Douchebag Decree: Misog-edgy – Celebrating iconic objectifier Robert Williams

Urban contemporary art magazine Juxtapoz's November issue is the Robert Williams issue, a big-hitter in the underground comics scene and the magazine's founder. Oh, and he drives feminists up the wall with the way his artwork objectifies women.

Sometimes referred to as the father/grandfather/master/whatever of lowbrow art, Williams was part of the collective involved with Robert Crumb's Zap Comix, the beginning of the underground comics movement in the late 1960s. His work combines psychedelia, noir, and naked women in compromising positions. One of his most high-profile pieces is the cover of Guns 'n' Roses album Appetite for Destruction, which Geffen Records eventually pulled:

At one point, works like Williams were edgy--that's what made underground comix alternative, they were doing something that hadn't been done before and it was controversial. However, the social commentary of Zap involved a lot of naked space ladies with giant breasts and spread legs, talking penises, dominatrix dystopias, straight-up violence against women, and lots of other things to make your stomach turn.


Zap: Boobs + violence = edgy

While Zap was revolutionary for the comics industry, they were by no means progressive. Thankfully, women comics artists could recognize where they weren't welcome and went on to publish their own comics, ones that were actually groundbreaking issues of the time: birth control, abortion, and lesbianism.

I'm not the first feminist to knock Williams' work, and such criticism has built his reputation as "controversial." He addressed this in 1992 saying, "I do not believe that my representation of females aids in their oppression. It is my artistic right to render the images of woman as my imagination sees fit. Remember, I will gladly accept the title 'Bad Person' to continue my expression. In other words, nothing short of death will stop me from painting nekkid ladies."

And of course it's his artistic right (besides, men have been painting naked women for hundreds of years!), and artists like Robert Crumb have said similar things on their depictions of women: that they're depicting their personal psyche and expressing through art what society tells them is wrong...But that doesn't make their comics not sexist and harmful to women.

Robert Williams's influence is undeniable and has no doubt inspired artists that I admire. But I can't help but cringe when artists hold the cover of icky but iconic "Appetite for Destruction" on a pedestal. Here's David Choe's tribute to it:


Ooh....what's more subversive, that she's masturbating or that she's a zombie?

Here's Nate Van Dyke's rendering...


He says,
"I had a lot of fun digging that piece up and paying tribute to it with my own little twist. In no way do I want my take on it to advocate rape, I'm just advocating penetration."

Um...WHAT?!

I'm picking on Choe and Van Dyke, some of the other artists pay tribute to Williams without showing a single bared breast. But with a few decades passing and all, you'd think there would be more ways to use your artistic energy than painting naked women with space aliens. Apparently not, given the October issue of Juxtapoz featured just that: monsters and big boobs.

Juxtapoz does feature women artists and contributors, and while I don't have a masthead in front of me, I'm sure, hopefully, they have women on their editorial staff as well. All the same, it's hard to find an issue that doesn't feature ads or artists who are objectifying women without offering any commentary. I'm not saying there's no artistic merit to these works, but in my opinion, the blatant objectification outweighs it, and they're not doubt continuing to disappoint their feminist readers.

Thanks for the tip, Spooky!

Comments

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Juxtapoz doesn't actually have that many women artists in it!

Actually Juxtapoz doesn't have very many women in its magazine at all. Sometimes whole issues are totally void of women. They had an issue where they went to Brazil and featured artists there, not one of them was a women, you can't tell me there isn't one female artist in the entire country of Brazil worth Juxtapoz magazine?! I've only had the subscription for a year, and have gone through and actually counted the number of women versus men in each issue and for most it was something like 15 to 1. What's crazy is that it's an ART magazine. How hard is it to find women artists? I mean, it's not like they're based out of the Bay Area right? Oh wait.

Where I work we get a steady inflow of real estate and business magazines, and I've been shocked to discover that women are actually far more equally represented in the Portland Business Journal and Oregon Business Magazine than they are in Juxtapoz. Wtf.

I've been meaning to write their editors a letter stating why I'm not renewing my subscription and looking into starting my own magazine of arts and culture for both Men and Women.

The troll speaks

There is no excuse for ignorance, even when you are hiding behind the anonymity of the intraweb on a creepy Feminist page. Juxtapoz magazine (which I have subscribed to in the past, but have discontinued due to my own issues with it) caters to Lowbrow artists and there artwork (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lowbrow_%28art_movement%29 to educate yourself).
I am part of a local art scene and I'm acquainted with hundreds of artists from the community. I personally know twos female lowbrow artists, maybe three if you stretch it. I also personally know at least 40 male (self proclaimed) lowbrow artists. The magazines coverage does not seem to be sexist, the genre is.

If you want to read about just women because that fulfills something in you, go for it. Juxtapoz probably isn't for you though. I'm not defending the magazine, I'm just calling you out.

The Troll edits

Sorry about my typos and there/their mixup. Complaining about ignorance while displaying it is embarrassing *blush* - i still meant what i said

Thank you so much for

Thank you so much for posting this! I really appreciate it. Again, sorry for the horrible scans.
When I first saw those pictures I was appalled.
The last one is HORRIBLE. Advocating penetration? With A HUGE CHAINSAW?
When I forwarded my mom the email I sent the editor at Juxtapoz, she said,"some artists think that you have to be offensive to be edgy and provocative when really it just takes more thought and imagination to do it without being offensive."
And yeah, I didn't think Juxtapoz has that many female artists, but I didn't know for sure.

A woman is the Publisher of

A woman is the Publisher of Juxtapoz. They have female writers, female web editor, and female associate editor.

I guess that's kinda

I guess that's kinda surprising? But that really doesn't matter. They're still misogynistic.

LOL, then how about you

LOL, then how about you don't read it if it offends you so much?

Who said I still read it?

Who said I still read it?

Juxtapoz

Nate Van Dyke, here. You know, the guy who drew that chimpified tribute to Robert Williams.

The task that the artists in that issue were given was to pay tribute to the great, Robert Williams. The first, second and third image that comes to mind when I think of Robert Williams is that Guns and Roses piece. It has a power and energy about it that forces you to take time to study it. And, no, that's not because there is a bare breast in it. If you care anything about art or art history you would already know that there are bare breasts EVERYWHERE! When I did my illustration I didn't just decide to open her shirt up I simply followed his lead. That is what makes it a tribute. Secondly, I decided to add the chimp with a chainsaw because that is what I draw. I mashed the two together. Hence becoming a Van Dyke/Williams.

In no way would I take a chainsaw to a woman, especially THERE. I live with my girlfriend and have been dating her for over 6 years. I actually come from at least three generations of female artists on my Mother's side. Looking at the amazing work my Mom was able to create and the art her Mother and Grandmother made I've never doubted a woman's ability as an artist. The fact that you mention these Portland Magazines as having a higher support of women doesn't mean a thing. I measure artwork by it's merit rather than by the sex of the creator. It so happens that a magazine like JUXTAPOZ often has an edgier collection of art which is more often drawn by males like myself. Big deal. It's like saying skateboard companies represent more guys than gals, which they do. Why? Because there are simply more guys who taking skateboarding to that extreme level than women do. I'm sure there are more guys drawing skulls and shit like that than women. While you were checking to see how many women were represented in JUXTAPOZ did you also take time to see if enough, Asian, Mexican and Black artists are being represented?

In the end, I am pleased with the piece I did and I'm sure Robert Williams (the founder of JUXTAPOZ) is too.

Lighten the fuck up, already.

Nate

Hi Nate, Thanks for taking

Hi Nate,

Thanks for taking the time to visit our site and share your thoughts.

Re: Appetite for Destruction, it's not about the bare breast (those aren't especially edgy to a lot of feminists), but the implied rape, and the sexualization of rape or the piece. And no matter your intent, your tribute to Williams also has perceived violence. I don't think your work demonstrates a motivation on your part to commit violence to women, let alone your girlfriend, but you can't say there's not a hint of sexual violence there when you've got a chainsaw, a girl with her pants down, and implied "penetration."

If you knew anything about feminist theory, or art criticism, you'd know it wasn't the bared breast that's the issue, but the objectification of women, which you so succinctly described as "BREASTS EVERYWHERE." Women's bodies have been objectified through art and art history (also a boy's club, like Zap and Juxtapoz), and later advertising, for-everrr, and just because Michelangelo did it doesn't make it "okay." The Guerilla Girls, an activist group that takes on the art world, has actually made some fun, easy-to-read graphics demonstrating the relationship between objectification and the male-dominated art world. It's this objectification (and sexualization) of rape and sexual violence that is so problematic for feminists. Rape used merely for graphic and shock value, instead of treated as a gendered, worldwide epidemic (which it is here in Feminist Land, which actually considers rape kind of a big deal in the grand scheme of things), is really tasteless (lowbrow, one might say).

I'm very happy for you and your girlfriend, and your appreciation for women artists, but that has nothing to do with the objectification in art. (I do think it's the feminist equivalent of when people accused of racism spout "But I have black friends!").

I'm not sure I understand your other comment. Should I have also looked at the representation of artists of color in Juxtapoz? Would their representation mirror that of women's or not? If so, that really does not bode well for black, Asian, and Latina women artists in Juxtapoz either.

And as far as the snowboarding comment, have you ever thought that maybe women don't feel welcome in these sports and that discourages their competitiveness? Women had to start there own underground comics movement because the boy's club didn't want them. Have you ever thought that this is the case with lowbrow art or snowboarding? That the environment in these "edgy" and "alternative" cultures is just as traditionally sexist and that women don't feel welcome? Like say, when Burton designed snowboards with nude Playboy models? I wonder how many women have those snowboards. I did look at the Williams tribute in Juxtapoz but don't remember if there were women artists who participated in the tribute. It would be interesting to see how they pay homage to an artist that objectifies to shock.

This is basic feminist 101 stuff, but women and men don't enter the world programmed to draw ponies and skulls, respectively. Culture and society shapes the way we interact with each other in gendered ways.

Kjerstin, OP

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Kjerstin Johnson, editor-in-chief
Did someone say "Comments Policy"?

"Lighten the fuck up already"

"Lighten the fuck up already" is exactly the BULLSHIT that needs to be called out in scenes like this. Do you think this is the gravity in which RAPE should be depicted? Her face and position is resembling the orgasmic look of Gianlorenzo Bernini's The Ecstacy of Saint Theresa. Look at Ana Mendieta's work, that is the level of gravity in which one depicts a rape scene. Not an idealized blonde with one breast exposed laying back with a look of pleasure on her face. Where's the blood? Where's the bruising? In no way does this take into account the violence of rape. Ask a woman who has been raped if this is how it should be depicted. This "work" is the DEFINITION of misogyny, despite your personal views on women. Yes, Juxtapoz is a magazine founded by a skateboard, surfer SoCal culture which already alienated woman, and it is rare that Juxtapoz has women artists (although I don't believe it's intentional) and not rare that it has a million boobs in every issue (is intentional). Juxtapoz can publish whatever crap they want, but supporting work like this IS sexist, promotes a glamorized view of rape, objectifies women and further alienates them from this scene. NEVER lighten up on RAPE.