Oh sweet legitimacy

There are no naughty pictures in this post but it’s NSFW anyway. Click at home.

This leading image of Carol Danvers/Ms. Marvel is pretty good, right? The 1978 Dave Cockrum costume design and the actress herself are on-model to the degree comics fans are always clamoring for, but which one does not expect from star-promotion driven Hollywood mainstream film. That latter expectation is all too justified when you learn that this is Rikki Six, one of several stars in Avengers XXX 2 (2015), taking over the role from Lexi Swallow (Avengers XXX, 2012).

I don’t know if there’s a name in English for when the porn viewer fast-forwards through the “plot” scenes, and if there isn’t, then I presume the ever-helpful German people have coined one. Given that (whatever it is), then we need another name for the opposite: when the comics geek fast-forwards through the sex scenes in a superhero porn flick to watch the plot.

Add to things I didn’t know until recently: there’s an Italian filmmaker named Alessandro Re who, using the professional name Axel Braun, specializes in porn parodies, by which is meant pretty-much faithful renditions/depictions of popular properties with either added sex scenes or mostly sex; and lately he’s done a lot of superhero ones which reference the mainstream films to some extent, but are also clearly knowledgeable about the characters and imagery from the comics.

Disclosure: I haven’t watched any of these. … Yet. I won’t be watching these. … Of course not. Hey honey, want to watch a superhero movie? … Get away from me.

I’ve used the terms “porn with plot” and “plot with porn” at the blog before, e.g. Sex and sex and sex and sex, and I’ve often employed the latter term to describe my favorite TV guilty pleasure, the Starz series Spartacus. I don’t have much viewing experiencew with the former term, but a little web-combing has revealed to me that fast-forwarding through the sex in movies like Braun’s has actually been a thing for some time.

  • Mid-70s: Last Tango in Paris, Alice in Wonderland, The Opening of Misty Beethoven (I remember people reacting to these and similar when I was a kid)

    • Here demonstrating the short-lived, in-retrospect jaw-dropping naivete that expected “X” to be a real rating for real movies, that people would go see in real movie theaters
  • The roaring millenials: Sex Trek, Star Wars XXX, The Sex Files, Pirates XXX, and (covering my eyes now) by others’ accounts, rather accurate ‘celebrations’ of the 1960s Batman and Scooby-Doo

    • Apparently some pride is taken in displaying the original’s charm, idiosyncrasies, and characteristic plot points to the extent that the viewer is supposed to say, “Wow, that could have been an episode”
    • Sometimes these see dual-release for the with-porn and without-porn versions; the DVD menus include the interesting options of no-plot and no-porn for those who (presumably) would be confused

I’ll leave aside the question of whether the plots of Braun’s or similar movies are watchable for any reason, as well as the thornier issue of whether the Hollywood films they parody are watchable either. My curiosity is piqued by the – for porn purposes – completely unnecessary fidelity to the comics, and my awakened suspicion that superheroes + porn aren’t merely a curiosity (“Star Wars! with porn!”), but go together like, uh, … OK, it’s not possible to write about this without “phrasing!” so we’ll just deal. I’m talking about when “the” superheroes directly from the comics are concerned, not merely recognizable references.

Thought 1 is to appreciate the certain perfection in the mix. I mean, any cartoon or celebrity character can receive the Tijuana Bible treatment, that’s not my point – I’m saying that superheroes are curiously suited to it.

  • The costumes obviously
    • Athletic display based on circus and other performing traditions (which have historically been no stranger to sex work)
    • Fetish, including but certainly not limited to the masks
  • The utility of plot points generally abandoned elsewhere
    • Mistaken identity, coincidental confluence of interest
  • The overly-present plot role of clashing physically
    • Substituted for nearly any other interaction
    • Exaggerated emotional response

This thought is hardly mysterious or profound, as it’s nothing more than identifying comics with historical commedia della’arte, opera, cartooning and graffiti, and samizdat in any era or location. Superheroes of this type represent a confluence of many issues in them mid-20th century and sex underlies many of those issues, case closed. The important part concerns the odd denial intrinsic to U.S. superhero comics culture, which I think is an artifact of WII and Cold War patriotism, of which the “scare” and distribution artifacts of the late 50s were a subset. I don’t like the crap stories and art of the “adult” Ultimates and similar lines at Marvel during the 1990s any more than most people reading this, but I admit that they were more typical of this entire family of human arts & letters rather than less, and that to an outside observer, they’d be the real superheroes whereas the ones I value and idealize would be muted or compromised versions.

Too extreme for you? Men of my age may do well to reflect upon the personal role played by Ms. Marvel, the Black Widow, Valkyrie, Hellcat, Red Sonja, and others during their tween and early teen years. I have no doubt that this … concept applies to every age group relative to the prominent female superhero characters at that life-stage.

Thought 2, which is related, concerns the context I criticized in Did it have to suck so, regarding “now it’s a movie” as a cultural signifier.

It’s based first on the general phenomenon that a given topic may gain social and cultural legitimacy because a movie is made about it at all. By “legitimacy,” I mean, in ascending order:

  • Penetration via movie’s reception and buzz, “word of mouth,” mindshare – in the future, the degree to which it becomes a reference point
    • The most extreme form is the degree to which the movie’s presentation becomes confounded with reality, which happens all the time
  • Identifying the original medium with the topic – OK, starting with the point that a given title or story can be thought of as a book, I’m moving to how this tends to be obscured or replaced by the presence of the movie
    • As a subset perhaps among a minority of viewers, seeing the movie as validating and representing the book, that a good or well-received or highly-penetrating movie will improve the book’s presence as a book, will boost a more general understanding of and appreciation for the book (why? I don’t know – maybe strictly a matter of size, either in the impressive financial whoomph a movie necessarily represents, or in movies’ necessarily overwhelming sensory scope)

In my experience most people are aware of these dynamics and either embrace or decry them, per title, as they see fit. If someone happens to be speaking in a way which overlooks the dynamics, they are easily reminded to revise what they’re saying without needing a lengthy explanation. In many cases, people are curious about how they may have been misled about a topic.

Comics fandom culture, however, exaggerates and distorts these dynamics to the point where I, at least, think they rate a whole different name and special study.

  • They confound the medium itself with a particular topic they’re accustomed to seeing in that medium. (This is the necessary intro to any modern discussion of comics, to remind people that just as a book-as-object can have anything written in it, therefore a comic can too and still be a “comic book.”)
  • They expect both the medium and the topic to receive legitimacy (as described above), i.e., they expect everyone else to confound the two just as they have, and thus the whole medium will be “elevated” or “recognized” via the movie, not just this-or-that superhero or even superheroes as a genre.
  • Especially oddly, they expect that the comics as objects, and their commerce, will be improved in more-ready distribution and capital investment; that their creators and those who’ve appreciated them historically (and endured slings and arrows thereby) will be afforded respect and social esteem; and that comics as a combination of medium will be saved from a perceived danger.
    • This expectation persists despite the failure of movies and TV to do any such thing throughout the entire history of superhero comics.

(A whole world of further goofiness can be found in a similar weird notion that the medium-and-topic will be legitimized and “saved” through collectability. Not going into that now.)

Now for connecting those thoughts dots with the thing no one likes to say out loud: that in mainstream culture (not pop, fringe, alternative) – porn leads the way. You want to know when “it” has “hit?” See whether it’s been picked up as a context for the hardest of hardcore.

Just one case in point merely to showcase: romance novels. When did they move out of Harlequin specialty publishing and distribution? When Rosemary Rogers et al. wrote’em with maximum explicit grunty-grunt and “oh my! never that way before,” no more cutting to waves crashing on the beach. That’s when they got the form-factor upgrade and mainstream bookstore presence.

That’s what I’m pointing to: that the XXX-flicks indicate something that no Hollywood blockbuster would ever indicate – the presence of comics source-material superhero iconography and characterization in the mainstream culture, valued as such.

Rejoice, fellow superhero comics fans! Geeks and rejects no more! You have, indeed, arrived at last.

Links: Panels on Pages review (the Avengers movie), Axel Braun (Wikipedia page), Who has the best live-action Wonder Woman outfit?, TV Tropes: Porn with plot

Next column: Your mama’s apocalypse (March 5)

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About Ron Edwards

Game author and publisher via Adept Press / Biology author and former professor

Posted on February 26, 2017, in Filmtalk and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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