skip to content or skip to search form

Archive: March 2005

“In the world of the super-cowboys, there’s always blood.”

And I’m driven to post again! Have I mentioned yet that I think I’m in love with James Smith’s blog? Clearly the best blog source for non-stop really good writing on comics is Jog - the Blog, but I’ve really been enjoying James’s takes on comics and blogging. And then today’s installment was so full of things I find interesting that I finally felt compelled to actually write a post of my own rather than just spout off in the comments thread (though I may find myself doing that anyway at some point) to talk about sex, violence and recent Grant Morrison. I’ll start by saying I’m going to disregard everything Grant Morrison says, because I think he’s really only useful when writing fiction. His interviews seem manipulative and ridiculous, though I read and enjoy them anyway.

I think I’ve always been public here about my discomfort with overt violence in life and art. I (used to) go berserk watching movies with car chases because there are never any repercussions, never any reparations for the property damages. And I care more about all the fictional people whose lives are being ruined when their stores are destroyed and their cars smashed and so on than I do about the perfect-haired protagonists. And it’s not that I’m trying to hide from the fact that violence exists in reality. As a kid, I was obsessed with reading about the Holocaust and dressing like a WW II war orphan. After a few years, this led into stories about nuclear holocaust, and from there to nonfiction accounts of life in warzones of several sorts. There are some nasty (although not really violent) episodes I’ve suffered in my own history, and I’ve ended up doing a lot of counseling for other sexual assault survivors and tons of education on the topic. It’s not that I think any of this should be glossed over, but that I think the standard portrayal of violence does just that. It’s because I know how real the real world is that I don’t like rape jokes or movies starring automatic weapons or anything in which people get kicked in the crotch. Other people know about the real world and like these things; I’m really just talking about me.

And then there’s sex, which I’ll touch on quickly before dropping (I hope). I wrote about breasts in Sgt. Frog, and I keep thinking back to that in the recent discussion of gender roles and sexual violence in manga and for manga readers. I had surmised that some young, female readers might not see the breasts as offensive but be willing to read against the grain for a more liberating version of events. I don’t know what girls actually do think about this sort of thing, and that seems to be the question everyone is wondering about. Having been a girl not long ago, I can only assume the answers would be ambiguous and passionate and a bit muddled, or else that the speakers might change or expand their opinions in a few years. I know that sounds awfully dismissive, but I imagine in a few years I’ll be able to look back on this post and see it as not only uncharacteristic of what I’ll believe then, but not wholly aware enough of my situation now. Anyway, the point is that I’m sure there are plenty of problems with sexism and non-consensual sex in manga, and that this is something manga fans should be analyzing and addressing. I don’t like the idea that just because the problem may be different and bigger in American comics, particularly the superhero ones, there’s no room for people to be critical of issues in manga and among manga readers. (This is all an aside I did not mean to make.)

Anyway, I wanted to talk about sex in the way James talked about sex, looking at The Whip from Seven Soldiers #0. This is completely my own crazy bias and I realize it makes no sense, but my general thought is that characters who are wearing more fetishy clothing (The Whip, new Batgirl, especially in her sewn-shut mouth days) seem more self-assured, as if they have made choices about their attire. I’m not sure what I’m comparing them to, but The Whip is much more palatable to me than Phoenix, at least costume-wise. The self-aware characterization helps, of course, but I’m more comfortable with sex and sexualized bodies when they’re not also being sold as wholesome. (And maybe Phoenix isn’t the best example there, but instead The Wasp or something. I dunno.) Since I’m not actually making an argument here, I’ll just add that I’ve been wanting to make a joke about how the real reason I read superhero comics is because they make me feel normal for having scoliosis. But even my body doesn’t twist the way superheroines’ often have to. And of course the best place for an abstract joke is way in the middle of an unrelated post. Maybe I’ll resuscitate it someday.

In mentioning Vimanarama #2, I said that I wasn’t sold on the coloring, and was reminded of that when James talked about the uneasy mix between romantic comedy and fairly grisly violence. Because the violence is just as shiny and pretty as everything else, I think we’re supposed to infer that there is no break, no real division. And despite talking about the place of violence in the fabric of reality right above, I’m going to say that I don’t like its place here. I don’t like that it’s as cartoony as everything else, that head-smashing has the same weight as the moment before a kiss. Maybe it does in reality and maybe it should in some stories, but I’m just not convinced that this is the right story, the right balance. But maybe the problem, too, is that I fear I’d like the story more if the fighting took place farther off-panel and the other sorts of conflict got more pagetime.

And yet I don’t have the same problem with The Manhattan Guardian #1. The violence is lurid and vibrantly colored but I was able to skim over it without feeling bad for not being more invested and without feeling like I was missing out, as in Vimanarama. It was just a violent backdrop, an extremely violent backdrop, to what is probably going to be a violent story. Like James, this elicits no real emotional response from me. Am I supposed to be horrified? Intrigued? Aroused? Beats me, and not just because I don’t go in for that authorial intent stuff much. I just don’t go in for watching people beat each other up, have never found it cathartic to read about a pivotal punch. So why do I read this stuff? Beats me, at least to some extent. I guess I find it interesting to see what gets built around the violence, what the rest of the story is. I let myself believe/pretend that everything else is the real story with the violence as some sort of metaphor-heavy frosting. I’m not sure if those of use who read this way (James, I think, and David Fiore and myself) all do it in the same way and if our readings differ greatly from the normal ones. I guess the more important thing is that it doesn’t matter to me and that I keep on doing mine. So this is some sort of segue back to blogging, I hope.

Rose’s Book Picks

Yes, I’ve been gone for a million years. No, I don’t have a good excuse. For those who had behind-the-scenes information, Steven’s wisdom teeth came out successfully with only minor weird snags. I’ve got ideas for several posts I’d like to make, but first I have to play along because Lyle Masaki hit me with the little book meme, although I’m considering doing the big book meme too, although with a certain amount of commentary to make it a little more worthwhile and to disobey the rules.

Anyway, here’s the best I can do bookwise:

You’re stuck inside Fahrenheit 451, which book do you want to be?

Ian Brill said that he wouldn’t want to have to recite all of Infinite Jest, which has convinced me I would. It would be so much fun to figure out how to deal with all the footnotes and footnotes to footnotes that I’d never have to recite it the same way twice.

When I was a tiny kid and had a better memory than I do now, I could recite full pages of several of the Narnia books, but I don’t think that’s what I’d want to keep with me for all time. I’m not sure David Foster Wallace is either, but I’m hoping that if I ever get stuck inside Fahrenheit 451 it’s a pretty safe bet that this post won’t be considered legally binding.

Have you ever had a crush on a fictional character?

I know I’ve written here before that I’m really bad at having celebrity crushes. It just doesn’t seem plausible that anyone I don’t know would want a relationship with me, nor would I with someone I don’t know well. So while this all seems like nonsense to me, I’m going to give this my best shot and Steven will probably tease me later for being inadequate and lying. Anyway, I’m not really sure. As a child, I was very taken with Ernestine Gilbreth of Cheaper by the Dozen and Belles on their Toes, although since they’re basically autobiographical that probably only counts on a technicality. I certainly idealized and adored and yearned for all three main characters in Emma Donoghue’s Stir-Fry, which might be as close to a crush as I can get. I was often convinced as a child that if I could only meet the characters I was reading about, they would be better friends than any live children could be, and I suppose it’s this sense of cosmic rightness on an adult scale that’s what constitutes crushes of this sort. Boy, I’m not answering the question. Maybe I should move on and come back if I actually think of anything.

The last book you bought is:
Not counting comics/trade paperbacks, it was probably when a trip to a used bookstore in Knoxville netted me a whole load of feminist theory stuff, especially several books on eating disorders for well under $1 each. Oh, and a very cool-looking book, The Medieval Greek Romance, which I haven’t begun yet.

I tend not to buy myself new books much because they’re so expensive and I’m so stingy. My rule used to be that I only bought very cheap books or books I knew I’d lend out, but I’ve loosened that rule a bit.

The last book you read:

Again, excepting all the comics I’ve been reading, I think the last book I finished would be The World According to Mimi Smartypants, which is a collection of posts from the blog of Mimi Smartypants. I’d already read all the posts in their original, more fun and hyperlinky context, but while I won’t go so far as to call this a character crush, I do sort of think of Mimi Smartypants as an alternate universe version of me, if I’d managed to do cool things and have better friends and druggier experiences and a different homelife, but with the same violin background and dorky Greek obsession. I can’t believe I’m admitting this on the blog, which is yet another proof that even if I’m right I am indeed the doofus version.

I read Neal Stephenson’s The Baroque Cycle and Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell in fairly quick succession a few months ago and haven’t read much fiction since then, although I’m about to swing back in that direction.

What are you currently reading?

Oy. This is embarrassing, because as I said I’m very much between novels and so have a bunch of different things going and going slowly. Bedtime reading has been Kim Chernin’s The Hungry Self: Women, Eating, and Identity, which is not too exciting but still a seminal eating disorder book. Various articles from Feminism Beside Itself and The New Feminist Criticism show up as bathtime reading when I’m not featuring manga or a frivolous magazine. And then I really need to get back to Victorian Sappho, a book by Yopie Prins on reinterpretations of Sappho’s poetry and biography/identity by Victorian poets, because I haven’t even gotten to the argument about how my beloved Swinburne’s uses of her meters have more to do with the way they sound like flogging than the extent to which they are direct homage. And of my birthday books, I must admit I’m only reading Epileptic and slowly for some reason, I think to savor it. Usually I’m an unstoppable reader who devours things, but I’m taking my time here and haven’t even gotten out of the material covered in the first volume I’d already read.

Five books you would take to a deserted island.
(Was anyone else annoyed by the way this quiz started with full sentences and fell away from it quickly?)

Gravity’s Rainbow, by Thomas Pynchon. Adam Stephanides is rereading it and now a blogless friend is reading it for the first time and I’m tempted to go back into it. It’s a book that could sustain many rereadings and hold me for a long time.

I Capture the Castle, by Dodie Smith. Maybe Cassandra should count as a crush, because her voice is one of the most amazing and consistent of any I’ve ever read. This book makes me laugh every time I read it.

I’d need some giant poetry collection, Norton or something. I used to have an amazing two-volume set of 20th century poetry, Poems for the Millennium, but I’d need it to cover more time than that.

And since I think I’d want something to keep me cheerful, I’m going to go for a massive P.G. Wodehouse collection of Jeeves & Wooster stories over Robert Benchley’s My Ten Years in a Quandary and How They Grew, but it’s a tough decision and one I’d probably regret a bit eventually.

Fifth is going to be my cheaty one. I want The Odyssey in Greek, but of course my Greek isn’t good enough to just read it, so I need a dictionary and maybe a grammar and some pens and notebooks, which would help pass the rest of the time anyway. I figure this is no worse than people bringing the complete works of Dickens or something like that. And I won’t even try to sneak in The Iliad on analogous grounds, because they clearly have different authors and I clearly prefer one to the other. Although both Andromache and Hector give some potentially crush-worthy speeches….

Postmodern Horror

I’ve been trying to write a post about Shaun of the Dead, but it’s been tough going. I know vaguely what I want to say, but I seem to have no interest in turning my vague thoughts into words. Oh well. Instead, I’ve been thinking about postmodern horror of an entirely different kind.

But should I first discuss what kind of postmodern horror Shaun of the Dead is, since I’ve already contrasted it with the kind of postmodern horror I actually want to write about? Yes, I suppose I should. Shaun of the Dead, of course, is in the tradition of self-conscious/ironic horror movies, movies like Scream and even Scary Movie. The authors (I will use “authors” to refer collectively to the people who made a movie) of Scream take on the relatively easy and ultimately banal task of making a straight slasher flick, with one crucial violation of the rules: the characters know about slasher flicks, spend much of their time discussing slasher flicks, and recognize immediately that they are living inside a slasher flick. The result is a movie that balances precariously on the line between jokiness and sincerity and isn’t quite deft enough to avoid stumbling. It’s reasonably entertaining, although the authors’ mocking indulgence in the slasher genre’s violent and exploitative virgin/whore morality makes for some particularly queasy scenes. The second and third movies might have improved on the formula—I don’t remember clearly.

Before I saw Shaun of the Dead, I expected a goofier, indier Scream. But whereas Scream approaches the problem of self-conscious postmodern narrative by presenting characters who discuss horror-movie cliches at the same time that they act out those cliches, the trailer for Shaun of the Dead suggests that it takes the different approach of riffing facetiously on little details and problems that tend to get glossed over in other movies—viz. the talk-show guest who insists on staying married to her zombified husband. Sort of a converse Scream, a self-conscious joke-horror movie that shakes up the familiar narrative by making the characters less clever instead of more—not only do they not notice the zombie-movie plot mechanics clunking along around them, they mess with the mechanics by failing to fall properly into their roles.

That’s what I thought before I saw the movie. Mostly, anyway—I’m partly reconstructing my thoughts in light of having seen it. What do I think now that I’ve finally seen it? Well, it’s sort of like I expected it to be, but it also has other more interesting things going on. It starts with a strong romantic-comedy foundation. Shaun is a 29-year-old guy who suspects he ought to take things more seriously but seems to have trouble finding things that right taking seriously. His sidekick is Ed, who “doesn’t have too many friends,” which is an understatement. Shaun’s girlfriend is Liz, who has tired of Shaun’s inertial inability to discover nightly entertainment opportunities outside the local pub. Her sidekicks are David and Dianne, a pretentious twat and a flightly failed actress, respectively. Liz is one botched date from dumping Shaun for good. David is in love with Liz and doing a pathetic job of hiding it from his girlfriend Dianne. Dianne wants to know when Shaun’s going to hook them up with free cable. Ed’s single endearing quality is his ability to perform a remarkably poor impression of an orangutan. Shaun—well, he doesn’t exactly want to spend the rest of his life drinking himself to death at the Winchester (the aforementioned local pub), but all the better alternatives have the flaw of requiring him to do something other than sit around the local pub.

Hmm, it’s been several days since I looked at this post. I seem to have been writing some kind of plot summary of Shaun of the Dead. But what’s the point—I don’t have the movie anymore, so I can hardly do a close reading. It’s been weeks since I saw the movie! I will now speak vaguely and noncomittally.

So Shaun of the Dead starts as a romantic comedy, and it could easily have kept going without zombies for a whole movie. Throwing in zombies is dangerous, because it means people like me might say, “If they wanted to do a romantic comedy about the unresolvable opposition of needing to grow up and not wanting to become one’s parents, why are they wasting their (and, more importantly, my) time with zombies?” But I didn’t say this while watching this movie. Partly because the authors take the time to play connect-the-themes. The shots of a stumbly, zombie-sounding Shaun who turns out to be merely a sleepy, yawning Shaun, the zombified wage-slave drones who are literally zombified and then put to work as—zombie slaves, I guess—funny jokes, but also plugged right into Shaun’s real-life concerns. (And, yes, terribly obvious and presumably done in every other zombie movie ever. Well, it’s a zombie movie, you work with what you’ve got. Shaun of the Dead works with what it’s got stylishly and intelligently. [???????But if they wanted to do a movie about the unresolvable opposition &c., why did they waste their time with zombies?” I’m not going to get into a defense of using the fantastic in art here, sorry. Um, because sometimes mere naturalism isn’t enough for some others, and then they break out the zombies.]) Let’s continue that line of thought, but outside the parentheses. What the zombie stuff does is latch onto specifc real-life concerns in the narrative, complicate and modify them, cause them to resonate with greater intensity.

Damn, I’ve been sloppy in talking about the romantic-comed aspect of Shaun of the Dead. Because, when you think about it, romantic comedy as a genre functions like a lot of fantasy—i.e., it latches onto specific real-life concerns, complicates and modifies them, causes them to resonate with greater intensity. So Shaun of the Dead has the romantic comedy and the zombies messing with the narrative. But is that enough for Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg? Certainly not. They add that extra layer of self-consciousness, which allows them to slip back and forth between zombies and romantic comedy without getting bogged down in either. There are three big things going on in the movie—the romantic comedy, the zombie stuff, and the mucky “human drama”—and each is so emotionally intense (and gorily harrowing, in the case of the zombie stuff) that it could easily overwhelm the whole movie. But the extra layer of irony allows the movie to flip deftly with precision timing from the chilling revelation of Shaun’s mum’s impending zombification to jokes about David wanting to shoot Shaun’s mum to simple “human drama” as the relationships between characters build tension and explode in heady conflict. The section of the movie from the musical zombie fighting/dancing choreographed to Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now” to the moment when Shaun, Liz and Ed find themselves trapped behind the bar is the final buildup and climax of the movie. These scenes have everything going on at once, and it really shouldn’t work but it does anyway, and it’s lovely.

Er, I guess I ended up writing a lot about Shaun of the Dead after all. And not about the kind of postmodern horror film I claimed I’d write about at the beginning of this post. I suppose I could edit the beginning of the post to make things make more sense, but I think I’ll leave it as is. More to come on postmodern horror… some time. I won’t promise timeliness.

“Careful! It’s razor-sharp.”

So I haven’t been here in a while, it seems. I’ve been sick a lot this winter, but also just completely worn down. I don’t know when either of those will relent for good, but I’ll aim for weekly posting and see if I can work up from there. If I have anything to say (and I do have a big post on identification festering, but it’s not written yet) I’ll try to get it up here somehow. For tonight, though, just a few quick truths with little analysis.

Vimanarama #2 made me cry a little, but only a little. Dig the Taj Mahal interior, though! I’m not sold on the coloring and I read a lot faster when the Fireborn are doing their thing. I wish this were going to be more than three issues long.

What’s up with the (potential) total depletion of other Kentucky comics bloggers? To make up for the gaps in my pseudopeer group, I’m pushing for a clique of comics bloggers who read manga in the bathtub. It looks like there may be some overlap with the comics bloggers who enjoy gin (a more casual grouping that exists only in my head, as far as I know) which suggests some clear options for socializing that I’ll bet we’ll never try.

Steven is on spring break and thus did a Wednesday comic run, which still seems sort of weird and obscene to me, but I hoped it would net us Project Superior, which the store had not ordered. They should have one for us next week, and I do realize that if we weren’t so passive and uncomfortable talking to people we would have had one now. So there was none of that and no manga for my bath, so I resorted to feminist essay collections. From Feminism Beside Itself, I liked Elspeth Probyn’s piece, “Perverts by Choice.” She writes of belonging/be-longing as “a loose combinatoire of being and longing, becoming and nostalgia, as composed of lines of desire that run along the singularities of sexualities, bodies, spaces and places.” (264) I quote this not to scare anyone off from drinking gin or enjoying bathtime manga, but because it’s something I’m going to be thinking about off-blog and possibly but probably not on-.

I know not everyone liked I ♥ Huckabees, but I think the mud sex scene was one of the most emotionally realistic portrayals I’ve ever seen in a movie. Anyone who disagrees is wrong, but that’s ok; I know beauty when I see it. I got the double-disc set as a birthday present (thanks!) and am looking forward to rewatching the film itself this weekend. I got very close to finishing a major in philosophy before dropping it, in large part because I hated so many of the other students, so I’m not sure if that means I’m more sensitive or less sensitive to dopey philosophy stuff, but nothing in Huckabees bothered me.

And continuing my trend of no real segues, I’m probably going to be teaching a class on sock knitting, so I’ve been doing a bit of it myself. I have a really hideous pair I made to test some techniques and a cotton/wool yarn (I’ll have to teach on larger than sock yarn, though, because apparently size 0 needles terrify new knitters) and I should probably put a picture of them up here so that the ugliness will be a good incentive to post something substantive to get it off the top of the page. The plus side is that they fit me perfectly and keep my feet warm when it is too, too cold in the apartment, which has definitely been the case over the last few nights.

I haven’t yet done any blogger interviews because I haven’t really done much of anything except work ridiculously long hours and try to sleep (well, and knit socks). I think I’m getting close to having my research done for the first, though. I’m hoping I live in enough of a shame culture that my commenting on this will push me to do it, but past performance has not been a positive indicator, to use work-speak. Maybe soon.