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This essay is a very belated response to a " part 1 " published in February 2015. The gist of that essay was a response to a corre...

Sunday, July 28, 2013


When I wrote the conclusion of Part 1 yesterday I intended to use a Julian Darius essay as my first example of merely "reflective" criticism, but as it happened, that same day a forum-post directed me to a current WIRED essay by the other individual I mentioned in that essay, Noah Berlatsky.

Now this Berlatsky essay is not really literary criticism of the sort he practices (attempts?) on THE HOODED UTILITARIAN.  Although I have many problems with Berlatsky's over-ideological, Freudian-Marxist mtehodology, I must admit that he's the only critic known to me (besides myself) who esteems the William Moulton Marston WONDER WOMAN, so he gets some props for that.  However, the WIRED essay is puffery, coattailing on the popular meme wherein fans complain about the lack of a WONDER WOMAN movie. This meme works out well for Berlatsky, allowing him to proclaim the meme's irrelevance while managing to make a little cash writing an essay about it.  Berlatsky asserts that there's no need for a WW movie, since there's next to no chance that anyone can capture "the feminist bondage submissive pacifist lesbian goofiness" of Marston's WW. 

This essay is particularly relevant to my screed against "reflective criticism" because it relates to the way critics of this persuasion direct attention away from the entire spectrum of art and focus upon a few allegedly exceptional works.  In this essay I defined this attitude as exceptionalism, and Berlatsky's attitude toward anything he deems less than exceptional is mirrored by this Tucker Stone quote:

 I’m a fan of great comics. If it’s not great comics–then I hope it burns in hell with all of its friends.
There's no substance in this sort of showboating, of course, especially when it's more than evident that many other critics-- possibly including Stone-- would not hesitate to let Marston's WONDER WOMAN "burn in hell."

I won't spend a lot of time refuting Berlatsky's argument against a WONDER WOMAN movie.  He asserts, "I don’t have any desire to see yet another badly conceived version of the character tramp through yet another mediocre storyline, and doing so won’t honor Marston or his creation."  I can't refute his desire not to see what he considers mediocrity, but mediocre adaptations don't go away because critics don't like them, or even if they did, under what circumstances would all critics agree as to what is "mediocre?"  As for the past about honoring Marston or his creation, give me a break.  No artist of any caliber adapts another artist in order to "honor" the other artist, no matter how much the adaptor may prate about being "true" to the original vision.  Every artist cares about himself first. Kenneth Branagh's HAMLET may come the closest to a true adaptation of the Shakespeare play than any other film, but it's still Branagh first and Shakespeare second.  You don't get Dashiell Hammett from John Huston's MALTESE FALCON; you get John Huston.  If David E. Kelley had successfully launched a WONDER WOMAN teleseries, it would have been Kelley first and DC's WONDER WOMAN second.  If some mad genius tried to launch an HBO series truthfully adapting Marston's WONDER WOMAN, it would be his work first, and Marston's second.

Berlatsky also follows the exceptional program in segregating the Marston WONDER WOMAN from the hoi polloi of superheroes:

There’s not that much to Superman or Batman. They’re pulp action heroes, period. Wonder Woman, on the other hand, was deliberately, ideologically feminist, sexual, and even messianic. Marston made it work, and made it popular — those original comics were hugely successful.
He praises the imaginative elements of Marston's WONDER WOMAN:

Amazons playing bondage games where they dress up as deer and eat each other; giant spacefaring kangaroos with extra lungs; evil midget hypnotists who ensorcell women in order to draw forth pink, ropy gobs of ectoplasm; cross-dressing snowmen — Marston is a cracked genius, whose exhilaratingly, perversely sexual feminist, queer, pacifist vision still looks, 60 years later, like it’s 100 years ahead of its time.

And I posted in response:

Though I agree with NB that Marston's WONDER WOMAN is unique in having
more of an organized theme than other genre comics of its time, the
theme alone is not what makes it good, and the lack of a coherent theme
does not make SUPERMAN or BATMAN bad.
The very thing Berlatsky praises in WONDER WOMAN-- the visual craziness of flying kangaroos, winged nymphs, et al-- is just as present in the Batman comics of the day. A guy who looks like a human penguin, another guy with half his face burnt up? How is this not as imaginative in its own way, even if it partakes more of pulp detective fantasies than Greek Myth?
Early Superman isn't on the same imaginative level, I'll give you that, but it gets there with bottled cities, a guy who swear eternal vengeance 'cause he lost his hair, and so on.
I suspect what Noah likes is the "ideological" side of WONDER WOMAN, not the imaginative elements as such.
This is the "unreflective" aspect of such ideologically-oriented "reflective criticism," its unrelenting lack of ability to see the continuity between works in interrelated genres.

More in Part 3.

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