A Kickstarter-funded comic featuring a gorgeous woman of color as a tough fighter for good! Drawing on shonen manga concepts, created by American manga/anime buffs! Unbeatable concept, right? Perfect crowd-funding project, right?
Those buffs thought so. Under Kickstarter’s “Risks and Challenges,” they wrote “There are very few risks for this project…. All we need is funding, and we can get back to the business of making this comic as quickly as possible.” All righty then! It was a Staff Pick the first day!
What could be amiss? What could infuriate? What could disgust? What could provoke a learning experience that would leave the manga entrepreneurs humbled? “Shaniqua-No-Ho,” that’s what.
The Shaniqua-No-Ho Kickstarter page has a long excruciating description of the idea, and a 5-minute video of the cheery visionaries, Isaac Shapiro and Scott Ferguson, explaining the “shonen parody goodness” of Shaniqua-No-Ho. (“No” is a common part of manga titles. It’s a possessive. Shaniqua-No-Ho is said to mean “The Fire of Shaniqua.”)
This Shaniqua is a hero whose goal is “to be the best ho in the whole world.” A shonen story “usually features a main protagonist that wants to be the best at something. Eventually they learn that being the best or the most powerful isn’t the most important thing in the world.” They may want to be the best martial artist, basketball player, curry cook, pirate, or boxer.
“We wanted to create a big love letter to the genre,” says Shapiro.“The beauty of this template is that it can be used for just about anything,” they wrote. “So what would happen if you took all the usual shonen aesthetics and applied them to the normally horrifying world of prostitution?” (Additional horror?)
“In our world hos don’t sell sex for money. Instead, they’re heroes, protectors of the innocent, fighting against people’s out-of-control sexual urges that manifest themselves as gigantic monsters that come out of their crotches!” Huh.
They explain that hos defend the world. “They often work with pimps, men and women who form special bonds with their crotch monsters and command them in battle. Unfortunately being a ho or a pimp ain’t easy because they all have to deal with the Vice Squad, an army of fanatics sworn to wipe out crotch monsters, hos, and pimps.” (Unclear cosmology.)
One set of panels has Shaniqua declaim “HOS ARE THE ONLY THING THAT STAND BETWEEN HUMANITY AND THE RAGING BEASTS TRAPPED WITHIN THEM!”
“EVERYONE OVER THE AGE OF TWELVE HAS A MONSTER LURKING DEEP INSIDE THEIR PANTS, WAITING TO TEAR LOOSE AND MAUL EVERYTHING IN SIGHT!”
She declares, “I’M GOING TO BE… THE WORLD’S BEST HO!”
They describe 13 levels of support starting with Client and Working Girl, and including Bronze Pimp, Silver Pimp, Gold Pimp, Platinum Pimp, Madam, and Be A Pimp. (“Become a pimp! Have your likeness used as the basis for a unique pimp side character in Shaniqua-No-Ho with real dialogue and everything!”) Isn’t that cute?
The Kickstarter campaign launched March 16. Reaction wasn’t good, apparently to the surprise of the visionaries, who found themselves defending the concept on their Tumblr (since taken down), on their website (largely dismantled), on Reddit, and in private email.
On their Tumblr, they apparently posted “Is the problem that she’s a prostitute? I don’t see a problem with that.”
Reddit commenters said it was racist, sexist, inappropriate, badly drawn, incorrectly translated, and “a shitty concept in general.”
On March 21, Shapiro got on Reddit. “We… went through great care to ask women, one of them a sex worker, to review our work for problematic elements that we might have missed. As for the stereotypes, is it because she’s a biracial woman named Shaniqua or is it because she’s a ho?”
“…Hoing in… Shaniqua’s universe, [is] considered a respected, necessary profession, and Shaniqua aims to take her place among the best hos in the world. It’s a total flip from the culture we live in that degrades sex workers as immoral, disgusting, or deviants.” (Wait, so they do sell sex for money?)
The Vice Squad, Shapiro says, are “a massive quasi-religious military dictatorship obsessed with stamping out crotch monsters and destroying hos and pimps…. They are the definition of slut-shaming white patriarchy…”
“We’re kinda hoping that putting a strong, biracial woman who works in a marginalized profession on the front lines and treating her with the same kind of respect and awe that other shonen characters like Luffy and Ichigo are accorded does something to change the conversation we have…. You almost never see brown skinned people in anime, but now there’s one, and she’s just as awesome as Goku and Yusuke….”
“Again, we’re totally open to feedback. We’re make [sic] something that depicts women, people of color, and sex workers in a positive light in addition to reflecting agency and individuality while maintaining a humorous tone and following the tropes common to shonen manga.”
Feedback? Whosdamike responded, “I flipped through a couple pages of their webcomic and didn’t get an overwhelming sense of “fuck the patriarchy!” A lot of gratuitous sexualization of the main character. I don’t see how feeding directly into the male gaze is groundbreaking or feminist at all.” (At which point the subreddit veered into a fight about slut-shaming.)
Later that day, Shapiro and Ferguson canceled the project and posted a long humble apology.
…We were naive, privileged, and stupid…. we’ve suspended the project, and we will be reporting ourselves to Kickstarter as violating their terms of service. We’ve already begun disassembling our Tumblr, Facebook, and Blogger accounts. We’ll remove the website as soon as we can. We would remove the Kickstarter project itself, but they are kept up indefinitely once launched. If we can find a way to have it removed, we will….
It’s a hollow apology, but we never meant to offend. You hear that so often, but it never makes it any better. We wanted to make manga with an empowered, capable woman as the protagonist. We wanted to make a comic that showed a brown skinned woman in a leading role like Luffy and Goku. We wanted to change the conversation about sex workers by making them respectable and powerful…. We thought we’d been careful with problematic elements in the script by asking women and sex workers for feedback while we were working. We were wrong….
We had good intentions, but it is very, very obvious that we failed. Noble intentions aren’t good enough; we didn’t check our privilege nearly enough to consider the pain and damage we would do and have done with this comic. We understand that people are angry and will be angry; they have every right to be. We fucked up.
We’re sorry, and we promise that we will try our best to do better in the future. We will learn from our mistakes. We’re not asking for forgiveness or a pat on the back because we “learned something” at so many people’s emotional distress. We were stupid, and we deserve anger and disgust that we’ve seen over the past few days. We can see that very clearly now. We’re sorry, and we can’t say it enough.
The apology seems to have been accepted. One participant tweeted “It’s a pretty decent apology actually. Not a ‘sorry you were offended’ thing.” “Yeah, no slipping away under the cover of night or ‘sorry if you found this offensive’ shit.” tweeted Spike.
The apology is abject but it’s vague. They take responsibility by saying they were stupid and ignorant, but not what they did wrong as a result of stupidity and ignorance. I’m guessing that by this time they were afraid to be specific for fear of displaying more stupidity and ignorance.
I will have a go. I’m calling the problems racism, classism, sexism, and callous disregard of suffering involved in the sex trade, coupled with a bad case of trying to talk ghetto.
Racism and sexism appear in the creation of a exaggeratedly sexual sterotyped black female character, an exemplar of eager availability, in a direct line with Robert Crumb’s Angelfood McSpade and predecessors. “Isn’t it fun to depict black women as hypersexualized, s’not like that’s been used to justify their mistreatment for 500 years or anything,” said Spike on Twitter.
Spike said more to me in email. She didn’t see malice. “But they need to understand racism for what it is. It’s not just Klansmen spewing racial slurs for a TV camera. It perpetuates itself in centuries-old stereotypes and caricatures, constructed to justify prejudice and mistreatment. There’s nothing satirical or clever about depicting an black woman as a sassy, oversexed ‘ho.’ Those are jokes your grandfather made. Those are the opinions that have fueled 500 years of slavery, rape and oppression. And painting over the origins of that with a shonen manga plotline don’t neutralize the poison in it.”
“Shaniqua” is often used as a generic name for a black woman. The Urban Dictionary has it as a term “to mock/describe a Black woman from the inner city” and associates it with “ghetto voice” and hair. Spike: “The go-to name when white America wants to mock and ridicule a black woman?”
By the way, although most arrests for prostitution are of black women, most prostitutes are white.
The glib treatment of the sex trade stuff is something I’m particularly upset by. The long Kickstarter description makes passing reference to the world of prostitution as “really awful and heinous,” then goes on to make it sound hilarious and exciting.
By de-emphasizing the sex work part, by symbolizing sexual oppression/aggression as “crotch monsters” (and by using as a legitimizing source a sex worker who is one by choice – and who I’ll bet doesn’t have a pimp), they’re amazingly ignoring the vast number of oppressed and even enslaved whores.
While there are sex workers who are sex workers by choice, and who don’t feel degraded, they are the minority. More than 90% of prostitutes say they don’t want to do it.
They do it because they think they have no choice. Sometimes for financial reasons. Sometimes because they’re addicts. And often because of those stylish individuals it’s so amusing to pretend to be, the pimps.
Look at the definition of pimp. “A man who controls prostitutes and arranges clients for them, taking part of their earnings in return.” As Dawn Turner Trice puts it, “a sleazy subhuman who exploits people, primarily women and girls, to enhance his own ego and coffers.” The pimp-ho relationship is not cute and hilarious.
Pimps and hos aren’t guys and dolls.
And while I still have froth on my lips, let me add that these guys are not the only ones guilty of stupidly using dimly-comprehended ghetto-speak. Lots of people enjoy flashing words like pimp and ho without thinking about what they mean. It’s a way to seem knowledgeable that often makes people seem really dumb.