Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Beating a Dead Horse: The Batgirl Cover

Love the costume, love the attitude, HATE the selfies.
Okayyy… I’ve avoided this topic for a while.

That’s because it deals with a thorny issue. It’s not one that I want to sound too dismissive on, but it’s also one that I know people have very staunch opinions on. But here it goes…

The Batgirl cover.

You know the one.
Admittedly, it's a little horrific.
.Yes, THAT one.

So, the full story was that this was announced to be a variant cover for Batgirl #41. While some saw the cover as an accurate homage to much-loved piece of Bat-Family history, The Killing Joke, plenty were upset by the cover; claims that the cover endorsed rape culture, and was generally anti-feminist. Naturally, plenty of anger ensued with both sides chanting repetitive, asinine slogans at each other, ridiculing those who.

Now, the central problem I see here isn’t one of feminism, even though feminism has a part in the debate. It’s about semantics and the act of making meaning. See, although high-schoolers desperate to get out of doing work (I’m a high school teacher; they try to get out of work) try to argue author intent, meaning making actually fall mostly on the shoulders of the consumer; not the creator. In short, the creator supplies particular symbols and it is up to the consumer to decide what all of these symbols mean. As a result, interpreting what this cover “means” is something that cannot be achieved objectively. It is impossible to take something created to elicit an emotional response, apply an interpretation that can only be based on your personal thoughts, feelings and experiences (regardless of what that interpretation is) and then call it objective. That’s not how art works. That’s not how ANY art form works.

With that in mind, I think the decision to pull the cover was a wise one. Not from an artistic standpoint (that the cover does or doesn’t promote rape can’t be objectively proved), but a financial one; there was reasonable doubt that the product would sell, so why put money into printing it? THAT’S a way that you can objectively say that pulling the cover was a wise idea. But it was made wise; it wasn’t necessarily wise to begin with.

A better option than some I've heard.
I’ve heard a few arguments about this cover, and I’m not sure that they were good reasons to pull the cover. Let’s start with the “endorsing rape” argument, since that seems to be the most logical. I can see where those making this argument are coming from; it is a dreadful reminder of the sexual abuse committed by the Joker. That said, to say that it “endorses” rape is like saying that The Empire Strikes Back “endorses” chopping off people’s hands. That the act was repulsive, there’s no doubt. But that’s the point: it was repulsive. Such and act is supposed to be sickening, and I think the vast majority of the population agree that sexual abuse is evil. So, yes, the cover makes reference to sexual abuse. But endorsing it? It’s a bit or a sad assessment of the human race to think that a normal person will look at this cover and immediately think “Welp, Imma’ go rape now!”

All the same, I can understand the concern. The second argument, though, is what gets me: apparently, it doesn’t suit the new Batgirl. Again, this is a personal interpretation, but it shows that saying it doesn’t suit the new series isn’t exactly objective. The Killing Joke has been central to the character of Barbara Gordon/Batgirl. The post-traumatic-stress-disorder that followed has been a staple in who she is. What’s more, it was actually referenced in the first story arc of the new run. Not just referenced, but a major part of the plot. There was room for this cover in the new Batgirl, and it’s a shame that this gets ignored because of something that can’t possibly be considered objective (again, because consuming an art form is not an objective experience).

Again, though, cancelling the cover was wise. It was a good PR move from DC and it avoided the dreaded label of “misogynist” that would inevitably follow. Like I said though, it’s a thorny issue. The kind that wasn’t going to end well for everyone, regardless of the result.

I know it’s an old issue, and probably a dead one, but I wanted the heat to die off before giving my opinion.

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