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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 6, 2015

BE BRIGHT OR BE DUMB

In future I may taper off on my assaults against HOODED UTILITARIAN after finishing ULTRALIBERAL LYNCH LAW.  But though I didn't bother informing NB of my response to his essay BE WHITE OR EXPLODE, I did waste a little time the other week trying to wring out of Berlatsky a more precise definition of a word he tosses around too freely: "parody." In my series essays entitled THE BATTLE FOR BAT-LEGITIMACY, starting here, I noted that NB painted a very one-sided picture of comics-fans' desire for serious heroes, as against the quasi-satirical elements of the 1966 BATMAN teleseries. Not surprisingly, NB wasn't willing to admit any failing in his analysis-- a recalcitrance common both to ultraconservatives and ultraliberals, as I noted in STINKING ULTRALIBERALLY. Thus as usual the only thing produced by the "discussion" was a few definitions of my own that I choose to reproduce here. It also sparks some considerations on the question of my influence by Jung, something that NB chose to bring up for no stated and/or logical reason, but I'll deal with these in a separate essay.

I opened with:

Re: “superhero parodies”– there has to be a difference between a thoroughgoing superhero parody and a regular superhero story with its fair share of humor. There may never a way to break it down beyond “I know it when I see it, but otherwise, if you say Fawcett’s Captain Marvel is a parody because it had ludicrous elements, then the same criterion applies to various Superman and Batman stories– particularly the Mxyzptlk and Bat-Mite stories.

NB apparently couldn't get that I was saying he was being too general in identifying items like the Fawcett CAPTAIN MARVEL as parody, because he simply repeated his statement that parody was central to the genre:

There are some genres where a parody does mean you’re not really in the genre any more, or where parodies at least aren’t quite so central to the genre. But superhero parodies are really dead center in the superhero genre, and always have been. 

When I repeated that it wasn't enough to have humorous elements in a story to make it a parody, which I said was also the case with PLASTIC MAN, NB tried to find a way to make the non-humorous elements of the superhero genre subordinate to those that he finds humorous and/or parodic:

Superhero stories are about empowered individuals, often. And then they’re often also about parodying the idea of empowerment, and making fun of the idea that silly guys in tights can save the world. 

I was glad to see him admit this agenda, even if he wanted to promote it as sober fact:


I suspected you were favoring a definition that was short-hand for “anything that seems to contradict narratives of empowerment,” so thanks for confirming it. I for one don’t think that Superman’s machismo is nullified in any significant way as long as he keeps booting Mxyzptlk back to the imp-dimension, but I assume your mileage varies.
Here’s the problem with such a broad definition of parody: it doesn’t sufficiently take into account the fact that “the other side” can do parodies with the opposite meaning. THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS contains a parody of a touchy-feely psychologist, who is rendered ludicrous through the lens of Frank Miller’s endorsement of Bat-machismo. I would hope that you’d consider this parody, even though it has nothing to do with satirizing heroic empowerment.
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NB had to admit that the sequence in TDKR is parodic, but chose to believe that Miller's ode to heroic empowerment was still a self-parody. Tautology, thy name is Berlatsky!

Skipping across most of the rest of the back-and-forth, I will end with my own remarks regarding NB's political agenda, to which he did not respond and which he claimed not to have read:

When I first posted, I knew that we would not agree on the subject of humor, but I thought you should at least acknowledge that not all humorous elements are “elements of parody.” That’s still the way you’ve chosen to define parody, though, because you’re not concerned with the intrinsic meaning of the word, but with some extrinsic, politicized interpretation of the word. As per your Sedgewickean argument in “Comics in the Closet,” you’re content to interpret all humorous elements as weapons in your campaign to strike down the hated “serious superhero.” This project doesn’t have anything to do with making superheroes more “complex,” as you claimed earlier. it has to do with promoting your own distinctly limited vision of what superheroes ought to be. 

The most bizarre aspect of the exchange, however, was that though I didn't bring up anything about the analytic psychology of Carl Jung, NB kept insisting that not validating his faulty definition of parody was tantamount to being-- a Jungian?  At least this time he was a little more correct than when he condemned me for being an exclusive devotee of Joseph Campbell, as I recounted in BATTLING THE ELEMENTS. I do draw upon Jung more often than Campbell, because I think Campbell was not as organized a thinker-- though of course he's Immanuel Kant in comparison to Noah of the Many Wandering Thoughts.

Contrary to NB, there's nothing about Jung or Jungianism that contravenes the spirit of humor. What NB is seeking to defend is his specific notion, probably derived from Eve Sedgewick, that "the idea of empowerment" is unstable and incoherent. Jung makes assorted references to male empowerment in his writings, but it would hardly be correct to deem him a monolithic defender of standard sex-roles. I demonstrated the exact opposite in my analysis of his "anima/animus" terminology in the essay WHAT WOMEN WILL PART 3.  Like Gary Groth before him, NB wants a "devil" to scapegoat, and his devil happens to be "male empowerment." Jung, being one of the foremost exponents of psychological pluralism, is not opposed to humor, but he is opposed to the idea that some archetypes are good and others are bad. Thus, though we can only guess what Jung would've made of American superheroes, there's no way that he would have validated NB's ideological reasons for touting the Adam West Batman over, say, that of Frank Miller.

Superheroes profit from good humor, as much as any genre. But to centralize the element of humor-- or whatever one likes to call it-- is more nonsensical than anything in a Mxyzptlk story.

ADDENDA: I should note that if I've been influenced by any authors who validate the archetype of the "serious hero"-- be he "super" or otherwise-- it's not from either Jung or Campbell, who only address the concept infrequently. Frye is probably most responsible for giving me the logic for that validation, though Fiedler and Paglia have provided interesting viewpoints on the topic.

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