The List will be postponed a week this month. Between the last day of the month falling on a Thursday and the fact that I’m painting this week, it’s gonna have to wait. I know, so sad.
Instead, you get my musings.
This musing started with this, the March 17, 2011, installment of 9 Chickweed Lane.
I only started reading this strip the week of March 14, but apparently I was fortuitous. I arrived just in time for a strip showing, coyly, a gay man and a straight woman having sex. What's going on with that is a whole topic for discussion that’s not going to be addressed here, unless someone really, really wants to in comments.
I sent this strip on to a friend, and our subsequent discussion lead to her commenting on the overly sexualized depiction of comic book characters. She’s not a comic book reader, though I’ve tried to draw her in by giving her Books of Magic (she’s a Harry Potter fan) and Fables to check out. I’ve sent her links to different comic book related sites when something I thought might pique her interest was involved. Her exposure to comics, then, is somewhat limited.
Still, it got me to wondering. What makes something a sexualized image? In the end, I think the Justice Potter Stewart pornography definition of “I know it when I see it” ends up being the only definition, but we’ll take a stab at it anyway, and so will you if you play along.
My friend had some questions to try to delineate what it is: “Is the reasonable person supposed to think about sex when they see it? Is the “art” about light, and shadow and perspective, or is it about hotness? Could one substitute a fat or ugly person in the “art” and it still evoke the same kind of feelings?” She also opined that “When all the characters are drawn to accentuate their secondary sex characteristics, I consider that sexualized. Then, there is (sic) the clothing choices, that are made for the characters, which emphasize that aspect.” Secondary sex characteristics would be those that develop with puberty, for those of you, like me, who forgot those 8th grade health terms.
Let’s take a look at a few images to see how her ideas work out with those.
Easy, right? Michelangelo works from the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Still, we have a well muscled man whose junk is visible and a muscular woman who, if she turns a bit, will be giving us a mammary shot. Sexualized images? Depends on your peccadilloes. There's an interplay of light, shadow, and so forth that says this is art, not to mention a fantastic depiction of human bodies. If you think a naked human is automatically sexual, then these are sexualized images. If you're looking for a grey area, though, this is art.
Of course, there's some unwarranted presumption here that sexualized and art are exclusive. That's not necessarily so. It's not to me, anyway.
Now, here we have a full frontal David and a half naked Venus de Milo. Not pictures, but statuary, but still, largely universally proclaimed as art. Both are well defined in musculature (that's some six pack on Venus, really). Neither are over developed, but they're frank depictions of the human form. Are they sexualized? Neither's doing anything in the way of sexual activity, but then neither are most super hero comic book characters.
Then there's the other end of the spectrum.
I've never read Tarot. I've read some hilarious critiques, but never read it. Still, it's fairly obvious it's all about sex, just cloaked in something resembling a plot. Gotta say, in looking for an image for this, the most amusing thing I found was that Jim Balent bases the depiction of the character on his wife, Holly Golightly. I've seen pictures of her with him. That's a hell of a filter on his vision. Not that Golightly's unattractive (or that this drawing is attractive, come to think of it). She just doesn't look the least bit like this form that's all boobs, no waist and no hips. In fact, his wife looks like a real woman. Go figure, what with her being one.
But back to the point. There's no question this is a sexualized image, as that's the intent of the book. Is it art? There's light and shadow. There's a clean line. There's not much in the realm of reality about it, but then neither is there in this:
Won't find too many aruging that Picasso's work isn't art just because it's not realistic. It captures a feeling, conveys an emotional message, and so on. So does Tarot. Kind of juvenile, perhaps purile, but it conveys a message all the same. "Sex, sex, sex, the boys are marching," to inappropriately quote a MASH episode.
But let's move on to super heroes. Back when I first got into comic books I read a lot of Uncanny X-Men and New Teen Titans. A lot of Spider-man, too. I can tell you that the time when Peter Parker was sleeping with the Black Cat and Dick Grayson was sleeping with Starfire was tops in the sex I was seeing at that point, the occasional issue of Playboy nothwithstanding. Actually, these stories were much more sexual to me as a kid than the photos of naked women in Playboy. These stories involved interaction between two characters who had a lust or love for one another and were acting on it. The girls in Playboy were just pictures of women without clothes in some largely neutral setting.
Curiously, the curves in those days were actually more noticeably than they are in the depictions today. Hips have more or less disappeared from the modern drawing of a female super hero.
Looking at the picture on the left from the Dark Pheonix Saga and the picture on the right from some time in the '00s, it's not just the string bikini on storm that makes a difference. Notice the hips on Pheonix that Storm doesn't have. Notice the waist that's the same way. In fact, the Storm depiction is much more like Tarot than the Dark Pheonix picture, though the boobs aren't so ridiculous.
But, is either image sexualized? Dark Pheonix is in killing mode. Nothing particularly sexualized about that. (If that's sexualized to you, I'd recommend looking into S&M for entertainment.) Storm's generating a lightning storm in the other picture. She doesn't look like she's looking for sex. She looks like she's going smack someone down but good.
Since I'm throwing my hands up on what's sexualized, let's see what you think. Here's some super hero images. Put up your comments about which ones you think are sexualized images and which aren't. Give a reason why or why not, if articuable.
Can a hairy alien even be a sexualized image, physique notwithstanding?
Ok, now, how about some non-superhero images.
Now, let's try a little harder. What about these, which even involve sex or selling sex. Are they sexualize, sad, both, or something else?
Ok, I cheated. The middle one doesn't involve sex. It's a chupacabra in a human skin, but it's still a woman in her drawers.
How about some non super hero, no sex images that involve a good bit of skin?
Can a carnivorous fairy be remotely sexual, no matter the constant nudity?
One last group that's just curvy females. Let's have your input, people.
Hah! Got ya! That last one has a heavily muscled bigfoot in his boxers, too.