I promised people on Twitter yesterday I’d do a write-up of a guest-presentation by Dan DiDio, co-publisher of DC Entertainment, in my Transmedia Storytelling class taught by Henry Jenkins.
It should be no surprise to either my colleagues or my professor that I’m a bit critical of transmedia. As a structure, of course, it’s exciting. In practice, it’s crass commercialism that doesn’t examine the social malignancy it’s reinforcing. We have had one guest so far this semester who has strongly gone against the hypercapitalist trend, and that is Brian Clark of GMD Studios. Follow him on Twitter. He gives me hope that it’s possible to stay alive and not lose your soul.
But back to the class. I need to reinforce that while I have the utmost respect for my professor and the guests he brings in, I don’t always (or even often) agree with their perspectives. That this results in angry mid-class tweets is intended as a reflection on the systems of marketing men like DiDio represent, not reflections on individual characters.
Dan DiDio was visiting our Transmedia Storytelling class to tell us about DC’s New 52 campaign, wherein they simultaneously rebooted many of their comic franchises. He talked about marketing, imprints and brand recognition, all of which was quite interesting. Apparently they’ve gone into reprints on all of the properties he showed us, which is quite impressive–but he also spoke of the bar for reprinting being a lot lower than it once was, from millions of readers to the tens of thousands. But kudos are certainly due.
My main beef with DiDio’s presentation, however, was this:
“It Can’t Be Sexist, A Woman Worked On It!”
Look, I’m not going to make assumptions about the women involved in the production of this or any other comic. Maybe this aligned with their vision completely or maybe he’s misrepresenting them. Maybe they weren’t involved the way he says or maybe they absolutely were. It doesn’t matter, because having a woman or a pair of women or a team entirely 100% composed of women does not by some arcane transitive property absolve something of being sexist.
And this isn’t even about whether Starfire’s portrayal is sexist (I mean, pretty much all comic women are depicted this way to some extent, it seems like the outcry around this particular character is how much of a shift occurred). It’s just bad logic and a flimsy, untenable argument to say that the presence of a woman or women on the staff mean all issues of representation are made suddenly less significant or meaningful.
This, for the record, is how this remark was arrived at:
DiDio, in the early part of his presentation, declared that DC was enjoying a bigger female audience than any time in the past.
During the Q&A at the end, I asked what DC were doing to attend to this audience.
He announced they were including more female leads and more female writing and editorial staff. Okay, good. He said that Minx was directed at women. I really have no comment on the matter, but he admitted it wasn’t successful.
I then asked what the reception to DC’s efforts had been. And please note I made no implications to DiDio, or at least I don’t recall making any, that I thought that DC were doing a bad job. That may have been my own personal assessment of the situation at that point, but I wasn’t there to ask some accusatory, leading followup question. He could have at that point rolled out any sort of positive blog posts or niche magazine articles that he wanted and I would have written them down to go do my own footwork, but no–the word on his lips was “controversy.”
I did not bring up Red Hood and the Outlaws either. (I wanted to, and was prepared to, but didn’t have to.) He brought it up on his own initiative, though he didn’t cop to the name until I pressed.
DiDio seemed unwilling to talk about any reception at all, insisting only that controversy was good for the company and that, as I mentioned earlier, two women editors were on the team (ETA: Katie Kubert and Bobbie Chase, now that Eric’s jogged my memory). He contended that issues of representation were debated in-house well in advance, which I believe–what I’m dubious about is what sort of discussion actually took shape, whose voices were heard, at what volume, and what perspective they were speaking from. I’d be happy to read an in-depth post-mortem on the whole thing somewhere, if the team were more forthcoming. I want to know exactly why the Starfire thing is totally cool and not in keeping with the brand’s and the medium’s tradition of objectification. Really, I’m curious!
Just don’t act like having women on your staff is a free pass to do all the entrenched sexist bullshit you’ve been doing for decades.