Wednesday, May 23, 2007

AH! Digs Deeper

There were several things that I found discordant in Adam Hughes' defense of his Mary Jane statue over at

Hughes' argument that our society's presumed over-sensitivity to race/racism is an analogue to the unfounded charges of sexism leveled against him is unfortunate. The interviewer tries to draw him back from this stance, but Hughes proceeds to wade in further and deeper on his own.

Hughes believes that he is in the clear because MJ is not doing Spidey's laundry: she's actually finding his costume in the laundry pile! She's discovering that he's Spider-Man for the first time. Get it now? Clearly, Hughes argues, this makes the statuette non-sexist or, even, anti-sexist.

Primarily, though, I am dismayed by Hughes' I-am-the-victim tone and his some-women-like-my-art defenses.

For now, I wanted to single out just one item from the exchanges for comment:
AH: Well, that’s how I end up looking at this – is it really a sexist or misogynistic act if it wasn’t intended that way on the part of the people doing it? If you perceive something that way, but it wasn’t meant to be that way, and it’s not sending people back to the stone age, is it really a sexist or misogynistic thing that’s going on, or are you seeing something that’s either not there, or that the artist never intended to be there?

My response to Hughes' assertion is simple:

Yes, it is indeed sexism no matter what you intended. What you intended isn't the issue.

Where I live, you still get the traffic ticket even if you tell the cop you didn't intend to run the red light.

What Hughes doesn't understand is that telling women who are already offended by his work that their judgment is ill-founded is not the solution.

The artist problematically presumes that those aggrieved would support rather than condemn him if only they knew more, knew what he knows, or simply knew better. This isn't a valid defense.

It is actually an additional offense.

The artist problematically presumes that those aggrieved would support rather than condemn him if only they knew more, knew what he knows, or simply knew better. This isn't a valid defense.

Of course it isn't. Moreover, it's something that is taught to all art students; the art piece speaks for itself. What the artist intends can make for interesting background discussion, but only the messages the art sends in the public sphere matter, because art doesn't exist without an interactive audience. Art is communication and, like all languages, only truly exists during that communication. If the audience interprets the piece in a way the artist intended, he or she can congratulate themselves on a job well done. If the audience consistently "mis"interprets the piece, than either it's shitty art or the artist has failed to note their own proverbial vocabulary.

For instance, a person may say "nigger" in a perfectly reasonable, non-aggressive tone of voice. They may not mean it as an insult. Indeed, the context of the original statement may be humorous or even an act of re-appropriation by someone of african descent. Nevertheless, without context, the word is inherently offensive and the speaker's intent irrelevant.

Ironically, in the discussions I saw, many fans were aware that the sculptor seems to have done a poor job translating humor obvious in the reference source, drawn by Hughes. They limit the blame they place on him. When I see his drawing, I know a) It's done by an artist known for tongue-in-cheek cheesecake and b) the composition presents a limited angle and c) the level of expression says "silly". His drawing doesn't bother me, because context is present, so it's a shame he felt defensive enough to open his mouth and let stupid words come out. Just because you draw well doesn't mean you speak well.
I really don't believe Adam Hughes meant to offend and from my previous conversations with him I'm sure it never even crossed his mind. Hughes has a great love of vintage cheesecake art and is known for his modern "cheesecakey" renderings.

Some people don't like cheesecake art and are going to be offended, if not by this then by other stuff. That's their right and they are going to squawk about it because it's what they do instead of creating their own art or just buying the things they support.

It doesn't mean I have to validate their opinions, outlooks or viewpoints or grant any credence to the notion that they are more civilized, proper, or egalitarian than those held by Adam Hughes, or others who find the art acceptable, engaging or desireable.

Hughes' critics need to realize that not everyone agrees with them nor do they hold the keys to the kingdom for all appropriate thought, attitude or action. Live your life as you deem appropriate and necessary, but don't seek to be a values fascist and enforce your "correct" thinking upon everyone else. If that's the way you want it, you can take a seat at the table with Mussolini, Mao, and Oliver Cromwell.

"I'm offended that you're offended. We're all offended."

Berke Breathed, Bloom County
mrnocturnal: Your invocation of censorship and (more risibly) fascism is a smokescreen that obscures the issue at hand.

My position can be stated quite clearly:

(1) Hughes can produce whatever he wants (under the constraints of his Marvel, DC, or other contracts, of course); he can depict characters, women, and anyone else however he chooses to do so, and I can say whatever I want to say about those depictions.

(2) To call an artist's depiction of a woman sexist needn't be coupled to a call for censorship or a suppression of the artist's other works. My post did not call for this course of action.

(3) I think it's an obvious fact that a male artist doesn't get to decide what is and what isn't offensive to women on his own.
To be honest, misinterpreting someone's work is misinterpreting someone's work.

It's not sexist, especially with the context behind the material. Context is everything in this piece, and critics missed it.

A woman doing laundry isn't sexist, it's a woman cleaning clothes, probably previously arranged to do so with someone else in exchange for other chores. I do laundry where I live so I don't have to wash dishes, which someone else does. It's a mutual agreement, and sometimes, we step in for each other to do what we need to...pretty sure that's how most people these days work. I don't see how chores are sexist, probably because I live in Bizarro world where chores are simply things that need to be done.

Yes, it's terrible everything was forced on women back in the day. Yes misogenistic men are horrible, but you know what's worse? The boy who cried wolf, or in this case the people crying sexism at an artist without knowing backstory or context behind a statuette based on his work.

Sexism is a terrible thing, but no one is arguing that Superman is drawn in such a way that male readers are horrified. His crotch is accentuated through red underwear, and his name declares "I am better than everything else!", but the character is written in a way that even those problems with his character are minor.

As an artist, you notice everyone has their own style, whether it comes from Da Vinci, Alex Ross (who drew the PowerGirl pic you have), Shirow Masamune, Yasuhiro NIghtow, Donato di Betto Bardi, or whomever they got inspired by. Some like drawing abstract, some love realism, but let's face it, every artist has someone who's going to hate their work for on reason or another. Even when an artist sticks to their work along side other artists' works, the paintings/drawings don't match, even if it's the same subject matter because of quirks in every artist.

For PowerGirl, one reoccurring theme in her storyline is overcoming sexism. Writers even make her upset about the treatment she endures, but she also says this equivalent of this in an issue, "Hey, they can downgrade themselves by staring, but it's not going to stop the punch I'm throwing". Her name is PowerGIRL because SHE IS A GOLDEN AGE CHARACTER THAT IS A PARALLEL UNIVERSE EQUIVALENT TO SUPERGIRL, CHANGING HER NAME WOULD THROW A GOOD PORTION OF THE FANBASE FOR THE CHARACTER INTO DISARRAY, much like when Dick Grayson (the first Robin) became Nightwing and Jason Todd (the second Robin) was killed off. (People who had missed out on some of the comics at the time thought the original Robin had been killed off.) Though I hate to use capslock, I really can't stress that point enough.

Look, I respect that you want to defend women and jump on the band wagon to do so, but don't you think it's just a wee bit sexist by supporting the idea that they can't defend themselves by you, a guy, making this article?

There is too much chastising of men and not enough of the women who hinder progress to a sexually equal society...and so long as one half of our species does it, so too will the other.

You want to stop sexism, chastise the women who flaunt their physical assets in real life, not some comic artist.
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