A few years ago I wrote a post entitled “Why Modern Fantasy Needs More Naked Slave Girls“, in which I said that too many people were taking modern fantasy too seriously and killing all the fun by trying to impose their views on everyone else. This was before I moved everything over from Blogger. At the time I transferred everything over, it was the second most viewed post I had written. (A review about a book on the Bayeux Tapestry was the most viewed. No, I don’t know why.)
Well, apparently we need to revisit that topic (naked slave girls, not the Bayeux Tapestry) because some people haven’t gotten the message. The latest dustup involves the Conan board game that set records on Kickstarter, like over $3 million. There have been a couple of posts recently that have taken the makers of the game to task because of the art used. The picture in question, which will be shown below the “Read More” tag, shows a damsel in distress. And we can’t have that now, can we?
I’m going to include some pictures here that some hothouse flowers might find offensive. I did put “Illustrated Edition” in the title, you know. If you’re one of those, be advised that I don’t provide fainting couches or smelling salts, and this is my space, so it won’t be a safe space. If you can’t handle that, go somewhere else.
I’m not going to link to either post in question, because frankly I don’t care to give that person the traffic. On of them is fisked here, and there is further commentary here. The original post degenerated into a rant about how this type of picture resulted in Donald Trump being elected. Whatever. While politics does occasionally show up here, if for no other reason than some people insist on making everything political, this is a partisan free zone. So we won’t go there. Trust me, if I really did start getting political, this wouldn’t be a safe space for anyone. There are complaints in the original post about racism and not enough playable female characters. I’m not a gamer (when would I have time?), so I’m not going to address those issues. I will comment on the art.
Let’s consider the picture in question. That’s it on the right. According to some folks, this a picture of a rape. Or an about to be rape. Or a potential rape. Or something along those lines that you can read into the picture. Me, I don’t see that. But then if you read Howard’s original stories, Conan doesn’t exactly force himself on women who aren’t willing. Yes, he lets his interest known and does make passes, but he never forces himself. (And before you bring up “The Frost-Giant’s Daughter”, read this post.) And I interpret Conan art through the lens of Howard’s creation, not what other people may or may not have done with the character. Or project onto Conan from their own hangups.
All of which is really beside my point. My point is that some people don’t like the art. The reasons aren’t really important. What’s important is that they aren’t content to dislike it. They don’t want anyone to be exposed to it. Because they are offended, no one else can enjoy it.
Now there are plenty of examples of offensive fantasy books that one can point to that most people will agree are outside the mainstream and pretty much offensive all the way around. I offer up the prime example of misogynist fantasy, John Norman’s Gor. That’s not what I’m talking about in this post.
According to some people, damsels in distress should be completely eliminated. Paintings of women in various states of undress should not be seen. Someone is offended by these things, and so it naturally follows that all right thinking people should be offended and those who aren’t should be called names to shame them into compliance. As a public service message to the sarcasm-impaired: that last sentence, it contained sarcasm. Although sadly that’s how some people think. It’s certainly how they act.
The argument goes that women shouldn’t be shown as sex objects. I agree that women are not objects. But one of the things that attracts men and women to each other is sex (it’s hardwired in, in case some of you were wondering), and a major part of that attraction, especially in the initial stages of a relationship, is the appearance. But showing people who are attractive, or creating situations in which people find each other attractive and act on that attraction is apparently not acceptable.
The ironic thing is that there is very much a double standard at work here. Have you looked at the covers of romance novels in, say, the last few decades? In case you haven’t, I’ve provided a sample. No need to thank me. Let’s see, nubile young woman? Check. Her eyes are closed, so maybe she’s in distress. Hunky bare-chested guy? Check. It’s hard to see his eyes, but they could be closed as well. Perhaps he’s also in distress. Or maybe he’s checking her hair for lice. Hard to say. At least one of them naked or nearly so? Check. A rape about to happen? By the standards used to judge the Conan art, check, check, and double check.
Damsels in distress are a trope of fantasy and fiction in general. Like the femme fatale, they aren’t going to go away anytime soon. A good writer can take an old trope and breathe new life into it. Just like a good artist can take a standard scene or subject and make it compelling. (Copies of “The Protector”, the Ken Kelly image to the left, are for sale. Just go here.)
I’m getting pretty tired of self-appointed moral watchdogs trying to decide what I can read or what art I can look at, what is appropriate to say or see or hear or write or read. There are some vocal people who think anything written/painted/carved/filmed before they were born is somehow evil and should be eliminated. At least that’s how it seems some days. Me, I have a great respect for the artists and writers who came before. And yes, that includes the writers and artists from the pulp era, such as Robert E. Howard, H. P. Lovecraft, Margaret Brundage, John D. MacDonald, Raymond Chandler, Hannes Bok, Robert Heinlein, and all the others who have fallen out of favor with today’s self-appointed arbiters of taste.
Did the people mentioned in the above list have attitudes that wouldn’t be considered acceptable today? Of course. They lived decades ago. They’re from another era, and their work reflects the values and attitudes of their times. Do I find some aspects of their works offensive? Sure.
But ya know what? I can handle it. I’m a big boy. On some days, I’m even an adult or at least can pass for one if I’m not careful. And I don’t like being told what I can and can’t, or should and shouldn’t, like. You don’t like a game/story/piece of art, fine. That’s your right. I respect that. But show me the same respect if I don’t have the same opinion as you. Don’t try to dictate your values to me.
You won’t like the reaction you’ll get if you do.
And if that attitude offends you, then sod off.