Monday, January 14, 2008

Two more points on that WW cover.

(Continuing from my thoughts here and here)

1) For people who think I'm giving Playboy too much credit, Greg Rucka gives them more:
And, for those of you who consider such things, take a look at the banner on the Ms. cover. "Wonder Woman for President."

Do you really think it's a coincidence that Playboy chose this year, the issue for the month containing "Tsunami Tuesday," to run this particular pictorial? Do you really?
(ETA: But that's not the main point of this post. I'm not sure I can give Playboy so much credit for forethought. Still, another coincidence for the list has me trying to shake the crazy thoughts out of my head: the article is "Sex in America" and has a poll on voter sex lives and the upcoming election.)

2) DC has long complained that Wonder Woman just doesn't sell as well as it should.

Well, the original target audience for Wonder Woman was little girls. And here I'm about to have some commenter who has never read the Golden Age Wonder Woman stories pop up and tell me that she was created as kink material. Well, I've read the archives. I've read the interviews. Marston was kind of a nut (he was clearly turned on by female supremacy), but made her to draw in female readers. Check out the archives, guys. Read some of that old Marston stuff before you condemn him as nothing more than a creepy fetishist. He didn't have his bondage kink interfere with the ability of the reader to see her as inspiring, heroic, or strong. It wasn't humiliation and degradation. He wrote fun goofy adventure stories and rope tricks. He uses getting tied up a lot, but her main weapon was a lasso not a gun or a sword. It doesn't stop readers from seeing Wonder Woman as someone they want to be. He wrote a hero first.

The current target audience for Wonder Woman is not little girls. It's not even women. It's so hard to convince a lot of female readers to pick her up because a lot of people just think the character is nothing but kink material (I know a lot of feminists who question her credentials as a feminist character, and go back to that), and always has been. And stuff like this cover perpetuate that myth.

Problem with that is that the character's iconic traits demand that she be more than fetish material, so writing her that way just doesn't work. So people who go to her book for fetish material very likely put it back down too.

Basically what she has is a small core of highly dedicated fans who have loved her forever and were introduced through the television show, or their mother, or accident, or through a highly dedicated fan who went out of their way to show she wasn't just fetish material. While people outside of that small group of fans just write her off and resist reading her.

I have to wonder, does DC have any idea that this (stuff like that cover) is why they have trouble getting people to take her seriously? Why they have trouble getting women to read Wonder Woman, a character made for them?

If they're smart, they'll put their foot down and try and reclaim that image. Pink Raygun (NSFW) asked if we'd see a model as Batman in the same sort of thing. The answer's no. You won't see Batman in paint on the cover of Playgirl because DC protects their copyright to Batman, and goes out of their way to stop sexualized images of Batman. The character is money to them, they want to control how the public receives him.

Well, Playboy is considerably higher profile than the linked watercolor artist. But we don't see thing one from DC Comics about this cover.

If Warner Bros had any brains they'd realize they had the iconic female superhero in their company, and do something to prevent the public from randomly writing her off as someone's fetish.

Is it okay this time because Playboy is "Tasteful" (which could mean a) it's okay when it's done to women, b) it's okay because it's heterosexual, or c) it's okay because they have lots of money and have been around a while) do they just not give a damn about Wonder Woman?

ETA: More from Rucka
They won't. Playboy had to have permission to use the character, which means that, at the least, it was approved by Warner Bros., and at the worst, it was approved by WB and DC.

In that case:
Paul Levitz, Publisher
DC Comics
1700 Broadway
New York, NY 10019


  1. When I was seven, I found a Playboy under my parents' bed with a woman on it, with a drawn-on dress, made up to look like Jessica Rabbit. Considering that Disney's lawyers make DC's look like yapping puppies, I have to wonder if this kind of thing perhaps falls into the realm of protected expression due to parody, or due to the fact that the outfit is just different enough from WW's to avoid litigation. Note that it doesn't have the logo, the tiara, or most of the other salient, marketable details.

    DC may have been able to shut down sexualized watercolors because they were close enough to the actual character designs to cry infringement, or maybe because they knew that one lone fan-artist isn't going to have the resources to engage in a legal battle, even if he is engaging in protected speech. Playboy isn't going to be cowed by such threats, and I'd wager that this is just generic enough to pass.

  2. Does Playboy have any particular interest in who wins this election? Why specifically would they want to stop Hilary?

  3. Tom -- At the very least they could say something, issue a statement of disapproval. I wasn't pissed off until I remembered that fan artist. That guy was small potatoes, and they thought he was harming the character. This is a major magazine, diluting their first lady's feminist cred here.

    Evan -- I don't fall under conspiracy thought like Rucka seems to (I edited to make that clarification), but it does seem like there's been a major upswell in the general misogyny of the mainstream culture since Hillary embarked on her campaign.

    Might be part of the general freaked-outed-ness a lot of people are having to powerful women right now, which I think is partially because one is so close to the power seat.

    I bet three years ago if a Playmate were to dress as Wonder Woman, there'd be more emphasis on how sexy it is to see her kick someone's ass and less attributing all her power to her sexuality.

  4. The Mark Chamberlain Batman and Robin watercolors you referred to weren’t just sexualized – they depicted Batman and Robin engaging in sodomy. Because of Robin’s age, a sex act between Batman and Robin is actually pedophilia. Unless Playboy is showing Wonder Woman having sex with an 8-year old minor, I don’t really see how the two compare. The Playboy images don’t show Wonder Woman engaging in a sex act. It only shows her with a painted on costume.

    Also, if you look at Mark Chamberlain’s website, it shows that he still has Batman and Robin artwork for sale. I have to think DC wasn’t too successful in controlling their characters being depicted this way.

  5. I bet three years ago if a Playmate were to dress as Wonder Woman, there'd be more emphasis on how sexy it is to see her kick someone's ass

    I don't know. It might be, in that sort of fake-out "girl power!!1!" costume you'd see in something like Charlie's Angels or Spice Girls. In terms of sexuality, very little of "kicking ass" comes to terms with the hand on my libido tap. People overtly kicking ass are usually low-attention-span assholes.

    I'm not a big comics fan, but I like reading your blog (and some others Fangirls Attack directs you to) for a nice catch up of what's worth reading or to get a overall sense of what's going on. But WW always striked me as a problematic concept to begin with. Her kicking ass aspect ("fetish", initially?) is just the other side of the oppresion coin, mixed in many ways in a hazy fog soup of weird sexual-sex and sexual-political issues (that unintentionally serves to explicit the overall sexual/power undertones implicit in superhero imaginarium).

    (and, remember, three years ago was amidst the times where S&M and black leather was all there was in pop culture! Let's just be happy we're out of that)

  6. Does Warner Brothers make all the revealing Wonder Woman/Supergirl costumes that are seen every year around Halloween? I'm not trying to make a point, I'm just curious.

  7. Lisa from Pink Raygun contacted DC, and was given DC's official position on the subject. Don't get your hopes up.

  8. Sorry about that bad linkage.


  9. I'm of two minds on this.
    On the one hand, I agree fully with everyone who has a problem with the cover.
    On the other hand, I really don't want to see the ability of major media companies to strictly control their properties in parody and suchlike uses get any stronger.
    The last time I picked up a copy of MAD, something about the tone of the parodies made me wonder if WB's more direct control of the magazine, without Gaines serving as a buffer, might be resulting in an editorial policy of weakening the list of landmark cases that MAD won over the years and which are responsible for a lot of the legal precedents protecting parody that we rely on now. That is part of the MAD "legacy" that WB now has custody of I could totally see them deliberately allow to whither. I can hardly see present day MAD going to court to defend their right to parody Superman. Sure, as part of the WB family, they may not need to , but I can definitely see them, say, not going through with or altering a parody of, say, a Disney property so they don't end up going to court and establishing a legal precedent that could weaken WB's control of its own properties in the long run.
    In short, I can see why the cover would give someone the creeps, but the idea of encouraging a media conglomerate to be *more* draconian in its pursuit of uses like these gives *me* the creeps.
    I agree that their enforcement is inconsistent and hypocritical, but I feel that defending the rights of, say, the artist you mention who drew the gay Batman stuff, rather than telling them to widen the focus of their restrictiveness, is the only right thing do do in this case.

  10. John -- Thanks.

    Jake -- Thing is, problematic as she may be at times, she's still a very powerful symbol for women around the world and it hurts to see her dismissed as merely a fetish character. And again, the people who dismiss her origins as merely Marston's fetishes have never read the man's work. He wrote fun, goofy adventure for young girls. That the popularity of those stories is chalked up to the use of ropes and bondage as a common form of danger pisses all over the appeal and angle of those stories -- that they were heroic works starring female characters written for girls. Not for the boys that the fetish would appeal to, not to indulge his personal fetish (because he had plenty of adult ways to indulge it), but Marston wrote those stories for girls, so that they could see someone strong and heroic and look up to her.

    The Playboy cover doesn't piss me off nearly as much as the whole fetish meme does overall. That it gets constantly pulled out to justify packaging and marketing a powerful women's hero as merely a men's sexual fantasy is the problem, and it's a problem that Wonder Woman and by extension nearly all female superheroes have. The value their stories have for women is overwritten by the "Hawtness" factor, because the sexiness is what appeals to the straight men. Who cares what appeals to the women, right?

    Also, as I pointed out, they wouldn't stand for this treatment with Batman.

    Jack -- Is that what you took away from my post? I was trying to point out was that Warner Bros clearly has a double-standard here, not advocating for them to troll small-time artists and break their easels.

  11. Agreed. The key word surely is "merely", "primarily" or even "often" (as in, mainstream creators treat it too often as merely cheesecake or material for straight men; or the fetish hur hur Wizard-nudge-wink aspect -- the reason why I marked "?" in my mention of the fetish in the post above).

    She's a rich character, no one could really begin to argue with that. I just find her problematic in the same of many ways I find Superman, Batman, Spiderman, or any other flag-wearing nude-suit wrestling power-fantasy problematic in terms of politics and sexual undertones of repression mixed with weird power allocations (a geekier version of the male-gaze). It's really not so much about Marston or WW specifically -- those "fetish" aspects I'd even consider more healthy for its ignorable blatantness -- or not noticeable if you're not old enough -- than Liefeldnian/90's T&A bloodlust or incoherent Cho butt-shots amidst world-danger scenarios, or Tygra-style shirt popping. It's not the Marston-ian 'fetish' people get hang up on that I find problematic, it's the pervasive treatment in that juvenile sexuality -- and how they treat it in that Wizard Magazine manner.

    >>they wouldn't stand for this treatment with Batman.

    Well, that's also because they're poor bastards who fear getting the gay if they see even Batman&Robin suit-nipples. Nor they point out 24-7 the homoerotic/"homosocial" relationships Batman nurtures with pretty much everyone (Robin, Joker, and at times even Gordon). In both cases, I don't think the problem would be their sexualization. It's the pervasive nature of THAT particular stance on sexuality -- "(my 15-25 straight male type of) sex first and foremost when judging someone, if not being the only criteria"; even during a fight scene or end of the world scenario, conflicting a skeevy peep-hole sexual domination and violence in a weird way.

    I wouldn't see much problem in superhero porn per se (even gay ones included with characters I like; even in the comics themselves) if they weren't in that pervasive beat of Wizard-Image it is under right now (still).

    Sorry for the long babbling (haven't had a good night sleep). Just saying I pretty much agree (with some notes aside). But I still find the inside remark about Lynda Carter the most jarring bit.

  12. "Jack -- Is that what you took away from my post?"
    No, more from the other posts linked where people are saying "DC should sue". I totally think the little artists should be left alone, and agree that it's hypocritical for DC to ruthlessly go after, say gay Batman stuff and leave Playboy alone.
    I just think that the weaker a large media company's ability to enforce control over properties in this manner is, the better.

  13. I think the smart move for DC here is to stay out of the ruckus. As long as it's perceived as a fangirls vs. Playboy thing, DC can only win -- they get tons of free publicity for their JLA movie project (which features Wonder Woman) and the ruckus might even help re-start the Wonder Woman movie project. If they take sides, they are going to piss people off either way. It would be ENORMOUSLY dumb of them to get involved in this, which is why I'm surprised they haven't done so.

    I've had other thoughts on the project as well (NSFW):