Wednesday, April 23, 2014


No anti-fantasy rhetoric had greater impact than the argument that "fantasy is compensation for the unpleasantness of reality." Professor Tolkien refers indirectly to this compensation theory in his objection to the notion that fantasy is merely "escape." Tolkien offers an ingenious re-reading of what it means to "escape"-- mentioning that escape from a prison may not be irresponsible, but entirely logical in the right circumstances.

Still, the spectre of compensation endures, usually being understood as an entirely negative phenomenon, despite the fact that Adler himself allowed for both positive and negative manifestations of the psychological phenomenon.  Sometimes negative compensation is even invoked by practitioners of fantasy themselves:

Clark Kent grew not only out of my private life, but also out of Joe Shuster's. As a high school student, I thought that someday I might become a reporter, and I had crushes on several attractive girls who either didn't know I existed or didn't care I existed.

And certain stories in the Superman canon certainly confirm that Superman was used to act out daydreams of supremacy, a fantasy evidenced by the first cover to feature the character:

No one, reading this or similar stories, can doubt that this particular story is all about a helpless fellow getting even with bullies-- i.e., negative compensation, at least in its narrowest definition.

Yet, not all fantasies are reducible to this easy formula.  Here's a cover from the 1971 short-story collection, NIGHT'S YAWNING PEAL:

For what lack of power, for what anxiety, does the image of wolves with snake-tongues "compensate?"

In Part 2, I'll deal in more depth as to why such an image should be viewed as "positive compensation," as well as relating this theme further to my formulation of the two sublimities.


I may develop this point at some future point; for now, it's just a response to the notion that "peer review" applies only to the symbolic form of science, and not to religion:


It's true that there's a pedagogical model instituted in many if not all religions, where the priest passes down a version of the accepted truth. But that model does not absolutely define religion, given that many religions change over time to meet the needs of a people. Religions must change to meet those social demands, even when they may assert that their truth is unchanging. Thus it could just as easily be said that religious practitioners who are too dogmatic and who resist all such change are bad practitioners. Someone mentioned that scientific findings are always validated by "peer review." But I suggest that religious viewpoints are also capable of societal peer review. The new Pope has advocated respect for LGBT in part because the ideal of that respect has been articulated by society, though naturally the Pope gives this ethical stance a spiritual reading as opposed to a purely secular one.


In GENDERIZATION GAP PT. 2 I observed that some, though not necessarily all, of the scathing responses directed at Janelle Asselin and others in comparable situations *might* have been justified as "a nasty species of humor."  That does not mean that such responses are *good* humor.  There are any number of bad comedians whose only idea of humor is that of degradation.  The appeal of Rudy Ray Moore's famous routine "Shine on the Titanic" is rooted in a fantasy of watching a bunch of foolish white people on the Titanic die while pleading with a gutsy black crewmen to save them.  There's nothing noble or satiric in this type of humor whether it's related by a dominant culture or a marginalized subculture; it exists just to vent nasty feelings of this type:

Shine said, "Bitch, Ya knocked up and gone have a kid,
but your ass got to hit this water
just like ol' Shine did."

A similar example of bad, degrading humor appears in this T-shirt:

This is a pretty stupid sentiment, but it's of the same species: it draws any power it has from its ability to infuriate people-- as it did with Greg Rucka.

I feel sympathy when I read the story Rucka relates about his daughter, who certainly deserves to enjoy being a fantasy-fan as much as any male fan.  But there's no point in getting mad at dumbasses who think that this sort of thing is funny.  I can't find the exact quote uttered by Alan Moore, but it was something like, "You can spend your time arguing when some drunken street-bum hassles you, or you can ignore him and do something constructive with your time."

It's a hard lesson, but everybody's kid has to learn to avoid letting the idiots get to him-- or her.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014


While looking through my ARCHIVE's archives for something else, I found with some amusement that I had attempted to cross swords with Janelle Asselin back in February 2012. The link is now dead, but here's a refresher version.

Asselin's comments back then are pretty standard, what with her advocacy of "More product made for women, definitely. Product that’s made for men that’s less misogynistic. Product that is aimed at both genders." These type of sentiments amount to little more than a lot of "oughts" without any sense as to how to make any of them into an "is." I share none of Asselin's notion that "marketing" can make the difference, but I will make my own, possibly-no-more-helpful suggestion.

Comic books need a HARRY POTTER phenomenon.

Or at the very least, something along the lines of the Anita Blake books that popularized-- but did not create-- the relatively recent genre of the "paranormal romance."

These book-series, respectively by J.K. Rowling and by Laurell K. Hamilton, have proven noteworthy in finding ways to channel ideas that were long commonplace in fantasy-fiction, but which-- with rare exceptions-- scarcely ever tapped the "bestseller audience" in the United States.

I've frequently expressed skepticism as to whether it's possible to retrofit fantasies aimed at the male audience so that "one size will fit all." In THE GENRE-GENDER WARS I wrote:

Three years later, this simple but telling assertion has gone largely ignored, as both male and female fans continually act as if the cross-gender participants are not exceptions, and further, that any aspects of the genre enjoyed by the gender which dominantly buys the books-- in this case, the male-- should be corrected to fit the preferences of the minority gender, who is in this case happens to be the female of the species.

To some extent I can respect the attempt of a minority audience to make its voice heard, to make an impression on a genre dominated by the opposite gender. But when the demands seem determined to leech away those absurd or larger-than-life aspects that characterize the genre itself, that comes down to a case of cutting off the nose to spite the face.

I don't retract any of this. However, I do acknowledge the possibility of game-changers. The Rowling series is one such, in that it pleased both male and female readers more or less equally.  And paranormal romances, while they are probably dominated by a female readership, often have enough stereotypic "male" elements that many males do read them, thus overcoming the long-standing cultural prejudice that states that males will not read female-centric works.

Without endorsing what Heidi MacDonald called the "aggro" aspects of fantasy-fandom, I share Camille Paglia's skepticism about the possibility-- and the advisability-- of attempting to self-censor Those Things Men Like and Women Don't.  I don't believe that censorship, even with the best motives, provides any fruitful game-plans.

What would a "bestseller superhero" look like, one that crossed gender boundaries not because it was designed to do so, but because it was good?  Like WALKING DEAD? Like ONE PIECE?

Whatever the model, the time is right for such a breakthrough. Fantasy-fiction has attracted more female readers in part because the culture at large has admitted that fantasy can be cool, under just the right circumstances. I agree with Asselin, MacDonald and others that this is a consummation devoutly to be wished.

And if I knew how to make it happen, I wouldn't be writing this blog any more.

Monday, April 21, 2014


MAGGIE: "We are the masters of our own dreams and fantasies..."
PENNY: "Maggie's right. There is no such thing as the dream police. So you can think all the dirty, sick, evil thoughts you desire..."
HOPEY: "Acting on them is another aminal."
--- Jaime Hernandez, PENNY CENTURY #6  (1999) 

On 4/15/14, Heidi MacDonald posted a closed-to-comments essay on THE BEAT entitled, "What is it like to be a man in comics?"  The essay responded to the experiences of Janelle Asselin, who critiqued the cover art of the forthcoming TEEN TITANS #1, and who also received assorted rape-threats in response to her observations. In part 1 of my response I noted that Asselin made her points "cogently enough," though I disagreed with some of them. Though Asselin didn't address only matters pertaining to genderization, there's no question that she gives special attention to the representation of the female character Wonder Girl:

Let's start with the elephant in the room: Wonder Girl's rack. Perhaps I'm alone in having an issue with an underaged teen girl being drawn with breasts the size of her head (seriously, line that stuff up, each breast is the same size as her face) popping out of her top. Anatomy-wise, there are other issues -- her thigh is bigger around than her waist, for one -- but let's be real. The worst part of this image, by far, are her breasts. The problem is not that she's a teen girl with large breasts, because those certainly exist. The main problem is that this is not the natural chest of a large-breasted woman. Those are implants. On a teenaged superheroine. Natural breasts don't have that round shape (sorry, boys).

Asselin's deprecatory take on artist Rocafort's depiction of breasts resulted in the huge quantity of comments on her thread, getting close to 600 as I post this; it's plain even from a perfunctory look at those comments that next to no respondents cared about Asselin's observations about anything else about the cover.

Now, Asselin's comments about male breast-fantasies in comics are pretty much of a piece with hundreds of others before her column, so I have no clue as to why anyone would react so vehemently to them, as Heidi MacDonald details:

This is MEN’S PROBLEM. I know most internet trolls are teenaged boys who don’t know any better, but this is MAN’S THING. This is something you men need to figure out and condemn and deal with. There should be MAN RULES about it, like how you’re not supposed to go into the urinal next to another guy, that kind of thing. Belittling, embarrassing, threatening and shaming women should not be some kind of masculine rite of passage. It should be the opposite of being a real man.

 There's a partial truth in this, but keep in mind what MacDonald says a few paragraphs down:

In closing, I would like to salute the bravery and professionalism of Janelle Asselin. She put her opinions out there knowing what kind of response she would get and she still did it, in hopes of perhaps getting people to think and to shed light on matters that are not discussed enough. Just because these things are hidden does not mean that men do not have this problem.

I don't doubt that Janelle Asselin called things like she saw them. Yet the phrase "knowing what kind of response she would get" sticks in my mind.  I don't entirely concur with MacDonald's picture of Asselin as a selfless crusader, precisely because the paragraph I reprint above is set up to "poke the bear" as much as possible. Worse, it takes the position that fidelity to the real proportions of the human body is the only possible good in comic-book art, and that deviations from said proportions are ipso facto bad art.

I don't condone, any more than I understand, why even ignorant teenaged boys would use Asselin's comments-- which to me are nothing new-- as a excuse to attempt shaming a female writer. I also freely admit that this probably happens more when males object to writings attributed to females, though I have seen-- and experienced-- some instances in which male posters attempt to degrade their fellow males in terms of sexual references.

However, MacDonald's comment about "what it's like to be a man" seems rather self-serving, especially from the essayist who penned these golden words in 1-31-08, and cited here:

The question is how much the artwork resembles Superheroines Demise. Because if it looks like that, there may be some kind of ulterior motive....So next time you claim your interest in superheroes is completely innocent and devoid of fetishistic aspects, well…you’re going to have to PROVE it!

In my opinion, MacDonald takes a pretty long step to get from "dumb teenagers taking advantage of the Internet's anonymity" to a "masculine rite of passage."  Freud famously observed that men often told degrading jokes about women in all-male groups, but some studies suggest that this trait appears in both genders:

Mitchell's research and similar studies clearly show that men and women both know and appreciate jokes of an aggressive or sexual nature... but their jokes do not serve the same psychological or interpersonal functions.

Though the rape-threats printed by Asselin aren't jokes as such, I think it likely that if any of the threat-makers were called to account for those threats, those posters would probably justify their remarks as a nasty species of humor. I strongly doubt that any of them would defend their statements based on the right of men to rape women, whether as a right of passage or for any other reason. The exception to this generalization would in my opinion be anyone who had actually committed rape, which does invoke the sort of elaborate explanation MacDonald claims.

Let me return to the quote with which I opened this essay. It's a quote with which I agree; that stories in all media should be allowed, in the right circumstances, to indulge in "evil thoughts," be they stupid rape-jokes or Superheroines Demise.  In a curious reversal, though, Fantagraphics, the company that published PENNY CENTURY has never advocated overall freedom from the "dream police." The editors and writers of THE COMICS JOURNAL only advocated that freedom for an elite cadre of "quality authors," while all others were condemned as seducers of the innocent.

Janelle Asselin's complaints about "an underaged teen girl being drawn with breasts the size of her head" may be entirely sincere, but they are also in the JOURNAL's tradition of bear-poking. Unlike MacDonald, I don't think Asselin's comments "shed light on matters that are not discussed enough;" I think they're no more than preaching to the choir, though a bit more cogently than some of the critics I've assailed here.  No one but the members of that choir are going to care about Asselin's carping at unnatural breasts on a teenaged girl, and the result, as seen in the comments-thread, is a farrago of sniping and two-bit comments. Of the comments I read, many evinced a familiarity with the topic, so Asselin's original essay brings no fresh insights to the matter. It's just the same old song, and I don't think the tune would have been any different if Rochafort had been a more exacting artist.

The "evil thought" of picturing females with breasts bigger than their heads may well be a male thing that women will never get. But one answer to MacDonald's question about "what it's like to be a man in comics" might be not taking seriously the comments of those who make much of such petty evils. Dumbasses who make rape-threats, even those with no teeth in them, are, as MacDonald says, "fucked up." But the freedom to indulge in fantasies, even stupid ones, is a freedom that all men and all women deserve, in comics or in any other bailiwick.

Thursday, April 17, 2014


Q: What time is it?

A: Time for another "gender politics" story!

The newest source of gender-related kerfluffle showed up on April 11, with this column by Janelle Asselin analyzing the cover of the newest incarnation of DC's TEEN TITANS:

I have to admit that Asselin makes her points cogently enough, and even though I disagree with some of them, I wouldn't have thought her essay particularly inflammatory. 

At the same time, I'm not as amazed as Heidi McDonald was a couple of days later:

Anyway the original column has racked up more than 500 comments. Which is crazy. I know there is mad hate for the Teen Titans Go! cartoon among DC comics fans, and, seemingly, frantic hostility in regard to anything that strays from the core demographic. I know I make fun of Bombshells and Giant Tits Teen and all that, but I guess playing to the base is what works in the DCU, no matter what the size of that base is.

First, I don't know why Heidi should be so surprised at the quantity of comments. It's clear to me that the sexual issues Asselin raised, rather than either the specific cover, the Teen Titans franchise or its "Go" spin-off are the things getting the CBR posters hot and bothered, so to speak. Yes, some posters didn't like TEEN TITANS GO, but I can't imagine why Heidi thought this was the dominating topic on this response-thread. Often the posters are talking about the same sort of issues Heidi raises all the time, as with, "Should a teenaged girl be shown as having huge boobs?"

A further note: Heidi automatically closed her own BEAT column on this subject to comments. Doesn't that argue that she was leery of having her thread explode into a firestorm of similar opinionated posts?

More later.

Monday, April 7, 2014


At the end of Part 2 I stated that the power to create illusions was a definite power, although one should deem it to be of a different order than the ability to directly affect physical objects or entities. 

The specific example cited in Part 2 were the assorted "specious spectres" of the cartoon teleseries SCOOBY DOO, WHERE ARE YOU?  In my essay WHEN FUNNY ANIMALS ATTACK I went through some pains to specify that the basic concept of the series, in which some mystery-solving teens pal around with a talking dog, aligns the series with the domain of the marvelous.  The talking dog trumps the villains, who are aligned with the uncanny trope I termed "outrĂ© outfits skills and devices."  If there had been no talking dog in the series, then the show would have been uncanny, based on the dominant motif of said villains.

The studio Hanna Barbera produced many imitations of SCOOBY DOO's mystery-solving teens, and almost all of them also fall into the marvelous phenomenality. The well-remembered JOSIE AND THE PUSSYCATS (1970-71) went SCOOBY DOO one better in the department of marvel-making: borrowing more from H-B's own JONNY QUEST than from the "haunted house" comedy-mysteries of Hollywood, the globe-trotting Pussycats continually encountered evil masterminds (usually not masked) rather than schemers pretending to be spooks.  That said, JOSIE still kept up its quota for intelligent animals, as the cast included a devious feline, one Sebastian, who couldn't talk but did a number of un-cat-like things, like opening locks with his claws.

The closest thing Hanna-Barbera did to an series without marvels seems to be THE AMAZING CHAN AND THE CHAN CLAN (1972).  Perhaps because the series' main idea was to focus on the famed detective's large brood of offspring, there was just one comical animal, the dog Chu Chu. However, as memory serves he neither talked nor acted like a human being; he was closer to the model of Bandit in JONNY QUEST, in that he was for the most part a "real" dog.  As for the villains, they were cut from a more mundane cloth than SCOOBY's, but at least some of them did dress up in weird costumes and chase the kids around a little before ultimately getting caught in slapstick fashion.

None of these series register as "combative" in that there is no opposition between two exceptional types of power, as stated in THE NECESSITY OF SPECTACLE:

in the past year I've formulated the idea of "the combative mode" as one that exists exclusively where at least two exceptional-- or "megadynamic"-- forces come into conflict, thus producing Kantian dominance

The "specious spectres" of SCOOBY, CHAN CLAN, and various other ghost-chasing comedy-cartoons might not have a lot of power-- that is, they would be on the lower, "exemplary" level of the "x-type."  Ncvertheless, as long as their opponents were at least on that same level, then one would have a combative narrative.  However, because these cartoons were inspired by comedies in which the protagonists generally won out through luck rather than might or skill, the casts of SCOOBY DOO and that show's imitators were usually what I've denoted as "z-types," ranging from "poor" to "average' levels of dynamicity.

What would a combative version of the SCOOBY DOO template look like? If the heroes were exceptional naturalistic fighters, they would provide a megadynamic force able to contend directly with the uncanny menaces.  The 2002 SCOOBY DOO live-action film toyed with upgrading the characters of Fred and Daphne in this regard.  However, the sequel to that film did not emphasize this element, nor did any of the three Scooby Doo teleseries that followed the first film. 

The famous "Hardy Boys" book series might come closer to the mark, given that the main heroes were usually described as above-average combatants. However, I don't know whether or not the majority of the books-- which came out in many different editions-- would qualify as uncanny or as naturalistic.

Strangely, Hanna-Barbera produced a 1977 teleseries that had all the makings for a combative series in the SCOOBY mold, in that the show's uncanny spectres were caught by a marvelous being with a good deal more dynamicity than a talking dog.  This series, the incredibly inept CAPTAIN CAVEMAN AND THE TEEN ANGELS, featured a superhero caveman with real if erratic super-powers, who was constantly talked into solving crimes by his three hot-babe partners. However, there was no combat in the series between the goofball caveman and his adversaries. Rather, the villains were usually corralled through some slapstick device, just as in SCOOBY DOO. Thus this series-- which, I will note, wins my award for one of the most mind-numbingly awful American telecartoons of all time-- is no more combative than the series discussed in this essay, TEEN TITANS GO. The latter also substitutes goofy slapstick for even a comic version of martial combat, though happily, with far less excruciating effects.