How Do You Solve a Problem Like Internet Rape Threats?

Kenneth Rocafort, Teen Titans #1

The cover heard ’round the world. Art by Kenneth Rocafort.

Other working titles for this entry included “Why I Avoid Comic Book Discussions”, “Comics Industry Spends Easter Week Debating Baseline Human Interaction 101”, “Uppity Chick Dares to Critique Corporate-Approved Pandering”, and “Comic Book Fans Argue in Favor of Exploitative Art and Rape Threats”.

Earlier this week Comic Book Resources published an astute piece by a writer/editor named Janelle Asselin offering thorough, point-by-point analysis of the proposed first-issue cover to DC Comics’ upcoming relaunch of Teen Titans. Of all the aspects she skewered — perspective, anatomy, body language, energy level, demographic narrowcasting, complete lack of salesmanship toward new readers in general — one in particular struck a nerve with the audience at large: incredulity at the portrayal of a teenage character as an improbably shaped fantasy porn object.

Not that this is new to comics, mind you.

The issue in this instance: the complaint wasn’t from a stodgy old guy like me. This time, it was from a lousy dame, clearly speaking out of turn against her male superiors who need their super-heroes to look like this. It’s not enough to have genuine porn at their disposal for their eye-candy needs; they apparently want visual representations of the female figure in all media kept inflated and distorted at all times for the sake of their personal viewing euphoria.

The comments in the CBR forum went about as far south as can be expected. One week and several hundred internet comments later, Asselin posted a follow-up on her own site about the exchanges that ensued — the insults not only from readers, but from other quote-unquote “professionals” within the industry. Naturally her words, her established credentials, and her gender were considered fair game for detractors to dismiss and demean. Some thought it would be funny and/or empowering to respond to her with rape threats.

According to Asselin, rape threats aren’t new to comics, either:

At first I wasn’t going to talk about the rape threats because honestly, most of the women I know with a solid online presence get them regularly. This is just a thing we are forced to deal with. And I didn’t want to make it seem like it was a bigger deal than what’s happened to them for years. But I realized once I posted about the rape threats in passing that men I know and respect were stunned to find out this was happening. Let’s be real: if these men who are actually decent human beings don’t know how often this stuff happens, what hope is there for the men who are harassing me online?

Asselin posted additional follow-ups over the course of the week, which you can easily find on her site, all recommended if you’re interested in seeing an impressive example of persistence under fire. Thankfully a flurry of supportive rebuttals followed from other commentators, some angrier and more profane than others, including but not limited to:

* Andy Khouri at Comics Alliance
* Heidi MacDonald at The Beat
* Devin Faraci at Badass Digest
* Erik Grove at Bleeding Cool
* Marvel superstar writer Brian Michael Bendis on his own site

Predictable warning: read the comments to any of these at your own peril. All the most cogent pieces circle around or home in on the same ultimate point: how broken are we as a species, faithful and faithless alike, that we can’t agree to the same two or three simplistic tenets of coexistence? Because the internet isn’t “real”? Because wimmen be different from mens? Because survival of the fittest? Because some people like treating every single environment they inhabit as if it were a seedy bar in the most dangerous part of town? Because nihilistic self-ingratiation at everyone else’s expense makes for super fun times? Or just because they can?

Admittedly, I don’t see much of the rape-threatening personally, for a simple reason: I tend to avoid comic book message boards and especially comments sections of comics news sites. I lurk here and there from a few times per month on a couple of sites, but the disparity between the morals taught by our childhood heroes and the behavior exhibited by an alarming number of those comics collectors who idolize them is massive enough that, for me, trying to find someplace civilized to discuss my lifelong hobby has become an exercise in futility and heartbreaking depression. So I miss out on a lot of this entitled-male oppression and don’t have many opportunities to, I dunno, hunt the trolls or save the day or whatever. I’ve done that in my time, but it’s not exactly an active craving for me these days.

(Just occurred to me while proofreading: in a sense, does this mean they basically beat me?

…hm. Food for thought.)

That being said: I’m not convinced that a thousand essays by a thousand well-mannered writers will change too many of the blackened hearts or poisoned minds and bring any of these lost souls to repentance. So what can be done? Is there a magic bullet to end the War on Rape Threats? Because that would be awesome.

Possible solutions to the feud:

1. Harsh anti-internet-rape-threat legislation. Good luck with that one, which will be quite the deterrent against any trolls who post under their real name. Those comprise roughly 0% of the population.

2. If comics publishers insist on pandering to the straight male majority, how about they print two versions of every comic? Both would contain the same story so no one misses out on any important plot developments or this month’s major character death. One version would be readable and dignified; the other would be “hawt” and depraved. Everyone gets what they want, no one has to argue over whose version of their favorite corporate-owned properties is the “right” one. Keep doing so even if one sells ten times as many copies as the other.

3. Forget petty hobby arguments. Address foundational causes such as bad parenting, broken school systems, corrupting influences, moral relativity, etc. Work on politics, social issues, and other important elements that make society what it is; improve all of them. Within a century, maybe then we can discuss Batman’s latest crossover with manners.

4. The rise of more online gated communities, or at least more out-of-the-way hidey-holes where the civil intelligentsia can speak freely of their likes and dislikes without fear of incessant chowderhead interruptions. (The lone message board where I’d call myself a regular fits the bill.) If one site isn’t enough, maybe invent an entirely different level of internet above the fray, where model citizens can chat and compare notes in peace over virtual coffee. Call it the “Light Web”.

5. Cultivate a caste of noble vigilante hackers willing to destroy the lives and livelihoods of the worst of the worst public enemies, or at least threaten to expose their real names and addresses. Local privacy laws might complicate this option, and I probably shouldn’t recommend it in good conscience anyway, but, y’know, I’m powerless to stop other people from recommending it. Just remember, I didn’t.

6. Fight fire with fire; everyone agree to act hateful and distasteful, and turn the internet into an all-out war between trolls and trollhunters until they all die out…or, more likely, we all give up, abandon it, and go back to reading newspapers or watching Nightline instead. We can still buy comics, but we all agree never to speak of them again.

7. Pray for the offenders. Love on them. Don’t fall for the trollbait or sink to its level. Respond to their bile with love and blessings.

I don’t know about You, the Viewers at Home, but when I saw Easter week nearing on the calendar and wondered how to approach it, this wasn’t among the first hundred thousand topics to spring to mind. Much as I’d love to wrap up with a satisfying conclusion, with the hour late and the holiday approaching, for now all I can do is sign off here with one of the old comics standbys such as “To Be Continued” or “The End…?”

Either caption would be apropos of the issue itself. Unfortunately.


One response

  1. Pingback: Comics are for Everyone. Period. | Midlife Crisis Crossover

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