Puzzling Over the Cosplay Paradox

I saw this, which led me to this, which made me ponder this:

Many of the designs of female characters were created specifically to be sexualized objects.  What Laura Mulvey’s essay on film and the male gaze says about movies applies in spades for the mediums of comic and animation, where female characters are literally objects created by and large by and for males .

If male artists and creators are contributing to and participating in rape culture by designing these over-sexualized and objectified female characters, are female cosplayers who choose to portray these sex object characters as a part of their hobby also contributing to rape culture through their celebration of these characters and their objectifying designs?

Avoiding victim blaming creates an interesting paradox:

If an image or portrayal of women is harmful to women, but it cannot be harmful to women if a woman is portraying the harmful image, how can we say it’s harmful without engaging in victim blaming? If the image is not allowed to be called out as harmful to women when emulated by women, can we say the image was harmful in the first place?

Is it the real woman with ‘boobs hanging out’, as it is so crudely put, or created object image of a woman with ‘boobs hanging out’ being emulated that we have a problem with?

There’s a conundrum in certain lines of modern feminist thought when someone has a problem with the created image but is unable to criticize celebration of the image by the very person that is victimized by or because of the created image when that person is victimized because the victim is not allowed a role in their victimhood. Therefore, creators of harmful images are able to hide behind the victimhood of others, those who are unwittingly playing a role in the culture that has made them victims by celebrating those characters who exist to objectify women.

God, feminism is rife with terrifying logic puzzles! Feel free to use any of this if there is an evil robot you need to destroy.

And NO, this is NOT an endorsement of or post in favor of victim blaming or victim shaming, playing devil’s advocate or anything like that. Just an attempt to articulate a confusing existential problem that faces the geek community with no solutions proposed or implied.

The Manga Bust of the Late 00’s May Be Ending, but is that a Good Thing?

The manga market seems to have recovered from the big Manga Crash that occurred along with the rest of the financial crises of 2007, but were the right lessons learned, and how will this affect mainstream comics, both eastern and western, that are released in the US?

The early through mid oughts were a golden age for people reading manga.  Titles were plentiful, relatively cheap, and highly varied.  No longer published as niche titles, released only in comic stores, or in ‘alien’ formats, such as the Darkhorse publications that would reformat a title to fit their standard western style comic issue-by-issue release, Manga had found its place in the mainstream on bookshelves of American Bookstores everywhere.  Around 2007, however, the manga business found itself hit hard by the financial crisis that led to the closure of publishers, cancellations of several titles, and an overall restructuring within the industry as survivors scrambled for licenses and shelf-space.

A number of things led up the crash.  The 00s were, despite what you may have been told, a time of extreme prosperity, freewheelin’, and luxury goods.  One of those luxury goods was manga, which publishers found to be quite the hot commodity.  Flagship Action and Shojo titles proved to be big money-makers, and with anime being shown regularly for the first time on US TV as anything other than an odd novelty, interest and demand for titles were growing faster than publishers could keep up with.  Scanlations and fansubs, despite their critics within the industry on both sides of the ocean, provided publishers with something that any media business would kill for: insight into proven hits with large pre-existing fanbases who were just waiting for the product to spend their money on.  Titles would have buzz long before their US release that publishers could capitalize on if they were quick enough and made the right marketing and merchandizing moves.  The problem began when the publishers started stretching themselves thin, however.  While early in the days of the boom, a new title would likely be a smash hit simply because there were only a handful of other competing titles, the mid 00s saw a glut of new titles, primarily shojo, slice of life, and cheesecake.  While the shelves in bookstores were becoming oversaturated with new titles, America was starting to slow its spending as the overall crash began.  Publishers found themselves out of a lot of money spent on 2nd and 3rd tier titles that weren’t selling.  While they might not have been out as much as if an expensive to license flagship title went bust, the quantity of titles that had been more or less tossed out into the market to meet what publishers thought was unquenchable demand were producing red ink that they simply couldn’t cope with.

In an attempt to stop the bleeding, some publishers cancelled titles that weren’t selling as well.  Unfortunately, this exacerbated the problem: readers were upset at having titles cancelled that they’d invested lots of money in only to find that they’d never be continued.  If there was a chance that a title might be cancelled before it finished its run, why spend the money in the first place?  And as readers were less willing to invest in physical titles, some turned to the internet to read their favorites or they quit altogether.  Neither of these were good for US manga publishing industry.  Sales slumped, several publishers closed their doors forever, and the manga sections in stores were drastically reduced to carrying only the ongoing flagship titles that had proved to be consistent sellers.  The tanking of the US economy and its failure to recover caused the market to drastically shift.  The demographic of who has disposable money is vastly different from what it was 10 years ago.  Publishers had to come up with a new strategy to pick up sales. The choice that they made is a fascinating one, especially considering what US comics have done in the struggling market.

The solution that the US manga publishing industry chose was pornography.  And that choice, one could argue, validates the strategy which Dan DiDio chose for DC comics with the New 52.

Sexually explicit material has always existed in comics and art to the point that one can say that it has always been endemic.  But the ratio of titles pushed in the mainstream and on the shelves of bookstores paints a different picture of manga as a hobby and as a medium from what was around 10 years ago.  During the height of the manga boom, the most sexually explicit titles one found were those by Ken Akamatsu (Love Hina) or Masamune Shiro (Ghost in the Shell).  I know there were several other titles with sexual themes or overtones, or titles that were not overtly sexual or written for the sole purpose of titillation that contained nudity or sexual content, but by and large, the titles tended towards your typical flagship action story, shojo romance, love comedy or slice of life titles where, if there was anything sexual, it was not focused on as a primary selling point.

Today, however, with the exception of those old flagship titles, which have been ongoing since the beginning of the boom, throughout the bust, and on into this new era, titles that focus on sex, sexualization, and titillation seem to have blossomed and overtaken the manga section.  One cannot pass by a manga section today without seeing a multitude of covers featuring partial to near-total female nudity.  Titles that would’ve been shrink wrapped just a few years ago, featuring not only nudity, but graphic, sometimes violent, sex, often depicting minors, are prominently displayed on endcaps or on shelves, covers facing out, baring the laughable “Older Teen” rating.  In efforts to win the “not just for kids!” argument, manga publishers in collusion with retailers have made the manga section of their stores (usually an adjunct to the Young Adults section) not only inappropriate for children but possibly very dangerous.  Now, I know that there’s the argument of parental responsibility “hurr hurr, y r ur kids unsuprvized?”, but there’s a difference between standing behind your kid while they pick out the newest volume of the manga that their saturday morning cartoon is based on in a section where the worst one might see is the occasional cover with someone with overly large breasts that can be pointed to and laughed at as absurd to having your child in a section where you are surround by multiple and varied images of screaming and/or crying half-naked women, sometimes being groped on.

And now, I will dig into western comics for a bit.  Western Comics faced some harsh competition during the manga boom when potential comic readers were buying manga instead of western comics, and multiple foreign titles were suddenly getting shelf-space in bookstores that had been long lost to American comics.  The format was a big part of this; retailers like trades, and a lot of consumers do too.  Another thing that hurt western comics was the perceived (and real) impenetrability of their titles.  With manga, readers knew that if they picked up volume 1 of a title, chances were, they were at the beginning and could read a single unified story from beginning to end.  How often is that the case with western comics?  Another thing that western comics had to compete with from Manga was image; despite the steps taken in the 80s and 90s, western comics did not seem as grown up in a market where manga titles existed.  Part of ‘growing up’ for comics had been including more adult themes and topics, implied sex, scantily clad women, etc., all things that had been unacceptable under the old Code.  In some places, the pencilers take this to stupid extremes: particularly of note, 90s Catwoman is penciled as though she were butt naked and then inked purple from neck to toe, rendering her design rather absurd and unflattering.  So, when up against manga, western comics were jealous that their end of the medium had to compete against titles that could sell sex and sexuality up front and could contain graphic nudity and sex.  Whether it was well handled or simple exploitative pandering, they didn’t care.  They just wanted a piece of it.  So now, we have a western comics market that tried to catch up with the old boom era manga by pushing the titillation and pandering up to 11, though still unable to take that last step into full on graphic sex and nudity.  Meanwhile, the manga industry took the next step and just went for more porn.

Only time will tell if these industries made the correct choices businesswise.  The lessons learned from the bust seem odd indeed, especially since many of the titles that contributed to the glut prior to the bust were cheap-to-license cheesecake titles, though I’d imagine that hurt the anime industry more than the manga industry due to the increased overhead (which partially explains why there was a huge post-recession boom in super-saver packs containing entire series for less than the cost of 1 pre-bust dvd).  I don’t know how much criticism there has been of the manga publishing industry post-bust, but the overall response to New 52 has ranged from “Why?” to “Gross…”.  The loudest complaints are from those who loved the DCAU and/or who have kids that they wish they could introduce to the heroes they love, but are incredibly wary of taking them into a comic store based on their knowledge of what’s been going on in the industry at large.  Things must be working for the manga industry, though, since they’ve reclaimed much of the shelf-space that was lost between 2007-2009, but you’ll never see the throngs of young teens sitting in the aisles, reading their favorite titles.

Important note: I’m also not suggesting that the older manga titles were appropriate either.  A lot of them really are/were not.  Some of those Flagship titles I referred to ALSO put sex at the forefront and are still ongoing today, so I’m not making a case that those titles that carried the industry through its rough period were non-sexual or kids-appropriate.  I’m merely pointing out that the overall trend in titles carried seems to have shifted from titles that may (or may not) have included sex to titles where sex is at the forefront, front and center and in the face of anyone walking by.  I had initially considered working this into a much lengthier post about why I no longer read manga or watch anime period, but that’s a vastly different and deeply personal topic that would be better explored on its own.

 

“Character Creation Will Take How Long?!”

There’s quite a wide range, depending on your game, of how long Character creation can take. Certain rules-lite games can have your group up and playing in minutes while other systems, like a lot of d20 variants, can take the better part of a half an hour or so.

I bring this up because the first meet up of the new group I’ve joined is going to be devoting the entirety of the first 4 hour session to character creation. With 6 or so players, that will be around 40 to 45 minutes per person if we do things sequentially. Why so long? Well, as i may have mentioned, we’re running a ‘gestalt’ 3.5 variant campaign. Now “Gestalt” in German means form or shape, and in English has come to mean the concept of ‘wholeness’ and in D&D, “powergaming”. In 3.5’s Unearthed Arcana, this “Wholeness” is referring to getting the “wholeness” of abilities from multiple classes: your fighter switches to rogue, she keeps getting her fighter dice, fighter feats while she gets her rogue skillpoints and sneak, then switches to sorcer, getting to keep her fighter dice, fighter feats, rogue skills, rogue feats, sneak, while now she gets a familiar and sorcerer spells, and so on and so forth. We’re starting at level 12, so I’m guessing everyone is going to be playing some kind of Barbarian/Fighter/Rogue/Mage/Cleric variant. So yeah, rolling up characters is going to be something of an ordeal. Because it’s so complex, it’s probably going to need some serious guidance and supervision so that everyone can be optimally twinked out so as to be extra disappointed when the DM fulfills his promise that there will be character death.

I’ve never had any real problem with or hate-on for 3e, but it’s the only edition I’ve played where character creation has seemed like a chore. Maybe because character creation and optimization is such a focal point of the game? Really, Character creation in 3e is not so bad on the fly, so long as you’re playing vanilla. Roll some stats, pick a race, pick a class, roll your hit dice, choose your feats, count your skill points, allocate. It’s also easier to roll up lower level characters than higher level characters; this is because you have smaller numbers of skill points to allocate, less modifiers from feats to track, and a relatively small pool of starting money to pick your starting equipment from. From there, it’s easier to add each level on top of the next. Sure, you may have some sort of ‘plan’ for your character, but it’s nice to watch them ‘grow up’ so to speak. Personally, I like RedBlade for 3e/3.5, because it creates any basic character or class combination in a few minutes with all of the feats and spells and skills to choose from. If everyone in the group has this tool, character creation can take about 10 minutes tops.

So, compare this full-on marathon session of character creation to a game like B/X, 1st or 2nd ed. Typically, one can roll up a character for one of those in about 5 to 20 minutes. And the 20 minutes only comes into play for Magic Users, who are rolling to see which level 1 spells they know and writing them down. At most, you’re looking at 1 full hours for character creation (give new players fighters; they’re easy for beginners, since they only have to learn the basic mechanics of armor, to hit, and saves, without a lot of the fiddly magic and skills bits. Plus they can be lots of fun!)

Personally, I think that being able to get people right into the game is key for getting people interested in your game, your campaign and your group. It’s nice to say “I had an adventure tonight!” rather than say “I rolled up a character tonight!” Don’t get me wrong, I’m still really looking forward to playing again. It’s just that the sooner I’m in a dungeon the better! My ultimate hope is that I can find some folks interested in running either some old school or retro modules, just dive right in and go. I just know I’d rather play as a player than as a DM for a bit.

Innovative Lessons on Temporal Mechanics from Bad Silver Age Comics

Just for shits and giggles, I picked up a collection of old Silver Age Batman: Brave & the Bold comics from the library. While I still intend on focusing primarily on Modern Age, if it’s there to read for free, there’s no real reason not to check it out.

Short summary of the first adventure collected, The Brave and the Bold #59, Time Commander. John Starr, the self proclaimed Modern Day Monte Cristo, has escaped from jail, shown a film lecture with supposed evidence that he couldn’t have committed the crime of which he was found guilty, convinces the public, and makes a successful appeal to Batman to aid his cause. Batman acknowledges that Starr has made a pretty good case for his innocense. John Starr’s IMMEDIATE and inexplicable (seriously, with the public and Batman on his side, what could he hope to gain here?) betrayal comes as no shock, however, given that he is shown on the cover page battling Batman and Green Lantern. John Starr’s plan? Steal Green Lantern’s power by posing as an enervated Batman and terrorizing Gotham to blackmail the city into granting him a full pardon. I can’t stress this enough: the man who the public and EVEN BATMAN were convinced was innocent is going to blackmail the city into giving him a pardon. His original crime and supposed evidence of his innocense are tossed aside shortly after the first few pages and never really mentioned again. Can’t let that get in the way of a good Silver Age team-up story!

It’s stupid, it’s silly, it has the Whirly-Bat. So why do I feel like I have to write about it? Because of the absolutely baffling, yet novel and innovative, approach to how time works. In this story, Time is not a line. It is not a dimension. It is not some bendable flexible continuum. An object’s place is time is an attribute, as much as its mass, volume, and density. Matter can exist only in the moment in time in which it currently exists. There isn’t a ‘past’ version of an object or a ‘future’ version of an object, only the object and where it is currently in its own present. Confused yet?

Time Commander’s power is moving objects and locations in time. His strategy is to divide GL and BM and get them out of his way. He does this by sending GL one day into the past and BM one day into the future. Now, if you think of time as a continuum, all 1 day in the past GL would have to do is either find Batman from that day or wait until tomorrow to foil Time Commander. Batman, being 1 day in the future, is essentially ONLY missing from one day in time; he could try to thwart Time Commander in the day he was sent to, or he could just meet up with Green Lantern, who will have simply lived one day twice in his past. It’s implied, however, that they can’t do these things, because being sent into different times completely removes them from each other’s present reality. Green Lantern will always only exist in yesterday and Batman will always only exist in tomorrow; though they can send one another messages across time, their matter does not exist simultaneously. There are no infinite individuals existing in infinite moments, only one individual that experiences infinite moments in a fashion that we have rationalized as time. (Interestingly enough, the boardgame Omega Virus uses a similar concept of time, in that the titular virus hides itself by existing a few seconds in the future, which is why you need the Negatron to find it.)

Because Time is treated as an attribute of matter and locations, Time Commander is able to send entire sections of the city into different times. Part of the city is sent into the distant past, in which dinosaurs and volcanoes terrorize the inhabitants sent there. However for this to make sense, rather than sending the city into the past, past matter is brought into the future, which is the only way that the city which exists in the present can experience these things. I also want to know if the future in which Gotham is attacked by flying saucer men occurs canonically, and, if so, when.

Anyway, somehow, Green Lantern and Batman are able to send out a high powered Jamming signal that gets all matter that has been shifted out of their appropriate times back to where they need to be, and John Starr, a man who was well on his way to being exonerated, is thrown back into prison forever because of his stupid plan.  Still, it’s a much more thought provoking story than the subsequent one in which Batman bends Catwoman over his knee and spanks her.

Update:
It was Queen Bee, not Catwoman.  She was stealing the Cat Emerald, so I just assumed.  SORRY!

It Continues: Emergent Narrative as Prose Narrative

Son Tower, the Mad Mage of Palmia, could not get the memory of Arark out of his head. The way she wielded her sword. The way she leapt and dodged the blows from that adamantine golem. The way she rescued him from that pack of Tyrannosaurs. He had to see her again! Before she had left, Son Tower had showered Arark with gifts and trinkets. Nothing too impressive, but hopefully enough to remember him by.

“Will I see you again?” he had asked.

“I’m sure our paths will cross again,” she’d replied with a smile. “North Tyris is not such a big country.”

But it was big. And it was deadly. And Son Tower hated the idea that he would have to face it without her.

For a few months, it was business as usual for Son Tower and his enterprising band of misfits. Escorting wealthy individuals along the dangerous highways, doing a few procurement jobs, massacring drunken revellers. Son Tower had even managed to topple a few bastions of chaos, though nothing of the magnitude that he’d been able to with Arark’s help. But it was paying the bills and refilling the coffers that the swordmaiden had emptied. Tower had even managed to amass enough platinum that he could finally be done with the Thieves guild. Being taught how to steal and disarm traps had been useful tidbits that could help him in some of the sticky situations he’d gotten himself in, but Tower was a magus at heart (though his band of merry maidens often worked more magic with steel and gunpowder than he with his tricks) and the great library in Lumiest was calling to him.

Forfeiting his right to call himself a thieves guild “thug”, Son Tower dropped off a sizable donation of occult literature he had been translating, hoping that the Mages of Lumiest might welcome a dangerous freak such as himself. Entry qualifications are rather harsh and demanding, however, so it might be awhile before his membership actually came through.

Before leaving the city, Son Tower decided that he would ask around about Arark. Had anyone seen her since they parted ways? He couldn’t hold against her that even she hadn’t been able to kill that damnable Golden Bell. Did she hold it against him? He hoped not as he stopped off at adventure office near the Pub.

He’d never asked after the other adventurers in North Tyris. He knew that there were individuals who kept track of them (whether for tax purposes or something else, he wasn’t sure; the information was generally provided free of cost to the public), but until now, he’d never had a reason to ask.

“Excuse me,” Son asked hesitantly, “I was wondering if I could see the roster of sanctioned adventurers registed in the kingdom.”

“Knock yourself out.” A surly gentleman in exquisite blue finery handed Son tower a list of several dozen names with locations written beside them. The Kingdom’s top diviners tracked the activities of all sanctioned adventurers and fed that information out to the adventure offices in cities around the kingdom. Whether they liked it or not, adventurers had to accept the fact that the Kingdom knew where they were at all times, and anyone wanting to hire them on had the opportunity to find them.

Son Tower began by looking at the bottom of the list and scanned upward. About 10 names up the list, Son Tower saw himself, smirking that he’d managed to keep such a relatively low profile while amassing such wealth. His flippant attitude towards certain work had likely been a contributing factor, but the last thing he wanted was renown. The higher your name was on the list, the more people were out there looking for your head, if not your help.

Son kept scanning upward, but could not see the name of the lady whom he sought. Until he reached the top, that is. There, at the very top of the list, Son Tower saw the name of his beloved Arark. She was considered (officially by the Palmian government) the most powerful, most successful, and most sought after adventurer in all of North Tyris, and he had fallen in love with her! And she was at the Palmian Embassy!

“That’s near my holdings!” Son Tower cried. Indeed, Son Tower had carefully established his lands in highly desirable plains between the Capital and the government office complex (likely the real seat of authority in North Tyris) just to the north of Palmia.

It would take him a few days to reach his home from Lumiest, so Son Tower set out at once. Unfortunately, he would prove to be too late. Arark’s business at the Embassy was likely brief, perhaps just paying taxes on her various incomes which, judging by her contract price, must have been substantial indeed.

Surely she couldn’t have gone far, though, Son thought. Maybe she was still in Palmia?

Son Tower immediately raced south, stopping only briefly at his home to drop off a few things and gather what cash and light-weight valuables he could. Once within the walls of Palmia, Tower made a bee-line for the local adventurers’ office.

“Tell me!” Son demanded excitedly as he barged in. “Is there a swordmaiden named Arark in town? I have to know!”

“Easy, there!” an attendant checked him. “You can see the list and look for yourself, just like everybody else.”

Son eagerly and violently grabbed the scroll from the attendant. Top of the list: Arark – location: Palmia.

“She’s here! She’s here!” Son jumped for joy. “Oh, no! I… I need to get some gold, fast!”

The sad reality was, even if there was something between Son Tower and Arark, she was way out of his league. She was the most sought after hero in all of North Tyris. There was no way that she’d just give that up to live with him and go tagging along with him into boring muddly little holes. She was the sort of woman who wanted real adventure, to laugh at danger, and to swim in the mountains of wealth and treasure that being the number one adventurer in Tyris had made her accustomed to.

The one way he could for certain get her to spend time with him on his terms was to sign her on for another contract. They’d have all week to talk about things, kill monsters and bathe in their hoardes of treasure. He knew that she’d like at least two of those things. Hopefully all three. They HAD hit it off the first time they talked when she stopped by his estate to pay her respects to one of Palmia’s up and coming nobles. He tried to deny that it had anything to do with the fantastic sword she carried. But if he didn’t genuinely care about her, why did he help her uncurse that stupid tower shield she’d been stuck with? Yes, he cared about HER, not the sword. It was HER that saved him from… how many dinosaurs was it? Three, at least. Not the sword.

As the most sought after adventurer in North Tyris, Arark’s contract was not cheap. The kingdom made sure of that, especially since they wanted their piece of it. Son Tower would need to make a lot of money and quickly while Arark was still in town.

“I have no idea what these are for,” Son mumbled to himself looking over the several dozen scrolls of wonder and oracle he’d been keeping for just such an occassion. “Some wizard I am…”

It took stopping at nearly every merchant in Palmia, selling almost everything magical of substantial value he had. He briefly wondered what effect his action must behaving on Palmia’s economy, having taken over one hundred thousand gold out of the hands of the capital’s merchants in a single day.

“Please let her still be here…” Son whispered over and over as he hurriedly looked about the city for the object of his desire. She was not in the palace plaza, nor in any of the shops, nor the temple, nor the inns, nor the pubs. Arark seemed to have vanished. Earlier in the day, Son Tower had seen her gazing into one of the fountains in the main square, but he had been afraid to approach her.

Son was forced to ask around. Yes, she was still in town, but no one had seen her. He was about to leave in desperation, when walking down an alley in the southeast residential district, Son saw the pale face, framed by flaxen hair, of a woman in white.

The woman gave Son a quizzical look before a smile of recognition broke on her lips. “Son Tower? Is that you? How are you!”

Arark bid Son come into the small house outside which she had been standing.

“I’m staying here while I’m in Palmia,” Arark explained. “What have you been up to?”

“Oh, well, a little of this and that.”

“Adventuring? Anything real exciting?”

“Some. Nothing like some of the stuff we faced, though.”

“I know! I mean, who would have thought that dragons hunt in packs? And those minotaurs?”

“And dinosaurs.”

“Oh, yeah, who could forget?”

“Actually, Arark,” Son Tower swallowed hard, trying to quell the nervousness that was building in his stomach. “That’s kind of what I wanted to talk with you about. I have a job that I’d like to hire you on…”

____________________________

Arark and Son Tower are on their way to another level 30+ dungeon. While Arark will have no trouble here, it might be a bit of a struggle for Son Tower to stay alive while winning over the affections of his beloved.