MIRA DEL MAHER: Bill Maher redoubles his “complaints” against adult comic book fans on a recent episode of his show, Real Time with Bill Maher, in an editorial titled, “Grow Up” (from the “New Rules” segment he does at the end of his show). Andrew and D. examine less the content of his argument and more the ideas it intersects, discussing the need for fandom self-reflection, literature and literary history, the Western canon, and the invented division between “high” and “low” art.
Though linked above, here is the segment in question:
Wikipedia article about one of the earliest examples of this thing called “comics”, The Yellow Kid.
Comics writer, Peter David, responds to the segment:
Cat Valente’s Response to Maher’s comments on Twitter (click on the tweet to read the entire thread):
Last night, Bill Maher went on a rant about comic books & those who love them & the generation (it rhymes with Schmelennials!) that uses words like #adulting & doesn’t want to give up the things they loved as kids or grow up
Well my name is Miss Valente & I got something to say
It’s no surprise by now that I’m a fervent X-Men apologist and proudly so. Such sentiments are only bolstered by their very strange treatment by Marvel over the last eight or so years. Most of my conspiratorial talk is just for fun, but there are some details that eke through and seem just a bit too shady to be mere coincidence. There was the omission of any mutants from the cover of Marvel’s 75th Anniversary magazine, which was given away for free (which Andrew and I discussed early in our show’s history). Since then, they have made Cyclops––the boy scout figurehead of the mutants (ostensibly the Superman of the X-Men)––a terrorist murderer (#cyclopswasright), they have legit killed the most famous mutant character, Wolverine, and now they are having the team nobody really knows about (but they really want people to know about) fight the team they want everyone to forget about in the “Inhumans vs. X-Men” event (but not before they have a prologue event literally called “The Death of X”).
Comicsverse are, admittedly, as apologetic about the X-Men as I am, but they approach this topic with a collectively cooler head. Jack Fisher’s article looks at what he describes as the problem with this fight beyond the obviously corporate undertones that poison the well. He sees this forced skirmish as a severely problematic one based on the origin of these teams and how these continuous “…vs. X-Men” storylines are doing more cultural damage in the long run even if books are being sold. Fisher boils it down beautifully:
Whatever the outcome and whatever the legal undertones, the concept between Inhumans vs. X-Men is flawed. On one side, you have a minority that has been forcibly sterilized twice in the past decade. On the other, you have a team with a tradition of racism, xenophobia, and slavery. It’s not a battle between heroes as much as it is an exercise in contrivance.
I don’t know much about the Inhumans, but it seems that in the cinematic universe they are building them from the ground up. On more than one occasion, it has been noted (especially by co-host Andrew) that they’re just trying to slot them in the empty socket where mutants normally go. But that exacerbates the problem, I would argue.
It’s not as the Den of Geek article linked to in the last paragraph argues that the Inhumans are “the same basic idea, but with the serial numbers filed off.” It’s worse than that. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. Mutants were created to represent the minorities of this country and to dramatize their plight and struggle to accomplish two things: first, it presents these otherwise uncomfortable and possibly unknown issues to the predominantly white readership; second, it gives minorities (be it color, creed, gender, or sexual orientation) a safe place to go in the world of comics. The X series of books is about showing what true prejudice, bias, and hate looks like and having the minority survive.
And what happens?
In 2005, editor-in-chief, Joe Quesada instructs the X-writers to kill off all mutants except for 198. Genocide. Narratively (and creatively), it made sense. Mutants work best when they are a minority. But they were also presented as being the next stage in human evolution. With so many mutants on the planet (by 2005, at least) it seemed that theory was correct––science wins again––until they were forcibly made a minority again. That, of course, was the big event. But the small things, such as the omission from the Marvel 75th Anniversary Magazine cover, killing off fan-favorite characters, pitting C-level characters against them, etc., when piled together that makes a pretty loud squeaky wheel. Holistically, it looks like corporate monkey-wrenching and favoritism and simple catering to what is popular right now. But that isn’t all of it.
When taken in as a whole with the knowledge of what the X-Men actually mean, it looks like the type of thing the scared majority does to keep a minority down, and, in this day and age, it’s rather sickening.
With Halloween behind us, a lot of Lovecraft-focused articles circulated around the internet in celebration of the ghastly day. Mostly well-trod biographies or overviews of his racism, these are valid and important conversations to have as they can add a lot to the knowledge of the casual consumer. Much like the Luke Cage article I shared before, the most interesting article that I saw this last week was a roundtable discussion of Lovecraft and his work by three writers whose works have been influenced by his mythos: Kij Johnson, Cassandra Khaw, and Ruthanna Emrys.
The conversation is important because, despite being short, it digs deeper than a normal roundtable usually goes. The interviewer gets right to the point and discusses Lovecraft’s racism and what his legacy should be in a modern context, and––even better––the writers don’t shy away from giving tough answers.
As a reader of both Lovecraft and Lovecraft criticism, I belong to a few Lovecraftian fan pages on Facebook in the hope that there will be discussion as found in Joel Cunningham’s article. However, on the whole it’s a rather soft engagement with the material. What frustrates, however, is whenever an article that addresses his racism or intolerance starts making its way around the internet, the claws come out and the hate speech––for lack of a better word––fills the subsequent comments. Just as bad is the insistence on apathy in many cases, and that is a tragedy.
To say anything about Lovecraft’s work requires an acknowledgement of his love for the sciences. Like, a capital-L Love. The scientific method is all about asking questions, not picking sides. Science seeks to find how things thread into their place within the context of the universe and to see how that weave is part of a larger puzzle, a puzzle getting larger all the time. Science does not reward partisanship or apathy, it rewards the explorer. The fact that most Lovecraft stories warn people away from the scientific method is because Lovecraft himself was intrigued by the seemingly infinite possibility that science could offer us and then turned it on its ear for dramatic purposes. Why? Because horror stories are fun.
Again, referring to that previous Luke Cage roundtable I previously linked to, this type of conversation that these writers have about Lovecraft are the types of conversations we should be having because they are new and interesting and the ultimate outcome of this discourse is not to decide whether Lovecraft should be banished from modern thought or not––far from it. If we did that, we would be unable to have some interesting conversations. If anything, it would actually more firmly establish his place in the canon as someone worth talking about. Simply brushing off his racism will only keep him from reaching that place where I, most certainly, and most Lovecraft fans feel he should be woven into.
Marvel/Netflix’s Luke Cage has a lot of people talking a mere week and a half after being uploaded to Netflix’s servers, and for good reason. While ostensibly linked to the more popular popcorn faire that is the “superhero genre” of films created by Fox, Sony, Warner Bros., and Marvel over the last sixteen years, Netflix has done more to push the genre forward and upward with its four seasons of shows than has really been done since The Dark Knight. Luke Cage alone has elevated the discourse in our popular culture to the point where the greater populace can not only talk about blackness in America, but it’s getting white America to listen to conversations about blackness in America. The last time a live-action superhero production instigated a larger conversation about deep-seated issues in America was not this summer’s Captain America: Civil War, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, nor X-Men: Apocalypse, but last year’s Jessica Jones––a Marvel/Netflix (Martflix?) show. Like Jessica Jones before it, Luke Cage approaches its issues in a variety of incredibly subtle, as well as not so subtle, ways, but the fact that it’s approaching them at all––and giving these issues narrative prominence––sets it apart from most other entries in the genre.
Perhaps it’s the fact that I’m an English teacher (albeit not one of Literature, but of Composition and Rhetoric), but I noticed right away how many books dominated the show (at least in the front half––I’m not quite done with the season yet as of this writing) and how diverse Cage’s tastes were––in terms of race, sure, but also in terms of genre.
Dr. Tara Betts briefly discusses the books given center stage in the show, but expands that view into a full reading list that addends and complements the show. Some are a bit jokey (the Where’s Waldo? choice), others are referential (picking a Geoffrey Canada book since the writer was referenced by Cottonmouth at one point), and others are thoughtful on a pedagogical level (Acres of Skin, Cutting Along the Color Line), all of which could be used to describe the show itself.
Like I did for the “Worth a Look” about Stranger Things, I’m featuring this article even though I didn’t read it yet because it boldly sports a spoiler warning, and I––wishing to hold onto some aspect of nerd integrity––want to watch the rest of Luke Cage clean.
Evan Narcisse’s article is presented as a dialogue between four writers discussing the major cultural issues as presented and challenged in Luke Cage. In fairness, many articles have been written about this aspect of the show, but this gathering of different points of view on the same subject is an attractive and important approach. Especially as a white dude from the coast of California––and as a teacher––it’s these discussions that I need to find and listen to.