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Category: Theory

Grotesque Anatomy?

I am having a sick day today and while I’m tempted to use that as an out if I later need to claim I was not in my right mind when writing this, it’s something I’ve been thinking about all weekend. The title of the post is my way of apologizing to John Jakala for mentioning the problem with Bombaby he brought to my attention without actually seeking out the link (here I do plead sick), and also because “grotesque anatomy” is an awfully good title he’s not using anymore.

While it wasn’t my inspiration here, we saw The Aviator Friday night and basically enjoyed it (though I thought the ending especially was needlessly heavy-handed) and also bought the first volume of Sgt. Frog. One thing leads to another, and I found myself buying and devouring volumes 2 and 3 before the weekend was over. It’s a book practically everyone had recommended and I found myself just as charmed as many other bloggers have already been, but on returning home with the first book I saw that Lyle had qualms about the portrayal of sexualized women. This made me curious since plenty of posts on this blog have been me complaining about just such things, and so I am surprised to say I’m not going to do so here. Sure, there are a lot of panty shots (what’s up with Natsumi’s basketball uniform?) and weird breast things going on in Sgt. Frog and they just didn’t bother me. I’m not sure I can explain why this is and it’s all going to be very idiosyncratic and probably won’t translate well to your experience, which is fine with me. That’s as far as I’m going to go with a disclaimer, but it seemed worth noting that I’m not trying to recreate the scene from The Aviator where the poor professor has to measure various “mammaries” to convince a skeptical ratings board of the acceptability of their prominence in The Outlaw.

Instead what we’ve got in Sgt. Frog is the Hinata family, where 14-year-old Natsumi and her slightly younger brother, Fuyuki, reveal and capture Keroro, a charming little megalomaniac from the planet Keron’s expeditionary invasion force. The head of the Hinata family is Aki, the manga editor mother often absent for weeks at a time, who cements Keroro’s place in the household.

first appearance of Aki Hinata

This is Aki’s first appearance, but is characteristic of her depiction as an editor throughout the first three volumes. While this is clearly part of the exploitative representation Lyle and others talked about, it struck me as less objectionable than, say, the scene in Mean Girls where Tina Fey accidentally removed her shirt in front of her students and a coworker. Here, Aki is even dressed in what seems like a work-appropriate outfit and her fervor for manga manifests itself in sexual double entendres, which is a consistent pattern. Because they find this a turn-on, her male subordinates become obsessed with pleasing her, since her professional praise is invariably sexualized. I have to admit, my first thought was that this is a pretty effective system for her, since she gets the results she wants and isn’t necessarily aware she’s a sexual object (and there’s no real textual evidence, since there are no adult romantic roles, that she’s a sexual subject in any meaningful way). The setup reminded me more of something like Groucho Marx’s verbal/sexual jabs, although generally less witty and more obvious. Because this is a light-hearted PG-level comedy, I’m not expecting any sort of examination of the effects female sexuality has on straight male geeks, although it’s something I think about and watch online, even if I don’t often talk about it here. At some level, though, Sgt. Frog is raising those questions, although in a superficial way, and I appreciate that enough that it doesn’t seem ridiculously exploitative to me.

But to be honest, I think a big part of it has to do with the fact that while Aki Hinata has the largest breasts in the book, they’d look positively tiny if she showed up in a standard superhero book from Marvel or DC. Her breasts are large for her slim frame, but not extremely or unrealistically so. And that ties into the reason I’m not disturbed by the focus on shots of young teen Natsumi in her bra:

Natsumi laments her increasing bust size

Natsumi is at an age where her body is changing and, like many girls, she sees this as a betrayal of sorts. In the last panel (reading right-to-left for manga) she says, “I just hope I don’t turn into a mutant like Mom!” While being spied on by a froglike alien isn’t a normal experience, I think discomfort with becoming physically/sexually mature is, and it was refreshing to see it. While Natsumi is often seen as a sexualized creature, whether caught in the panels changing her shirt or in the several instances her underwear makes an appearance, she has no interest in this role. When she has to “age” into an adult body in a later volume, rather than flaunting her physical assets she has to be brainwashed to agree to enter a bikini contest. Though she may look almost physically mature while she manages to capably run the household in her mother’s absence, she clearly still thinks of herself as the sort of person who would prefer to be playing basketball with her school friends. I don’t know how well Sgt. Frog sells with people who aren’t comics bloggers, specifically with the young teen girls who do read lots of manga, I would think that despite the cheesecake aspects of her presentation (and perhaps because of it) Natsumi would be a good object for identification. With fashion standards being what they are now, a lot of girls and young women have to balance the trend to look sexualized or provocative with their own actual sexual interests or lack thereof and the ways they want to present themselves. I know when I was younger I dealt with this basically through denial, cropping off all my hair and wearing huge clothes that cloaked the parts of my body I found awkward, among other less healthy means. I imagine it’s more normal to do what Natsumi does, look a bit sexy or at least be aware they’re being viewed sexually while trying to subvert this through the strength of pure personality.

Would it be better to keep all of this breast-anxiety off-screen? I don’t know. It’s there in Judy Blume books and I assume most young teens see the kinds of bodies on display on MTV or the magazines targeted to them. It’s not a new insight to notice that men’s lifestyle magazines typically have “hot” women on the cover, and that the same is true for women’s magazines. I think that’s something akin to what’s going on here, that Natsumi is definitely being portrayed for the audience that finds a view of a B-cup bra exhilarating while also passing on the more subversive message her own ambivalence toward her body portrays (which I don’t think you’d find as easily in either Maxim or Cosmo Girl). And again, I’m going back to breast size a bit, but since the proportions aren’t so insane, this is not as disturbing to me as finding out that real people find J. Michael Turner characters attractive, even if the character in question is a mere year or two older than Natsumi. It’s also sort of hard for me to believe that these shots of covered, proportional breasts are really so titillating (and I really couldn’t come up with a better word; sorry) in the world in which we live and read.

However, it’s easy to build bad breasts, and that was much of my reaction to Bombaby. I’d considered not buying it because it collects the first three released issues of the series along with the fourth issue, which wasn’t released separately, but I had been planning to buy the book in TPB anyway and figured that the publisher (Amaze Ink, though I’d somehow thought until I looked that it had been Slave Labor) could use the reminder that people will buy collected versions of books, so it’s worth treating both groups fairly. While the covers had been lovely and tempting, I didn’t especially enjoy the interior art and the story was weak, especially in its concluding chapter. I’m sort of sad that there weren’t any endnotes or explanations of what the creator was trying to do with the story, because I really couldn’t tell from the story. Also, isn’t the tutelary deity of Mumbai Mumbadevi, not “the Mumbai devi?” I’m sure they mean the same thing, but it bothered me. Actually a lot of things bothered me, but since it’s that kind of post we’ll focus on the art and the bodies.

Sangeeta wears an unflattering minidress

Here is protagonist Sangeeta, and while writer/artist Anthony Mazzotta clearly wanted to show her as curvaceous (to suggest something about Indian beauty standards? Again, notes might help) she just looks like she’s pregnant and weirdly shaped on top of that. She has no waist and her torso is frighteningly small. Her clothes look painful and odd. Who wears a microminiskirt with a turtleneck? And she seems awfully happy and calm for someone who avoided being attacked by a gang of thugs only moments before.

Sangeeta dances

And the above shows what happens to Sangeeta when she dances. Apparently her breasts are just two compartments of some sort of bag filled with liquid, since bulk seems to be able to move from one breast to the other when she moves. She still seems unnaturally happy, but I realize it’s a comic convention to avoid reference to the sort of pain swinging breasts of the size many female characters display would cause. Still, this seems pretty extreme to go unnoticed.

Sangeeta wears a t-shirt in bed

This is my last example, but it shows how after changing out of her miniskirt outfit into a t-shirt that is basically the same color (another bad art choice, in my opinion) Sangeeta’s breasts seem to have changed shape yet again, hanging down like separate bags barely attached to her body. Perhapps if I’d been more interested in the story I wouldn’t have spent so much time thinking about how odd and uncomfortable her breasts looked to me, but it’s also possible that’s part of a chicken-and-egg thing. What I’m getting at is that I was willing to give Sgt. Frog some extra slack because it did show off its characters’ breasts (a lot) but did so with breasts that were consistently sized and not unrealistic. Bombaby, while not using Sangeeta’s breasts as explicitly sexual objects, was more objectionable to me because the breasts made no sense in a story that made no sense.

And on that note, I’m going to go to bed so I can get up in the morning and go to work like a healthy(-ish) person and then probably not talk about breasts in this much depth for a very, very long time.

Remix Aesthetic in Moulin Rouge and Kill Bill

An essay on postmodern remix aesthetic in Moulin Rouge and Kill Bill from a college film class I took last year. I don’t necessarily agree with all of it anymore, but I don’t necessarily disagree with any of it.

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Lego Cultural Theorists

Lego Cultural Theorists: The Lego Michel Foucault comes with a Parisian library for younger children, or with the Lego San Fransisco Dungeon for older boys and girls.

See also: Theory Trading Cards

12 November 2004 by Steven | Permalink | Comments disabled

Mr. Solid Citizen and Rose

Well, the election’s over and only 75 percent of Kentucky voters thought we needed an amendment saying that the only marriages in these parts will be between one man and one woman (and that’s already in the commonwealth constitution) and that domestic partnerships of any sort are unacceptable in that they’re in marriagelike situation. I hope the wording is bad and overexpansive enough that this will get overturned quickly, but the county breakdown shows that it’s pretty much only in populous, urban/suburban counties that more than 25 percent of the population is opposed to such a measure. We’re in Campbell County with 12,133 like-minded individuals. I’m trying not to say more about this, because it’s just saddening, but I assume only some of the majority are aware of all the implications and still support the amendment. For the rest, there’s still hope.

And while I’m complaining about politics, I had a minor problem with both the concession and acceptance speeches I wanted to mention. Kerry talked about the message he gave to “President Bush and Laura,” while Bush’s later parallel-structure speech expressed good wishes for “Senator Kerry and Teresa.” What is with the weird title imbalance? Did it not sound goofy to the speechwriters? Can we blame Kerry or his people for both and say that Bush was just following suit, or do they both just really respect their opponents and their little women? Or were the honorifics a subtle irony when they’d both have preferred to be more unkind? I don’t know, but it was awfully annoying no matter what.

“NOBODY cares about your stupid hat.”

You can’t say I didn’t warn you. Back when I read Seaguy #1, I said the story was boustrophedon, and of course I was right. (Although I’m convinced enough not to bother looking it up that the hieroglyphs are not boustrophedon, because nobody writes boustrophedon script vertically.) While it was awfully prescient of me to recognize that the story would swing around so that its end is the beginning only up a notch, in retrospect I realize a lot of Grant Morrison stories do that. But Seaguy does more than that. When people are discussing what happened and what happens next, the bigger question seems to be whether Seaguy knows this is boustrophedon, whether he has fought his way down one line and back another to find himself right where he began though slightly different. Or is it a Moebius strip or a circle or something like that, where he passes Go and grabs a new pal and ends up back at the start as if nothing has ever changed?

That’s not a question that really interests me, or at least not one I want answered. I don’t have any problem believing this is a cycle Seaguy has repeated before without knowing it, and that at best he’s learning incrementally as he goes, but that requires the Mickey Eye system to be something like the Matrix, giving Seaguy free will and freedom merely to be able to take them away when he (mis)uses them. The idea isn’t just that a person can only give away self-awareness by consensual choice, because we see naked Doc Hero being coercively brainwashed, and Seaguy goes through a similar process less nude process. Other readers think Seaguy is more aware and planning subversive activities. If he isn’t now, I’m sure he will be soon, if we clamoring readers get our promised “Slaves of Mickey Eye” sequel. I like the am-bi-gyoo-ity, and I like it that it’s not clear whether Mickey Eye (whoever the Eye corporation/government may be) approves of it.

And since I’m now a pro at clairvoyant exegesis, I have a new theory. Although it’s perhaps not obvious in Seaguy’s plot, Seaguy is himself following closely in the path of another famously watery hero, but I’m pretty sure he doesn’t know this. I realized that the servants of Mickey Eye who were reeducating Doc Hero and Seaguy had a strangely consistent way of reminding them about consensual reality. “Nobody wants the Eye to be unhappy.” “Nobody actually thinks you’re crazy… you just got bit by a crazy thing.” “Nobody cares about your stupid hat.” At first I thought these were just versions of “We have always been at war with Eurasia,” but I think it runs deeper. Who is this nobody who opposes all that is accepted and acceptable? Seaguy, the hero and protagonist and subverter of the enforced status quo! Well, maybe he will be, or is sometimes. But that’s what made it clear who he resembles, a more famous nobody, Odysseus.

As we all recall, Odysseus left the Trojan War having angered Poseidon, who kept him from going home until he’d wandered for ten years and lost all his crew, though he retained the love of his canny wife. His most famous exploit, the one we all recall, is his runin with the uncivilized Cyclops, Polyphemus, whom he blinded. Polyphemus wanted to know who his visitor was, and ever-wily Odysseus said his name was “Nobody” (well, sort of, since it’s hard to translate accurately, as well as being an elaborate pun on the name of Athena’s mother) so that when the other Cyclopes came to check up on their screaming relative Polyphemus responded to their inquiries by saying, “Nobody is hurting me!” And so the Cyclopes left, and soon Odysseus left too, with plenty of cheese and wine and goodies, though minus a few companions.

So where does this leave Seaguy? He’s been losing beloved companions, and he’s definitely dealing with a one-eyed menace. He’s a nobody in a larger sense, an unemployed slacker who would like to be a hero but can’t even outhero iron umbrellas. He enjoys stories to the point where he doesn’t seem to differentiate between the Mickey Eye show and Aten-Hut’s hieroglyphic history (and even though I’m super-picky about joke names, because no joke was made about it, that is the best joke name I’ve heard in a long time). And it’s possible he has a faithful woman waiting for him, She-Beard, who loudly laments the fact that “not one man [has she] found,” perhaps because she hasn’t yet had the dramatic unveiling scene in which (he hopes) she’ll recognize Seaguy as her own and take him up to her bedroom, or perhaps because she’s looking for a hero who is also a no-man and she hasn’t yet figured out that this is Seaguy’s gig. Of course, it’s not clear whether she’s a wily Penelope who’s manipulating the more powerful forces around her or whether she’s merely bait Mickey Eye uses to bring heroes out into the open, but there’s time for this to become clear. There’s time for all of this, since time, too, waits for no man.

“We can’t damn the torrent of death and injustice”

I wanted to write about Identity Crisis, but it’s as if I’m being stalked by the post I meant to write. I ended up thinking about it while writing about Eightball, and then while Steven was writing I ended up reading Daredevil: Guardian Devil, Kevin Smith’s epic and awful attempt to Make Daredevil’s Life Hell. (No, I don’t know why I’ve been driven to capitalize important words lately in a way I know everyone finds frustrating, and I don’t know why I write asides like this either, to head off complaints on that front.)

Guardian Devil is horrible in many ways, from the constant in-jokes (ooh, Silent Bob says nothing about Catcher in the Rye! Dogma is showing at the theaters Daredevil passes!) to the hideous Cabbage Patch Kid at the core of the story to the spectacularly dreadful dialogue. And then there’s the story! See, it’s really about consent and forgiveness and the pure vision inspired by pure, true love, but that’s trapped under layers of craziness and blood. I’m not even sure how to summarize, so I’ll just hit the highlights. Matt Murdock is Daredevil, of course, and his girlfriend at the beginning of the story is Karen Page. The story starts with Matt in the confessional, perhaps about to mention he’s been sleeping with Karen or something like that, but really just because Kevin Smith is obsessed with bad ring structure and an early confessional joke leaves room for later ones. There’s a throwaway line about how lapsed Catholics just return to the church for Christmas and confession, but unless “confession” was a typo for “Easter,” most of the many lapsed Catholics I know must be so extreme they’re not even living up to their lapsed-Catholic duty to seek out Mother Church after nasty breakups. I know Kevin Smith’s is not my mother’s Catholicism, but he seems to get things wrong so much more often than he gets them right that I don’t understand his insistence in harping on Catholicism.

And speaking of harping on things, let’s get back to Karen Page. See, she’s a radio dj now, but back in the good old days she was involved in less wholesome entertainment as a means of financing her drug habit. While Daredevil let her back into his life (and that was very sweet of him, I’m sure) she is sure he hasn’t been able to forget her past and that he can’t look at her as anything but sullied, and so she decides the time has come to become Matt’s ex-girlfriend. And I need to pick up the pace if I hope to ever escape even the first issue, not to mention the whole story. Matt/DD runs out of the confessional to save a teenaged girl and her little baby from being run down by a car going 90 in Hell’s Kitchen. And while he manages to save them, both baby and girl disappear in the ensuing craziness. Oh, and I forgot to mention the silly, portentous narration to inform us that a maternity ward(s?) has blown up, which returns to be a major plot point when the villain admits that this was a total coincidence and nothing more.

Anyway, Matt goes to his law office, where his partner Foggy is smitten with a client in a divorce case, a woman who plans to get a lot of money from the husband who had her sterilized without her knowledge or consent. Foggy is in a serious relationship with Liz Osborn, but that’s not getting in the way of anything here. Daredevil hears and then loses the heartbeats of the missing girl and baby, but is saved from another super-keen chase scene by the girl’s appearance at the law firm, because an angel has told her that Matt Murdock is Daredevil and that he’ll take her baby, which he does, before she disappears again. And people who are not absolute morons who think it’s normal for mothers of two-month-olds to refer to their babies as “it” will be really shocked in another issue or so when it turns out this baby, potentially the Antichrist, is a girl. Icky! Well, probably the ickier point is that the baby might be the Antichrist, polluting all it touches, according to an old man who mysteriously confronts Matt with secrets about his own past and secret identity. So poor Matt, unwilling to do so much as change a diaper, is able to pass the baby off to his other ex-girlfriend, the Black Widow, whose ridiculous maternal instinct makes her keep Matt from dropping the baby from several stories to the ground to rid the world of this absolute evil.

Wow, this is getting long. Once the Black Widow is gone, Karen shows back up to tell Matt that her HIV test has come back positive and then she collapses in tears before he can talk about how much it sucks to be the foster dad to the Antichrist, maybe. Meanwhile Foggy has been discussing his case with his client, Lydia, and things get a little hot ‘n’ heavy, and the next thing you know, Lydia’s been thrown through a window and Foggy’s getting jailed on murder charges. Foggy’s mother, who runs the law firm, fires him but Matt nobly leaves Karen in her misery to get to work and even more nobly resigns his own position at the firm, which does nothing to shore up support for Foggy’s case. Meanwhile Karen gets a visit from the same weird old man, as yet unnamed, who tells her that she’s been polluted with AIDS because the wicked baby’s miasma destroys everything it touches, and although this is the first she’s heard of the baby, she finds the story plausible enough that she agrees to help get the baby handed over to the old man’s organization, Sheol. Clear so far?

Anyway, Matt tries to get the baby back from the Black Widow to kill her (the baby, who perhaps generally goes by “it” because it resembles the Joker’s hideous dollbombs in The Dark Knight Returns more than it does any real child) and in the process does some serious damage to the Black Widow. Matt, as Daredevil, tries to stop a crime only to realize it’s a setup, and gets knocked out and captured. He’s able to eventually fight his way away from his captor, Baal, and escapes, bruised and ill. He decides to pay a visit to his mother, a nun who runs a mission downtown somewhere. Sister Maggie takes in Daredevil and the baby, and he sleeps for two days while Foggy is suffering (and because I forgot to write about Matt’s meeting with Foggy, I’ll just note for the record that the obligatory prison rape “joke” is made then) and Karen is presumably hysterical and maybe the Black Widow has regained consciousness. Then Sister Maggie and Matt share some touching moments talking about whether God exists and Sister Maggie slaps Matt across the face for suggesting that God might not be what she expects. Then Karen has tracked Matt to the shelter and asks to be given the baby so she can give her away to Sheol and clean up their lives. Matt, being perceptive for a change, remembers that he’s never told Karen about the baby and that she’s part of an Evil Trap.

Matt escapes and visits Dr. Strange, who deduces Matt has been given a colorless, odorless, tasteless drug and is hallucinating. Oops, that’s going to mean an awkward apology to the ex he just beat up!! Then they both talk to the demon Mephisto, even though Matt has promised he won’t talk to Mephisto, and Mephisto is apparently more up on his holy scripture than either of the humans, because he reminds them that the Antichrist should be a fully-grown adult man, not a baby girl. Matt Murdock’s convinced, but this reminds me that I forgot to say the baby’s mother, Gwyneth, claimed to be a virgin and that her heartbeat told Matt that She Was Not Lying. Also she escaped and was running in the first place because someone was in the process of slicing up her newly dead parents, but this part isn’t particularly relevant, but just gruesome for its own sake.

Ruminating on a cryptic quip from Mephisto, Matt decides to swing back to the shelter, only to find his mother and the other nuns and the poor innocents who came to the mission downed in blood. Bullseye is there, looking for the baby. Karen offers to give her to him, but it turns out she’s just given him a statue of The Baby Jesus. Meanwhile Sister Maggie, bleeding profusely, tries to sneak the baby out of the mission. Bullseye, not amused by this, manages to skewer Karen with one of her own true love’s sticks, and she dies in Matt’s arms in an egregious Pieta scene in front of the altar.

Then Matt’s off after the bad guys, knowing someone must have hired Bullseye. But who could it be? Artfully placed newspapers let us know that the aged representative of Sheol is John (later Jonathan) Curtain, which is not how you spell the name, people, but then his pseudonym “Macabes” is not exactly “Maccabee,” if that’s what it’s supposed to suggest. But who is this guy and what does he want with Daredevil? All becomes clear when Matt fights his way through a bunch of outclassed ninjas and then meets Baal again, who claims to be Matt’s guardian angel. Matt is able to figure out he’s not a real angel/demon but just some guy in a suit (and his real name’s Gabriel, ha ha!) and so is able to disable him and head on to see the main bad guy. It turns out this is Mysterio, Master of Special Effects. He’s dying because of illness caused by the plastics he’s used in his special effects and costumes for all these years, and he thought it would be fun to utterly destroy a superhero. The obvious choice would have been Spider-Man, but apparently he worried that clone fears would make this less satisfying. Luckily everyone knows Daredevil’s identity can be easily bought from the Kingpin, as well as information about his Catholic guilt and women trouble, and so it was easy to unmake the Man without Fear. All it took was a guy in a weird marble-headed suit dressing up in the latex skin (at least I think that’s what happened) to be old John Curtain and put the fear of God into Matt and Karen. Oh, and then slipping Matt a hallucinogenic talisman and hiring Bullseye in the first place. And most of his bodyguards were apparently doped up too.

And Doctor Strange’s skills of perception must not have been as faulty as he feared, because his prediction that frat boys and athletic teams would just love this mystery hallucinogen proves to have been borne out when it is used as a date-rape drug… against Foggy! Yup, Lydia was a plant all along, given false memories or something to trick Foggy into believing her story of forced sterilization enough to take the case and be seduced and then be framed for her murder, which is either some sort of suicide or she’s destroyed by some weird demon-thing and is not herself the demon-thing. Unclear, but all part of Mysterio’s plan! And then there was that baby, a symbol of the purity Daredevil idealizes and hopes to protect, but Mysterio was able to make Daredevil believe it was an evil baby almost to the point where he would have destroyed it. And it turns out the poor kid was the result of a virgin birth, since Mysterio’s henchmen had kidnapped the mother and artificially inseminated her, then using the magical drug to make her believe she’d seen angels sending her to Daredevil. All becomes clear! And Mysterio dressed up as a doctor to give Karen a false positive reading on her HIV test, just to make Matt hate her more for being an evil whore who’d put Matt’s very life at risk by having sex with him. The fact that he was completely covered in her blood during her last moment doesn’t seem to have caused him any worry, but luckily it didn’t matter since she probably was HIV-negative anyway.

Laughing at the way he has ruined all aspects of Matt’s life, and most of all his faith and hope, Mysterio commits suicide, although it’s not clear whether this is totally intentional. And that’s that, except not. Matt still has to search the building to find the baby, who still has a role to play in the touching epilogue in which Matt is reunited with a healing Sister Maggie outside a non-exploded maternity ward and decides to name the soon-to-be-adopted non-Antichrist baby … (wait for it) Karen!. And then he does manage to apologize to Black Widow, who is more sympathetic now that Matt has just lost his girlfriend. And Foggy gets to apologize to his girlfriend, who doesn’t care that he was drugged and unable to consent to anything or understand reality, because he chose to spend the night with another woman and therefore They Are Through. And Spider-Man commiserates with Matt about how difficult it is to lose someone you love to a bad guy you hate, which is a lesson Matt has already learned about 6 million times with his previous ex-girlfriends, and then Matt heads off to confession again only to (ha ha!) skip out once more to defeat evildoers as Daredevil!

And if you thought that synopsis makes Guardian Devil sound like an excellent story, be warned that the writing has such sophisticated errors as the one in this post’s title, part of a sentence in which “everyday” is used as a noun. And the art is just bizarre, with grotesque characters who are recognizable from one scene to the next mostly because of their distinctive garb. And if you’re not sure why you suffered through that whole explanation, you may be wondering what all of this has to do with Identity Crisis. In my mind at least, a lot.

Identity Crisis #1 features the mysterious murder of Sue Dibny, non-superpowered wife of the Elongated Man, with the shocking twist being that she’s pregnant, though there are no hints that the baby would have been the Antichrist. Then in issue #2 it turns out that a long time ago she was hanging out at the JLA space station while the heroes were off taking care of some disaster and Dr. Light managed to find his way onto the space station, where he sexually assaulted her. The response of the heroes was to cart her off to a hospital and psychically lobotomize him so he couldn’t follow through on his threats to do the same to other women who consort with the JLA. Since the members of the JLA who weren’t involved in meddling with Dr. Light are unaware of what went on, we can assume that the Justice League of America didn’t urge Sue Dibny to testify against him, despite having plenty of physical evidence as well as witnesses to the assault. Or maybe we’ll learn that Sue chose not to testify, chose never to be open about this part of her life,which is why we readers are just now learning about it.

Identity Crisis is not painful at every turn the way Guardian Devil is, but I’m worried it could become every bit as muddled and bad in the way it deals with gender imbalances and interactions. So far what we see is that it’s easy for superheroes to forget that regular people can control their own lives, make their own decisions. And admittedly it would probably be hard for heroes to keep on the right side of the line between being heroic and meddling and micromanaging. Still, there’s more than this. It’s not just that non-superpowered women can’t defend themselves against supervillains, but that all the male characters are worried about protecting all the female characters. Sure, Black Canary is dismissive of their concerns, pointing out that she hasn’t even been killed, but I hope the JLA don’t equate being protectors of the weak and powerless with protecting and overprotecting women.

There’s plenty of time to further flesh out Sue’s role in all this, show how she dealt with the pain of her assault and its aftermath and her recovery, how the decisions she made to remain with her husband (whose lack of a secret identity prompts the crisis in the title) affected her later life, her years spent in an over-secured apartment that still proved permeable. And if this doesn’t happen, if this is just a story about how much it annoys men when you break their toys or women, I’m going to be unhapy. And I’m making this more essentialist than I ought to, since Black Canary and Zatanna were both part of the group that chose to punish Dr. Light for assaulting Sue, for assaulting the sanctity of their base and their perceived safety, but we’ll see how this plays out.

I have more to say, but for now it’s time for an end-of-episode moral on behalf of Sue Dibny and myself:
If you learn a friend has been sexually assaulted or abused, don’t be like the JLA; saying “I’m going to track down that bastard and make him (or potentially her) pay” takes the power to make that decision away from your already friend, who is already dealing with the pain of forcible loss of power and choice. Be supportive, be sympathetic, be hurt and sad and angry, but be respectful and fair, and your friend will probably appreciate it.

Not Really More Eightball #23

So, this weekend I read Eightball #23, and I’m still not sure what to say about it. I can’t say I’ve ever liked anything I’ve read by Dan Clowes, and yet I keep reading his books. So here I am, with yet another story I’d describe as vapid just because it’s nothing but surface and not a surface I find interesting. Here’s another story in which there’s no internal life for the protagonist and no external world, either, since he interacts only with his delusions. I’d call the work soulless, except that that implies I think there are souls in other things. For me, Clowes’s work here and elsewhere is always flat, dull, uninspiring, and I haven’t been able to figure out what it is that causes such a spark in other readers.

I don’t want to play the gender card because this I don’t think this is about my gender, but because of my own experiences and general orientation toward the world, I’m just not really interested in seeing any stories about how great men think they are when they sadistically protect women from the Big Bad Male World. This goes for Identity Crisis, too, and more so. I’m sick of reading about poor, oppressed boring white men and their whiny hangups about how much women suck. I just really don’t care. At all. I suppose I’d be happy enough reading things like this if I didn’t ever have to come across it in real/internet life, if it were some exotic phenomenon and therefore had some peculiar depth and insight, but that’s not the way things seem to go. And depth and insight are what I’m looking for here, some evidence that maybe the people who do these sorts of things have at least the possibility of looking at themselves and realizing how stupid and cruel and self-defeating their actions are, but I probably shouldn’t go to literature looking for false hope.

I’m not saying I can’t come up with a critique of Eightball, only that I get so annoyed or bored by other concerns that I don’t want to bother. So this isn’t backlash or review, just bemusement and a reminder that I don’t have whatever thing it is that allows people to love Dan Clowes, and I think I’m ok with that anyway and will be if it changes too. Then again, this moving is getting to me and I’m clearly not myself. I spent part of the weekend actually wanting to dust and vacuum. Weird.

Gunk and Gender: Preliminary Filth Thoughts

Jim Henley wanted to know what women think of The Filth. I finished it last night and I think it’s Grant Morrison all right, and you’re not going to get much more out of me tonight, because my head is rebelling and I need medicine that works or, failing that, sleep. Ok, and what I need most of all is pictures of little kids with superimposed ants’ heads. Lots. I very much need this. I suppose pictures of rotund fellows with eye-bellies would be acceptable, at least the utopian sort, but not as good.

Anyway, the reason Jim Henley wants to know what women think is that he’s worried (or perhaps not worried) that The Filth is a guy thing. I don’t have a good answer to that question. I’m not comfortable with the idea that women deal with filth and bodies more or earlier than men (speaking of course in huge generalizations) do. Yeah, yeah, we’ve got menstruation and the awkwardness of breasts and having to deal with being an object of attraction, and I’ve managed to make my peace with the first of those things at least. But even as a young adolescent when I wanted to be anything but feminine, I wouldn’t have wanted to have to deal with random erections and wet dreams and all that hideously sexual guy-stuff. Also booger jokes. Ugh.

I think maybe a keener difference lies in ownership of sexuality, though this probably relies on even grander generalizations. Especially when it comes to sexuality, men are trained to think they’re in control of themselves. I don’t know to what extent they believe this, but that seems to be the paradigm, and that makes it really difficult to have sexual assault training for men (and here I’m talking about college guys because this is all I’ve had to deal with) who think they could never be assaulted and are sure they and all their friends are nice guys who would never assault anyone else. One way people get around this problem is with a horrible, offensive program that says to men, “Think how much you’d hate yourself if a man raped you! And imagine how you would feel if someone raped your girlfriend!” If the only way to remind men that they’re not in control is by calling on their ick-factor homophobia or urging them to be mindful of people they’re supposed to own, that’s not a good state of affairs. But that’s to some degree what’s going on in The Filth. Male desire (and I think Jim’s right that women aren’t fleshed out in the story, but mostly in that they’re not protagonists even of their subplots much) has gotten out of control. Desire for control is taking over the world, and it’s up to the members of The Hand to be Super-Men, to assert control over the sexually power-mad men. Whether we’re dealing with bad guys releasing hordes of super sperm that seem to destroy rather than impregnate their targets or goodish guys who don’t bother to close the window when masturbating to copious porn and don’t notice the porn in the street, or even possibly unreal has-beens who while away the hours watching their wives engage in hardcore sex with all their old friends and foes, we’re dealing with some ugly stuff and unpleasant guys. So what makes this a Guy Book? Is it because it’s a chance to explore otherwise hidden frailties while still sympathizing with the powerful main character(s)? Is it because it’s a chance to say, “Hee! Erection jokes! Prison rape jokes!” without noticing that their unqualified acceptance isn’t really supported by the text?

I dunno. I’m sure that’s not why Jim liked it, or Dave Intermittent or David Fiore or Steven, but I’m not sure if they have peculiarly gendered responses. I liked The Filth, too, though I think I prefer the pretentiousness of The Invisibles. That I’m not entirely sure may be a sign I’m skewing toward the center of the mind/body scale, our Little Rose growing up! Not hating my body was an important, difficult lesson to learn, but I still don’t love or privilege it either.

And thinking of hating my body brings me back to my impending migraine and thus departure, with assurances that more commentary will come in time. That Animal Man stuff is still in my head, too, while I’m making rash promises, but no more for tonight nor tomorrow, when I watch my brother test his physicality in the all-star game, the end of his high-school football career. He spent four years wallowing in sweat and bruises and bashing, and that’s all Filth to me. I’ll be the bitchy one aching in the bleachers.

Remix Aesthetic

In my last Kill Bill post, I wrote “I much enjoy the collage aesthetic (I usually call it a remix or DJ aesthetic), but I prefer the playful expressiveness of, say, Moulin Rouge to the cynical play of Kill Bill.” Now, it’s possible I’m a little obsessed with Moulin Rouge, so I’d better say more about it!

Walter Benjamin, in 1935, wrote an essay called The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. Here’s what he had to say:

The authenticity of a thing is the essence of all that is transmissible from its beginning, ranging from its substantive duration to its testimony to the history which it has experienced. Since the historical testimony rests on the authenticity, the former, too, is jeopardized by reproduction when substantive duration ceases to matter. And what is really jeopardized when the historical testimony is affected is the authority of the object.

One might subsume the eliminated element in the term “aura” and go on to say: that which withers in the age of mechanical reproduction is the aura of the work of art. This is a symptomatic process whose significance points beyond the realm of art. One might generalize by saying: the technique of reproduction detaches the reproduced object from the domain of tradition. By making many reproductions it substitutes a plurality of copies for a unique existence. And in permitting the reproduction to meet the beholder or listener in his own particular situation, it reactivates the object reproduced. These two processes lead to a tremendous shattering of tradition which is the obverse of the contemporary crisis and renewal of mankind.

And a bit later:

Works of art are received and valued on different planes. Two polar types stand out; with one, the accent is on the cult value; with the other, on the exhibition value of the work. Artistic production begins with ceremonial objects destined to serve in a cult. […] With the emancipation of the various art practices from ritual go increasing opportunities for the exhibition of their products. It is easier to exhibit a portrait bust that can be sent here and there than to exhibit the statue of a divinity that has its fixed place in the interior of a temple. The same holds for the painting as against the mosaic or fresco that preceded it. And even though the public presentability of a mass originally may have been just as great as that of a symphony, the latter originated at the moment when its public presentability promised to surpass that of the mass.

With the different methods of technical reproduction of a work of art, its fitness for exhibition increased to such an extent that the quantitative shift between its two poles turned into a qualitative transformation of its nature.

Benjamin’s idea is that a work of art loses its intangible “aura” of authority and authenticity when it becomes mechanically reproducible—the Mona Lisa becomes a little less special when you can get it on a refrigerator magnet and don’t have to go to the musée du Louvre to see it. The quality of a work of art, which used to be all about its special aura of artness, now becomes much more a matter of its exhibitionary and entertainment value.

This may lead to one a big question of (post)modern thought: nihilism or anti-nihilism? When fundamentally authoritative things lose their authority, does that mean there is no authority—or that everything has authority? Nothing is worth anything, or everything is worth something?

There’s another consquence: if art loses its authority, we no longer have to ‘respect’ it. The original isn’t what’s important, what’s important is the exhibition of a reproduction of the original which “meet[s] the beholder or listener in his own particular situation” and “reactivates the object reproduced.” Interpretation may supersede original meaning. Recontextualization may supersede original context. The text stops being a cathedral and becomes a playground. We get Troy and Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet (hilariously referred to as Wiliam Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet).

And there’s another thing to consider: information overload! Meme invasion! Thanks to the Internet and mass media, we have access to a ridiculous amount of information. What do we do with all of it? There’s no way we can process it all. Things are decontexualized. A lot of kids probably think “Revenge is a dish best served cold” really is an old Klingon proverb. What to do?

Remix aesthetic is a response to all this. Mash-ups. The Grey Album. Moulin Rouge. For artists like Luhrmann, everything is worth something, but not for whatever it’s ‘supposed’ to mean. Decontexualization and crises of meaning provide opportunities to play in the text, recontextualize, make new meaning.

Silly rabbit, Trix are for kids!

David Jones (a.k.a. Latin hedonist extraordinaire Johnny Bacardi) on Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill:

Tarantino’s simply making film as collage, passing on the styles he loves- no more, no less. He’s not really aspiring to ART, even though if it happens during the course of the flick that’s just fine with him.

Most certainly! However, I’m not so sure the ‘artistic’ stuff in Kill Bill (the parts that seem to make a ‘statement’) are quite as accidental as David implies. I don’t think Tarantino is aspiring to art, I think he’s aspiring to undermine art. Every scene in which B.B. appears is full of critical commentary on the very revenge flicks Tarantino references incessantly. Bill’s Superman speech is especially perceptive in rejecting exactly the ending which the movie eventually gives us. Superman isn’t really Clark Kent, can’t really be Clark Kent, and Beatrix Kiddo can’t really be Mrs. Tommy Plimpton. Being a Mommy isn’t enough to get you out of the killing life, as Kill Bill so effectively demonstrates in its depiction of the Bride’s bloody revenge—revenge motivated by, how ironical, the loss of her child. Of course, you might aruge that Mommyhood does allow the Bride to escape her killing life, and the reason she goes back to it for her gory revenge is that she has lost her child and thus her ability to escape. But Bill’s argument is that this is a false hope, that maybe Beatrix thinks she can just be a Mommy and a non-assassin civilian, but she’s (ha ha) kidding herself. Besides, her escape into Mommyhood really was only temporary, and ended abruptly when her past arrived to murder her and her new surrogate family in the church. (Besides, being a Mommy redeems you? If that were really the ‘point’ of Kill Bill, what a cloying mess of smarminess it would be!) So the movie seems to go out of its way to point out that Beatrix is kidding herself with this Mommy stuff, but then it comes up with the most cynical possible ending, which is that yay, Beatrix gets to be Mommy and live happily with little B.B.! Tarantino seems to say, “You may think this movie means something, but I’ve made damn sure it doesn’t.”

Which I suppose is part of why I didn’t get a lot out of Kill Bill. I guess I liked it fine, but by the time it’s over Tarantino seems to have flipped right off the deep end of pomo whatever, and I’m not so sure I want to follow him. I much enjoy the collage aesthetic (I usually call it a remix or DJ aesthetic), but I prefer the playful expressiveness of, say, Moulin Rouge to the cynical play of Kill Bill.