Believe it or not, I didn’t set out to write this post as you are reading it today. I intended to do a little preliminary research on a very simple question: is Metal Gear Solid’s Sniper Wolf a more or less problematic female character than Metal Gear Solid V’s The Quiet?
The details of that particular inquiry are far less interesting than what happened when I tried to pull up an image of Sniper Wolf. Actual images of the character, either as official concept art or screenshots from MGS, were few and far between. There was, however, an ample supply of Sniper Wolf fan art. And I’d have to say that a measurable percentage of said fan art had a particular aesthetic to it. Were I to encapsulate this style within a specific contemporary frame of reference, it would have to be the meme made famous on 4chan, “Tits or GTFO”
A quick scroll through the google image results presented images of topless Sniper Wolf, Sniper Wolf with her breasts augmented to the point of bursting out of her jumpsuit, morbidly obese Sniper Wolf, O-face Sniper Wolf, Sniper Wolf dry humping Solid Snake, and obligatory lesbian sex with Meryl, Sniper Wolf.
Here I thought that Hideo Kojima was using art to work through some interesting issues.
With this cornucopia of weirdness derailing my initial line of thought, I began thinking about fan art and its place in the critical sphere. From what I have observed, fan art often seems to live in a realm where its nature as a passion project insulates it against a great deal of criticism. I’ve witnessed individuals questioning the value of a piece of fan art, or fan art in general, only to be called to the carpet and lambasted in the court of public opinion as thoughtless bullies. Certainly, fan art is a great way for a person to get a bit of confidence in their chosen medium. It’s also a fine form of personal expression. However, the critic in me can’t escape the notion that once fan art goes into a public space it can and should be subject to some level of scrutiny and deconstruction.
In the case of Metal Gear Solid’s Sniper Wolf, and more recently Metal Gear Solid V’s The Quiet, Hideo Kojima, Konami, and Sony have made boat loads of money from sanctioning art might be seen as perpetuating and normalizing patriarchy. If a fan artist sets out to replicate that source material, and in the process maintains the potentially problematic elements in the original work, are they culpable as vector for the sins of the original creation?
Consider this example: a few months ago a female cosplayer put together a very elaborate The Quiet cosplay. Everything was replicated right down to the last detail. As cosplays go, this was the sort of work that invited a “which one is real” double take. Fast forward a little bit and the internet learns that The Quiet, in addition to not speaking in the game, is going to get torture raped. Suppose Hideo Kojima really has gone over to the dark side of the force and the Quiet’s torture-rape sequence will amount to nothing more than sensationalism intended to titillate the fifteen year old demographic. What implication does that have on past and future individuals who decide to cosplay as The Quiet? Can any individual whose goal is an honest recreation of the character, in any medium, layer in enough empowering subtext as to change that character’s existing narrative?
I don’t think there are any easy answers to these questions. There are always going to be degrees and exceptions to whatever guidelines the arbiters of taste conjure up. Not to mention that a person who labours on a piece of fan art is likely going to feel put upon for having their work questioned on conceptual grounds. But art, any art, should concern itself with finding some level of balance between subject and technique. While the tipping point between those two forces might be weighted differently for professional works of art compared to fan art, I don’t think we are doing ourselves any favours in passively accepting that amateur art can focus fully on form while somehow distancing itself from subject.