Tuesday, January 24, 2012

A New Seduction of the Innocent Part II—Not Suitable For All Ages

Yesterday, we began to examine the scathing report by Fox affiliate’s Sherri Ly on violence and sex in the DCnU.

As part of her argument, Ms. Ly shows the character of Starfire as she appears in the Cartoon Network’s Teen Titans compared to her more scantily clad look in Red Hood and the Outlaws.

What she leaves out of the report is that Starfire has existed long before the DCnU and has often been shown in very sexualized outfits and that the cartoon version of her—the one that WAS marketed towards kids, mind you—changed her to make it more kid friendly.

Starfire from the 1980s on the left, toned down cartoon version on the right.

Again, I won’t pretend that the images are often suggestive, and often even more so with women. Not many characters in comics have less than perfect bodies. Even the previous two Robins with an average age of about 12 have more six packs than the back of Lindsay Lohan’s car.

And I’m not saying that’s right or wrong.

But despite Dr. Bernstein’s jump to conclusions that since advertisements for milk and Legos appear in comics not intended for kids they really ARE meant for kids—he casually ignores that there are also car and mature video game ads in the same issues—comics haven’t been for kids for some time now. Besides, everyone knows adults don't drink milk, right?!

Part of me laments that because I was about six when I picked up my first X-Men comic. But part of me realizes that as the costs have risen and kids have more forms of media available to them, it’s the adults that are more apt and able to spend the money on comics.

Five bucks when I was a kid would net me five or more comics; nowadays, you can’t even get two and if there’s a very “special” issue, you may not even be able to get that one.

Fantastic Four #600 spored a hefty $7.99 price tag.

When faced with having 50 bucks to spend on maybe an hour of reading vs. one-hundred hours of gameplay on the PS3, many kids are leaning towards the latter.

Those of us who started reading many years ago have grown up and, in an effort to keep the readership, the comics followed suit.

While comics have always had adult themes and heavy issues—drug use in Spider-Man, racism and oppression in the X-Men—comics today have made their books more openly reflectively of the world around us.

Sometimes the level of gore or sex can indeed be off-putting, and sometimes scenes seem to be there for the sake of it, for shock and nothing more; part of the brilliance of the shower scene in Psycho, after all, is that you never actually see Janet Leigh penetrated by the knife.

Sometimes it’s what you DON’T see that is most effective.

But regardless of the merits of such storytelling, these books aren’t the books of yesterday, and aren’t marketed as such.

And that’s what the news report spends too much time dancing around.

I mentioned Seduction of the Innocent in Part I of this piece.

While it sounds like a “how to” memoir by R. Kelly, it was actually a pseudo-psychology book in the 1950s that tapped into the fears that violence in comics would lead to our youth being corrupted, and the industry reacted by enacting the Comic Code to avoid official governmental censorship.

It was McCarthyism for the comic industry.

But a YouTube video of the preview of the last Twilight movie yielded over 14 million views, mostly I’d imagine by girls under the age of 18—and it featured a very sexually suggestive scene with a headboard breaking in the throes of passion. And how often do you see a Twilight preview where Taylor Lautner is fully clothed?

I’m not a teen boy being sexualized, I’m just, um, allergic to the detergent my mom uses.

One of ABC Family’s most watched shows by the teen demographic is Secret Life of the American Teenager and contains rampant promiscuity and sexuality, and then there's Pretty Little Liars with more sex and violence.

That’s not to say these things are bad, but just to put things into perspective here, those are viewed by millions—all five issues of Catwoman and Red Hood and the Outlaws each haven’t sold even one million copies. Combined.

Ms. Ly’s report could have explored why and how the industry changed, but instead it spent too much effort fearmongering and trying to resurrect the specters of the 1950s while also ignoring that while there is gore and sexualized content—sometimes, admittedly, too much even for my taste—it's not all there is to comics nowadays.

First Secret Life cast member to six STDs wins!

Civil War represented an allegory of the post-9/11 climate of security vs. freedoms in America to tell its tale, while stories like Hate Crime in Green Lantern explored the very real fears many homosexuals have at being targeted for their orientation.

Even Archie—you know, the one who would blush at more adult themes—came under fire from conservative groups recently for introducing a gay character to Riverdale.

These books are not for kids anymore, and that change has been an evolution occurring for well over a decade now.

The 1950s are over, and had Ms. Ly done maybe five minutes of research for her piece, she’d perhaps have been able to pull something more cohesive and worthwhile together.

DC Comics didn’t become more adult oriented overnight, are certainly not “stylized Playboy,” and they don’t pose a danger to our youth.

It’s up to parents to—GASP!—actually be parents and take responsibility and decide what’s best for their kids, even use some of the lessons or themes to help illustrate points to their children.

So for now, I’ll just focus on more important things.

Like, you know…Natalie Portman…

"Look, Baserap, for the last time, get the hell off my front lawn…”

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