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NUM-INOUS COMICS PT. 2

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...

Monday, July 28, 2014

ELLISON AND ELITISM PT. 2

"As John Gardner said in his book ON MORAL FICTION, there is room in the world for trivial art, but it is only because high art exists and is recognized and is worshiped and honored that the world is safe for triviality."-- Harlan Ellison,"The Harlan Ellison Interview," TCJ #53 (1980).

As I've not read the Gardner book in many years, I can't say if Ellison has fairly summarized that author. I do seem to remember thinking that Gardner didn't offer much logical proof for his artistic judgments.

Judgment is a key factor here. Ellison is certainly not the person one would go to-- today or in 1980-- for a reflective analysis as to what makes one work good and another bad. What's interesting about this 1980 quote is that so little has changed after 30 years. To this day, would-be critics in any medium rail against trivial works as if they were direct threats to the survival of the "good stuff."  Few critics stop to ask whether or not the same audience that wants to lose itself in what Ellison chooses to call "shit" are likely to ever be attracted to what any elitist, be it Ellison or someone else, considers to be "high art."

One irony of Ellison's excoriation is that, in contrast to his interviewer Gary Groth, the author seems to cherish his memories of "trivial art." On one hand he sneers at mainstream comics for putting bad work out there just to fill pages and meet deadlines. Yet he speaks of his passion for the character of The Shadow, which was certainly framed by the same pulp-adventure aesthetic one sees in comic books. I doubt that I've read as many of the Shadow's adventures as Ellison, but what I have read strikes me as not only trivial art, but bad trivial art. The Shadow is IMO a classic character, but most of the actual pulp adventures strike me as dull mysteries that are just barely redeemed by the hero's supernal presence.

Later, following Howard Chaykin's less than reverential treatment of the Shadow for a 1986 DC Comics limited series, Ellison was irate with the artist for profaning the character. Suddenly, trivial art was important, because it was something Ellison liked. In a radio show for HOUR 25, Ellison commented, "At what point do we say, 'You're mucking with our myths?'"

It may be that for Ellison, calling the Shadow a myth is no more than empty rhetoric. Certainly it would seem to contradict his statement above. If trivial art is only redeemed by the existence of high art, then how can any example of trivial art stand on its own enough to be a "myth?"

In my Jungian-Campbellian view, of course, the Shadow is a myth not simply because I like it; it's a myth because it incorporates dimensions of Campbell's four functions: the psychological, the sociological, the cosmological and the metaphysical.  The depth with which a pulp-character comments on these aspects of life may be much more limited than that of whatever Harlan Ellison deems high art-- which, going on the TCJ interview, would seem to include Michael Moorcock-- an inclusion that might have raised the eyebrows of John Gardner.  But the salient fact is that even "trivial art:" can sometimes incorporate serious content, just as some "high art" is capable of moments of extreme triviality. This would include petty roman à clef  attacks on one's real-life enemies, for example-- which just might appear in some of the works of-- Harlan Ellison.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

ELLISON AND ELITISM PT. 1

A recent forum-post reminded me of the momentous 1980 Harlan Ellison interview in COMICS JOURNAL #53. I hadn't read it for a while, and my memory was that the first time Ellison slagged the work of artist Don Heck, he was doing so in the mistaken impression that Heck had done the art to the 1970s comic NOVA.

Instead, as I reread the interview, it turned out that the NOVA reference came second. In the course of the interview Ellison was ranging all over the place, holding forth on his personal gospel of artistic excellence vs. journeyman mediocrity. On page 76, Ellison has just finished exulting in his own escape from the hell of network TV: "...they get you to write this shit and they corrupt you and writers are turned into mere hacks. I won't do it any more but there are plenty who will..."

Slightly later he makes the caveat that in some cases the willing hacks don't even have talent to start with, which brings him to an excoriation of the total worthlessness of all mainstream comics then current. Ellison asks interviewer Gary Groth to name the "worst artist in the field," and Groth names Don Heck.  When Groth also mentions that a particular publisher once praised Heck, Groth assumes that the praise was for Heck's ability to turn the work in on time. For Ellison this is tantamount to compromising the integrity of the work for a paycheck. Somehow it never occurs to Ellison that this contradicts his earlier point: if Heck had no talent to begin with, then, one may reason, how can he compromise the work?  But then Ellison is off again, touting Neal Adams as a conscientious professional who respects the work over the demands of the industry. After opining that "five thousand Don Hecks are not worth one Neal Adams," THEN he remembers how much he disliked the art of NOVA. He wonders if Heck was the artist on that work; Groth agrees that it was terrible art (as do I, incidentally) but neither remembers that Sal Buscema committed the crime against great art.

Four JOURNAL issues later, the magazine's lettercol carried several responses to Ellison's tirade, one of which came from Steve Gerber. Gerber praised some of Heck's work, not coincidentally work on which Heck and Gerber had collaborated. Then Gerber asserted parenthetically that Heck had suffered some personal tragedy in his life. In his response Ellison did not retract his opinion on Heck's work, but he did admit that in some situations "one should watch one's mouth."

Strangely, I recall reading an interview with Heck-- who passed away in 1995-- in which he denied that he had experienced any personal tragedy that had interfered with the quality of his work. In fact, I recall that Heck claimed in said interview that the story had taken on "urban legend" status in his field, where dozens of fellow workers believed it but no one knew precisely what had supposedly happened to the artist. But since I cannot at present remember where I read this, readers are advised to take my recollections with a grain of salt.

Next up: examining the roots of an elitism from over thirty years ago.

Friday, July 25, 2014

FEELINGS, NOTHING MORE THAN FEELINGS

In my last essay I cited a recent article on Comic-con 2014 to substantiate the claim that bad real-life behavior does still occur at conventions. That, however, doesn't mean that I agree with every point writer Rebecca Keegan made in support of this thesis. Here's one I reject:


At a “Game of Thrones” panel at the 2011 San Diego Comic-Con, a mix of cheers and groans rose up in the audience when actor Jason Momoa said his favorite part of his role on the HBO show is that he gets to “rape beautiful women and have them fall in love with me.” 

Now, I would sympathize with the outrage here only in one respect: since Comic-con is not an "adults only" function, it was at the very least indecorous of the actor to make an adults-only statement in that venue.  But Keegan didn't object on the basis of grossing out juveniles. The thrust of the article is on the "harassment" of women at the convention.

Harassment, however, does not include "anything that annoys many or even all women," and within a context of speaking to adults about adult entertainment-- which GAME OF THRONES certainly is-- Momoa's remarks do not constitute harassment.

The kerfluffle resembles the one that arose in 2013 when Mark Millar had the audacity to assert that in a story-context the act of rape could be used for the narrative purpose of showing graphically that a villain was a Bad Guy. In my essay CONJUNCTION JUNCTION, MEET VIOLATION STATION, I observed that though I had no use for Millar's work, the writer was just stating a fact.  Much of the criticism directed against his remarks was based not on the nature of storytelling, but on an ideological desire to make sure that the activity of rape should never be used for any purpose but the condemnation of so-called "rape culture."

I haven't bothered to look up earlier responses to Momoa's remarks; though it's the first time I came across this particular issue.  I'm sure the original debate had largely run its course before Ms. Keegan brought it up.  I would imagine, though, that a lot of vitriol came about because of the linkage of rape and "falling in love."

But of course, as I mentioned in this essay, the linkage is not something Momoa made up out of whole cloth: it's a trope that has circulated throughout the genre of the "women's romance" since it erupted from the skull of Samuel Richardson.  I hazarded a few guesses at the reasons why the assocation of rape and love in these genre-works should prove so durable, especially in works aimed predominantly at a female readership. But though I freely admit that there could be many subtleties about the subject to which I, a male writer, am not privy, I don't believe that the trope is syndromic of "rape culture."  On one hand, I regard the trope, as phrased by Momoa, is absurd on the face of it: barring the rare occurrences of real-life Stockholm Syndrome, I don't think the average person believes this to be anything more than a fantasy.  On a second hand, I believe that the same trope pertains no less to the fantasy of female-on-male rape-- even if this is usually accomplished through roundabout means; i.e., drugs, etc.

While I don't agree with the moral opprobrium attached, TV Tropes helpfully provides a list of examples on this topic as it pertains to comics, ranging from Black Canary to Asterix,  

So tosum up::

Real threats of rape to someone, even if intended as stupid "humor"-- no good.

Dumb jokes about rape in a fictional context-- okay.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

BREASTS, BLOOD, AND JUSTICE PT. 4

In part 1 of this essay-series I said:

Whether anyone believes it or not, I can understand why a female viewer would be experience cognitive dissonance while watching a film like ANGELFIST. Let us suppose that the hypothetical female viewer can fully identify with the basic trope of an action-revenge film like this one, that this viewer can take pleasure in seeing the kickboxing-heroine slam around nasty crooks, mostly if not entirely of the male gender, using the same methods that a male action-hero would. That visual pleasure would probably be disrupted by seeing the heroine fight off those hoods while she's mostly naked.

Now, I should note that for some feminist critics the problem would not just be the fact of the woman's unveiling, but also the circumstances that led to it: that actresses like the star of ANGELFIST, the late Cat Sassoon, were victims of a "boys' club" mentality that put women on display in order to marginalize them.

In Part 3 I critiqued this attitude with respect to Camille Paglia's philosophy:

Camille Paglia famously argued that the ability of women to display themselves often had a profound, empowering aspect. One need not believe that it applies to all situations, as Paglia seemed to credence, but this view does supply a necessary corrective to the ultraliberal/WAPster notion that feminine sexual display can mean nothing but "coming across for The Man."
I still believe this. However, it has occurred to me that there's a smattering of logic in the WAPster association of "female display= control by males." In JUG BOND I hypothesized the evolution of the female breast in hominids as a somatic strategy born in part of the woman's desire to encourage and discourage the male, as needed. Yet as a Bataillean, I must admit that as soon as early Woman created a Taboo, it created the ineluctable potential for Transgression. 



So for Woman, there is no pure state of affairs in which the revelation of the breast is always under her control, signaling either her readiness for sex or her desire to titillate without consequence. The possibility for transgression is quite real, as has been seen in an unlikely site for transgressive activities: the comics convention.

Nevertheless, no fantasy-transgression has the same meaning as a real one. I can't claim that "Monkey See Monkey Do" never takes place, for there are some pretty monkey-minded people out there. Still, there's no dependable correlation between what people watch and what they do. Anyone who claims that adult fantasies must be curtailed to control the real behavior of adults is a bullshit artist.

I find it fascinating that in the earlier cited Heidi McDonald BEAT-essay, Seth MacFarlane is raked over the coals for having made certain actresses into "dehumanized objects" because he sang about the boobs they exposed in their upscale films. Not one word was spoken against the actresses, though.  Even if MacFarlane is a boob for having sung about boobs, he didn't make any of those actresses disrobe, whether for art or commerce.  Said disrobings were the choices of the actresses involved, and by violating the Taboo themselves, they did in a broad sense (heh) invite at least a verbal Transgression.

I suppose that it's probably easier for WAPsters to sneer at the lowbrow monetary motives of a Roger Corman. He would never claim to be Unveiling the Sacred Image of Womankind for Art, and if he was honest he'd probably admit that he was giving male viewers what they were willing to pay for, period. I can see why this might evoke in some feminists' minds the spectre of the Boys' Club. However, this limited perspective overlooks a deeper vein of symbolism that attends all hetero male-female relationships, and that deeper vein cannot be ignored in favor of a puerile political correctness.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

DJINN, WITH SUMMONER PT. 2

My recent meditations on the processes of "interiorization" and "exteriorization" with respect to the way that a character summons power into play-- whether it is his own power or that of another entity-- was quite intentionally reflected on the two films I chose to examine in this review from my film-blog.



The 1955 film THE COURT JESTER is yet another variation on the theme of interiorization. The comic hero Hubert is utterly unable to comport himself after the fashion of the martially skilled hero he admires. By chance a princess falls in love with Hubert and she forces her "pet witch" to hypnotize Hubert into believing that he is "the greatest swordsman in the land."  Toward the end of the film this results in an outstanding duel between Hubert and the equally skilled villain of the piece. However, the duel never comes to a decisive conclusion, because the witch's spell can be undone whenever Hubert hears the sound of fingers snapping. After poor Hubert flashes back and forth a few times between being either a peerless fighter or an incompetent goof, he's finally helped out of his troubles by some of his allies. As I wrote in MYTHOS AND MODE PART TWO, the lack of a decisive combat between two megadynamic forces means that the narrative does not possess what I term a "significant combative value."




The other film in this review-essay, 1961's THE WONDERS OF ALADDIN, provides an example of exteriorization, but one which is also, like JESTER, not in the combative mode, though for a different reason. The doofus title character has some limited control of a genie, although this summoner-hero, much like DC Comics' Johnny Thunder-- discussed here-- takes some time to figure out how to invoke his djinn's powers. Unlike THE COURT JESTER, WONDERS does conclude with a fight between Donald O'Connor's Aladdin and the evil vizier (the fellow dressed in black at right in the photo above).  Before beginning the fight, Aladdin tells his genie not to interfere. When it becomes increasingly evident that Aladdin is no match for the vizier, the genie performs a few distracting magical tricks, so that Aladdin is able to triumph.  Yet this film does not satisfy my other criterion for a combative narrative: the "narrative combative value," which speaks to whether or not the narrative's plot decisively builds toward a climactic combat.. There's a battle, all right, but Aladdin is certainly not an exceptional figure, and his victory is, like that of Hubert in JESTER, compromised by another party. So by the same logic expressed in MYTHOS AND MODE 2, the film lacks the "narrative combative value."

Now, I have to ask myself whether or not I am fudging my own definitions. I've stated that Johnny Thunder is merely a "good," not exceptional, hand-to-hand fighter, but that he becomes "exceptional" by dint of controlling the magical Thunderbolt-- all despite the fact that Thunder is a comic hero, and he frequently only invokes his djinn's powers in illogical or roundabout ways.

Yet, one major difference between the serial adventures of comic hero Johnny Thunder and the solo adventure of comic hero Aladdin is that the Thunderbolt is supposed to be a regular ally to the main character, while the genie only exists in Aladdin's world as a short-lived, contingent presence, one who will vanish as soon as he has given the hero his three wishes. This is not the first time I have disallowed a work to have combative status on these terms. In DYNAMICITY/ DEMIHERO DELIBERATIONS I faced a similar problem, in which the "summoners" of the 1934 film BABES IN TOYLAND did call up a group of "djinns," but djinns who were purely contingent on the contrivances of the plot, not as representations of the characters themselves:

I defined the problem first in this fashion:


 Both of these forces, the toy soldiers and the Boogeymen, can be seen as "genies" through which the heroes or the villain respectively seek to accomplish their ends.

However, I rejected both the djinn-characters and the summoner-characters of TOYLAND from having combative status for this stated reason:

But I find myself asking: though the soldiers and the Boogeymen are extensions of the will of heroes and villain, are they central to the struggle, or just supporting characters in the story?  ... By the logic of [cited examples from the teleserials DOCTOR WHO and MIGHTY MAX], then, the toy soldiers and the Boogeymen are support-characters, and their exceptional combat does not generate a narrative value.  They are not comparable to the "iron genies" I discussed here.

And so, unlike a lot of "combative comedy" characters I've discussed in my film-reviews, the protagonist of WONDERS OF ALADDIN lacks combative status because of the contingent nature of his allies; because he is not meaningfully tied to the powers he invokes.

ADDENDUM: Upon re-screening the climax of COURT JESTER, I felt I should note exactly what transpires, even though the actions of the climax don't affect my verdict. As I said above, Hubert under hypnosis has dazzled the evil Ravenhurst with his sword-work, but he himself cancels the hypnotic spell by snapping his fingers. Ravenhurst's sword forces Hubert to back up, toward a parapet overlooking the moat below. Just when Ravenhurst is preparing to kill Hubert, the hero's allies-- a group of dwarves-- intrude and distract the villain. However, they aren't the ones who finish off Ravenhurst, for Hubert, taking advantage of the distraction, manages to grab the wicked counselor and judo-toss him down to the moat below. However, even though Hubert does play a more direct role in the villain's defeat than I asserted in my summary above, he's still a lot like the Donald O'Connor character in the WONDERS OF ALADDIN-- "good" enough to defeat the evildoer with the aid of a distraction, but not great, and therefore, not megadynamic.

DJINN, WITH SUMMONER PT. 1

One of the most famous tropes of the superhero idiom is that of "strength concealed by weakness," or, alternately, "strength evolving from weakness."

Obviously no credible study of the superhero can pass by the trope of the hero's "secret identity." There are of course a fair number of heroes who have no such double identities, or whose mundane origins are widely known to the public. Yet the image of the heroic figure who emerges from some unlikely source-- a meek, bespectacled reporter, a child, or an indolent playboy-- has become a major metaphor for the superhero genre. Johnston McCulley's "Zorro" was not the first character to conceal a dynamic nature beneath an unlikely facade. Still, Zorro may have been the character who most affected this trope of the superhero idiom, with obvious impact on such characters as the Shadow, the Spider, Batman, and Superman.



The Fawcett Captain Marvel is a slightly different wrinkle on the same trope. The hero's alter ego of Billy Batson is literally weak-- I'm not sure that the Fawcett version of Billy is ever seen "resorting to physical violence" as himself, even when faced with an opponent in his own weight-class. The weak alter ego doesn't just shuck off his clothes and reveal the powerful persona beneath; he must literally transform himself into a being of great power physically distinct from said alter ego.



Still, as different as these variations on a theme may be, I view both of them as examples of interiorization. That is, the hero's true, powerful self is concealed within him, and must be summoned from within.

A distinct trope, though, is that of the hero who calls up some other being to do his fighting for him.  Thus, while one can see Superman as an interior power that bursts forth from Clark Kent, and Captain Marvel as one that subsumes Billy Batson, the relationship in this trope-- what I will call the "djinn-and-summoner" trope-- is one of exteriorization.  That is, the character doing the summoning usually remains un-transformed, and the "djinn" that he calls up is a character in his or her own right.

The folktale "Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp" is patently the most famous story about a person calling forth a djinn/genie. The story doesn't qualify for inclusion in the combative mode of the superhero idiom, as I noted in my essay MIGHT VS. DOMINANCE:

The original story of ALADDIN AND HIS WONDERFUL LAMP would seem to be a subcombative form of adventure, in that there is no actual combat between Aladdin and his opponent the "Chinese Magician," nor does Aladdin fight any proxy servant of the Magician.  The conflict consists of either hero or villain swiping the lamp away from the other at this or that time, but never in a direct confrontation.  

There have been any number of takes on the Aladdin-tale in which the summoner-hero is much more dynamic than the djinn he summons, as with the 1939 POPEYE theatrical cartoon "Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp." Though Popeye/Aladdin does call up a genie, his big duel with an evil magician at the cartoon's climax is wholly dependent on his ability to empower himself with spinach, another wrinkle on the interiorization trope; ingesting some substance to unleash one's "inner strength."



Another more active Aladdin is the one from the Disney cartoon, who, instead of being a lazy layabout as in the Arabic tale, is a swashbuckling swordsman. Thus, though this Aladdin does summon a djinn to fight various antagonists, he isn't entirely dependent on his magical helper.


Yet some modern superheroic works display summoners who are almost entirely dependent upon their djinns. In this essay I cited the example of GIGANTOR. As with Billy Batson, I don't remember any instances in which the boy-summoner was seen fighting on his own behalf. But even if there were isolated incidents in which Jimmy Sparks duked it out a few times with villains, the dominant trope of the teleseries was the summoning of its robotic djinn, who would proceed to give battle to some other kaiju-sized menace.


In Part 2 I'll discuss the ways in which these types of djinn/summoner relationships sort out in relation to dynamicity and the combative mode.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

ONLY AN ARCHETYPE CAN BEAT ANOTHER ARCHETYPE PT. 4

In this essay I defined stereotypes in terms of simple functionality and archetypes in terms of super-functionality. With that in mind I might re-state my title as "only super-functionality can beat super-functionality."

I won't say that the same is the case for stereotypes. It's more common for one stereotype to overcome another, but an archetype of sufficient power can eliminate, or at least mitigate, the power of stereotypes. In this essay I advanced the hypothesis that the archetype of "the African slave as demonic rebel" that permeates Melville's BENITO CERENO was essentially nullified by a more popular archetype, that of "the redeemed slave." In the Judeo-Christian tradition the first descends principally from literary takes on Satan, while the latter may be traced more directly from the Biblical Messiah-tradition.  Yet if Leslie Fiedler is correct in believing that UNCLE TOM'S CABIN is the first American novel that presents black characters as developed narrative presences, then CABIN's influence made it harder to promulgate that view. Wikipedia notes how the minstrel shows attempted to ameliorate the impact of the novel:


Tom acts largely came to replace other plantation narratives, particularly in the third act. These sketches sometimes supported Stowe's novel, but just as often they turned it on its head or attacked the author. Whatever the intended message, it was usually lost in the joyous, slapstick atmosphere of the piece. Characters such as Simon Legree sometimes disappeared, and the title was frequently changed to something more cheerful like "Happy Uncle Tom" or "Uncle Dad's Cabin."

In the 20th century minstrel shows passed out of favor, arguably as part of a very graduated response to the consciousness of "black people as human beings" that the novel promoted. Ironically, before the minstrel shows died, they left behind a reactionary legacy by making the name "Uncle Tom" into a stereotypical shorthand for a "cringing bootlicker to White Massa"-- which the character in the novel is not. But the fact that the character of Uncle Tom is a prophet not honored in his own hometown does not nullify the greater impact of the novel.

I said earlier that the franchise-character of Superman-- who of course is something of a palimpsest, changing his persona according to the proclivities of his authors-- combined both stereotypical and archetypal characteristics. All fictional characters possess the potential for both, from those of Willie Shakespeare to those of Mickey Spillane.  I'm sure that there are critics who choose to view the character's status in American culture to be independent of his archetypal nature; who see his success as purely the result of clever marketing. This pat explanation does not explain why the character became popular in his early ACTION COMICS appearances even though for the first eleven issues the character is only cover-featured three times (though his name is occasionally added in the background of some generic pulp-adventure scene). Earlier I have identified Superman's primary mythic appeal for Americans of the 1940s as a trope I termed CHRIST WITH MUSCLES-- a trope Superman certainly did not originate but one that he came to exemplify better than any previous pop-culture character.



This archetype, though, was to some extent conquered by an archetype closer in tone to the "suffering servant" archetype found in UNCLE TOM'S CABIN. Superman's appeal has never completely vanished, but it has been eclipsed in large part by Stan Lee's trope of the "suffering hero," who is best exemplified by the Amazing Spider-Man.

The first few appearances of the web-slinger are replete with references to the Superman mythos. Sometimes they are straightforward, in that Peter Parker wears glasses like Clark Kent, and at other times they are inverted, in that Parker really is a 98-pound weakling, rather than a strapping fellow who merely pretends to be a weakling.  In some cases the Superman tropes are a little of both: Parker continues to make his living in roughly the same way Kent does-- working for a big-city newspaper-- but Kent works for an editor who is a nice guy beneath his bluster, and Parker works for a conceited windbag with inferiority issues.



At a quick glance some fans might see the Lee-Ditko Spider-Man as a satirical jab at the Siegel-Shuster hero. And there are moments of satire present in early Spider-Man, particularly through the authors' focus on the character's money problems. Clearly, even though both heroes are fantasy-creations, Spider-Man's authors are claiming greater verisimilitude, showing that when their character becomes a costumed superhero, that transformation doesn't obviate all of his other problems.  At an equally quick glance, this might seem to be the same strategy pursued by Harvey Kurtzman in his full-blown satires, such as MAN AND SUPERMAN, discussed here.

Nevertheless, this particular Kurtzman short story is merely stereotypical in the simplicity with which Kurtzman addresses the lack of verisimilitude in comic-book superhero stories. Lee and Ditko's criticism of Superman's lack of "real-life problems" is only one aspect of Spider-Man's mythos, for Spider-Man as much as Superman must deal with such non-realistic worries as preventing mad scientists from creating Bizarro duplicates or turning themselves into giant lizards. Thus Spider-Man is not a satire of Superman, but an attempt to evolve a new ethic for the costumed hero; to show that Spider-Man is more of a hero precisely because he deals with both medical bills and lizard-men.  I don't claim that Lee and Ditko thought about their new approach to heroes in such lofty terms at the time. But I am claiming that both of them drew on a deep reservoir of narrative strategies from various genres-- superheroes, crime, horror, and science fiction-- rather than sticking too close to the superhero model as that had been defined prior to the Silver Age.  This openness to narrative strategies also made them open to the power of the archetype that most defines Spider-Man: the aforementioned "suffering hero."

Superman's emotionally imperturbable archetype once influenced dozens of epigoni. But in the wake of Spider-Man specifically and other Marvel characters generally, that archetype no longer inspires more than a handful of imitators-- and some of those make conscious appeal to nostalgia, rather than celebrating the archetype of "Christ with Muscles" in new forms.



 I won't say that it is impossible to conceive of a modern costumed hero who doesn't juggle both realistic and unrealistic problems, but it has become the "new norm," despite mitigating influences from Miller, Morrison, and others.

Of course, in the case of many Spider-Man imitators-- the 1970s character Nova, for one-- the archetype of the suffering hero has been dumbed down to an array of stereotypical devices, and any archetypal potential goes unrealized.  Even the new breed of cinematic superheroes have inclined toward "Marvel style" rather than "DC style," as shown by such films as SUPERMAN RETURNS and MAN OF STEEL, which failed to mount a persuasive cinema-archetype for the Man of Steel.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

ONLY AN ARCHETYPE CAN BEAT ANOTHER ARCHETYPE PT. 3

In illustrating the theme of "archetypes vs. archetypes" promised at the end of the previous essay in this series, I could go straight to Superman, since I addressed his status as both stereotypical and archetypal in different aspects.  But I'll get to that later.

In that same essay I also addressed the use of racial and/or ethnic stereotypes. The term is often used to speak of stereotypes that misrepresent or marginalize persons of particular ethnicities. From my discussion of functionality here, though, it should be clear that a stereotype cannot be defined simply as something offensive. The minstrel-show "darky" and the "black private dick who's a sex machine to all the chicks" are equally stereotypical devices, no matter how pleasing an image John Shaft may present in contrast to Ebony White.

As it happens, in my recent essay VIRTUAL VIRTUES PT. 2 I provided some contrasting examples of racial myths. My purpose in so doing was to focus on narratives dealing with race, in order to draw some conclusions about the ways in which black characters were used, respectively, to incarnate different forms of transcendence in line with Huxley's thoughts on the subject. But the same examples can be used to interpret ways in which archetypes may contend with archetypes.

I stated that Margaret Mitchell's GONE WITH THE WIND depicted black people in the Old South in such a way as to reinforce a status quo; that is, that they were essentially childlike except when given inappropriate ideas by corrupt white people. Since this is entirely a stereotypical depiction, it has no place in this discussion.

The character of Babo from Melville's BENITO CERENO, is considerably more complex, for all that he incarnates an image of "the savage African" that would not be acceptable in some quarters. For one thing, Melville is aware of Africa's own history of slavery, which places a greater complexity on the leader of the slave-revolt. Here is Babo, playing the part of the respectful servant to the ignorant narrator:

"...poor Babo here, in his own land, was only a poor slave; a black man's slave was Babo, who now is the white's."

And here's Babo pretending to shave his "master"/captive Benito, whose life he is implicitly threatening with the razor, all before the unseeing eyes of the dull-witted narrator Captain Delano:

Here an involuntary expression came over the Spaniard, similar to that just before on the deck, and whether it was the start he gave, or a sudden gawky roll of the hull in the calm, or a momentary unsteadiness of the servant's hand, however it was, just then the razor drew blood, spots of which stained the creamy lather under the throat: immediately the black barber drew back his steel, and, remaining in his professional attitude, back to Captain Delano, and face to Don Benito, held up the trickling razor, saying, with a sort of half humorous sorrow, "See, master—you shook so—here's Babo's first blood."
By story's end Delano finally tumbles to the truth, the rebellious slaves are defeated, and Babo is tried and executed. Yet even when Babo is dead, Benito Cereno remains haunted by him. Delano asks what has cast such a shadow upon the Spaniard's heart, and Benito speaks but two words.
"The negro." 
This may be American literature's first black character who sustains the archetype of the "demonic rebel"-- and regardless of what Melville himself thought about slavery, his story certainly plays to that archetype, granting the canny Babo a sort of limited victory, even in death. This archetype did continue to appear in later works, notably in the works of Thomas Dixon, so it may be argued that this archetype was never entirely defeated. Yet any pride of place Babo might possess is certainly usurped by the figure of Uncle Tom.

Again, I am not arguing that any of these characters are pleasing in terms of realistic depiction, though I do think that both Babo and Uncle Tom are given more verisimilitude than any of Margaret Mitchell's black characters. The name of Uncle Tom, obviously, became a stereotypical name for a subservient black, which was a willful misreading of Harriet Beecher Stowe's theme.  She does not suggest, as Mitchell does, that all black characters should be subservient, but rather that Uncle Tom is a special case: a man with such Christ-like ability to forgive even his tormentors that he becomes more of an imitatio dei than a human being.

One need not agree with Stowe's evangelical sentiments to appreciate the pathos of Tom's execution, and the symbolic significance it lends to the sufferings of black slaves by comparing them to the suffering of Christ:

At this moment, the sudden flush of strength which the joy of meeting his young master had infused into the dying man gave way. A sudden sinking fell upon him; he closed his eyes; and that mysterious and sublime change passed over his face, that told the approach of other worlds.
He began to draw his breath with long, deep inspirations; and his broad chest rose and fell, heavily. The expression of his face was that of a conqueror.
"Who,—who,—who shall separate us from the love of Christ?" he said, in a voice that contended with mortal weakness; and, with a smile, he fell asleep.
George sat fixed with solemn awe. It seemed to him that the place was holy; and, as he closed the lifeless eyes, and rose up from the dead, only one thought possessed him,—that expressed by his simple old friend,—"What a thing it is to be a Christian!"

 I think it arguable that this archetype, that of the redeemed slave, while articulated by many creators who may have had little or no acquaintance with Stowe, has triumphed over that of the demonic rebel, at least in terms of the archetypal depiction of black characters.

More in part 4.




A QUICK ASIDE ON FUNCTIONALITY

On rereading this sentence from my previous essay, I felt I should elaborate the definitons of stereotype and archetype a little more:

That [Superman] gets his science-defying powers from a yellow sun, or loses them in the presence of a red sun, are stereotypical devices to quickly explain why the hero does or does not have powers.

A stereotype, or stereotypical device, is identical to what I called a "simple variable" in this essay. For my purposes a simple variable is any item, event or entity within a narrative that is as close as one can conceive to a bare function; one that is static with respect to associative links to other items, events, or entities.

An archetype is equivalent to what I have called a complex variable, following Northrop Frye's logic on this subject. A complex variable is any item, event or entity within a narrative that proves itself dynamic with respect to associative links to other items, events, or entities.

Therefore in my schema:

A stereotype is defined by bare functionality.

An archetype is defined by some degree of "super-functionality."

I suppose I could call it "surfunctionality" if I wanted to distance it from the various "supermen" associations of Nietzsche, Shaw and Jerry Siegel. But that would be an elitist's consideration.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

ONLY AN ARCHETYPE CAN BEAT ANOTHER ARCHETYPE PT. 2

In TRANSCENDENCE WHAT AIN'T SUBLIME, I printed a few excerpts from the 1951 Harvey Kurtzman story, "Man and Superman."  I did not, in that essay, address any questions of "stereotype vs. archetype," as my focus was on contrasting the two principal forms of transcendence as outlined by Aldous Huxley, "vertical" and "horizontal" transcendence.



However, "Man and Superman" works equally well to describe a battle between, not archetypes, but stereotypes about popular tropes.

Despite the use of the name "Superman" in Kurtzman's oh-so-Shavian title, the only trait of the DC hero being guyed here is the character's ability to defy scientific law by acquiring an unscientific level of physical density-- physical, that is, as opposed to the even greater mental denseness of the comic foil Charlemagne.  But though Kurtzman deserves credit for a clever satire, it is a satire that, as I pointed out earlier, depends purely upon a "reasonable and agreeable" conception of scientific law. There is no symbolic complexity to be found in Kurtzman's conception of scientific law: it's simply an amorphous taskmaster, set to punish those who try to step outside its unforgiving bounds-- which is indeed the fate of Charlemagne, who is stomped into nothingness by Imperial Entropy.



As noted before, Superman as Superman is not being spoofed here: Kurtzman mocks only one aspect of the character, his flagrant disregard for scientific law.  And though a myth-critic like myself can find symbolic complexity in many aspects of Superman's mythos, I have no problem admitting that the character is stereotypic in this respect. That he gets his science-defying powers from a yellow sun, or loses them in the presence of a red sun, are stereotypical devices to quickly explain why the hero does or does not have powers.


In neither case does one stereotype "defeat" the other, though. Readers of Superman often know that his powers make no sense in terms of real-world science, and so Kurtzman's satire cannot have any effect upon these readers' willingness to ignore verisimilitude for the sake of a pleasing fantasy.

It is possible for one stereotype to displace another, however. In Will Eisner's celebrated comic feature THE SPIRIT, the artist resorted in large part to "minstrel-show" stereotyping in producing the character of Ebony. None of the characteristics of Ebony-- his mush-mouthed speech, his blubber-lips or his deference to his white boss-- are acceptable stereotypes in modern culture.



However, was the Ebony stereotype displaced by anything comparable to an archetype? I would say that, while such a displacement was conceivable, what displaced the old stereotype was a new one.  Eisner, in this defense of Ebony, implies that the stereotype of the "Malcolm X-style radical" has usurped, or wishes to usurp, Ebony's place in the cultural scheme of things.




Eisner can be fairly criticized for distorting his past representations of Ebony. However, he seems to have been at least near the mark, as the stereotype of the "angry black man" is entirely acceptable to modern readers, however banal its representations may be.  I think this is the sort of usurpation my nephew was thinking about, where a "good stereotype" displaces a "bad stereotype"-- and archetypes as such are not really involved at all.


Next: Archetypes vs. Archetypes.

ONLY AN ARCHETYPE CAN BEAT ANOTHER ARCHETYPE

A few weeks ago, I was discussing storytelling with my gifted nephew, and somehow or other I broached the question of archetypes. While my nephew, currently in high school, is a beginner to storytelling, he reflected a common modern prejudice when he said something to the effect that he wanted to "get beyond the archetypes."

Assuming that I've quoted him correctly, I suspect that he doesn't see archetypes as I do, as templates of experience around which human beings organize all symbolic activity. It's possible that for him, archetypes are indistinguishable from stereotypes. And since stereotypes are usually bad, often being used to support racism or sexism, then archetypes must be bad as well.

The two can be simply distinguished, though, with recourse to Philip Wheelwright's conception of two basic forms of human language, on which he expounded in his book THE BURNING FOUNTAIN. In my post THE NARROWING GYRE I noted that he meant to propose this paradigm "not as a dichotomy" but "on the model of variables approaching a limit." Here is his description of "steno-language:"

 …meanings that can be shared in exactly the same way by a very large number of persons—in general, by all persons using the same language or the same group of inter-translatable languages. Examples are so obvious that they may be mentioned without explanation. Common words like child, parent, dog, tree, sky, etc., are steno-symbols, and their accepted meanings are steno-meanings, because what each of the words indicates is a set of definable experiences (whether actual or only possible) which are, in certain recognizable respects, the same for all who use the word correctly. (Metaphor and Reality, p. 33.)

In contrast to the use of words to describe objects or events in a static fashion, there is also a more dynamic "poeto-language," which depends on the dynamic manner in which the objects or events inspire "something at once familiar and strange:"

Certain particulars have more of an archetypal content than others; that is to say, they are 'eminent instances' which stand forth in a characteristic amplitude as representatives of many others; they enclose in themselves a certain totality, arranged in a certain way, stirring in the soul something at once familiar and strange, and thus outwardly as well as inwardly they lay claim to a certain unity and generality.-- FOUNTAIN, p. 54.

It's my contention, then, that stereotypes are static representations in tune with Wheelwright's "steno-language," while true archetypes are dynamic representations in tune with his concept of "poeto-language."

Examples will be forthcoming in future installments.

Monday, July 7, 2014

THE READING RHEUM #5: BORIS KARLOFF'S TALES OF MYSTERY

Horror comics from the 1960s can't compare with the mad, bad comics of the 1950s, but Gold Key's BORIS KARLOFF'S TALES OF MYSTERY was one of the better titles of the sixties. In general it managed to project a good sense of creepiness, even with the limitations of the Comics Code, and often boasted striking painted covers.



Take issue #10, from 1965. The cover story dealt with a couple of American entrepreneurs trying to unearth treasure from a volcano in Peru. They dismiss the idea that the area may be haunted by "the Hill Barbarians," a vicious gang of cutthroats who were vanquished centuries ago when the volcano went off and encased them all in lava.  Naturally, the undead warriors, horses and all, come back to life when one of the entrepreneurs tampers with their burial site. In keeping with the Code, no one is violently killed by the spectres, but there's a creepy moment when one of the locals observes that the barbarians are wasting away to skeletons even as they ride against their old enemies.

The most puzzling aspect of the tale is that the uniforms of the warriors are clearly modeled on the Spanish conquistadors. Yet at first the writer refers to them as "the Hill Barbarians of Peru," as if they are native to the realm. Then later, the characters referring to the warriors as "the Spanish barbarians," though there's no still no acknowledgement that they're literal conquistadors.  Maybe the unknown writer started out using conquistadors, but decided that he wanted them to be local bandits, who would be more likely to plunder Peruvian villages on a regular basis, rather than stealing from them legally, through taxation, as the conquistadors did.




A more satisfying refutation of European imperialism appears in BKTOM #24, from 1968. Suffice to say that the evil, red-bearded fellow on the cover ends up getting his from the magical "demon masks" of a tribe of Asian headhunters, and that his own head rests less than easy by story's end.

This issue, however, is more interesting for the story "The Guardians," which although it is narrated by Boris Karloff, contains references to "The Twilight Zone" in Boris' ruminations. Most probably this was an inventory story done for Gold Key's TWILIGHT ZONE title. Someone decided to adapt it to BKTOM by simply re-drawing Rod Serling to look like Karloff, but the editor didn't bother to correct the text. I expect horror-stories in comic books to be rather thinly plotted, but these two issues don't exact speak highly for the skills of the Gold Key editorial staff.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

BREASTS, BLOOD AND JUSTICE PT. 3

At the end of Part 1 of this series I wrote:

In Part 2 I will discuss some reasons as to why this is at most a lesser threat, one that pales in comparison to one that a modern Nietzschean might call "men and women with no chests."
This was a little misleading: the phrase "men without chests" originates not with Nietzsche or any Nietzschean, but in a quote by a critic who was in some ways opposed to everything Nietzsche stood for: the redoubtable C.S. Lewis, who wrote in his book THE ABOLITION OF MAN, "We make men without chests and expect from them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst."


Francis Fukuyama only quotes Lewis once in THE END OF HISTORY AND THE LAST MAN, but he utilizes this memorable phrase as the title of Chapter 28, which is principally his discussion of Nietzsche's objections to what we now call "liberal democracy."  Fukuyama does not dwell on the differences between Lewis and Nietzsche; he's interested only in comparing one similarity-- the pursuit of excellence, which Fukuyama associated with *megalothymia,* the human desire to prove oneself superior to others.

Liberal democracy, in contrast, is devoted to *isothymia,* the desire to prove oneself equal to others-- a desire to which both Lewis and Nietzsche were opposed, albeit for different reasons. 
It may be fairly claimed that often a given agent's desire to prove equality is spurred by another agent's attempt to prove superiority. Indeed, the key concept of what I define as ultraliberalism is the assumption that this defensive, reactive posture by a marginalized entity is the sine qua non of the liberal outlook. Thus in Berlatsky the majority of superhero narratives are defined as validations of the status quo,  and in Kelly Thompson the majority of sexy female costumes in superhero narratives are attempts to marginalize and/or dehumanize real women.



Real liberalism, in my view, allows its agents the freedom to campaign for greater real-world equality and, simultaneously, the freedom to compete for superior status upon a hypothetically level playing-field.  This level playing-field, however, does not mean that everyone strives after superior status in the same way, and when said field is occupied by both men and women, different strategies can fairly pertain.

In JUG BOND I printed this photo of a "girl about to go wild:"



Now, while both males and females have the ability to display their secondary sexual characteristics, and while hetero women do like to view the sec-sex characteristics of men, there's really no display males can mount that is quite this elemental. Yes, a given man can develop his pecs and abs to Schwarzeneggerian proportions, but this is a modification that takes a lot of work. Body-builders sculpt, they don't go 'wild," and many hetero women claim that they don't like this type of extraordinary musculature. In the end, there's no sec-sex characteristic that a male can display that reaps the same automatic, enthusiastic response. And while a woman's unveiling of her breasts can mean more than one thing, as I also noted in JUG BOND, in my opinion it most often connotes sexual readiness.

Camille Paglia famously argued that the ability of women to display themselves often had a profound, empowering aspect. One need not believe that it applies to all situations, as Paglia seemed to credence, but this view does supply a necessary corrective to the ultraliberal/WAPster notion that feminine sexual display can mean nothing but "coming across for The Man."

Further, sexual display is a strategy that works for some but not for all, even on a hypothetically level playing-field. Not all breasts are equal, and no matter how much WAPster feminists may campaign for a sisterhood in which all are equal, some women can flash tit to great approval, and some can't.  There have been any number of workplace suits alleging preferential treatment for women with "better" looks, and there's no excuse for that sort of unfair competition in the world of business.  But in fiction, it's entirely possible for "beauty" to correctly signify "goodness" and "ugliness" to signify "evil." The attempt to eliminate such hierarchies of "beauty vs. non-beauty" isn't politically possible in real life, and the attempt to curtail them in fiction is the sine qua non of absurdity.

As noted above, Lewis the proselytizing Christian and Nietzsche the advocate of "the death of God" were on very different pages. However, they were essentially agreed that human beings needed to strive toward excellence. Now it may be that neither scholar would have advocated that excellence in the form of being either a male or a female "hottie."  But I do, at least within the sphere of fiction, because physical beauty is often a conduit for the affect of the sublime-- a connection I may explore in more detail in a later essay.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

BREASTS, BLOOD AND JUSTICE PT. 2

Now, if the object of the humor was actually MacFarlane and his penchant for ribald attack humor, a simple 15-second cutaway—much like those on Family Guy—would have gotten across the point…and the humor. But no, it goes on for nearly two minutes—the point is to name and shame, say the word boobs and turn actresses into dehumanized objects yet again. I have a dream that someday women will be judged by the content of their character and not the content of their Maidenforms, but that day has not come for MacFarlane.-- Heidi MacDonald, "Why Seth MacFarlane is Not a Great Satirist."

I won't repeat my arguments against MacDonald and others who advocate her type of feminism, which I covered at length here  and here.  I will call attention to one phrase MacDonald used that has some irony now, when she claims that all MacFarlane had to do was to say the word "boobs" and that this would turn "actresses into dehumanized objects."

This trite assertion becomes ironic in light of the evolutionary theories outlined in JUG BOND.  Purely from the standpoint of distinguishing homo sapiens from all other animals, the genetic arrangement of adipose fat tissue within the female's breasts and buttocks is extraordinarily "humanizing." One can contrast the organs of a male human being with those of other male animals, but no one will find any single organic feature that compares in distinctiveness with the female breast. Further, the role of the breast has been that of promoting the human pair-bond, whether one wishes to conceive of that bond as having its roots in sexual deception or oxytocin-produced ecstasy.

Some feminist thinkers, however, do not take into account the role of the female tit in its evolutionary character; its ability both to encourage and to discourage sexual congress. For them the exposure of a boob is simply a means to make the (usually living) female to whom it is attached to an "it" rather than a "thou," to reference the terminology of Buber, discussed here.

I began the first part of this essay-series by noting that it was understandable that female viewers of an exploitation film-- such as 1993's ANGELFIST-- should experience a cognitive dissonance when seeing a female action-hero simultaneously fighting off nasty thugs but also exposing her tits to the implied male viewer of the movie. I understand the attitude so expressed, which I deem to be produced, at least in part, by a tendency for women to advocate societal modesty. It's a tendency that might prove to be universal-- or nearly so-- in human cultures in every time and clime, at least in comparison with a male tendency toward raunchiness and rule-breaking. But though the attitude is important for the maintenance of society in the real world, I still find it to be grossly out of place when assessing fictional constructs.



Though there are some heroic characters in fiction who may escape the limitation of being either "male" or "female"-- "Rebis" of Grant Morrison's DOOM PATROL is literally a transgendered being-- the great majority of heroes can be fairly defined as either male or female. In Part 1 of BBAJ, I demonstrated the prevalence of the "mostly unclothed hero" in a wide number of narratives starring male heroes, and observed that a lack of clothing did not carry the same taboo for males that it did for comparable female characters.

Nevertheless, because both male and female characters are fictional, one cannot accurately speak of either one being reduced to "dehumanized objects" simply by the lack of apparel. Fictional characters are objects only in comparison with living human beings. The most one can say is that in society some characters create more of an impression of being "it-objects," while others create more of an impression of being "thou-objects"-- though such judgments will always be rooted in the vagaries of taste.

But in terms of pure logic, there is no reason to assume that a female character's lack of clothing is any more "dehumanizing" than a man's. Characters like Tarzan and Hercules are seen as figures of power precisely because they can defy the norms of society, very nearly walking around in their birthday suits.  So it is within the bounds of possibility that one may view disrobed female characters in the same way.  Rather than seeing them as commodities divested of clothing to please male viewers, it's possible to see them as beings whose bodies are so awe-inspiring that the open display of those bodies gives them a godlike formidability.



One cannot decisively prove, of course, that male viewers view Lara Croft more as a figure of awe than as a dehumanized object. But the converse cannot be proven either; it's merely an assumption that has deeper roots in political ideology than in literary analysis. To neutralize either heroes and heroines of their sexual assets puts a new spin on the notion of "men without chests."




Tuesday, July 1, 2014

JUG BOND

Before proceeding to the second part of BREASTS, BLOOD AND JUSTICE, I'll discuss some of the prevalent theories as to why the female of the homo sapiens species may have developed both enhanced breasts and buttocks.  I will briefly sum up some current scientific theories but will make no great attempt at attributing every theory to its putative originator.  Also, though I will quote evolutionary theories that presuppose materialistic explanations for all life functions, this does not mean that I subscribe to these presuppositions. It just means that I consider materialistic explanations to be part of the truth.

I draw in part on such references as Leonard Shlain's SEX, TIME AND POWER and the Lynn Margulis/ Dorion Sagan work MYSTERY DANCE. As I read things, the dominant narrative of human evolution with respect to feminine secondary sex-characteristics goes something like this.

(1) The ancestor of "homo sapiens" moves from a quadripedal orientation to a bipedal one, possibly as a reaction to a compromised evolutionary niche.

(2) When females hominids begin walking upright, it has consequences for the width of the birth canal.

(3) The compromise of the birth canal promotes the greater survival of neotenous offspring; i.e., offspring who are born in a lesser stage of development in comparison to other primates, principally because in this stage it's easier for the head to pass through the smaller birth canal. This stage of development becomes the standard for the new upright hominid.

(4) Because the human infant remains helpless for several years-- as opposed to many primate infants, who can often survive on their own after a year-- the mother is motivated to attract male protectors who will protect home and hearth.

(5) This cataclysmic situation eventuates in the end of primate-like "estrus cycles" as the female hominid develops the talent and inclination to signal sexual availability at any time of the year. By coincidence alone-- at least according to materialistic science-- the female hominid develops enhanced breasts and buttocks, so that the male cannot predict any particular time when the female will be available for sex. This, according to Shlain, enforced the female's ability to command a "veto power" that exists only sporadically, if at all, in other members of the overall animal kingdom.

(6) A corollary to this line of thinking is that the shift to bipedalism also shifted the dorsal sexual procedure of other primates to a ventral orientation. Desmond Morris famously suggested that female breasts developed as a sexual signal to the male to get with the new program. Sort of a sign reading, "This side up, stupid!"  But it may be fairly pointed out that while engorged-looking buttocks might indeed signal female estrus to males, engorged-looking breasts might have tended to suggest lactation, and therefore female unavailability.

I may have missed a step here or there, having no more than an amateur's cognizance of the basic arguments, but I believe this sums up the prevalent opinions. However, I have encountered one interesting recent contribution that might answer the lactation-taboo objection.

This essay from the online journal LIVESCIENCE addresses a possible reason for the human male's predominant preoccupation with female breasts:

Larry Young, a professor of psychiatry at Emory University who studies the neurological basis of complex social behaviors, thinks human evolution has harnessed an ancient neural circuit that originally evolved to strengthen the mother-infant bond during breast-feeding, and now uses this brain circuitry to strengthen the bond between couples as well. The result? Men, like babies, love breasts.

AND


Recent studies have found that nipple stimulation enhances sexual arousal in the great majority of women, and it activates the same brain areas as vaginal and clitoral stimulation. When a sexual partner touches, massages or nibbles a woman's breasts, Young said, this triggers the release of oxytocin in the woman's brain, just like what happens when a baby nurses. But in this context, the oxytocin focuses the woman's attention on her sexual partner, strengthening her desire to bond with this person.

What does this mean for the traditional narrative of breast/buttock evolution? The narrative assumes that the feminine hominids's alterations take place as a strategy of visual deception, comparable to the display of symptoms of "false estrus" in many other animals. But the release of oxytocin doesn't seem to be a tactic of deception. It certainly begins, as Young posits, as a biological mechanism to promote the "mother-infant bond during breast-feeding." But the traditional narrative doesn't emphasize pair bonding for the sake of mutual enjoyment, much less for the female's enjoyment. The narrative emphasizes "quid pro quo:" the male gets sex with greater frequency-- albeit modified by the female's "veto power"-- and the female gets protection for herself and her offspring.

It's noted in this 2009 online essay that whereas some biologists did not assign oxytocin to play a big role in the sexual stimulation of the human male, some new research suggests that the hormone is more important than was previously believed. If both sexes were initially stimulated by oxytocin through primary sexual contact, then the hormone's stimulation in the female through a secondary sexual characteristic-- that is, through nipple stimulation-- may only have come about as a latter-day elaboration of a separate biological reaction.

All of this signifies that the female breasts of homo sapiens-- and perhaps to a lesser extent, the rounded buttocks-- may have become a displacement for the idea of sexual activity as a whole.  Perhaps traditional cultures that show no great breast-obsession are able to distance themselves from "breast-as-sexual-signifier" because the mammaries principally connote the lactation-taboo under most circumstances. However, this would not mean that the males of those cultures could not still utilize nipple stimulation when real sexual availability was signaled.

And what does this mean for "breasts in fiction?" Obviously, whether one is dealing with a crappy Roger Corman flick or a tony art-film (such as Seth MacFarlane spoofed at the 2013 Oscar Awards), female breasts provide a synecdoche for sexual ecstacy even when no character is actually having sex.  To repeat my verdict from the second of my MacFarlane essays, I find it dishonest to pretend that there are not wholly natural, logical reasons for the use of breasts to sell films or comics or whatever-- reasons that are not intrinsically about marginalizing real-world females.

Not least because real-life females are far from universally agreed about the political consequences of a little jug-music: