It’s No (Killing) Joke: Gail Simone, Barbara Gordon and the Democracy of Interpretation

By William Proctor

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For a lot of people, The Killing Joke is the ultimate ‘bad’ object: reprehensible, hateful, misogynistic, sexist, vile, disgusting, unacceptable, inappropriate, immoral, condemnable, opprobrious and just plain wicked. And it is, unequivocally, ‘bad for women’. In May 2013, a patron in Columbia, Nebraska raged against the book’s inclusion on library shelves and requested its removal claiming that it ‘advocates rape and violence’. Thankfully, the board members considered the challenge and voted unanimously to retain The Killing Joke (TKJ) on shelves. Anything else would have constituted censorship and that, I believe, is a treacherous path to tread. As Salman Rushdie would have it,

nobody has the right not to be offended. That right doesn’t exist in any declaration I have read. If you are offended then that it is your problem. And frankly lots of things offend lots of people.

On the other hand, a lot of people think quite differently, often contradictorily, to that of those who would seek to censure – and, yes, censor – other people’s opinions, especially if they do not meet the interpretative consensus of an imaginary community of readers. The continnum of affective engagements may range from boredom/ excitement, indifference/ ambivalence, love/ hate, and all in-between. The challenge for any researcher, especially in the field of audience and reception studies, is to develop tests in order to capture the wide gamut of emotions, experiences, contexts and so on. In many ways, audience research is fraught with difficulty and quite often involves capturing moments that might be uncomfortable for some (and most certainly against the popular current). As audience researcher Martin Barker explains, interpretations

take audiences to different places. And films [television, comic books, videogames etcetera] thereby become embodiments of different kinds of meaning. But they are not of the same kind […] engagements are rich and complex, and weave together their personal experiences with a way of understanding characters, their experiences and motives (2011).

On Wednesday, June 15th 2016, Professor Will Brooker published an article in The Guardian where he censured DC’s decision to adapt Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s controversial graphic novel, The Killing Joke, as an R-rated animated film. I thought there was something missing, however, another viewpoint, and contacted The Guardian to ask if I might be allowed to respond given that I had been researching fan responses to both TKJ and the online ‘controversy’ that circulated around the variant cover created last year by Rafael Albuquerque which, to quote Brooker, ‘recalled and reactivated’ Barbara Gordon’s violation. They welcomed my proposal and I wrote a piece that argued that this was one perspective – a valid perspective I might add – but, for some fans, a range of viewpoints and interpretative positions were being excluded. I don’t wish to tread the same ground here so I would ask respectfully that readers consult both articles to provide context for the grounds of the debate before continuing.

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First off the bat, I would like to express my sincerest respect for Professor Brooker. I had the pleasure of working alongside him for my doctorate programme before the University of Sunderland enticed me away with a fully funded scholarship that I simply could not refuse. In fact, Brooker encouraged me to take advantage of the opportunity, as he was painfully aware that I was struggling financially. Yet despite my defection, Brooker remained an unofficial supervisor and was always on hand to answer my questions and debate issues via virtual communication (so much so, in fact, that he jokingly referred to me as his own ‘personal Riddler’ on social media). I consider Will Brooker a teacher, a mentor and a friend.

Brooker and I do not always agree. And if Brooker taught me anything – and he did teach me a great deal, I freely admit that and gratefully – it was that it was okay to disagree — indeed, that is precisely what should propel academia: debate, quarrel, argument, discussion, disagreement, analysis. Brooker doesn’t ‘believe in right or wrong’ (2013). Neither do I. Brooker believes in ‘meaning as a democracy of interpretations’ (ibid). As do I.

There is no singular ‘truth’ that resides buried in a text for analysts to expose to the world. Put simply, there is no meaning in an artefact of popular culture, whether it be a comic book, a film, a TV series, and so forth, until an individual brings their own interpretative schema to the text and open up a dialogue between author and reader (and all that pesky epiphenomena in between). Cultural artefacts are not simply containers of meaning but ‘spaces of negotiation’ (Gledhill, 1988: 87) As feminist film scholar Jacinda Read argues,

Cultural texts tell many different stories and, in negotiating a route through the text, the critic can only pretend to tell one of those stories. Like an archaeologist who attempts to understand how a culture is lived by unearthing its cultural artefacts and monuments […] It is worth remembering, however, that like shattered piece of pottery, these meanings are fragmented; some meanings will have been lost while those that remain will not always fit together to form a coherent whole (2000: 5).

My primary motivation was to illustrate that Brooker’s argument is neither wrong nor right but incomplete. I’m sure that there are plenty of scholars who would love to cover all the bases holistically but, as the quote above states, ‘the critics can only pretend to tell one of those stories’.

Note that in my article I did not provide an opinion on whether or not I ‘like’ TKJ. I certainly did not vilify it but, equally, I did not defend it either. Just as I do not fall into the ‘bad for women’ camp then that should not be interpreted that I believe that TKJ is ‘good for women’ either. It is not my place to decide that academically. The scholar needs to be ‘concerned to identify and explore ideological gaps, moments of ambiguity, ambivalence and uncertainty’ (Read, 2000: 12). One of the reasons that I criticised Brooker’s argument was that it is a moral position rather than an academic one. And there are a wealth of moral arguments about this sort of thing, so many, in fact, that they continue to curtail serious debate by falling into a common-sense trap: that representations of sexual violence, violation and rape ‘normalise’ and promote the reality of rape. As Tanja Horeck puts it:

The idea that there is a tie between the reality of rape and its representation, made most famously by [Catherine] MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin, has been much criticised (2004: 10).

Quite simply, these kinds of arguments do not hold up to closer scrutiny. There are many studies that examine audiences of media violence, studies that unarguably demonstrate that the moralisers have got it wrong. Academic research, especially audience and reception studies, aims to burrow beneath the surface and reveal the complexities of the human experience and the way in which personal interpretation often refutes the generalised criteria of mainstream opinion. As Barker and Petley emphasize, the great strength of audience research ‘has been in the impetus which it has given to replacing figures of “the audience” with detailed pictures of different kinds of audiences’ (2001: 22). Often, moral perspectives function to actively militate against ‘aberrant’ readings and to silence alternate perspectives — for who would want to be viewed as ‘anti-feminist’, ‘anti-woman’, and ‘sexist’? Better to remain silent, or run the risk of being labelled as ‘a rape apologist, a poor reader of comics and frankly just creepy’.

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Before continuing, I should make it abundantly clear that Brooker is in no way at fault for what happened next. He welcomed a dialogue and encouraged me to write whatever I wanted. I offered to share my piece prior to submission, and he politely declined. ‘You should feel free to write whatever you like’, he said.

Brooker believes in the democracy of interpretation. As do I.

In what follows, I would like to talk about what happened next which started with Gail Simone and ended with the withdrawal of a rape survivor who had chosen to speak out openly about her experiences. As we shall see, what startles me most about this is not that hostility was hurled in my direction – that is, unfortunately, par-for-the-course – but the willingness of critics — male and female — to silence other women who adopt a different viewpoint than they do.

Once the article went up on The Guardian website, I was tempted to read below the line comments. I didn’t. In fact, I remembered Will saying the same when I read the mean, nasty and downright offensive comments that followed a report about his research into David Bowie. Indeed, Will has been castigated in mainstream media on a few occasions: The Sun negatively christened him as ‘Doctor Batman’ in 1999, for instance, which he has since turned into a kind of personal brand (I mean, who wouldn’t want that brilliant nom de guerre!). And to be clear, he also had a barrage of insults hurled through social media about his perspective on The Killing Joke, mainly from indignant Alan Moore fans.

But someone alerted me to Twitter when Gail Simone fired a cracker:

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And this:

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Then, I made a mistake. I shouldn’t have engaged, but I did. I asked Gail if it was necessary to sling mud; I’m absolutely fine if she didn’t agree with my article – I expected as much – but that to describe what I wrote as ‘a bowful of fish anuses’ – quite amusing as a matter of fact – and ‘ignorant’ and ‘unintelligent’ was not what I had in mind. Gail responded: ‘I washed the mud first’.

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At the end of my article, I argued that fans might well have competing positions on TKJ and that this ‘challenges us to a democratic debate as well, rather than the gestures of the moral brigade’. I naively believed that we could have a discussion about the issues raised that would not descend into narratives of morality and exclusion. I was told that I knew nothing about comics. My credentials were called into question. I was unfriended by several people on Facebook, all of them female. The Twitterati choir joined in singing the sacred hymnbook of the self-righteous and the holy rhetorics of the moral fundamentalists.

Not that holding such a viewpoint about TKJ is ‘wrong’ exactly – that needs to be captured as well — but the methods employed by some to ward off what might be viewed as atypical readings are often couched in hostility and anger. Such disagreements are certainly difficult to negotiate, especially if one is charged with sexism, misogyny and as a rape apologist. As Luke Gittos remarks, the term ‘rape apologist’ is often used ‘to describe those arguments that take a critical view’ (2015: 9). Unfortunately, it is a common tactic used to set up quarantine as a bulwark against what may be an (un)ethical and (im)moral infection. The barbarians, it seems, are storming the gates after all.

I wanted to speak. I needed to put my position across. My fiancée pulled me out of the chair as I sat hovering over the keyboard. Given her experience as a journalist and an academic, I reluctantly acquiesced. After all, one cannot expect a reasonable and rationale debate on Twitter. I should have followed my own advice about reading the research. As a 2014 Pew Research and Rutgers University report revealed, ‘social media actually stifles debate between people of different opinions’ (Keen, 2015: 109)

But I couldn’t leave it alone as I felt that I was being misrepresented and misunderstood. And then, it got nasty — and Gail Simone was the spark plug, whether unconsciously or not.

Before I continue, I have no intention of slinging Gail Simone’s mud back across the Internet, washed or not. I would like to be critical, but in the spirit of debate and, yes, to defend the democracy of interpretation. To my mind, Gail Simone is one of the most important comic writers of the past twenty years or so, especially her work on Birds of Prey and Batgirl. Simone is regularly on my pull list and her on-going series, Clean Room, is a remarkable book, chock full of horror and weirdness. I encourage you to check it out.

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What might be the ‘ridiculous, absurd assertions’? I am usually quite careful with language and aim to open up the analytical canvas rather than lock meaning down into a carefully constructed compartment without space for manoeuvre. That is not how cultural and ideological processes operate. Social and political forces are based in dialogue and not imposed by top-down governance onto a mass of passive lemmings blindly wandering over a perilous cliff-edge. Much of what has been said about TKJ relies on ‘ideology-by-numbers’ which is, unfortunately, quite common in both the ivory towers of academia and the public sphere:

popular culture does not produce either purely dominant or purely oppositional meanings but is instead the site of contradiction where meanings are continuously contested and negotiated (Read, 2000: 13).

I started out by saying that I didn’t quite disagree with Brooker’s argument but that I believe it was a single perspective that missed some contradictions, fault-lines and pressure points. I wanted to push against the popular grain and move beyond generalised anxieties that continue to mire debates such as this. As an audience researcher, capturing the complexities and intricacies of different kinds of interpretations, divergences as well as patterns, is a principal reason for conducting such research, especially when textual readings often promote a singular reading at the expense of alternative viewpoints. Not that there’s anything particularly wrong with such readings. At the very least, textual analysis provides opportunities for audience researchers to test these claims.

It was Gail Simone who provided a necessary, vital response to the way in which female characters had historically been victimised in superhero comics. And TKJ was the stimulus for Simone’s opprobrium. As she explains, ‘we all have our spirit guide character into comics, and Barbara Gordon was mine […] She was the main reason I created the Women in Refrigerators page’ (quoted in Pantozzi, 2011). In 1999, Simone wrote the (quite rightly) feted and celebrated Women in Refrigerators as a catalogue of complaints that railed against ‘the misogynist underpinnings of the industry’ (Alaniz, 2015: 59). As Jennifer K. Stuller explains it:

Gail Simone, a hairdresser and comics fan in Oregon, complied a list of superheroines who have been raped, crippled, depowered, magically impregnated (without consent and therefore a form of rape), turned evil, given a life-threatening disease, or murdered. Because of extended continuity – made necessary by the longevity of the medium – characters were often subject to a combination of the above atrocities (2010: 145).

The title of Simone’s catalogue of grievances, Women in Refrigerators, refers to an issue of Green Lantern wherein Kyle Rayner’s girlfriend, Alexandra DeWitt, is murdered and her dead body crammed in a refrigerator.

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There is no doubt that Simone’s intervention had profound and lasting consequences for the superhero comic industry:

The responses she received (catalogued online along with the original list) were naturally mixed. Some creators were defensive, while others were genuinely embarrassed once faced with how often these narrative devices were used. Some were convinced that this trend was indicative of larger issues of sexism and misogyny in our culture (ibid).

I seriously doubt that the industry would have made any such movement towards an equality and diversity of characters without Simone’s intervention. Although there is certainly a way to go before equality is achieved within the industry, either through representation or the severe asymmetry between female and male creators, there have been substantial affirmative actions regarding female, gay and ethnic minority characters (something which Simone herself has celebrated).

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Creators such as Kelly Sue DeConnick, Marguerite Bennett, Jordie Bellaire, Robin Furth, Hope Larson, Caitlin R Kiernan, Julie and Shawna Benson, Claire Roe, G. Willow Wilson, Ann Nocenti, Emma Rios, Lauren Beukes, Chelsea Cain, Melinda Gebbie etcetera, etcetera (with apologises to those I’ve missed). Titles such as Ms Marvel, Batwoman, Midnighter, Pretty Deadly, Bitch Planet, Justice League 3001, Jem and the Holograms, The Legend of Wonder Woman, Survivors Club, Mockingbird, The Fearless Defenders (some of which are still with us, some sadly departed, cast into the black-hole of cancellation).

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As an addendum to Simone’s optimism, I would argue that the industry is vastly different than it’s ever been. And Simone rightly deserves some of the credit for the marked shift that superhero comic fans have witnessed over the past decade or so. Still, as I said, there is a long way to go (I’m looking at you Eddie Berganza).

Many of the criticisms charged me for privileging TKJ at the expense of what came after. Simone and others accused my article for misreading, misinterpretation and even misinformation; for deifying Alan Moore without due attention to the work of Kim Yale, John Ostrander, Chuck Dixon, and, yes, Gail Simone. One female blogger, writing as ‘Bricks to the Face’, managed to address this without hurling insults:

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This is a fascinating post and I am thankful for it. It contains quite a bit of information about this particular fan’s viewpoint that is primarily built upon criticism of Alan Moore (a common complaint). The viewpoint here is that it was the ‘rehab’ work – Simone’s phrase – that creators surgically conducted to repair the damage wrought by Moore. ‘Alan Moore does not get credit for Oracle’. Simone agrees:

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Interestingly, I did not argue that at all. Simone might well be miffed because I didn’t read religiously from the Gospel According to Gail, but I did not, nor have ever, stated that TKJ conducted any rehab work. But some fans, including those I have spoken to, do not see Barbara’s journey as one beginning with Yale and Ostrander. They view TKJ as the beginning of Barbara’s ‘trauma drama’ (Feuer, 1995) and that what follows simply could not have happened without it. For these readers, TKJ is, quite simply, chapter one in the Barbara Gordon saga despite the character having a longer history. One tweet explained that it seemed I was arguing that Batgirl might well be cathartic, not TKJ.

Screen Shot 2016-06-30 at 14.58.55.pngIndeed. But for some readers, it is not simply Barbara’s recovery and rehabilitation that offers relief, but that the representation of trauma itself — the original, primal site of violence — is part and parcel of the cathartic process. I do not claim that the healing process is done and dusted, to put it crudely, by the end of TKJ, but that the narrative is intrinsically a part of the fall and rise of Barbara Gordon. As E. Ann Kaplan explains,

Trauma can never be “healed” in the sense of a return to how things were before a catastrophe; but if the wound of trauma remains open, its pain may be worked through in the process of being “translated” via art (2005: 19).

I cannot prophesize whether or not Simone would have created Women in Refrigerators if Barbara had not been paralysed, violated and humiliated by the Joker – or, as some say, literally ‘violated by Alan Moore’ (not helped by the circulation of unprinted material from TKJ which shows Barbara’s breasts). As stated above, TKJ was the principal reason why Simone was moved to respond.

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Remember also that the 1980s saw a surge of adult-oriented superhero comics, including Watchmen, The Dark Knight Returns, Batman: Year One and TKJ:

by the time of Frank Miller’s darker, more violent vision of Batman in The Dark Knight Returns, the DC editorship had deemed Batgirl’s sunny optimism out of place; they semi-retired the character’ (2016, my italics).

To be clear, I am not, nor have I ever, claimed that Alan Moore deserves ‘credit’ for Barbara Gordon’s restoration and transformation. Again, Yale, Ostrander, Dixon, Simone, Fletcher, Stewart, Tarr and so forth produced ‘narratives of transformation’ (Read, 2000). More accurately, I am saying that nobody deserves ‘credit’ for the way in which a reader might ‘use’ a text. Stories are not medical prescriptions doled out by medical personnel. What might provide comfort and pleasure for some people will almost certainly work differently, even antithetically, for others. Regardless of what an author might intend, interpretation and meaning both manifest at the point of reception, rather than contained at the ‘source’.

What is also interesting is that some comic book readers have not read any Batgirl stories prior to TKJ. For them, Barbara’s story begins with TKJ and continues through Birds of Prey, ‘The New 52’ and into ‘DC Rebirth’. It is not solely Barbara’s rehabilitation and healing that provides a healthy coping mechanism for some, but that the continuity is viewed as one, unified arc as opposed to a succession of individual stories. From this perspective, Barbara’s meta-narrative operates as a compilation of chapters that collectively make up the continuity. It is one thing to argue for historical context, but quite another not to recognise that contexts are fluid and shift depending upon the position of the reader. As Read emphasises, ‘some meanings will have migrated from the context in which they were originally produced’ (2000: 5).

Reading through these tweets and the online research I conducted in 2015, it seems that the primary rationale for maintaining that TKJ is ‘bad’ stems from a dislike of Alan Moore that often spills over into outrage and outright hatred. Could it be that those who simply cannot accept that some women enjoy TKJ are positioned as Alan Moore anti-fans? Is it simple enough to say that Brooker’s article has been criticised by Alan Moore acolytes whereas mine was disavowed by their polar opposites? That’s certainly a further worth exploring further.

Following DC’s decision to controversially retcon Barbara Gordon’s disability for The New 52,

fan reaction split between those exhilarated at the prospect of “Babs” back in costume, sailing over rooftops, and those (many in the disabled community) who saw the move as a craven betrayal of their greatest icon and role model in the genre, a figure who in a real sense represented them. The “de-disabling” of Gordon erupted into one of the most divisive aspects of the (by no means universally embraced) “New 52” (Alaniz, 2015).

What is interesting about this debate is that Simone herself commented on the splintering of fandom by critiquing  ‘the myth of monolithic opinion’ (quoted in Pantozzi, 2011). On the face of it, Simone’s ‘myth of monolithic opinion’ would seem to share commonalities with Brooker’s ‘democracy of interpretation’. However, it would not be a stretch to argue that when it comes to TKJ, Simone and her acolytes are presenting such a monocular myth as a constitutional fact.

Although one of the rape testimonies criticised Stewart and Fletcher’s ‘soft reboot’ of Batgirl for erasing trauma, she also felt betrayed by Simone’s rewriting and revising of TKJ in her New 52 run (‘how can you erase rape!?). For some fans, this was a welcome retcon. Yet in the same way that the disabled community fragmented into for/ against camps – and I’m certain that things are never quite so simple – such canonical revision conclusively rewrites the original trauma out of memory. From this point on, Barbara is a gunshot victim and no longer a survivor of sexual assault. First, she was ‘de-disabled’ and, later, ‘un-traumatised’. Brooker explains:

The most fascinating aspect of Simone’s run on the title is perhaps also the most subtle. Simone was working creatively within a set of rules specifying that the events of The Killing Joke had happened, when they happened and what physical effect they had on Batgirl. She and her artists regularly reincorporated the now-iconic image of Joker – in Hawaiian shirt, appearing at Barbara’s door with a gun – as a flashback or nightmare. However, through slight tweaks, she changes the attentive reader’s understanding of the 1988 story. In a new origin sequence from November 2012, Simone and artist Ed Benes revisit the moment when Barbara opens the door to Joker and his goons, but relocate her with a coffee dispenser, rather than in her father’s house serving him cocoa while he organises his scrap books. Very quietly, in a single panel, they begin to change history […] Barbara’s narration rewrites the canon of The Killing Joke (2015: 147).

For some fans, this is the equivalent of revising Batman’s origin story to purge the trauma of his parent’s death (another comic book scene that has been reactivated over and over ad infinitum). Indeed, fans complained when Tim Burton’s Batman revised canonical elements and had the Joker responsible for the death of Wayne’s parents and, also, criticised the scene where Alfred allows Vicky Vale into the Bat-Cave. For some fans, this was a counter-factual narrative rather than a minor point of departure (see Brooker, 2005: 290).

If only non-fictional trauma could be retconned, rebooted and rewritten.

One fan commented on TKJ as particularly inspiring, most pointedly in the final pages of the story when Barbara is laid up in hospital. The character certainly endures an awful attack but, equally, she does not die.

Barbara Gordon survives. And for some fans, this is part of the cathartic journey.

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At the close of Fletcher and Stewart’s recent run, TKJ may well have been erased completely from history (although I leave it to individual readers to determine whether this is their reading). When pressed for an explanation of what goes on in the panel below, Fletcher tweeted:

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So, then, if we agree with Simone’s ‘myth of monolithic opinion’, Brooker’s ‘democracy of interpretation’, or Fletcher’s ‘there is no right or wrong answer’, it would appear that we have reached a consensus.

Simone believes in ‘the myth of monolithic opinion’. As do I.

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TKJ is, arguably, most often reviled for using Barbara Gordon’s trauma as a plot device to depict Batman and Jim Gordon’s ‘man-pain,’ as ‘Bricks in the Face’ eloquently put it. Barbara is disposed of swiftly and forced out of the story until the denouement. The character ‘matters only in what she signifies to men’, writes Brooker (2015: 142).

That the reading of TKJ as offensive and incorrigible is shared by many – and indisputably one which is necessary to capture and analyse in detail — is one of the principal reasons why I believed that I could find a route into the conversation to illustrate the workings of different kinds of audiences; not to criticise such a viewpoint, but to cast the net wider in order to capture the wealth of interpretation. Again, not in defence of TKJ — but not to critically castigate it either. Despite claims to the contrary, ‘[t]here is not, unfortunately, such a thing as an intrinsically feminist text’ (Moi, 1986: 220).

Looking at TKJ and alterative fan experiences as simply repugnant and objectionable is one of the ways that fan cultures often promote a cultural value system wherein ‘hierarchies of acceptability’ are evoked to ward off deviant interpretations. In doing so, fans can – and do — function as textual gatekeepers, often slandering and defaming those who might think differently. Clearly, then, fan cultures are not homogenous ‘communities’. Instead,

[f]an Communities are often enormously heterogeneous with values and assumptions that fragment along axes of class, age, gender, race, sexuality, and nationality…’ (Jenkins, Ford and Green, 2013: 54).

Fans may work through ‘threats to textual authenticity’ whereby the ‘idealized fan object becomes potential threatened’ (Hills, 2012). In recent years, we have seen a cavalcade of online protestations that border, and often cross, intersectional lines of ethnicity, race, gender, sexuality and so forth. Moreover, some fans engage in forms of cyber-bullying, especially if the (idealized) fan-object is deemed in some way to be threatened by external entities (usually from industry). Examples include: the Ghostbusters film reboot; the casting of Michael B. Jordan as Johnny Storm; female Thor; black Captain America; the inclusion of gay characters in Star Wars Expanded Universe material; female football fans; and, of course, the horrible abuse hurled in both directions at Batgirl fans who protested the Albuquerque variant cover and those who protested the protestors. This is the era of ‘toxic fandom’ and the Internet is a bullhorn, a ‘repressive hate machine’ (Hicks, 2015).

I have argued elsewhere that entitled male fans regularly gang up on women, both online and offline (Proctor, 2016). On the Internet, fans might well feel protected by the cloak of anonymity provided by computer screens and user-generated pseudonyms, what Michael Suler calls ‘the online disinhibition effect’ (2002). Fan scholar Kristin Busse describes ‘geek hierachies’ as one of the ways that masculine fandom functions as a gatekeeper to police the borders of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ fan practices and behaviours. Examples include the appalling mistreatment of Twilight fans, Justin Bieber fans (‘Beliebers’) and fans of British boy band, One Direction (‘Directioners’) (see Proctor, 2016).

But this work is complicated when women, too, also engage in subtle cyber-bullying tactics, whether inadvertently or not. Although (thankfully) such hostility did not reach the levels seen during the #gamegate controversy, and other social media conflicts, simply bracketing off male and female fans into gendered ‘for’ or ‘against’ camps would be disingenuous. Believing that men interpret TKJ as a ‘good’ object and women as ‘bad’ is, quite frankly, untrue. Both women and men criticised my article. But, equally, it was both women and men who launched a frontal assault on one of the rape survivors in subtle and insidious ways. It would seem that social media is not simply a space where nasty and mean-spirited men attack vulnerable women. On Twitter, it is a dog eat dog world. What these examples tell us is that ‘If fandom may constitute a public, these examples remind us that fandom may also constitute a “mob” (Jenkins, 2015).

Some commentators have suggested that a ‘fourth wave feminism’ has emerged and that the battlefield has moved from the tangible world of ‘boots on the ground’ and into the abstract, digital sphere. Challenging gender antagonism is one thing, but there are a growing number of reports that indicate that a groundswell of  cyber-feminists often bully and vilify other women, as well as men, mainly for not falling in line with the ‘correct’ viewpoint. Such positioning and posturing allows no room for negotiation. Writing for The Huffington Post, Jennifer Simpkins shares her own experiences with this movement,

it’s surely time to question the hypocritical, petty “mean girls” atmosphere of fourth-wave feminism today. I’ve actually never once been belittled and attacked for men for believing in the cause of feminism, but women are just about lining up to take a whack at the shoddy piñata of my personal tastes and opinions […]Why on earth do some cyber-feminists truly believe that their opinions exist on a higher intellectual plane than those of other women’s? What possesses them to demean other women, often savagely, on public forums? For me, it seems to go against the entire point of the feminist movement. Most, if not all, women in the world are oppressed in some way – some much, much more than others, some less, but oppressed nonetheless. Why then, do some educated women feel the need to add to the oppression and humiliation of women who are “not good enough” for feminism? (2014).

Despite DC Women Kicking Ass’s Tumbler page proudly claiming that ‘this is a feminist site’ and we need to ‘deal with it’, I have to say that their abusive comments bear little resemblance to feminism as I understand it. To be fair, the website is quite interesting, but hurling bile and brimstone across social media shares remarkable similarities with what Simpkins describes above. As a Marxist and Trade Union Activist – boots on the ground is still the preferential model here – I have, on many occasions, stood alongside my sisters and brothers on protest marches, street rallies and picket-lines. Our most recent strike action was to protest the alarming regularity with which pay increments no longer tally with the rise of inflation and, as a result, amounts to a savage pay cut of 15% over the past six years or so. Moreover, the current dispute is also about the continuing iniquities of the gender pay gap across UK-based academic institutions. We stand together in solidarity. By segregating men and women into enemy camps only serves the ruling elite and continues to promote the binary logic that feminism resisted and reacted against. Niccolò Machiavelli’s strategy of ‘divide and conquer’ is still as efficient as it ever was, I would seem.

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When verbally assaulted by the Batgirl posse on Twitter, I was repeatedly informed that I had it all twisted and distorted. I replied to Simone by saying that my argument was collated from feminist research into representations of sexual violence and rape. To this, Jill Pantozzi – who I respect and admire enormously too — responded with:

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Here, we get right into the heart of the beast. I accept, understand and recognise that TKJ aggrieves some fans. That needs to be captured too. And to be fair, that side of the argument is relatively easy to seek out. However, zooming in on that alone would be egregious and erroneous.

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It is not up to Jill Pantozzi, Gail Simone, Tricia Ennis, or the rest of the Twitter posse to state that TKJ is categorically ‘bad’, representationally or otherwise, especially when such a position negates and disavows other experiences. You do not get to determine what is or what is not cathartic for other people. Each reader is entitled to their own interpretation, but not by insisting that everyone who thinks differently is wrong. That representations of sexual violation and rape in film, and other media, have been singled out as objects of moral outrage is one thing. But to denounce those who have experienced the reality of rape and found comfort in Barbara Gordon’s journey from TKJ onwards is beyond the pale. While Pantozzi certainly does not engage in such denunciations – her opprobrium is directed towards myself – both rape survivors read this tweet as a refutation of their experiences. Whether this was intended or not – and I honestly believe that it wasn’t – is beside the point. On a public forum, those with the influence to direct and lead the terms of the debate should act responsibly and with care. Simone is certainly adored by an army of acolytes, many of whom follow her lead (she has 83,000 followers on Twitter). What is striking about this is that almost every single tweet included Simone’s twitter handle. Indeed,, online comments can function as a way for fans to gain subcultural capital through celebrity recognition (‘notice me!’) (Hills, 2012: 117).

Not a single person asked that I clarify what was said in the article. I would have more than happy to discuss further in a less confrontational and less poisonous atmosphere.

What these tweets demonstrate is that people have vastly different and even paradoxical experiences. That is precisely what research into audiences – note the plural – aims to examine and excavate. Here, Pantozzi demands that her experiences, her personal beliefs and values, are to be seen as the only valid reading to be had.. And I absolutely agree that Pantozzi, Simone and others have a right to their viewpoints.

But so do others.

It is not that those who adopt the position that TKJ is ‘bad for women’ are entitled to that viewpoint. Of course they are. But that’s my point. However, when someone presents a challenge to an interpretative orthodoxy and they are embarrassed, shamed and, finally, silenced — then that is evidence of dogma (Murdock, 2001). And watch out if you dare to disagree! When the Twitterati’s ‘first response is not to reason or persuade but to launch an offensive aimed at silencing the dissenter’ then ‘the purpose is to overwhelm, intimidate and abuse the [offender] into silence or retreat’ (McElroy, 2016: 62). When ‘[t]he art of argumentation […] is seen as destructive and, like dogma, dissent is equivalent to immorality,’ then we are no longer in a democracy, but an autocracy of interpretation (ibid).

This leads me onto a pair of tweets from Simone that boldly proclaimed:

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Given Simone’s position in the industry and her feminist credentials – to which I do not doubt– this might well be a clumsy and thoughtless message. I never claimed that fans could not, and do not, have different kinds of experiences, interpretations and personal contexts. As I explained in The Guardian, Brooker’s account is fine as far as it goes, ‘but it silences one half of the story’. I was wrong about that. It silences a multitude of perspectives and contexts that amount to more than ‘one half of the story’, and significantly so. As I said above, moral arguments and evaluations, especially ones that congregate within the thorny arena of gender politics — and ‘in the wake of cultural panics surrounding representations of [sexual violation] and rape’ (Horeck, 2004: 8) – often bar entry to those who provide self-narratives that depart from this position.

So, to first answer Simone’s charge of ‘“some fans feel” borders on meaningless’. I am guessing that it is the ‘some’ of that statement that demands attention. In actual fact, the use of ‘some’ is freighted with meaning. Primarily, it illustrates that fan cultures are fractured rather than unified, heterogeneous not homogenous (as explained above). Any analysis of audiences and fan cultures invariably twist and pivot on a continuum of affective moments. Furthermore, singling out two testimonies provided by two rape survivors as ‘ill-supported’ is intolerable. As with Pantozzi’s comment, this was interpreted as an invalidation of trauma (and that’s putting it mildly). Simone responded but, at this point, it was too late. Twitter followed their lead and roundly started to overwhelm, intimidate and abuse those who didn’t fully embrace the dogmatic scripture.

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If ‘only’ two rape survivors provide testimony of their personal traumatic experiences out of, say, one hundred other research participants, then that complicates the data inordinately. (And two rape survivors are two too much for my liking.) Yes, it might be uncomfortable and it might very well challenge a person’s belief system. But it shifts the grounds of the debate substantially. The purpose in providing an account of survivor narratives was to offer a snapshot, a soupçon, of the research that I am currently undertaking in order to illustrate ‘the myth of monolithic opinion’. (Note that Brooker’s article was not criticised for lacking testimony.)

Then, what happened next was appalling. The validity of those testimonies was questioned. My Twitter handle was investigated to determine whether or not I was masquerading as a rape survivor to provide support for my own ego.

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Here, this tweet makes the astonishing claim that one of the rape survivors might be one of my students simply blindly following my lead. And yes, that would be uncharitable, amongst other things, to which she did apologise. Then to recognise that as ‘a bad assumption’ and then state that ‘you can’t deny that a sample size of two is insignificant’ is quite appalling. I never said that the testimonies I quoted from were representative of the entire Batgirl fan community. But the word ‘insignificant’ was read as a disavowal of one survivor’s experience.

I mistakenly took an academic argument into the public sphere. I foolishly expected the grounds of the debate to open up, not be bracketed off by a digital incarnation of Orwell’s thought police. If Twitter, and by extension other social media, are examples of a digitised public sphere, then that sphere is not as democratic as some cultural commentators have suggested.

New York Times best-selling writer, Landry Q. Walker, investigated another commenter and automatically assumed she was ‘the victim’ (she wasn’t).

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How is this any different than what happens outside of virtual life? As Higgins and Silver ask,

what happens to women who go public about their violation? If they escape the dominant fate of silencing and erasure, what price do they pay? Will their speech, their protest, be reinscribed in the patriarchal economy as figures of a female violence even worse than that perpetrated against them? (1991: 4).

To avoid being disingenuous, there were a few tweets that provided support. It would be remiss if I excluded a selection:

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Screen Shot 2016-06-30 at 15.08.34.pngWhether one might view these kinds of representation as reprehensible, or what have you, should not exclude the stories of survivors who disagree. One survivor – not ‘victim’, as one tweet said – didn’t enter the fray but watched in horror as this unfurled and has also completely withdrawn again, forced into silence and (her words) ‘re-raped’.

Screen Shot 2016-06-30 at 15.08.45I didn’t claim that sexual violation does not occur either. I said that ‘some’ fans have different interpretations and what I meant by ‘implication’ in this context is that the undressing of Barbara Gordon happens in ‘the gutter’ and between the panels. That @markhughesfilms sees the photographs as not a violation per se, but a sexual act certainly challenges researchers to examine what acts might constitute sexual violation and what does not (especially in that Barbara’s ordeal in TKJ does not meet the current criteria for sexual violation in some accounts). That is certainly something that I’ll consider as I continue and expand the research project.

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What I did say, however, was that some fans didn’t interpret it in this way. Whether or not anybody believe that they are wrong is neither here not there at this juncture:

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Should one cast the net even wider to fish for other research projects that provide insights into the way in which media violence is not ‘one thing’, then an ocean of data is available that demonstrates that swimming against the current is quite common.

Over and over again, self-narratives of trauma have been supplied to researchers for a wave of projects, mainly from viewers of cinematic violence (although not exclusively). I am not claiming that TKJ may or may not be cathartic to some.

I am stating categorically that all media representations have the potential to operate in this way. Again, I stress: for some.

…people do not indiscriminately absorb every media message, rather they interpret what they hear and see in the context both of what they already know and what they learn from other sources’ (Barker, 2001: 21).

Consider research conducted into audience responses to what Annette Hills describes as ‘shocking entertainment’. Challenging the stereotype that women don’t enjoy or find pleasure in violent movies, especially the wave of ‘the new brutalism’ in the 1990s and Tarantino’s ‘cinema of viscera’ (Hill, 2001: 137), the research uncovered a range of complex readings and experiences: ‘Female fans challenged the traditional perception of women as either non-viewers, or squeamish viewers of violent cinema, and in the process tested personal, social and cultural boundaries’ (146).

One participant, Alison, a 27-year old student, argued that watching violent movies was a way to deal with anger at being attacked in real life:

If there is a knife involved I just – I get quite angry and it has definitely affected me as a person as well because I sort – it sort of brings out – I have a lot of violence in me actually. For me – I know this is a very important thing for me to say but for me I kind of will it to happen again so that I can act it out – although I wasn’t violently attacked, there was no violence at all apart from a knife. I didn’t – in that respect I keep thinking I wish I could have fought back and so if I see things like a rape scene I think – wouldn’t it be great if she could do something violent, so this and fucking do that (142).

In 1992, Schlesinger et al explored dimensions of ‘violence’ that was undertaken for the Broadcasting Standards Council. It remains one of the most valuable case studies in debates of media violence. What the study demonstrates is that for real viewers ‘“violence is not some singular “thing” which might grow cumulatively like poison inside people’ (Barker, 2001: 3). Instead, one of their findings again challenges the stereotype of the fearful female cowering behind cushions and pillows having been infected by media messages. ‘For many women there is an important distinction between finding something disturbing and nonetheless wanting it to be shown’ (author’s italics, 4).

Barker has long championed the necessity for audience research over the past three decades or so, especially when moral campaigners and contemporary witch-hunters make bold claims about the noxious ‘effects’ that media violence has on ‘the audience’ (note the singular). These claims are, as ever, imputations and not based in research. In those rare moments when research is conducted, often in ‘experimentally-assembled’ laboratory environments as opposed to focusing on naturally-occurring audiences, they begin with the premise that ‘the materials (films, videos, games, whatever) are “known” to be harmful [and] their audiences must be at best blind, at worst already thoroughly corrupted’ (7). Such ‘research’ often starts off with questions that direct the findings into a comfortable and safe cul-de-sac, normally to answer the only question that matters to the moralists: ‘what signs are there that audiences for “harmful media” have been adversely affected?’ (ibid; see also Barker et al’s report for the British Board of Film Classification [BBFC]).

To offer a brief example, consider this statement from Conservative MP Graham Bright about the very public campaign against the so-called ‘video nasties’ that unfolded in the UK during the early eighties. It is rather silly, but claims such as this culminated with people getting arrested, and, in one case, imprisonment.

‘Research is taking place that I believe will show that these films not only affect young people but I believe they effect dogs as well’.

As is so commonplace with these debates, the findings are known before the research has been carried out. The point here, as Craig and Petley argue, ‘is that, as so often, the conclusions are “known” before the research is even attempted’ (2001: 189).

I cannot provide an exhaustive account of the research that has been conducted but want to indicate that there is a welter of literature on the topic and the materials used for research have been for media genres such as ‘extreme cinema,’ the ‘new brutalism’ of the 1990s, torture porn, horror, pornography, novels and art-house films (to name a select few). Usually, these are the cultural artefacts that have provoked a tsunami of moralistic hand wringing by mainstream media outlets, politicians, and, unfortunately, academic scholarship. Although TKJ has been demonised and calls for an outright ban have been averted, I have yet to speak to any fan that suggests censorship is warranted. But for those readers interested in research that might challenge their belief system and world-view, I include these examples as food for thought.

Think about the recent kerfuffle about Fifty Shades of Grey, Gone Girl or Game of Thrones. It is quite significant which texts are singled out for opprobrium and which are left unscathed. Consider Gail Dines’ rather silly claim that Fifty Shades ‘glamourized and exoticised violence against women and rebranded it as romance’ (2013). As a moral campaigner — panic-stricken and downright daft – Dines entirely bases her criticisms on her own personal anxieties about such issues and repeatedly fails to consult the vast archive of research about ‘violence’.

Consider, too, the release of Lars Von Trier’s Nymphomaniac, which includes a scene where Jamie ‘Billy Elliot’ Bell whips, batters and bruises Charlotte Gainsbourg’s naked bottom until it bleeds. When I screened this for undergraduate students, they concluded that Fifty Shades was singled out for vilification because it is significantly more popular and that the circuit of fear is based in the simple fact that lots of women were reading it. Compared to Nymphomaniac, Fifty Shades is rather vanilla by any standards.

nymphomaniac-trailer

And so is TKJ. The point here is that ‘violence’ is such a slippery term that it becomes almost meaningless. For Alaniz, TKJ employs ‘exploitative, ultra-violent storytelling’ (2016). Barbara Gordon is attacked ‘with a new level of graphic, sexualised violence,’ Brooker contends (2015: 141). But compared with what? What is meant by ‘violence in this context? Brooker later qualifies that the ‘representation of Barbara’s shooting and sexual assault in TKJ is explicit for a mainstream comic book of the period’ (142). But that is quite a different thing entirely.

Samantha Landsdale writes that ‘[i]n response to DC’s announcement about the premier of TKJ film, Brooker again drew attention to the harm recirculating this kind of narrative can cause’ (Landsdale, 2016). How might Brooker, or anyone else for that matter, intimately ‘know’ that narratives such as TJK cause ‘harm’, especially when the wealth of research indicates otherwise? ‘Put at its baldest, the experiences which critics impute to the “figures of the viewer” do not match those which engaged viewers say that they experience’ (Barker, 2011, author’s italics). That this has been illustrated over and over again seems not to matter and begs the question:

Why is TKJ any different to others kinds of representation? What is at stake here?

To answer that question means that research into Batgirl, Barbara Gordon and, yes, TKJ, is one that needs to be conducted rather urgently. Rather than be put off by recent events, I aim to continue research in this area and to publish the findings. But this is the one and only response I will write to address any criticisms. Anything else is grist for the mill. I do not know what the research will uncover beyond that which I have already done. But even at this stage, what has been revealed is that audiences have quite different experiences of TKJ and Batgirl, experience which indicate that there are clearly different ways to understand and interpret the representation of violence in superhero comic books. Many claims about potential harm operate on

predictive claims built out of theorisations […] of the ways in which [media text] might affect audiences. Such “figuring” is a very widespread feature of both general culture and of academia, since surely our role should be not simply to do the same as other social actors, but in less penetrable language. It ought at least to include weighing the claims of others, and producing good grounded evidence which measures the validity of social arguments and policies. That, sadly, seems rarely to be the case in our field at present (Barker, 2011).

In The Guardian article, I ended by asking ‘who in their right mind would want to silence that?’

It would seem that quite a lot of people would.

Post-Script

intersectionality

Only a week has passed, but this has forced me to think about these issues as a matter of urgency. Not to castigate online fourth-wave feminism as principally ‘un-feminist’ — clearly, such activism is important especially given the role that digital technologies, especially the Internet, now play in each of our lives – but to make a plea for solidarity. I expect the optimistic spirit here is an exemplar of further naivety on my part. Yet, as Henry Jenkins once told me, one cannot have a meaningful politics without such optimism.

I am often surprised at the unwillingness of scholars to break free from the comforting chains of academic dogma. Concepts such as ‘the male gaze’, ‘patriarchy’, ‘rape culture’ (Gittos, 2015; McElroy, 2016) ‘sexualisation’, ‘eroticisation’ and ‘pornographication’ (Smith, 2013) are routinely bandied around, endorsed and lionized. I understand that I may be criticized for ‘poking the bear’, but I say, let us poke, prod and provoke rather than swim in the reservoir of scholarly dogma. As with social media conflicts, the academic landscape also has its own bulwarks, defences, and systems of surveillance. I have experienced first-hand the way in which an unpopular opinion, even when backed up with research, is slaughtered wholesale without any real attempt at debate. There is a privileging of viewpoints, perspectives and theoretical models that stand against those who may challenge those annoying blind spots and moments of rupture.

Consider the concept of ‘patriarchy’, a term which has been employed and endorsed as the only ‘right’ way to discuss the subordination of women by men. Despite a wave of feminists arguing that the term is parochial and problematic, even as far back as three decades ago, the term is repeatedly invoked as sola scriptura. At a recent conference, I asked one of the speakers if the term needed revisiting – perhaps revising or even thrown out altogether — in order to account for the way in which gender is not the sole barometer by which exploitation and dominance can be measured. Although my fellow scholars did not rally round and gang up on me for sharing an unpopular viewpoint, the atmosphere became quite charged. At that moment, I felt, quite literally, as if I were stranded in ‘no man’s land’ (or ‘man’s land’ perhaps).

In conversation, I have been told that ‘I don’t get it’, that I should read about ‘the patriarchy’ in feminist literature. Ignoring for a moment the condescension here, usually the books and articles that I’m steered towards are three to four decades old. I am often told that ‘men suffer beneath the yolk of patriarchy too’ – but not as much as women. That has unfortunately become something of a mantra.

I don’t think this should be a game of one-up(wo)manship. By emphatically declaring that ‘women suffer more than men’ is hardly helpful, especially if one takes into account the male to female suicide ratio, for instance. Men are more likely to kill themselves than women; but women are twice as likely to develop PTSD. What does this tell us? Might another concept be more useful to capture the range of oppressions and inequalities in 21st century ‘post-capitalism’?

Writing for The Guardian, feminist Nichi Hodgson argues that the concept of patriarchy is ‘dead simplistic, dead inaccurate, and no longer a useful way of framing gender equality’ (2010). Hodgson goes on to offer a conceptual solution, that is, of ‘kyriarchy’. Coined by Harvard theologian, Elisabeth Schlusser Fiorenza, kyriarchy ‘explains how ethnicity, class, economics and education, as well as gender, intersect to oppress us all, men as well as women’. Such a position, known as ‘intersectional feminism’, claims that patriarchy ‘carries a truckload of outdated assumptions about male-perpetuated oppression that blinker us all’. So, for example, I am a white, heterosexual male; I was born with a penis and a pair of testicles (at least, last time I checked); and, according to patriarchy, I have ‘privilege’ (another word that scares away critical commentary). But I was also born into a working class family and spent my formative years on a council estate. Without going into too much detail, that means that I am ‘privileged’ and, simultaneously, oppressed by my class position. That I have successfully completed a doctorate and moved up the social hierarchy, my ‘privilege’ has shifted once again.

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On the other hand, one who is born female is ‘unprivileged’. She is always already cast as passive, hyper-emotional and physically weaker than the male counterpart from the moment she exits the womb – even before if Judith Butler is to be believed (and I’m not saying she shouldn’t before you sharpen your knives). But a woman who is born into affluence and wealth is also privileged too, more so than many other men and women from different social environments. Now, women might not be as privileged as men within the same social bracket, but if the 1% oppress and exploit everyone, then it goes without saying that wealthy women are more ‘privileged’ than poor men while being viewed as ‘lesser’ in comparison to their affluent male counterparts. I recognize that I am being rather crude here, but hopefully you’ll catch my drift. As feminist Shira Tarrant explains,

The presence of complex, multilayered patterns of subjugation is why some people have started using the term “kyriarchy” instead of “patriarchy” to describe sociopolitical structures of domination and the abuse of power […] But all men do not have the same access to power and privilege. All men do not dominate all women equally, in the same way […] It’s possible for men to simultaneously inhabit many worlds with different degrees of privilege and powerlessness. Some men experience masculine privilege within a family setting or on the job, yet they may also experience disadvantage as, say, a black man in white-dominated settings or as a Muslim man in white, Christian communities (2009: 108 – 109).

It is also remarkable how much credence is still given Laura Mulvey’s concept of ‘the male gaze’, despite being debunked and discredited time and time again. Even Mulvey admitted that her article, ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’, was meant as a polemic and desperately needed some sophistication and nuance. The turn to psychoanalysis in film studies in the 1970s, known in the academy as ‘Screen Studies’, certainly sparked a series of debates and directly fed into the emergent field of audience studies. But what is often left unsaid is that Mulvey’s model essentialises and homogenises the male spectator.

It also, and perhaps most worryingly, tends to emphasise domination rather than struggle, contestation and resistance. In this way it tends to reproduce the very idea of women as victims which many feminists have criticised so vehemently (Taylor, 1995: 152).

As film historian, James Chapman explains,

The intellectual currency afforded to Mulvey’s article is evident from the fact that it is probably the most widely anthologised piece of critical writing in film studies. However, it is also one of the most problematic and tendentious […] The tendency to homogenise the audience [note the singular] as an undifferentiated mass is a characteristic of much ‘Screen theory’ — and one of its chief limitations (2013: 66).

It is quite astonishing that the ‘male gaze’ has managed to cling stubbornly to academic conversation and has been accepted as dogma across the academy, especially considering the impact of audience research which renders ‘the male gaze’ theory extremely problematic, even hidebound. As Stephen Prince accurately points out, psychoanalytic paradigms and ‘theories of spectatorship fly well beyond the data and in ways that pay little or no attention to the evidence we do have’ (1996: 72). Prince goes on to say that we don’t need psychoanalytic guessing games, but ’empirical portraits of spectatorship’ (of which, of course, there are many).

What might be the reason for this?

In the same way that ‘ideology-by-numbers’ is frequently conducted without considering the panoply of ethnographic counter-evidence, ‘the male gaze’ is often worshipped as gospel. Put simply, these frameworks continue to persist because they provide a route to generalizations and assumptions about what audiences ‘do’ with media materials. They are ‘easy’, and, more pointedly, they are unfalsifiable and, more pointedly,  unresearchable.

Many feminists have challenged the concept of ‘rape culture’ as a media panic with no basis in reality (one feminist described it as ‘nonsense on stilts’); yet these arguments largely go unheard or, at least, unheeded. Why might that be?

And, so, to the elephant-in-the-room. I have been told many times that a man cannot be a feminist. I have been told that men shouldn’t be talking about the issues I have written about above. As a white, heterosexual man with a PhD, this area is cordoned off and policed by gatekeepers. This is woman’s land; you have your own ‘man-space’ over there. Keep to your borders and don’t cross this line.

For a project such as feminism, how might the construction and reification of unpassable gender borders operate to dissolve the binary logic of masculinity and femininity? Do these instances not convincingly demonstrate that we have lost sight of what matters most?

Solidarity between the sexes, between gender binaries and non-binaries; between men and women, straight and queer, trans- and gay; between people of different ethnicities, national identities, and classes. Women and men in solidarity against men and women who oppress and exploit across lines of intersection.

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I say that more men need to addresses and tackle these issues, not less. If women can talk about male rape – ‘it’s a feminist issue,’ writes one commentator – or prostate cancer or masculinity, why not these issues? Why, for example, am I repeatedly told to ‘check my privilege’? Why is it all right for Will Brooker but not for others?

I leave it to you to deicide how we should confront these issues going forward into the future.

(This article was deemed too provocative for publication in other forums.)

BG

Works Cited

Alaniz, Jose (2016) ‘Standing Orders: Oracle, Disability, and Retconning’, in Foss, Chris, Gray, Jonathan W. & Whalen, Zach (eds.) Disability in Comic Books and Graphic Narratives. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Barker, Martin and Petley, Julian (2001) ‘Introduction: From Bad Research to Good – A Guide for the Perplexed’, in Barker, Martin & Petley, Julian (eds.) Ill Effects: The Media/ Violence Debate. London: Routledge.

Barker, Martin (2011) ‘Watching Rape, Enjoying Watching Rape: How Does a Study of Audiences Cha(lle)nge Film Studies Approaches?’ in Tanya Horeck & Tina Kendall (eds.) The New Extremism in Cinema: From France to Europe. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Barker, Martin et al (2007) ‘Audiences and Reception of Sexual Violence in Contemporary Cinema’, Report for the BBFC (British Broadcasting of Film Classification) (http://www.bbfc.co.uk/sites/default/files/attachments/Audiences%20and%20Receptions%20of%20Sexual%20Violence%20in%20Contemporary%20Cinema_0.pdf).

Brooker, Will (2005) Batman Unmasked: Analyzing a Cultural Icon. London: Continnum.

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Brooker, Will (2016) ‘Batman’s Killing Joke and its edgy ‘rape’ storyline is not a comeback I want to see’, The Guardian (https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/jun/15/batmans-killing-joke-and-its-edgy-storyline-comeback-alan-moore).

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Chapman, James (2013) Film and History. London: Palgrave.

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Jenkins, Henry (2015) Unpublished article.

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Landsdale, Samantha (2016) ‘The Killing Joke and “Bad Timing” Only Prove the Timelessness of Patriarchal Rape Narratives’, We Geeked This (http://wegeekedthis.com/the-killing-joke-and-bad-timing-only-prove-the-timelessness-of-patriarchal-rape-narratives/)

McElroy, Wendy (2016) Rape Culture Hysteria: Fixing the Damage Done to Men and Women. Vulgus Press.

Moi, Toril (1986) ‘Feminist Literary Criticism’ in Jefferson, Ann & Robey, David (eds.) Modern Literary Theory: A Comparative Introduction. London: BT Batsford.

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