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Sex, Comic Books, and Censorship: An Irresistible Menage a Trois?

By Andy Frisk
September 4, 2012 - 00:27

Overall, Irresistible is smart, sexy and more than lives up to its title.
-J. Skyler

Without any merit whatsoever, this type of publication should be banned.
-Zak Edwards

Where there is much desire to learn, there of necessity will be much arguing, much writing, many opinions; for opinion in good men is but knowledge in the making.

-John Milton

the knowledge and survay of vice is in this world so necessary to the constituting of human vertue, and the scanning of error to the confirmation of truth, how can we more safely, and with lesse danger scout into the regions of sin and falsity then by reading all manner of tractats, and hearing all manner of reason? And this is the benefit which may be had of books promiscuously read.

-John Milton

Zenescope Entertainment’s newest mini-series Irresistible, the story of a man who pines excessively for his ex-girlfriend and suddenly finds himself irresistible to every woman he meets, has been nothing if not an irresistible temptation to commentary by some of our writers, myself included. The book itself is full of portrayals of sex that can be considered soft-core pornography. Two of our writers, J. Skyler and Zak Edwards, each make compelling and interesting cases as to why the book is great (in Skyler’s case) or worthy of being a banned book (in Edwards’ case). The focus on the dangers of self-centered co-dependency and what it can do to other people in your life, even complete strangers, vs. the portrayal of what can be considered rape (akin to what Pete Stanchek does to his childhood friend Kris in Valiant Entertainment’s Harbinger) and the devaluing effects on women such publications as Irresistible have, through its portrayal of women, form the two poles of the argument. Each viewpoint has its merits and flaws, but one aspect of Irresistible that cannot be overlooked is that it is the epitome of the phrase, “sex sells.” Sex sells even in the comic book industry. What does this say about a publication like Irresistible in the larger sense? What does it say about pornography, its effects, and censorship? These aren’t questions easily answered, but a look into the debate around Irresistible, the greater trend of hyper-sexualized women and images used to sell comics (or anything), and the censorship of such works is worth considering as well.

Throughout the comic book industry, portrayals of women with incredibly oversized breasts and incredibly small outfits are pretty much the norm. Does anyone really think that Psylocke (a psychic mutant ninja and mainstay of the X-Men) can really be an effective fighter in the outfit that she’s been portrayed as wearing for about two decades now? Does the fact that Wonder Woman bares more skin than she covers, and has done so for more than two decades, help sell her comics, or at least draw the adolescent (and yes, adult) eyes of the male customers of local comic shops? These aspects help to sell, or at least attract attention to, these characters and therefore draw readers in. This is no secret. This is the way that many comic book publications (and movies, and novels, and television shows, and magazines) are portraying, and will continue to portray, most of the females depicted therein. Again, sex sells. I’m not defending this. I’m simply stating that it is a simple fact of human nature and commerce. What affect does this have on the male psyche though? Does the apparent wish fulfillment that a book like Irresistible portrays, through its garish slavishness to the hetero male libido, have any longer lasting effect? Does the apparent rape of the women “not in control of themselves” have a negative effect on the views of women held by men who read Irresistible? (As an aside-the case can be made that Irresistible’s male protagonist isn’t in control of himself either and is being repeatedly raped by the gypsy who casts the spell/curse on him by turning his female partners into the type of partner that he has no choice but to have sex with-as evidenced by the violence that one of the characters suffers under the spell/curse-I cannot reveal more at this point since it would spoil the book. Basically though, the protagonist of Irresistible is a victim as well). Should this comic book, and others like it, be banned as suggested? Or are the portrayals of sex and the cookie cutter looking women depicted in it really harmless and instead a means of telling a worthwhile story? We can turn to social science studies done on the effects that pornography has, or doesn’t have, on men’s ideas of women and the feminine ideal.

There have been many different studies done on the effects of pornography on society and men in particular. Much of this research is readily found on the web. Interestingly, the long held idea that porn causes “most men…to objectify women as they objectified porn stars, and treat them accordingly…(and that)…in a kind of domino theory…rape and other kinds of sexual mayhem would surely follow” has proven to not necessarily be the case for a wide section of the male population (Wolf). In fact, “On the contrary: The onslaught of porn is responsible for deadening male libido in relation to real women, and leading men to see fewer and fewer women as “porn-worthy.” Far from having to fend off porn-crazed young men, young women are worrying that as mere flesh and blood, they can scarcely get, let alone hold, their attention.” (Wolf). Even more surprisingly, the distribution and free availability of soft-core porn (such as Irresistible) doesn’t even necessarily create gender inequality. “Contrary to the hypothesis, the results show that gender equality is higher in states characterized by higher circulation rates of pornography” (Baron) according to a study done in the late 1980s by Larry Baron, PhD of the University of California, Los Angeles. Granted, these are just two studies out of the hundreds, perhaps thousands, done on the subject, and these themselves have their own flaws. They both make the case though that for the majority of the male population, pornography can have a poor effect on the attainment of a healthy sexual relationship with ones partner, but doesn’t necessarily turn the majority of men into rapists, sadists, or the like, nor does it necessarily devalue women socially. This isn’t to say that soft-core pornography is just fine and dandy for a male of any age to look at, but it is possible that the portrayals of soft-core pornography in books and stories like Irresistible aren’t necessarily as harmful as they may topically seem, but are harmful in ways that one hasn’t considered.

All of that being said, our society, and our survival within it, is based upon a for profit model. A company must make money to survive, employee workers, and remain in business. Using sexual imagery or hyper-sexualized portrayals of adult women will, as already stated, remain a staple of our for-profit society and business world simply because it is profitable to do so. We as consumers though have the choice to either buy or not buy what we personally find offensive, even if it isn’t harmful in a mass way. Soft-core pornography will enable some insane men to commit insane acts. Just as the ready availability of assault weapons will enable some men to commit horrific acts of mass murder. If we decide to live in a society where it's okay for a profit to be made off of naked women and bullets, then we will have to resign ourselves to the fact that, on occasion, a madman will be enabled to do evil by these things. It’s the price of a free enterprising, albeit lawful, open society. Irresistible will not damage the majority of its readers in the long run in all areas of their attitudes toward women and their sexual health. In some cases, the comic book’s readers might get something out of it that is positive, like that self-centeredness in relationships, and post-relationship relationships, IS potentially damaging to oneself and others. Invariably though, some deranged male might become sexually crazed and commit a crime under the influence of such soft-core pornography. Either way, Irresistible shouldn’t be banned. It shouldn’t be read without a healthy dose of reason either though.

The freedom of our press is set up in a way that makes us we agree to tolerate the good with the bad, and rightly so. Perhaps Irresistible is a bad comic book, both thematically and as a story. It is freely published, freely read or not read, and freely bought or not bought. Like that proto-typical American John Milton stated in his defense against the licensing of books titled Areopagitica, “the knowledge and survay of vice is in this world so necessary to the constituting of human virtue.” Removing Irresistible from the shelves, just as removing other controversial works, would work against the greater understanding and knowledge of society as a whole because it removes the source of the debate. Free and open debate in our society is what moves our society forward. The fact that one can argue that something should be censored or banned is part of the process of completing a solid “survey of vice” itself though, and it is as welcome as the voice that praises the same piece of work. Both viewpoints can freely be expressed and held without fear. This is what makes our society truly great. Love it or hate it, Irresistible will get you talking, and that, in and of itself, just might be the factor that outsells it sexiness, while simultaneously selling its worth.

Last Updated: August 31, 2023 - 08:12

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