|August 13, 2013||Posted by Jess under Adventures in Real Life, Comics|
This past week, the mainstream comics community showed its ass in several charming ways, making it just like the other 51 weeks of the year. Veteran creators Todd McFarlane, Gerry Conway, and Len “Cripple the Bitch” Wein did a promotional appearance for Superheroes: The Never-Ending Battle, in which they unleashed such gems as “comics follow society. They don’t lead society” and “There hasn’t really been historically a comic book that has worked that is trying to get across a kind of message,”1 while regurgitating tired old chestnuts like “But the menz are objectified too!” and “If you want diversity, it’s as easy as starting your own comic book company!” DC’s parade of mismanagement got so over-the-top that the Has DC Done Something Stupid Today site actually had troubling keeping up.
And Mark Millar said, in an interview with New Republic:
“The ultimate [act] that would be the taboo, to show how bad some villain is, was to have somebody being raped, you know?…I don’t really think it matters. It’s the same as, like, a decapitation. It’s just a horrible act to show that somebody’s a bad guy.”
Naturally I found this quote deplorable, but I wasn’t planning on writing anything about it. I haven’t read much of Millar’s work and now have even less interest in ever doing so, and other bloggers have addressed the crucial point that Millar is missing: that decapitation is extremely rare, but rape is extremely common and leaves its survivors alive to see their trauma exploited and belittled by clueless writers ad infinitum. But today something happened that made me want to address it.
See, I’m actually on vacation right now – in Florida, visiting family. Today I was sitting by the pool relaxing when five or six guys jumped into the water and started chatting within my earshot. I wasn’t really paying attention, just letting their conversation wash over me, when the use of a particular word made what one of them was saying sharpen into clarity.
“…try to have sex with her, and if she doesn’t let me, I’ll rape her.”
And they all laughed.
I stared at them. Is this what college-age dudebros think is suitable poolside chatter? Chilling, on vacation, at a resort surrounded by senior citizens and their tiny grandkids? I mean, it wasn’t even a joke; it was a baldfaced threat.
One of them saw my appalled expression and said “Dude, what are you doing talking about rape here?” A couple of them ducked underwater, embarrassed. Some of them let out nervous laughs. Then they went back to their conversation.
It kind of ruined my day.
Like I said, I didn’t really hear the beginning of the first guy’s sentence. My impression was that he was quoting someone else, not declaring his intentions, but either way, half a dozen young guys heard a rape threat and laughed.
I don’t know if these guys read comics, but they’re certainly right in that key demographic.2 And I’d lay heavy money that, comic book readers or not, at least some of them have seen Kick-Ass and will be seeing its sequel, which comes out this Friday, so it’s not like they live in some kind of cultural void separate from Millar’s work.
And they think that rape is funny. They think that rape threats are funny. They know enough to be ashamed when the wrong person hears them laughing, but not enough to stop telling the jokes, to apologize, or to tell whoever originated the threat not to fucking rape anybody, Jesus Christ!
Because to them – and to Millar – like decapitation, rape is such a cartoonishly awful act of violence that joking about it, or exploiting it in stories, doesn’t matter. It’s completely outside their conception of things that could actually affect them. It happens to superheroes’ girlfriends in movies, man, not to real people!
After all, who cares what a disembodied head thinks?
But considering that according to RAINN.org, one in six American women has been the victim of attempted or completed rape, and there were six guys in that pool, odds are pretty solid that out of all those bros laughing merrily at the idea of rape, at least one of them has or will attempt to rape someone. And if the others find out, who knows? Maybe they’ll all laugh merrily again. And the survivor will spend the rest of her life seeing rape trivialized in movies and comics as something so rare as to be funny. She’ll be dehumanized by her rapist and then again by the media over and over again as they dismiss or exploit what happened to her.
She is not a disembodied head.
So yeah, Millar. It matters.
- Like, I dunno, mutants as a metaphor for prejudice? Nah, that’ll never work. ↩
- Except for the one who wasn’t white, since as McFarlane noted, non-white characters are terrible and comics aren’t for those readers. ↩