Is this top advice from the writer of adult industry leader Vivid Video’s new comics line (now available – at least last I heard – from Avatar Press) or is it blistering social commentary on America’s current state of increasing sexual repression?
Answer: it’s a search engine con.
Don’t know if anyone reads John Dvorak, longtime computer industry pundit whose columns appear in PC Magazine. Dvorak’s been a favorite for a long time, regularly serving up cranky commentary on industry trends and what passes for juicy gossip. (In his personal blog, he discusses many topics having nothing to do with computers, including, as I do here, politics; he’s one of the few reporters in any field to pick up the revelation that one “Jeff Gannon,” a fake reporter from a fake news agency given credentials by the White House, was most likely to have exposed CIA agent Valerie Plame a couple years ago, theoretically in retaliation for her ambassador husband Joseph Wilson’s refusal to toe the administration line on Iraq’s mythical nuclear program… “Gannon’s” “news agency” turns out to be a front for a GOP-supportive website…) One of his recent columns discussed the magic words that can bring tons of traffic to any website: free porn. (His first column on the subject, from two years ago, still gets an inordinate number of hits. His new column expands the “magic words” to “free porn magic for you.”)
So I thought I’d give it a try. As an experiment. But, if it works, I really have to wonder:
What the hell is wrong with us?
It’s been, what, four damn decades since it became acceptable to acknowledge that sex exists? I remember back in high school discussing advertising subliminals, like the supposed shape of a woman’s breast in the ice cubes in liquor ads and nonsense like that, with my best friend, and he just said, “Ads are so openly sexy now, why bother?”
Let’s take comics. Rich Johnston on Monday unveiled the new “nipplegate” scandal coming out of DC: the cover of Wildstorm‘s THE INTIMATES features a more salacious cover than solicited, enraging some retailers. Not that I blame retailers – they have their idiotically repressed local communities to deal with – and it does seem like a counter-intuitive move for a company that had traditionally tried to avoid making their comics returnable. And the book’s not being marketed as “mature.” (The labeling fetish continues.) On the other hand…
You’re going to bitch about sexual content in a book called THE INTIMATES?!! Maybe I’m reading too much into this, or maybe it’s got something to do with having actually, you know, opened a dictionary once or twice, but… isn’t the title sort of a tipoff? Labels aside?
Speaking of Nipplegate, how many people read Media Life‘s exposé revealing the vast, and I mean vast majority of complaints about lewdness in media to the Federal Communications Commission come exclusively from the tiny membership of the ultraconservative Parents Television Council, which dedicates itself to turning everything on TV into LEAVE IT TO BEAVER. The PTC spearheaded the Nipplegate campaign as well.
Anyway, considering the great number of comics out there constantly trying to sell themselves on nothing but salacious sexual content, it’s hard to imagine many people getting worked up about THE INTIMATES‘ lapse of judgment. (Considering the “sexy cover” is one of the most unerotic images I’ve ever seen.) If sex didn’t sell, people wouldn’t buy it. They certainly wouldn’t go online to hunt it out for free. The currently acceptable argument (meaning positing any different one automatically marks you as immoral) is the way to deal with this is to ban sexy images, at a minimum. A puritanical prohibition, in other words.
Here’s the deep dirty secret about prohibitions:
They exist to make money.
People are funny. They don’t like to be told no. Tell them they can’t have something – for all you Biblethumpers out there, does a story involving Eden and apples ring a bell? – and they want to know why not. Particularly if it’s available to someone else. In a totalitarian society, it’s possible to enforce prohibitions; you simply break the will of your populace by any means necessary. But, in a capitalist system, any prohibited item becomes a profitable commodity. Look at Prohibition in the ’20s. It didn’t stop anyone from drinking, it just made a lot of criminals rich, and we’ve been paying the piper on that one ever since. Drug prohibitions have done the same thing. Where there’s a prohibited drug, there’s someone getting rich selling it. That’s a reason marijuana has always been high (no pun intended) on the law enforcement hit (no pun intended) list: the ease with which it can be grown makes it a potential grassroots (no pun intended) commodity. Potentially profitless, in other words. Something widely available to everyone has no market value. It’s pretty hard to grow cocaine or heroin in your basement, and crystal meth is a pretty dangerous proposition, but marijuana? If you can grow a ficus, you can grow pot. So what happens when marijuana’s prohibited?
The price goes up. Way up. And people can get rich selling it.
Which brings us back to sex.
You want sex to stop selling? Stop trying to prohibit it. Kids might find out about sex? Hell, entire generations of families used to live together in one room huts, standard. Our ancestors were well aware of sex when they were kids and it didn’t stop the march of western civilization. The fact is: if no one makes a big deal out of something, it ceases to become a big deal. (The administration has based pretty much their entire foreign and domestic policy on that principle; when was the last time pointing up all the lies the White House used to leverage support for the invasion of Iraq got any response more than “yeah, so what?”)
Of course, without titillation, the advertising industry would be in the dumper; people might think about products long enough to realize most of them are crap. The music industry, wallowing in decades of bad decisions and its own arrogance toward the public, would have its last legs kicked out from under it if acts like Britny Spears couldn’t be sold by showing skin. Comics… think of all the independent comics lines that would belly up tomorrow if we started thinking of sexual content as a commonplace and not something to get excited about. (For most “sexy” comics, that’s already in process.) It’s no coincidence that porn kept Fantagraphics going for years when none of their mostly excellent high end books would do the trick. (Now, amusingly, it’s PEANUTS giving them a huge boost.) And hundreds of other businesses, large and small, would be forced to find a new come-on. The last thing a businessman wants to hear isn’t “you’re evil and you should be banned,” it’s “who cares?”
And that’s the way to deal with these things. Some idiot shows a nipple on national TV? Who cares? A comic with a salacious cover? Who cares? The vast majority of this stuff is people trying to draw attention to their product. If no one reacts, if it doesn’t bump sales, the behavior stops.
Face it, repression and prohibition are marketing tools. There’s always a buck, physical or spiritual, to be made from them. Bertold Brecht knew: morality is only wallet deep.
Free porn is right. Free porn, and free ourselves. And forget “just say no.” Just say “so?”
“‘For comics, I call it the MASTER OF KUNG FU syndrome: once Fu Manchu is beaten or dead, there’s no reason to continue the series. Which is why they had to jump through hoops to figure out rationales for continuing, and why they always eventually resorted to bringing back Fu Manchu, over and over. (Which ends up making the hero look like an ineffectual yutz, eventually.)’ This is true also of ‘Rogue Trooper’ in 2000 AD. The original concept was of the last of these genetically engineered soldiers traipsing across this apocalyptic world in search of the general who betrayed his unit. Eventually, the general was found and punished, and 2000 AD found themselves with a successful series that had self-destructed due to the nature of its own concept. Of course they tried to revive it, and of course it was badly received. Now I think they’ve settled on “untold tales” slotted into the original series, so that they can tell new stories without violating the concept too much.”
Interesting. Is the “untold tales” approach paying off? Do people care, since they already know Rogue Trooper’s fate? It was theorized that DC killed off its until then relatively successful JONAH HEX franchise when Michael Fleisher and Russ Heath did an annual telling the last Jonah Hex story, ending with the gunfighter’s body being stuffed, used as an exhibit in a wild west show, then unceremoniously dumped into storage somewhere like New Jersey. Series sales started a nosedive shortly afterward that they never recovered from. Me, it’s the only JONAH HEX story I ever liked, but the claim was that knowing what would happen to him killed reader interest in finding out how he’d get there. (Having him travel instead to a post-apocalyptic future a few years later didn’t help matters much either.) Marvel‘s recently been doing “The End” stories with the final adventures of various characters, I know, but the company’s got so many parallel futures going I doubt anyone believes “The End” adventures amount to anything more than elaborate issues of WHAT IF…? In terms of things like MASTER OF KUNG FU and ROGUE TROOPER, are there really any good ways to continue concepts after their raison d’etres are all used up?
“I was reading your latest article on CBR about so many DC series being cancelled and your feelings as to why. I agree. Bloodhound didn’t have a chance to even develop into something. Possibly the storylines weren’t action packed enough but that says more about the medium than the writing. The latest issue of Bloodhound was incredibly powerful and I’m disappointed that there will be no more after #10. Anyways, I’ve started a satirical news site. I’m no Onion but I did a news item based on your article.
Well, I liked it. Particularly liked “WARREN ELLIS’ LINE OF CHILDREN’S BOOKS SELL WELL IN THE 25-43 YR OLD DEMOGRAPHIC.” Good luck with the site. You know where to send the royalties.
“I just want to tell you that this week’s column of Permanent Damage is terrific. I particularly enjoyed (agreed with) your comments on Bush and the Middle East, and especially found the Prince Harry the Nazi information enlightening. I was unaware of the theme of the party he attended. You are right, the media mentioned it – let alone questioned it – not at all.
Have you considered writing political columns for more widely-distributed alternative newspapers?”
I dunno… I like jotting down political musings but I’m not sure I’d want to do a lot more of it. In some ways, it’s more gratifying to write about politics here, where many readers probably aren’t often exposed to the tidbits I’m dropping. At alternative papers, it’s sort of preaching to the converted, know what I mean? Like most things, it would depend on the particulars.
The British press is best when critiquing American politics, but, like most media in most countries, they’re much more lax when about their own internal politics. Unless sex is involved.
“Doesn’t the large up-front cost for ‘straight to TPBs’ only emphasize the need for better marketing of the concept. Marketing that you quite rightly boil down to making an audience and having the patience to wait for it to come to fruition? Meaning that a cheap, entry-level product will become even more important to get people hooked before hitting them up for a $50 coffee table book, even if it is drawn by Perez/Byrne/McFarlane/Nauck/Ryp?
Even if monthlies go the way of the dodo – far from a given – the ‘pamphlet’ still has value in the form of one-shots or minis, to provide exactly that cheap trial balloon and inexpensive long term exposure required to realize a new property. We are back to the first days of the printed word, where you literally did print a pamphlet – or even just a broadsheet – and if it sold, you expanded the idea into a chap book or full novel. Science Fiction has been doing “serialized novels” or “based on the short story” since its inception. And any number of magazine articles are expanded into books, whether we are talking about “Good Housekeeping” or “American Journal of Pediatrics”.
Everyone knows that the real future is merchandising. The comics exist to validate the movie, which sells the shampoo, and everybody needs shampoo, right?”
Unless they’re bald, which covers the vast majority of the current superhero comics audience. While serialized sf novels (and detective novels, and horror novels, etc.) still pop up, by the mid-’60s the form was largely dead. Early paperback books, appearing post-war, started out as mostly repackagings of existing serialized material or hardcover novels, much like the earliest comics reprinted newspaper strips, but like comics, which fairly quickly switched to cheap original material, it wasn’t long before the “paperback original” started to appear, and publishers figured out an economic model for it. Sure, you can still find serialized sf novels around, but, by and large, most sf novels published today spring full blown, and serial venues generally have a difficult time attracting an audience. So I’m not sure anything can be made from the comparison. Likewise, I doubt the comics pamphlet will die out altogether, but if it’s going to become an effective marketing tool, comics companies will have to start approaching it more as marketing tool than artifact. Maybe it’s like color film; a friend who taught film seminars used to say that black and white film wasn’t really possible until color film was introduced. At that point, black and white could stop being a stricture and start being a technique. Maybe it’s the same with the comics pamphlet; maybe it wasn’t really ‘possible’ until the graphic novel was developed…
“I irregularly read, but almost always enjoy your Comic Book Resources column. Two quick things about the Harry incident. The funniest comment I heard was from Jay Leno who referred to him as the Nazi formerly known as Prince. When I first heard about it, I thought he was going to the party dressed as the Duke of Windsor. As for the tabloids in the US and the UK being in a snit about it, most of those rags are put out by the ex-Australian (Roop-ert the Dirty Digger) and probably the only reason they gave it as much play as they did is because one of their bottom feeding employees got the ‘exclusive’ photo. All in all though not a real plus for the Monarchy.”
Probably not, but that book’s been cancelled for years now anyway. But I presume you mean the British monarchy, and not much is ever a plus for them anymore. But they’ve pretty much been living on borrowed time since the Long Revolution anyway…
“I think you should spend a few hours perusing www.LewRockwell.com if you want to get even more pissed off about GWB. He has some great columnists with extensive contacts and experience in the military, and their indictments and inside knowledge are horrifying in their implications. They’ve been following the Iraq debacle with a VERY critical eye since late September 2001 (yes, they are very ahead of the curve- I think that one of his writers started talking about the PNAC connections just a week after 9/11).
The website has a vast number of articles explaining in detail the philosophical morality and economic benefits of true anarchy. A thorough exploration of the site would give someone of your intellect enough information to begin understanding of how a stateless society would function far more efficiently, humanely and harmoniously than any “governed” society.
I think you might really find some worthwhile material there. I would start with some of the archive materials of Karen Kwiatowski, Jim Lobe, Gordon Prather, William Lind, Eric Margolis and Lew himself (who is also president of the Von Mises Institute in Auburn AL).”
I don’t really need to be any more pissed off about the Hand Puppet than I already am, but thanks very much for the site referral. I’m familiar with several of the players, particularly William Lind, but had never heard of the site.
“I enjoy your column, but sometimes I wish you’d source your political bits. I have a sister out at Malmstrom AFB, she’s a Deputy Missile Combat Crew Commander and instructor (she teaches missileers to do their jobs as well as being a missileer herself). According to her there’s only 200 missiles out in Montana, and nothing went wrong with them in the past few weeks. Here’s what she said: “The doors can be “rolled” open to load, unload, do maintenance, etc at all the “silos”. A better name is LF or Launch Facility. We never use the term silo for some reason. If doors were to “suddenly open” then these multi-ton slabs of concrete would be miles away, broken, in some farmer’s fields. Hasn’t happened. They’re on this nifty sling shot system. Very cool.”
Mind giving a link to an article about this event? I’m curious now, and would like to corroborate it with her.”
Sure, try this link. I used to cite sites, but realized the paradoxical nature of the Internet has generated the perception that the more linked an item is the less believable it becomes. I’m not interested in anyone taking what I say as gospel truth; I find not citing links encourages interested parties to go do their own snooping. And maybe come to different conclusions, but those are the risks we live by. Like my grandmother used to say, the best way to teach a baby to drown is just to drop it in the water…
“Went up to Sundance Film Festival on Friday – saw the wildlife – last year I attended a panel on composers for film – this year took a look around the area – They have a lot of corporate sponsorship there – there were flyers being passed around from the prophet of Parawan (Parawan, Ut) too. Interviews, etc. A friend of mine who works in the Film commission and who has attended the San Diego ‘Con spoke about how big these two items have become. Ironic, because of the small beginnings they both had. We all want success, but in the end, how many of us want to build the monster?”
Building the monster isn’t as much a problem as feeding it. Once they get big enough, monsters like to keep growing, but at some point you always hit a wall. Sundance will likely keep growing as long as Hollywood keeps viewing it as the farm team, which it’s been ever since Harvey Weinstein colonized it years back. I don’t specifically remember what films were raved up at Sundance the last couple years, I just remember that when I finally saw them they turned out to be mostly tedious flaming crap occasionally punctuated by interesting performances. But that’s “independent” film these days; it’s the Raj era of independent film. Every year, though, I think to myself, “Steven,” (because, yes, when I think of my own name I think Steven) “you ought to go to Sundance this year.” And then I think: it’s in the mountains (I’ve been in Ketchum in the summer and it’s a swell little town), it’s January, and I ****ing hate snow. What are they raving up out of Sundance this year, anyway? I haven’t heard a peep…
Sheriff Timothy Watchek of the small town of Muskweed, in a remote region of the Yukon Territory, apparently solved a number of unexplained disappearances in the area over the last two years when he apprehended a group of youths in the act of eating a human body. The body was identified as that of banker Robert Tatum of Saw Valley, Idaho, who had been reported missing after he failed to return from a hiking expedition. The teenagers, whose identities have been keep secret pending trial denied committing any crime, and identified themselves as “Cannibals For Christ” attempting to live by what they claim are the strict tenets of the early Christian church. They ritually anointed their victims as earthly incarnations of Jesus Christ, then followed Biblical commands to eat his flesh and drink his blood, ensuring the salvation in Heaven of all involved. The cult, numbering fourteen, has laid claim to as many as 33 victims during the two-year period, but Watchek stated it unlikely charges would be levied in any but the Tatum murder, citing the wildness of the land and the large number of carnivores in the area. “I doubt there’s anything left of them,” he said. Of greater concern is the possibility that the group has used the Internet to evangelize. Authorities as far away as Russia and Paraguay are now reopening missing persons cases to search for any similarities to the Muskweed cannibal killings.
Inventor Elliot Hawthorne Phelps of Whitehedge, Essex, in England, claims to have developed a computerized “doomsday clock” sensitive enough to measure and respond to such factors as geological conditions, meteorological changes and fluctuations in solar energy to determine, down to the hour, how much longer the Earth will be able to support human life. Shortly after his announcement, however, Phelps abruptly pulled out of a demonstration before the Royal Academy Of Science and has since refused to show his clock to anyone. When asked why the demonstration was cancelled, he refused comment and announced his departure for an impromptu vacation on Aruba, joking that he was paying for it with money he’d originally earmarked for gifts next Christmas.
A new craze is sweeping fundamentalist Iran: the sex-change operation. In recent months unprecedented numbers of Iranian men have applied for and received the operation. No explanation for the practice’s newfound popularity was given, nor any for the willingness of Iran’s ayatollahs to turn a blind eye to it.
Catholics engage in their own bit of sympathetic magic today, better known as Candlemas, when the throat is blessed with two crossed candles to prevent throat diseases over the following year. The practice always interested me, since, though ascribed to the apparently legendary St. Blaise (of whom nearly nothing is recorded, thought Blaise is also a name for Merlin), is clearly pagan in nature. This was actually a fairly important Catholic feast day when I was growing up. It may still be.
Now the Hand Puppet, eschewing the longstanding tradition of giving a State Of The Union address before the end of January (the joke is they needed the extra time to teach him to pronounce it), delivers the speech tonight, generating a new tradition: if a President lies during a State Of The Union address, it means four more years of swagger, paranoia and economic stumbling. (I mean, when the two richest men in the world declare the dollar dead, as Bill Gates and Warren Buffett did recently, and they’re both Americans, we are in deeper **** than anyone’s letting on.) It’s hard to believe we’re already in year five of New America, conceived in national security and dedicated to the proposition that all men were created suspect, built on an enormous con that nebulous terrorists can be battled by surrendering liberties and fighting standard wars. It’s no wonder the administration was so bent on holding “suspected terrorists” without bail, prosecution or even charges, since every case they’ve even considered going forward with has collapsed into an unholy mess. It’s a war the administration’s really fighting via rumor, a “hearts and minds” strategy directed not at ending terrorism but at seducing cooperation, and aimed at the American people themselves. Meanwhile, the government and the press were touting the “victory” of free elections in Iraq, despite a good chunk of the country not participating in them. (Did anyone anywhere mention what was going on with the Kurds during the election?) Numbers have been thrown around about the huge segment of the Iraqi population that went out, despite death threats from opponents of a Democratic Iraq (though some publicly stated they were only opposed to a show vote staged in an Occupied Iraq), but what chance was there at independent verification of the numbers? What was most interesting about the vote was the government’s touting of the many Shi’ite Muslims majority who showed up to cast a ballot. (Mainly Sunnis and Ba’athists boycotted the elected.) But these were the very people whom Paul Bremer, former American overlord of Iraq, insisted we would not turn the country over to, and certainly they’re the religious/ethnic group our government considers most capable of turning Iraq into an anti-American theocracy ala Iran. It’ll be interesting to see what happens if the ballots reject former Saddam Hussein bullyboy and our current handpicked Iraqi Prime Minister and torture advocate Iyad Allawi for another go-round in the post in favor of a candidate less sympathetic to the American presence. Just how far are we willing to back democracy in Iraq, anyway?
It should be remembered that Iraqi democracy was originally scheduled for an unspecified distant future, presumably after Halliburton, Bechtel and Shell Oil had made themselves indispensable to the Iraqi infrastructure, but the timetable was stepped up when the American public started noticing our troops being regularly shot and blown up, though the Hand Puppet had long declared “the war” over. (If history has taught us anything, it’s that wars are never really over until both sides say they’re over, or one side is wiped out.) Of course, the likeliest result of the vote is the same one that miraculously occurred in Afghanistan: the result we want, which is to say no change (except for, in Afghanistan’s case, a major resurgence of the heroin trade). That’s the short range result. The long range result is still either a continuation of the current war of occupation and attrition if we stay and the Balkanization of Iraq along ethnic and religious lines, with all the horrors that suggests, if we pull out.
If you think I’m being farcical about our new pursuit of war, paranoia and security for all, check out leading right wing magazine THE NEW REPUBLIC, which recently invoked the final solution suggested months ago by nutjob pundit Ann Coulter by calling for the roundup, torture and execution of Americans who oppose administration security policies. There’s clearly a vague sense of tongue-in-cheek intended, but also a not so vague suggestion that, if you don’t like how things are going, it’s time to shut up. For the good of the country, of course. Not that things like that haven’t been said before; in the ’60s, such comments were regularly directed at the anti-war movement. Except they weren’t joking then, and they’re not really joking now.
Ran out of time for reviews again, so next week will be another review extravaganza, with manga, magazines, mini-comics and, who knows, maybe a little Mighty Marvel Madness thrown in. (I’m not promising anything.) In the meantime, if you want to know the real inside scoop on how comics are made, there’s only one place to find it: the massive 300 page Master of the Obvious collection, TOTALLY OBVIOUS, available (cheap!) only in .pdf format through PAPER MOVIES. And don’t forget in only a couple weeks the first issue of my CSI: SECRET IDENTITY miniseries comes out from IDW. It’s never too late to pester your retailer for it.
It’s true: competition is good. In the last couple months, we’ve gone from having no decent daily news sites for comics (yes, Comic Book Resources, Newsarama and The Pulse all try hard, but, y’know, at heart they’re cheerleaders and anything beyond that’s gravy): Tom Spurgeon’s The Comics Reporter, and Heidi MacDonald’s The Beat. It may be my imagination, but The Beat seemed to be getting a mite sluggish before Tom made the scene. Then Tom’s here, digging nugget after nugget from fields others aren’t even looking in, and Heidi’s suddenly a maniac for scoops again. Coincidence? Is this an arch-rivalry of ex-Fantagraphics employees, or do we hear wedding bells, hmmm? One thing, though, Heidi: give The New York Times a rest. I know you’re a New Yorker now and all, and I can appreciate the brand loyalty, but it’s a crap paper, it’s always been a crap paper and it largely made its reputation the same way J. Edgar Hoover made his: ceaseless self-promotion in lieu of actual achievement. Its old reputation, anyway, not its new one for faking stories and compositing sources. In other words, what the New York Times says doesn’t mean **** to a tree.
Those wishing to comment should leave messages on the Permanent Damage Message Board. You can also e-mail me but the chances of a reply are next to nil these days, given my workload, though I do read all my e-mail as long as it’s not trying to sell me something. IMPORTANT: Because a lot of people apparently list it in their e-address books, this account has gotten a slew of virus-laden messages lately. They’re no real threat but dealing with them eats up time I don’t really have, to the extent I can no longer accept unsolicited e-mail with attachments. If you want to send something via attachment (say, art samples) ask me first. If I say okay, then send. Unsolicited e-mail with attachments will be wiped from the server without being read. You can also leave messages for me and have discussions on other topics at my Delphi forum, GRAPHIC VIOLENCE. Please don’t ask me how to break into the business, or who to submit work to. The answers to those questions are too mercurial for even me to keep up with.
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I’m reviewing comics sent to me – I may not like them but certainly I’ll mention them – at Steven Grant c/o Permanent Damage, 2657 Windmill Pkwy #194, Henderson NV 89074, so send ’em if you want ’em mentioned, since I can’t review them unless I see them. Some people have been sending press releases and cover proofs and things like that, which I enjoy getting, but I really can’t do anything with them, sorry. Full comics only, though they can be photocopies rather than the published version. Make sure you include contact information for readers who want to order your book.
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