Internet

"In Batgirl-Joker Cover, the Batshit Hits the Fan":

Is online activism a form of censorship or an act of audience participation?

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As Peter Suderman noted a couple of days ago, a controversial proposed cover for an upcoming Batgirl comic has created a huge controversy about artistic freedom, online activism, and much more. In my lastest column for The Daily Beast, I argue that the story both is an instance of political correctness and illustrative of a new dynamic between creators and audience that is generally liberatory and not going away any time soon. Snippets:

[Cover artist Richard] Albuquerque himself quickly apologized for the cover and asked for it to be pulled, and DC Comics announced it was yanking the offending image.  "My Batgirlvariant cover artwork was designed to pay homage to a comic that I really admire, and I know is a favorite of many readers. 'The Killing Joke' is part of Batgirl's canon and artistically, I couldn't avoid portraying the traumatic relationship between Barbara Gordon and the Joker," wrote Albuquerque. "For me, it was just a creepy cover that brought up something from the character's past that I was able to interpret artistically. But it has become clear, that for others, it touched a very important nerve. I respect these opinions and, despite whether the discussion is right or wrong, no opinion should be discredited."…

It's easy—and totally legitimate, I think–to read Albuquerque's barely coherent sentiments as capitulation to an online mob demanding that art be made subservient to ideological concerns about sexism and related issues. After all, what can it possibly mean to declare that "no opinion should be discredited"? If that's true, shouldn't  Albuquerque's original intent in creating the cover count for something?

Yet the artist's (and parent corporation's) response to online criticism based on suggestions that the cover is somehow inappopriate or triggering or whatever is not the whole story by a long shot.

Across virtually every area of human interaction, traditional hierarchies have been flattened. The lowliest person with a Twitter account can very publicly critique the mightiest politician or performer. Professors are now publicly rated by their students. Services such as Thumbtack.com and Angie's List and Yelp! andCars.com have fundamentally altered the relationship between sellers and buyers. Ride-sharing apps allow drivers and passengers to pass judgement on one another. Critics can no longer singlehandedly make or break a new play, movie, or novel—we crowd-source information for all this.

As Glenn Greenwald has noted, "the petulant entitlement syndrome of journalists" is in its final era, as once-insulated writers must now contend with comments sections and public traffic reports that show bluntly what the audience thinks of their work. "Social media," writes Greenwald, "has greatly exacerbated this syndrome. Twitter by its nature is a confrontational medium. Its design ensures that anyone can force anyone else—no matter how prominent or established—to hear unrestrained criticisms about them from those with no established platform."

There has been, in short, a great leveling across virtually all aspects of contemporary society. This is without exception liberating and freeing, a net increase in giving voice to the voiceless and some small amount of power to the powerless. In the cultural arena, it means that once-mighty authors and creators must now engage in conversation with their audience, a humbling reversal in status and attitude. Artists must now effectively collaborate with their audiences—not slavishly giving them what they want, but seriously respecting their wishes and desires.

Read the full article here.

This new dynamic is not a simple one of giving the people what they want every time "they" (which could also simply mean a small group of effective speakers rather than anything like a true welling up of shared sentiment) speak up. And to the extent that artists and writers cave in at the first sign of discontent, creative expression will surely suffer. But it does mean that artists every bit as much as providers of food and car rides and everything else really need to communicate in a fundamentally different way that they have in the past. Most importantly from an aesthetic perspective, it means helping to create the audience you want by building up the sensibilities you want to explore and the build off of. This isn't new to art, of course, as every new movement has had to build its fan base through manifestoes, repeated failures, cultivating critical and approval, everything else.

One of the chief sensibilities that really needs to be built up across society today is an embrace of free and untrammeled speech and expression. As an endless procession of stories here at Reason attests, it is becoming ever more common to push for the elimination of offending words, images, and attitudes rather than engagement and defense of a true marketplace of ideas. When that starts to hit the skids, we're all in deep trouble.

But the specifics of this particular Batgirl cover controversy are really one small drop in a very new bucket of how we all communicate approval and disapproval these days. That larger dynamic is not going away anytime soon.

Suderman on Batgirl cover.

Also, great point via Virginia Postrel's must-follow Twitter feed: "Isn't the obvious point that The Joker is a SCARY VILLAIN?"

NEXT: Does Camille Paglia Have Any Hope for Our Modern Society?

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  1. ‘it touched a very important nerve.’

    Yeah, the one that triggers uber-derpinitis.

    All this over Bat-Girl? Shoot, I’m surprised the faux-activists/feminists haven’t demanded her name be changed to something more ‘neutral’. Say, Bat-Pat or something.

    Personally, as a long-time reader, albeit sporadic, reader of comics, I found the cover fine.

    1. Confused Person: Do you have a boyf… girl… Are you married?
      Pat: Naww
      Confused Person: Do you prefer to use a wallet…or a purse?
      Pat: I like a fanny pack.
      Confused Person: Do you have a name?
      Pat: Pat
      Confused Person: ????

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      http://www.work-cash.com

  2. Get in the kitchen and make me a bat-sandwich.

    1. with bat-Mayo

  3. This has to be understood in context. First, comics have had strongly sexist currents for most of their history. With a few notable exceptions (early Wonder Woman, Ms. Fury) female characters were weak and passive. Rarely were they significant heroes like male characters. Even when there were women heroes they were often offshoots of established male heroes (Super Girl, Bat Girl, Hawk Girl; notice the ‘girl’ part too, while Superboy would become Superman female characters such as the Invisible Girl stayed ‘girls’ well until adulthood).

    By the time of the Killing Joke this had improved some, but not a lot, as the casual decision to use Batgirl in such a way by the creators demonstrates. Women fans/writers like Gail Simone pointed this out and eventually Simone herself was tasked with writing Batgirl. She worked to make Batgirl a strong female character written by an outspoken woman creator, something irregular even in today’s comic world. To take that character and harken back to that use of her in the Killing Joke was understandably going to upset people.

    1. I believe this is what is called “market forces”. No one is stopping anyone from making comics that are feminist friendly. If there is a starving market for that type of content, someone would fill that need and get rich. The fact that no one, including feminist writers/artists, has filled that niche tells me it is not large enough market to be profitable.

      1. I am calling for Twitter to ban you!

        1. Bless your heart, but I don’t own a “Twitter”.

          1. Exactly! HA!

      2. Market forces include customers complaining.

        1. Your complaint is there are no women positive comics, no? Also if you don’t like the comics that treat women as lesser being you are not a customer, no?

          1. There are women positive comics, and there have been since the start of comics. But they’re few and far between.

            Those who think that should change can try to make that happen not only by buying women positive titles but also by making their views known to established producers.

            1. So why not leave others to purchase distasteful comics and try to introduce more readers to female positive comics. I don’t see the need to bother a separate market. This is similar to the people who don’t like Wal-mart. If you don’t like Wally world, then shop at your preferred retailer, but leave others alone to shop at the bargain store.

              1. Women comics fans feel specially about Batgirl in particular because of recent creators and storylines that were made to and did appeal to them.

                I mean, certainly long time fans of a character can register their outrage at a particular depiction of that character they don’t like, right? They don’t have to just go buy something else.

                1. I’m not familiar with comics. If this is a comic that many women like and purchase and they are unhappy, then company is right to provide what their customers want. If on the other hand the people who are complaining were not the key purchasing demographic, they are still free to complain, but the comic company should ignore them.

                  1. I agree with all of this

      3. Oh hey I’m Florida man too.

      4. How did that post diminish the idea of market forces?

      1. Illocust is a lady? Lady Bertram, carol, riven, lap83, invisible fury hand, Nicole, Kristen, bubsab. That’s 10 by my count. And they say TANFL.

        1. They are all the same person, and he is a dude.

          1. I watch catfish; I should know better.
            *hangs head in shame*

            1. Don’t worry, we have all made mistakes and ‘bated a few hundred dozen times to women who were men pretending to be women. Stay strong!

          2. “They are all the same person, and he is a dude.”

            I want to be 10 different women. It’s my right as a man.

            1. Wait, you’re a dude? I don’t know why I thought you were a lady. I can’t keep it all straight!
              *grabs head and screams in pain*

              1. SusanM. I’m back to 10. Alright, alright.

                1. Actually, you’re still at 11. I guess this nearly kills the TANFL thing, right? Nearly?

                  1. Now I have to find 4 more. My OCD compels me to count by fives.

                    1. kibby and Banjos have lady parts as well.

                    2. Thanks, 2 more to go.

                  2. How do we know that the “men” here aren’t all feminist trolls trying to make it seem like all libertarians are real life versions of the comic book guy?

                    1. She’s on to us!

                    2. jiggers, the c&*ts

                    3. How do we know that the “men” here aren’t all feminist trolls trying to make it seem like all libertarians are real life versions of the comic book guy?

                      I’m trying to convince the world libertarians are white trash alcoholics with poor impulse control and risk seeking personalities myself.

                    4. “I’m trying to convince the world libertarians are white trash alcoholics with poor impulse control and risk seeking personalities myself.”

                      My ears are burning. Except for the white trash part. I’m beach trash.

                2. No, I’m a woman. Or am I?

                  1. If not, dick pic, please.

                    1. I will also need to see the dick pic….. For strictly academic reasons.

            2. Listen fella, I applaud what you are doing but I am on to you.

    2. I started reading comics in the late 70’s-early 80’s, and I remember lots of powerful and interesting female characters. Admittedly, mostly in team books like X-Men, Avengers and Teen Titans rather than headlining their own books, but they were definitely there.

      And it’s interesting to note that Barbara Gordon’s crippling at the hands of the Joker is what led her to abandon the Batgirl identity (you know, the ‘girly’ offshoot of an established male character) and really come into her own as Oracle. It’s an important and iconic moment in the character’s story, which is why the artist chose to pay homage to it.

      1. When DC came out with ‘the New 52’ a few years ago I think about three of the 52 titles were headlined by women, and fewer had women writers.

    3. Yeah. Because having Batgirl be crippled by one of the villains is something they’d never do to Batman in one of his stories. Oh, wait…..

      1. Notice any differences in Batgirl’s crippling by Joker and Bane’s crippling of Batman? I mean, other than the long history of female characters being weak objects of peril and in need of rescue?

        Because Bane totatally just shot Batman while Bats offered no resistance and then stripped him down and took naked photos of him, while later Batgirl showed up and defeated Bane, right?

        1. “Bane totatally just shot Batman while Bats offered no resistance and then stripped him down and took naked photos of him”

          Maybe you should write LGBTQ comics.

          1. It’s what Joker did to Batgirl

            1. Once In an adult Alan Moore written One Shot graphic novel in 1988 at the end of which Batman kills the Joker.

              Seriously you are not only wrong but your ‘shining’ example of the over use of the ‘damsel in the distress trope’ occurred in a fucking alternate universe written specificity to explore a darker version of the Batman comics.

        2. Because Bane totatally just shot Batman while Bats offered no resistance and then stripped him down and took naked photos of him, while later Batgirl showed up and defeated Bane, right?

          Interesting that you mention Bane. So a cover of Bane snapping Batgirl’s spine (the cover of Knightfall) would be entirely kosher for you? A comic in which Bane psychologically and physically torments Batgirl and then at her weakest moment, attacks her a turns her into a paraplegic, you would voice no objections to?

          1. Did you read what I wrote about the differences on the Bane Batman and Joker Batgirl events?

            If Joker broke Batgirl after she put up a noble fight while being exhausted from defeating a gauntlet of impressive villains then yes, that would be different.

            1. Did you read what I wrote about the differences on the Bane Batman and Joker Batgirl events?

              Did you even read Knightfall and not just a summary on the internet? Batman knew what Bane’s plan was, to wear him down, but his pride wouldn’t let him stop and rest or get help from his allies because Gotham was “his city” and because Bane had violated the sanctity of his secret identity, it was even more personal.

              Knightfall wasn’t about a noble fight. It was Batman being led to the slaughter by a superior predator.

              1. Batman’s hubris tainted defeat is more heroic than Batgirl opening the door, being shot, paralyzed, stripped nude, photographed and doing nothing else in the storyline.

        3. Did Joker know that Barbara Gordon was Batgirl during the “The Killing Joke”? As I recall he ambushed the Gordons at home as an attack on the Commisioner, not on Batgirl.

        4. Yes, I noticed a difference. Boys and girls are different. Once you understand that, the world is less confusing.

    4. Sexist comic book covers, like the slavery reparation argument and AA, need to be understood in the proper historical context, as Bo so deftly points out.

      1. I know you’re trying to be cute here but of course context helps understand things. Duh.

        Let’s say someone made a version of a libertarian pop culture favorite like Firefly but their depiction totally dumped on the libertarian friendly part. Libertarian fans would be mad and would make that known to the producer.

        Likewise if you know the history of Batgirl, that it was given to Simone to have her rather explicitly counter this treatment you’d know that Batgirl became something like that for many women comic fans.

        1. “Let’s say someone made a version of a libertarian pop culture favorite like Firefly but their depiction totally dumped on the libertarian friendly part.”

          I believe that show (shows) is called Star Trek. Pretty sure every libertarian here loves that show and none want it censored.

          Also please go back and reread the disproportionate number of libertarians commenting here who have read Ian M Banks Culture books and liked them.

    5. That’s still not the full context. The cover was an alternate for a series where it completely missed the tone and audience. That’s why dc pulled it. This is ridiculous. It would have been fine for a different comic.

      1. Yes, Batgirl just got revamped as a softer, young girl friendly comic. It was a totally incongruent cover choice. But people find it so much easier to just shriek about feminist SJWs

        1. “It was a totally incongruent cover choice.”

          Variant small print cover for collectors sold only at speciality shops.

    6. Even historically men are more aggressive and serve as the protectors with violence. Are history books sexist, or do they just reflect reality? There’s obvious physical disparities that explain such phenomena, and less obvious differences beyond physical.

      There’s nothing sexist about comic books, now or ever. You just want them to create a fictional universe that’s even further from reality than the fictional universe they’ve created. Sounds like you’ve bought into the pseudohistory that men lived in a world of privilege, and women oppression prior to your birth. Men were of course run through the grinder and slaughtered en masse in wars through history so no such privilege existed. Perhaps you should just grow up and stop crying about comic books.

    7. Does having a “strong” character mean never once showing them in a position of weakness? Batman himself, to name just one example, is routinely beaten, tied up, psychologically tortured, and so forth by his villains (some of whom are even women!). So why does showing Batgirl being threatened by a psychopath suddenly erase all of the efforts to make her a strong character?

    8. “female characters were weak and passive.”

      Like when? in the 1950s?

      Now we have She-hulk, Red Sonya, Lois Lane, All the women in X-Men, Scarlet Witch and on and on and on.

      Comics have had huge numbers of strong women since at least the 1970s and seeing as how you were arguing that Batgirl is for teen girls last Friday i think you are full of shit.

      Also the invisible girl is now called the invisible woman and has been since the 80s.

      “From now on, I am the Invisible Woman!”

      — Sue Storm

      http://marvel.wikia.com/Fantastic_Four_Vol_1_284

  4. This issue has gotten way more press that it should have. In fact, the only thing that makes it mildly interesting is the way that it has driven Bo Cara to reveal that he is a moronic proglodyte at heart.

    Other than that, snooooooooorrrrrrrrrrrrzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

    1. Such inverse projection…

    2. It also reveals he has absolutely no knowledge of comic books or the history of women in comics.

      I mean how many times has Robin been captured, torchered, maimed or killed by a villain in Batman comics in order to motivate batman? Now compare it to the one time Batgirl gets maimed.

  5. Twitter controversies influence decision making? We should all be really proud of that.

    1. Only for the time being.

      Right now, content producers are overly sensitive to criticism via organized mobs using Twitter. I’m betting those who are critical of the cover probably aren’t the core audience who purchase comics.

      My guess, the recent flattening Nick speaks of will eventually lose its capacity to motivate at the same intensity – at least, that’s what I’m hoping.

      Artist – or content producers – should interact with their audience and get real feedback, but the frequently shallow mobbing aspect needs to be ignored.

    2. Yeah, I’m really hoping that the time when people stop paying attention to a tiny handful of folks who average 60k~ tweets a year in perpetual outrage mode comes sooner rather than later.

  6. I saw this blog post on Vox Popoli’s blog where they call that moment the “comicgate”. I wonder if that term will catch up like gamergate was?

    1. They should call it “stupidwasteoftime-gate.”

    2. they call that moment the “comicgate”. I wonder if that term will catch up like gamergate was?

      I guess that means we’re JUVENILE. COMICGATE. PSYCHOPATHS.

  7. Comic book artists need to stop giving comic book readers what they want, and kowtow to the demands of a small, shrill minority of people who don’t even consume the media they’re demanding must change.

    In fact, this is just Gamergate for comics, in that sense. Gamers need to shut the fuck up and accept what non-gaming SJWs want games to be.

    1. I’m amazed and happy that GTA V was made in 2014.

      1. It came out in September of 2013.

        Anyone play the new Heist missions yet?

    2. I’m betting eventually content producers will tune out – or be able to sort through legitimate vs. the SJW type criticism.

      They’ll come to a point when they’ll be able to just say ‘fuck off’ to the stupid stuff. That’ll be a great moment for creative people in America, but we’ll see. It really will be speaking truth to power, or, at least, truth to the power idiot mobs using Twitter wield.

    3. Comic book artists need to stop giving comic book readers what they want, and kowtow to the demands of a small, shrill minority of people who don’t even consume the media they’re demanding must change.

      Exactly. If you don’t buy the stuff you’re complaining about, and wouldn’t buy even if the things you complained about were changed, why am I listening to you?

      Non-customers need to be told to STFU and go back to watching documentaries.

  8. I don’t generally read comics, but the “controversial” cover is creepy as its creator intended and is far more evocative than most that you see. In that, I’d say its actually a pretty good piece of art. I guess no one wants to think that the Joker was a sadist mass-murderer, but….

    1. THIRTEENTH! THIRTEENTH! THIRTEENTH!

      1. Sorry, couldn’t help myself.

  9. I wonder why there isn’t a Twitter campaign to ban the Joker, because the character stigmatizes the mentally ill.

    http://www.quotev.com/story/39…..emories/4/

    1. I mean, there should be a superhero with mental disabilities who is just as popular as the Joker.

      (I feel like I’m setting up a punch line here)

      1. AHEM…I fell like I’m setting up a punch line here?

        1. You people are no fun.

          Have a blessed Sabbath!

          1. Raquel Welch says “those aren’t buoys”

          2. Have a blessed Sabbath!

            May Satan consume your soul and shit it into the 10th level of hell.

            Fucking troll.

            1. So…you don’t like me?

        2. Eddie and the Trisomy 21 Brigade

      2. (I feel like I’m setting up a punch line here)

        Um, Hitler?

      3. A superhero with mental disabilities as popular as the Joker…..

        Deadpool??

        That’s the best I can come up with. Not really as popular as the Joker, but to be fair, very few characters are.

    2. Is it really mental illness if no doctor is able to diagnose you?

      1. Rorschach convinced his Doctor that he was right.

        Interesting enough like the Killing Joke was written by Moore.

  10. I don’t see what this has to do with American Sniper.

    1. Kyle is like Adam Lanza.
      Joker is like Adam Lanza.
      Jesus Gil do I have to spell it out for you?

      1. Well I am outraged, then. How do I blame Bush?

        1. It goes something like this:
          BOOOOOOOSSSSSSSHHHHHHHH1!!!1111!!!

  11. Also, great point via Virginia Postrel’s must-follow Twitter feed: “Isn’t the obvious point that The Joker is a SCARY VILLAIN?”

    Yes. And Barbara Gordon isn’t Batman. Neither is Robin. It’s worth pointing out that Jason Todd, the second Robin, was brutally murdered by the Joker with a crowbar.

    As Batman’s arch-nemesis, the Joker can really only be matched by the Dark Knight and, in order to make him a worthy opponent, must be able to torment him by harming people Batman loves.

    But even then, it’s not like the comics never show Batman as vulnerable on the cover

    1. Not really dispelling the “comic book man” thesis, are you? Jeepers creepers.

  12. I am betting the people that are outraged by the cover would never think about buying the comic anyway. If you change it, you risk alienating the actual customers for people who would never buy it.

    Fake internet outrage is a tough thing to gauge.

    1. Agreed. That’s why you judge content by sales instead of attempting triple back flips to appease the griefers.

      1. It is the most publicity the comic has gotten in years.

  13. My main problem with comic books, or at least “floppies”, is that the covers are so frequently completely wrong for the content. Better or different art, 180 degrees different in tone, etc. I have no problem with pulling an alternate cover that did a great job at the task at hand – Batgirl and the Joker- but was completely wrong for the comic it was going to be put on to sell.

    That said, without that kind of context, people whining about a product that they could have easily avoided (it was an alternate cover, just buy the regular one!) is often a terrible voice to listen to, when it’s parents being overly concerned for the children or feminists being overly concerned for the what, easily triggered?

    Of course, before the death threats, all the critcism I saw was along the lines of – this is not the right cover for this comic, regardless of its stand alone quality. So anyone who forgets to mention THAT strikes me as just wanting to complain about sjws or whatever.

    1. “My main problem with comic books, or at least “floppies”, is that the covers are so frequently completely wrong for the content.”

      I

      1. grr, (cont.)
        I’m a designer myself, not of comic books but I’ve designed a few book covers and I’d say that the right cover is the one that is the best at marketing to the intended audience. Ideally it should reflect the content somewhat, but attracting the intended audience is the most important part.

        1. the Batgirl cover was a variant cover (ie small print number that can only be gotten if you try hard to get it) made for collectors to celebrate the anniversary of the Killing Joke graphic novel which was an adult comic.

          So the audience was old fan collectors who really liked the killing joke story which was published in 1988 so anyone seeking out and buying it would be old.

      2. Hear, hear!!!

  14. Have fun feeding the troll then. Idiots.

    1. This is the worst thing Florida Man has ever done.

  15. new dynamic between creators and audience that is generally liberatory

    Delusional idiocy.

    And to the extent that artists and writers cave in at the first sign of discontent, creative expression will surely suffer.

  16. The artist said–“I respect these opinions and, despite whether the discussion is right or wrong, no opinion should be discredited.”…

    Except his own.

    Though he can be destroyed for having it even as he retracts it. That is where we are now.

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  18. you all realize this is made up stuff about made up stuff? right?

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