Wednesday, August 30, 2017

thanks, jog

I'm old enough to have grown up with a set of hardback encyclopedias, and I'm pretty sure the reverence I had for those gilded volumes through my childhood isn't a feeling that has an analog in the world today. My parents kept them in a lit glass cabinet, if you can even imagine. We weren't a lit glass cabinet-type family, but owning a set of encyclopedias was a whole aspirational lifestyle back then. That dumb cabinet, those fake leather covers--it all seemed to me the height of class and intellectualism through my formative years in rural Tennessee.

As an adult, one of my first freelance jobs was writing an encyclopedia article about bearbaiting, a task for which I was ill-equipped in almost every way. Hundreds of years later, I'm still not sure if the word requires a hyphen. I was plainly a fraud, but more alarming than that was the fact that no one seemed to care. There was no council of learned elders debating the finer points of bearbaiting (or botulism or baccarat) in a castle(?) somewhere out there, as I had vaguely imagined. With sudden clarity I grasped something that truly changed the way I understood the world: A lot of people have no idea what the fuck they're talking about, maybe least of all when they're paid to explain something.

But then there's Joe McCulloch. I'm willing to concede that he knows everything. I bristle when men explain things to me (through their writing, or to me, specifically), comics especially. I rarely care, I'm naturally skeptical, and anyway that's not a mode I particularly respect. But there's a sort of zen to a Joe McCulloch explanation that transcends human ego. His words just float before my eyes, uncanny. Correct. With not infrequent turns of phrase that make me jealous. The din of a million other nimble distractions. I mean, man, sometimes that column made me blue. But it never made me bristle, to my recollection.

Comics has plenty of guys who aspire to be walking encyclopedias, people who haven't quite figured out that there's more to the world than whatever it is they think they know about it. Joe outshines that set easily, in part because the questions he asks of comics can't be answered on a messageboard. His clear-eyed writing--sometimes survey, sometimes history, and sometimes closer to pure criticism--particularly on works I would never think to give the time of day, is always good storytelling and sometimes real art. He offers something without stooping to prove.

Anyway, today's the last day of Joe's long-running column at the Comics Journal. I hope he turns up somewhere else soon. There's a lot of stuff I still don't understand.


Thursday, August 24, 2017

tig notaro on louis ck

Tig Notaro’s putting some heat on Louis CK for all those sexual misconduct rumors. Damn, good on her. I can’t really comment on Notaro's comedy as comedy--haven’t watched her standup or her show--but I saw the better part of that movie about her cancer stuff a while back and I was pretty impressed by her as a person. I talked about this idea of “transgressive” comedy some last year when Patton Oswalt (who I’m not so crazy about) was doing material on grief…I find that very compelling and admirable and, like, risky as art, if not particularly funny. Sometimes I’m not sure what comedy should do. I mean, obviously it should do whatever the fuck it wants, but I wonder if there’s room in my own way of seeing things to call something comedy if it isn’t really funny ha-ha. Check out this headline from US Weekly yesterday.

A few years back I wrote a thing for Noah about why Louis CK will never get Cosby’d. Reread it today and feel it really holds up. Those two situations are different in any number of ways, and Tig Notaro’s comments are substantively, tonally, and contextually different than Hannibal Burress was on Cosby. But the most important area of overlap (or lack thereof) I see is that Cosby, when he finally fell, no longer had much cultural currency. He was working and making money, yeah, but by that point to most people he was more of a memory than a working actor or comic. It’s about relevance more than output. Like, Woody Allen still has relevance as a working artist, and that reckoning isn’t going to come until he finally eats it or gets too old to do real work. By the time someone’s dead or irrelevant it’s just safer to contemplate whatever dissonance there is to deal with because there are no longer any real stakes. It becomes an intellectual exercise. 

I’m tired and not explaining this so well, but more and more I just find myself thinking about ethical consumption and distance and diffusion of responsibility. This is from that HU piece I mentioned: 

I just wonder about how me paying 40 dollars to see Louis CK ten years ago ties, however loosely, to bad things that actually happened to people in the world. I didn't know that stuff then--I don't even know if it had started back then--but I understood something about his attitude towards women. You know? Like the sort of knowingness with which you'd regard a transcript of Bill Burr's Thanksgiving table conversation if it emerged tomorrow. At what point do thoughts become action, and how much of that has to do with being famous for those thoughts? For being celebrated for them? 

Louis CK built his career on masturbation jokes and all that stuff about how his wife never wanted to fuck.

On an entirely separate anxious wavelength: the Louis CK and Cosby conversations both started at Gawker. (Before Hannibal Burress, there was Tom Scocca.) Who has the muscle and the guts to start those conversations now?


Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

an extremely funny chris ware video

I have three words for you: horny Chris Ware.

Political correctness sucks, man. Just imagine a reality in which Ware had been allowed to draw a woman comfortable in her body, who didn’t stand around palpably hating herself before having soft albino misery sex with Chip.

Question: do Chris Ware’s women strike you as characters who have escaped the male gaze?

I find myself thinking about guys like Chester Brown and Robert Crumb, whose female characters are repositories for their desires instead of people in the world. Lust isn’t Ware’s thing, but his women are repositories too—for his anxieties, his milky politics, and his complaints about modernity. I don’t know if there’s a meaningful distinction between these two modes. Not to overstate the case—I don’t think Chris Ware is some huge misogynist—but does he truly imagine these images are, like, respectful representations of women? 

Does it count as “colonizing them with your eyes” if you just sort of squint until you see your giant Dilbert head imposed on their bodies?

In all seriousness I think that artists who worry that reading their critics will somehow compromise their vision or their integrity should make a close study of the sad spectacle that is Ware imagining himself to be brave for Doing Diversity. Here’s the thing: Ware’s fundamentally incapable of imagining a convincing character or even another actual human who isn’t, on some level, Chris Ware. That isn’t because he’s white, or because he’s a man, but because he mistakes all human experience as interchangeable in a way that would only ever occur to white men. In his hands, exploring difference is the project of locating other people’s inner Chris Ware.

The clip is everything. This is Christopher Guest-level mockumentary, but 100% his real life. Just masterfully edited. That first shot, with the helmet. Ware fretting as he eats a perfectly composed salad. Ware riding his tandem bicycle alone through the streets of Oak Park—that one's almost too perfect as a symbol for the central flaw of his often excellent work. How is an artist supposed to grow when he refuses to engage with the world beyond his own idyllic tree-lined streets? Is it appropriate to draw political cartoons when your preferred mode of communication is the postcard?

OTOH: I definitely have an inner Ware. Chris Ware is the only person in the state of Illinois who's more nervous than I am, so I really shouldn't be so mean about his Dilbert head. I honestly wouldn't make fun of it if I didn't know that his fear of the computer means he will never find this site. I bet I grimace at my neighbors all the time. Serving slices from the middle of the pizza, though? His wife is clearly a fucking lunatic. Thanks for serving dinner anyway, Mrs. W. Here at the shallow brigade we have nothing but the greatest respect for your domestic labor.