On this CBR Community, I made the following post, to see if anyone there could give me examples of conservative readers misrepresenting comics-stories or characters, to counter the many examples of liberal misrepresentation I've covered on this blog.
Since the days of Frederic Wertham, with his comment on Superman's "S" ("we should be glad, I suppose, that it does not read 'SS'"), there have been any number of dumb readings of comic books by persons with a liberal or quasi-liberal agenda (however you want to define that).
But are there examples of comics that have been actively misread by conservatives-so-called? I'm not thinking so much of reviews that complain about sex and violence-- you get those in liberal quarters too-- but instances where someone says, "X stands for good conservative values" and the artist comes back with, "That was not what I meant at all."
Obviously there have been creators who actively courted conservatives, like the troika of Capp, Caniff and Gould, but that wouldn't be a misreading.
I didn't get too many on-topic responses, but one of the posts deserves some extended rebuttal.
There are not many artists who are conservative, and it seems that conservative readers sometimes grasp at straws to find support in the arts when it really isn't there.
We had a discussion about this on the Green Lantern Corps message board a while back, and I came to the conclusion that the arts tend to be about the opposition to power, which usually doesn't jibe with conservative thinking.
When conservatives do produce art, it tends to be about righteous revenge or the triumph of a strong leader. Or maybe religious in nature.
Now, keep in mind that if the poster actually read all of the original post, he's just seen me mention three of the leading creators of the Golden Age of Comic Strips-- Al Capp, Milt Caniff, and Chester Gould-- and yet he's prepared to state that "there are not many artists who are conservative."
Further, he and some other posters decided across the board that "the arts tend to be about the opposition to power, which usually doesn't jibe with conservative thinking."
I've come across a lot of extremely politicized analyses of comics-work, obviously on HOODED UTILITARIAN, in which critics have argued that the only *worthwhile* art is art with an avowed liberal stance. But, amid all of HU's superficial excoriations of talents like Dave Sim and Frank Frazetta, I've never got the sense that any of the pontificators on that site believed that "opposition to power" defined art. On the contrary, HU was a lot like the old TV game-show CAN YOU TOP THIS.
Contestants on the game-show tried to top one another by getting the highest score on a "laugh meter." With HU it was more along the lines of an "indignation meter," with each critic trying to top one another by showing, over and over, the shameful prevalence of Evil Conservative Ideals throughout culture, be it Charlie Hebdo or an unpublished drawing by Frazetta.
I, of course, don't think art is defined by any political stance, or any political program. Capp's creativity is not defined by his silly, liberal-baiting satire of Joan Baez, but by his creation of the Schmoos, just as Gould is defined not by his parroting of "law and order" rhetoric but by his gallery of Dick Tracy fiends. Art, as I've noted elsewhere, is first all about play, not converting others to follow the "right" political program. There's nothing wrong with saying, "I don't like Milo Manara's politics," but it's a sign of intellectual laziness to interpret the size of Spider-Woman's butt as an inevitable expression of those politics.
I recently came across a considerably more famous source of wishful thinking, in my first-ever reading of Betty Friedan's THE FEMININE MYSTIQUE. If I were the conservative that I've been accused of being, I wouldn't be able to say that Friedan's work remains a classic of political insight. Whatever the later abuses of Second-Wave Feminism in later years, there can be no question that Friedan's book drew national attention to an inequitable aspect of American culture. The opening sections of the book are among the strongest, for Friedan had ample experience in the world of women's magazines. I have no difficulty believing her, when she averred that men coming back World War II had in essence usurped early feminism's emphasis on the ideals of "career women," and produced in its place the ideal of a "feminine mystique" that revolved around women finding fulfillment in the home.
But, like many activists on both sides of the political spectrum, Friedan's reach exceeds her grasp. (One of these days I've got to excoriate the legacy of Michael Medved, who may be one of the most famous "conservative misreaders" of all time.) In Chapter 11, entitled "The Sex Seekers," Friedan attempts to prove that the rise of sexy entertainment in the 1950s-- backed up by a study by psychologist Albert Ellis-- was rooted in the marginalization of the career woman. Friedan writes:
But of all the strange sexual phenomena that have appeared in the era of the feminine mystique, the most ironic are these: the frustrated sexual hunger of American women has increased, and their conflicts over femninity have intensified, as they have reverted from independent activity to search for their sole fulfillment through their sexual role in the home.
I wouldn't have objected to the statement that the social changes behind the "feminine mystique" could have CONTRIBUTED to the alleged hyper-sexualization of the 1950s decade (always a matter of degree, since some of Friedan's examples, like the novel "Peyton Place," seemed pretty tame even by the end of the 1960s). But like most activists, Friedan is a monocausalist. She ignores numerous other factors upon the alleged hyper-sexualization-- not least the very thing she mentions in other contexts; the effect of male GIs returning from the war-- because she's trying to flog her concept of the feminine mystique. Further, her jeremiads against the "increased preoccupation with sex" begins to sound like yet another replay of Theodor Adorno's rants against the culture industry, which in their turn very probably influenced the anti-pornography stance of Frederic Wertham. And that's company that no good liberal should ever "wish" to associate with, even conceptually.