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Comics In The New Milennium: The Growing Storm By Christian A. Dumais
A discussion with Gary Glenn, President of the AFA of Michigan
According to its website, The American Family Association (AFA) “represents and stands for traditional family values, focusing primarily on the influence of television and other media – including pornography – on our society.”
Since its inception in 1977, the association’s presence has been felt mostly everywhere in the entertainment industry. As comic books continue to translate successfully into hundreds of millions of dollars at the box office, creating newfound visibility towards the concepts and properties inherent in the medium, it was really just a matter of time before the AFA started taking a look at the comic book industry.
Earlier this year, Ed Vitigliano, AFA Journal staff writer, wrote about the growing concern “…that comics are becoming as bad as the rest of the media-saturated culture.”
“AFA is very concerned about the promotion, marketing, or mainstreaming of pornographic material in any venue, comic or otherwise,” Gary Glenn, President of the AFA of Michigan, told Slushfactory.com in an exclusive interview. He stressed, “Though I can only speak for AFA's Michigan affiliate, I don't believe AFA has a particular concern for the comic book medium.”
While Glenn denies a concentrated campaign against comics, the group's actions have alarmed many watchers. Vitigliano’s article looked to some like the beginning of the AFA’s newfound interest in the comic book industry, particularly the conventions. In early May, the AFA criticized the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Western Pennsylvania for accepting donations from April’s Pittsburgh Comicon, whose guestlist featured various models, including fully-clothed former Playboy Playmates.
According to the AFA’s website, it stated that the show not only had “porn stars [and] illustrators of erotica,” but also “…witchcraft, Satanism, and spiritualism intermixed with ‘legitimate’ comic book characters.”
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Weeks later, the AFA of Michigan turned their attention to the Motor City Comics Convention for having “pornographic video and internet personalities” attending the show, which is where Glenn comes in.
In an AFA press release, Glenn stated, “Even at a comics convention, pornography is not kids' stuff…Hopefully, parents will stay away and keep their children away, and make convention organizers pay a price for having no conscience, for trying to use an event clearly designed to attract families and children to promote pornography.”
The AFA’s influence is said to be a deciding factor in the Muscular Dystrophy Association’s decision to cancel their involvement with the show.
When asked by Slush why the AFA became involved with the Motor City Comics Convention when their website openly announced that there would be adult entertainers present, Glenn stated, “In fact, the Motor City website did not inform parents that pornographic video and Internet personalities would be in attendance.”
Glenn continued, “In an event which included dozens of personalities from family-oriented TV shows and movies, the website deceptively described its ‘porn star’ participants as merely ‘models’ and ‘actresses.’ Such descriptions may have been readily understood by the adult male audience of porn users the [convention] hoped to attract, but certainly didn't provide unsuspecting parents the information necessary to make an informed choice about whether to expose their children to such a crowd. The American Family Association of Michigan simply told the truth, issuing a public statement warning parents about the true nature of these personalities and the ‘adult’ promotional material they would be selling, so that parents could make an informed choice. [We] will continue to issue such warnings about future Motor City [comic conventions] that include video and Internet porn stars.”
It should be noted that the Motor City Conventions website was contacted to obtain the actual announcement posted on their site; however, it was met with negative results.
“One individual who closely monitors the comics industry told me that he has spoken directly to several convention organizers who said the reason they invite porn stars is because comics themselves no longer draw a big enough crowd to guarantee a profit.” Added Glenn, “Injecting pornography into comic conventions might be a quick fix for a buck, but mixing families and children with adult male porn users is unscrupulous, reckless, and irresponsible.”
Glenn was asked if the pornography were in a separate section [at a comic book convention] where no one below the age of 18 could enter, would this be a concession that the AFA would agree with? He stated, “If the porn stars appeared in a separate building, where the audience of families and children would not mix with the adult porn users, that would address only our concern about placing porn users in immediate proximity to children…”
He added, “Similarly, we will continue to oppose and criticize the comic convention industry and anybody else who promotes and profits from the sale of pornographic personalities and material, regardless of whether convention organizers are smart enough to avoid the multi-million dollar liability that would arise from a child molested at a [comic book convention] by some guy who came to see the porn stars.”
Just what is pornography to the AFA? Glenn answered, “The United Nations Commission on Human Rights calls pornography ‘a form of violence against women.’ Law enforcement officials nationwide say it plays a major motivating role in sex crimes against women and children. It is a frequent factor in the disruption or even breakup of marriages.”
Who is ultimately responsible for what the children are reading? “The companies and clerks are responsible for ensuring the material they sell does not violate local, state, and federal laws against obscenity and child pornography. Some companies have accepted an additional level of responsibility.”
But what about the parents? “Ultimately, of course, parents should be responsible for monitoring and regulating the material bought by their own underage children. AFA will continue to accept responsibility for 1) warning parents about pornographic material in whatever venue it's marketed, including comics, and 2) aggressively exercising our First Amendment right to publicly oppose and discourage the marketing or consumption of pornographic material, in any form, that threatens women and children and families.”
Speaking of the First Amendment, as the AFA’s actions have unfolded, the organization has discovered something else about comics: its vocal online community. While there have been excellent articles stating their opposition from other notable comic book news sites, the comic book readers on the forums haven’t done much except name call, going as far as calling the AFA Nazis and hatemongers. Glenn added, “…as comic fans you'd think [they’d] be capable of more originality.”
“Several posters…actually encouraged physical violence against parents who attend comic conventions and dare object to the presence of porn stars, the sale of their promotional material, and the adult male porn users they attract,” Glenn said. “The extremism and paranoia evident in such responses strengthens our case.”
“Frankly, we're unconcerned by the reaction of those who vehemently and perhaps even violently defend pornographic material despite its degrading and harmful effects on women, children, and families,” stated Glenn. “While comic producers have a First Amendment right to produce pornographic material for adult consumption, AFA supporters have a First Amendment right to do everything we can to oppose the distribution of such material…The major point such critics obviously miss is that Freedom of Speech also applies to those with whom they disagree – in this case, us.”
Is the AFA’s involvement looking to be a growing trend with future shows? Glenn responded, “Certainly it will be in Michigan, and I expect in many other [comic book convention] locations as well…But comics fans can do something to make the issue go away. Demand that your convention organizers offer events at which any comic fan of any age would be comfortable. Let Playboy and Penthouse hold their own conventions. Why let them drag their political baggage into yours?”