use an offensive epithet, please call me on it.

Adam Hughes seems like a nice guy who really likes women. His work seems to treasure the female form, his drawings have personality, wit and fire. But when he insists that there is no sexism in the Mary Jane statue, he's revealing his own innate sexism and prejudice.

A man telling a woman what she should or should not find sexist is proving he doesn't understand the meaning of the word.

I am not trying to say that a man can't express an opinion about whether something is sexist. But there is a difference between saying "I don't think sexism was intended here" versus "There is no sexism here."

Joe Quesada is very funny. I've enjoyed reading his interviews. I may not always agree with the administrative choices that he makes, but he seems to have a clear idea of what he wants to do with his company.

That said, his attempt to justify the Heroes for Hire cover is pretty weak. First of all, the fact that one may not have any experience with tentacle porn manga does not make someone else's comparison any less valid. (And speaking as someone who DOES have experience with it. The comparison is there.) And second of all, the fact that the concept came from a female artist doesn't change anything.

Women can be sexist too! ESPECIALLY when they're working in a male dominated industry. Hell, look at a great many romance novels. Women may have written them, but it doesn't negate the extremely sexist messages portrayed in many of them. This might be explained by the way most early romance publishing companies were male-dominated. But it could merely be because we women have internalized our own prejudices and assumptions about womankind.

The Mary Jane statue and the Heroes for Hire cover are sexist. They correspond with and promote sexist ideas. The people who can see that are not "misconstruing" anything. They're seeing what the creators, blinded by their own intentions, can not, and they are not wrong to be offended.

Personally, I do believe that it's important to look at the creators' intentions, to know a little about what went on behind the creation of the images. But it is not the be-all and end-all of the subject. If I flail my arms around and hit my roommate by accident, it doesn't mean that I didn't hit her, or that she doesn't feel the bruise.

If something offends someone, it is offensive. Period.


  • At May 26, 2007 3:32 AM, Blogger Evan Waters said…

    Is there any work out there which doesn't offend ANYONE, though? Is it the quantity or consensus that makes something objectively, indefensibly sexist? And if it's not objective, then to what extent should the artist/entertainer/etc. let these voices influence his/her work? And which voices should he/she listen to anyway?

    Not that any of the criticism of the statue or the cover strikes me as invalid, mind you (and Hughes' response is very clumsy and poorly argued). But just how should the artist respond, ideally? Adam Hughes can't promise that his future work won't be considered objectively sexist by somebody, so what can he do?

  • At May 26, 2007 3:45 AM, Blogger kalinara said…

    There is always the chance that something anyone makes could be offensive. That doesn't necessarily mean they shouldn't make it, but they should be prepared for that reaction.

    Honestly, I think Hughes would have been better served by simply saying "I didn't intend it to be sexist, I'm sorry you were offended."

    I'm not saying he has to apologize for his work itself, or that he shouldn't explain that he didn't mean it to be sexist. But going "It's not sexist because..." and complaining that the sexism is "misconstrued".

    By trying to deny the validity of the offended response, he just makes it more offensive. Where honestly a simple acknowledgement of the offense would go a long way.

    And also might make the same people cut him a bit of a break when he completes his next project. (whether it's seen as sexist or not)

    Basically I really think these guys would be best served by getting new PR people and/or speechwriters. :-)

  • At May 26, 2007 6:50 AM, Blogger GiantKillerMantis said…

    I think this is a serious issue, the issue between the offended and the offender. If I read something on this blog that offended me, of course no one else can tell me not to be offended, just like they can't tell me not to like something, or not to be bored by something, or confused, or whatever.
    But what should my experience of being offended mean to you? If you intended nothing offensive, but i was offended, is my experience of being offended more valid than your intention? We naturally tend to side with the injured party. But do i get to define your work because it offends me? If someone else found the same work inspiring, would their opinion count less?

    I'm not really thinking specifically about comics here, i guess more about the larger cultural/social environment. And maybe this ain't the place for that. But since we live in such a varied culture, i wonder how we should go about respecting each other's expressions, while also respecting each other's sensibilities, without one "side" gaining advantage over the other?

  • At May 26, 2007 7:39 AM, Blogger Unknown said…

    I'm always leery when someone's initial reaction to committing offense is knee-jerk self-defense rather than a considered apology for having offended. In these cases it points out male privilege even more; male privilege is being able to ignore when something you've done has offended women, and not suffering any adverse consequences.

  • At May 26, 2007 8:25 AM, Blogger Iko of the Shadows said…

    The MJ statue was business as usual. I can understand Hughs being confused about it being labeled sexist, as it fits in with about 90% of the images of women in comics. Of course, that's the problem.

    On the other hand, I have no sympathy for Joe. Not only is that cover far beyond of the boundaries of good taste, but they're sticking it on a comic supposedly suitable for 9 year olds. That bothers me far more than the sexism.

  • At May 26, 2007 10:15 AM, Blogger Amy Reads said…

    Hi Kalinara,
    The MJ kerfluffle has intrigued me on various levels, and most particularly, in the defensive fan reaction. That's where I got offended: when men and women claimed: "it's just a statue! shut up! whiny feminists!" or the like. Because the self defense was almost a little too hysterical, it seemed.
    Even before, too, when people were talking about the statue as "super-sexy" and, my Personal Favorite, "and she's even wearing a 'pearl necklace'!" Because the statue, *from the beginning*, was construed as a sexual item. The second that fact was made apparent by others, the supporters became defensive.

    It's true that we can never gage the reactions of everyone. If we did, we would go Slightly Insane from the effort. And we can never determine what will offend whom, etc. But ultimately, the defense of the situation, the violence directed at the protesters, the very fact that the defensive arguments were *the very definitions of sexism* (i.e. what does it matter to you, anyways? Comics are written for men, by men is the same mindset that promoted, to me, things such as, what does it matter to you, anyways? Government is voted for by men, for men, and you don't have any property, money, or rights, anyways, so why do you want to vote, anyhow?).

    The Proof Is In The Pudding, my Grandmother would say. I think she's definitely right.

  • At May 26, 2007 10:37 AM, Blogger SallyP said…

    This argument also goes back to your earlier comments about writing. If you say something, and people misconstrue what you say, it isn't necessarily their fault that you can't convey your meaning properly.

    Likewise with Adam Hughes and Joe Quesada. I like Mr. Hughes art very much, and I thought that his original drawing of MJ was rather charming...MUCH more so than that cheesy statue, because it definitely lost something in the translation from paper to porcelain. However, it is VERY disingenuous of Mr. Hughes to blame us for not likeing it.

    Mr. Quesada on the other hand, is being more than disingenuous. There really is no way in hell that the cover to Heroes for Hire can be construed as anything less than a mess. I don't read Manga, and I've certainly heard of tentacle porn. If I hadn't, it is pretty obvious from the depictions of the tentacles, dripping with viscous goo, the heaving breasts, etc. etc. that this is amazingly sleazy.

    I'm almost afraid to see the solicits for September. Can Marvel possibly top themselves?

  • At May 26, 2007 10:50 AM, Blogger Seth T. Hahne said…

    Hey K~

    I think this post is a good start to a larger conversation. You ask, Who decides what is offensive? The answer, as you point out, is obviously the offended rather than the ostensible offender. What I think would be a good follow-up question is, Who decides what is sexist?

    I think you can see the slight difference here. If someone perceives something as sexist, it is immediately offensive but it doesn't necessarily have to be sexist. Offense centers on perspective, but is sexism something real or merely a perception? I tend to think that sexism is more actual than perceptual.

    I think someone can either consciously take part in sexism (by taking part in activities that overtly discriminate based on sex) or unconsciously take part by participating in the broader, more suffuse cultural sexism in which one dwells. But does that mean that every perceived sexism is actual sexism? I don't think it has to.

    As a pedagogical tool, let's use a tired example from real life. (And here I'm presuming that racism and sexism are birds of a feather.) So it's early 1999 and David Howard has just resigned office due to the perceived racism of his use of the term, "niggardly." Now clearly, this was not racist (as the term does not contain racist baggage), but it was offensive (as people were offended). With racism, then, perception does not necessarily coincide with actuality.

    Might it not be the same with sexism? And then, to mirror your original question: who defines sexism?

  • At May 26, 2007 12:56 PM, Blogger Tom Foss said…

    I think it's telling that they talked to Adam Hughes rather than whoever actually sculpted the statue. Hughes' original art isn't sexist, at least, not in the blatant way that the statues is. But the changes to MJ's expression, posture, anatomy, and clothing deviate Hughes's whismical original into something misogynistic and disgusting.

  • At May 26, 2007 2:41 PM, Blogger ShellyS said…

    Of course, what offends one person, male or female, might not and often does not offend another. I get why many people have been offended, why many women have been offended. I think the statue is ridiculous for a variety of reasons, but I wasn't offended by it. As for the cover everyone's in a tizzy about it, I'm offended only in that no men are there with the women, similarly bound.

    I've never had a problem with covers that show characters in jeopardy -- Read the story to find out how they get out of THIS! I'm more likely to be offended if it's women bound up on the cover and they need a man to rescue them, especially if they're the stars of the book.

    Yes, toning down the art, making it more heroic, is more likely to draw in new readers. But the fact is, for me, I'm likely to keep buying a book regardless of the cover if I like the characters and like the stories inside those covers.

    But anyone who denies that someone actually could be or is offended by something if the intent to offend wasn't there, just misses the point.

  • At May 26, 2007 3:12 PM, Blogger kalinara said…


    Racism or sexism is an institutionalized form of oppression based on percieved ideas about racial and gender norms. Offensiveness is subjectively how much something angers/upsets an individual person. The DEGREE of racism and sexism might be subjective, but their existence really isn't.

    Howard is not a comparable example honestly. People misunderstood when he used the word "niggardly", yes, but it's easy to prove that he was not being racist because "niggardly" is a real word with very different origins than the word he thought he used. It was a simple case of a dictionary use to clear him. And he WAS cleared.

    This isn't the case here. No one is misunderstanding the statue or the cover as anything other than the statue or the cover. Even in the case of the laundry basket/hamper/washtub, the clarification of it being a basket doesn't really change the sexism of the image.

    You don't have to know you're being racist or sexist to be so. That's where "institutionalized" comes in. Our society brainwashes us with the idea that little girls should not be as aggressive as boys, and we train our children accordingly without realizing why.

    In a reverse example of sexism, look at the kind of skepticism/suspicion men tend to face if they pursue a career as an elementary school teacher. It's often automatically assumed now that he's got some sort of ulterior motive or designs on a child.

    That's also sexism. Usually unintentionally sexist or racist people will use "facts" to back them up (i.e. lower grade point averages in inner city schools to claim that minority people are not as driven to succeed, or some such nonsense) without examining any greater cause for it. (The schools usually don't have the financial resources to afford the best materials. Many of the kids have greater external pressures and responsibilities than their suburban counterparts.) Things like that.

    The way to tell if something is (unintentionally) racist or sexist though is simply to think to yourself, does something about this idea cause hurt to someone else. And you have to accept that if you're not the person that the idea is harmful to, you may not see it that way, where someone of that particular group may see it differently.

    For example, regarding the statue and the cover. Sure they're pretty harmless in that they're not going to make comic geeks forget what a real woman looks like. But consider the idea they help unconsciously reinforce for young girls. It doesn't matter how strong or capable you are, it doesn't matter how successful you are in your career, what ultimately matters in the end is how sexy you look for the man/men in your life. And THAT instead of whatever accomplishments you achieve, is what you'll be remembered for... Mary Jane isn't a successful model/actress in that statue. She isn't even the love of Peter's life in that statue. She's an available set of tits and ass.

    Sure not everyone will agree about HOW offensively sexist a particular image is. And everyone has different standards about how sexist something is. (It's generally agreed that the Hughes drawing is considerably less offensive than the statue) But ultimately that's really not something the person that isn't the subject of the harm really has a right to decide.

    A man can't tell a woman that the assumption that because she's wearing a short skirt, she's automatically receptive to lewd comments, gestures, or physical overtures isn't harmful because he's never been the subject of those assumptions. Just because he doesn't know that the trouble exists doesn't mean the trouble is imaginary.

    Similarly a woman can't tell the male schoolteacher of the previous example that the assumption that he's choosing this career because he's a pedophile isn't harmful. She doesn't know. She'll never have those assumptions made against her.

    Heh, I'm rambling, sorry. But honestly, that's where it is for me. The people who decide whether something is offensive are the people offended by it. The people who decide whether something is racist/sexist are the people that are hurt by it (with the caveat that the example is about race/sex and not an easily proven misunderstanding of an unrelated matter, as in Howard's case.)

  • At May 26, 2007 3:19 PM, Blogger Mickle said…

    the dane

    I think you are confused on the definition that kalinara is using for sexism - as far as it is used with regards to actions vs people themselves. (I may be projecting, it would be more accurate to say the definition you seem to be using doesn't match mine.)

    I actually don't get why people keep bringing up what happened to David Howard. Maybe I need to read up on the exact story some more, but - no matter what the dictionary says - I don't accept the premise that using a word like "niggardly" cannot - even in it's dictionary meaning - be consired racist.

    He certainly didn't mean for it to be, but, well racism isn't about intent. It's about privilege.

    No matter how correct his use of the term is as far as definition goes, the fact that he could use something that so strongly reminds most everyone else around him of worse words shows a lot of privilege, I think. Not the to extent that he should never use it nor be fired for using it, but certainly to the extent that the proper response would have been to apologize and buy himself a theasurus. Cuz the issue isn't whether he's a bad person for using the word, it's what's more important: that people who've been bullied in the past (and now!) are treated with respect for their experiences, or that he gets to use that one word versus all the others that mean the same thing. (Is the loss of "niggardly" from our vocabulary really that huge?)

    I really wish we could do both, and I think we can overall - but I would respectfully argue that Washington DC (the city, not the senate, etc.) is the place least likely for this to be true and the place where I think any logical thinking and empathetic person should know enough to not respond to accusations of racism with "but I was technically correct!"

    Especially in the case of a public servant like David Howard, it's not whether he was misunderstood or whether he is in other ways incapable of doing the job, it's the extent to which he is capable of representing the people he is supposed to represent. I suspect that a lot of the uproar was not a judgemment of DH himself, nor even the word, but the extent to which black residents of DC are silenced in a more general sense.

    Like the MJ statue, the issue is not so much one example, but the pervasiveness of it and the invisibility of so much else. The fact that it was spun as a referendum on the word and the man is just indicative of the larger problem.

    Even more, the fact that life sucks and is unfair for David Howard does not mean that his ordeal should necessarily be read as an argument for implicity supporting the idea that those suffering most from discrimination are the least able to define what constitutes racism. I think instead it points to the dangers of not giving the same people enough safe spaces and enough power to talk about such things.

    I also doubt such things happen very often in places outside of Washington DC, which - aside from slavery itself - has to be on of the most outrageous examples of the US turning a blind eye to the effects of racism.

  • At May 26, 2007 4:30 PM, Blogger Rob S. said…

    I'm not entirely on board on this. People -- lots of people -- get offended by Harry Potter, but that doesn't mean it's an offensive work.

  • At May 26, 2007 7:55 PM, Blogger Iko of the Shadows said…

    Using the word niggardly does not suggest white privilege. It suggests the speaker has a full vocabulary and expects his listeners have the same. This incident doesn't tell me that government representative need to watch their language; it tells me they need to put more funding into public schools.

    Anyways, the "if someone finds it offensive, it is" argument doesn't fly with me. I've been told holding my girlfriends hand in public is offensive.

  • At May 26, 2007 8:08 PM, Blogger Will Staples said…

    I don't think the "niggardly" incident is the best example anyway, as NAACP chairman Julian Bond said that "David Howard should not have quit. [His employer] should bring him back — and order dictionaries issued to all staff who need them." Meanwhile Howard himself said "I used to think it would be great if we could all be colorblind. That's naive, especially for a white person, because a white person can't afford to be colorblind. They don't have to think about race every day. An African American does." (And he got hired back at another job, too.) Pretty much the opposite of what might have been expected given the circumstances.

    For my part, I think they were both right. As Howard said, it's vital to consider how other people will take your words, but if you get offended at something that merely reminds you of a racial slur, you're being too defensive.

  • At May 27, 2007 12:55 AM, Blogger kalinara said…

    Guys, not to curtail discussion, but the Howard example is rather off topic here.

    Also I'd like to clarify that while I argue that offensiveness means "someone is offended by it.", I don't think every offensive thing is a bad thing.

    Harry Potter, or holding someone's hand in public, are offensive to some people. That doesn't mean people shouldn't read the book or hold hands.

    Just that you can't determine how anyone else will necessarily react to something you do.

  • At May 27, 2007 1:12 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    MK: "the fact of the matter is, no one truly believes that they are sexist."

    Don't see how I can't be, really. Il n'y a pas de hors-texte, and all that... well over half the world population I have no interest in seeing naked; that's got to colour my interactions with them somewhat.

    Offence is entirely in the eye of the beholder; it may or may not be worth responding to. The question comes down to "okay, X is offended... do I care / is anything dependent on this?" If (answer=Y) then apologise and/or try not to do whatever it is around them, if (answer=N) then vocalise the fact or go about life.

    The complicating bit about -isms related to bigotry and prejudging is that they're often called upon to present a unified front on groups that are anything but of one mind. The question's then raised as to whether to call a particular incident of some people taking offence 'sexism', 'racism' etc. if some or most of a larger group thus interpolated doesn't see it that way.

    Not so much "who defines sexism" ("discriminatory behaviour towards ...") but who [and which contexts] define discrimination, since discrimination is more of a community standard than offence. It's often hard to isolate factors in behaviour (did an equally-qualified candidate not get the job because a boss found
    him aggressive, because he didn't smile, because he didn't have breasts?)

    AH: "Mary Jane isn’t a superhero, so you can’t really do anything with her that’s not some version of her just standing there."

    Hmm. That's a type of stupidity only exhibited by intelligent people...

    Particularly as most statues are exactly that.

  • At May 27, 2007 4:22 PM, Blogger Will said…

    "For example, regarding the statue and the cover. Sure they're pretty harmless in that they're not going to make comic geeks forget what a real woman looks like. But consider the idea they help unconsciously reinforce for young girls. It doesn't matter how strong or capable you are, it doesn't matter how successful you are in your career, what ultimately matters in the end is how sexy you look for the man/men in your life. And THAT instead of whatever accomplishments you achieve, is what you'll be remembered for... Mary Jane isn't a successful model/actress in that statue. She isn't even the love of Peter's life in that statue. She's an available set of tits and ass."

    Here's the question: Why would portraying her as a successful model or actress have been any better? Wouldn't that reinforce the sexism of women as objects prevalent in the film and fashion industry? I mean its a statue, so you can't really get a good sense of her acting. Maybe she could have the classic Hamlet holding Yorkick's pose, but that would probably make little sense and be unnecessarily confusing. So, portraying her as an actress would only highlight the visual aspect of the Hollywood starlet phenomenon. The model thing even more. As these the models of success that a women should try to live up to?

    The love of Peter's life? So a woman needs another person at best, or another person at least, to be complete? Or that people ought to go out and get themselves married? Or tied to another person? Or even the even more subtle notion that a woman by herself won't sell a statue, we need a man too?

    Also, it's Mary Jane. So they make her look "hot." That's how she's supposed to look. Its not like they made a statue of Hilary Clinton of Julia Child, changed their proportions and stuck in a two-piece while eating a popsicle. That would be offensive on a whole new level. But its Mary Jane, successful actress and model. Should she not be represented as attractive? What about people who look like that in real life (or near enough like that)? Is there something wrong with them? What is this ideal standard of beauty that people should strive to attain and how do we know its right? If its not the "institutionalized" standard that has been imposed on us, what is it? Are people who want to look like that wrong? Are people who find that look attractive right? I can see if someone is going out and telling people that they are wrong for not looking like MJ/Finding her attractive are wrong with nothing to back them up other than "that's what beauty is" are doing something wrong, but the same logic would hold for anyone who denies that beauty.

    I think a large part of it all has to do with "objectification" of people. That all she has been reduced to is her looks. It seems that Hughes' comments go a long way towards solving this (deliberately playing off pin-up conventions). Yes, to that extent she's being objectified, but then, she's a made up thing. But even then, why is any or every instance of objectification a bad thing? It seems like there are cases where it is at best a good thing, or at worst a benign thing.

    What should a Mary Jane statue be of? Shouldn't it be whatever the person who is making the statue want it to be of? Isn't that their right as an artist? I can understand your right as a viewer to not like it. But that doesn't mean it shouldn't be made. Shouldn't ti be the right of an artist to express themselves, just as it is your right as a person to express yourself?

    As for the cover, here's my only big thought: They have been captured, their costumes torn, they look like they are about to be attacked by The Brood, and as such they look beaten and scared. So? Is this inconceivable? That people who have been beat and captured in a situation where their prospects look grim look frightened? Where is it written that people, even heroes, always face a tough spot with determination? Can't they be scared? Ever? As for their costumes and the chains. These are the heroes. The things with the tentacles are clearly the bad things. Looks like the bad guys did this to the heroes? Aren't we vindicated in thinking that these women should not have their clothes like this? Something bad has been done to them, right? As for the tentacle rape and the certain doom that they won't be able to get out of as indicated by their weak and fearful looks - seems like everyone else is finishing the story for themselves. None of those things are a certainty. (Oh and lets remember, these are the Brood, a species almost entire defined by rape, as they plant their eggs in human hosts. Should they automatically never be villains for women for fear of raising the specter of physical violence? Remember that its mainly been male character who have been implanted with the eggs in past stories.) As a cover, shouldn't this say, "Our heroes (and the women are front and center because its their book), are in a tight spot, too tight to get out of! How will they get out of this one?!"

  • At May 27, 2007 7:38 PM, Blogger kalinara said…


    I think you're trying to stretch my words into something I didn't say.

    The statue isn't sexist because it's "hot". Mary Jane IS hot. She ought to be portrayed as hot.

    A statue of Mary Jane as a successful model or actress would not be echoing the stereotypes of the industry. Nor would Mary Jane being identified as the love of Peter's life give the message that a woman is nothing without a man.

    This is because Mary Jane IS a successful model/actress and she IS the love of Peter's life. Peter is the main character, she is his love interest, and portraying her in such a manner is accurate to her role in the comics.

    This statue is sexist because it really contains nothing about the comic book Mary Jane here. It reduces her solely to the role of "sex object". The statue isn't designed to portray "Mary Jane". There's no personality here. It's just a vacant presentation of a woman who LOOKS like Mary Jane for male titilation.

    The key difference is if you look at the Mary Jane SKETCH versus the statue. Hughes's drawing, while not really a pose that I'd prefer her take in a statue (which is more a matter of personal taste in this case), portrays a Mary Jane that truly echoes with the comic portrayal. Her personality and wit shines through the page. We may or may not have ever seen Mary Jane do laundry like this in the comic, but this is believably Mary Jane. That's why most people, myself included, do not revile the sketch as being as offensive as the statue.

    As for the cover. Well, as someone who is commonly a fan of "how will they get out of this?" covers, I can honestly tell you that this crosses a line for me.

    It strongly takes its inspiration from tentacle porn. (Regardless of Quesada's own claim that he doesn't know what that is. Sana Takeda certainly would. And the allusions between the phallic nature of the tentacles, their positioning in the cover, the...familiar look of the goo, the location of said goo, and the state of undress and distress of the characters is pretty clear regardless about whether you know the exact reference).

    And honestly, the key thing is that it's OUT OF CHARACTER for these women to look like this. Distressed, yes. Defeated, no. PASSIVE, no. Look at the male arm. It's fighting. That's how Misty Knight, Colleen Wing and Black Cat would be as well.

    Where does it say that these characters would face everything with determination rather than fear? EVERYWHERE these characters have been written. They would ALL be reacting like Shang Chi's arm on this cover. Stiff, active, FIGHTING. That's WHO THEY ARE. The fact that they're not, but the male character, for whatever justification, is, is what makes the cover particularly disgusting.

    And by the way, it is decidedly bad taste to portray a character recently revealed as a woman who survived a rape experience in such a manner. It certainly robs that character of the strength and empowerment that she supposedly recieves from surviving her traumatic experience (usually the justification for retconning a rape in the past of a character) to have her cringing and hiding from yet another, seemingly impending violation.

    Besides, Felicia does NOT cringe and hide.

    It doesn't matter whether the cover portrays an accurate image about what's inside the comic. I don't think anyone seriously believes tentacle rape will happen in the comic. We're all pretty sure that regardless of the expressions of defeat on the cover, the women are going to fight their way out of this.

    That doesn't change the fact that the COVER is tremendously offensive (on a subjective level), sexist (on an objective level), and worst of all, it's OUT OF CHARACTER.

    And ultimately, however you may defend it from the first two charges, there really is no defense for the last.

  • At May 27, 2007 7:51 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    Oh and as an addendum, Lea Hernandez has done an alteration of the cover in a way to make it look much, MUCH less personally offensive to me.

    Though naturally the questionability of having such a still-suggestive cover on a comic specifically rated for a 9 year old+ audience still exists. The out of character accusation doesn't hold true at least here.

    It's still not a perfect image but Misty's looking like she's about to kick someone's ass, Colleen's looking bored and wryly amused, and Felicia is looking disgusted but not cringing away.

    These reactions are MUCH more in keeping with their characterizations. And still portrays something of "How will they get out of this one?" While suggesting a possible answer in "kicking tentacle ass".

    (Of course one could read them, as a few in the comments do, as "enjoying it" because of the smirking. But there's only so much you can do with the original staging. Besides, at least if they ARE enjoying it, there isn't that disgusting rape element involved. One takes what one can get.)

    And in an aesthetic note: the additional fixing of Misty's hairstyle to look a bit more like her actual hairstyle is a very nice touch.

  • At May 27, 2007 8:35 PM, Blogger Will said…

    First let me say that after ten some years of philosophy courses and debate tournaments, I tend to lean towards being the devil's advocate, regardless of personal feelings.

    That being said, I think that Mary Jane being an actress/model, just by virtue of position, contains the element of being a "sex object." It is not all that goes in to being an actress or model, naturally, but it is indeed a feature of that. I can the effect of the statue being mitigated if it were showing her being a sex object as part and parcel of being an actress/model. Stripped of that context, it can make her seem "just" a sex object. But there is still the fact that in addition to being an actress, a model, and the love of Peter's life, she is in addition a sex object, and not just by virtue of her being hot or a woman, but by simply being a person. If the statue showed her just as an actress or model or the love of Peter's life, that would be highlighting one aspect of who she is, but not her totality. If the objection is that it doesn't highlight other of her (arguably) more admirable characteristics, then I think its absolutely subjective as to what constitutes an admirable trait. But saying prima facie that being a sex object is "bad," well that seems dubious. What is a model but a sex object? In the statue, she is arguably posing in much the same manner as she would in her career as a model. But again, I note that it is stripped of the model context.

    Is it good or bad that people are sometimes seen as sex objects? I don't think the answer is obviously one or the other in any given case, or in every case. Just as it might be good or bad that someone is presented as being just what their job is. On a very small scale I know I hated people who knew my name calling me the receptionist. And certainly it might be good or bad for people to be defined based on their status in a relationship (lord knows it can be frustrating to be introduced primarily as so-and-so's boyfriend or girlfriend). In the immortal words of young Vader, "I'm a person and my name's Anakin." Its possible that any statue that does not represent the totality of a person is a misrepresentation.

    I can see the defensiveness of the creators of the statue as being more of an issue. I, too, take issue with the fact that the statue is not a good representation of the picture. Perhaps they are just bad statue makers.

    (I like the new cover, but its arguable that it loses soem of the, I guess, "danger" (?), of the first one. How/that they get out of this situation seems a forgone conclusion, makes one wonder how they got in the situation in the first place if they are this together (I think it makes one wonder more how they got in this situation in the first cover). And not knowing the inside of the book, it might not represent what happens in it, which might be a strike against it as a good cover (for instance, to me, the revised cover suggests that the characters have actually lead the Brood into a trap/endgame, or that they know something the Brood doesn't rather than vice versa, but that might not be what happens in the book). However, if one of the markers of a good cover is that it makes you want to pick up the book though, one could always just see how many would pick up the original and how many would pick up the revised.)

    Finally, as to the cover, this may seem nitpicking, but I think it is important: Shang Chi is clearly taller, and his chains seem to have no more slack or tension on them than of the main three. From my perspective, he looks to be just in the same situation that the women are in (albeit, minus the tentacles, but given he is in the same pit, and knowing its the Brood, one can be sure he is in for the same fate as the others). If anything, it is the Tarantula who comes off the best. Though we don't get a full look at her, her arms are straight, indicating that she is doing something, either raising her arms or pulling her weight down. She's not doing the latter because she is unconscious(or dazed like Colleen), as it looks like she is looking up, directly at her captors in the grates.

    As for acting our of character, that is sometimes just what people. I think one is hard pressed to find a real person who has never acted contrary to what their supposedly fixed character is. In many cases, we can see this a boon, as one is able to overcome the momentary character flaw or moment of weakness to come back stronger and more resolved than before. Peter Parker acted out of character once, and that lead to tragedy, which lead him to become Spider-man.

    And poor taste or not (though I cannot actually find anything really good about the Felicia part), sometimes when people are faced with the same trauma again, they buckle, rather than see it as a source of strength. Now, thats just a truism, but I agree with you that part of the point of her retcon was to make her a stronger more empowered character, and that such a pose might go against that intention. Or again, it could be a case of character lapse.

    I think that my main point is that none of this is obvious, or obviously right or wrong. People can have a strong, visceral reaction against something and later find ways to understand if not appreciate it. Same way with good reactions. Sometimes you love something and later come to think that you actually find it distasteful. Or, the general human condition of finding oneself loving something they hate, and vice versa. Anyway, I like a good debate.

  • At May 27, 2007 10:07 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    :-) Honestly I'm pretty indifferent to the statue (it's pretty sexist, but I've seen worse, and the appeal is understandable), I rather like the sketch.

    I don't think I'll EVER appreciate the HfH cover. :-) We'll have to agree to disagree about the merits of that one.

    My position's more that I think automatically assuming that people are offended because they are missing the message is over-defensive and trying to shift blame. Sometimes things just offend people and we ought to be prepared that that reaction happens and is usually fairly understandable, even if it's disagreed with. :-)

    :-) I do enjoy a good debate/discussion occasionally.

  • At May 28, 2007 1:04 AM, Blogger Seth T. Hahne said…

    K, I defintely have some thoughts on what you said that might help you see where I'm coming from. Unfortunately, I'm on vacation in Nebraska (of all places) and only get a few minutes a day to check email and other things, so my response will have to wait. But I do think what you've said is worthwhile. See you in a week :)

  • At May 28, 2007 1:12 AM, Blogger kalinara said…

    Hi Dane, I was thinking, since the topic is a bit of a digression, it might be a good idea to take this to email. :-)

    Mine's or

    Looking forward to the discussion!

  • At May 28, 2007 7:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I can't pretend to be entirely comfortable with the laissez-faire economy of offense that has been described, but that is partly because I can at least recognize that, as in the DC/"niggardly" example, that economy is what has evolved, in the absence of genuine, sincere social change, as the way for women and minorities to obtain some attention to their complaints and, occasionally, help.

    I suppose the dominant values of the mass media have something to do with why "my feelings were hurt, my dignity denied" is a more successful pitch than "the government systematically disregards the legitimate complaints of the disadvantaged class to which I belong." I suppose, further, that the expansive definition of "offensive" is the price that we pay for not making a greater effort to weave women and minorities into society properly.

    One awkward question, though, is what "adverse consequences" any offender ought to suffer. Usually, there is nothing more than a strained, contingent, insincere apology that satisfies nobody; occasionally, somebody gets fired and everyone who was offended is pleased but hardly satisfied ("he's just a scapegoat"; "really the CEO ought to resign"; "meet the new boss..."). The apologies never satisfy for the same reason that politicians' apologies (and, in the economy of offense, we are all politicians on the campaign trail, hunting and hiding gaffes) never satisfy: no one wants to take the tactical and strategic risk of admitting a mistake. That never yields dividends. The firings are never satisfactory because they are never enough, and sometimes not even the right thing.

    That said, what "adverse consequences" ought to be imposed in this case, and who ought to suffer them? One might suggest that this would be an opportunity to replace the current management of Marvel and DC with professionals, rather than amateurs with amateurs' arrogance, but that's just what I would do, and it would be more for the business reasons that the statue and the cover indicate (lost market share, incompetent brand management, etc.) than any gut reaction to the statue or the cover. Short of the New Jerusalem, what punishment would be enough?

  • At May 28, 2007 11:41 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    Honestly, the only adverse response I advocate is not buying the product, as well as vocally stating why.

    Since a lot of the times, if things don't sell, companies can easily attribute the wrong reason. ( No one wants to read strong heroines, vs. People reacting badly to a questionable cover).

    Really though I think that the commotion and lowered sales potential (whether or not it turns out to actually happen that way) are probably enough "punishment".

    (Since offensiveness IS so subjective, I have trouble with the idea of a standard recrimination element. Everyone's offended by something...though racism and sexism and other related "isms" that are provably harmful do tend to merit some kind of consequence dependent on the level of offense, IMO.)

  • At May 29, 2007 4:21 PM, Blogger Scott said…

    "Also I'd like to clarify that while I argue that offensiveness means "someone is offended by it.", I don't think every offensive thing is a bad thing.

    Harry Potter, or holding someone's hand in public, are offensive to some people. That doesn't mean people shouldn't read the book or hold hands."

    I'm glad you posted this, since it saves me having to point out that many people are offended by seeing two persons of the same sex kissing or holding hands in public.

    While there's no arguing that they *are* offended, I couldn't agree with the sentiment that they have any real *right* to be, or that it's necessarily proper to label the act itself as offensive. At least not if the word is to be taken with its usual derogatory connotations.

    Even, I submit, if the couple in question kissed with every intention of freaking out any homophobes that might happen to be in the area...

    Which is not to say I don't agree with those who found the statue, the cover, and numerous other images rather offensive lately, but I suspect that's because I share certain standards of what's acceptable with them. Before we say that this is a totally subjective, eye of the beholder kind of thing, however, we should be aware that there are those with very different standards out there, which we may not want to validate by saying that everything is relative.

    I certainly think there's an analysis to be done showing that expression of racism, sexism, and other forms of bigotry and oppression is in some sense objectively more damaging than other forms of expression that might offend, say, bigots. I'm just not sure that it's been more than assumed here.

  • At June 02, 2007 9:30 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Just on the subject of being aware of offensive language... "lame" is actually an ableist term.

    But, great post! I don't think the "intent is not an excuse" argument can be stressed enough. Especially since people still have a hard time wrapping their minds around the concept.

  • At June 02, 2007 11:50 AM, Blogger kalinara said… *is*, isn't it? I never thought of that.

    That's pretty embarrassing. I'll have to watch out for that. Thanks, Tek!


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