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.

No comments:

Post a Comment