Friday, 16 November 2012

One Last Harpy: Interposing Decency

Before I conclude the Naked Harpies series with a grand analysis of sociopolitical forces in conflict, I want to draw attention to one more harpy, from the 2nd edition D&D Monstrous Manual:

Here we see a transitional form. After the raw naturalism of 1st edition, it's still clear that harpies shouldn't be wearing clothes. But ... but ... the moral panic! The D&D cartoon! Think of the children! So the artist makes use of a visual stratagem as old as prudery itself  - the decorous interposition. In this case, the harpy's arm.

I guess most of us learned in Sunday School how very leafy the Garden of Eden was, and how very long Eve's hair.

For those with a more secular upbringing, you may recall that it was very important for evolving primates to put their right foot forward, or at least swing their arms a little:

Pulp magazine covers sometimes didn't even bother with the interposing object, trusting in the artistic merit of the marble-like,  hairless and pigmentless female form, diaphanously clad or not. But sometimes they used it like pros:

As moral standards for newsstand entertainment tightened, the scenery became more obliging. Here is a wonderful driftwood intervention from the height of the paperback era:

You're probably more familiar with the spoof in Austin Powers, but the height of proscenic propriety was reached in the 1970 sci-fi film Colossus: The Forbin Project, where the evil computer orchestrates a naked tryst that is shown ... well, let's just say it's the only film in history where the choice to drink wine instead of martinis was the difference between an "M" and "X" rating.


  1. I was happy your last post turned to examine the sexist angle a bit, in the depictions of figures in fantasy art, but now we're back to prudery.

    This is a false frame. Every person I see mocked and dogpiled on at G+ is asking the question "Hey, why are women in fantasy art pretty much all depicted as life support systems for T & A?"

    I have never seen some one say "Showing boobs is bad."

    And censorship is a false frame. If this were ZakS criticizing WotC for not allowing any art in their products similar to his obese succubus, that would be about censorship, the entity at the top of the power hierarchy determining what is or isn't acceptable based on its interests.

    But what is happening on G+ is people completely outside of the power structure *questioning* the status quo.

    If you want to more fairly address the issue at hand go back to the race remark you made in the first post in this series. Because I think the people saying "Hey, guys is it good for us to be depicting every woman like Red Sonja?" are more akin to someone saying "Hey, guys I know we're at war, but should we really be putting this Jap character in our next cartoon?" than they are people worried about showing nipples.

    1. Hm, maybe this post was a diversion. But "censorship" and "prudery" seem to explain what was going on in 2nd edition pretty well. I blame the popularity of a certain type of "indie comic" (Dawn, Avengelyne, etc.) for what happened next in gaming art. This weekend I'll roll out the clearer rhetoric about censorship vs. equality.

  2. I apologize if I jumped the gun a bit; I *am* very interested in what else you have to say. I just don't find the idea that America's views of sex and the body are based strongly in Puritanism as news.

    Maybe that is relevant-- the folks involved in this, seemingly weekly, discussion could be tangling up one idea with the other unintentionally.

    But to me the idea that keeps coming up pretty clearly isn't why Red Sonja can't be depicted without her bikini, it's why is Red Sonja always in a damn bikini.

  3. Because the chainmail bikini grants her AC 0!

    1. So, would Tarzan's loincloth count as leather or fur/hide armor, when determining Armor Class? ;p