There’ve been somegoodposts floating around already on whether or not Grayson #13 is subverting a problematic subject or falling into one. Both sides bring up interesting points,and frankly a lot of the dissent seems to be happening because of a giant pit somewhere between authorial intent vs viewer interpretation. I didn’t plan to make any posts about it myself, but a very unintentionally helpful person brought up this parallel to my attention.
This panel is from The Authority #20 (2001), in which an all-powerful villain uses time travel to traumatize the hero in her past. I haven’t read The Authority beyond what’s posted here, but the direct parallels between what happens in this scene vs in Grayson #13 make it an excellent foil for discussing how sexual harassment during a medical procedure should be depicted vs how it was in Grayson #13.
Transcript of the captions, in case they’re too small to read:
“Sorry, Doctor, but it takes a lot more than seeing the corpses of dead friends and relatives to freak me out.”
“Oh, don’t worry, my dear. I’ve got plenty of other tricks up my sleeve.”
“Did you know, for example, that the young doctor was capable of movement beyond three dimensional space? Imagine fighting someone who could shoot you as you emerged from your mother’s womb or hold a pillow over your face in a retirement home as you traded blows.”
“Worse still, imagine the local doctor, back when you were in high school, giving you a funny feeling you’d carry around for the rest of your natural life.”
Now, there’s a couple things about this that immediately stand out.
The Authority, we’re supposed to find the inappropriate behaviour of
the doctor creepy and horrifying. We’re supposed to sympathize with the
girl. She gets to look defensive and terrified. The art
deliberately de-emphasizes any sexuality in her nakedness because we
aren’t supposed to find her harassment hot. It emphasizes her vulnerability and her helplessness in such a way that we feel sympathetic
The entire scene is both written and drawn to make us
uncomfortable with what we’re seeing, maybe even feel protective towards her. It’s designed to depict her harasser as a predator, from the obvious defensive body language, framing and dialogue explaining the lifelong consequences of an experience like this, to the subtle use of the clear NO poster behind her and the leering smile poster behind him, to the almost vampiric way he hunches over her when he finally touches her. We relate to her, not to the leering villain’s words or the harassment of
the doctor. We don’t want to be looking at her naked body and we get no pleasure out of seeing this experience.
Now, here’s a similar scene as played out in Grayson #13.
Grayson #13, the scene is framed so that we aren’t sympathizing with
the victim, we’re oogling him. We’re invited to be a voyeuristic
onlooker checking out his body, too, complicit or even interested in the events we’re
seeing, just as Helena is. The art is deliberately sexualized in both obvious ways and little ones, from the equipment tray emulating a TV show’s censor bar to Dr Netz’s kneeling position with her face nearly up against his genitals to how Helena’s eyes keep flicking downward and the final panel at the end set up with Dick looking like someone casually getting dressed after a one night stand. Maybe the writing intended it to be a
subversive scene, and maybe it is in regards to commentary on privacy in the spy business, but in regards to tactful portrayal of harassment, it’s not.
By both dialogue and art aligning our viewpoint
with the harassers, rather than the victim as the Authority did, it’s
not a subversion of harassment tropes at all. The dialogue tells us to laugh it off. The art directs us to
check out all that naked bod on display. Nothing here is being treated like a hurtful violation or serious indignity. Nothing in the scene tells us we should be ashamed that we’re looking or that Helena or Dr. Netz should be either. Everything in the scene is designed to say ‘look’ not ‘look away’. From the writing to the art, the execution here aligns our views
with the perspective of a sexual predator, not the object of harassment. It’s a huge
difference in framing and depiction that entirely changes the way we
interpret the scene. This is, as the phrase goes, punching down. The victim’s not the object of our sympathies here, he’s the butt of the joke.
Honestly, I think there’s merit to the argument Seeley intended the scene as a metaphor about the concepts of privacy and trust in the spy biz and in the comic, and I don’t fault people who choose to read it that way. However, that reasoning can’t be used to deny that harmful experiences still needs to be depicted with respect instead of treated like just more eye candy. And framing the scene this way leaves it with serious mixed messages.
Seeley and Janin could have easily used a medical examination for his privacy metaphor without simultaneously glamorizing Dick’s naked body or capitalizing on his vulnerable position he’s in to show it off–it’s a literary/artistic mixed-message equivalent of “Your mouth says no but your body says yes”. We as the audience are somehow supposed to take away a ‘tongue in cheek’ message that it’s wrong that Dick’s privacy is being invaded and disrespected in one way while at the same time being directly encouraged to disrespect his privacy ourselves in that same way. What Seeley says he’s doing and how he did it contradict each other.
I read through all of #13 before posting because when prompted, Seeley hinted this scene was included for a reason. I wanted to see if there actually was anything in the issue that would change how and why the scene was designed to be read this way, but there’s nothing. Basically what we’re seeing here is still a weirdly positive and voyeuristic scene of sexual harassment being used as a shallow
metaphor about ideas of privacy instead of a negative portrayal of sexual harassment being used as a shallow metaphor about privacy or being treated like a
legitimate concern in its own right. He could have made the scene into a strong comment on both harassment and privacy invasions by framing it differently to focus on Dick’s reactions instead of Dick’s body but didn’t. There was no reason Seeley couldn’t have had both his metaphor and treated harassment like a real problem instead of a viewer’s guilty pleasure.
2016 Bones Challenge Day 2 (Saturday): Favourite character
I love both Temperance Brennan and Seeley Booth. Both together and separately. They are very similar in some ways and different in others. Booth is the intuitive humanist and Brennan is the logical empiricist. He believes in religion, she believes in science and facts. Both had abusive childhoods and both will do anything protect each other and their kids. They can read each other so well and always know what to say to make the other one feel better.
Temperance Brennan had a pretty average upbringing until her parents disappeared when she was 15. Shortly after that, her older brother handed her over to child services and disappeared. She spent years in foster care where one family locked her in the boot of a car for dropping a plate while doing the dishes. She became very self reliant and independent. She is very blunt which leads people to think she is cold when she is definitely the opposite. She become a Forensic Anthropologist because it allows her to identify people when nobody knows who they are while giving the families of victims closure. What she needed when she was 15. She worked her way to the top of her field. Earning her the title of Best in the World. She has also written many best selling novels. She doesn’t like not being able to understand situations or emotions. She is very literal and has firm beliefs, needing evidence to make conclusions. Over the years Booth has helped her see the universe differently. That everything doesn’t always have to be rational. She believed for years that she was destined to be alone. Not the type of person who gets to be in a family. Now she has a husband, 2 kids, a step son, a close relationship with her father and has created a family with her work collogues. She is a strong female character and such an inspiration to me.
Seeley Booth God, what’s not to love about Booth. He loves his family and friends and would do anything to protect them. He had an abusive father growing up and his mother left because of this. Therefore, he felt like he had to protect his brother. He continued to try and protect Jared until recently when Jared was killed. Jared did describe Booth as ‘having an extra dad, only a dad who protects you from your real dad.’ Because of this, Booth would always get Jared out of trouble while sabotaging his own success. He is very forgiving. When his mother came back after 24 years, she tried to apologise for leaving him with his abusive father. He told her she didn’t need to. That he knew why she did it. He tries so hard to not be like his father, it haunts him. He is an excellent father to his 3 kids. His protective nature has continued throughout his life. Entering the Army and becoming a sniper to then becoming an FBI agent. He never liked taking lives but he made it a goal to try and catch at least as many murderers as the lives he took. Not only did he grow up in an abusive household, he also had a gambling problem and relapsed in season 10. His strong will and determination helped him work hard to overcome it so he could get his family back. There are so many reasons why he’s a great character.