The Paradox of Porn: Notes on Gay Male Sexual Culture

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The Paradox of Porn: Notes on Gay Male Sexual Culture

13 September 2018

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On Being Gay, Different, or Simply Dangerous: Miller’s Line in the Sand

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It’s a god-awful small affair, to the girl with the Mousy hair

-Life on Mars, David Bowie

Coffee

The only thing I wouldn’t trust myself around is someone else’s coffee, not because I have a fear that I would attempt to “seduce” the cup into becoming a homosexual, but just because I have a very real coffee addiction and I would almost certainly drain the entire glass in one sitting.  I do not believe that I have a problem, as coffee addiction demonstrates only that I am a cool and interesting person, and the tragedy of existence is because I’m a queer man some people wouldn’t even bother to learn this fact about me before telling me to go to hell.

On one side note I’m not sure how one would “seduce” a cup of coffee into becoming gay.  What would that look like?  Would the coffee turn into a rainbow?  How would it demonstrate its affection for members of its own sex?  And would it look better in jeans than me.  These are serious questions and I need answers damn it.

But another concern rises, which is that because I am gay, there are some that would be afraid to leave me around their children.  This is not an unfounded accusation as thisOn Being Gay entire essay will focus on Merle Miller’s canonical essay On Being Different: What it Means to be a Homosexual, but I should set up the intro first.  You see working in my job I’m usually stationed either in the Local History Room where I serve a largely adult (typically senior citizen clientele) community, but when I work at the information desk at least a quarter, if not half, of the patrons needing help are children.  They want to know about the 3D printer, they want to know if we have Dog Man or Percy Jackson, they want to compliment my rainbow glasses (more on this later), or else they want headphones for the kid’s computers.  These little interactions are often one of my favorite parts of my job and despite my awkwardness around kids I try to be helpful and informative.  They don’t know that I’m pansexual, that I find men, women, and everyone in-between as sexually attractive; it’s just not even on their radar.  And in this interaction is just doesn’t come up because there’s no reason for it.  There is however, some concern on my part, that if any parents knew about my sexuality they may be concerned that I was attempting to infect their children with the “gay agenda.”

The “gay agenda” of course, was a subplot of COBRA in the G.I. Joe cartoons to sway children to become members of the terrorist organization.  I can prove this by the fact that Cobra Commander spoke in a really sharp lisp and wore boots that accentuated his butt.  Only gay  men, you see, have lisps and wear nice boots.

ShipwreckGungHo-Totally Gay

My regular contester might interject here and say that my concern is unfounded.  We’re living in an information age where acceptance of homosexuality is better than it’s ever been.  Queer people can get married, sign up for the same legal benefits as straight couples, they can even adopt children.  In this kind of age there should be no fear for any queer person to be afraid of being out and open.

To this I can only sigh and respond that, yes, no queer person should be afraid, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t. I'm Gay

Yes there have been incredible advancements over the last few decades for queer people, and because of these advancements I know and trust that will not be terminated from my job, exiled socially by my friends and loved ones, and will not be imprisoned in mental facilities or actual jails for being gay, but at the same time I find myself often in a territory that, while it is not openly hostile, still bears the mentality that there are some things that should not be said outloud.  Being a queer man in East Texas is often akin to being Boo Radley: Gay Seniorsthere’s nothing specifically wrong with you, but most people would just prefer that you stay out of sight.  The fear is, as I began, that you will somehow “seduce” the next generation into being gay and that returns to me Merle Miller’s powerful essay.

One of the most pernicious charges against homosexuals is that the “lifestyle” is something that is seduced into children’s mind.  The image is that of a homosexual hypnotist luring children into the sexuality the way the Child Catcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang lured the children out with twinkle tarts and lollipops.  This isn’t a conversation that has died away much in the time since Merle’s essay, but it should be noted how the charge was leveled towards gay people, even by the people who were supposed to be friends.  In quite possibly the most heart-rending passage in the essay Merle describes two instances of this perception:Gay Parade

The fear of it simply will not go away, though.  A man who was once a friend, maybe my best friend, the survivor of five marriages, the father of nine, not so long ago told me that his eldest son was coming to my house on Saturday: “Now please try not to make a pass at him.”

He laughed.  I guess he meant it as a joke; I didn’t ask.

And a man I’ve known, been acquainted with, et’s say, for twenty-five years, called from the city on a Friday afternoon before getting on the train to come up to my place for the weekend.  He said, “I’ve always leveled with you, Merle, and I’m going to now.  I’ve changed me mind about bringing ———[his sixteen year old son].  I’m sure you understand.”

800px-New_York_Gay_Pride_2011_(2)“I said that no, I didn’t understand.  Perhaps he could explain it to me.

“He said, “———is only an impressionable kid, and while I’ve known you and know you wouldn’t, but suppose you had some friends in, and…”

I suggested that he not come for the weekend.  I have never molested a child my whole life through, never seduced anybody, assuming that word has meaning, and, so far as I know, neither have any of my homosexual friends.  Certainly not in my living room or bedroom.  Moreover, I have known quite a few homosexuals, and I have listened to a great many accounts of how they got that way or think they got that way.  I have never heard anybody say that he(or she) got to be homosexual because of seduction.  (19-20)Merle Miller

This passage is heartbreaking, and I know I should be shocked and appalled after reading it but, people don’t really change all that much.  I often hear friends mystified about the current political and social landscape being shocking for the fact that repugnant statements that were spoken in the sixties and seventies seem to be repeating.  And while I am disgusted by such statements, sentiments, and expressions, I can only shake my head and remember what I said before: people don’t really change.  Miller’s passage here is one that I heard spoken in some varieties and fashions growing up, either by adults or fellow classmates, and reading as much history as I do I’m aware of the fact that being a queer man or woman often meant that one had to suffer.

The argument that homosexuality is an infecting vice that aims at children is as old as humanity itself, and while the treatment of queer people in society is one of constant fluctuation (sometimes we’re in fashion other times we’re in the closet planning out next fashion statement) Miller offers a sentiment that feels terribly accurate:

A fag is a homosexual gentleman who has just left the room.  (19).

two-bottoms-successful-gay-relationship

I’ve been called a faggot before, never to my face fortunately, and as I have embraced my sexuality more and more I’ve felt a greater and greater target attached to my back.  Then again I wear rainbow glasses to work so I suppose that doesn’t help.  Living in East Texas, and in fact, living in a town that has been listed as one of the worst places in Texas to be Queer, there is always this concern that my sexuality will be perceived as a threat.  Working in a public library, I encounter a fair number of children approaching the desk looking for a copy of Dog Man, Drama, Dork Diaries, or whatever Rick Riordan has published this week.  This means talking with kids, interacting with them, and sometimes walking with them to the shelves to find the books.   It’s impossible for people to know that I’m gay without announcing it, but at the same time all it would really take is one person to assume and make a complaint. 

And speaking honestly and plainly, I live in a constant fear that my sexuality could cost me my job.  And this fear causes me to sit on my sexuality a lot, altering aspects of my behavior I normally wouldn’t alter.  The tone of my voice, the way I walk, or even just Jammerhaving a conversation with a coworker when a patron is nearby.  This in turn just fuels an life-long established internalized homophobia and I feel like, well,  a pathetic old closet-case queen.

This honesty isn’t just for the sake of creating pity, it’s keeping in line with something Miller writers about early in his essay:

I have always thought that one of the obligations of a writer is to expose as much of himself as possible, to be as open and honest as he can manage—among other reasons so that his readers can see in what he writes a reflection of themselves, weaknesses and strengths, courage, and cowardice, good and evil.  Isn’t that one of the reasons writing is perhaps the most painful of the arts?  (36).

These essays aren’t always easy to write, mostly because I check my stats daily and I Gay-Guys-Pahing-On-The-Fenceknow very few people read anything other than my early work about Finding Nemo or culture’s obsessions with black penises.  But I live by the notion that I’m a writer and that real writing is about honesty.  I try to always be honest with my reader in these essays and after finishing On Being Different I honestly felt like I was often reading many of my own thoughts. 

I feel different, a lot of the time.  And just as often I find myself trying to conform and “sell” myself off as just another guy, or just another public servant, or just another East Texan instead of the ridiculous East Texas Queen that I am.  My life feels more and more like a battle between cowardice and ambition, conformity and security, virtue and lies.  And while I struggle with this conflict, I feel often that I’m missing the chances to simply be.  Even just saying, or writing really, that I’m a ridiculous queen and a silly fag feels like bold efforts rather than just enjoyable self-declarations.

Being different, isn’t enjoyable.  Or at least it’s not enjoyable the way it was when I was a kid.

Different

Miller offers one more passage that, while it seems a dramatic turn feel accurate for everything this essay has been about.  And if nothing else it’s an excuse to return to the library.  Miller elaborates on his youth and the introduction of sexuality:Gay Librarian 3

Growing up in Marshaltown, I was allowed to take as many books as I wanted from the local library, and I always wanted as many as I could carry, eight of ten at a time.  I read about sensitive boys, odd boys, boys who were lonely and misunderstood, boys who really didn’t care at all that much for baseball, boys who were teased by their classmates, books about all of these, but for years nobody in any of the books I read was ever tortured by the strange fantasies that tore at me every time, […]

And in none of the books I read did anybody feel any compulsion, and compulsion it surely was, to spend so many hours, almost as many as I spent at the library, in or near the Minneapolis & St. Louis railroad station, where odd, frightening thingsGay Parade Madrid 2010 were written on the walls of the men’s room.  And where in those days, there were always boys in their teens and early twenties who were on their way to and from somewhere in fright cars.  Boys who were hungry and jobless and who for a very small amount of money, and sometimes none at all, were available for sex; almost always they were.  They needed the money, and they needed someone to recognize them, to actually see them.  (15).

I’ve spent a lifetime wanting to be different, wanting to be unique, and wanting to be my own person, yet constantly struggling against larger systems, organizations, or collected Jammer 3sentiments.  Whether it was the oppressive environment of attending the most expensive private school in my hometown, whether it was being bullied for being effeminate, whether it was laughed at for being strange, and whether it’s just the perception that I’m seen as some kind of freak by certain members of the community being different feels very much like being invisible.  Or, perhaps more clearly, it feels often like people would prefer I was invisible.

These are perceptions, but these are honest perceptions about my sense of self and so Miller’s On Being Different felt painfully relevant almost 47 years after it was originally published.

Miller’s essay is very much of its time, and several critics have observed that the work is not as significant to our contemporary period.  In an age where gay people can get married, adopt children, purchase property together, enjoy the same kind of insurance benefits as straight couples, and even get a third of the air of air time on Modern Family it would seem that the morose reality of the past would be “over and done with.”  The problem with this perception however is that it’s not a universal reality, and even though this is probably one of the best times be a queer person, there are still a great many of us who are struggling both internally as well as externally.gay-pride

Being different, and being labelled unwillingly as different is a drag because it promises you a lifetime of being an outsider.  And even if one embraces this term, this kind of isolation can inspire paranoia, depression, and sometimes self-loathing.  And for my own part I don’t have an answer to this.  As I said before I live with a fear that at any time someone could take offense to my existence and raise a stink, and my life could be over.

I don’t want to seduce anybody into becoming gay, I would only ever want them to be themselves and be ready to be themselves whenever they were ready.  It took me 26 years to find myself and I’m still figuring things out. 

My fears aren’t going to dissipate or disappear anytime soon, but rather than simply dwell on these negatives I try try try to stay positive, to stay ridiculous, to try on new lipsticks, and to try and figure out how a cup of coffee could be gay.  Like seriously would little arms and legs pop out of the mug?  And if they did what kind of shoes would they wear? 

I can only hope that it wouldn’t look good in pumps because damn it, everybody looks better in pumps than I do, and it’s not fair.

Pavel Patel heels

 

*Writer’s Note*

All quotes cited from On Being Different were quoted from the paperback Penguin Classics Edition.

 

**Writer’s Note**

https://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/merle-miller-and-the-piece-that-launched-a-thousand-it-gets-better-videos

https://www.lambdaliterary.org/reviews/10/21/on-being-different-what-it-means-to-be-homosexual-by-merle-miller/

https://themillions.com/2012/11/the-march-of-progress-is-never-neat-merle-miller-and-on-being-different.html

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t2gbcVaZ448

 

***Writer’s Note***

So I have come to the conclusion that it’s impossible to “seduce” a cup of coffee into becoming gay…HOWEVER, I have found what is, to my mind, the gayest and most accurate coffee mug for myself that I have ever found.  My wife agrees, as when I showed it to her she simply went “Ha, gay.”  Which is usually her way of saying I love you dear.  Whatever the case I have a mug to buy.

I_Love_penis_Mug________300x300

Jammer Talks About: Roger Crowley’s 1453

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helloWell, I’m at it again.  But this time I’m trying something a little different.

My regular reader may recall that I used to actually do YouTube videos where I would talk in front of a camera for about half an hour about certain books (or numerous books as is often the case).  For whatever reason I fell out of the habit, but recently my reinvigorated inerest in history has got me dusting off my Snowball microphone and opeing up the iMovie app on my computer.  The video below stands as my first effort, and hopefully it will be the first of many.

This video tackles the book 1453: The Holy War for Constantinople and the Clash of Islam and the West by Roger Crowley.  I’ve reviewed in written form before, but the book roger crowley 1453simply captivated me and I wanted to share my passion for the work in another format.  The video then is an attempt to understand the fall of the city of Constantinople, as well as to understand how Crowley’s book contextualizes this momunmental event.

Crowley’s effort seems largely to argue that this battle signaled the final end of the ancient world while also signalling the start of modernity for Western civilization.  He also tries, quite successfully I would argue, to show how this battle signalled the rise of Islam as more than just a religion for a few scattered arab tribes in the Middle East.  The rise of Islam became a political, social, and intellectual movement which rivalled the Christianity of Europeans and with the fall of Constaninople the Ottoman Empire ushered in a new order to the world that could not be ignored.

I do hope you enjoy this history-video-podcast-thing (patent pending), or at the very least I hope you enjoy the cute illustrations I’ve done of my fat cat Mortimer who has already asked me if he gets royalties for this.

Thanks for your time, and thanks for watching.

 

Why So Serious?-Christopher Nolan’s Joker

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joker 11

My father can’t watch the movies Seven or The Dark Knight, and yet he never misses an opportunity to ingest every episode of CSI, including that episode where the teenager gets part of her skin chewed off by her friends…Google it.  This mystified my mother, my sister, and I when we found this out because often we have to bear the brunt of my dad’s television viewing habits and that often entails hour upon hour of crime shows in which human beings perform murder after murder, rape after rape, torture after torture and by the end the viewer is offered one more closure on the loss of another human being’s life while being interrupted for five minute intervals so that someone can sell them Viagra, Yogurt, A low-Rate Adjustable Reverse Mortgage, and maybe a Snickers Bar.  I’m not trying to mock my father, I really do love the old man, I just didn’t appreciate the fact that he said that he didn’t like the movie in a snide, pejorative tone, and then watched half the film with us before leaving during the climax scenes.  You’d think a film that involves a man dressed up as a bat ramming straight into a garbage joker 4truck would appeal to him, but, alas, such is life.

I can’t say for sure, but I think the reason my dad didn’t enjoy The Dark Knight was for the same reason I love the movie: The Joker.

To be honest, I don’t really give much of a damn about the character of Batman.  While I have some friends who worship the character as a god and have every individual issue of the comics memorized, I’ve approached Batman the way I’ve approached Fried Chicken.  In small doses, it can exactly the sort of thing I want to ingest, but when consumed in large quantities after a while it can become fattening and give me heartburn.  I love the possibilities of the character and the universe the character offers, but too often the culture of Batman, more specifically the fan-boy-gate-keeper culture of Batman can kill my passion before I’m even past the first page.nicholson joker

Fortunately, I discovered the character at the right point of my life: when I was a kid and found my parents VHS copy of Tim Burton’s Batman.  Even as a kid I absolutely loved Jack Nicholson’s Joker going to the trouble to memorize every line he had in the movie, and today even without having it playing I can recite entire passages of the film from memory.  And, for the record, I’m still the only one who realized that Jack said, “I’m of a mind to make some mooky.”  I had no idea what that actually meant, but it was really really fun to say when I was eight.

Along with Tim Burton’s now canonical masterpiece (not to mention one of the last truly great films the man’s directed), I was also brought up on Batman: The Animated Series.  While nostalgia has unfortunately dominated society at large, there are JokerMHBTAStimes when one can honestly look back at an animated television program and admit that what they spent every Saturday watching was a truly great show and not just an excuse to veg-out on the couch and inhale toy commercials and breakfast cereal.  The show was brilliant and beautifully animated, but most importantly it had The Joker played by Luke “Mutherfucking” Skywalker, a.k.a. Mark Hamill.  Hamill’s performance is still one of the standards of the Batman universe and it doesn’t hurt that he kept doing the part alongside Kevin Conroy in every subsequent Batman game.

These two experiences of the character seemed to define my idea of what the Joker and could be, and so as the Dark Knight came out, and I like many young fanboys were left mystified that the “gay cowboy actor” could be cast in the role I was terrified about what the new Batman film would do to a character that, at the time, I loved.

Heath Ledger’s Joker changed everything.  And that’s not just an empty statement.

joker 11

Watching The Dark Knight Again I was able to really observe how, in retrospect, the performance was truly paradigm altering in terms of what a villain could be in a film.  And I don’t mean to Bally about with hyperbole but I do truly believe that The Joker has permanently altered what a villain can and should be to a post-9/11 audience.  One scene, in particular, stands out to me, and it’s the torture recording.

The Joker: [the Joker has Brain Douglas captured and is recording him] Tell them your name.

Brian: Brian… Douglas.

The Joker: Are you the real Batman?

Brian: No.joker i like this job

The Joker: No?

Brian: No.

The Joker: No? Then why do you dress up like him?

[grabs Brian’s mask and dangles it in front of the camera]

The Joker: whooo-hoo-hoo-hoo!

Brian: Because he’s a symbol that we don’t have to be afraid of scum like you.

The Joker: Oh you do, Brian. You really do. Yeah. Oh shh, shh, shh, shh, shh. So, you think Batman’s made Gotham a better place? Hmm? Look at me. LOOK AT ME!

[turns camera to himself]joker hit me 2

The Joker: You see? This is how crazy Batman’s made Gotham! You want order in Gotham? Batman must take off his mask and turn himself in. Oh, and every day he doesn’t, people will die. Starting tonight. I’m a man of my word.

[laughs]

While I’m not a fan of posting videos in my essays, sometimes the delivery is far more important than the actual lines themselves:

The scene is impossible to forget, and I like many people remember it not because the laughter was genuinely disturbing, but because what immediately followed was a long silent shot of Bruce Wayne’s penthouse and the movie theater being completely silent. For once in the history of obnoxious people talking during the movie, nobody had anything to say.  It became clear at that moment that Batman movies were no longer about Bat-Shark Repellent and dancing the Bat-Tootsie.

bat tootsie

Heath Ledger’s Joker was not like anything that had come down the pike of the action movie franchise, let alone the superhero franchises as they existed in the Pre-Marvel blossoming.  Superhero movies had to be defined by a charm and feeling of positivity. I'm a man of my wordEven at their darkest, there was an understanding that certain levels of violence or psychosis just weren’t going to be explored.  And note, I’m writing principally about movies rather than the comics which always had elements in them that could be severely shocking or depressing or legitimately disturbing.  It’s just that the Joker that Heath Ledger was playing didn’t feel like anything I had ever seen before in a major motion picture.

It feels ridiculous now to write this honesty on the internet given the fact that Ledger’s Joker has become a freaking meme and a staple at comic con instead of a legitimately frightening terrorist dressed up as a clown.  Time has a tendency to lessen trauma and fear, and looking at the character again the use of the word terrorist doesn’t feel too bold.  Apart from the fact that the characters in the film regularly refer to The Joker as You Complete Mesuch, it’s important to remember that The Dark Knight was riding the wave of the Post-9/11 sentiment that was redefining villainy in art.  No longer were characters hyperbolic stand-ins for communists that were larger metaphors for the villainy of foreign nations.  The Joker was just nobody.

Mayor: [regarding The Joker that’s sitting a holding cell] What’d we got?

Lt. James Gordon: Nothing. No matches on prints, DNA, dental. Clothing is custom, no labels. Nothing in his pockets but knives and lint. No name, no other alias.

It didn’t seem real in 2008 that some random individual could cause such chaos and misery, but then it was easy to remember that some random individual in the Middle East, as far as the United States was concerned, was able to fund and mastermind the death of close to 3000 people.  It’s easy today to understand that any random person could walk into a school and shoot and kill children.  It’s easy to recognize that some random person could walk into a church during a bible study and kill people.  It’s easy to recognize that a lunatic could walk into a movie theater, call himself the Joker, and shoot the place up.  It’s easy to think this because that’s the world we’re living in, and so in many ways, The Dark Knight managed to capture the Zeitgeist before the culture was even aware.

I'm not a Monster

I don’t want my review to be only that The Joker changed things for filmmakers and the landscape of cinema period, because I’m positive that somebody’s probably already written that essay and done a better job than I could have.  For me watching The Dark Knight again I was struck by how incredible the film was in terms of its direction, but then also because Heath Ledger’s performance really was incredible and I recognized how much it had mattered to me.  I’ve written before about my fascination with anti-heroes when I was young, and  I like many young men became obsessed with the Joker when the movie came out because he became, all at once, the defining anti-hero of my generation.joker clapping

There was powerful darkness to The Joker that just couldn’t be denied and part of that was his now iconic stories about his scars.  The first scene remains the most powerful because of a single line:

Gambol’s Bodyguard: Yo, Gambol, there’s somebody here for you. They say they just killed the Joker.

Gambol’s Bodyguard: They brought the body.

[a body bag is brought in and dropped on the table; Gambol unzips it, revealing Joker’s face]

Gambol: So. For dead, that’s 500…joker 6

The Joker: [sitting up and sticking a blade in Gambol’s mouth] How ’bout alive?

[Joker’s men hold the bodyguards]

The Joker: You wanna know how I got these scars? My father, was a drinker, and a fiend. And one night, he goes off crazier than usual. Mommy gets the kitchen knife to defend herself. He doesn’t like that. Not. One. Bit. So, me watching, he takes the knife to her, laughing while he does it. He turns to me and says, “Why so serious?” Comes at me with the knife. “WHY SO SERIOUS?” He sticks the blade in my mouth… “Let’s put a smile on that face.” And…

[glancing at thug]Minolta DSC

The Joker: Why so serious?

[kills Gambol]

This scene was disturbing enough largely because the final action wasn’t actually shown, we only saw a reaction to the violence, but that in itself was effective enough.  What became more frightening, as the film went on, is how this changed in a later scene.  Rachael Dawes, Bruce Wayne’s former girlfriend, confronts the Joker at a party and he more or less attacks her while repeating the story, yet something’s changed:

The Joker: Well, hello, beautiful. You must be Harvey’s squeeze. And you *are* beautiful.

[he walks around her]

The Joker: Oh, you look nervous. Is it the scars? You want to know how I got ’em?

[He grabs Rachel’s head and positions the knife by her mouth]joker 12

The Joker: Come here. Hey! Look at me. So I had a wife. She was beautiful, like you. Who tells me I worry too much. Who tells me I ought to smile more. Who gambles and gets in deep with the sharks. One day, they carve her face. And we have no money for surgeries. She can’t take it. I just want to see her smile again. I just want her to know that I don’t care about the scars. So… I stick a razor in my mouth and do this…

[the Joker mimics slicing his mouth open with his tongue]

The Joker: …to myself. And you know what? She can’t stand the sight of me! She leaves. Now I see the funny side. Now I’m always smiling!joker 13

[Rachel knees the Joker in the groin; he merely laughs it off]

The Joker: A little fight in you. I like that.

As usual, my mother summed up what was scary about the Joker so beautifully the first time I showed it to her.  After the film had ended and we talked about it for close to an hour or more, she seemed to summarize the entire film when she observed, “Whatever has happened to The Joker is so horrible to even he can’t clearly remember what it was.”  It was a beautiful thought and I really, REALLY wish I had been the one to have it.

This observation though is probably what appealed to me about the Joker.  Watching thejoker 9 movie over and over again I would memorize his lines because there was something about that darkness that appealed to me.  I was young, depressed, not sure of who I was, frustrated by my seemingly perpetual virginity, and so looking at this character who just seemed so himself, there was some darkness of willpower that I either admired or else was simply fascinated by.

And perhaps one exchange in the film between Bruce Wayne and Alfred offers the clearest sentiment, which itself has become something of a cultural meme.  After the party, Bruce and Alfred are attempting to determine the identity of the Joker and while they are discussing his motivations Alfred offers Bruce, and the audience, a lesson about humanity at large:

Bruce Wayne: [while in the underground bat cave] Targeting me won’t get their money back. I knew the mob wouldn’t go down without a fight, but this is different. They crossed the line.

Alfred Pennyworth: You crossed the line first, sir. You squeezed them, you hammered them to the point of desperation. And in their desperation, they turned to a man they didn’t fully understand.joker 14

Bruce Wayne: Criminals aren’t complicated, Alfred. Just have to figure out what he’s after.

Alfred Pennyworth: With respect Master Wayne, perhaps this is a man that *you* don’t fully understand, either. A long time ago, I was in Burma. My friends and I were working for the local government. They were trying to buy the loyalty of tribal leaders by bribing them with precious stones. But their caravans were being raided in a forest north of Rangoon by a bandit. So, we went looking for the stones. But in six months, we never met anybody who traded with him. One day, I saw a child playing with a ruby the size of a tangerine. The bandit had been throwing them away.

Bruce Wayne: So why steal them?joker 1

Alfred Pennyworth: Well, because he thought it was good sport. Because some men aren’t looking for anything logical, like money. They can’t be bought, bullied, reasoned, or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn.

This final line, much like the “Why so Serious,” is one that has entered the larger culture and can at times seem kitsch or cliche, but as I’m fond of writing cliches are cliches for a reason.  The Joker is a character defined simply by his desire for chaos and anarchy, and his sheer force of will.  Rather than try to contribute to society and make his life something that contributes positively to his community and culture, he finds far more amusement in breaking it all down.

One of the more annoying aspects of youth is its frustration with its own inexperience, and I’m not trying to talk down to teenagers, joker 2I’m trying to talk down to my former self.  But only slightly.  Being a young man I resented adults who seemed stable and comfortable and it didn’t make any sense that they seemed to have all the answers and all the power with what to do with my life, and so I, like many young men, gravitated to anti-hero because they provided me with some form of agency.  The only difference between me and the rest of my friends was that, while they bought rap CDs and played sports, I listened to heavy metal and bought a “Why So Serious Poster.”  The Joker became an icon to me not because I thought he was cool, but because he seemed to embody this idea of anti-authority which was exactly what I needed at that point in my life.

And watching the movie again I still absolutely loved The Joker, but not for the same reasons.  I loved him, this time around, because I realized how much he defined the villain of my culture and society.  No matter how many obnoxious libertarians, joker 3conservatives, and liberals turned The Joker into a meme about whatever-the-fuck-wh-the-fuck-cares, watching him getting beat up by Batman and still cackling was still legitimately frightening.  Watching him throw a lit cigar on a giant pile of money and kill Lau (Yeah don’t forget that shit, there was a living dude on that giant pile of money), and watching him kill a man with a pencil was still a reminder that this character had not only played a major impact on my life, but upon the lives of movie-goers the world over.

The Dark Knight is arguably one of the finest films made in the last two decades, not solely because of the Joker, but Ledger’s performance did permanently alter the zeitgeist in ways that are still apparent.  The Joker became part of the wider conversation about what is evil in our society and how can we recognize it?joker 7

The figure and face of atrocity is no longer a great body of a nation threatening nuclear war against one nation or another.  In our Information Age evil is a single man walking into a classroom and brandishing an automatic rifle.  It’s not a threat that is clean, or one that follows a real guiding philosophy or methodology and so fighting such an evil implies new moral questions about what can be done to stop such monsters.

It doesn’t seem like it should, but The Dark Knight is a film which always entertains and always leaves me wanting for more.  It explored and introduced me to a character that altered my perception of what true wickedness and evil could be, but it also gave me a chance to be yet another in a long line of douchebags at the party who only thinks he can do a great Heath Ledger impression.  And in the end, does that not somehow make me even more of the monster?

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*Writer’s Note*

 

**Writer’s Note**

While looking for a few reviews and examinations of The Dark Knight, I stumbled upon this video which I think is pretty great analysis of the character and his effect not only upon the other characters of the film, but also how this could impact the viewer as well.  Please enjoy.

Canon-Fire in 1453, and the Obnoxious Quality of Janissaries in Assassin’s Creed

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There are, really, two facts in life.  The first is that one’s personal integrity should always be maintained in the face of exterior pressure and outside influences.  And the second is that without a doubt the most obnoxious fighters in the Assassin’s Creed franchise are the Janissaries. 

Seriously, like these guys are awful. janisarries-ac

You’re always fighting four dudes at once, and they always manage to block your attacks and receive no damage, meanwhile while some punk dagger-guard grabs you from behind the Jannisary always takes a step back and retrieves his pistol and before you can shake them off he shoots you and you don’t just lose one health square, you lose like eight, and of course you haven’t healed because you’re lost in the heat of the moment and so you die right there and you have to start ALL the way back at the entrance of the Hagia Sophia, and it was one of those obnoxious fuck-for-fuck stalking missions and at roger crowley 1453that point you just have to rage quit and drown your sorrows in coffee and Oreos.

None of which explains why I began Roger Crowley’s book 1453: the Holy War for Constantinople and the Clash of Islam and the West.  Well, it might explain it a little.

I am a man of many moods, my emotions contain multitudes, and this, in turn, can create some lasting conflict with my day-to-day goals vs. long-term ambitions (one day I WILL control the Balkans, and on that day all of France will tremble, tremble I say).  But while I make plans for bloody conquest and/or senility in a retirement home, I’ve been trying to focus more on the present and what I can make that time into.  As of this writing, most of my efforts are spent cataloging books for the Library, specifically the Local History room and while I spend my days learning the difference between a publication field number and a contents field number, I’m usually plugged into history vlogs and podcasts on Youtube: specifically Overly Sarcastic Productions and Shadiversity.

I cannot begin to convey how much I adore both of these channels, and how much overly sarcastic productionshappiness they have brought me.  Whether it’s learning about the manufacture and use of the Katana on Shadiversity or listening for the fourth time the four-part Venice series (that’s four times four, that’s like, 16 Deadpool references) this constant exposure to history has rekindled my passion for History as a subject and so I’ve turned back to several of the dusty history books on my shelves which I’ve been putting off for too long, one of which happened to be Crowley’s 1453.  I picked this book up again shortly after Blue released the Ottoman Empire video.

Crowley’s 1453 covers the siege of the city of Constantinople by Mehmet II, the then emperor of the Ottoman Empire, and tries to understand how this particular battle represented not just the beginning of a new modern period, but also the death of the ancient world and one of the most decisive conflicts between the religion of Christianityconquest_of_constantinople,_zonaro and Islam.  Needless to say, this book has a lot to accomplish in its mere 260 pages, and I have a lot to accomplish in trying to write a significant review of it.  The first part is to clarify something so my reader has reasonable expectations going forward.

History is part of the humanities and so it’s important to note one’s biases up front so the reader can have a balanced expectation or your argument: I am an atheist, and I’m not fond of religion as an institution or as a practical working philosophy.  Still, despite the fact that I don’t like religion I cannot deny that it is a fundamental part of the history of humanity and trying to ignore it influences is like trying to avoid the fact that I only thought I could dance in high school, it would just be embarrassing.  The second caveat I had to provide is the fact that I am not a historian, I am a history enthusiast.  I love history, I love Jammer 1reading history, I love listening to podcasts about history, I love talking to historians and other history enthusiasts about history, but I cannot say that I am an authority on the subject.  This is important because as much as I would love to say I am an authority, making such a claim would be not only dubious, it would disrespectful to actual historians who have worked towards the degree as well as contributing substantial research to the field.  Historians are amazing people who perform a vital function in our society and so it’s important to give them the respect that they’ve earned and deserve and not to take credit for their work as pass it off as your own.

All right, with this boyscout bullshit out of the way, I can continue.  And before you ask, yes I was a boy scout, I made it to Tenderfoot thank you very much.

Crowley’s book tackles not just the actual siege of Constantinople, which btw is todayconstantinople map known as Istanbul in case you didn’t know, but the larger conflict that Constantinople represented which was, largely, the clash between Islam and Christianity.  Since Constantinople had been changed from its origin of Byzantium (I know the names get confusing, just listen to this song and you’ll get the whole story) the city had come to represent a bastion of Christian resolve in the face of the overwhelming political and military might of the new religion.  As the Muslim empires attempted again and again to attack the city Constantinople remained seemingly impenetrable and Crowley offers a keen insight into it:

Byzantium has proved the most obdurate of enemies, and Constantinople itself remains for Muslims both a scar and a source of deep longing.  Many martyrs had perished at its walls, including the Prophet’s standard-bearer Ayyub in 669.  Their deaths designated the city as a holy place for Islam and imparted a messianic significance to the project for its capture.  The sieges left a rich legacy of myth and folklore that was handed down the centuries.  It included among the Hadith, the greek firebody of sayings attributed to Muhammad, prophecies that foretold a cycle of defeat, death, and final victory for the warriors of the faith: […].  It was to be a long-range struggle.  (15).

Crowley begins 1453 by observing that, to many Muslims, Constantinople was known as the Red Apple (immediately making me wonder whether or not Wes Anderson used that for his Grand Budapest Hotel painting bit, but that’s for another essay).  As the previous passage explains well the city was a seen as a kind of jewel, an opportunity to achieve greatness not only for the actual political and economic benefits the city would bring; Constantinople was a chance to prove the might of Islam.  What’s fantastic about Crowley’s book is the way he uses this clash against religion to great effect.sack of constantinople

Reading about the state of Constantinople the city was, not in ruins, but clearly, a dying institution as most of the city had never really recovered after the looting which occurred in 1204 during the Fourth Crusade, and many civilians were held by deep superstitions and millenarian sentiments.  Millenarian for the record is a philosophy in which the world is coming to an end.  Constantine XI, the then monarch of the city, as Crowley writes him, is the last of a long line of kings who saw themselves as the actual Roman Emperors, and so the rising threat of Ottoman Expansion was not just a military threat, it was also a psychological one.

And speaking of fun psychological threats one of the most incredible passages in the book describes Orban gun.  The Ottomans were impressive warriors and one of the first empires to really employ gun-powder as an effective military weapon, their cannons being the stuff of nightmares to the Europeans.  When Mehmet II made to sack Constantinople, he hired the best cannon maker in the empire and Orban, to his credit and lasting legacy, did not disappoint.  Crowley describes the monstrous weapon that brought even Constantinople’s walls to its knees:ottoman supergun

They[Ottomans] fired stone balls that ranged from 200 pounds up to a colossal 1500 pounds, in the case of Orban’s monster gun.  […]. Mehmet probably had about sixty-nine cannons in total, a huge artillery force by the standards of the day, that were supported at various points by other, more antique technologies for hurling stones, such as the trebuchet, a counterweighted traction catapult.  The trebuchet had been enormously influential in the Muslim capture of crusader castles three hundred years earlier.  Now it looks merely like a device from another age.  (112).

Now the teenage boy who played Stronghold Crusader literally almost every day after high school (that is when I wasn’t watching Lord of the Rings over and over again) would love to go in depth into the fun military history that is the use of the trebuchet, but my reader is used to more personal analysis than this and besides there’s always YouTube.  Crowley’s point with the cannons is to provide some explanation as to how the siege took place, but he’s also really great at showing that the use of such a colossal gun wasn’t just for military purposes, it also had a real effect upon the sieged peoples:ottoman gun

The psychological effects of artillery bombardment on the defenders were initially even more severe than its material consequences.  The noise and vibration of the massed guns, the clouds of smoke, the shattering impact of stone on stone dismayed seasoned defenders.  To the civilian population, it was a glimpse of the coming apocalypse and a retribution for sin.  It sounded, according to one Ottoman chronicler, “like the awful resurrection blast.”  People ran out of their houses beating their chests, crossing themselves and shouting, “Kyrie Eleison!  What is going to happen now?”  Women fainted in the streets.  The churches were thronged with people “voicing petitions and prayers, wailing and exclaiming: ‘Lord, Lord! We moved far away from You.  All that fell upon us and Your Holy City was constantinoxiaccomplished through righteous and true judgments for our sins.”  (115).

I suppose though at this point I have to address my regular contester.  So what?  What does this matter to me?  This battle took place over 565 years ago, and the Ottoman Empire disbanded following World War I.  Not only is this not relevant to me today, but it also shouldn’t be relevant to anybody period.  People should be far more concerned about things like ISIS, and whether or not people use the word irregardless synonymously with regardless.

As always my contester is a buzz-kill, and only half right: people who use the word irregardless are monsters, but according to the OED, they are simply using a non-standard form of a perfectly normal word.  There’s only so much you can do for people.  As for the lasting relevance of 1453 as a relevant document, I’m afraid they’ve missed the point.  Again, as I stated before, I simply wanted to write about this book because I am a history enthusiast and wanted to write about how great I thought the book was.  But at the same time, at least in my experience, the best historians and historical writers manage to craft some sort of relevant moral or intellectual lesson through a historical narrative.gentile_bellini_mehmet

History is the study of humanity, the trends that govern human behavior in terms of politics, economics, warfare, culture, and philosophy and how they can change (or as is often the case not change) over time.  Looking at 1453 what became terribly relevant to the text was how Crowley observed the battle of Constantinople was not just some random accident, there were a series of political, social, and religious events which created a slow decline of the Byzantine empire and the rise of the Ottoman empire.  The fact of the matter is that civilizations change, whether it be because of technological developments, cultural ideologies, or new ideas of governmental action. The Byzantine empire attempted and failed to expand their territory, or consolidate their power in a manful way, and after the capital was sacked by Crusaders in 1204, it was impossible to come back in a significant way.  Crowley tries to show his reader that the Ottoman Empire, and by extension Islam, succeeded in becoming a significant new power because they embraced new technologies and possessed a spirit to succeed that the Byzantines just couldn’t match.zonaro_gatesofconst

And while the immediate relevance may not be terribly clear, this is a lesson that recurs throughout history.  The key to success is not by hiding behind walls and past glories, it’s by pushing forward, developing new innovation, rallying people with a powerful and functional ideology, and remembering that Mehmet II was a badass, bisexual conqueror who could not be denied his glory.

And as for the city of Constantinople, it suffered unimaginable ruin.  I could probably continue all day citing passage after passage of this incredible book, but that would just become pedantic and besides I have a stack of books about the Ottoman Empire I need to read and so I can always return for reference. 

I suppose in the final summation I can only say that I adored Crowley’s book because every page was like listening to a dynamic and charismatic story-teller.  Whether it was Constantine XI making patrols around the walls, Mehmet II literally taking apart his navy and dragging it upriver to surprise his enemy, or the endless descriptions of the people of Constantinople who saw their way of life being destroyed, I couldn’t stop reading this book.  And like any great storyteller, Crowley leaves his reader with a haunting passage that I can’t help but end on:dardanelles_gun_turkish_bronze_15c

There is one other powerful protagonist of the spring of 1453 still to be discovered within the modern city—the cannon themselves.  They lie scattered across Istanbul, snoozing beside walls and in museum courtyards—primitive hooped tubes largely unaffected by five hundred years of weather—sometimes accompanied by the perfectly spherical granite or marble balls that they fired.  Of Orban’s supergun there is now no trace—it was probably melted down in the Ottoman gun foundry at Tophane, followed sometime lakusatma_zonaroter by the giant equestrian statue of Justinian.  Mehmet took the statue down on the advice of his astrologers, but it appears to have lain in the square for a long time before finally being hauled off to the smelting house.  The French scholar Piere Gilles saw some portions of the leg of Justinian, which exceeded my height, and his nose, which was over nine inches long.  I dared not publicly measure the horse’s legs and the on the ground but privately measured one of the hoofs and found it to be nine inches in height.”  It was a last glimpse of the great emperor—and of the outsize grandeur of Byzantium—before the furnace consumed them.  (259-60).

There was an idea and a vision that was Rome, or so the movies and pulp fiction romances tell me.  And it’s both chilling and deeply fascinating to observe that the last lingering glory of that vision became yet another in a long line of really bad Ozymandias rip-offs.  Although I suppose at least this rip-off would give humanity the pistols of Janissaries that kill you in an arguably underrated Assassin’s Creed video game, while Ridley Scott’s just gave us Alien Covenant. 

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There are greater tragedies I suppose, but it still hurts damn it.

 

 

 

*Writer’s Note*

All quotes cited from 1453: : The Holy War for Constantinople and the Clash of Islam and the West were quoted from the paperback Hyperion edition.

Oh Joy Sex Toy, Vol.1

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Oh Joy Sex Toy, Vol.1

31 July 2018

My Saga of Saga: A Science Fiction Masterpiece about Breast-Feeding in Public and Being Born a Crime

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The only other woman I had ever seen breastfeeding was my mother.  I remember stumbling in on her feeding my little sister a month or two after she was born and then promptly shutting the door and going back to the living room to watch Swat Cats.  This time it wasn’t my mother needlessly hiding herself away in her bedroom (though she might have just needed to be somewhere quiet and my near-constant Swat Cats Breast_anatomy_normal_schememarathon probably wasn’t what she needed) but was in fact a member of the graphic novel book club I’m a part of.  The woman was unforgettable with her purple hair and Nightmare on Elm Street t-shirt, but what struck me was, while I was delivering my usual lecture, this time on the graphic novel Saga, she actually lifted up her baby, opened her shirt, and held her child up to her breast.  I had never seen anyone breast-feed in public before, and seeing it sitting right next to me, I wasn’t entirely sure why anyone would ever have a problem with- it.  The kid was hungry and it wasn’t affecting me personally, so I carried on explaining why I thought Saga, which was also decorated with a breast-feeding mother, just wasn’t an interesting book.

My attitudes towards breast-feeding in public remain the same, let mothers feed their children damn it, but I’ve softened towards Saga.81+Sf+bNqUL

There was a woman who used to work at the library who I considered a close friend, and that’s why it hit me pretty hard when she announced that she was leaving the library for one in Dallas.  I understood that her reasons were a combination of desire for better pay as well as to be closer to her boyfriend, but I have trouble finding people who seem to like me so I was pretty bummed.  The only real sort of solace I had in the whole thing was that, because she was leaving, that meant that I would be the only person in the library who really knew the graphic novel section, and so, once my supervisors approved, I became the one responsible for shelving the graphic novels.  This task is one that, to say I’ve warmed up to it is putting it mildly, I fucking love it.  Pushing my green cart to the second floor I take a good 15 minutes a day just to rearrange the shelves, prop up new books for patrons passing through the area, arranging the tipped over or worn books up to their proper place, and while I am shelving I almost always find a fantastic book I want to read.  One of them was Saga and, while I admit a moment ago I didn’t find the book terribly wonderful the first time I read it, looking at Marko and Alana on the cover there was the same impulse there always is, a little kid who read Calvin & Hobbes over and over and over again saying, “Check it out, you got a library card!”

I grabbed the first two volumes on my way back down to help a woman send a fax.Saga_Ghus

There’s too much of Saga to try and tackle all of it in just one essay, and I’m not even looking at just the first volume.  While I’m writing this I’m currently on Volume six, and I’m positive by the time I finish this essay I’ll probably be at the last volume, (it’s up to eight right now) and become one of the I’m sure millions currently devouring this book every time it hits the shelves.  I’ve also finished all of Sex Criminals so if I start appearing peaked it’s because I’ll be sucking comic-book writer’s dicks for new issues.  My other real challenge is the fact that Saga is beloved, or, put it another way, Saga is the comic book that people who hate comics read.  Being friends with the owner of Ground Zero Comics (though I suppose I’m being charitable he may not consider me a friend at all and now I look foolish) he’s often talking about his patrons who come in trying to their wives, girlfriends, etc. into comics, and while the first option is almost always Sandman Vol 2 The Doll’s House, Saga is the series he almost always cites as the second option.

It’s not hard to see why, given the fact that the series is written as one long emotional melodrama, and I don’t mean that pejoratively.  Rather than superhero comics which are often defined by physical gods fighting the forces of evil in tight outfits and experiencing their own sort of melodramas (nobody ever really dies and there’s always a brother Fiona Stapleswho’s supposed to be dead but who turns out to actually be alive or a clone or some shit), Saga is drama about family centered in race, specifically race mixing.  Alana and Marko are people from different cultures, different races which are war with one another.  Marko is from Wreath, the only moon of the planet Landfall the homeward of Alana.  Marko’s people practice magic, whereas Alana’s people tend to gravitate more towards science and technology.  Because war, meaning total destruction of each other’s planets, could potentially destabilize the orbits of their worlds the cultures have moved their war to other planets thus involving a wide variety of peoples in this conflict and creating universal destabilization.  Marko becomes a prisoner of Landfall’s coalition where he meets and falls in love with Alana.  And because people in love have a tendency to fuck, Alana becomes pregnant which is where the series actually begins. 

The first page is memorable for a variety of reasons:

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Allright, in all fairness, there’s really just one reason why this page is so striking: too many people forget that when babies are born they aren’t born with any original bacteria in their intestines to help with digestion.  Because of this humans evolved so that it was common for a pregnant woman to void her bowels during labor so that the bacteria in her feces would introduce bacteria into the baby’s body.  Now breast-milk is also a common way for mothers to transfer this bacteria, thus offering me another opportunity to remind my reader that breast-feeding is more important than your Saga 2discomfort, but it should be noted that pregnant women also tend to poop because, well, shit’s happening.

But that first line, carefully outlining Alana’s reddened face is an important one because Brian K. Vaughn frames the narrative of Saga as first person narration in the veing of  Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. Saga is the story of a woman named Hazel who is the product of an interracial union narrating her life story to her audience.  She introduces herself, not as a person, not as an individual ego, but more of an idea.

This is how an idea becomes real.  But ideas are fragile things.  Most don’t live long outside at the ether from which they were pulled, kicking and screaming.  That’s why people create with someone else.  Two people can sometimes improve the odds of an ideas survival…but there are no guarantees.  Anyway, this is the day I was born.  (1-4).

Vaughn’s writing style is something I’ve had plenty of opportunities to explore and study and that’s largely because of my friend TJ.  As I’ve noted in several of my previous essays, he’s the founder of the local Graphic Novel Book Club that meets bi-weekly at Ground Brian K. VaughnZero Comics, and because of this prestige position he gets to decide which books are read in the group.  We’ve read quite a number of books over the years ranging from Understanding Comics to Transmetropolitian to Sandman to Fun Home, but many members have observed that, in the last year alone, we’ve read close to six or seven of the man’s books and this has lead some to label us the “Brian K. Vaughn appreciation society.”  There is some disagreement upon this suggestion largely because we’ve also read plenty of Jeff Lemire.  The coming war between the Vaughnites and Lemirians is coming and I’m not sure how many lives will ultimately be lost.

But this is just a way of saying that reading Saga is much like reading many of the other Vaughn books and the man has a real tendency to build up his spaces.  Saga is not just an intimate love story between Alana and Marko, it’s an opportunity to observe countless saga-book-lesson-copyspecies and peoples, all of whom are impacted by the war between the two races.  The reader is sometimes bombarded by this enormous amount of oddity, and while the first time I was overwhelmed by this treatment, as time in the story progressed I became more and more used to the oddity of the humanity.  And this I believe is its own sort of method. 

Race is very much biological, your DNA will always determine your physical characteristics as well as plenty of facets of personality, but race is also rooted in cultural and individual psychology.  Observing someone’s physical characteristics and observing difference is not racism, it’s only when one allows those observation of differences to form bias that the corrosive quality of racism manifests.

A racist is ultimately formed by a subculture that educates them that differences in physical characteristics such as skin color, or more abstract qualities such as language or nationality, are an indication of lesser worth.  Saga 7What’s incredible then about the graphic novel Saga is that, much like the Star Wars and Star Trek films before it, the reader is constantly exposed to individuals of different races and species intermingling without too much concern that such interactions are taking place.  The reader is able to see the physical differences, and encouraged to just accept these characters as people.  Whether it’s the Prince Robot IV and his television head, the floating ghost specter with half a body named Isabel, the half spider half human freelancer known simply as “The Stalk,” or my favorite character Petrichor a MTF transgender woman from Wreath.  Saga encourages the reader to see that race is biological, but that racism is ultimately just the social construct because regardlessSaga 12 of physiology, anatomy, or whether you’re a pothead actress made out of moss, people are people, and their qualities are what ultimately define them.

That would have been my end to Saga were it not for the fact that recently I’ve begun a new routine.  With the rightful fall of Charlie Rose, my morning breakfast routine has been shaken up dramatically because I used to watch interviews and eat.  I’ve now taken to watching Seth Meyers, The Daily Show, Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, and of course The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.  This later one provides me with some news of the day and some means of maintaining my sanity as I watch the current administration do its…let’s say thing.  I like Colbert, he makes me laugh, and he gives me something to think Saga 3about when I’m shoveling my eggs, donuts, and tea down my throat as I get ready for work.  Most recently however he interviewed Trevor Noah, complimenting him about his time on the Daily Show, revealing to the world that Noah had a brief appearance in the film Black Panther, and then asking him about the issue of race.  It was during this last conversation that Noah reminded me about his eloquence, but then also about the larger narrative of racism in South Africa.

And during this interview Noah pointed out that, ultimately, his existence voided the larger racist narrative.  If one race in power argues that race-mixing cannot produce offspring it voids and ultimately destroys the racist narrative to begin with.  This shouldn’t have been such a powerful observation, but hearing him express it as such made me pause and really dwell on that statement.  It also made me go back to his biography and look through a few of the passages.

273B9DAC00000578-3023806-Loving_Trevor_Noah_with_his_mother_Patricia_The_three_year_old_w-a-1_1428088845110Noah’s memoir Born a Crime doesn’t just mirror Saga, it could almost be its own spin-off.  Noah imbues his life story with plenty of wit and humor, but constantly throughout the book he is able to demonstrate a real intelligence about the farce that was the governmental race policy of his home nation.

He writes in one chapter:

In any society built on institutionalized racism, race-mixing doesn’t merely challenge the system as unjust, it reveals the system as unsustainable and incoherent.  Race-mixing proves that races can mix—and in a lot of cases want to mix.  Because a mixed person embodies that rebuke to the logic of the system, race mixing becomes a crime worse than treason.  (21).

Looking then at Saga this is most certainly the case because Vaughn and Fiona Staples, the illustrator who deserves an entire essay to herself, show the family as constantly on the run from the two central organizations of their homewards who see their union as not just a threat to the larger war effort, but to the very war itself.  The war between Wreath and Landfall is a racial war, it’s a war founded on the idea that the two races not only should not intermingle and interbreed, but that they cannot.  Alana and Marko, and by extension Hazel is a rejection of that system.  Its proof that the war is, ultimately, bullshit.

Noah’s biography goes on to note the length to which apartheid was ridiculous and cruel:Saga 4

Laws were passed prohibiting sex between Europeans and natives, laws that were later amended to prohibit sex between whites and all nonwhites.

The government went to insane lengths to try and enforce these laws.  The penalty for breaking them was five years in prison.  There were whole police squads whose only job was to go around peeking through windows—clearly an assignment for only the finest law enforcement officers.  And if an interracial couple got caught, God help them.  The police would kick down the door, drag the people out, beat them, and arrest them.  At least that’s what they did to the black person.  With the white person it was more like, “Look I’ll just say you were drunk, but don’t do it again, eh? Cheers.”  That’s how it was with a white man a black woman.  If a black man was caught having sex with a white woman, he’d be lucky if he wasn’t charged with rape.”  (22).

There’s a brief moment in Saga when Prince Robot IV is being briefed by a Landfall intelligence officer about the couple and the subject of Alana’s consent is mentioned.  Alana’s pregnancy is observed and Robot IV says rather plainly,

“Love child?  Surely he forced himself on her.” (24)Saga 5

And this is, ultimately, everything.  The narrative of the war and the races has become so ingrained in the zeitgeist, so embedded into the universal culture of Saga that two people of Landfall and Wreath falling in love and conceiving a child is not only inconceivable, it’s repulsive.  There’s also the fact that throughout the text Marko’s people speak a language that often appears to be some sort of slavic tongue mixed in with Spanish which makes the theme of racism all the more potent.

Hazel as a character is an idea and a material reality for her very existence is a crime.  Saga as a work of art then is not something that is just relevant it’s historical pertinent.  Often the charge against graphic novels is that they are too fantastic, too hyperbolic, or else that they are too much like a melodrama or a soap opera.  My argument against this charge is that while Saga is all of these things, it still manages to consistently say something about humanity which that we are more than the petty and paltry divisions which are used to allow suffering.

Rape camps, racism, sexual slavery, transphobia, and murder for hire are all concepts which are explored in the Saga Series, and while many would prefer that it didn’t exist,Saga 8 all of these concepts are realities that are still plaguing society.  Saga doesn’t just create a new world, fill it with quirky languages and science fiction creatures for the sake of delving into high fantasy; the book is an effort to touch and explore that which is most human.  Love is ultimately a biological imperative based in chemistry to get us to reproduce, but looking past this and seeing how we allow it to create meaning in our lives the story of Hazel is a Saga_15story which, as Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime demonstrates, is an ongoing narrative.

People like to fuck, and people like to fall in love.  Regardless of a person’s sex, gender identity, race, or nationality everyone has the capacity to love another human being.  And this idea is powerful because love allows more than just two people to come together and find one another.  People comes with families, friends, associations, organizations, creeds, and personal ideologies all of which expose each person of the relationship to new ideas and people which expand their world.

Talking about Saga, and watching that woman breastfeed beside me, was a chance to observe other people, to explore a new way of thinking, and listen to other people’s opinions about what the book meant to them.  In a period and time when it feels more and more like human beings are looking for excuses and reasons to “other” each other (pardon that pathetic string of words) it speaks to the power of a book to ask its reader if those differences are really so profound that we can’t find some excuse to recognize another person’s humanity, and maybe see them as somebody we’d like to know, or fuck, or even love.

144ed48ce994d3f0d8f1f95fbf98f9bb--girls-kissing-girls-lesbians-kissing

 

*Writer’s Note*

All quotes cited from Saga Volume 1 were taken from the paperback Image copy edition.  All quotes cited from Born a Crime were cited from the first edition hardback Spiegel & Grau copy.

 

**Writer’s Note**

I really wanted to cite Trevor Noah directly in this essay but it just didn’t work out that way.  So instead here’s the original interview from The Late Show.  Please enjoy, and please remember to take the time to appreciate that they got Trevor Noah to be an A.I. hologram in the movie Black Panther.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wC6V4gLAat4

 

***Writer’s Note***

I didn’t get a chance to do it here, and maybe hopefully at some point I’ll have time to write a long treatise, but having now read the entrety of the Saga series run published thus far, my absolute favorite character, after Ghus, is Petrichor.  I don’t know whether or not it’s because she’s beautiful or else because she’s hysterical, but I adore her more than anything in the world, and I admit with no shame whatsoever that I have the individual issue with her on the cover in my bookshelf.

Patrichor is BAE.

Civic Ritual in Renaissance Venice

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Civic Ritual in Renaissance Venice by Edward Muir

14 December 2018