Yesterday, Brian K Vaughan announced that Apple has blocked any sales of Saga 12 through any iOS apps, ostensibly over what Vaughan characterized as “two postage stamp-sized images of gay sex.” This move may come as a surprise to many readers, but will sound familiar to fans of Joe Casey’s Sex #1, which was similarly blocked last month. You can bet your ass that the Retcon Punchers have opinions on this one. Welcome to the Chat Cave.
Drew: Apple, what are you doing? You realize this series has had rather explicit sex scenes between men and women, robots, and even a man and a spider-thing — why draw the line at gay sex? Granted, the images in question here are more explicit than any of those previous examples, but that can hardly stop you from approving something for your apps. You have a fucking grindr app, where real gay men can network in order to have real gay sex. Also, I’ve heard that the internet may have a few explicit images of sexual acts. Come to think of it, I’ve heard that the internet has many more than two small images of gay sex…so why not block those sites on safari, too?
I guess I’m not so much outraged as confused as to the arbitrariness of this decision. Sex 1 wasn’t sold via any iOS apps, but it is available on Apple’s iTunes Bookstore — a weird loophole that might just apply to Saga 12, as well. I have no idea who Apple thinks it’s helping in making these perplexing decisions, but I really wish they would just shut up and take my money.
Actually, in spite of the stupidity, I’m kind of glad at this whole episode for demonstrating the actual need for the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, an organization that I always thought was a kind of quaint holdover from the Comics Code days. Don’t get me wrong — it’s total shit that an organization like this needs to exist, but at least it’s already up and running, and ready to jump to the defense of censored comics everywhere. Way to balance out my opinion of humanity right now, CBLDF!
Shelby: Have you guys ever read the Comics Code? “…In every instance good shall triumph over evil and the criminal punished for his misdeeds…Inclusion of stories dealing with evil shall be used or shall be published only where the intent is to illustrate a moral issue …Respect for parents, the moral code, and for honorable behavior shall be fostered. A sympathetic understanding of the problems of love is not a license for moral distortion….Passion or romantic interest shall never be treated in such a way as to stimulate the lower and baser emotions…” I find censorship to be absolutely abhorrent, and the Comics Code is a great/terrible example. It sought to control people’s views on the world and eliminate any opinions that didn’t fit into what was considered “right.” On top of that, it eliminated any sort of complexity to the medium! Good should always triumph over evil? Passion should never stimulate “lower emotions?” That is a boring and false over-simplification of the world, and I do not believe that fostering that sort of naivete and dumbing down our stories is good for anyone.
Which brings us back to Saga. A comic book that, last month, featured a full-page of a man and woman having sex. That has shown full frontal male nudity, and gross male nudity at that. That has shown gore and violence and complex, heart-wrenching, stories featuring realistic, strong characters that reflect our world. Apple is content to show all these things, but balks at gay sex? I’d like to say I’m shocked that, in this day and age, we’d be encountering this unfounded squeamishness, but I’m not. After all, the last publishers to break with the Comics Code did so in 2011, a mere two years ago.
Patrick: The Comics Code is a ridiculous little thing, and it’s totally worthy of our ire – and DC should be chastised for still seeking its approval as recently as two years ago – but the issue we have in front of us right now has more to do with Apple than it does with comic book publishers. As Drew pointed out, you can actually pick up both Sex 1 and Saga 12 from ALL OTHER digital distribution platforms. For those of you reading on iPads, you can go on to Comixology (using any web browser) and buy those issues and then download them on to your iOS device. Which makes this ban of these sexually explicit issues all the more impotent – the workarounds are everywhere, convenient and legal. Which means that it’s just a shitty, arbitrary moral point that Apple is trying to make. The company actually has a history of rejecting apps that are too racy for their store. Famously, they keep rejecting the South Park app because it would allow streaming of episodes and clips of the show because it is “potentially offensive.”
There are a lot of issues kind of buried in this one: censorship in comics, censorship in general, the assumption that comic books are for children. But the ugliest part of this is both this issue of Saga and the first issue of Sex were banned from the iOS comic store not because they contain graphic depictions of sex, but because they contain graphic depictions of gay sex. (The reason Sex was pulled was that it contained a graphic description of female-on-female cunnilingus.) This makes me absolutely furious. What makes gay sex less moral than straight sex? Apple always presents itself as this progressive, politically neutral animal, but making this distinction is a decidedly political move.
No one looks good in this: even the people that are fighting against censorship have to say “I believe the bukkake scene is CRUCIAL to the story in Saga 12!” It probably isn’t. But I sure as shit bet that it informs the action on the page in a thoughtful way. Even if it didn’t, and the whole thing is just there to stimulate my baser desires, the book has a rating right on the cover.
Mikyzptlk: Right, the rating system. Isn’t that why it’s there in the first place? To warn people of the potential subject matter of the comic before its purchase? Why is Apple making any of these decisions for me in the first place? As a customer, it is my responsibility to discern what is or is not appropriate for me. Were I a parent, the same rules would stand for my children in that parents are (or should be) the gatekeeper for the content that they allow their children to see. This is probably a big part of the concern that Apple has with allowing the sale of Saga 12. As a corporation that wants to take as much of our money as possible, they are probably concerned with offending any current or potential customers, so they prefer to “play it safe” by refusing to support anything they deem to be over some clearly arbitrary line they’ve drawn in the sand.
The problem however, is that that line of thinking is in itself offensive to people like me and my fellow editors here at Retcon Punch. Are you afraid of losing customers? Well then this is a great way to do that. Apple, quit micromanaging an industry that has been self-regulating itself for decades. The Comics Code Authority itself may have been full of outrageous rules, but at least it kept the industry going without the taint of outside regulation. As stated earlier, the industry has (thankfully) moved away from that as comics have grown into the art form that it is today. Apple, for you to go in like this and start censoring an industry you clearly know dick about is a fools errand that helps no one and serves only to hurt your reputation. Respect the comic book industry, respect the LGBT community, and respect the intelligence of your customers. Damn, it’s like Apple clearly thinks we’re stupid or something.