Well, readers, it’s another sweltering day in June, and here in the trenches of the culture war accusations of “misogyny” and “political correctness” are being fired back and forth. And what’s that out there in the middle of the no-man’s land? Well, it’s the photo that started this latest skirmish:
That right there folks is a billboard for X-Men: Apocalypse, and it’s got more than a few people upset. So much so, in fact, it’s being reported that Fox has issued an apology for the ad– caving to arguments made by some that the advertisement promotes misogyny.
And in all fairness, they are some compelling arguments.
Now ads featuring violence towards women exist, as evidenced in Jean Kilbourne’s famous documentary Killing Us Softly. Critics of this ad have cited (though I am paraphrasing for the sake of space) that the inundation of these images in our society leads to the normalization of violence. Show enough ads featuring women getting choked out and people will start assuming that it’s the natural way of the world.
Even if the person doing the choking is the bad guy (and Apocalypse is), the simple fact that it’s a yet another man committing an act of force on a women should be enough to elicit outrage from us all.
Like I said- a compelling argument.
Let me tell you why it’s bull****.
Violence Isn’t Inherently Bad
And yes, there’s a whole philosophical discussion to be held there, but that’s what I believe. And it’s something I’ve talked about on the blog before- we oughta have more violence in our media, not less of it.
The reason for that is simply that violence is one of the few things in our jaded society still capable of shocking us. Violence and the implication of violence taps into something deep within the human psyche, something instinctual. And it can draw out a reaction capable of blasting through years of societal conditioning, pressures, and preconceptions. Violence can spur us to action in ways that pretty pictures and soft music simply can’t. Does this mean that every portrayal of violence is a good one?
Of course not.
I don’t think Fox we’re trying to make some bold point when they put up this ad, they were using a scary picture to sell tickets. But to censor folks (more on that in a sec) is simply unacceptable. Violence needs to be a viable option for every creative person.
The Road To Censorship is Paved With Good Intentions
I don’t want to make a strawman of the folks criticizing this ad. In spite of what other folks on the internet might think, I don’t believe that the folks who are opposed to this billboard are a bunch of frothing, goose-stepping thought-police crying out for censorship.
But censorship’s still there.
The seeds of it, at least.
There’s a fine, fine line between saying “you shouldn’t show that” and “you can’t show that” and I think in all the scuffle it’s easy to wind up on the wrong side. As we said above folks, you can show anything. Doesn’t mean you should, just that you can.
What’s the difference?
Well, let me ask you this folks: what would your reaction be if I drew a picture of Uncle Sam ruthless gut-punching a bunch of war orphans?
You’d probably be outraged.
But what if I told you that this picture was a satirical cartoon commenting on the faults of American foreign policy?
I’m guessing that context would change your opinion of the piece significantly- at least, I hope it would. Because there are those of us who, in our misguided fervor, would actually declare “you can’t say that!” and immediately start castigating anything with even a hint of impropriety. There are those out there (and I know, because I’ve covered ’em) who’d say that blackface and any racial slur is inherently bad. And the same argument was used- that the portrayal of these things helps normalize ’em.
Only it doesn’t.
The use of the word “nigger” in Huckleberry Finn probably didn’t make you want to restore slavery, it made you sympathize more with Jim, seeing him in a world that didn’t view him as a human being. And seeing the holocaust in Band of Brothers didn’t make you want to ship people off to camps- it disgusted and enraged you.
And still, there are folks out there who would argue that you, the reader, can’t be trusted to make the right conclusions.
Now you might saying something like “But Gordon, you bohemian champion of free thought, we’re not going craaazy here. It’s just one super-specific thing we don’t think should be shown.”
That would be even worse, because…
It’s Gotta Be All Or Nothing
Let me explain what I mean by that.
When we, as either a society or a state, make an official and concrete rule about banning something, we automatically create a loophole sanctioning something. We have laws, in the US, which specifically outlaw predatory loan companies. And yet we have predatory loan companies all over the ****ing place.
Because they’re not “predatory loan companies”- they use slightly different terminology and have wound up effectively legitimized by the state.
I think the same thing is true when it comes to art.
You might argue “there shalt be no nudity in our paintings!”, but then someones just going to strategically include a fig leaf. Or they might print a bunch of nudity and then claim “hey, it’s not painted, is it?”
I’m concerned about that principle getting abused here as well. “Thou shalt not portray violence towards women in ads” seems like a completely reasonable declaration, but I’d be concerned about it opening us up to a host filth that’s just as harmful- if not more so, for being culturally “sanctioned.”
I refer, of course, to Taylor Swift.
Some of you might remember last year’s post in which I dubbed Taylor Swift “history’s greatest monster.” Plenty of folks didn’t see the tongue-in-cheek nature of that title, and I wound up getting some flak for it, but dammit- I stand by that criticism.
The reason for it is because I think Swift, along with the overwhelming majority of music, television, movies, and books promote more misogyny than Grand Theft Auto could ever hope to.
These mediums are rife with messages like “one day, your prince will come”, “a makeover and dramatic stairway entrance will surely win the boy’s heart”, “You can change him”, “your existential problems will be solved through a first class ticket to some tropical country where you can slum it with the benighted heathens.”
This stuff, I believe, generally gets a free pass simply because it isn’t as in-your-face intimidating as Mystique getting throttled by a 16-foot tall personification of chaos. Taylor Swift can put out an entire propaganda album where she sings about nothing but getting a boyfriend, but hey- at least no one’s getting strangled on the album cover, right?
I mean, I assume.
I think I might be more charitable to Swift if someone was.