Tuesday, September 18, 2012

What does identifying with Cassandra Cain do for your self-image?

What do you think of this report?  Apparently, some men who identify with Batman or Spider-Man feel better about their bodies when they look at pictures of their heroes, but if they're indifferent, the pictures make them feel worse.  A previous study found a similar effect in women who viewed celebrity photos.

I love this stuff.  I'm a psychology buff, and I know just enough about it to use its jargon to make bizarre, counter-factual claims and asinine pronouncements that can't withstand close scrutiny with facts.  To me, this report actually raises more questions than provides answers.  Here are a few.

1) What if you identify with Dani Moonstar or Cassandra Cain?  What effect does looking at drawings of Spider-Man and Batman have on your self-confidence?

2) What if you identify with Buddy Bradley?

3) Or the Crypt-Keeper?

4) Have they done this study specifically with female comic book fans?

5) Would doing the above study produce similar results?  Or, given the sexualized or fetishistic nature of how many female characters are presented, would they be opposite?  I'd be very interested in seeing how this plays out, because while their numbers aren't as great as with male fans, female comic fans are incredibly passionate about their favorite characters.

6) What is the nature of identification with characters involving female comic book fans?  Is it the same or different than with male fans?

7) What about fans with other gender identities?

8) Related to number one, how much cross-gender identification is there?  Is this common, or isolated?

9) In the study of women and celebrities, what kind of photos were used?  Were they candid shots, photos from public events or sexualized photo-spreads from men's magazines?  And would any of those affect the results?

10) Is identification with characters-- in effect, the reader "masking" himself or herself with certain characters-- important to creating a fan base or readership?

BONUS 11) What about fans who identify with villains?

I'm seriously interested in someone doing a study on these, and some in-depth surveying of women who read superhero comics.  Isn't it a fairly common belief male characters are idealized and more inviting of identification while female characters are objectified and more involving the reader in the male gazed based on an assumption that the readership is almost exclusively male?  And yet women who are into superhero comics really latch onto these characters and they're extremely vocal with their opinions.  Well, maybe that's just part of being a superhero comic fan.  But you know... Stephanie Brown.  Oracle.  Huntress.  Lois Lane. You dismiss or degrade these characters at your peril.

I'm also keenly interested in the gender dynamics.  As someone who easily identifies with female characters-- I have my entire life and probably pretended to be Wonder Woman, the Bionic Woman or any one of Charlie's Angels and even Cindy Lee from The Secrets of Isis as often as I portrayed Superman, the Incredible Hulk, Sgt. Rock, Batman or Spider-Man as a child, and Dani Moonstar quickly became my masking character of choice in New Mutants-- and responds strongly to their positive and negative portrayals, I'm guessing I fall somewhere outside the control group or whatever the heck they used here.  So I also want to know how other fans who view gender and sexuality in ways that aren't traditionally accepted.

And, strangely enough, I also identify quite a bit with characters with ambiguous morality-- in fictional, comic book dichotomous terms, not real life.  I find we have to go outside the mainstream to find these kinds of richly drawn, troublesome characters.  When I read Nexus, I tend to mask myself with Horatio Hellpop, but I find myself drawn to Ursula X.X. Imada whenever she appears on the scene.  Outside of genre fiction, I find Hopey Glass and Terry Downe from Love and Rockets have always fascinated me more than Maggie, the star.  And I have much more in common with Buddy Bradley from Peter Bagge's Hate than I'm comfortable admitting.

When I see drawings of them, how do I feel about myself?  Pretty good, I guess.

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