Tuesday, July 18, 2017

in cont'd appreciation of the chester brown/dave sim whore feud

This post is part of an ongoing series in heartfelt appreciation of two of comics' most unhinged deviants as they debate the morality of "whoredom." With any luck it will continue for the rest of my life.

Previously, on Whore Feud: Dave Sim's comic Cerebus may or may not have inspired Chester Brown to take his half-mullet off the market and dedicate his entire life to the most poorly articulated defense of prostitution in human history. Chet explained why "misogynists don't necessarily hate women" in "a series of faxed letters" to Dave Sim that I would "literally give my eye teeth to read." In the tragic absence of said faxes, and with the Comics Journal boys continuing to link to this argument as though it were Lincoln-Douglas level debate, it has fallen to me alone to piece together Whore Feud from the crumbs that some lunatic posts to his Dave Sim fandom blog.

Today, my sad journey continues.

CHICAGO, IL: Your girl had another late night recently. Too tired to catch up on Twin Peaks but too keyed up to go to bed, I drew a nice warm bath and settled in with real anticipation to catch up on the latest episode of the Feud. Only it turns out that I've actually missed several episodes recently, so I had to keep on catching up for several days after that. <insert montage of me reading infinite Chester Brown posts on the Dave Sim fandom blog at Five Guys...on the train to a bbq... and one night in bed before I drifted off to sleep, a smile upon my face...> Well, I'm finally caught up. This has been a very compelling season, let me tell you.

As ever, the players are walking abstinence poster Chester Brown; his glorious Himalayan cat hair weave, which he has spent the last 20 years rubbing vigorously with a balloon, for texture; Brown's opponent Dave Sim, one of the greatest minds in comics world's saddest assholes; and me, a spectator who definitely thinks that sex work should be decriminalized, but enjoys watching these ridiculous men argue about it to a perverse degree.

The most exciting development in the Feud is that Chester Brown's Patreon output now includes regular "essays" in which he spends thousands of words responding to commenters on the Dave Sim fandom blog. Perfect. V good use of a Patreon. I didn't see it coming cause frankly this is next-level even for old Chet, but from my perspective it's absolutely ideal since even I will not stoop to read the comments on these posts. Apparently that's where I draw the line.

S1E3: “Dave Sim Again”
On a previous episode of the Feud, Dave Sim proved once and for all that he’s not prejudiced towards prostitutes by sharing a fun fact from his totally normal adolescence: that, from the age of 11, he and his old man shared issues of Playboy magazine. The first step in a life filled with perfectly normal attitudes towards women, I’m sure. We can only imagine Father’s pride when Davey circulated that petition and demanded that his colleagues certify the fact that he’s 100% respectful towards women all the time. Nothing to see here, folks - just a 60-year-old man who routinely refers to sex as “fornication.” The very picture of sexual health.
Well, for some reason, Chester Brown is skeptical. Not that he’s saying that Dave Sim is whorephobic—obviously that’s a bridge too far. No, Chester only wishes to argue that Sim has been affected by society’s whorephobia as it is expressed in books, through music, and on television. “All of that was in the back of [Sim’s] mind and influenced his perception when he looked into the eyes of strippers and imagined that they looked dead.” No idea what he's referring to here?? Nevertheless: Powerful words. Sex workers everywhere must thank the lord above every day for all the brave work that Chester Brown is doing as their ally at davesimwankblog.com.

In Chester’s ongoing probe into the issue of whether or not he and Dave Sim used to be friends, he cites page 163 of The Little Man (2nd ed., 2006). Irrefutable, imo. Man, this storyline is gutting. Gets me every time.

Moving on to the issue of mental health, while Chet isn’t sure how many sex workers have “mental problems,” he “strongly suspects” that most of them are “completely sane.” He finally closes with an unsettling reflection on his willingness to “perform oral” and his gift with massage. Reader, I’m shook.

S1E4: “Body Cameras and Dave Sim”
Dave Sim has recommended that “hookers” wear body cams to settle disputes over abuse and rape, not that rape exists. Indeed, he thinks that all fornicators should wear cams to make it easier for men to prove that women are crazy. Seems reasonable.

Evidently this idea is so ludicrous that even Chester isn’t going to bother to argue against it, lol.

S1E5: “Sex-Work Pride & Related Matters”
Dave Sim has been having “computer problems” and has, for the time being, dropped out of the Feud. Meanwhile Chester can’t help but notice that even the cretins in the Sim wank blog comments section have failed endorsed the body cam idea. He rests his case. Anyway forget Sim; today Chester has bigger fish to fry. He has has discovered a HYPOCRITE in the ranks of the Sim wank blog commenters. Duplicity, thy name is Erick, and this Patreon "essay" is for you.

In all fairness to Chet, Erick the Hypocrite, who believes that sex workers are “paid receptacles for strangers to hump on and ejaculate over,” “satisfy themselves on,” and treat “like a pair of old shoes,” is almost certainly a literal murderer. But I feel like Brown pointing out that ejaculating on a prostitute costs extra, and therefore doesn’t happen very often, was perhaps not the strongest argument that could have been made...? For Erick’s information, Chester “wouldn’t have any problem with a relative of [his] allowing himself-or-herself to be ejaculated on during sexual play, whether for pay or not.” I don’t know, I think the murderer may have actually won this round. Hard to say. That whole exchange almost made me put my computer in the freezer. Thank god I didn’t, because the next thing I knew Chester Brown was straight-up comparing himself to MLK:

I’m screaming. I’m dying. I’M DEAD.

In my wildest dreams I couldn’t have come up with fan fiction this good. Holy shit.

S1E6: “I’m Not Martin Luther King, Jr!”
Chet Brown makes one little tiny modest comparison between himself and two civil rights icons, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Harvey Milk, and for some strange reason people found that objectionable? I can’t imagine why. I'd like to see anyone try to argue that there's a meaningful difference between Chester Brown’s willingness to pay your grandma extra when he ejaculates on her bosom and two heroes who fought and fucking died for their unshakable belief in equality and human rights. *sigh* No one said this fight would be easy, Chester. Hang in there.

Oh my god, this headline. I honestly can’t remember the last time something made me laugh this hard. Then again, by the end of the post I just sort of felt upset? (I guess it wouldn't be the Feud if it didn't leave me feeling a little upset.) I think there are two types of people in this world: those who see Chester Brown as an advocate for sex workers, and those who suspect that his advocacy is rooted in his desire for a world in which he can clip some coupons for the next time he wants to have sex with a minor. 

With Dave Sim still on hiatus, Brown turns his attention to a commenter who foolishly imagined that Brown would object to the idea of a future filled with “store-front brothels” and “lunch-time customers served in 15 minutes or less.” Brown’s like, ‘yeah, no, that’s exactly what I want,’ only he doesn’t think the McDonald’s equivalent of a brothel would really work out, you know, for business reasons. As a cartoonist who draws approximately one sexual comic book every seven years, Chet knows a lot about business. “Who’s going to do the work if it doesn’t pay well?” he asks. And that, I think, is about as close as he will ever come to acknowledging the possibility that some folks who end up doing sex work may not exactly be living their dreams. 

Chester has a question for the commenters for next week! Bit of a cliffhanger, if you will, because I can't wait to hear what the commenters have to say about it. “I would ask the anti-prostitutionists on A-M-O-C to explain why one particular sex-for-pay relationship is morally wrong: the one I have with Denise,” he wrote. (NB: The "anti-prostitutionists on A-M-O-C" is how Brown refers to the Sim wank blog commenters, haha. Denise is the sex worker who Brown has been seeing for 14 years. ) As ever, the only thing that Chester Brown craves more than the opportunity to get 20% off anal is: your approval.

“Deal with my relationship with Denise,” he demands. “What is the morally bad thing that this beautiful, generous, thoughtful woman is doing in having sex with me and accepting my money? … Don’t refer to the experiences of other people—stick to my relationship with Denise.”

I mean...Jesus.

S1E7: “Daniel Read”
Eh, boring episode. Brown persists in his analogy between sex work stuff and people who are gay or black. It’s called logic, and who are we to argue with it?

Chester’s real mad at a commenter called A Fake Name for calling him scummy: 

Something about all that “he or she” business cracks me up. He’s a he, Chet. Trust me. Or is the real greatness of the graf the way he notes the timestamp on those comments like he's writing a police report? I just don't know. Anyway Brown writes that “if someone wrote that black people are pathetic, scummy, and damaged, almost everyone would recognize that person as a racist.” Huh, well, I reckon he might be surprised. This is comics, son. No one is racist! 

(Everyone is racist.)

S1E8: “Reasons for Thinking that Sex-Work Is Wrong”
Brown gives a taxonomy of men who hire sex workers, breaking them down into four broad types. Type I is married or taken men. Type II are guys who are in between relationships. Type III are guys like Chet who could get free sex, but prefer to pay for it. Type IV are guys who have tried to get free sex, but cannot. Perhaps you will not be surprised to learn that most of Chester’s friends are IVs. Indeed he knows two IVs who were “led on” by sex workers who “exploit the vulnerability of some clients.” Mmm. Interesting. He also writes that the desire to have a monogamous relationship is “emotionally insecure” and comes down to “society’s immature sexual values.” He bemoans the fact that so many sex workers must "choose to focus on their careers at the expense of their love-lives" as if this were one of those terrible articles about fraught womanhood that the Atlantic runs every 18 months.

Here’s a quote from a sex worker that Chester uses to support his claim that “sex-work can benefit the mental health of prostitutes”:

Sex work was messy, dirty, weird, confusing, and scary. It took me to places I wasn’t sure I wanted to visit again. But it also scooped me out of abject poverty and enabled me to start living life with joy.

I’m just not sure how you read that quote, as a client or whatever, and think “this is something I feel good about participating in,” much less "here's a powerful testament to how sex work can benefit your mental health." I guess that’s my whole problem with Chester Brown, in that I find him to be a total nightmare creep who also happens to be comically dumb. Like...I’m not at all convinced that assessment has anything to do with the stigma surrounding sex work. I believe in decriminalization and I’m definitely willing to buy that some sex workers are totally satisfied and cool with their work. But, like... the idea of Denise, this Canadian lady who works full time and still has to have relations with Chester Brown in her off hours to make ends meet…and him constantly trotting that out as some unassailably beautiful and egalitarian relationship just strikes me as a bit much. It’s a bit fucking much! In this same post he compares prostitution to scrubbing toilets. Does anything about that strike you?

Ever since his Paying for It days, Brown has conflated condemning sex workers’ choices with condemning his choices and those just aren't the same thing. I'm not here to condemn sex workers' choices for any number of good reasons that literally anyone could except Dave Sim and his cesspool of a fan site could articulate better than Chester Brown, but I feel perfectly comfortable deciding whether or not to condemn a john's choices on a case-by-case basis, thanks a lot.

Anyway, the post after that Chester says he's probably about done arguing about this for the time being. Good, I think we all could use a break. Meanwhile, Dave Sim finally got his computer up and running for one last post, and it's a doozy...

S1 Finale: "On Prostitution and Chester Brown"
I'm speechless. Where to start. Um....man. Okay, well, the word "fornication" appears in this short post ten times. Ten. Times.

Here's what we've got:

  • "the only valid viewpoint on fornication is God's"
  • "If you want to have a female counterpart in your life and have sex with her, and you don't want to experience severe consequences, then it has to be on what [Sim] infer[s] are God's terms"
  • Sim is "intrinsically, soul-deep NOT a husband"
  • which he attributes "at least partly to being the child of a child of fornication" 
  • [some sort of numerological consideration of his birthday, his grandparents, his fornication, and Cerebus] (???)
  • Dave Sim: "I haven't fornicated since 1998"
  • In May 2019 he will finally "have atoned for [his] previous 21 years of fornication and adultery"
  • Dave Sim wishes "everyone, including Chester, the best of luck with their fornication rationales...on Judgment Day"
Well....these people are very sick and today I'm particularly thankful that I don't believe in god, as I would surely end up in hell for making fun of them. Thank you for joining me for another incredible recap of the Chester Brown/Dave Sim Whore Feud.


Sunday, July 9, 2017

another fake conversation

After giving deep thought to what the world needs now, I’ve come to the inevitable conclusion that I should weigh in with another cold take on a stale comics controversy.

I've been thinking about this idea a lot lately: in politics, we have fake news. In comics, we have fake conversations.

This time the “conversation” is about Howard Chaykin. As always, there are two sides, and you gotta hear ’em both.

On one side--my side--we have the Shrill Young Censors. (NB: I am ancient and covered in dust.)

On the other side, we have the Brave Defenders of Free Speech. (This conversation has literally nothing to do with free speech.) (It never does.)

Howard Chaykin has drawn a cover to inform us all of “the horrific wish dream of some 45% of [our] fellow Americans.” Oh wow, okay.

So what does this cover art make me feel?

Is it shock? No. This cover makes me feel tired, not surprised.
Am I offended? No. But this insults my intelligence.
Are my feelings hurt? No. Not that I imagine they have been considered.
Have I learned something? lol
Do I think Chaykin himself wants to castrate(?) and lynch people? No, but I think drawing it makes him feel powerful.
Am I confused? Yes. Isn’t that racial slur British slang? Isn’t this comic set in Future America? Oh shit, Howard, are the Redcoats coming??
Am I upset? Hmm. Yes. This cover is upsetting.

I’ve heard many opinions about this cover circulate amongst the Shrill Youngs, ranging from ‘jesus why’ to a call for Eric Stephenson’s job. I don’t want to speak for anyone, but I think the consensus would be best described as ‘this is bad.’

Like, sooooo bad: technically bad, conceptually shit, aesthetically worthless, etc. No redeeming qualities whatsoever.

What I have not heard anyone say is that white men like Chaykin aren’t allowed to draw…uh…Islamophobic sex lynchings? Probably someone has said that--someone always says something--but it’s hardly the consensus. Yet somehow that seems to be how all objections to the cover have been interpreted, at least by the Brave Defenders. Right? Because somehow the objections of the Shrill Youngs always get reduced to "Art is not allowed to hurt my feelings."

Reader, do you ever spare a thought for who gets labeled as oversensitive? Ridiculous? Shrill?

I've been thinking about this lately: a little comic called Wes Craven’s Crumb. It's from from "Portrait," a comics criticism zine from Simon Hanselmann’s Truth Zone series. 

I think that Hanselmann is mocking a tumblr post that a young female cartoonist wrote in March 2016. 

Simon wants us all to know know what a crock of stupid baby bullshit that all is: 

Full disclosure: he might also be mocking me in this comic? Hard to say. But it's mostly that tumblr.

Admittedly, those last two panels made me laugh.

Like Hanselmann, I found that young cartoonist's post to be misguided. Where he and I differ is that I don't perceive it to come from a place of weakness. Because first of all, she was obviously on to something.

It’s common for reactions to “provocative” comics to be characterized as squeamish, prudish, and shrill. 

I'm generally not a fan of art that gets labeled as provocative, mostly because I think it's bad (as in worthless, not problematic). But also: as a woman who’s spent the better part of my life being “entertained” and “edified” by depictions of sexual violence against my demographic--in comics, on television, and in movies--I have to say it’s a hell of a thing to accept that the worst thing that ever happened to you (or could happen to you) is, for many consumers, the very pinnacle of prestige entertainment.

It’s a hell of a thing to know that artistic portrayals of these experiences mostly just make white men get rich or feel relevant.

Hell of a thing. Hell of a thing to reconcile those depictions with the lack of seriousness with which those crimes are prosecuted in the world. It’ll make you crazy if you let it.

Not that I never find fictional depictions of violence against women entertaining or edifying? You know: sometimes. Entertaining sometimes. Edifying on rare occasions. I’ll never forget watching Dr. Melfi (on The Sopranos) get brutally raped years ago. I watched it with my boyfriend at the time, who argued with me afterward about the artistic merit of the scene. He thought that the brutality felt real, that it helped him understand. He had a point, but that doesn’t mean he was right.

Violence against Muslims, violence against POCs, violence against queer people—I’m not saying it’s the same, but I don’t have to work too hard to empathize, just for instance, with a black person who says they find some depiction of violence in art exploitative, whether it's with regard to Benjamin Marra’s comics or Dana Schutz’s tasteful, disingenuous abstraction of the body of Emmett Till.  

It should go without saying that these depictions aren’t objectionable in the same ways to the same people. How something touches you comes down to any number of variables: circumstances, class, mental health, and how you’re feeling in the moment, among others.

Drawing some horrific act of violence that depicts something you’ve never yourself experienced, something you do not yourself fear, something that will never touch your life—well, that can be many things, among them good or bad, but it can never be brave. Nor is it brave to tell someone else how you find those drawings to be educational. 

It is the opposite of brave to sit around and argue with a straw man.

To try and fail to reconcile these seemingly ubiquitous representations of your pain and fear with your own experience and speak out when you find fault--that’s pretty brave, actually. It’s also brave to portray your experience when you feel there’s a lack of representation of it in the world. I’m sort of amazed that men who championed comics about men whacking off for decades are so appalled by comics about lesbian furries kissing each other respectfully (or whatever the kids are drawing these days). It’s not for me, and maybe it’s not for you, but who cares. Those comics aren’t necessarily about making art that’s safe or easy; they just go back to a rule that’s as old as time: Draw what you know. In that regard, I see a direct line between old school "edgy" autobio and a lot of the images that end up on my twitter these days.

There’s something very basic missing from these conversations. I used to think it was comprehension, but lately I think it’s empathy. The comics I write about, the comics I’m always making fun of—whether it’s R. Crumb or Chris Ware, what I perceive in those cartoonists is an inability to empathize. 

The conversation about any given controversy, Chaykin cover included, is frequently boiled down to a generational divide. That's a mistake.

There's nothing immature about saying that something makes you feel upset. Nor is it anti-art to interrogate whether that feels earned.  

I'm tired of these fake conversations.