When respected blogger Janelle Asselin dared to criticize the boobalicious cover to Teen Titans #1 on April 11th, it kicked off an online shitstorm that ended, as it does all too frequently, with a woman receiving anonymous rape threats over the internet. However, something strange occurred this time. As word of what happened spread, people started talking about it. And they haven't stopped, with pretty much every comics professional and blogger (at least the ones on our Twitter feed) spoke out to condemn the attacks. This week, Comic Book Resources, the biggest comic book website in the world, rebooted their entire message board in response to negative behavior in general, but naming the response to Asselin's article as the catalyst.
There has been a negativity and nastiness that has existed on the CBR forums for too long. Two weeks ago, that long-growing ugliness became more pronounced than ever. CBR published an article by guest contributor Janelle Asselin, critiquing the cover to DC Comics' upcoming "Teen Titans" #1. Some of you liked the article, some of you didn't. We encouraged readers to share their feedback in the CBR Forums.
Unfortunately, what happened next was unacceptable -- so-called "fans" around the Internet, on various message boards and social media, including the CBR Forums, attacked Janelle personally, threatening her with rape and assault. These same "fans" found her e-mail, home address and other personal information, and used it to harass and terrorize her, including an attempted hacking of her bank account.
All over a comic book cover critique. Just think about that for a second.
If you're one of the people who participated in any of these reprehensible acts, my message is simple: You are not welcome anywhere on CBR, and in our opinion, you have no place in the comics industry.
Award winning horror novelist, sometimes comic creator, and friend of The Outhouse, Brian Keene, who has been offline for most of this due to living in a log cabin in the wilderness, chimed in yesterday with a response to what happened in a long and thoughtful blog post:
Think about that for a minute. Multiple individuals were so incensed over an article pointing out the sexual objectification of a teenage female superhero that they felt their only recourse was to threaten the writer of the article with rape. Sadly, this isn’t the first time this has happened in the comic book section of publishing, nor is it only in comic books that it happens. I know of it happening in both the horror fiction and science fiction sectors, as well.
I encourage professionals from ALL sectors and ghettos of publishing to speak up. Let your audience know that this type of behavior is unacceptable, regardless of race, creed, or gender. Whether you read comics or horror novels or science-fiction tie-ins or true crime or westerns, whether you’re a socialist, libertarian, conservative, progressive, liberal, anarchist, or apolitical — you should agree that people should be treated equally and not threatened with fucking violence just because they wrote something you disagree with. If you can’t agree to that, then quite frankly, I don’t want you as a fan, or a reader, and I don’t want you in my genre (and since they’re giving me the Grand Master Award in Portland next week, it is my fucking genre).
What really stood out to me, though, was when Keene said:
Looking back, I’d say three out of every five women I’ve known has been directly impacted in some way by rape. I also know men who have been impacted by it, and not just indirectly. Rape happens. It’s not a sexual crime. It’s a violent crime — a crime of force and will and blood and pain and control.
Three out of five women. Is that common? In watching the various social media feeds and blog discussions in the past month, I've seen a similar figure pop up over and over. One in five. Two in five. Three in five. RAAIN, the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network, says that "1 out of every 6 American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime (14.8% completed rape; 2.8% attempted rape)." Thinking about it, one in five women I've been friends with in my life is not a low number. It's just not something I've thought about in that way before. Have you? As a human being it makes me angry. As a father of two daughters, it scares the shit out of me.
I wonder what’s different about this instance of women in the comic sphere getting rape threats. Seeing a LOT more creators speaking out.— Jill Pantozzi (@JillPantozzi) April 14, 2014
The discussion of this topic has been a lot more prominent than it's ever been. Of course, it's been talked about before, but this time, something is different. Everyone is taking notice, and momentum may be building for a shift in attitude across the geek community and the industries that serve it. Awareness is up, the discussion is not going away, and good people who have never thought of this as their problem are beginning to realize that maybe it is.
Andy Khouri at Comics Alliance captures these thoughts perfectly:
That women are harassed online is not news. That women in comics and the broader fandom cultures are harassed online is not news. That these women are routinely transmitted anonymous messages describing graphic sexual violence perpetrated upon them for transgressions as grave as not liking a thing… that is actually news to me, and it’s probably news to a lot of you guys reading this.
But it’s not news to a lot of women I know, and to women whose work you’ve read here and around the Web. I know it’s not news to them because of the way they write about it. They describe the latest rape threat as plainly as a man like you or I might complain about a late train. It’s just a another lousy thing that happens. You know, life in the big city.
Khouri goes on to explain that this isn't a problem that men should ignore.
Sexual harassment isn’t an occupational hazard. It’s not a glitch in the complex matrix of modern life. It’s not something that just “happens.” It’s something men do. It’s a choice men make. It’s a problem men enable. It’s sometimes a crime men commit. And it is not in the power nor the responsibility of women to wage war on this crime.
It’s on us.
How do we fight this war? We stop enabling.
Let's go back to Janelle Asselin, from a second followup to her original article, for one last thought on this:
So, maybe you’ve never seen someone make a rape threat. Maybe you think you don’t know any rapists. But you do. I do. I mean, I know who at least a handful are, but I also assume that there are other men I’ve met who are rapists. Statistically, it’s a probability. And if most of the women I know are receiving rape threats, some of them are even receiving hundreds of threats, well, it’s statistically a probability that some of those men are actual rapists.
You might not be able to catch these shitheads in the act of making a rape threat but you CAN create a culture where rape is not just a thing that happens to women and rape threats are not an appropriate reaction to anything, much less a review of a comic cover. You can lead by example. You can choose to not rape women and instead to treat us as equals.
So there is a call to action, and people seem to be paying attention. And one of things they're finding is that rape is being used an awful lot to... entertain us.
The day before Asselin's article, Outhouse Editor in Chief Christian Hoffer published an editorial wondering about the lack of discussion over the "sexually charged rape scene" depicted in that week's Invincible #110, questioning whether the scene would result in lasting, realistic effects for the character that could justify its existence. That the character who was victimized is man, and his rapist a woman, added another element to the reactions, with more than a few comments I've seen around the web from men suggesting that they "wouldn't mind" if a woman raped them, something I'm sure they wouldn't say if they really understood rape.
The discussion did eventually pick up on Invincible #110. Writer Robert Kirkman himself addressed it on Comic Book Resources, saying the act would effects on the character for the rest of his life:
Also, it's just another attempt to bring something that's a bad part of real life into a superhero world and analyze the ramifications of something like this happening to someone in superhero comics. It's a great medium to be able to deal with real-world issues against a fantastic backdrop that is completely unreal and see how those differences in the situation change how characters behave. It's really all about exploring Mark's character, and I can say it's a very hard scene to read, and it's meant to be that way. There will be far-reaching ramifications coming from this moment that will extend throughout the life of the book for years and years and years. It's definitely a huge turning point in Mark's life and it's something that's going to temper almost every scene with that guy moving forward. Issue #110 was a monumental issue as far as the run of the book goes.
Kind of like how when you buy a certain model of car, you start noticing all the other cars of that model on the road, the comics and geek blogosphere has been finding rape everywhere they look this month. Multiple rapes in both the television and comic book versions of Game of Thrones have drawn focus to that series and its seemingly nonchalant and depiction of rape, often seemingly intended as titillating, and whether it's gone too far.
Today, the preeminent newspaper in the world, The New York Times, picked up the story. In an article titled "For ‘Game of Thrones,’ Rising Unease Over Rape’s Recurring Role," the Times delved into the recent controversies and also noticed that the discussion has suddenly gone mainstream.
Rape is often presented in television plotlines, where it has far-reaching and lasting consequences for the affected characters. But critics of “Game of Thrones” fear that rape has become so pervasive in the drama that it is almost background noise: a routine and unshocking occurrence.
The Times talked about the rape of character Cersei Lannister by her brother and lover Jaime that happened a few episodes ago. The television version was, for lack of a better word, a lot more "rapey" than the one depicted in the book. What does that mean? The show's producer stated that the sex "became consensual by the end" in an interview. That's true, for what it's worth, of the version in the book. But for pretty much everyone watching, the TV show gave no indication that was the case.
That left audiences wondering if the show’s producers truly understood what they had depicted. “That is not what I saw, and that is not what many people saw,” said Maureen Ryan, a television critic for The Huffington Post, who wrote that the scene was unequivocally a rape.
Despite what I've seen some blog comments incredibly express, this isn't outrage for the sake of outrage. Jaime Lannister was on a heroic character arc in the previous episodes, having learned something about himself and his honor from his interactions with Brienne of Tarth. Following the controversial episode, Jaime continued this journey toward reclaiming his honor. He's clearly a character that fans are meant to view in a new, redeeming light. He's not a villain, and viewers are meant to root for him this season.
Raping his sister next to the corpse of their recently murdered son was not meant to make Jaime look like a bad guy. What does it say about the producer's views on rape when its committed, nonchalantly, by a heroic character? That rape is okay if it's a hero doing it to a villain (as loosely as those terms can be applied to Game of Thrones)? That it's no big deal? Surely that's not the intentions of the producers, but aren't they handling it irresponsibly if that's how it comes off?
George R. R. Martin, writer of the Song of Ice and Fire books upon which the show is based, was forced to address the controversy himself:
I think the "butterfly effect" that I have spoken of so often was at work here. In the novels, Jaime is not present at Joffrey's death, and indeed, Cersei has been fearful that he is dead himself, that she has lost both the son and the father/ lover/ brother. And then suddenly Jaime is there before her. Maimed and changed, but Jaime nonetheless. Though the time and place is wildly inappropriate and Cersei is fearful of discovery, she is as hungry for him as he is for her.
The whole dynamic is different in the show, where Jaime has been back for weeks at the least, maybe longer, and he and Cersei have been in each other's company on numerous occasions, often quarreling. The setting is the same, but neither character is in the same place as in the books, which may be why Dan & David played the sept out differently. But that's just my surmise; we never discussed this scene, to the best of my recollection.
Also, I was writing the scene from Jaime's POV, so the reader is inside his head, hearing his thoughts. On the TV show, the camera is necessarily external. You don't know what anyone is thinking or feeling, just what they are saying and doing.
If the show had retained some of Cersei's dialogue from the books, it might have left a somewhat different impression -- but that dialogue was very much shaped by the circumstances of the books, delivered by a woman who is seeing her lover again for the first time after a long while apart during which she feared he was dead. I am not sure it would have worked with the new timeline.
That's really all I can say on this issue. The scene was always intended to be disturbing... but I do regret if it has disturbed people for the wrong reasons.
Game of Thrones on HBO isn't the only version of the property feeling the heat The comic book adaptation of the show was under fire when a preview sent out included a graphic depiction of rape, and the image was published by Comic Book Resources with no warning whatsoever. This prompted a quick response from fandom and several prominent members of the community on social media. CBR removed the image and apologized, as did publisher IDW. What makes it so disturbing is not that a comic book would contain a rape scene (though again, that the scenes are often seemingly meant to be titillating is troublesome), but that no one even considered it before publishing it. Shouldn't we be putting more thought into this?
The Times has a further response from Martin about the use of rape in his original work:
In response to email questions, Mr. Martin wrote that as an artist, he had an obligation to tell the truth about history and about human nature.
“Rape and sexual violence have been a part of every war ever fought, from the ancient Sumerians to our present day,” said Mr. Martin, 65, who lives in Santa Fe, N.M.
“To omit them from a narrative centered on war and power would have been fundamentally false and dishonest,” he continued, “and would have undermined one of the themes of the books: that the true horrors of human history derive not from orcs and Dark Lords, but from ourselves.”
And we don't disagree. But the real question is, what's the point? Let's go back once more to Brian Keene's piece, which addresses this well:
Rape is a horrific act. But to call for banning it from film or literature (and when I say literature, I’m including comics) is chilling, as well. Instead, perhaps a call should go out to use it responsibly, rather than gratuitously, but even then, that’s a slippery slope. One person’s porn is another person’s art. One person reads an Edward Lee novel and is repulsed by the grotesqueness within. Another reads an Edward Lee novel and sees the clever social commentary nestled between the excess bodily fluids. Some people think Crossed is vile. Others think it is delightfully horrific. Personally, I’m repulsed by the so-called “rape porn”, in which adult film stars act out scenes of rape, but as long as nothing illegal is occurring, I’m not going to tell someone else they can’t watch it. There’s a difference between two actors and a film crew in a studio following a fantasy script versus a victim and group of thugs armed with a cell phone camera in a back alley somewhere. Comics, film, and books have featured murder, cannibalism, and other atrocities (and not just in the horror genre). Why should rape be an exception?
I don’t think the problem is using rape (or murder or cannibalism). I think it’s how you use rape (or murder or cannibalism). And I think that awareness only comes with time, because you see others discussing it and then you look back and examine your own work.
Keene says that the discussion has caused him to go back and examine his own work:
I can happily say that not all of them include rape. But some do. In the case of GHOUL and DARK HOLLOW, I’d argue that it was as necessary as it was in CASTAWAYS. But THE RISING? Gratuitous. I didn’t think so at the time. The man who wrote THE RISING was a much younger man, and not as well-informed, and he thought he was showing how cruel humanity could be to one another after society collapses, but in going back and re-reading that old manuscript a decade later in advance of the publication of the anniversary edition? I cringed. I cringed and I thought, “Jesus fucking Christ, Brian. What the fuck were thinking?” I was tempted to edit the scene down, but ultimately I didn’t, because there are a bazillion other copies out there already. But I can tell you this — I don’t like that scene, and I wish I’d written it differently.
And if we’d been having this discussion back in 1998, I probably would have written it differently, because I would have been more aware.
And that's it in a nutshell. I know that a few of our readers may consider all the articles we've run about this to be endless social justice whining, but I don't really care. These are the kinds of discussions we need to have as a maturing community. We reflect on ourselves and how we can be better. That problems exist isn't the end of the world. Problems exist everywhere. The question is, can we recognize those problems, discuss them maturely, and handle them in a way that makes the community, the fandom, and the medium better?
I hope so.
What do you think?