Dismantling Women's Bodies
Jenn Frank weighs in on Dead Island: Riptide's use of a woman's dismembered torso as a mantlepiece.
by Jenn Frank on 16th Jan, 2013
No, I was not always a feminist. As I've said before—and I genuinely mean this—becoming a "tech industry female" eventually changed my mind.
The marketing wizards for Dead Island settled on one hell of an advertising scheme: as a "bonus," in the UK, you can "win" a mutilated female torso.
If she were a person, you might say she is wearing a Union Jack bikini. But thankfully she is not a person. She lacks arms, legs, and a head. She has no hands, brain, or face. She can't hug you, and she sure can't talk back.
This dismembered torso is a blob of vinyl you can display on your desk like some sick trophy. She is made of boobs and groin. I spent part of the morning tweeting incredibly offensive "no arms and no legs" jokes.
The torso isn't actually a zombie, mind. It's called "Zombie Bait." If it had any connection to reality, which it graciously doesn't, this dismembered torso would represent a totally still-human torso.
Disturbingly, this torso could be anyone. If you follow forensics television procedurals (I do!), you'll remember that, to ensure there are no dental records, you've got to decapitate. No hands mean no identifiable fingerprints. Ultimately, this torso is anonymous.
Ultimately, this torso looks like approximately 51% of the human population.
Stop right there. Stop in your tracks. No. Wrong. No, we would never do this to a male torso. Maybe some of us would like George Clooney to shut up and be pretty, but that is no mainstream fantasy. The rest of us actually do like him with a head and arms. We expect him to be heroic and masterly in movies, and we pay him for it.
Meanwhile, we define femininity by quiet neediness.
Dehumanization requires a certain amount of reductionism, and let me go on to explain it: the Dead Island torso is problematic because it has literally shorn off everything we ordinarily hold valuable in a human being, leaving behind tits, ass, and abdominal muscles. We have finally found a way, aesthetically, literally, to reduce a woman's identity to her own pair of tits. Congratulations.
Apologists initially defended the Dead Island: Riptide torso with quaint invocations of Greco-Roman statues, statues that actually lost their defining features to time itself. Nifty.
But you might be amazed to learn we already have a real legacy of dismembering women and putting their disparate parts on display as exhibits. Her name was Sarah Baartman. Colloquially known as the "Hottentot Venus"—one website quickly underscores that "hottentot" is another word for "person with cattle," while other websites indicate that word as a slur—Baartman was a black woman whose feminine proportions were so astonishing to the white men observing her, she was shown in London and Paris as a type of freak show.
But more inflammatorily, when Baartman died, they took a cast of her corpse, extricated her skeleton, then put her magnificent organs into separate bottles.
In short, we have been dismantling women's bodies for years.
A fan could make the case that this product, this dismembered torso, somehow "celebrates" the perfect female form. Unfortunately—and I say this as someone who actively celebrates examples of human beauty—whether you celebrate or sneer, the outcome is the same. You have otherized a person or a group of people, have balked, have divided her, have created categories and taxonomies for her discrete parts.
As an objet d'art, the Dead Island torso fails. I have sold better works of art suited for your desk, and as I said this morning, there is nothing that irks me more than something that is offensive plus boring.
Professionally, also wrong. You knew people would hate this. You absolutely counted on it. You did this on purpose. You live in a post-#1reasonwhy, "new sincerity" world. You knew the average sane person would hate this. You knew it was a shitty product to release, too, and you went through every possible hoop to approve it, manufacture it, distribute it anyway. This was premeditated, and your "apology" sucks.
More importantly, you knew the conversation you'd create. You knew you were creating a "men versus women" dialogue, even though some women won't have a problem with the dismembered torso, some men don't want to implicitly condone it.
On top of everything, this debate just isn't fair. It isn't fair to demand that gamers choose sides.
It isn't "men versus women," it's "human" versus "sociopath," versus "incredibly bored."
Stop demeaning us? Please? Please. And here I don't mean women; I mean all of us. We're smart, informed buyers. What you've created isn't daring; it's idiotic. What you've created sure doesn't represent games in 1984, or 1979, or 1995, and stop belittling the medium now. I'll thank you to not turn "video games!" into a mangled female torso as a mantlepiece. That isn't what I've worked for all my life. Thanks, though.
If you have a child who plays video games, think twice about what a marketing department thinks is acceptable to give fans for being "superfans." Why aren't more women electing for technology jobs? Gosh, I have no idea! But it might have something to do with being 11 and seeing this horseshit.
This type of marketing principally relies on your being quiet. Or else it expects you to be shouted down.
But it isn't okay, and it never will be.