Monday, 31 October 2011

Me-ouch: Sexuality in Animation

Let’s be honest; most of North America still considers animation to be a medium designed only for kids. Now, truth be told, many shows have begun to change that notion, but that’s mainly due to wacky adult themed comedies, such as The Simpsons or Family Guy. If you want to find a mature-rated, animated drama or action flick from North America, then you’d have to dig into the more obscure end of the spectrum with the likes of Spawn or The Maxx or something equally packed with the overly extreem darkness of 90s counterculture.
So why is that? Can’t there be a mainstream action animated series that’s both geared to adults and that’s slightly less dark than a goth going to a funeral? Well of course there can, but there’s a lot of preconceived notions and problems about the animation industry that one has to overcome to make that a possibility. One of which was brought to the forefront of my attention after viewing DC Showcase: Catwoman. And that issue is how sexuality is portrayed in animation. It’s a big issue, and I can’t cover everything there is to cover about it in one blog post, but let’s just briefly dip our heels into the topic with our good ol’ friend, Miss Kitty here. 
This particular 15 minute short was packaged with the animated film, Batman: Year One (which I reviewed yesterday.) This isn’t a full on review of the short, but basically what happens is Catwoman tracks down the bad guys to a strip club, performs on a stripper poll with her cat suit zippered down to a level where her boobs defied physics by staying where they were, all essentially to distract the leering baddies into a boner induced daze just to surprise attack them with her whip. A chase ensues with Catwoman doing some pretty wicked action, as she (and her skin tight, tantalizingly ripped cat suit) take a beating, but eventually she is victorious, and there’s even a pretty touching moment as we all realize what Catwoman’s been fighting for this whole time. I should say by the end of the short, I did enjoy myself. But something bugged me. I mean, I’m not saying I have anything against Catwomen showin’ off her milk jugs (I am your typical male comic fan in their 20s. This thing was practically made for me!) But for crying out loud, give it some context! Make it important to the narrative! 
I get that Catwoman has always been a sexually charged character. And I have nothing against that, when it’s done in a compelling way. Which it isn’t here. The bad guys were already distracted with the strip show. They wouldn’t have even noticed Catwoman if she snuck up behind them. But the film was determined to have that Catwoman pole dancing scene. Why? Two simple words: fan service. It’s a safe bet, pandering to the fans who already like Catwoman. So it’s pretty clear who the target demographic is here, but what about those who just now decided to give the character of Catwoman a shot? Would this be intriguing at all? No. It’s just shallow sex appeal.

The problem with these kind of portrails (at the expense of plot and character development) is that, while tantalizing, it’s pretty immature. It’s like a pre-teen boy just discovering what sex is, and he feels the need draw boobs all over his homework. And when animation is struggling already to be regarded as something more than just “kid’s stuff,” being immature is the last thing it should be. 
There is a right way to show sexuality in animation. Sticking with DC, take for example their Wonder Woman animated dvd (directed by Lauren Montgomery, who shockingly also directed this Catwoman short…go figure…) Wonder Woman is shown in skimpy costumes, but it helps define her, coming from a culture where she says they take pride in their bodies and she actually doesn’t understand why she should cover herself up. It shows she’s confident in who she is, and that she’s very detached from the social norms of the modern world. It’s interesting. It’s sexy. And it’s a big character moment for her. European animation and anime also seem to have a better grasp on how to portray sexuality competently in animation, but that’s more of a cultural diference there (something else I’d like to examine in the future.)
All in all, if western animation hopes to make more shows and films that are geared towards adults, it needs to show sex as the complex issue that it is. It needs to treat adult matter like adults and not pander to the lowest of thrills. Otherwise you’re just watching drawn tits and ass jiggle around, and if you want that you should just go all out and watch some hentai. At least then you knowyou’re watching something shallow that’s supposed to lack any real complex narrative and emotional depth. But for others, I can only hope that we can make some progress in the future.
…some sexy, sexy progress…
- Moo