Thursday, January 11, 2007

Speaking of Terms That Need to Dissappear:

(at least for a while)

Fan Service

Now, I'm going to admit here that I wasn't actually aware of what this term meant until Ms. Tokyopop came to visit and she explained it in her "What is Manga?" presentation.

I'd heard it used before, and I had a vague idea of what it meant, but I didn't hear it all that often and so I wasn't entirely clear on the exact definition. I honestly didn't really care.

But when she stated it as baldly as she did, and I thought of her examples and all the other things that I've heard the term used for, all I could think was "what a completely stupid phrase."

Because, of course, all the examples of "fan service" are not only sexual, but they are meant to appeal to heterosexual boys and men.


Am I not a fan?

How is this serving me?

'Cause I generally find it to be very rude, actually.

Now, I'd be willing to let such fan service slide as simply "not my cup of tea" if there was (more) stuff that was serving me AND if said stuff was referred to as fan service as well.

Because if panty shots in manga is fan service - then so are the lovely butts that Kalinara and Ragnell adore so much in the Green Lantern comics. But no one calls them that. Because girls aren't fans, I guess.

No, when fan service does come out for women, it's not only botched all to hell, it's derided as bad writing and pornography by all.

Look, I'm under no illusions that the latest Anita Blake books are smut, and not always well written smut at that. I also don't see how anyone can find the comic book adaptation to be anything but poorly adapted and poorly drawn.* However, I don't really see why the comic is more deserving of a smackdown than half the stuff I pass over as I'm picking up the latest Runaways or Wonder Woman. And I will defend Laurell K. Hamilton over Piers Anthony - often a favorite of fanboys - to the death. And I won't be the one dying.

The Anita Blake comic deserves all the derision it's getting, but I have to question the underlying motives of many who are deriding it. Is it really because it's so much worse than everything else? Or is it because the idea makes so many people uncomfortable? People, after all were making fun of it long before it hit the stands. And yeah, there's a lot to make fun of in the source material, but no more so than half the shit that makes the bestseller lists. There's just very little on those lists (largely due to the makers of said lists screwing with the numbers btw) - or in comic stores - that focuses so much on women having sex.

There's plenty that are all about women getting fucked, however.


I really didn't mean to go on a tangent about Hamilton's books, I'm just getting really annoyed at derision for fan service and/or porn for women masked behind derision for the not surprisingly low quality of such porn and/or fan service.

And while I don't mean to be the feminist police, may I politely suggest to my fellow feminists and fans of shapely male butts - and our allies - that if they'd like to see more of the same - even if only for other's sake, they may want to think about making it clear that they are dissing DBPro/Marvel for doing such a shitty adaptation of what has been widely regarded as a fun book and not dissing the basic idea of said fun book. 'Cause we all know we aren't dealing with mental giants here.

Please, please, please demand that comic book publishers do leaps and bounds better next time. But please try to make it clear that we want better - not that we want them to drop the idea. That we love Manhunter and we want our adolescent power fantasy, but we sometimes want that other kind of fantasy too. We just want it done well.

And please, everyone, stop calling boob shots fan service unless you are willing to call shirtless Mal and Simon fan service as well.

(Personally, I think Mal in a dress and Jayne getting knifed should count too, but I can deal with the definition remaining sexual.)

*well, actually, having seen Brett Booth's sketches, I think it's not so much that they aren't pretty, but that they don't work well for comics and that the penciler and colorist made tons of bad choices in trimming them down for mass publication.


Ra-chan said...

Hello, just stopping by from a "When Fangirls Attack" link. I'm not into the American/superhero comic community, but in the manga/anime community, there is plenty of good fan service for girls, and guys do equally recognize fan service for girls, even in titles geared towards males. It's a known fact that titles like Inu-Yasha are actually published and marketed towards boys, but the show/manga is very popular, if not moreso with girls, and partly because there are a lot of pretty guys and romantic themes in the story.

100LittleDolls said...

I think mickle is acknowledging that there are some "fan service" geared toward women, but most of the time, comics and manga are firmly rooted in the male gaze. Pretty guys are nice, but they aren't equal to panty shots. Not that I necessarily want to see panty shots of Inu Yasha or Miroku. See that's another thing, it's hard to think of want I would want to see in fan service directed towards me. I've yet to be comfortable in exercising my own gaze, or if I'm even comfortable adopting my own gaze.

Mely said...

In my circles, "fan service" refers to works aimed at women all the time. I first heard it from manga and anime fans speaking of bishounen (beautiful boys) and m/m homoerotic elements whether explicit or just put in a panel in heterosexual shoujo romances, but it's spread among other fans who use it to discuss sexy shots of men in TV and film they read as being intended for the pleasure of female viewers, or even the moments of "emo porn," scenes of intense emotion that many female fans find as attractive as the beefcake shots.

So, yes, the term has its origin in the male gaze, but it's already been appropriated by many women to speak of the female gaze.

Sarah said...

If you really want female-oriented fanservice, than look no farther than Ouran High School Host Club. The boys in that manga flirt with each other like mad, cosplay whatever's popular with girls (samurai, cops, French revolutionaries), and do the whole "shojo sparkles and roses" bit every other panel, all while talking about how their fanservice (they call it that in the manga itself) is all for the pleasure of girls.

Anonymous said...

Dropping in from WFA.

Aside from your very excellent point about how "fanservice" in practice assumes that woman=/=fan,
there *is* a term for when art is drawn to ... celebrate ... the beauty/hotness of the male form.

"Manservice", and bless Stephen Sadowski for his considerable efforts on our behalf. ;)


Mickle said...

"See that's another thing, it's hard to think of want I would want to see in fan service directed towards me. I've yet to be comfortable in exercising my own gaze, or if I'm even comfortable adopting my own gaze"

As someone who bought the idea that women (ie me) were not aroused by images the way that men are for a verrry long time - and now know that to be most definitely not true (when it comes to me) - I think that's a fantastic point.

I'd also venture that this is part of why when companies - like, oh, say say DBPro and Marvel - fall flat on their collective asses when trying to deliver said fanservice, a lot of potential fans aren't even certain how to express to the company how they'd want them to fix it, and so it comes out sounding more like disgust for the very idea itself.

I guess I just really want all these smart (often smarter than me) potential fans to be thinking about it, rather than dismmissing the idea altogether.

re: all the "but it is used that way!"

I will definitely conceede that this may be true in manga circles. (I don't have much experience within the manga community, so I'll take your word for it.)

But it is most definitely not common practice outside of that community.

Some people already use it that way with regard to things not manga (most likely a significant number of the people reading When Fangirls Attack) but the vast majority of people don't. Whether the topic is superhero comics or movies, recognition of the female gaze is very limited and often ridiculed.

Parallactic said...

Hi, I followed a link here from "Mangablog".

I'm an anime/manga fan, and I have seen fan service aimed with a female audience in mind. You can find it in shoujo (manga for girls), where for instance, the boys sometimes lose their shirts for the flimsiest of reasons. I even once saw a scene where a girl is walking with her boyfriend and checking him out: floating panels of various body parts, and a crotch shot.

I also think that the fanservice for girls also comes in the form of emoporn, like another commenter said.

The really interesting part is how some shounen series (manga for boys) are adding fan service for female fans who like male/male. They're doing it so much that some of the fans complained that the fan service was interfering with the plots and characterization. Here's a link to an article on the shounen fanservice for Boy Love female fans.

Anonymous said...

I think that the lack of fanservice for females, or manservice, in superhero comics, partly stems from the fact that the creators have no idea how to go about providing it.

Partly it's a lack of interest in providing it ("why bother? Girls don't read this anyway."), partly it's discomfort ("If I draw a man looking sexy I might somehow turn gay EWWW"), but I also think most male western comic creators honestly have no clue what women find attractive.

I remember some years back, Marvel was doing one of those OMG we're CHANGING everything and it's all going to be NEW and FRESH and blah blah blah events that mostly involved giving everybody new costumes. There were some preview sketches of how the X-men were going to look, with captions. One of the captions said something along the lines of "don't worry, ladies, Colossus will still be sexy!" And the picture showed a ridiculously overmuscled Colossus, I mean more so than usual, looking like a public service message against the dangers of steroid abuse.

My reaction, as a 'lady', looking at that picture? "Ick!"

Straight men tend to draw superheros as what they want to be, and superheroines as what they want to f^@%. For some reason, they think that it's an automatic vice-versa for female readers. They assume that what WE find attractive in a man is the same as what THEY find attractive in a man.

The Japanese seem to have caught on quicker, possibly because of the large number of female creators working in the field. There are plenty of women drawing men for the female gaze. As a result, even a male creator, drawing for guys, can take the hint: "Oh, so THIS is what chicks like to look at. Hey, maybe if I throw some of this in, some girls will buy it and I'll make more money!"

And 100littledolls, I would say that manservice does exist that is every bit as blatant as a panty shot. The Saiyuki series, for example, is none too subtle that way. Just about every chapter header, cover image, or artbook illustration involves the male heros slouching sexily with shirts and/or flies unbuttoned, or in bondage, or doing unspeakably freudian things with their weapons, and then there was that volume where they spent several chapter playing mah-jongg in various states of undress, and.... Ahem. Whew, sorry, it got kinda warm in here all of a sudden.

Dani Atkinson

100LittleDolls said...

True fan service for women is out there, but it's far from mainstream. That's the point that I was really trying to make. Most of the time, male gaze trumps the newly developing female gaze.

Also, I was trying to say that I am not necessarily happy with equal opportunity objectification. I can't say what equalitarian sexiness would look like, but it would be different that what I'm offered now.

Plus, I'm bi. And I don't know if that complicates matters for me, but I can tell you hands down that panty shots to me are offensive. I guess what it gets down to for me is that fan service ends up to be shallow titilation (duh, right? and props to those who can enjoy it!) For instance, I swoon over Kyo from Fruits Basket, but that wasn't until after his strong character development.

Mickle said...

100littledolls, blogger ate my comment to you (or I made it a draft for a post and never got back to it) re: the problems of equal objectification.

I'll post it when everything dies down next week.

Anonymous said...

Fan service is called that due to transation, service is straight up translation of a japanese term for what we would called a free gift so it would be fan free gift.

Manga aimed at women has female versions of the whole thing. Noteable in yaoi (gay men/boys love stories with sex), shouju (love story between male and female) and shonen-ai (gay men love stories with little or no sex, often aimed at younger readers).

Yuri (love stories between women) doesnt seem to have much fan service in general. Yuri is often aimed at men, therefore might have it. But most of what I read was aimed at women so I didnt see much fan service. Sweet stories though.

Japanese Manga has lots more material aimed at women and girls. So I read that rather than Comics. *shrug*

False Prophet said...

Hi, just stopping by from a link from the Tenth Carnival. I agree almost completely with your post, except on one semantic point: the definition of "fanservice".

I admit that 90% of the time, it's referring to sexualization of characters (eg, panty shots, hot springs episodes), but the term can encompass anything aimed at the true fans of the property. Case in point, the film "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back". That film is 100 minutes of fanservice--it's not half as entertaining if you don't have at least passing familiarity with the first four films in Kevin Smith's ViewAskewniverse.

Maybe the step isn't to stop using "fanservice" but to reclaim it for its broader meaning and disassociate it from its sexual connotations.