Friday, May 03, 2013

Why I Stopped Following Sinfest

I found Sinfest back in college. It's a webcomic by Tatsuya Ishida, a very talented artist. At the time the comic was, well, the sort of thing an immature college guy would like. A little T&A (PG stuff), jokes about drinking or porn or weed, irreverent toward religion and so on. It was funny, not particularly deep. Still, I followed it for about a decade because it was consistently humorous and the artwork is consistently high quality.

But I've recently stopped following the comic.

If anything, Ishida's work has only improved over the years. It can often be described as Wattersonesque, with long, gorgeous strips that tell a story without any dialogue, allowing the art to stand on its own. He's a phenomenally talented artist and writer, so there are absolutely no complaints there.

Ishida has matured along with his work and, hopefully, his readers. He's started tackling more serious issues. Like feminism.

I'm a feminist. Or an ally, or whatever you want to call me. Women are fully equal to men and must be treated that way by anyone who wishes to have any claim to moral standing. Ours will not be a just society until male privilege is a thing of our barbaric past. I absolutely cannot fault Ishida for espousing feminism in his comic.

It appears Ishida came to his feminism recently, as the comic made a dramatic turn in tone and subject matter a few months back. I only wish Ishida had discovered intersectionality and sex-positive feminism, rather than the harsh second-wave feminism he seems to be espousing. Intersectionality is the understanding that there are different kinds of privilege, different ways for life to suck. For example, that wonderful moment in Scrubs when Turk and Elliot start to argue over whether it's harder to be black or a woman in medicine... and both shut up when a black woman walks by.

A black woman went to college and wanted the focus of her academic career to be black women's issues. She found she couldn't just double major in Black Studies and Women's Studies because the first was focused on black men and the second on white women (significant problems in both areas). She had to create her own field. Being a black woman isn't simply a matter of being black and being a woman; it's about being black and a woman and a black woman.

Intersectionality is about all of that. It's about recognizing that there are different ways to be disadvantaged within a cultural context, and that combining those disadvantages creates a situation that is different from either independently, and that those disadvantages change depending on the situation. Being a black man is a disadvantage in white America, but when that black man goes home, suddenly he's just a man and the field has changed.

I've seen no real evidence of an understanding or appreciation of intersectionality in Ishida's work. That's not to say he doesn't agree with it, but if he did I believe his work would have certain nuances that are lacking. I think he'd be tackling a broader range of topics, for one thing. And he wouldn't be focusing quite so much effort on porn.

In a nutshell, I'd describe sex positivity as embracing any and all sex acts and sexualities within the broad umbrella of "enthusiastic consent". Whereas the Abrahamic religions feed on human sexuality by demonizing it, sex positivity recognizes sexuality as simply another facet of human nature, and its expression as a positive and healthy act. Sex positive feminism got its start in the early 80s in response to an anti-pornography current in feminism, and it has evolved since then. The views and beliefs among sex-positive feminists are wide ranging and complex, and I'll certainly not try to summarize them here. Suffice it to say that Ishida's blanket condemnation of pornography isn't in keeping with the majority.

Take for example these two comics. Here, a woman walks in on her boyfriend watching porn and condemns him to the sofa. In the next, she complains to someone who urges her to dump him. Ignore the fact that he's Uncle Sam and she's Lady Liberty, that's largely irrelevant. Just focus for the moment on the fact that Sam's watching of porn receives blanket condemnation. That's absolutely wrong. But the last bit is right; Sam pressuring Liberty to do things she doesn't want to do? Also wrong. Remember, enthusiastic consent.

Some porn may be questionable, a lot of it certainly isn't to your taste (unless you're an onmniphile, in which case more power to ya, I guess). But condemning someone for their masturbatory habits? No. I'll try and stave off a quick criticism, here; this is just the most recent of Ishida's attacks on porn and, apparently, male sexuality, not the only one1. I agree it's more ambiguous than I'd like, but I didn't want to do an archive trawl. I feel confident using it, however, because Sam receives a blanket condemnation even before his pressuring of Liberty is attested.

So that's a big problem with Ishida's latest work. He's become something of a one-note musician and I disagree with the note. But that's not the biggest problem.

He's not bringing the funny. You can be wrong, and you can be unfunny, but if you're both I'm not going to stick around.

1 - Sex positive feminism does address issues of pornography only focusing on male fantasies, male pleasure, etc, which is as much of a problem in pornography as it is in video games and comic books. And movies. And television. And newspapers. And politics. Anyway, there actually is feminist porn out there and, no, it's not men doing housework in tight clothes. It's people fucking, and her orgasms are believable.

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