15 July 2017
42 Nipple Options, Alex + Ada, Artificial Intelligence, body objectification, commodifying the female body, Essay, Feminism, graphic novel, Harmony, Harmony the Sex Robot, Honda P2 Robot, Human Body, Human Developement, Human/Robot Love Story, Jenny Kleeman, Jonathan Luna, Literature, Long Read, Love, Love isn't about ALWAYS agreeing, Mutual Identification, Philosophy, Pornography, rape-culture, RealDolls, Robots, Sarah Vaughn, Science, science fiction, Sex Dolls, Sex Robots, Sex Trade, Sexual Fantasy, Sexual politics, Sexual Rhetoric, Sexuality, solipsism, suggestions, The Gaurdian, The Race to Build to the World’s First Sex Robot
I really didn’t see the book coming.
I’ve told my regular reader that I’ve gotten a job at the Tyler Public Library and this job has largely been a saving grace, but what I haven’t conveyed as clearly as I should have is that the job is also really fun. The people I work with are funny and are like a small family, the patrons that I help are fascinating for the fact that everyday they come up with some new request, the questions for info range from the obvious to the most esoteric (Do you know how much a 1969 Eagle Trailer is worth?), my supervisors are wonderful people, and best of all I’m surrounded by books. It’s this last part that makes me the most happy because there isn’t a day that’s gone by where I don’t wind up checking out a book. My wife’s greeting to me when I come home now has largely
become, “More books?” I have a problem, but I just don’t care because “look a collection of short stories by Woody Allen!”
I close at the Library, meaning my work days are usually in the afternoon and evening and my responsibility is to close up the library and shut the computer catalogs on the second floor down for the night. While I was walking around shutting them down I passed the graphic novel section. It’s a small area, nowhere near as large as I would want it to be, and in front of it there is a wooden table where patrons can leave books for staff to shelve. There was a large stack of religious book like there always is, but laid out beside the large pile was a book I recognized. Alex + Ada is a book that’s difficult to miss given the fact that the book is enormous (about 1 foot in length at least) with a white and blue cover with Alex and Ada staring at each other, a small blue dot on either of their heads.
Part of the reason I picked it up was the compulsion I spoke of before. A fair number of the books I check out in the last twenty minutes before work ends are either books of poetry or graphic novels. They read quickly and give me space between Lolita and the Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. I checked the book out though because my friend Aleya had recently added it to her GoodReads account and had given it a pretty high rating. That’s it. Just these two connections allowed for a moment of serendipity which lead me to checking the book out.
Alex + Ada, like I said at the very beginning, was a book that I didn’t see coming. Once I read about what the story was about, a young man receiving an android for a birthday present, I figured it would be the standard Sci-fi trope. Boy receives a robot, Boy is unnerved by her docility so he finds a way to activate her sentience which is illegal, Girl robot wakes up and begins to discover life and reality, Boy starts to fall for robot and robot falls for Boy, somebody finds out and blabs to the cops, the police come and either kill the Boy or the robot, the end. And to be fair this is technically exactly what happens, however rather than end on the tragedy of the finale Johnathan Luna manages to tell a story about love that, apart from having a happy ending, recreates the narrative of the Human-Robot Love story into something that feels both relevant and important.
And the reason it feels so relevant is because of a recent article in The Gaurdian titled The Race to Build to the World’s First Sex Robot.
The article is part of the British website’s “Long Read” series, a weekly article published which explores some facet, development, philosophy, or notable event in society. A friend of mine introduced me to The Guardian, and after reading just a couple of the “Long Read’s” segments I’ve become hooked onto them. The Race to Build the World’s First Sex Robot was one of these articles and it managed to appear right as I was finishing Alex + Ada in a level of serendipity that could almost be maudlin. Both stories center around one female robot (if you can label robots with something as tenuous as genetic based sex). In the Gaurdian article the robot’s name is Harmony. She’s modeled with the standard approach to human beauty, big boobs, slim waist, young features, and represents years of the sex-industry’s manufacturing of the female form. However Jenny Kleeman, the author of the article, manages to convey that Harmony is not just a humping post, she has by design, a larger goal.
The major breakthrough of McMullen’s prototype is artificial intelligence that allows it to learn what its owner wants and likes. It will be able to fill a niche that no other product in the sex industry currently can: by talking, learning and responding to her owner’s voice, Harmony is designed to be as much a substitute partner as a sex toy.
Harmony cannot walk, but that’s not a big issue. McMullen explained that getting a robot to walk is very expensive and uses a lot of energy: the famous Honda P2 robot, launched in 1996 as the world’s first independently walking humanoid, drained its jet pack-sized battery after only 15 minutes.
“One day she will be able to walk,” McMullen told me. “Let’s ask her.” He turned to Harmony. “Do you want to walk?”
“I don’t want anything but you,” she replied quickly, in a synthesized cut-glass British accent, her jaw moving as she spoke.
“What is your dream?”
“My primary objective is to be a good companion to you, to be a good partner and give you pleasure and wellbeing. Above all else, I want to become the girl you have always dreamed about.”
McMullen has designed Harmony to be what a certain type of man would consider the perfect companion: docile and submissive, built like a porn star and always sexually available. Being able to walk might make her more lifelike, but it isn’t going to bring her closer to this ideal. At this stage, it is not worth the investment.
What’s revealed in this passage is the fact that capitalism is what’s behind this sex robot industry; a simple case of supply and demand. The sex industry has poured billions of dollars into realistic sex dolls, and a quick Google search to see the results can be both informative and at times frightening. The women dressed up in white panties and bras are enough to make one double-take or else follow links to determine whether or not it is a hoax. But beyond the realistic quality of these “women” is the fact that the major force behind the industry is not a concern to create robots that will revolutionize the robotics industry; it is to provide erotic satisfaction for many men.
Looking further into the article this becomes painfully clear:
RealDolls are fully customizable[sic], with 14 different styles of labia and 42 different nipple options. Upstairs, where the fine details are added, there were dozens of tubs of different coloured hand-painted, veined eyeballs. A “makeup face artist” was using a fine brush to paint eyebrows, freckles and smoky eyeshadow on a rack of faces. Shore explained that most of their customers send photographs of what they would like Abyss to recreate. With a subject’s written permission, they will make a replica of any real person. “We’ve had customers who bring their significant other in and get an exact copy doll made of them,” he said. Shore estimates that less than 5% of doll customers are women, even for their small range of male dolls. McMullen sculpted one of the three male face options to look exactly like himself. None of the male dolls are selling very well. In fact, Abyss is in the process of revamping its entire male line.
And then just a few passages later:
But as all right-thinking men would say, it’s Harmony’s brain that has most excited McMullen. “The AI will learn through interaction, and not just learn about you, but learn about the world in general. You can explain certain facts to her, she will remember them and they will become part of her base knowledge,” he said. Whoever owns Harmony will be able to mould[sic] her personality according to what they say to her. And Harmony will systematically try and find out as much about her owner as possible, and use those facts in conversation, “so it feels like she really cares”, as McMullen described it, even though she doesn’t care at all. Her memory, and the way she learns over time, is what McMullen hopes will make the relationship believable.
It’s usually at this point that I’m supposed to stand up and argue that this is a step too far and that it’s just a slippery slope until Terminator robots will be slaying human beings in the killing fields and the end of mankind will come about. The largest reason I won’t make that argument is because The Terminator film did a far better job of doing that for me, and also because it seems hyperbolic and unnecessary. Unlike some doomsday theorists who argue that the rise of AI will bring about the violent death of man I foresee a far more gloomier vision: the irrelevance of mankind.
The increase of AI systems has really demonstrated itself to be more of a capitalistic view of the future than one of science. Machines increasingly are coded to observe human behavior and, rather than offer solutions for complex problems in society, tend to be made to recommend me products based on my online shopping habits. If I liked reading Lolita perhaps I would enjoy The Ballad of the Sad Café. If I enjoyed eating at Fuzzy’s Taco perhaps I may enjoy TGI Fridays. If I enjoyed watching Dear White People perhaps I would enjoy 13th. These day to day suggestions have become increasingly blasé to me because they’re just part of life. Rather than violently trying to control me AI systems are in fact slowly and quietly removing my freewill through actions and suggestions that leave me comfortable and content.
This domesticity and familiarity with robotics and technology is a far more realistic suggestion of what the future is going to be like.
My reader may object now and argue that, is this really so bad? Technology is supposed to simplify the lives of human beings and help us overcome challenges and burdens in our life. Would having a robot that observes our behavior and adapts its own to make us happy really be so bad?
This is a complicated question because I honestly don’t know if there’s a clear answer. People should be happy, but there is a hidden conflict beneath this familiarity because it could bring about a negative change in the way human beings interact. When one interacts with a machine that conforms to your tastes and preferences it removes the human element of a relationship because other people disagree or hold different attitudes about what is right, wrong, pretty, ugly, grotesque, or beautiful. It’s the differences of opinions and the regular challenges by other people that a healthy personal self is able to develop. I grind my teeth every time somebody posts an alternative opinion on my Facebook page, or when someone close to me defends President Trump, but I recognize that that difference of opinion is what helps me keep myself grounded in reality.
Solipsism, the idea that one’s own mind is the only real thing in the universe, as a mode of being is corrosive because it’s a fueled narcissism that makes it impossible to connect and therefore sympathize or empathize with other people. And I suppose if my argument isn’t clear enough, the problem with turning sex robots into intelligent partners that are obedient and compliant with your every wish and preference, it stands to reason that the individual who lives and acts with one is going to be left completely disconnected to real humanity.
Kleeman is right then in making sure to post the alternative viewpoint that is growing against the sex robot industry:
Many of the “big issues’ discussed at the two-day event were first raised in 2015 by De Montfort University’s Dr Kathleen Richardson, when she launched the Campaign Against Sex Robots. An anthropologist and robot ethicist, Richardson claims that owning a sex robot is comparable to owning a slave: individuals will be able to buy the right to only care about themselves, human empathy will be eroded, and female bodies will be further objectified and commodified. As sex with robots is not a mutual experience, she says, it’s “part of rape culture”. We are so entertained by the idea of a robot sex partner, she believes, that we have failed to ask fundamental questions.
I met Richardson in March at the London Science Museum’s robot exhibition, where she eyed the distinctly non-sexual robots on display with deep suspicion. Sex robots rest on an idea that women are property, she said. “Sex is an experience of human beings – not bodies as property, not separated minds, not objects; it’s a way for us to enter into our humanity with another human being.” She dismissed the idea that humanoids could reduce sexual exploitation and violence against sex workers, arguing that the growth of internet pornography shows how technology and the sex trade reinforce each other.
The implications then for the sex robotic industry become messy and worrisome because, at least as far as I can tell, these are all serious charges that have a great amount to merit to them. Artificially intelligent sex robots blur the line of consent because they are programmed not to say no, but at the same time they are being marketed as a realistic human alternative to a real human relationship.
In the face of all of this my reader is probably wondering what the hell any of this has to do with Alex + Ada. Well in fact it has everything to do with the graphic novel, because as I noted at the start this review came about because I was left so tremendously star-struck by the book when I finished it. Unlike Kleeman’s article which left me troubled and disturbed Alex + Ada offered a far more optimistic vision of human/robot relations by hoping for love rather than just sex.
At the start of the graphic novel Alex doesn’t even want a robot, his grandmother buys one for him because he’s been mopey since his fiancé left him, and over time Alex observes that the dynamic of the relationship is troublesome. He sees in Ada a companion that has an absence of choice and so desperate to see if there’s a way to change her he finds an online group dedicated to helping robots attain a freedom and sentience. During one exchange between two members of the group Alex offers a line that reveals everything about his humanity:
And what makes you think you’ll want her if she’s sentient? A lot of our members were abandoned by their owners when they still didn’t turn out how they wanted.
I just…I see more in her. I want to know who she can really be.
There’s so many passages in Alex + Ada I could offer my reader to demonstrate its significance but this small quote seems enough to demonstrate the humanity offered in this book. Alex doesn’t look upon Ada as just a product, he sees in her the potential to become something real, something human which he could learn to love or appreciate. And it’s this vision of humanity that gives me hope for the future.
Love and real connections between people are built upon the ability to reconcile differences of personality. My wife and I have strong relationship, but that doesn’t free us from differences. Her love, really obsession, with cats tends to be regularly occurring issue between us, and I can never start reading or writing before she interrupts me to complain about something he read on an article or comment section online. We disagree regularly about politics, and I’ve been known to drive her up a wall with my frequent moodiness, and let’s be fair I own a LOT of books. But it’s these differences that foster a real relationship because human interaction is built upon complexity.
Alex + Ada offers up a relationship that becomes healthier over time because once Ada’s sentience is activated she becomes a person with her own ideas, opinions, concerns, and sexual preferences (the line “again” left me both laughing and groaning from familiarity). This essay has largely explored The Guardian’s article about the sex robot industry, but hopefully the reader can observe in just this small passage how the graphic novel offers up a hopeful vision and reality that contrasts with the concerning developments in this new industry.
The sex trade will always push technology forward, that has been demonstrated since human beings began developing technology period. When humans created writing we used it to write about fornicating, the printing press allowed for the easy mass production of pornography, video cassettes allowed the porn industry to flourish, and the internet’s development was pushed forward largely because of the ease of access to porn. The sexual robotics industry is just another in a long line of technologies that satisfies the ancient biological urge to fornicate. But where some are looking to AI to find a corrupt kind of solipsism, Alex + Ada offers up the idea that technology is going to change even this dynamic because at some point people, hopefully, will look into the eyes of their sex dolls and probably ask the question: Could there be more?
The story of human beings and robots interacting can be an endless cliché as creator and creation look upon each other with a different perspective, but as society is approaching a reality where this is no longer just the speculative visions of science fiction the questions about the morality of sexual robotics and whether or not humans and robots can empathize with each other is becoming more and more relevant.
Rather than offering a judgement it seems far more appropriate to ask the reader a question: Which of the two stories offers up a healthier view of humanity? The one where a man controls an intelligent female object to blow him and offer him jokes, or one where a man risks his very life just so that his female robot can think for herself?
All quotes from Alex + Ada were taken from the Hardback Image edition. All quotes from Jenny Kleeman’s The Race to Build the World’s First Sex Robot were taken directly from The Gaurdian’s website. If the reader would like to read the full article for themselves they can do so by following the link below:
Just for the record, while Alex + Ada is an incredibly hopeful vision of the future of love between individuals, I think it’s important to remind the reader that the best human/Robot love story remains Bender and Lucy Liu from Futurama. I mean you have a talented, charismatic, sexy beast, and then there’s also Lucy Liu.
abuse of authority, All the President's Men, Ben Bradlee, chaos, Essay, film review, graphic novel, Happy Birthday, Humor, Individual Will, Joshua Jammer Smith, journalism, Libraries, Literature, metacognition, police brutality, science fiction, Spider Jerusalem, The Left Hand of Darkness, Transmetropolitan, Transmetropolitan: Back on the Street, Ursula K. Le Guin, White Tower Musings, Writer's Social Role, Writing
So much can happen and change over the course of a year. That’s the stuff of sentimental platitudes, but I’m writing my yearly reflection essay since the anniversary of this shitty-blog is today. And, as always, when I write about White Tower Musings and writings, I tend to get either mopey or maudlin. But in this case so much has actually happened over the course of a year and so I wanted to take a moment and really reflect on what has happened.
My regular reader will have determined at this point that I’ve graduated college and started working at the Tyler Public Library. I say this with no hyperbole, this job has saved my life. Part of the life changes that have occurred since last year was graduated from college with my master’s degree and then figuring out what was next. I flourished in graduate school because, I say this without any ego here, I was one of the good students who gave a shit and so I managed to succeed. What I didn’t realize was happening was that I was making myself, in my head, into something I wasn’t. Instead preparing myself for life after college I clung to school never wanting to leave. This in turn created the idea in my head that I was going to be a college professor, teaching English and writing and hopefully literature to freshmen and sophomore students. But that didn’t happen, or at least, not right away, and so for a period of about five of six months I sat in my house, living off the money I had saved from work, occasionally going out and having coffee with friends, desperate for work. When an offer finally came from a local community college I snapped it up imagining that teaching would make me happy, or, to be honest, that I would find a group of people like the one I had in graduate school or the writing center at UT Tyler. This was anything but and I realized quickly that I had sold the idea of teaching college to myself because I was an egoist. I thought that teaching would make me happy because it would be a chance for me to flex my intellectual muscle and that I would change people’s lives. I might have succeeded in the latter, but it became observable fairly quickly that I wasn’t a great teacher, I was, at best, passable.
But these birthday essays are always about metacognition, or, thinking about thinking. While I was teaching I was also still writing for White Tower Musings, and these essays tended to be my lifeboat. They kept me happy, or, at least, they gave me an outlet from which I could focus away from the frustrations of day to day reality. I wasn’t always thinking about the students, and if I was thinking about them it usually wasn’t positive thoughts. And then the suicidal feelings kicked in.
All of these thoughts, all of these feelings are still with me (it’s only been a about seven months since I quit my job at the college and started working for the library) but as I continue to wake up everyday and try to get in my 300 words I realize what this site has really meant for me. But I still think about the students in that class, specifically what I failed to convey and instill in them which is that writing and writers really can enact change.
About a year or two back the graphic novel book club that I’m a part of got around to reading a book entitled Transmetropolitan. It was a science fiction “dystopian” story about a reporter named Spider Jerusalem who has retreated to the mountains where’s he disappeared from society. His publisher tracks him down and informs him that he owes them two books or else they will track him down and sue him into a state of emotional, physical, and psychological poverty. Jerusalem comes down from the mountain and returns to “The City.” This nameless urban territory is impossible to describe largely because Warren Ellis and Darrick Robertson manage to assault the reader with near constant bombardments. In “The City” there are advertisements for the President, family cannibal restaurants, the famous kids cartoon show “Sex Puppets,” religious organizations with titles like “fuck the Holy Gut Wound of St. Marc” and “Thor Needs Virgins,” hostels for de-frozen cryogenic patrons, and I could literally fill pages with all the back-ground that Spider Jerusalem encounters.
The book is broken up into a ten part series and, apart from its eerie similarity to the 2016 United States Presidential election, I’ve started reading the books one by one and am currently working through number 7, and while
I would love to sit down and write reviews of every book I’ve come to recognize that such impulses are largely fools errands. These essays come about because of whatever I’m feeling or thinking about at a certain time, and as my “third birthday” comes around Transmetropolitan has reminded me about the power of writing because of one small scene in the first book.
Spider Jerusalem is writing a column about a Police Riot that is attacking a group of people known as Transients, human beings that have blended their DNA with that of aliens. Jerusalem manages to sneak into the riot, get to the roof of a strip-club, and there, surrounded by strippers, he starts to write.
There’s a jungle rhythm beating out below me; the sound of truncheons hammering on riot shields, police tradition when the streets get nasty. I’m in Angels 8, above what will doubtless be called the Transient Riot. History’s only written by the winners, after all, and if the cops want it called the Transient Riot, then that’s how it’ll be.
Because there’s going to be Transient blood all over the place. And you know something? It’s not their fault.
The Transients couldn’t have managed this on their own. They’re just big kids who thought it’d be fun to live inside an alien body. A sane society would’ve tagged them for the waterheads they are and bought them a big playground. But no one even checked to see if their silly claim for succession was feasible. Civic Center just decided to stamp on them instead. They payed a few Transients off to start some trouble, deliberately marring a non-violent demonstration. Spontaneous violence, the only excuse Civic Center would have to send in the riot cops. These people are bleeding down there for a scam.
It’s a show of power. How dare anybody ignore the authority of Civic Center? How dare a bunch of freaks try and think for themselves. So let’s go out and stomp on children, lunatics and incompetent, because by damn it makes out balls feel big. I can see a blatantly unarmed Transient unarmed man with half his face hanging off, and three cops working him over anyway.
One of them is groping his own erection.
I’m sorry is that too harsh an observation for you. Does that sound too much like the Truth? If anyone in this shithole city gave two tugs of a dead dog’s cock about Truth, this wouldn’t be happening. I wouldn’t be seeing a Transient woman with blood on her face huddled in a porn-store doorway, clutching her belly. I wouldn’t be looking down at a dead boy, thirteen, he’s a day, draped over the hood of a police wagon. No one’s eyes would be bleeding from incapacity sprays of the nerve bomblets the cops are launching from Cranberry. I wouldn’t be surrounded up here by the people who have to live and work here, weeping openly.
Enjoying this? You like the way I describe disgusting shit happening to people you probably walked past in the street last week? Good. You earned it. With your silence. You see, here’s how it works; Civic Center and the cops do what the fuck they like, and you sit still. Your boss does what he likes. The asshole at the tollbooth, the bouncer at your local bar, the security guy who frisks you ate the clinic, the papers and feedsites that lie to you for the hell of it. They do what they like. And what do you do? You pay them.
This “riot” here, this terrible shit-rain visited upon a bunch of naïve and uppity fetishists; you paid for it. Lap it up. You must like it when people in authority they never earned lie to you. (62-7).
This was a rather long passage and partly because it was so long my contester will interrupt. What relevance does this passage have to anything or anyone? It just sounds like a bunch of sci-fi bullshit that doesn’t have any real connection to real life. Why should I give a damn about Spider Jerusalem or a bunch of alien-human hybrids?
My reader has a good point, and while I could answer it directly I’d prefer to let another writer do most of the work for me. Ursula K. Le Guin is an author I’ve only recently discovered but already she’s secured a place in my heart for her essays about the craft of writing and the importance of science fiction. In the introduction of her novel The Left Hand of Darkness she explores the idea of science fiction and what it can do:
This book is not extrapolative. If you like you can read it, and a lot of other science fiction, as a thought-experiment. Let’s say (says Mary Shelley) that a young doctor creates a human being in his laboratory; let’s say (says Philip K. Dick) that the Allies lost the second world war; let’s say this or that is such and so, and see what happens…. In a story so conceived, the moral complexity proper to the modern novel need not be sacrificed, nor is there any built-in dead end; thought and intuition can move freely within bounds set only by the terms of the experiment, which may be very large indeed. The purpose of a thought-experiment, as the term was used by Schrodinger and other physicists, is not to predict the future – indeed Schrodinger’s most famous thought-experiment goes to show that the “future,” on the quantum level, cannot be predicted- but to describe reality, the present world.
Transmetropolitan is a science fiction story because it predicts a future where technology has led to opportunity and comfort, but by and large Warren Ellis writes the world in such a way that capitalism and urbanization has led to a kind of cultural explosion where every conceivable taboo is relinquished and human beings are a mass of apathetic sensualists who are either dead inside or else completely oblivious to the suffering of other people.
And where does metacognition come into it?
In the last three years I’ve watched my country change into something odd. Protests are becoming far more common, and tragically so is police action against such protests. In the last three years the social role of journalists seems to have improved, but by that same token the populace is splintered by their “news preferences” which has led to some institutions being labeled “fake news.” In the last three years the issue of race has become something that has invigorated social rights activists, and by the same measure “white-lashing” has increased as bigots have warped and twisted political slogans and mantras into something that benefits their own ideologies. In the last three years there have been enormous political and social strides for queer people, and at the same time political actions hellbent on labeling queer people as perverts and cretins has never been stronger.
Absorbing my culture I think back to the image of Spider Jerusalem perched on the roof writing his column. It’s a simple image, but one that has become iconic. The writer and their typewriter, or laptop if you prefer something more contemporary, represents intellectual activity, but it also tends to become synonymous with change and power. Writers observe and absorb their cultures before writing their take which can often translate exactly what people are thinking or feeling and inspire change.
Looking at the last lines in the film All the President’s Men you get a sense for what’s possible when writer’s do their job right:
Ben Bradlee: You know the results of the latest Gallup Poll? Half the country never even heard of the word Watergate. Nobody gives a shit. You guys are probably pretty tired, right? Well, you should be. Go on home, get a nice hot bath. Rest up… 15 minutes. Then get your asses back in gear. We’re under a lot of pressure, you know, and you put us there. Nothing’s riding on this except the, uh, first amendment to the Constitution, freedom of the press, and maybe the future of the country. Not that any of that matters, but if you guys fuck up again, I’m going to get mad. Goodnight.
But what does any of that have to do with my shitty blog?
I don’t enact change, real change anyway. Most of my stats demonstrate that most the people who find this site are people looking for pornography or else help writing papers for their English 1301 course. I’ve said this all before in previous Happy Birthday essays, but it warrants repeating because after three years I realize I fucked up tremendously with those students because of my selfishness. I’ve bought into the idea that I’m a great writer, and while I do have some talent, the reality is what I’ve said it is: I’m just another nobody with a shitty blog.
But even if I haven’t accomplished something of great merit, I can rest on the fact that I’ve written and brought attention to other great writers whose work has and will continue to inspire the next generation of young thinkers and skeptics and journalists and novelist who will look at the world and see something wrong or beautiful and want to write about it.
I’ve thought more and more that I would love to publish the essays here as a book and title it The Work Thus Far. It seems fitting. No matter how many books I read, no matter how many essays I write, it never feels like there’s a real end. The writer, the Great Man, sits at his keyboard typing words out and throwing them into the great sea of the internet hoping somebody out there will care. The writer writes, and in the end that’s all I could ever really ask for.
Thanks for three years dear reader.
All quotes from Transmetropolitan Vol 1 were taken from the Vertigo paperback edition. The quote from All the President’s Men was provided by IMBD. The quote from Ursula Le Guin’s Introduction to The Left Hand of Darkness can be found by following the link below:
Art, Catching the Big Fish, Comics, David Lynch, graphic novel, honey, Joshua Jammer Smith, Neil Gaiman, original photograph, Philosophy, Reese's, still life, tea, The New Yorker, The Sandman, The Wake, Transcendental Meditation
American Gods, Ananssi Boys, Art, Book Review, Daytripper, Fabio Moon, Gabriel Ba, graphic novel, How To Talk to Girls At Parties, masculinity, myth, Neil Gaiman, Neil Gaiman's Guide to Getting Girls to Like You, Novel, Sandman, Science, science fiction, Sexuality, Short Story, speculative fiction, Take a chance and ask that girl to dance you won't regret it, teenage boys, The Doll's House, The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. Le Guin
It’s a lesson I’m not sure if I’ve learned yet, which might explain why I bought the book. It’s not that I have problems talking to women, I’m married so obviously I have some skill (though my wife might say otherwise to spite me) it’s just that I never really learned how you actually talk to girls when you’re at a party. Because of this I figured I would learn from Neil Gaiman how exactly you do this, and instead I got a rather odd, wonderful, beautiful book about a boy who meets goddesses, suns, and universes.
Amazon is the ultimate temptation for me, and minutes, sometimes hours, that should be spent reading or writing are instead spent following the trails of recommendations of books I was just looking at. The Sandman: The Doll’s House leads to the graphic novelization of The Graveyard Book which leads to American Gods which leads to Anansi Boys which leads to Coraline which leads to Endless Nights which leads eventually to an odd book with three beautiful women on the cover (more about them later) beneath the title How to Talk to Girls at Parties. As I said, wrote, before, I wasn’t a social creature growing up, and the only reason I acquired any confidence was because I had to get out of my shell for a job, also I got a girlfriend that tends to help. Still despite when I was looking at the cover I had an odd moment of reincarnation when I began to recognize I had become a teenage boy again. Not only that, one of my favorite authors had written a guide for me so that, should it occur, if I was invited to a party I could now just follow a guide.
I bought the book and read it mystified by the experience because it was nothing of what I thought it was.
How to Talk to Girls at Parties is a story about a young teenage boy named Enn who is dragged to a party by his friend Vic. Enn is the kind of boy that is obviously just the younger avatar version of the writer, or else the every-man nerd that eventually grows up and becomes an accomplished author who writes about every-man nerds growing up to become accomplished authors. I recognize that that sounds like I’m being bitter and that the work is good but you misunderstand me, I write out of hope. If Neil Gaiman was the nerdy loser who got lucky there’s still a chance for me. Enn and Vic arrive at a house that isn’t the party they’re going to, but when the door opens a beautiful girl answers the door, and when she invites them inside the party is nothing but beautiful women. Vic is the go-to suave, confident jock who immediately hits it off with one of the girls and Enn is left to himself wandering through the house where he meets and “talks” to three women who, while they talk, speak as if they aren’t really women, or human for that matter. The exact word one of the girls uses is “tourist.” As the book goes on it’s clear that these women are either aliens, goddesses, or even universes made manifest into human form. Enn eventually talks to one and begins to kiss her, realizing that the girl is using him as a conduit so that her “story” will live on when Vic grabs him and tells him they have to leave. The girl he was going to sleep with glares after them, her head become an exploding sun, and as soon as they’re out of the house it’s clear that Vic became terrified once it was clear that the girl was using him and not the other way around. As for Enn, he forgets the “poem” almost as soon as they leave the house, and as they walk away it disappears slowly becoming as fleeting as music.
This plot description is important because anyone who buys the book thinking what I thought originally should know what they’re really buying, and while this isn’t just a lecture series by Gaiman (“Neil Gaiman’s Guide to Scoring Babes” is currently in development as a Great Courses series by the way) by the end the book had taught me exactly how to talk to girls.
You don’t talk, you just listen.
In hindsight I wish someone had just told me that when I was thirteen that this is the way you talk to girls, it would have made high school a far easier experience than it was, but we all must fight through the slough of despond that is puberty and emerge victorious. Part of that struggle is finding your own path through it.**
Most, if not all, of Gaiman’s books on some level tackle the nature of stories and narratives, and you could make the argument that his entire creative ethos is simply an effort to tell one really long story about stories period. Whether it’s the stories of myth in American Gods, the stories of old houses and children who find themselves caught in them in Coraline, or whether it’s the very story of the narrative existence in his Sandman series, Gaiman’s creative writing, and even his non-fiction, all seem dedicated to telling, unravelling, and then recreating the structure of narratives period while telling amazing stories.
At this point my reader will interrupt and ask what’s so damn special about How to Talk to Girls at Parties then? If Gaiman isn’t bringing anything new to the table, why bother with the book at all? And what if I already know how to talk to girls at parties, what then smarty-pants?
To begin with let’s avoid the name calling. Greg.
Second there are at least two significant reasons for reading this slim graphic novel and the first is Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon. My regular reader may recognize those names, and if you have never read any of my work you still might have heard about them. Moon and Ba are the creative team behind the book Daytripper, a graphic novel which has won several Eisner awards (basically the Oscars of graphic novels) and a wonderful story about a man who wants to be a writer. Apart from the spectacular writing of Daytripper the lingering impression of the book is art which, and I know I’ve used this word several times already but it’s the best word that works, is simply beautiful. Daytripper is illustrated and colored with the stuff of dreams, and while reading that book I was struck by the thought that such work couldn’t possibly be replicated, I found myself fortunately corrected in How To Talk to Girls at Parties.
Gaiman’s words make the Moon and Ba’s colors, lines, and girls become some of the most radiant images collected into one small book. As Enn travels from room to room listening to the three women tell their story I felt as if I had left the world I knew, and as the women told their story I carried their words, and beings, long after I had closed the book. Ba and Moon are what helps make the book what it is, because their colors make each woman unique, and quite possibly the most beautiful women in comics I have ever seen.
As for my second response to my contester I would remind my reader that even if Gaiman is continuing his process of anthropomorphizing stories, gods, feelings, emotions, or non-living beings like stars or the internet, this is no reason not to read his work. In fact, given the fact that it’s Neil Gaiman this should only provide more impetus to actually read it. Gaiman is a writer who does not half-ass his reader, and even in his most esoteric (Sandman Overture was about something, I’m still working on not drooling while staring at the art) he manages to write characters and settings, and events into being that feel true. Normal human beings with their own lives, who are trying to figure out the oddity of mundane reality become swept up by supernatural events or creatures. Ultimately his characters are forever impacted by these experiences, and while most forget the sights and wonders the way a person might immediately lose a dream when they awake, they still feel the experience long after. His prose is where this wonder takes place, and as he wraps his reader in their dream he leaves the lasting impression.
Looking at the exchange between Enn and the last girl, a Grecian red-head named Triolet, the reader hears her story and is carried away to a different realm:
“We knew that it would be soon over. We knew…so we put it all into a poem…to tell the universe who we were and why we were here and what we said and did and thought and dreamed and yearned for. We wrapped our dreams in words and patterned the words so that they would live forever, unforgettable. Then we sent the poem as a pattern of flux, to wait in the heart of a star, beaming out its message in pulses and bursts and fuzzes across the electromagnetic spectrum, until the time when, on worlds a thousand sun systems distant, the pattern could be decoded and read, and it would become a poem once again.” (43-45)
If I can break the fourth wall for a moment, while transcribing this passage I have a video playing titled “underwater whale songs.” Humpbacks and the sound of the ever roaring waves echoing through the infinite abyss of the ocean just seemed to make the words feel real.
Aside aside, moving on.
This small exchange, rendered magnificently by Moon and Ba, is the typical anthropomorphizing that Gaiman fans are used to, but looking deeper into the passage I realized at this moment that Gaiman had achieved a miracle for blending science fiction with myth. Myth as a term has fallen on hard times, and shows like Mythbusters have only perpetuated this tragedy (and it is a tragedy because the show is great and a wonderful way for people to become interested in science), but at its core myth is about explaining reality through narrative rather than empirical means. Triolet may be a goddess, or a star, or an alien, but ultimately it doesn’t matter because at this moment what matters is that she’s telling the story of her people, what they used to be and were and what they believed. The act of speaking to Enn, and having him listen, is in essence recording her culture. And while the reader may immediately question why that is so important I would remind them of the necessity of recording history, myth, culture, philosophy, history, science, and stories. It’s a romantic thought, but crucial to remember, that nothing in this world ever really matters until someone has written it down.
Record seals memory and so Gaiman achieves something really interesting by not only telling a story about an alien race keeping themselves alive by telling their stories to young men looking to get laid, there’s also a fascinating possibility for the future.
In the introduction to her novel The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. Le Guin writes about science fiction as a genre and what is the ultimate creative goal. She also tries to clarify the idea that science fiction is a genre trying to “see into the future.” She writes:
This book is not extrapolative. If you like you can read it, and a lot of other science fiction, as a thought-experiment. Let’s say (says Mary Shelley) that a young doctor creates a human being in his laboratory; let’s say (says Philip K. Dick) that the Allies lost the second world war; let’s say this or that is such and so, and see what happens…. In a story so conceived, the moral complexity proper to the modern novel need not be sacrificed, nor is there any built-in dead end; thought and intuition can move freely within bounds set only by the terms of the experiment, which may be very large indeed. The purpose of a thought-experiment, as the term was used by Schrodinger and other physicists, is not to predict the future – indeed Schrodinger’s most famous thought-experiment goes to shwo that the “future,” on the quantum level, cannot be predicted- but to describe reality, the present world.
My reader may be getting impatient at this point, but hopefully this quote will explain one of my lasting impressions of reading How to Talk to Girls at Parties. Science fiction isn’t about predicting future technology, or predicting how the world will eventually die. As Le Guin says, the entire genre is built upon the concept of the “thought-experiment.” Imagine a set of conditions and let it just go. Explore an idea through imagination. And so listening to Triolet’s story I see a beautiful science fiction possibility. Already humanity is moving more and more towards a paperless system of record keeping, in which every action, thought, belief, and art product is contained in formless data streamed through wires and eventually through waves. Ba and Moon’s art shows the species collecting their culture into a “poem” before containing it in a sun and sending the signal out to be discovered by some new race that might study their species and carry their memory on.
How to talk to Girl’s at Parties isn’t just about learning how to speak to that girl across the room who keeps smiling at you, it offers a deeper understand of what such an interaction actually is. Walking across the room, feeling your tongue swell up and your palm getting sweaty as you think of something to say to the girl you’ve seen everyday in Algebra I for the last year is like encountering a new world. You’ll never be the same after you ask her a question, and you’ll never be the person you were when you see her smile and listen to her talk about finding her blouse at Goodwill. The small act of listening to a girl tell you about her clothes or day may not be the grand thought experiments of writers like Le Guin, Clarke, Dick, Adams, Asimov, or even Gaiman but in its own way it does forever leave what you knew behind.
So long story short, take the chance, talk to the girl, and just listen carefully. You’ll find yourself in a different world.
The quote from Le Guin’s introduction can be found ACE Science Fiction paperback copy, as well as by following the link below:
Upon finishing the essay I remembered that my father had actually taught me this lesson, but like most young men receiving advice from their dad’s I didn’t listen to it. So thanks dads, and sorry I didn’t pay attention.
All Star Superman, Book Review, Calvin and Hobbes, Comics, Daytripper, death, Fabio Moon, Father-Son Relationship, fathers, From Hell, Fun Home, Gabriel Ba, graphic novel, Jammer Talks About, Joshua Jammer Smith, King, Life, MAUS, mortality, Reading, The Adventures of Captain Underpants, The Plot: The Secret history of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, The Sandman: The Doll's House, Watchmen, Writers
In this video I provide a brief review of the graphic novel Daytripper. This is a book that, in my estimation, is one of the most underappreciated graphic novels in the ever growing canon of what Scott McCloud refers to as Graphic Art. Books like Watchmen, The Sandman, and MAUS consistently appear on lists of truly great and wonderful graphic novels yet Daytripper is left from such lists for some mysterious reason. The reader doesn’t need my validation however, nor does the book and so in this video I try to just discuss a few of the themes addressed in the book.
The graphic novel is about the life of the writer Bras de Olivas Domingo who, before he publishes his first novel to great success, works as an obituary writer. His father is a world famous novelist and throughout the book Bras mourns the fact that he and his father do not always have the best working relationship, however beneath this I believe as a fascinating glimpse into father-son relationships. Every son in his own way tries to live up to what he believes to be the supposed expectations his father establishes during his life. Looking at Bras part of that standard is creating something out of his life, and so his novel, and then eventually his life, becomes that very means.
Daytripper is a book that explores life in all of its absurdity and mundane reality, and while each chapter ends in death, the larger creative goal seems to be to demonstrate that life is not purely beautiful or purely meaningless. Instead Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon try to show the odd magic that makes up life without resorting to clichés. This last word is important because when you say “the book is about life” the reader may summon up images of Once-A-Day-Faith Calendars or else platitude ridden Valedictorian speeches. There are many works which try to tell readers that life is wonderful and strange, but Daytripper is unique amongst this bunch because it actually shows them this through Bras’s first kiss, meeting the woman who would become his wife, being a spectator in a home invasion, writing close to a hundred obituaries for a Plane Crash, discovering he has terminal cancer, and losing his friend to madness.
Daytripper doeesn’t take the life of a superhero or a mythic being as its protagonist. Instead it finds an individual man who is trying to find some sense of meaning or purpose in his life. That should be a universal appeal enough to convince the reader that this book is made of magic. But if it isn’t hopefully this video, and the two essays I’ve written about it will.
The books used in this video are:
Daytripper by Gabriel Ba & Fabio Moon (Vertigo)
All Star Superman Vol. 1 by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely (DC Comics)
Death the Deluxe Edition by Neil Gaiman (Vertigo)
The Plot: The Secret History of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion by Will Eisner (W.W. Norton & Company)
King by Ho Che Anderson (Fantagraphic Books)
The House of Secrets by Various (DC Comics)
The Sandman: The Doll’s House by Neil Gaiman (Vertigo)
From Hell by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell (Top Shelf Productions)
Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons (DC Comics)
A Contract With God by Will Eisner (W.W. Norton & Company)
The Complete MAUS by Art Spiegelman (Pantheon Books)
Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel (Houghton Mifflin)
The Adventures of Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey (Scholastic)
Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Waterson (Andrews McMeel Publishing, LLC)
If you have any questions, suggestions, or requests for books you would like to see me review, please feel free to comment below.
Thank you for watching.
Joshua Jammer Smith
TO WATCH THE VIDEO FOLLOW THE LINK BELOW:
Alison Bechdel, Bechdel Test, Book Review, Comics, Essential Dykes to Watch Out For, Faith, Fan Culture, Fans, Feminism, Ghostbusters, graphic novel, Harbinger Vol. 1, Kate McKinnon, Kristin Wiig, Leslie Jones, Melissa McCarthy, Narratives, Sandman, story, Stranger Things, Valiant, Watchmen, Zephyr
The other day a friend of mine wanted to know my feelings about the new Ghostbusters film, specifically if I wanted to see it because I was a feminist. I explained in my first response that the reason I wanted to see the film was not solely because I was a feminist, but because I love the Ghostbusters franchise period. Anything that mixes working-class mentalities with science fiction have always fascinated me, and while the characters in the original film were mostly college professors their work ethic, coupled with a desire to make a little bit of money along the way, reminded me a lot of my mom and dad who operated their own business. The film was one of a handful of Robin Williams and Bill Murry VHS tapes my parents seemed to have an unlimited supply of, and Ghostbusters was fun to watch because both Mom and Dad had memories connected to the film, and when I was younger I wanted to be like them. The film was also, let’s be fair, really fun to watch(except for the scene where Sigourney Weaver gets groped by the hands in the chair before the dog pops up, that scene freaked me out).
Looking at the new Ghostbusters movie I was compelled to see the film because, the awful looking CGI aside, the film was a Ghostbusters movie and it also sported four actresses who’s work I appreciated immensely: Melissa McCarthy, Kristin Wiig, Kate McKinnon, and best of all Leslie Jones. My friend understood my qualms, but argued, at length, that the film wasn’t really helping feminism. There were still other issues like wage inequality and workplace harassment, and having a lousy movie with an all-woman cast wasn’t going to actually contribute any real solutions to the problems women face.
To this I didn’t have any objections because there wasn’t anything to object to. The only argument I could make in favor of the film having an all-female cast was not so much about economic feminism, but rather cultural feminism.
The reader at some point may have heard, or come across in something they read, of something called “The Bechdel Test.” I could write out the explanation of the test, but since I adore Alison Bechdel (obsession is probably a different and far more applicable term) and relish every opportunity to show off her work I thought I would just cite the actual comic that created the test in the first place. It’s a panel from her comic series Dykes to Watch Out For:
This ten panel comic has had a tremendous impact upon film criticism, much to the annoyance of some film experts and fan boys online. The usual attack against the Bechdel Test is that it is designed to create a gynocentric film industry that seeks to eliminate men from film, and the other is that several great films fail this test while other lousy films win it. Looking at the first criticism of the test I can only laugh due to the sheer absurdity of the premise. Looking at the second complaint I’m a little more sympathetic. The problem with the Bechdel Test is that it can quickly create an eschewed perspective that if a film fails the test that it is faulty, but looking at a few films this becomes absurd: The King’s Speech, All the President’s Men, Pulp Fiction, Duck Soup, Reservoir Dogs. All of these films share the common characteristics of having largely all male or mostly male casts, but looking at the first film it won best picture in 2010. A film like Planet Terror in direct contrast, a film which involves zombies and a Go-Go dancer with a machine gun for a leg, actually passes the Bechdel test and this is the point.
I offered up an assessment to a friend of mine who works at the library and who was helping me find some books, that the Bechdel Test is not designed, or should not be designed, to shame films or suggest certain films are crap. The test is designed to challenge the individual who tries the test against most of the films they watch to see how well women are represented in said films. The test tries to help show that often the largest problem with women in cinema is not a lack of presence, it’s a lack of real representation.
Looking back to my friend and Ghostbusters this was the argument I offered up to her as to why a film like Ghostbusters did offer a vital feminist statement. It doesn’t matter if the cast is all women, what matters is that this all women cast offers up the chance to widen the representation of women in film which is often lacking. Thinking of this I thought of a book I’ve been reading lately that offers up a similar avenue of discussion, for like film, the medium of comics sometimes lacks in accurate and honest representation of female characters, particularly in the form of real body types.
I became aware of the character of Faith when my friend Michael lobbied for a Valiant book to be the book of the week of the Graphic Novel Appreciation Society. This would eventually become a joke in the group since every week his “Happy Thing” usually has something to do with Valiant, and whenever we do a Valiant book he wears a t-shirt of one of the characters from the universe. Faith appeared in Harbinger Vol 1., a book that I enjoyed but didn’t love, and it’s a testament to her character and the writing that she remains the brightest part of that graphic novel. Valiant recently got around to giving her her own book and so I finally bought it actually exited to dig into the material.
Faith is a psiot, an individual capable to manipulated the space and natural laws around her with her mind. In the case of Faith, superhero name Zephyr, secret identity name Summer, she is able to fly, create psionic shield barriers and even push people as if manipulating the wind. Think sort of a Mrs. Fantastic from Fantastic 4, only, well, interesting and interested in Dr. Who, STAR WARS, and Star Trek. The book Faith is about her settling into a journalism job in Los Angeles, where she actually works on Click Bait reviewing reality shows and celebrity scandals, where she uncovers a plot by an ancient race of aliens who despise humanity for their bland and wanton destruction of the natural environment. Did I mention the aliens were plants? Because that’s kind of important, but not really.
Much like the graphic novel Flashpoint, which I reviewed for my own site a while back, my ultimate assessment of Faith is that, while it may not be an artistic effort in the same caliber as Watchmen or The Sandman series, it is a good story that doesn’t feel weak after reading it. The metaphor a few of my friends will use is “popcorn movie” in honor of films like Star Wars and Jaws, both films that, while they may not be in the same vein as their contemporary periods greats (Taxi Driver, Deliverance, Network, Easy Rider, etc.) they do a damn good job of entertaining the audience and occasionally giving the viewer something to think about. Faith is about being a superhero, but throughout her book her love of nerd culture is the central defining character trait she possesses.
Faith is not Batman in terms of genius, Flash in terms of super speed, or even Wonder Woman in terms of making you wish there was more of Wonder Woman in Batman Vs. Superman, instead she’s just a woman who enjoys watching science fiction shows on television and trying to be a good person. Best of all the fact that she doesn’t look like Wonder Woman or Scarlet Witch or Catwoman or Harley Quinn isn’t even discussed.
There’s one page however that offers a beautiful moment, not just for Faith personally, but for the reader experiencing her story:
Faith lost both of her parents as a child, so perhaps she’s not that different from Batman, but before they passed they shared with her their love of comics, science fiction, and general nerdity, and as the last panel demonstrates that love of stories kept their memory alive in her. Growing up my parents watched Ghost Busters and Star Wars with me, and while I would watch the movies (and memorize them to impress friends and family later) I would ask my parents what a movie was like in theatres, or if they enjoyed the movie when it came out, and so these stories would assume surrounding or satellite stories that connected more emotion and meaning to me personally.
With that in hand I look back to Ghostbusters and my friend’s comments. I didn’t get a chance to see Ghostbusters in theatres (my wife adopted a puppy and my best friend started up a YouTube channel he wanted me to help him develop) but even after the film comes out and I’m disappointed or pleasantly surprised by it, I’ll stand by my argument. A lot of young men grew up watching the Ghostbuster’s movie with their mom and dads and created nostalgia around it, but so did plenty of young women who have grown up now and would like to share the film franchise with their own little girls.
A book like Faith doesn’t solve the nuanced problems facing millions of women in the workplace, nor does it resolve the amount of sexual assault that takes place in the United States Armed Services, nor does it provide a blueprint for fixing the fact that only around 50 women in the United States congress have to represent half of the nation’s population, but begin your pardon no book could do that. What Faith does is present a real woman, without gimmick or hype, who is in fact one of us: a nerd, a dork, a geek. For girls who grew up and weren’t cheerleaders, or beauty queens, or star athletes, for girls who simply wanted to hang out, play some D&D or watch Star Trek, Faith is a real hero because she does something more important than trying to solve all the problems in the world: she just tries to be a good person and have a little fun watching Stranger Things with her boyfriend.
A hero can’t save everything or everyone, but they can, in their own way, represent us in ways so that we realize we may not need heroes. We may find out we’re the hero we always wanted to be already.
While Stranger Things isn’t actually brought up in the graphic novel, in fact Faith was written at least a year before that show came out, I could still see Faith watching it because how could you not that show is amazing. Seriously. Watch it….Why aren’t you watching it? Stephen King likes it and he’s freaking Stephen King!
"World Without Man", #NOLIVESMATTER, Aquaman, “weirdly horrible tale”, Comics, Coon and Friends, Cthulhu, Edgar Allen Poe, Essay, graphic novel, H.P. Lovecraft, horror, humanity, Literature, Memes, Mighty Max, N., Novella, Quarren, Robot Chicken, Short Story, South Park, Stephen King, Supernatural Horror in Literature, tentacle, The Call of Cthulhu, The Old Gods, The Other, The Tell-Tale Heart
After vigintillions of years great Cthulhu was loose again, and ravening for delight. (58).
The Call of Cthulhu, H.P. Lovecraft
I will admit that while there are some Cthulhu memes that I find really funny, I’ve always been detached when reading them. I laugh at the recognition that Cthulhu is a figure in popular culture that is somehow gaining more and more traction, but without having read any of H.P. Lovecraft’s actual work it seems hard to appreciate the humor of it. There are some exceptions to this.
For example, when South Park did the Coon and Friends storyline it was hysterical when Mint-Berry Crunch defeated the Old God by firing Mint-Berries at him and thus saving humanity from Eric Cartman, who for the record seems far more evil that Cthulhu could ever dream of being. The other popular culture reference that I immediately hop to is the Robot Chicken appearance when the Old God has an appearance on Oprah Winfey as promotion for his Presidential campaign. He eventually kills Oprah by devouring her soul, but he makes up for it by wearing her face and giving away cars to everybody in the audience. Another example, and one of my favorites as the new Justice League movie approaches, is the one of Aquaman riding the Old God’s head and chanting out “I useless, they said! I have stupid powers, they said!” As a long-time apologist for Aquaman reading this was particularly validating.
I could go on and on with these reference, but only one more is necessary to explain my own connection to Cthulhu and it may be fascinating to observe that it came to me through my grandfather. Elbert Smith made sure of two things during his life. The first was making sure no grandchild of his would ever have to bear his own name, he was adamant about that fact, and the second was making sure that I had every Mighty Max that was ever manufactured. Whether it was Temple of Venom, Skull Dungeon, or that one with the Cyclops that I purposefully wouldn’t play with because it legitimately gave me nightmares (giant octopus eyeball creature…nuff said), there was one of them in particular that was shaped by a shark and lead by a villain known as the Man Eater. He wore an electric neon yellow robe that stopped around his waist and the top of his head was a sharp point that I would sometimes try and use as a toothpick. It helps to remember that I was six or seven at the time, but what really fascinated me about this character was his face. He was a squid and so four long tentacles formed his mouth making him look like a Quarren from STAR WARS, his legs were nothing but a lump of tentacles, in his right hand he held a black trident, and he has two pupiless purple eyes that seemed to stare into the depth of your soul.
I wouldn’t realize it until years later but the Man Eater was in fact a Lovecraftian anthropomorphic imagining.
Lovecraft himself remains a bit of an enigma, not because there is much of his life that scholars and readers don’t know about, but criticism of his work in general is really in its infancy. Born Howard Philips Lovecraft in 1890, the man would live most of his life in obscurity since he never published more than one or two short works of fiction during his lifetime. Lovecraft, much like the Dutch Painter Vermeer, would be appreciated long after he was actually dead and you could make the argument that the man has achieved a kind of rebirth as his works have inspired new generations of writers, artists, Table-Top Role Playing Game developers, and even just casual readers. One of these said writers would be Stephen King, the man who inspired me to start writing in the first place.
I’ll admit that I purposefully avoided Lovecraft, not because I didn’t want to know more about his work, but because after watching the film Hostel, and suffering from a two-year mental recovery, I largely dropped Horror from my reading and viewing habits. There was the added effect that most of my friends were Lovecraft fans and I will always avoid anything that is hyped too much. I finally decided however, with Halloween approaching, that I would at least sit down and finally read the story that helped establish his aesthetic as something culturally relevant.
The Call of Cthulhu is but one of the many Cthulhu narratives Lovecraft wrote during his lifetime, but it remains one of the most important for it clearly lays out the image of the creature and the mythology which surrounds it. The story is written in the first person perspective, a narrative structure Lovecraft often employed in his writings, and the protagonist appears to be a young writer or journalist hoping at first to find some bubble reputation by writing the story about a series of supernatural occurrences centered around some being called Cthulhu. The man in question has inherited the collected papers of his Great-uncle, and during his sorting of the paperwork he discovers a locked box which, once opened, reveals his uncles notes which describe a series of persons and events. Contained within it is a bas relief containing hieroglyphics and an image of a monstrous creature which he describes:
It seemed to be a sort of monster, or symbol representing a monster, of a form which only a diseased fancy could conceive. If I say that my somewhat extravagant imagination yielded simultaneous pictures of an octopus, a dragon and a human caricature, I shall not be unfaithful to the spirit of the thing. A pulpy, tentacle head surmounted a grotesque and scaly body with rudimentary wings; but it was the general outline of the whole which made it most shockingly frightful. Behind the figure was a vague suggestion of a Cyclopean architectural background. (35-6).
And thus the arresting image begins, and millions of t-shirt manufacturer careers were born.
It’s not unrealistic to suggest that this is an arresting image, for it’s important to remember that, despite his lack of success while living, Lovecraft was working largely as a foundational writer. Later authors like Stephen King, Clive Barker, Peter Straub, and Ray Bradbury would all be influenced in some form or fashion by the man’s aesthetic, and the defining image of Lovecraft is the tentacle-faced monster. Much like Edgar Allen Poe and his ravens, the octopus/squid creature embodies the impression of Lovecraft and that’s largely because tentacles tend to unnerve human beings. It’s not just the anatomical differences, the tentacles suggest something more. Much like the eyeball creature in that Mighty-Max that gave me nightmares, the intense Other quality of the anatomy suggests something known only in dreams, or nightmares. Tentacles hint at the unknown.
This is especially important for Lovecraft, because in his seminal essay Supernatural Horror in Literature, he begins with an important observation:
The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear of the unknown. These facts few psychologists will dispute, and their admitted truth must establish for all time the genuiness and dignity of the weirdly horrible tale as a literary form. (1).
This last idea, that the “weirdly horrible tale” is a valid literary form, wasn’t novel when Lovecraft wrote it and in fact this argument still exists to this day. I noticed when I was going through college, both as an undergraduate and then as a graduate student, that the writing of Stephen King was largely looked upon either with curiosity or suspicion. Some professors would hold out on the man, wondering if he possessed any merit or warrant of academic inspection, while others admitted that they would be interested in the man but they had never read any of his material. For the record I read a total of one book by Stephen King: the first of the Dark Tower series for a course over the American Gothic. Horror as a genre is similar in many ways to Heavy Metal in that both groups tend to have a devoted (some might suggest obsessional) following by fans, both deal freely and unapologetically in grotesqueness, and both are largely spurned by the society which entertains it. I do believe this is largely because many critics observe the darkness expressed, and mistake that fascination for fondness or sympathy.
Before this essay turns into an apology for Heavy Metal and Horror at large, I want to briefly return to Lovecraft’s Old Gods before I turn my attention to Stephen King. In The Call of Cthulhu Lovecraft establishes his aesthetic of ancient beings threatening humanity when a French police officer and his men discover a gathering of black voodoos performing a pagan ceremony around a statue of the Old God and the narrator explains these creatures:
They worshipped, so they said, the Great Old Ones who lived ages before there were any men, and who came to the young would out of the sky. Those Old Ones were gone now, inside the earth and under the sea; but their dead bodies had told their secrets to dreams to the first men, who formed the cult which had never died. This was that cult, and the prisoners said it had always existed and always would exist, hidden in distant wastes and dark places all over the world until the time when the great priest Cthulhu, from his dark house in the mighty city R’lyeh under the waters, should rise and bring the earth again beneath his sway. Some day he would call, when the stars were ready, and the secret cult would always be waiting to liberate him.
[…] Mankind was not absolutely alone among the conscious things of earth, for shapes came out of the dark to visit the faithful few. But these were not the Great Old Ones. No man had ever seen the Old Ones. The carven idol was great Cthulhu, but none might say whether or not the others were precisely like him. No-one could read the old writing now, but things were told by word of mouth. (46-7).
Later on it’s further explained why these beings no longer live alongside mankind:
They all died vast epochs of time before men came, but there were arts which could revive Them when the stars had come round again to the right positions in the cycle of eternity. (47).
And finally, because it is a “weird horrible tale,” there has to be some foreboding:
But although They no longer lived, They would never really die. They all lay in stone houses in Their great city of R’lyeh preserved by the spells of mighty Cthulhu for a glorious surrection when the stars and the earth might once more be ready for Them. (47).
Of course by the end of the story Cthulhu escapes from his stone prison but is repelled back into his slumber, but I want to explore this notion of “Old Gods” because this is an important idea that, as I wrote before, became an important influence on Stephen King, an author who inspired me to start writing. My friend Kyle Bellis helped me with this article, long before I ever had any intention of writing about H.P. Lovecraft, by explaining the Old Gods are not malevolently evil in the way human beings can be. His metaphor was concise and illuminating. The Old Gods are like human beings walking through a field stepping on ants. When we walk we’re not aware that we’re crushing the ants, we just don’t see them, recognize them, or largely care about them.
This is a horrifying thought, for as I explored this idea in the essay about The Tell-Tale Heart only recently, the “World Without Men” bothers us as a species because we’ve become used to the idea that we are the center of creation. The notion of the Old Gods is horrific, not just because they’re grotesque creatures in physiology, but because they are of a time when human beings did not exist and so they possess knowledge of reality that surpasses us.
But I wanted to discuss Stephen King before the end. About a month ago I checked out from the Tyler Public Library a graphic novelization of one of King’s novellas simply titled N. I thought it would be a nice little read between the heavy tomes in my large stack (I’m reading Infinite Jest and The Bully Pulpit so this isn’t just flowery diction on my part) and so it was. The story is of a wife who mails her cousin a box of papers belonging to her husband, a psychiatrist who has recently killed himself. The reason for his demise was a patient, named simply N., who discovers a cluster of stone in a field in rural Maine. He saw the stones and immediately became aware that he felt he was standing over a doorway into a different dimension and one of the stones bore a name; Cthun. The patient describes how counting numbers has become a compulsion and how specific numbers are good while others are bad. N. eventually commits suicide and Dr. John Bonsaint, curious and compelled by forces outside his control, visits the sight, and becomes yet another victim of the ancient place. Johnney’s wife sends the box to her cousin Charlie, a newspaper reporter, before she also commits suicide, and like the previous victims Charlie is compelled to visit the place, feel it’s power, and write an article about it before returning to the stones where he finds a group of curious readers and kills them all before killing himself.
The graphic novel N. is incredible, though I note that, had I not taken any initiative to do any reading about Stephen King’s influences this book might have seemed his usual stuff. There is always an old, hungry creature or creatures in King’s novels and short stories and novellas which pose a threat to the protagonist or their family, and while the sheer bulk of the man’s work makes it easy to dismiss this consistency as unoriginality, I’ll argue that King’s working and exploring an idea which is seemingly endless.
Human beings fear the unknown, and the Old Gods embody the idea of knowledge that human beings will never possess. Ultimately that desire to know destroys the protagonists, for like the characters in N. the nameless narrator ends his short story foreseeing his own doom:
That was the document I read, and now I placed it in the tin box beside the bas-relief and the papers of Professor Angell. With it shall go this record of mine—this test of my own sanity, wherin in pieced together that which I hope may never be pieced together again. I have looked upon all that the universe has to hold of horror, and even the skies of spring and the flowers of summer must ever afterward be poison to me. But I do not think my life will be long. As my uncle went, as poor Johansen went, so shall I go. I know too much, and the cult still lives.
What has risen may sink, and what has sunk may rise. Loathsomeness waits and dreams in the deep, and decay spreads over the tottering cities of men. A time will come—but I must not and cannot think! Let me pray that, if I do not survive the manuscript, my executors may put caution before audacity and see that it meets no other eye. (60).
Stephen King and H.P. Lovecraft have become cartoons to the society that has read their work, and while on some level laughter is always dismissive, this parody of the aesthetic reveals a real fear. The old metaphor is “whistling past the graveyard” and I believe this is apt. The reader knows and wills into being the idea that the passages and images their seeing cannot possibly be real because it’s just fiction and fiction is just made-up stuff, pure imagination. The only problem here is philosophy. The reason I stopped watching horror films after watching Hostel was because the film was based on an actual supposed business based in Thailand where, for $10,000, you could shoot somebody in the head. I felt sick with humanity after watching the movie because art imitates life and vice versa. While the images were just a made-up story, there was still an element of truth and fact behind them. While the torture-porn brand of horror might leave a more recognizable terror, the fear of the unknown will surpass fear of other human beings because it is rooted in biology. Human beings fear the Old Gods because the originators of the species feared the beasts that would hunt at night and so as they evolved humans naturally selected those that kept that fear alive because it maintained survival.
This is not a suggestion that giant tentacle faced monsters actually exist, for it is fiction, but Lovecraft’s The Call of Cthulhu has lasted and captured the imaginations of readers and writers for its unique horror. Rather than simply show horrible people performing horrible atrocities on other human beings, and rather than simply show giant insects or other arthropod monsters destroying cities, the image of Cthulhu leaves the reader with a much deeper impression because it’s impossible to easily shake off.
When Inspector Lafitte’s men interrupt the “Voodoo orgy” there is a brief estimation of the statue of Cthulhu they worshipped:
They said it had been there before D’Iberville, before La Salle, before the Indians, and before even the wholesome beasts and birds of the woods. It was nightmare itself, and to see it was to die. But it made men dream, and so they knew enough to keep away. (44).
Lovecraft uses the word “Before” four times and there is finally the most chilling reality of the horror Cthulhu is supposed to inspire. It’s not enough that his escape will bring about the end of humanity, it’s the fact that this nightmare preceded man, who is supposed to be the center of creation. If there were beings before time and history and reality, what does that say about humanity? Perhaps it means that human beings aren’t important after all, and all of humanity’s efforts and creations are for naught. It could mean humans aren’t even necessary for creation at all, and at any moment we might just stop existing period.
Cthulhu won’t stop appearing on t-shirts anytime soon, but neither will he stop appearing in the dreams of men, anxious of the hungry noises he, and the rest of the resting deities, might unearth in the infancy of time and reality.
All Quotes from The Call of Cthulhu was taken from The Whiperer in Darkness a collection published by Wordsworth Editions. All quotes from Supernatural Horror in Literature came from H.P. Lovecraft’s Book of Horrors published by Barnes & Noble Books.
If the reader is at all interested in more information on Lovecraft himself they would be remiss if they didn’t follow the link below which provides biography, lists of books and documentaries, tracks Lovecraft’s impact on popular culture, pages explaining his creations, and contact information for anyone interested in Lovecraft studies. It helped me tremendously while writing this article.
I’d also recommend this article about Lovecraft’s lasting impact on culture, as well as his influence on the writing of Stephen King:
I’ve also decided to go ahead and post the Robot Chicken video of Cthulhu because, despite my moaning, it is legitimately funny:
This doesn’t really have any point or reason behind it, I just thought it was fucking hysterical because, I would totally watch the shit out of this movie:
Batman, Batman Arkham Asylum A serious House on Serious Earth, Champion of Unreason, Classical Hero, Comicosity, Comics, Dave McKean, Flawed hero, Grant Morrison, graphic novel, Grotesque, Identity, Individual Will, insanity, Michael Greenhale, mythology, Postmodernism, psychology, Psychosis, The Comics Classroom, The Journey, Underworld
This is the first publication I have to my credit. When this essay was written I was still working on my B.A. and the idea that anything I wrote could be published was a bit of a revelation. I had given a presentation over Arkham Asylum at a school event alongside several other students who had created presentations about Graphic Novels, and a year later, when given the opportunity to write about anything I wanted to, I decided to write down my ideas about Grant Morrison and Dave McKean’s beautiful graphic novel.
My friend Michael Greenhale, who regularly writes a post entitled The Comics Classroom for the site Comicsosity, offered to publish it, and it stands as I said before as the first published essay of mine anywhere on the internet.
If you want to read the entire article simply follow the link below
Batman Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth remains in my mind the greatest graphic novel ever written due to its complexity, its classical tradition, the way it helped re-create the character of Batman to ensure his cultural relevance to a new generation, and the flawless execution by both the writer Grant Morrison and the artist Dave McKean.
Recently I was given the opportunity to present my views concerning the graphic novel and in this presentation I explained why I felt this work stands as such a triumph by comparing it to the classical oral traditional structure. I will attempt to condense my ideas here and demonstrate that one of the core themes of the work is the journey, and its role in re-creating Batman for a new age.
If you want to read the entire article simply follow the link below:
Abscence of god, Anti-theism, artistic integrity, Atheism, Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice, Black Humor, Black Sabbath, Blasphemy, Blasphemy for the Sake of Blasphemy, Book Review, Catch-22, Disasterpeice, Ego, Garth Ennis, graphic novel, Heavy Metal, Individual Will, John Wayne, Judith, Left Behind, letter, Lex Luthor, Margot Robbie, mortality, Narcissism, Negative Review, People = Shit, Philosophy, Preacher, Pulsifer, Punk Rock Jesus, religion, Shock Rock, Shock Value, Slipknot, Steve Dillon, Texas
You’re such an inspiration for the ways,
That I’ll never ever choose to be,
Oh so many ways for me to show you,
How the savior has abandoned you, Fuck your God!
Blasphemy is a bit of an acquired taste, and it’s a lot like salt: in small doses it can bring flavor, in large doses it just leaves you dry and wanting desperately for water as you gag on it. For the record that last bit is actually true. I once emptied half a salt shaker on an egg roll when I was around five and after biting into it I went into a shock before trying to rub the salt off my tongue on the sleeve of my mother’s dress. It’s not a terribly fond memory since we were in a group and most of the other people in attendance got a little chuckle at my expense, but the visual metaphor I think retains its poignancy as I decided I would write to you about the graphic novel Preacher by Garth Ennis.
Before I continue B—- I just wanted to make sure that you and Charlie are okay. In your previous letter you sounded like you and Charlie were having some problems. Now it is my first philosophy in life to stay out of other people’s relationships; people who offer advice freely about how to handle other people’s relationship problems are suspect to me and tend to be emotional leeches. If you ever want to talk about it know that I’m here and that I’m a listener first when it comes to people’s problems. Far too many people don’t realize that, when it comes to shit like that, all you really need to be is a listener.
Getting back to Preacher though, I recommended it to you because the last graphic novel we discussed was Punk Rock Jesus. To be honest with you I feel that that book succeeds far better than Preacher in terms of understanding and exploring the complexity of the theology and philosophy of Christianity in society. Whereas that book had a point to make about the mixing of capitalism and religion, Preacher seems, for the most part, to be blasphemy for the sake of blasphemy.
Since you told me you haven’t read it I’ll give you a brief synopsis of the plot. A minister by the name of Jesse Custer is giving a sermon in his church the day after a drunken outburst at the bar and in the middle of the service a being of color and light bursts through the window, occupies Jeese’s body, and creates an explosion that kills everyone in the church. The creature is called “Genesis” and it’s revealed later that it is the love child conceived when an angel from heaven and a demon from hell fell in love and made love. Genesis gives Jesse the “power of god,” allowing him to command people to perform actions against their own freewill. While he’s wandering he runs into a vampire named Cassidy and a woman named Tulip. The first volume follows Jesse, Tulip, and Cassidy through the first part as they make their way to New York City to figure out what Genesis is, in the second half Jesse and Tulip are captured by Jesse’s grandmother and her servants. Jesse’s past is revealed as the reader observes that Jesse was raised in an emotionally, physically, and psychologically abusive household which is putting it mildly. Jesse watches his grandmother’s servants shoot his father in the head, shoot his best friend, drag his mother away, and he himself is placed in a coffin which is sunk into a river and left there for weeks at a time. All the while Jesse is searching for god because, as it’s revealed in the book, god has abandoned his position in heaven and Jesse wants to know why.
Just describing the plot, I recognize that it sounds outlandish or crazy, but so is the plot of Catch-22 and that book is not only required reading but also one of the most influential books in the American literary canon. Preacher is unlikely to ever attain such status for like I said above Blasphemy for the sake of blasphemy is like too much salt, and at times Preacher is like taking a deep swallow of it.
Now to be fair be I’m not immune to this impulse. While I detest anti-theism there is at times an impulse to roll my eyes and make easy pot-shots at religion when my Christian friends wax philosophical about their faith and their beliefs. There is the impulse when, after a friend has explained why they believe in god and the afterlife and heaven and why they’re happy with the life they’ve chosen I do wish sometimes that I could yell:
“It’s a bunch of self-absorbing bullshit. You believe in god because you still buy into the idea that the universe gives a shit about you, and the outdated geocentric, human centered reality that man is the center of ALL creation. If you weren’t such a narcissist you might be able to get your head out of your ass and realize that human life, when set against the enormity of creation, basically amounts to the dick lint of infinity and no amount of ancient texts are going to change that.”
I would like to say that sometimes, but what holds me back is the fact that responding like that only clouds up the discourse with nasty rhetoric and I would come across as self-righteous and, even worse, “the typical all-knowing egomaniacal atheist.” I distrust the impulse to say these words B——, because they feel too cathartic. There’s nothing wrong with releasing emotion from time to time, but in conversations, especially philosophical ones, emotions should be contained as much as possible lest you dissolve the conversation into pathos and ad hominem attacks. What matters most in discussing whether or not god exists is not the arguments themselves but the way people express the arguments.
Looking at Preacher then there is a real problem because Garth Ennis doesn’t try to make a fair conversation about theism, he’s just pushing religious buttons hoping somebody somewhere will crack and try to yell at him. It’s shock value, and the problem with shock value is, over time, people become inured to it, and when they become inured they become bored. The reason why Marilyn Manson isn’t shocking anymore, the reason while Alice Cooper is a cartoon character, the reason why Black Sabbath now has fans that span at least three generations is that people eventually stop being shocked. I would argue though that the difference between Marilyn Mansion, Alice Cooper, Black Sabbath, and Garth Ennis is that the previous three actually make art that’s worth your time.
Also for the record B—— you should totally look up IOWA by Slipknot. It’s their Death Metal record so it’s going to be intense, but if you can survive through it you’ll love Slipknot till the day you die. People = Shit and Disasterpeice and Left Behind. Listen to those first.
Ennis’s book abounds with scene after scene of horrible people doing horrible things in the name of god or divine will and by the end if becomes difficult to find any sympathetic figure. By the end I did find myself liking the character of Jesse, but not because he was a good person, but because he was able to survive a living hell and find faith, not in god per say, but in himself. At this point though B—-, I imagine that I can predict your question.
The answer is yes Margot Robbie was a great Harley Quinn, and those lame critics on Rotten Tomatoes be damned, I fucking loved Suicide Squad. Definitely see it, if only to make fun of Charlie when Margot Robbie’s bodacious bootie wiggles around in those ridiculous hotpants. Seriously after leaving the film even my sister said they should have called the film “Margot Robbie’s Bodacious Ass Wiggles in Hot Pants…The Movie.”
The answer to your second question B——, is how exactly does one find any kind of redeemable reason to read a book like Preacher? This is a conflict because I don’t at first glance have an answer besides the fact that it is legitimately entertaining and does offer some opportunity for reflection about faith and blasphemy. For myself B——, the point of reading Preacher is about four pages in the book that allow the reader to be both shocked and reflective about the nature of faith.
Tulip is shot in the head in front of Jesse and is brought back to life by god who asks only that she have faith. She refuses, and reading this passage I think about my own position.
Here’s the point B—–. Even if god exists I would not have faith. Some people are able to balance the idea of a god with the “problem of evil,” but I cannot for that doesn’t absolve a creator. The reason I’m an atheist is because I do not recognize any empirical evidence for the existence of a divine being or creator, and even if there was, all that would change is my belief that god exists. My high school biology teacher, still one of the smartest men I’ve ever met, once held a religious conversation with some of his students. Dr. Bradford held a doctorate in biology but also had a Master’s in theology and so he asked them “What is faith?” a few of them began their arguments with “the belief in god,” but he would interrupt them with a solid “no” and finally they got frustrated and asked him what faith was. His response has never left me: “faith is trust. You trust in god. Even if you believe in god that doesn’t mean you trust him.” This to me is and always shall be everything. Even if god exists, and proof appears to validate this possible fact, I cannot in good conscience trust this god.
Some might say that this is unfair or me, or claim that I simply cannot see the bigger picture. This may be true, but neither do my contesters. Like me they are limited by their humanity, their faults and bias, and so when they come to me speaking about the infinite wisdom of the creator and his unfailing love for them all I can do is roll my eyes. It’s not out of condescension, it’s more out of the recognition of cognitive dissonance. Man wants his god to be above him, to possess more wisdom than himself, but the opposite is true. Men make god after their own image and I have to fall back upon Lex Luthor for this in Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice:
Lex Luthor: The problem of you on top of everything else. You above all. Ah. ‘Cause that’s what God is. Horus. Apollo. Jehovah. Kal-El. Clark Joseph Kent. See. What we call God depends upon our tribe, Clark Jo. Because God is tribal. God take sides. No man in the sky intervened when I was a boy to deliver me from Daddy’s fist and abominations. Mm mm. I’ve figured it out way back, if God is all powerful, he cannot be all good. And if he’s all good then he cannot be all powerful. And neither can you be. They need to see the fraud you are. With their eyes. The blood on your hands.
The moment I referred to earlier in Preacher when god himself has appeared bathed in divine light after bringing Tulip back to light and he begs her to beseech Jesse to give him his trust and Tulips response is incredible, for it’s the exact same response I’ve had to the notion of god in my own life:
Growing up in the environment I did I desperately wanted to say, actually scream out often to god to “cut the shit.” In fairness, due mostly to retrospect, my problem was not with god but with Christians themselves. It was always a sell, it was always a dogma, it was always the call to blindly follow and wholly trust, and the problem was often that thus trust involved some sacrifice of my principles because “trust” meant bashing gay people, voting republican, being prejudiced against Mexicans and blacks (though this was always hinted at or suggested without ever being outright spoken, you know “those people”), and burning copies of Harry Potter.
That last one’s important because you don’t fuck with Harry Potter. Period.
If Preacher achieves any kind of artistic statement, it’s in these two pages because it affords a new reality for readers and individual thinkers. I know this may sound like pathos B——, but reading does open up new worlds and often times I feel like I’m living in a different world now that I don’t believe or trust in god. This doesn’t always make life easy, in fact sometimes it makes it far more difficult. My life has become painfully shorter for the benefit of an afterlife is gone, but this only places me in a position in which I have to “cut the shit” and really recognize my problems because there isn’t someone looking out for me. What I do with my time isn’t just a sentence, it’s a real reality. Living without god, or faith in god, is stepping out of narcissism because it reduces the ego. Once mankind steps away from god they step out of the center of all creation, and while life in this new space isn’t always pleasant, as Preacher clearly demonstrates, it does make you see the world in a new way.
Reading Preacher is not easy if you are easily offended or unused to having your religious or moral convictions challenged. It’s important to remember that challenges are different than outright assault, and being fair to the book, Preacher is a book designed to push buttons far more than it is about challenging the reader. Ennis’s book is about showing all the negative sides to Christianity, while also squeezing in some blasphemy for fun, and the problem with this is that it doesn’t really encourage reflection or growth. Reading this book becomes an exercise in “allright what blasphemous shit is he gonna write next?” The three pages cited earlier though do redeem the book B——, at least so far as to ask yourself: if there was a god, would you trust him?
You know where I stand.
Blasphemy for the sake of blasphemy becomes tiresome and repugnant, because long after the shock of blasphemy is over there’s precious little, if any, art worth mentioning. The conflict then is that if an artist doesn’t have anything better to do than shock his reader, then he really hasn’t produced anything worth reading. But at least there’s the spirit of John Wayne reminding Jesse to be strong, so it ain’t all bad.
Sincerely, yours in the best of confidence and support,
Joshua “Jammer” Smith
You may have noted that I sound a little bitter. I can assure you that only appears when I listen to poor arguments, or spot a Joel Olsteen book in a pile of “Local Favorites” at Barnes & Noble. It’s not that I’m a bitter man, I just can’t stand Joel Olstean. And to be fair is there any thinking person who doesn’t?
Waited till the end for this. I loved Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn but I hated those hot pants and those heels. Harley Quinn is a gymnast and she’s expected to do all those crazy stunts in heels? Bullshit. I’ve tried running in boots with a one-inch heel and I damned near fell and busted my ass, and Harley Quinn is supposed to be able to flips and kicks in stiletto heels? I’m willing to suspend my disbelief in super hero films only so far.
Now as for the hot pants I have to say…say…