23 May 2018
#43, A History of the Breast, Amanda Palmer, Boobs, Breast Milk, Breast Milk as Menstrual Blood, Breasts, Breasts and Fruit, Breasts Vs Boobs, Brian K. Vaughn, Cunnilingus, Desert Hearts, Diana Cage, Essay, Fiona Staples, Free the Breast, Fun Home, graphic novel, Holt/Cold, Humor, Hypersexualization of Female Breasts, Jean Fouquet, Katy Perry, Katy Perry Elmo, Katy Perry's Boobs, Knockers, Marilyn Yalom, May Sarton, Mrs. Stevens Hears the Mermaids Singing, Nicki Minaj, Nicki Minaj's Boobs, Pound the Alarm, Prime Numbers, Saga, sex, Sexual politics, Sexual Rhetoric, The Art of Asking, The Lesbian Sex Bible, The Travels of Marco Polo, Virgin and Child Surrounded by Angels, Women Can Breastfeed WHEREVER THE FUCK THEY WANT, Writing, Yes I wrote an entire essay about boobs I know I write a lot about sex between men but I like women too you know
Thought experiment, file #43: consideration of the prominences located on the upper ventral region of the torso of homo sapiens sapiens, specifically of the female sex. Thought Experiment shall concern itself with the following: What’s the deal with breasts and boobs yo?
Boobs are not the same thing as breasts. Breasts are parts of women’s bodies responsible for feeding babies, and babies are pure, and innocent, and sexless. When was the last time you saw a sexy baby? Case and point. Boobs are different from breasts then because when I think of boobs I think of pornography. I think of beer commercials. I think of skinny women with their boobs packed into bras which are designed to press the flesh and blood of their bodies up close to the base of their chin so that we can see that flesh flex and ripple and flex while the women smile and entice.
Boobs to me is sex, but is this an empty observation?
Plenty of writers, commentators, academics, and cultural theorists who need tenure and so they write about something sexy to sell a book and help the review board forget about that incident last spring with the tennis star that left him divorced and looking for cash, have all written about the sexualization, and in many cases over-sexualization, of human breasts. It’s important to note that these theorists have almost entirely centered their attention on the female breast because that tends to be where this sexualization takes place.
Meditating on or observing the rhetoric of noticing sexy-boobs is really just an empty gesture. Unless one can add something to the argument a writer is really just masturbating on the page. I have tried at least twenty times to write about breasts on the internet. Doing my best to scrape together boob-puns and picture after picture of clever and terrible innuendos that rely on breasts for the joke to work. In the end all I’ve done is observe a lot of boobs, and I’m not sure whether I’ve really learned anything from the experience.
Buzzfeed has dedicated an entire “article,” if you can call the collection of photo series they do articles at all, over what Katy Perry has used to cover her breasts during performances and music videos. This includes, but is not limited to the following: whipped cream dispensers, candy, muffins, cupcakes, shells, pockets, a banana, film reels and even Elmo’s face. This last was purposefully salacious because she had recently appeared on Sesame Street performing her song Holt/Cold with Elmo and many mothers of children who viewed the program complained that her outfit was “unnecessarily sexual,” specifically, her boobs were bouncing around through the whole thing.
For my own part, if I have to pick a favorite it would be none of these because while the woman is certainly curvaceous, it’s her thighs that often leave me a puddle on the floor. I have no reasonable explanation for this. There’s just something about Katy Perry’s thighs.
This leaves me in the minority however because the mountain of discourse around Katy Perry’s body has to do with the big bouncing mountains of writing and blogging material on her chest: her boobs.
It seems those mounds of flesh are an endless fertile crescent for creeps on the internet who write up manifestos using creepy and fucking fuck expressions like “mounds of flesh.” It’s just that every time Katy Perry appears somewhere in culture somebody somewhere has to comment about her breasts. This is nothing new, because for close to two decades society decided to talk about Madonna’s vagina and who or what was visiting it regularly. Katy Perry is not Madonna, but like Madonna Katy Perry has used her body in her visual art as a means of establishing some sort of aesthetic. Her imagery tends to be sexual in nature, but unlike Madonna who tended to fuck on screen for attention, Katy Perry has often used her breasts to be both sexual, and funny. Her boobs aren’t pornographic, they’re something to look at but also to laugh at, and so while the rhetoric tends to be “look at Katy Perry’s boobs” the aesthetic is usually to the effect of, “Well, duh, she’s pointing right to them.”
My favorite book of all time is Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic and I’ve written somewhere around four or five essays about the book. In fact having finished it again recently I’ve considered returning to it and writing yet another in a long line of kiss-
assery. The power of the graphic novel to me is the combination of honesty, attention to detail, and the near constant literary references that make me feel special because I have a fucking Masters degree. The book is always an inspiration though, and I’m better for having it in my life because it helped me realize that I’m just as attracted to men as I am to women.
There’s plenty of frames in the book that make me pause and consider Bechdel’s aesthetic, but one frame always stops me. Allison is in college reading, devouring really, numerous books about feminism and lesbian identity and in one scene she is reading a novel while eating and Bechdel provides the quote:
This frame has the impact on me that it does because when I was young, and just starting to write reguarly, I would often compare a woman’s breasts and boobs to fruits like melons, peaches, or…yeah that’s pretty much it. I mean, what monster or hack would compare a woman’s breast to a dragon fruit? I suspect part of being a young writer, a young male writer, I should specify, is comparing body parts to food. I suspect this is a habit because when you’re young you’re still in high school and every high school teacher has to bombard their students with relentless symbolism because that’s all you’re going to do in college level English classes, apparently. Discuss how boobs feel like peaches, or jelly, or pillows, or sponges. Why can’t men write about a woman’s breast without using something else to describe them? Why do boobs have to be anything apart from boobs?
Being honest here, I think it’s because men don’t have boobs, we just have cocks and balls, and cocks are just these hard poles we rub until goo shoots out and balls are too tender to squeeze. When a man feels a breast however it is very much like the rest of a woman’s body: soft and alien. There isn’t any real frame of reference because there’s nothing a man can feel on himself that compares to a woman’s breast, and because fruits tend to be soft and “fleshy” and sweet it stands to reason that they’re the first thing a man is likely to think about when he’s trying to give his reader an erection.
This leaves a male writer’s female reader in a bit of an awkward position because it’s highly unlikely she’s ever compared her knockers to ripe figs or honeydew melons. She’ll probably just refer to them as breasts, and leave the word “knockers” to male writers like Mel Brooks.
I have many books in my library that deal with men, specifically, how and why men fuck, with each other. I have very few books about lesbian sexuality, and this often leaves me, to quote the great French philosopher Michel Foucault, pretty fuckin bummed in myself. Still there are a few books about women in my library, more than a few, and between my considerations of Katy Perry and Nicki Minaj (she’s next you see) I found a few books that deal with women and their anatomy.
A History of the Breast by Marilyn Yalom has been sitting in my “to-read” pile for close to
a year, though in fact calling this now functioning shelf full of books a “pile” is an exercise in self-delusion. I have a problem and I intend to handle it, that’s what retirement is for. The book is unique however, not just because the cover is adorned with Jean Fouquet’s Virgin and Child Surrounded by Angels which shows Mary as a European aristocratic woman bearing a single orb-resembling breast to her child, but also because it is part of a niche collection of books that center their attention on a single body part. Someone was able to fill an entire book with concepts and ideas that people have formulated about breasts, and while I haven’t read the book in it’s entirety I’ll open it from time to time and read a passage, and this one struck me at this reading:
Husbands often favored the use of a wet nurse, since it was believed that couples should refrain from sexual intercourse while the mother was nursing. It was widely thought that a mother’s milk was a form of vaginal blood, transformed from blood to milk as it passed from the womb to the breasts. The agitation of intercourse would have the consequences of corrupting the milk supply, curdling the milk, and might even kill off any fetuses that managed to be conceived. As for the aesthetics of breast feeding, many husbands did not like the appearance of their wives with a child at the breast. Nursing, a praise-worthy occupation for ancient goddesses and the Virgin Mary, was not considered attractive when practiced by highborn ladies. Many upper-class women, subservient to the eroticized ideal of a youthful bosom, were thus obliged to entrust their babies to wet nurses. (70).
I’m honestly not sure which part is more surprising here, the fact that husbands didn’t think breast-feeding was sexy or that breast milk is apparently menstrual blood. I should probably go with the blood though since men being stupid will hardly be much of a revelation.
I’ve never fully understood the male reaction to the Menstrual cycle given the fact that, as men, we’re supposed to be doing nothing but thinking about vaginas all the time. It would seem men like vaginas, but only when they don’t have to actually think about how they work. At work in this dynamic however is the difficulty of the Breast Vs Boob paradigm. Men like boobs when they’re these big squishy bags of fun that don’t have babies or reproduction attached to them, but the moment men consider a woman’s actual biology a boob becomes a breast again.
Breasts are reminders that sexuality is not a sterile or artificial construct, but a messy exchange of fluids that results in procreation and new life. When a Boob starts to leak milk it must be connected to a vagina, and there’s nothing like leaky Boobs then to turn men off.
I want to read Marco Polo’s Travels. I bought the book at the PeaPicker, a local bookstore in my hometown of Tyler, and I’ve always wanted to sit down and actually read it. There’s this idea that I would be really touching history by listening to the records of one of those who came before. This has nothing to do with Boobs, but I feel like it might have something to do with boobs. Or not. It’s still a nice thought.
Nicki Minaj is another one of those women in recent times who has gained a certain prominence in society for being a skilled musician, but also because she has very, very large boobs. And, to note, a rather large heinie. I say boobs and not breasts because there is usually not much earthiness to Nicki Minaj, or at least not in the songs and videos I’ve watched.
I wrote an entire essay about Nicki Minaj and her boobs, ultimately arriving at the conclusion that the sexuality model she was offering in the video for her song Pound the Alarm was largely artificial given the fact the entire aesthetic was building on carnival. As a mode of celebration carnival goes back to the Middle Ages where people would celebrate the life and death of the year by celebrating sexuality but also death and with this came many jokes about poop and farting.
Pound the Alarm has no reference to feces, or bodily odors for that matter, but it does have lots of Boobs. Nicki herself is always the center of the video and her breasts, her boobs, are always part of the display.
She bounces them.
She jiggles them.
She pushes them together with her arms and wiggles her butt.
And throughout the short film when the music hits a spike she will thrust her shoulders back making her boobs pop out at the reader. There’s nothing inherently wrong about this, and I don’t want to be the male writer who says Minaj isn’t allowed to advertise her body and sexuality. But looking at Minaj there is always a sexualization of her body being displayed or encouraged. Her breasts are not earthy or biological, they are part of some sterile sexual performance which is at the heart of her entire public persona. Sex is not about procreation it’s about fun, and her boobs are just part of the fun. Great big
jiggly bouncing fun at that.
Observing the observation of Nicki Minaj’s boobs is much like the observation of the observation of Katy Perry’s Boobs then. Whatever merriment and mirth is derived from watching whatever Nicki or Katy decorate their boobs with, at the end of the day they remain boobs rather than breasts, and the understanding is there will never be any babies suckling on them any-time soon.
[0777.091__Seventh Seventh Seventh]
In Desert Hearts Cay seduces Vivian finally by stripping naked and refusing to leave Vivian’s bed despite her protests. Put aside the fact the scene would flop appallingly if Cay were a man, Cay’s refusal eventually succeeds and the pair of them finally making love and thus providing a sexual denouement to the tension which has been building during the entire film. The first time I watched this scene however was not when I was twelve and supremely and erotically fixated upon “lesbian” sexuality (and I quote that because “lesbian” porn exists and it definitely wasn’t made for lesbians, or at least not the ones I know, they clip their fingernails). It was Gay Movie Night and I was hanging out with a group of friends all of whom were queer women.
The sex didn’t show any cunnilingus, it was just Cay and Vivian kissing and eventually suckling on each other’s nipples. It was shortly after this act that Vivian experienced an orgasm. None of my friends were entirely sure how this occurred, in fact there was a dubiousness that lasted until we finally shrugged and someone simply suggested, “Well, they were just chillin.” Chillin, of course, became synonymous with orgasm.
I became convinced rather quickly that lesbians possessed some secret power to bring their partners to orgasm simply by touching each other’s nipples and so I went to my library and looked in my copy of The Lesbian Sex Bible. Breasts only appear twice in this book, and only one has an entire quote, it reads as follows:
TOUCHING BREASTS AND CHESTS
Everyone loves breasts. We either want ours touched or we want to touch someone else’s—and often we want both. Touching her breasts and nipples releases a feel-good hormone called oxytocin that gets her excited and ready for sex. If your lover is more masculine, she might find that having her breasts cupped feels too girly. Instead, concentrate on playing with her nipples. Pull and pinch the nipples, roll them between your fingers, grip her tits girly, or stroke her chest as if it were flat. (84).
This passage was rather interesting largely because it contained the words “breasts” three times, and the word “tits” once. Tit is a word I’ve avoided because it honestly sounds too masculine, or else too sharp. I like the word Boob though because it has a linguistic curvature that’s fun to say. “Tits” isn’t fun, but neither really is “breasts.”
Whatever the case the passage left me disappointed because it revealed nothing of Lesbians’ secret power to give each other orgasms simply by stimulating each other’s nipples. Such is life.
[8.08__a return before final assessment]
I could read Marco Polo’s Travels, but I also want to read War & Peace before I die, and I haven’t even touched my hardback Plutarch’s Lives. There’s so many books I want to read but I don’t have time for. This thought has some connection to Boobs, I just don’t know what it is yet.
[011111111.111111110__another return before final assessment]
Amanda Palmer painted her almost naked body so that one half of her was the outward physical form, but the other half showed her muscles, tendons, nerves, and the child gestating in her uterus. She was pregnant at the time and so the belly that protruded outward from her physical form was not just for show, she was actually pregnant. This was not the first time Amanda Palmer “revealed” her breasts to the public. The internet abounds with pictures of her either in concert, in videos, or at public events periodically bare chested and simply not giving a fuck. As she is want to do. Even beside me while I write is a copy of her book The Art of Asking, which has her naked and covering her breasts with her arms while holding a flower.
There’s so much to be impressed about by Amanda Palmer, but I return to her New York performance because the image of an almost naked, pregnant woman standing perfectly still outside a library is something just indescribable. Her bare breasts are part of a performance, but rather than simply be about showing Boob, her breasts remain breasts because of the baby in her tummy that is clearly up for display.
It was a moment of pure honesty and a reminder of the biological function and purpose of breasts that was both challenging and fascinating.
The last few years have seen a rising of the “free the breast campaign” as women the world over have begun to push back against the sexualization, or over-sexualization of breasts, demanding the same rights as men to bare their chests without fear of social or legal reprisal. This cannot be attributed solely to Amanda Palmer, but the willingness to show her body as a means of both demonstrating the power of the body, as well as its own naturalness surely was a knock to the supremacy of Boobs.
The cover of Saga Volume 1 and issue #1, shows Alana holding the baby Hazel to her chest where the babe is suckling gently. The cover, and the book itself, garnered widespread condemnation by certain comic book fans who objected that a “family book” had such advanced material. The only problem with this criticism is that Saga was never a “family” book as it contains numerous scenes of violence and sexuality, however the initial charge of corruption due to breastfeeding remains the best example of the final separation between Breasts and Boobs.
Human beings are an ego driven species, and we tend to think about fucking a lot. And in the Information Age where millions of images of breasts can appear with just a few clicks of a button, the sexualization of breasts appears to be an seemingly unending, unmovable onslaught. Likewise the conversations about the hyper-sexualization of breasts can become a pedantic affair because conversations about sexuality can become heated rather quickly. In an environment where people don’t even like discussing condoms how can one create an atmosphere where nuance about women’s breasts can take place?
My own thoughts here are random, spotty, and really only amount to a collection of quick observations. In fact upon consideration it seems fair to argue that this “essay” was in fact just an excuse to download a lot of pictures of topless women. This is not a nuanced discussion at all, and Boobs remain Boobs and Breasts remain Breasts.
It seems the only sane response is to appreciate breasts as sexual protuberances until it’s time for the baby to be nursed. Because, and this is important, at the end of the day the kid’s gotta eat more than I need to appreciate a great pair of boobs. And besides, unless Playboy goes bankrupt anytime soon, there’s always gonna be a space for looking at Boobs.
All Quotes cited from A History of the Breast by Marilyn Yalom were taken from the Hardback Knopf edition. All Quotes from Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Allison Bechdel were from the Hardback Houghlin Mifflin Edition. All Quotes taken from The Lesbian Sex Bible by Diana Cage were taken from the Hardback Quiver Press edition.
Below is a link to the aforementioned article listing the varies garments employed to dress Katy Perry’s now famous breasts. I hope the reader enjoys and also takes the time to learn a little bit of history about breasts after “reading” this “article”:
Please find below a link to the wikipedia page for breast. Why? Because read the reference section. Seriously Wikipedia is changing, and even though your high school English teacher told you to never, never, NEVER use Wikipedia the only reason she told you that was because your lazy ass would have just copy/pasted the whole fucking thing and then you wouldn’t have learned anything. But now that you’re an adult, you can scroll down to the “references” section and see what research ACTUALLY went into producing the material that helped you bullshit your way through twelfth grade Health Class. Anyway, enjoy the page, and the boobs, and, more importantly, the FACTS about the boobs.
Below I’ve provided a link to the World Health Organization(WHO), specifically a page dealing with breast-feeding that provides general information, links to resources, and general health information.
I’ve also provided something similar for the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
And finally here also is a link to Planned Parenthood:
On one final note I would like to offer my apologies to Katy Perry for my weird, creepy comments about her thighs. I’m not saying they’re not lovely to look at or that…that…
Ahem, sorry, as I was saying it was wrong of me to…to…
You know what I’ve lost whatever dignity I had here. I resign myself to being a pervert. Remember me well friends. And please don’t look at my browser history. It is a tale of sadness.
Art, Chip Zdarsky, comedy, Comics, glasses, graphic novel, Joshua Jammer Smith, Matt Fraction, science fiction, sex, Sex Criminals, Sex Criminals Vol1: One Weird Trick, Sexual Fantasy, Sexuality, tea, tea strainer, This book is about people who can freeze time by having sex I shit you not
Weird Tricks! I Get It!
28 January 2018
Academic Book, Beast, Comics, Dafne Keen, Hugh Jackman, Jane Tompkins, Jimmy Stewart, John Bernard Books, John Wayne, John Wayne Westerns, Kelsy Grammar was a GREAT Beast, Lauren Bacall, Logan, masculinity, Masculinity Studies, Mutants, Patrick Stewart, Rio Bravo, Ron Howard, science fiction, The Shootist, violence, West of Everything-The Inner Life of Westerns, Westerns, Wolverine, X-Men, X-Men: The Last Stand
–Just Remember Fieval, One man’s Sunset is another man’s dawn
Wiley Burp, Fieval Goes West
John Wayne and Hugh Jackman don’t really seem to have much in common apart from the fact that both managed to end their characters in a blaze of bloody glory. The only difference between them, apart from the fact that John Wayne didn’t have adamantium claws, was that for whatever reason Jackman’s end made me cry far more than Wayne’s.
I’m a bad X-Men fan. I don’t have the names of every third mutant memorized. I haven’t watched Days of Future Past, First Class, or Apocalypse. I own at most maybe three X-men comic books and one of them I only own because it was the “first gay wedding” in a comic book. And, for the record, I actually like The Last Stand. That last admission officially makes me worst than Hitler and I will appear brutally memed on Reddit posts everywhere but Kelsey Grammar played Beast, my favorite X-men of all time, and he did a damn good job doing it so I’ll suffer the whips and arrows and scorn of the masses. But for all of my faults I do remember growing up Watching X-Men the animated series. At the time Gambit was my favorite, but over time I loved Beast because he was funny, intelligent, literate,and he looked bad-ass as hell while reading, all traits that I aspired to be one day.
He was also incredibly furry, something I aspired to be and actually managed to achieve.
But beneath all the Beast and Gambit fantasies I had I, like many young boys during the 90s, would on occasion stick three straws between my fingers, make the clinching metal sound, and growl hoping that my pre-pubescent vocal chords would resemble the man who wore the yellow tights.
Wolverine was the shit. He embodied what many young boys recognize as intense masculinity and, to quote Mr. Torgue from Borderlands 2, Badassitude. The only man that managed to have the same level of balls, at least in my world, was John Wayne. I’ve written before about how, growing up, I suffered from allergy problems that left me inside watching movies and playing video games rather than outside playing sports. As such I had to find a way to compensate for my lack of masculinity and the way I managed to do that was watching, and wanting to be, John Wayne. Mom and Dad had a great VHS collection (yes I’m that old, shut up) of films that ranged from Hatari, The Quiet Man, El Dorado, Rio Lobo, Rio Bravo, and Big Jake. Watching those movies John Wayne became a hero to me because, like Wolverine, nobody ever fucked with John Wayne. Or if they did, they tended not to live terribly long.
I suppose that’s why, when I checked out Logan from the library, and spent the last half hour of the film simultaneously crying and pounding my chest, I thought of John Wayne again as I watched a character I had grown up with die. Logan ends with the death of Wolverine much the way The Shootist, the last film John Wayne ever starred in before his death, ends with the death of John Wayne. The reader may wonder what my nostalgia has to do with either of these wonderful movies, but I promise that it’s only ever my long introduction to my actual observation which is that Logan manages to become of the greatest Non-Western Westerns in recent memory following the tradition of The Shootist.
If the reader’s never heard of the film The Shootist premiered in 1976 and as I noted before it was the last film John Wayne ever starred in. Based on the novel by Glendon Swarthout, the story relates the final days of a gunslinger named J.B. Books as he is beginning to die from cancer. He rents a room from a widow named Bond Rogers (played by Lauren Bacall my teenage crush) and takes up with her son Gillom (played by a then young and pre-balding Ron Howard). Books finds a life with the Rogers’s, trying to recognize the end of his life, but figures from his past who want to kill him either out of revenge or notoriety force him to make one last final stand and prove his mettle as the great gunslinger. The film ends with a shootout in a saloon that sees Books overcome every one of his adversaries, and leave Gillom with a few lessons about being a man.
The film from afar has all the elements of a Western: the importance of talent with firearms, the lone figure who’s name manages to outshine his own ego and individuality, a female protagonist who is largely there to further the man’s character development, the young man eager to become a gunslinger, and of course Jimmy Stewart. But what’s different about The Shootist is the way all the laments of the Western are eventually forgotten because film is far more about the character of John Wayne dying than the end of the Western. In one notable scene Books is talking with a sheriff who is visibly terrified to be in the same room with him:
Carson City Marshal Walter Thibido: Now, I checked my bulletins before I come over and didn’t find nothing I can hold you for, but I want you out of town – directly, today.
John Bernard Books: Maybe I’m not so inclined.
Carson City Marshal Walter Thibido: The, by God, I will incline you. I can badge as many men as I need. We’ll smoke you out or carry you out feet first, so you say which, Mr. Gunman. It’s your funeral.
John Bernard Books: Soon, yes.
John Bernard Books: I can’t go.
John Bernard Books: I’m going to die right here in this room.
Carson City Marshal Walter Thibido: Heh! That’s too thin.
John Bernard Books: I wish you were right. Would you believe Doc Hostetler? That’s his verdict.
Carson City Marshal Walter Thibido: You don’t say? You don’t sa – goddamn! Whoo! Whooee! I tell you the damn truth, when I come through that door, I was scared. ‘Cause I know what a man like you is capable of. I wondered who’d get my job, if the council would give my wife a pension and if it would snow the day they put me under. Whooee! Excuse me if I don’t pull a long face. I can’t.
Books as a man, or really as an idea, is synonymous with death and death follows Brooks throughout the film, starting with his first visit to the doctor. Stewart gives him his diagnosis and then offers some parting advice:
Dr. E.W. Hostetler: There – there’s one more thing I’d say. Both of us have had a lot to do with death. I’m not a brave man, but you must be. Now, now, now, this is not advice. It’s not even a suggestion. It’s just something for you to reflect on while your mind’s still clear.
John Bernard Books: What?
Dr. E.W. Hostetler: I would not die a death like I just described.
John Bernard Books: No?
Dr. E.W. Hostetler: Not if I had your courage.
As a film The Shootist is often plagued by this dual nature, for while there are plenty of elements about the eventual death of the character of J.B. Books, the viewer watching the film will be caught constantly by the fact that the movie is largely about the death of the character of John Wayne and so almost every dramatic scene becomes a kind of nostalgic farewell to Wayne himself. If the reader has no background with Wayne it’s likely that they’ll be able to separate themselves from this nostalgia and just appreciate the film as a film. But it is this nostalgia that I want to focus on because nostalgia is partly what fuels the counterpart of this essay, Logan. Both movies rely on the reader’s previous knowledge of the characters and the events which lead them to that place.
Watching Logan I was struck by how similar it was to The Shootist. The film takes place on the Mexican border, which by that nature already sets it up as a pseudo-western. When the viewer finds Logan they no longer observe a virile, leather-clad young man, but an old and slowly dying Wolverine. The adamantium in his body is killing him and his healing factor is doing nothing to stop it. At the same time he’s dying, Professor Charles Xavier is revealed to still be alive and suffering from a kind of Alzheimer’s disease which causes massive mental episodes defined by seizures which affect the people around him. It’s been revealed that such an event killed several dozens of the students at the school and the man is continually plagued by the guilt. Both men are watching their lives steadily fester away until a young woman appears in their life who appears to be the first mutant born in close to several decades. She’s a young girl named Laura who’s been part of a secret government program designed to create mutant soldiers. The story follows the three of them as they try to escape the soldiers and scientists trying to capture Laura before ending with a large gunfight.
It’d be easy to go through and demonstrate point-by-point how Logan mirrors The Shootist, the most obvious being that Logan’s claws are essentially Wayne’s six shooter, but really the unifying element of these movies is the death of these characters and the relationships they form with the children in the film who become symbolic or actual children. It’s this dynamic that’s perhaps so powerful about both films because they manage to tell a story about the end of the “old guards” in a way that doesn’t feel obvious or fake.
J.B. Books and Gillom establish a pseudo father-son relationship and in the film Books has plenty of opportunities to show the young man what masculinity is and how one can attain it. In one scene Books has offered Gillom a shooting lesson and afterwards he offers some wisdom about integrity:
Gillom Rogers: [Books has just given Gillom a shooting lesson] But how could you get into so many fights and always come out on top? I nearly tied you shooting.
John Bernard Books: Friend, there’s nobody up there shooting back at you. It isn’t always being fast or even accurate that counts. It’s being willing. I found out early that most men, regardless of cause or need, aren’t willing. They blink an eye or draw a breath before they pull the trigger. I won’t.
Likewise Logan and Laura have similar exchange:
Laura: You had a nightmare.
Logan: Do you have nightmares?
Laura: Si. People hurt me.
Logan: Mine are different.
Laura: Por que?
Logan: I hurt people.
Laura: [holds up the adamantium bullet] Que es esto?
Logan: You know what it is. It’s made out of adamantium. That’s what they put inside of us. That’s why it can kill us. Probably what’s killing me now. That was a long time ago. I kept it as a reminder of what I am. Now I keep it to, uh… actually I, uh… I was thinking of shooting myself with it. Like Charles said.
Laura: I’ve hurt people too.
Logan: You’re gonna have to learn how to live with that.
Laura: They were bad people.
Logan: All the same…
Logan and the Shootist are both films about violent men, men who have made a life by surviving through regular violent acts and it’s important to note that both films address this matter and in their own way they manage to demonstrate the complicated nature of said violence. Specifically both films address the issue that violence will only ever spawn more violence.
When you’re a little boy, or a teenager dealing with the bullshit of puberty and hormones, you don’t think so much about the death that takes place because of your heroes. You don’t, or at least I didn’t, recognize the death of the endless series of cowboys and government agents, as tragedies. tHey weren’t even really people. They were nameless, soulless figures trying to stop my power icons from succeeding and taking care of “the good people,” which were usually family and friends of the hero. Boys tend, to borrow a memorable line from a friend of mine, gravitate to power icons, and the Western as a genre only further demonstrates that this tradition is timeless.
West of Everything: The Inner Life of Westerns by Jane Tompkins is a book that I have returned to over and over again because it consistently offers up a great insight into films and books that I have read and enjoyed. It also doesn’t hurt that, unlike most academic books I’ve read, Tompkins book is not readable, it’s actually fun to read. When I had finished Logan, and thought back to The Shootist, I thought of West of Everything, because a few of Tompkin’s quotes and pressed indelibly into my memory. The most obvious ones being about death.
Tompkins book is an examination of Westerns as a result of Sentimental novels which tended to be written by women. Arguing that men began writing Westerns as a reaction to women, she’s able to point out an important feature which is that Westerns tend to be, above all things, death.
In Westerns, facing death and doing something with your life become one and the same thing. For once you no longer believe you are eternal spirit, risking your life becomes the supreme form of heroism, the bravest thing a person can do. (31).
There was never any threat of Wolverine or John Wayne dying. Even when it seemed impossible that they would beat whoever the bad guy was, they always managed to overcome the villain and, using their phallic weapons (let’s be real here) destroy everyone in sight. That’s largely why The Shootist and Logan feel like real Westerns to me because by the end of the film their death is almost certain. Even if they hadn’t died their name or spirit would and the hero they had become would diminish significantly.
But Tompkins gets to the core of this idea in an earlier passage when she notes the real severity of death in Westerns:
Death brings dignity and meaning as well as horror, and its terrifying presence in the long runs comforts and reassures. For death is the great escape, as well as that from which one longs to be delivered. (27).
And just a page after Tompkins offers the ultimate summation:
For the Western is secular, materialist, and antifeminist; it focuses on conflict in the public space, is obsessed by death, and worships the phallus. Notably, this kind of explanation does not try to account for the most salient fact about the Western—that it is a narrative of Male Violence—for, having been formed by the Western, that is what such explanations already take for granted. (28).
It’s a depressing thought that violence is what attracts you boys and young developing men to characters like Wolverine and maybe John Wayne, but growing up there is often a sensation of powerlessness. Growing up I had little real agency: my parents picked my clothes, what school I went to, what my bed-time was, and teachers and administrators controlled every second of everyday of my life for twelve years. Characters like Wolverine and John Wayne were controlled by no-one and if anyone tried to tell them how to live their life they would be either sliced or shot. There was something appealing then in gravitating towards that character, or mimicking some aspects of their behavior.
What’s fascinating about growing up is that, while I haven’t completely dropped my love for these characters, I’m now able to appreciate the nuances of their characters. The violence isn’t what’s appealing anymore. What’s appealing is how real a character’s presentation is. What are their faults and how do they account for them. And do they try, as I do on a regular basis, try to understand their mortality.
Nostalgia is what will probably win so many over to films like The Shootist and Logan, and while there’s nothing wrong with this the reader should take the time to consider their appreciation for these films. While on the one hand Logan is a beautiful tribute to the Logan character that Hugh Jackman has spent over a decade playing, watching the film as an examination of male violence adds another dimension to the film. The character achieves a kind of catharsis for all of the violence he has committed over the course of his life. Likewise in The Shootist, Books/Wayne is able to have one last hurrah in a bloody gun fight that, while on the one hand is a goodbye to the Wayne character, is also a final goodbye to a life that was defined by its violence.
Violence will only ever beget more violence, and while these men offered me a power totem that I relished in my youth, I’ve gotten older and the concept of violence has become more and more repulsive. These characters still mean something to me, but rather than simply try for one last gun-fight for the sake of a gun-fight, Logan at least, far more than The Shootist I would argue, offers the reader something far more important: a chance for a man to do right by his daughter.
Part of growing up is not forgetting who you were, but improving from what you were. I still love watching John Wayne movies, and I do still, on occasion, grab three chop sticks and tuck them between my fingers to make the metallic click sound. And, I’ll be honest here, I can’t wait to show my kids the X-Men cartoons and Rio Bravo. But looking at both of these films, what most beautiful to me is that, rather than simply use nostalgia to make a few bucks, both films offer two characters who have meant a great deal to me reach the end of their paths in a way that honors the characters I spent so much time idolizing, while offering them a depth of the character that isn’t shallow.
The hero doesn’t ride off into the sunset, but a new dawn promises the next generation a hero that will be entirely their own.
All quotes taken from Logan and The Shootist were provided care of IMDb. All quotes from West of Everything: The Inner life of Westerns were taken from the Hardback Oxford edition.
I’ve provided a link below to another blogger who offers an interesting interpretation about the film Logan, noting specifically how the elements of race and feminist masculinity are largely unexplored within the film. Even if you don’t agree with the interpretation, it’s still a pretty solid argument. Enjoy:
Academic Book, Alison Bechdel, Art, Comics, Essay, Essay Collection, Feminism, glasses, Hillary Chute, history, Joshua Jammer Smith, Lemon & Ginger, Literature, Masculinity Studies, Sexuality, still life, tea, tea strainer, Twining Tea, Why Comics?, Why Comics?: From Underground to Everywhere, Writers, Writing
1 January 2018
Art, Brian K. Vaughn, Comics, fantasy, Fiona Staples, glasses, graphic novel, Joshua Jammer Smith, Lemon & Ginger, Literature, Love Story, Saga, Saga Volume 1, science fiction, still life, tea, Twinning's Tea
Albert Bigelow Paine, Animal House, Dream, Evil, graphic novel, Hell, I'm almost positive the song Tribute is the song they couldn't remember but I realize that's a controversial position, Individual Will, Jennings, John Milton, Literature, Loki, Mark Twain, Morpheus, myth, mythology, Neil Gaiman, No.44 The Mysterious Stranger, Norse Mythology, Novel, Paradise Lost, Personal Development, Personal Responsibility, Sandman, Sandman Vol 4. Season of Mist, Satan, Scapegoat, Scarface, Season of Mist, Sin, Tenacious D, Tenacious D and the Pick of Destiny, The Endless, The Mysterious Stranger, time, Tony Montana, trickster
Antonius Block: They say you have consorted with the devil?
Witch: Why do you ask that?
Antonius Block: It’s not out of curiosity, but because of utterly personal reasons. I would also like to meet him.
Antonius Block: I want to ask him about God. He must know. He, if anyone.
–The Seventh Seal, Ingmar Bergman
Satan is my favorite fictional character. This creates some obvious problems for me, because for the most part Satan is poorly represented in most fiction. Many writers and artists who attempt to convey Satan in contemporary art usually devolve the character down into a handsome, charming man in a suit who can do magic tricks or else turn him into cheap, con-man who always loses. The other alternative is actually sitting down and reading Milton’s Paradise Lost where the character not only plays a primary role but is the hero of the book. Hopefully the reader observes a conflict here as well: reading Milton. There are some pains that best expressed by characters in film, specifically Donald Sutherland’s character in Animal House:
Jennings: Don’t write this down, but I find Milton probably as boring as you find Milton. Mrs. Milton found him boring too. He’s a little bit long-winded, he doesn’t translate very well into our generation, and his jokes are terrible.
With one possible exception, apart from the one I’m dedicating this entire essay to, the only satisfying Satan I’ve ever seen in a film was the one played by Foo Fighters lead singer Dave Grohl in Tenacious D and the Pick of Destiny. His “Rock Masterpeice” which includes reference to buttfucking Kyle Gass, is still one of the best moments in all of Rock history and shall remain so until those guys remember the original song that Tribute was based on.
My memorized history of heavy metal aside though, I’m not being cute or coy when I write that Satan is my favorite character in fiction. I’m being honest. The reason for this adoration isn’t my atheism, nor is loyalty or admiration to the church of Satanism (they lost me at the word church), it’s largely because of Dr. Karen Sloan. While I was still attending UT Tyler and working on my masters I started talking more and more with my professor because my classes were online and I’m the kind of person who prefers to talk with someone face to face. Each person is different, but for my own intellectual needs I have to talk with someone and hear my thoughts bounce off of theirs for something to actually happen. Dr. Sloan was always happy to talk and one of our favorite topics was Mark Twain. She had a TIME magazine tacked to her wall with Twain’s face on the cover (a copy that I actually now own thanks to her) and we’d often point back to Twain and talk about his writing, his life, or his odd eccentricities. At some point during the talk the idea of Twain as an atheist came out and we both agreed Twain probably wasn’t one.
But, somewhere in the conversation Dr. Sloan made a statement that stuck with me. It went along the lines that Satan was Twain’s favorite character because there was a man who had had his story written for him before he could write his own. Because god is omnipotent he had written Satan’s narrative before Satan could decide his own fate. Satan is in fact a tragic character because the man never got a chance to make his own fate.
This idea fascinated me, partly because I grew up in the Christian church and therefore had received a pre-established figure of Satan. Satan was the boogeyman, Satan was Charles Mansion, Satan was often Democrats for some reason, Satan was the urge to masturbate, Satan was the urge to drink and gamble, Satan was the reason men beat their wives or women drowned their children, Satan was the reason women cheated on their husbands, Satan was the voice in your head that brought you to doom, Satan was the reason you hated yourself, Satan was sin, Satan was just, overall, a bad dude. And looking at this portrait I began to reflect more and more on a graphic novel I had read about that time which included, of all things, a sympathetic figure of Satan.
Season of Mist is the fourth volume in The Sandman series by Neil Gaiman and is, I would argue, the finest book in the entire series. The story involves the protagonist Dream being summoned to a family meeting by his Brother Destiny. The Endless, as they are called, are physical manifestions of the ideas and feelings which govern human reality: death, dream, destiny, desire, despair, destruction, and delirium (formerly delight). Dream during the meeting reflects on a woman he fell in love with and then damned to hell when she didn’t reflect her love back. Dream decides to go to Hell only to find it empty. There Dream encounters Satan who has emptied Hell because, as he says, he’s grown tired of running the place as he has also grown tired of being an excuse for the weaknesses of mankind.
During one exchange the man reflects on the way human beings think of him and his argument may strike a familiar ear:
Why do they blame me for all their failings? They use my name as if I spend my entire day sitting on their shoulders, forcing them to commit acts they would otherwise find repulsive.
“The devil made me do it.” I have never made any of them do anything. Never. They live their own lives. I do not live their lives for them. And then they die, and they come here(having transgressed against what they believed to be right), and expect us to fufill their desire for pain and retribution. I don’t make them come here.
They talk of me going around and buying souls, like a fishwife come market day, never stopping to ask themselves why. I need no souls. And how can anyone own a soul?
No. They belong to themselves…they just hate to have to face up to it.
Yes I rebelled. It was a long time ago. How long was I meant to pay for action?
This passage struck me not just for the visual of Watching Satan walking through the various rooms and valleys of Hell with dream and locking the gates, but because it was the kind of passage one reads and then immediately feels a kind of reawakening. I’m not trying to be dramatic as I write that out, this passage really stunned me because it was like seeing someone completely new for the first time while also recognizing that what they were saying is completely true. Humanity has, since the infancy of the species, looked for a way to outsource responsibility for errors and sins while at the same time looking constantly inward for signs of weakness. In ancient times it was customary for villages to send goats out into the wildness after performing a ceremony that would contain the “sins and offenses against the gods” into the animal before sending it out into the wild. This, for the record, is how the term “scape-goat” came enter the lexicon, and it also eventually explains the character of Satan.
As a figure Satan is a trickster, a figure of mischief, and an agent of chaos who relishes in corrupting human beings and causing them to destroy and distrust one another. Just about every religion, theology, and mythos has such a figure the most prominent being Loki from the Norse Mythology. Before Tom Hiddleston made the marvel incarnation a household name, and the bane of parents who couldn’t find the costume for their child and didn’t feel like making their own, Loki managed to be often associated with Satan allowing early church fathers the appropriation of the god for their own purposes. Reflecting on this connection, and re-reading Season of Mists I thought back to Gaiman’s Norse Mythology and looked up the brief character intro:
Loki is very handsome. He is plausible, convincing, likeable, and far and away the most wily, subtle, and shrewed of all the inhabitants of Asgard. It is a pity, then, that there is so much darkness inside him: so much anger, so much envy, so much lust. (24).
Anger, envy, and lust are all qualities that were assigned to the devil-horned costume character that was the devil. Yet looking at these qualities it’s become more and more obvious as I’ve aged that the people pasting these qualities onto Satan himself really ought to look in a mirror. What missing, or most troubling, about the image of Satan is the fact that the man is having his story told by others, rather than having his own opportunity to speak, and this cartoonization, this caricature reveals the larger issue which is that human beings need someone else to be held accountable for their actions. Rather assume personal responsibility for fucking up, human beings created this supernatural being which would explain horrors and atrocities. Why would a man gamble away his money and then beat his wife half to death? It could be that he suffers from some inner self-loathing due to an addiction and so he strikes his wife, or it could be a demon who wears red suits and tricks him into gambling. Why would anyone follow a dictator who eventually leads a massive genocide against a denomination of a reigion. It could be simple fear, or desire for there to be stability in government so they can return to real life, or else it could be a demon with long horns. Why would a woman cheat on her husband with multiple men rather than remaining faithful to him? It could be that she’s looking for something sexually that he is unable or unwilling to provide her, or perhaps she’s looking for some kind of emotional comfort that she’s not getting at home. Or, it could be a strange imp that plays fiddle against subpar country music singers.
My reader may object at this point and argue that I’m sugarcoating this issue. Satan is not a nice person, he’s not a lovely character, he’s a selfish prick who tried to become god and failed miserably and now his punishment is to rule hell for eternity. What’s redeemable in that?
This is a fair objection, but I note that my reader has made the same mistaker as previous storytellers. They’re relying on the religious imagery of Satan, the same cartoon character that belays any kind of real analysis of the character. Again, the problem with this I that it distracts the reader from digging into other versions and other narratives where Satan is not the cartoon villain bent on destroying humanity, he’s simply a man who’s been consigned to a role that he doesn’t identify with.
Looking at the best analysis of everything I’ve said so far I think back to Scarface when Tony Montana is high and drunk and yelling at the patrons of the resturaunt:
Tony Montana: What you lookin’ at? You all a bunch of fuckin’ assholes. You know why? You don’t have the guts to be what you wanna be? You need people like me. You need people like me so you can point your fuckin’ fingers and say, “That’s the bad guy.” So… what that make you? Good? You’re not good. You just know how to hide, how to lie. Me, I don’t have that problem. Me, I always tell the truth. Even when I lie. So say good night to the bad guy! Come on. The last time you gonna see a bad guy like this again, let me tell you. Come on. Make way for the bad guy. There’s a bad guy comin’ through! Better get outta his way!
The need for a villain is timeless, but in the rush to create such a villain it comes at the expense of the story. The reason why characters like Hannibal Lecter and Loki and Joker are the successful villains that they are is because their characters are complex. They have backgrounds and causes which led them on the path to being the repulsive people that they are. This complexity doesn’t redeem them, but it reminds the reader that the real monsters in society aren’t cartoon characters, they’re real people who fucked up or were fucked up by others. It’s easy to dismiss a figure like Satan as having any kind of redeemable qualities, but that impulse is dangerous because it creates a mindset where one doesn’t have to assume responsibility for one’s actions. It becomes somebody else’s fault.
Part of growing up is learning how to assume responsibility for one’s actions, and it’s the sign of an immature person who tries to hide behind excuses or outside influence.
Satan continues to interest me as a character because the man has, for too long, been a figure wrapped up in his caricature and given little opportunity to find out who he is, what he wants, and what his true character shall be. Though if I can offer one last image, there is hope for this character. In graduate school I had to take a Research & Methods course; it was a class designed to teach graduate students how to research material for papers that they would write as graduate students and how to find real, relevant information. The class was taught by Dr. Sloan, which was the reasons we began having discussions, and centered around one novel: No. 44, The Mysterious Stranger.
I could get into the textual conflict of this novel and it’s fascinating backstory, but I’m sure my reader is getting sick of me so I’ll cut to the chase. The novel tells the story of a young man named August who is a printer in Medieval Austria and when the book was originally published August met a strange man named Satan who, in this later edition, is named No. 44 and can perform all manner of tricks. No.44 is an agent of chaos who enjoys making fools of everyone but who forms a close bond with August. At the very end of the novel however No. 44 lifts the veil of reality and August is able to see that the world isn’t what it is, and alone in an empty space with No. 44 he discovers the truth, no-one is real but him, and 44 offers him a final counsel:
“It is true, that which I have revealed to you: there is no God, no universe, no human race, no earthly life, ho heaven, no hell. It is all a Dream, a grotesque and foolish dream. Nothing exists but You. And You are but a Thought—a vagrant Thought, a useless Thought, a homeless Thought, wandering forlorn among the empty eternities!”
He vanished, and left me appalled; for I knew, and realized, that all he had said was true. (187).
Satan’s name is technically Lucifer which roughly translates to “bearer or light” or “morning star” this last of which is sometimes attached as a kind of last name. Because of this Satan’s ultimate crime against humanity has been his revealing of knowledge to mankind. No. 44 reveals to August the knowledge of his own existence, and once he has become aware he is disgusted to find it’s absolutely true.
So looking back to Season of Mists, and it’s presentation of Satan as a man who has absolutely nothing to do with the sins of humanity, I’m sure there were many like me who were left appalled because what he had said was true. Though I wonder how many have actually taken it to heart.
All quotes from No. 44, The Mysterious Stranger were taken from the University of California Press authoritative edition care of the Mark Twain Library. All quotes from Season of Mist were taken from the VERTIGO paperback edition. All quotes taken from Animal House and Scarface were provided care of IMBD.