Monday, November 20, 2006

Why I’ve Been in a Bad Mood All Day

Last night before going to bed, I stopped by, a blog I visit now and then. And I read this post by Johanna, which led me to another blog, Occasional Superheroine. In it, the writer (anonymous, but apparently a former assistant editor at DC Comics) talks about a horrifying physical experience she had, interspersed with incidences of sexism she’s experienced in the comics industry.

What she describes, it’s horrible stuff: Some of it cruel, some of it repulsive, some of it just thoughtless, but really cumulatively gut-wrenching. And I realize it’s just one side of the story, but it’s a pretty compelling side.

I don’t know how to write about this, so bear with me. I’m trying to be honest. Which is hard, because I know I’m going to come off as a heel.

I don’t know the writer. I feel, naturally, normal human compassion for her. She’s obviously going through a very tough time right now, as is her friend, and I hope she gets a handle on some new possibilities in life.

But she’s distant, several times removed from me, and you can only care about a stranger so much. Or maybe I can only care about a stranger so much. Or… I don’t know. I’m not writing about her, really. I hope she’s okay, but I can’t dwell on her any more. I need to move this essay forward.

Her story rattled me on a personal level, in very much the same way that one of the incidents she mentions (which I’d heard before from another perspective) rattled me. This is a company I’ve wanted to work for my entire life. It may not be the pinnacle, but it’s the peak I can see from here. And the people there act like this?

It’s ugly, and nothing I wanted to know. But at the same time, part of me says that some of it’s understandably human. She writes about an incident in which an artist sent in his most recent pages, in which a character is raped:

It started with my associate editor running gleefully into our boss’s office, several boards of art in his hand.

“The rape pages are in!”
I don’t know how to react to this. There’s a callousness to it that’s hard to take. But at the same time, no one real was harmed. It’s fiction. And what else was he supposed to call the pages, anyway? I imagine they called the rape scene in The Burning Bed “the rape scene,” too. What else could they call it? If you’re going to work with the story element, you can’t be afraid of the word.

So really, it’s the word “gleefully” that’s the most disturbing part of that passage. And that’s a characterization of his behavior, not the behavior itself. It all gets subjective, and subjective is messy. And again, no rape took place. Fiction is fiction.

But while that’s undeniably true, it still feels like I’m being selfish, like I should be more concerned, that I should give up my hobby and my hopes of being involved with it professionally one day and just chuck it all in the sewer.

All because of something that happened to someone else? How far does compassion go? How far does outrage go? Far enough to shoot myself in the foot?

I don’t know. I don’t know how to feel about any of this.

But I’ve been dreaming this dream since I was 8 years old, and I don’t want to give it up when I’m finally making some headway. Particularly for incidents that have more (but not everything, a little voice nags) to do with people than the medium itself. But when I do think about it, it can be paralyzing.

Everything is flawed. Everything.

It’s a lot harder to face in the ivory towers you build when you’re a kid.



Unknown said...

pardon the random commenter--i've been looking for blogs that link to that story--but this: "But at the same time, no one real was harmed." strikes me as disingenuous. The entire POINT of her story was how an environment and attitudes like the one illustrated DO hurt real women. The way she was treated by these men *is directly connected* to the way they treat fictional women. Or rather, the way they treat fictional women is a reflection of their societally-ingrained misogyny. The brutality towards fictional women is the effect, not the cause; once you see it you know real misogyny is already there.

Rob S. said...

Thanks for commenting, Vivian.

I’m not being disingenuous when I say that. It’s just a different point of view.

The rape of Sue Dibny hurt nobody. She’s fictional; it’s a fictional rape. Part of a story And I think the story itself was well-served by it, although the larger story of the DCU as a whole was probably not. It’s complicated.

And the environment and the attitudes in the office may have—well, have—hurt the blog’s writer, Video Store Girl. But the incidents of Identity Crisis—the ones on the page, not behind the scenes—might be considered a symptom of those attitudes and that environment, but they in themselves are not a real rape, and they’re not what hurt VSG. It’s okay to be callous about Sue Dibny, same as it would be for Blue Beetle, Robin, or Bullwinkle.

I don’t want to diminish what VSG experienced, but I think it’s wrong to lay any of the blame at the feet of Dr. Light. And treating the fictional events of that story as anything more than a symptom of the behind-the-scenes situation she was facing does that, I think.

I don’t think we’re far apart on this. You write, “The brutality towards fictional women is the effect, not the cause.” I’m just saying it’s impossible for anyone at DC to be brutal to one of their characters. The most they can do is depict brutality. It may seem like a fine distinction, but I think it’s important one to make.

Thank you again for writing.


Greg! said...

Yes, it's a very important distinction to make. Depiction is not endorsement. I don't make that assertion in particular defense of anyone, but as a defense against other sweeping assertions and judgements that seem inclined towards condeming the fact of depiction because of some perceived or presumed intention.

I haven't had time to read through VGS's whole tale yet, so I can't comment further. I do intend to read the whole thing, though, so comment may be forthcoming...

InGenius Festival - Voices from the Writers' Forum said...

assuming everything in VSG's blog is true (and there's no reason not to), then clearly the industry needs more guys like you in it to fix it!

don't abandon your dream. make it come true.

Rob S. said...

Thanks, Jen. It took me a little while, but I came to that same conclusion.