Sunday, May 21, 2006

The Gift of Ammunition

(Edit: I'd like all new visitors who might find this to know beforehand, like most of my regular readers know, that a) it's silently confirmed, and b) much of this rant is influenced by me being angry I can't analyze the writer's work anymore without coming back to the kink. Jerk made me lose my objectivity.)

Kalinara sent one of the WFA links she found. It was livejournal post that linked to an erotic BDSM-style website, with a rant about the website that included an excerpt from the website owner and an except of a fan-letter to the website.

A fan-letter written by a well-known former writer of a female-lead series.

Anyway, I read it and we got into a mild argument about whether or not the writer was being unprofessional in his letter. He was expressing a personal opinion, not presenting himself as a representative of DC, and even saying that the company would not have allowed what he'd wanted. Kali thought I was thinking that way simply because I was oversensitive (to professionalism vs unprofessionalism), and pointed out a few times that a well-known writer had expressed support for WFA and that I hadn't thought it was unprofessional. We quibbled a bit, and I reluctantly gave in, and left the post alone, bookmarked for WFA.

It wasn't until a few minutes later realized the problem with what he'd said. The very serious problem.

You see, the quote had got me thinking back to this writer's tenure on the series. And it got me thinking about all of the various problems I'd had with his run, problems I mentally pushed aside because, on the surface, he'd seemed like one of the better writers she had. I still disliked what he did, but I hadn't considered any sinister personal motives behind it. I'd attributed it to standard societal problems with portraying female characters. Problems even female writers tend to have.

It made me tempted to pick up his old stories, go back and reread them, and then pinpoint where his professed fantasies had affected his work. And that, I think, is where the comments may have crossed the professional line. The earlier writer who had expressed support for WFA? Her comments could not be twisted beyond comparison to support someone's accusations that her run had an anti-man agenda. But this other guy? This is going to come back to bite him in the butt. Because now that that opinion is out there -- that everyone knows that not only did he fantasize, he fantasized while writing the book -- there's nothing to stop a fan from linking to his comments to support the idea his run may have misogynistic undertones.

12 comments:

  1. While I don't necessarily think what amounts to a personal letter should fall under the category of professionalism/non-professionalism, I do agree that it's unseemly.

    We don't really need to know that much about a writer/artist's sex life/preferences.

    It just leads us to think way too much about what *exactly* is going into the comics we read. And then it gets weird.

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  2. Yeah, it's one thing for the fans to notice patterns and play aroudn with theories. It's another thing entirely to find out that you may not be reading too much into it.

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  3. I think with this you really wonder if this preference leaked into his work, it's hard not to. I certianly wondered if this influenced whatever contributions he made to Infinite Crisis.

    It's tricky. Something as offputting and unseemly as is this, you might not ever know for sure if he's just writing a superhero tale, or indulging in his fantasies. It requires a lot of deep, critical reading to judge whether it's for a greater reason or meaning to the story, or empty and shameless. Whether or not his fantasy intrudes upon the work.

    And it's not like it's something exclusive to comics or gender issues - people will always keep debating over whether or not Shakespeare was anti-Semetic with Merchant of Venice.

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  4. JLG -- *Nod*

    Unless, of course, in a day or so we hear that the letter is a hoax (and he sues the website into the ground). *Fingers crossed*

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  5. I don't think it's either unprofessional or unseemly for the writer to express his BDSM fantasies and how they relate to his work on a BDSM website.

    In a somewhat parallel situation, Stephen Sadowski drew a naked Wildcat for Prism Comics Guide, which is perhaps one step further than just saying he just wants to see naked male superheroes and actually doing something about it. I'm guessing a depressingly large portion of the DC message boards crowd disapprove of homosexuality more strongly than they do BDSM and don't want to see it applied to their straight, manly heroes. But it is within Sadowski's right as both a human being and as an artist to express his desires and how they inform his work, all the more so in a forum for people with the same desires.

    (Am I going to get in trouble for comparing BDSM with homosexuality? I know it's not the same thing at all, but I was looking for something that you and I wouldn't call unseemly but someone else would.)

    Further, BDSM is not necessarily misogynistic. Yes, it involves violence against women, but it also involves violence against men, and, somewhat importantly, it has recognized ties to the character in question. You and I may not engage or even see the appeal of it, but it's just another sex act.

    So yes, the writer in question's fantasies almost certainly DID influence his work, as Sadowski's fantasies influenced Sadowski's work. But why is it unprofessional to actually admit that, or unseemly to admit that in a forum of people who share that fantasy? I'd understand it being wrong if he shared that fantasy at an all-ages Comic Book Convention or the letters page of the comic, but in its place this letter seems fine.

    Or rather, very weird and disturbing to me personally, but within the creator's right to say.

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  6. Hmm, perhaps I should have quoted the letter in question, rather than just linked to an LJ post about it -- but I'm leaning, in my innocent mind, towards a hoax - and since a link is easier to remove than a bunch of quotes (and I figure my opinion is just as valid in a hypothetical situation).

    In a somewhat parallel situation, Stephen Sadowski drew a naked Wildcat for Prism Comics Guide, which is perhaps one step further than just saying he just wants to see naked male superheroes and actually doing something about it.

    Except that DC Comics is friendly to the GLBT movement, and the Wildcat picture wasn't anything that would not have been published in one of their books as it had strategically placed... shower stuff.

    Further, BDSM is not necessarily misogynistic. Yes, it involves violence against women, but it also involves violence against men, and, somewhat importantly, it has recognized ties to the character in question. You and I may not engage or even see the appeal of it, but it's just another sex act.

    Again, where I should have done some quoting. You see, the site in question specializes in the violence against women, particularly superheroines aspect, exclusively.

    But why is it unprofessional to actually admit that, or unseemly to admit that in a forum of people who share that fantasy?

    Well, if he'd simply complimented the site and signed his name. Or if he's just donated/been commisioned artwork depicting the fantasy, I'd be fine with it. But, he went forward as a writer of the character and said so. It lends a legitimacy to the fantasy that the company likely wouldn't approve of. And, as I said, should this be real (and hell, even if it is a hoax), his words and the nature of the site itself can be brought up to trash the work.

    Or rather, very weird and disturbing to me personally, but within the creator's right to say.

    It's within his legal and moral rights, but I don't believe it's professional. That's why I wrote the post.

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  7. Oh, but Kali's got a point (That I missed earlier, sorry) about the personal letter aspect. If private correspondence was the case, it still should never have been posted publicly as an endorsement for the site, but I can't call it unprofessional.

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  8. I'm not certain if I care if it's professional or not, and I seriously doubt it's a hoax - BDSM is getting pretty pretty mainstream and Wonder Woman would appeal to a comic writer who is into BDSM for obvious reasons. Even if her creative origins are a myth or exagerated, people still know about them and they persist because their is lots in the comic to back up the argument.

    It was a stupid decision on the writer's part because it will give critics ammunition.

    But, again, I'm not sure sure I'm unhappy he made such a mistake. Not 'cause I have it in for the guy - I have no opinion about him in particular whatsoever - but because it's pretty damn obvious to me that most comic writers and artists are much more likely to view their female characters as objects of lust than their male characters. This is obviously going to affect the storyline, whether they intentionally mean for it to do so or not. I think this needs to change - and it's not going to change until they start to publicly admit it happens.

    This isn't something that happens just because most of them are men either (although it helps). Part of why I adore Joss Whedon, despite his many faults, is that he can make comments about Nathan being shirtless in Serenity without feeling like he needs to make it clear this is "for the ladies" or defend his heterosexuality in any way. He knows it's sexual (despite the overall context) and that certain fans will love it and that's all he needs to know. He doesn't feel the need to pretend that a sexy Mal is any less normal than a sexy Inara - or that it's impossible for people that aren't sexually attracted the character in question to simply appreciate human beauty.

    We need more men and women like that, and fewer who are afraid to admit that they are writing for a particular audience when it's obvious they are. Leaving aside my thoughts on BDSM for a moment, stuff like this bugs me because such writers either claim to write for a large non-homogeneous audience or (just the opposite) pretend that all comic fans are male and and always will be. The latter argument is just plain silly when talking about Wonder Woman, and yet, this author's letter implies that is exactly how he sees Wonder Woman. He talks about not being "allowed" to do stuff, rather than not being able to do certain things. The former suggests that DC and the censors were the reason certain things weren't done, the latter would be how a writer who knows they must be respectful a a larger audience would view the situation. That's the disturbing part to me, and it strongly supports that argument that it wasn't the premise that was changed, just the extremes to which the story was taken.

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  9. I don't see any unprofessionalism here. A freelancer isn't professionally obligated to remain silent about his past works, even if his comments are antithetical to the company's desired image. Heck, a freelancer isn't professionally obligated to do anything but turn in the work he's been hired to do.

    The situation would be different for a current employee publically commenting on current business, but that's not what's happening here.

    That's not to say that unseemly (to use Kalinara's word--which I think is a good one) comments shouldn't reflect on a person's professional reputation, but the comments themselves don't fall within the bounds of proscribed action.

    All that said...why does it matter to anyone here if it's unprofessional or not? Surely that's not the most worrisome thing about those comments.

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  10. Considering that there are several sketches made by Perez with Starfire in bondage, I really don't think that letter is a hoax.

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  11. It just occurred to me, we have Marston's kinks brought up to trash Wonder Woman and justify her objectified portrayal regularly in the geek community.

    Mickle -- I think I'd prefer to go on in my innocent reading of Wonder Woman than have ammunition for a crusade, but I read those back issues when I was very young.

    And I've seen female writers torn apart in this same manner. One commented a few fangirlish things about her characters in an interview that I saw linked just about everywhere people wanted to trash her run.

    afreed -- Actually, for me the professionalism is the most important thing about the letter. Otherwise, it's just somebody else's kink and I don't need to know or pay attention (as Steven pointed out above) to it. I think the most worrisome thing here is that the writer seems to feel safe to endorse this site.

    Bat -- Isn't Slavery part of Starfire's origin, though?

    And Shelley wrote a post in response because she couldn't get comments working. Check it out.

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  12. Bat -- Isn't Slavery part of Starfire's origin, though?

    True, true. But acting like she liked being in bondage was not part of her origin story... I think.

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