One of the fun things about doing a dissertation on comic books is that I get to spend some time lurking in random forums on the internet (Facebook groups, Redit, Tumblr, that sort of thing) just observing subcultural behavior in fan culture. Anyway, one particular group I monitor had a very odd interaction about a week ago that has gotten me thinking and that I would like people’s input for because it’s going to become a future show. Here’s the background:
If you’ve been on the internet for more than a day, you might have noticed that there’s no shortage of porn. Shocker… I know. In addition to actual porn, there are also tons of forums that aren’t quite porn, but are instead people (mostly male people) just sort of lusting after pictures of sexy women superheroes (drawings, screen caps from movies, cosplay models) . Since my specific dissertation is about representations of sexuality and gender in superhero books, one of the things that I’ve been doing is monitoring forums where fans talk about drawings of sexy superheroes. Yes… this is like actual scientific research for me. This is my actual job!
Last week, a member of this particular forum posted an image from a recent issue of DC’s Bombshells. For those unfamiliar, Bombshells is a comic about an alternate universe where DC’s superheroines came to prominence during WWII in the almost total relative absence of superheroes. In other words, the majority of the characters are female. Among other things, this means that by necessity, if the book wants to depict stories about romantic relationships, they’re sort of necessarily lesbian. The image in question was from Bombshells United #33, which came out this month, wherein the character of Supergirl and Lois Lane enter into a lesbian relationship which they cement with a kiss.
Now, again, assuming you’ve been on the internet longer than the last two or three hours, you probably have enough experience to predict the response to this. There was a lot of “OMG, So fucking HAWT!!!!” type talk, a little but of “yay, LGBTQ representation!” and fair amount of geeky complaints about the images use of the word “canonically” to refer to a comic that takes place in an alternate reality to the main DC continuity (it is a geek group after all). And of course, there was a guy outraged at yet another attempt by liberal companies to force their SJW gay agenda on the reader.
Yep… I want to talk about THAT GUY!
But not the way you think. This won’t be a show about gender/sexuality representation or the male gaze or even sexuality in comics. Not exactly, anyway. I’m actually sure we’re going to have a bunch of those shows on the podcast. But what I’m actually interested in right now is the particular way in which THAT GUY made his argument. As you might expect, the second he said that, he was attacked by a flood of people calling him a homophobe. He then went into defensive mode explaining himself. His argument appeared to break down to: he has daughters who read that book, and it’s totally inappropriate for DC to be showing them that sort of filth. It’s all because DC is trying to match Marvel and Disney’s attempts to “gay up” all of their books. It’s disgusting and comics are not the place for it. Now, he can never let his daughters read any DC book ever again because he can’t trust them. He’s accepting of other lifestyles but, he is a Christian and he was raised better than to want to be around such filth!
There it is! That’s the part that got me. As I said, I mostly lurk on the group, but I really had to know more about that. So while others were calling him an intolerant bigot, I tried to temper my personal feelings on sexuality and ask a followup question to get him to explain further without confronting him directly on his bigotry. So I asked “excuse me, but are you telling us that your Christian values prevent you from accepting a homosexual kiss in a comic book, but are perfectly ok with reading a facebook group that is literally 99% pictures of sexy girls in their underwear?”
He responded that the two things are different because “there’s nothing unchristian about looking at sexy women in nature.”
FASCINATING!!!! Seriously, fucking fascinating!
Of course, his response is kind of ridiculous. That’s not a woman in nature. It’s a drawing, of an alien who can fly and shoot laser beams from her eyes. But that’s not the part that gets me. What gets me is that he found a way to specifically structure his own view of Christianity AROUND the ideology that he already had. I was expecting a response to the effect of “Yes, I am a sinner and I have impure thoughts, but I don’t want comics to corrupt my innocent daughters” or something like that. But no, this was basically “God’s ok with me fapping to cartoon characters, so long as they’re straight!” Fascinating!
And this got me thinking about other ways in which religion is used to validate (or invalidate) our media inconsistent manners. That is, not whether or not the religious tenants are correct, but how are they manipulated in order to justify media. For instance, in the United States we have a particularly sanctified view of sexuality in film in general, but we’re relatively accepting of violence. Some other countries are the exact opposite… they’ll allow naked sex scenes on broadcast television but shy away from things like bullets or blood. Famously, the UK version of the 1990s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon was altered to remove depictions of Michelangelo using his iconic nunchaku, eventually causing the producers of the show to just have him start using a grappling hook as his primary weapon instead. Similarly, in the first Avengers film, Phil Coulson’s death is modified in the UK release so that the spear that goes in his back never comes out of his chest. Because, I guess it’s ok to stab someone “a little bit” but not “too much.” So THAT GUY‘s view isn’t all that surprising. For all the progress that the last couple years have seen for LGBTQ+ rights, the United States is actually relatively low on the spectrum of queer acceptance in the world, at least among the larger world powers.
These are cultural considerations. The cultures of the US and the UK are quite similar, but also very different. I don’t run into a lot of people trying to justify them with religion, but religion is deeply ingrained in cultural ideology. Generally, they don’t try to “explain it away.” It is simply accepted that “of course we can’t show a boob on TV, think of the children!!! Bullets? oh yeah, that’s fine.” So I actually find THAT GUY to be kind of refreshing in his attempt at thoughtful explanation… even though I disagree with him pretty much entirely.
So that’s what we’ll be discussing on an episode that is coming up. Wayne and I have asked Danny Anderson, theology professor and host of the Sectarian Review podcast, to join us. We’ll be trying to work our way through the idea of how people structure their religious views around their media, and vice versa. How to people justify their views on sexuality or violence or any other issue within media that might nominally be contrary to it? And as always, we’re looking for feedback from other people BEFORE we record the episode. I’m very interested to know where you see religion working within pop culture or working against it. How do you rationalize them or how do you see other people attempting to rationalize them? Does fiction mean that all bets are off and we can step outside of our normal ideology or does personal morality come into play in the media we consume?
Let us know your thoughts, comments, questions and if you have a lot to say we’d always like to know more and even have you on the show.
And of course, make sure you check and see the podcast episodes that are already posted on the website, iTunes, Stitcher or wherever and let us know what you think.