Unexpected Allies: Decibel Magazine’s Feminist Take on the DC Reboot

In the December 2011 issue of Decibel magazine (“America’s only extreme music magazine”), I read the interesting, but expected Dave-Mustaine-this-time-he-is-totes-over-his-feuds-he-means-it-even-if-he-is-called-SuperDave-and-Junior-isn’t-called-Junior story; lots of short articles with bands filled with fourth-degree clones of Zakk Wylde; and the usual review of extreme albums that I won’t be listening to.

But unexpectedly, especially for a magazine dedicated to metal and other extreme music, there is an actual for-real feminist take on the DC reboot that says that treating women as soulless objects is not entertainment. For an audience that reads a magazine featuring bands with album covers that will give children nightmares.

Unfortunately not online, Joe Gross’ one-page column dissects the reason why the reboot doesn’t make economic sense, by turning away girls and women (and men and boys) that aren’t interested in a “cruel, violent vibe and crueler sexual politics”, asking the question “Who the fuck is this crap for?”

He says that between the reboot “and a noticeable decline in women creators at DC, it would be tough for the company to have constructed a bigger “Fuck you, we don’t want your money” to potential female readers”. And that is a potentially huge loss for an industry that could use new readers — or at least not lose older newly disgusted fans. Perhaps it is just those that I know, but a large percentage of the comics fans I know *are* people of difference (such as women/girls, people of color, gay/queer, some other other, or a combination) — not the stereotype of Comic Book Guy.

One of the benefits of having this article written for this particular audience is demonstrated by the pull-quote on the page:

I’ve seen hardcore, [gnzo p!@#] that treated women with more dignity that DC is treating those two gals [, Catwoman and Starfire]

THAT knowledge is not likely to be found by writers from traditional feminist sources, even third-wave ones.

Gross also references “the terrific essay” by Laura Hudson on Comics Alliance, The Big Sexy Problem with Superheroines and Their “Liberated Sexuality”.

Thank you, Decibel. And to Shortpacked (who created the economics of comics comic above). And to all of the disappointed seven-year old American comics fans, may I suggest mahou shoujo (and manhwa)? It isn’t without issues, but that’s where I’m sending the comics-loving kids in my life.

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Being a Princess Doesn’t (Have To) Mean What You Think It Means

I’ve thought about princesses more in the past week than I have in a couple of decades. I read an essay on TheRoot.com  this morning, “There are no Black Kate Middletons” in which writer Helena Andrews laments the lack of black celebrities with which Black women can project their fairy tale fantasies, a la British princess-to-be Kate Middleton.

My first thought when reading the article was “who cares! there are better things to be than a British royal anyway”  But after reading the article again I realized I may have missed another of Andrews’ points: that black women must always consider their burden of race and (often) class, even in fantasy. Her case in point, the recent Disney film, The Princess and the Frog, which features a black female waitress who works and saves money to fulfill her dream to be a restaurant owner.  Andrews says:

As an adult I recognize that the fairy tales I told myself as a kid don’t always come true. That being a “strong black woman” ain’t all it’s cracked up to be. That there are indeed many cracks in that stank face. That the bitch armor — chinks and all — is no lasting replacement for a knight in shining armor. Nevertheless, I was excited last year when Disney released The Princess and the Frog. Black women and girls everywhere were overjoyed that finally they’d get to see themselves on the big screen. But the movie didn’t tell your typical princess story… Of course, when we get our princess, she’s pushing a broom and counting her pennies. “It serves me right for wishing on stars,” Tiana laments once she’s transformed from a waitress into an amphibian. “The only way to get what you want in this world is through hard work….”

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Paycheck or Passion: What Makes a Creative Effort Worthwhile?

It’s November; ’tis the season of month-long marathon creative endeavors, such as National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) For NaNoWriMo, participants aim to complete an original novel-length manuscript within a month.

NaNoWriMo has existed for over a decade now and has grown into a subculture of sorts, spilling into offline participation and local chapters that meet at coffeeshops and restaurants to write and cheer each other on. For some, I suspect the in-person community of NaNoWriMo means as much, if not more, than the creative process of writing.

Salon writer Laura Miller took aim at NaNoWriMo a couple of days ago, an anti-NaNoWriMo screed which derides the process as a breeding ground of sub-standard literature, filling amateur novelists with false hope of publication and a potential audience.

Miller may indeed be correct in her assumption, but here’s what bugged me ab0ut her rant:

… NaNoWriMo is an event geared entirely toward writers, which means it’s largely unnecessary. When I recently stumbled across a list of promotional ideas for bookstores seeking to jump on the bandwagon, true dismay set in. “Write Your Novel Here” was the suggested motto for an in-store NaNoWriMo event. It was yet another depressing sign that the cultural spaces once dedicated to the selfless art of reading are being taken over by the narcissistic commerce of writing. (italics my own)

While I am sure far too many NaNoWriMo participants use the exercise as a (possibly) misguided springboard into pro writing. But it’s troubling to me that Miller can’t fathom the idea that not all participants in NaNo (or writing in general) participate with commerce as an endgame.

It troubles me, but it doesn’t surprise me. Creative expression in general -writing, visual art, photography, music – seems to be regarded as culturally useless unless attached to some kind of commercial goal. The process of creating  art or media just because is not applauded, only evaluated for its commercial potential. Miller’s thesis is rooted in the mass-media mindset of “professional creatives create, consumers consume and never the twain shall meet.”

Consumption of  “professional” creative work is valued and rewarded more than creative play. That is just a fact.

But why is a writer (or artist or musician)  not perceived as “real” or “legitimate” unless they are being paid to perform or share their work?  Why are they derided if they don’t care about being paid? Why is the emotional currency of creating and sharing creative work  – not valued unless it is professionalized?

For a number of NaNoWriMo participants, the process, not the result, is the true currency. The opportunity to stretch a creative muscle, meet new friends, freely write smut for their own amusement (oh wait, i guess that was why I did NaNo last year.) It’s about passion, not commerce.

Miller misses the mark on another point: creatives do consume. I don’t know any writer, amateur or professional, who is not an avid reader as well. Most musicians are music geeks, most filmmakers are film buffs. It’s more than condescending to tell individuals to “sit back and let the professionals do their job” rather than engage in a pastime they take pleasure in.

So write on, NaNoWriMo’s! Creative expression should belong to everyone, not just for those who wish to earn a living from it.

I Read a Book: Greg Kot’s Ripped: How the Wired Generation Revolutionized Music

Greg Kot’s Ripped: How the Wired Generation Revolutionized Music is a must-read for those interested in how economics combined with listener actions have led the traditional music industry to its present morass. And therefore, the subtitle should be: How the music industry decided short-term profits were more important than life-long fans.

While I prefer a more linear style, the book is written in chapters focusing mostly on one artist or group per chapter — which makes sense, considering this is a work of music journalism. I appreciate that Kot, a non-lawyer, explains the law and cases correctly (yet with the dismayed “this is really the law?!?” tone needed). And while not using the terminology of one thousand true fans, he explores what having dedicated fans means for bands now — versus under the old regime.

But there are some seriously odd moments while reading as a fan. I’m not really sure why when describing the backstory of Metallica, Dave is mentioned, but there is literally no mention of Kirk! (Or Cliff. Or Jason.) But I’m digressing…

I expect a certain degree of errors in any work, but please, dude, know your halos! Any NIN fan knows that Broken counts. Especially when writing about T.R.’s dealings with record companies.

Give it away: Why releasing music (and video!) through Creative Commons licenses is good for fan relations

NIN + Creative Commons = Remix(es)

NIN + Creative Commons = Remix(es)

We write about Nine Inch Nails a lot around here at Learned Fangirl. It’s not just because at least one of us is a hugely obsessive NIN fan, it’s because Trent Reznor’s been consistently breaking new ground in his approach to music distribution and fan relations.

While not mentioned in his recent book, Remix: Making Art and Commerce thrive in the Hybrid Economy, Laurence Lessig has used Nine Inch Nails previously and recently as a positive example of the hybrid economy. (Ghosts was released under a Creative Commons license).

Since the Creative Commons blog has already put together links:

First, there’s the critical acclaim and two Grammy nominations, which testify to the work’s strength as a musical piece. But what has got us really excited is how well the album has done with music fans. Aside from generating over $1.6 million in revenue for NIN in its first week, and hitting #1 on Billboard’s Electronic charts, Last.fm has the album ranked as the 4th-most-listened to album of the year, with over 5,222,525 scrobbles.

Even more exciting, however, is that Ghosts I-IV is ranked the best selling MP3 album of 2008 on Amazon’s MP3 store.

The post (mirrored on Laurence Lessig)

Yes, this is a still from the official Meathead video

Yes, this is a still from the "official" Meathead video

has an explanation for this:

So why would fans bother buying files that were identical to the ones on the file sharing networks? One explanation is the convenience and ease of use of NIN and Amazon’s MP3 stores. But another is that fans understood that purchasing MP3s would directly support the music and career of a musician they liked. The next time someone tries to convince you that releasing music under CC will cannibalize digital sales, remember that Ghosts I-IV broke that rule…

There are a couple of caveats here: number 1, the free/purchased files were not completely identical, as only the first quarter of the album, Ghosts I was free, Ghosts II-IV were not. Moreover, I think there is legitimate criticism from many unsigned and underground artists that this approach won’t work for them: NIN has an unusually dedicated and passionate grassroots fanbase for a band that’s not getting a great deal of mainstream airplay, Trent Reznor’s got the fan support to take a risk like that and win.

However, I do think it’s an approach that major record labels should heed and adopt. If you give just a little, if you’ve got a good product, and you extend even a little bit of trust and goodwill to the fans that want to support you, they will repay you in kind.

Recently, NIN went a step further in extending creative control to fans by “discovering” 400GB of high definition concert video footage online and inviting fans to create their own video projects.

There’s a bit of history behind this: after learning that a home video release of the most recent tour NIN was not in the cards (long story behind that, but at least according to Reznor, it was due in part to his former record label roadblocking him), some disappointed fans took it upon themselves to organize an online community to create a fan-produced video of the last show of the tour.

From fan website http://thisoneisonus.org

On 5th May, 2008, Nine Inch Nails released their latest album, The Slip, free online, as a gift to their fans. Or as Trent put it: “This one’s on me”.

On December 13th, 2008, dozens of Nine Inch Nails fans recorded the last show in the Lights In The Sky tour at Planet Hollywood, Las Vegas. By working together, we aim to create a DVD to document this show that will be released free online, and possibly as a not-for-profit physical release. This one, is on us. Our time. Our effort. Our present to all NIN fans.

This was all with the indirect “blessing” of Trent, who loosened up the video security at the the show.

Now to be sure, artists condoning and supporting fan video isn’t entirely a new concept either: back in ’04, the Beastie Boys gave video cameras to fans and released an entire feature concert film of fan-shot video. And long before they became Public Enemy number 1 to grassroots fan activity, Metallica released a video, Cliff ’em All., that featured some fan-made video record during their early years

But providing what is essentially a DVD’s worth of video footage for fans to play with is notable: it’s a gesture that’s based on listening to one’s fans, and responding to their needs.

It’s also based on trusting your fans enough to know even when giving something valuable away, their support will be the best marketing campaign you could have. These are individuals willingly giving away their fan labor for the good of the artist and the fan community. And at first, the artist didn’t even have to ask. The initial fan video project was from organized from the bottom-up, because fans wanted “pay forward” Trent’s generosity and keep up enthusiasm for the next leg of the tour.

Seriously, even the best marketing department couldn’t create this for an artist.

Book Review: Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy

Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy, is the highly recommended third book by Laurence Lessig, focusing on why and how copyright laws need to be changed to allow for greater innovation. If you’ve read the two previous books The future of ideas: the fate of the commons in a connected world and Free culture: the nature and future of creativity — or heard one of Lessig’s exciting lectures, much of Remix will seem familiar, remixed with new examples of copyright owners pushing their rights beyond culturally acceptable bounds and why the time frame for copyright should be shortened, allowing works to enter the public domain.

But this book demonstrates the value of remixing, adding a lengthy discussion of the economics of two types of culture — commercial and sharing.

A commercial economy [is centered on] money or “price” [as] a central term of the ordinary, or normal exchange.

Of all the possible terms for exchange within a sharing economy, the single term that isn’t appropriate is money.

But Lessig discusses a combination between the commercial economy and the sharing economy — the hybrid economy:

The hybrid is either a commercial entity that aims to leverage value from a sharing economy, or it is a sharing economy that builds a commercial entity to better support its sharing aims.

If those within the sharing economy begin to think of themselves as tools of a commercial economy, they will be less willing to play. If those within a commercial economy begin to think of it as a sharing economy, that may reduce their focus on economic reward.

Much of Lessig’s discussion about hybrid economies is applicable to fan culture and other examples of participatory culture and user-generated content. He does use the examples of Harry Potter fandom (relying heavily on Henry Jenkins’ Convergence Culture) and Second Life.

We’ll be using this section extensively in our future writings, so our readers will be seeing much more of the ideas in Remix.

From Geisha to Go Go: Book Review of two recent books on Asian women

While no book can fully explore a culture, two recent books, Sheridan Prasso’s The Asian Mystique: Dragon Ladies, Geisha Girls, & Our Fantasies of the Exotic Orient and Veronica Chambers’ Kickboxing Geishas: How Modern Japanese Women Are Changing Their Nation, give a window into how different the lives of Asian women are from the pop culture stereotypes.

Interestingly, both books are written by Western female journalists that are not of Asian descent. Also, both are written primarily around interviews with individual women, using their experiences to explore larger social phenomena. Both books touch upon fandom issues, but this is not their primary focus.

The most valuable aspect of The Asian Mystique from a pop culture studies perspective is a multiple chapter analysis of stereotypes used in Western media of Asians and Asian-Americans. Prasso discusses how media stereotypes are based in a binary dichotomy in two ways — first, the stereotypes vary based on gender, and second, Asian women are seen as either submissive and desirable (“China Doll”/Vixen) or as dominant and therefore to be feared (“Dragon Lady”). This section would be perfect for a film/television or ethnic studies class.

Kickboxing Geishas does discuss Japanese female fashion, including Harajuku, Lolita, and Gothic Lolita. (Interestingly, though Chambers is an African-American woman, she never mentions the racialized aspects of yamamba in her discussion of this fashion/social trend).

Kickboxing Geishas also discusses the economic and social impact of teenage girls and their style:

Joshi kosei [teenage girls] are voracious shoppers with a quirky eye for fashion and an uncanny ability to start trends.’

Although there are broad groupings among …Japan’s contemporary costume culture …– kawaii, or the culture of cuteness; gothic; Lolita, etc. — the young women (and some men) who embody these street styles thrive on their individuality. …I believe the costuming of today’s Japanese young women reveals, in a powerful way, how for many young Japanese females, Japan is a hard place to become a grown woman.

[Yasuko Nakamura] recently published a book, The Uchira and Osoro Generation: Unadorned High School Girls of Tokyo. The Uchira in the title refers to the way Shibuya’s masses of teenage girls like to refer to themselves–a posse called “us.” Osoro is short for osoroi meaning that the girls like to dress the same. Currently eight thousand of these girls are on [her company’s] payroll [;] companies rely on her and her teen experts to help develop products such as soft drinks and cosmetics.

The Asian Mystique mentions “ladies comics”/manga and their role as peer sex education:

Unlike in the West where [teen] girls pass around steamy romance novels between friends [Peyton Place to V.C. Andrews to Twilight] or watch teen dating shows [90201 of yore and now], Japanese girls read [explicit] manga.

One of the most interesting side notes in Kickboxing Geishas involves Bizet’s Carmen, which has been reinterpreted once again, this time in a Japanese ballet where the action takes place within a Japanese business where Carmen is an “office lady” (secretary/tea server) and Jose is the corporation’s security guard. (Someone should write a book on the incredible resonance of Carmen cross-culturally!)

Both books have so much more than is truly in the scope of this blog, with analysis of the real world day-to-day sexism that women face. The Asian Mystique is especially recommended for its in-depth analysis of many issues, including the sex industry throughout Asia.