Cheesecake. Bad or good?
No not the tasty dessert, the style of art. For those not in the know Cheesecake is a style of art, usually of women that presents them in a scantily clad and suggestive manner. Those images of women in lingerie on the front of WWII bombers? That's cheesecake.
Opinions on cheesecake pictures are divided. Some see them as exploitative borderline pornography and others see them as empowering for women. The question is what constitutes cheesecake and what is exploitative? On top of that what is cheesecake for one person is mild for others. Those two questions rage and unintentional offence can be caused by almost any picture.
From my point of view there is a line which separates cheesecake from exploitative images. I read comics, watch movies and play fantasy games. Cheesecake is very prevalent in those genres and to be honest for the most part I like it. The point is that those media are built around cheesecake for better or worse and it goes with the territory. For me it's about how the characters are portrayed. Take Black Canary for instance:
Now Black Canary is a good example of cheesecake. Blonde hair, fishnet stockings and pneumatic breasts. However this image is what I would classify as ok, she's obviously in a fight, kicking arse so that's ok as far as I'm concerned.
This one on the other hand I think is less cool:
Now that one is just an excuse to show her in as little as possible. It's not an action shot, it's a pinup shot and not a particularly great one at that. Worse it's not the character. The thin line has been crossed. Black Canary is meant to be one of the toughest martial artists in the world, on a par with Batman so she should be portrayed kicking arse. Yes her costume shows off her femininity but that's not actually a bad thing, sexy is good. However when her artwork becomes just about sex then that's not the character, she's a forceful personality and she should be portrayed as such.
One of the characters that is company sanctioned to be utterly ridiculous is Power Girl. Now before I get into this, I love Power Girl she's a kickass powerhouse who takes charge and has an interesting (if confusing) backstory. The problem is... well this:
Power Girl's cleavage is a running gag in the comics but seriously, that circular cutout is just ridiculous at this point. Be honest, would Power Girl be any less sexy if you covered the boobs? I would contend that she would actually look sexier. Plus her ginormous proportions take away from the character. Hell it's a good job she has super strength or she would have serious lower back issues by now. Ask anyone what they first think of when Power Girl is mentioned and those that have heard of her would just say boobs. She's a better character than that, she deserves more.
What got me thinking about this was the fact that Paizo publishing (who produce the Pathfinder roleplaying game) have sometimes been criticised for perceived cheesecake in their publications, specifically the way their female iconics are portrayed. Iconics are characters created by Paizo to illustrate the different classes in the game. To give you a better idea, here are the particular characters people tend to mention:
Are these cheesecake? Well a little bit I suppose. Are they over the top? Hell no.
The thing is that this is a roleplaying game. To a certain extent it's wish fulfilment. Do I want to look like me when I roleplay? Hell no, I'm 5 stone overweight and bald. I want to look like this:
In a fantasy setting the men should be handsome and the women should be sexy. If you want to play a character you want one that looks good. Now if the iconics looked like this:
Barbarian in bikini
Then you'd have a point. However the fact is that there's nothing in those three portraits that I consider beyond the pale. It is a little bit of cheesecake I suppose but I have seen a load of images with these characters at this point and I don't see them as exploitative or demeaning to women. They are sexy and they kick butt. Hell I want to be that too, just male.
Of course this is just my opinion and therein lies the problem. My line in the sand is pretty liberal. I like images of hot women so long as they are not demeaning. Any image that shows a woman in a subservient role to a man is just wrong (look up images of the Gor series of books to see what I mean.) I don't want BDSM in my fantasy thanks, if you want that then fine but it should be a niche market.
However, some people are not as happy about these images. Some would see that all these images are nothing but exploitative and wrong. It's difficult to please all the people all the time so I would stand up for what you believe on this. I love Power Girl. I love Black Canary and Starfire and Wonder Woman and She Hulk**. They are all great characters. I think the creators should set a benchmark and say "this is what we do." Trying to catch the zeitgeist can lead to this:
Fashion faux pas***
And no one wants that.
Your resident cheescake connoisseur
Fall of Camelot
* Yeah I know he's gay. So what? He's awesome, live with it.
** And Mrs Camelot of course
*** Don't get me wrong, I love the JLI but that Black Canary's outfit was just... ouch