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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...

Wednesday, April 26, 2017


Though I don't repudiate anything I wrote in Part 3, it does occur to me that an attempt to describe the virtue of simplicity ought to embrace that virtue, at least for that particular essay. And since last week I was dealing with some of the complexities of the Lee-Ditko SPIDER-MAN, I may as well take an example of valuable simplicity from that source.

In my essay on THE ENFORCERS, I took pains to demonstrate a level of mythopoeic complexity in the relationship between Peter Parker and J. Jonah Jameson. I mentioned the character of Betty Brant only in a negative sense: that she did not fulfill the role of "daughter" to Jameson's "heavy father," and that she became connected to Spider-Man's war on crime because she had taken a loan from the Big Man, who, in the tradition of loan sharks everywhere, called in the note with heavy interest. I also noted in a previous analysis that she didn't line up with the usual Oedipal figure of the "mother-substitute:"

So a doctrinaire Freudian reading does not apply, particularly since Parker's sexual needs are still turned outward, toward women more or less his own age. One might make something of the fact that the character's first major girlfriend is a little older than he is: Betty Brant is a working woman, roughly of college-age, when she starts dating the high-schooler. Few stories treat the Betty character as significantly older than Parker, though. So despite the occasional reference to her age-- in one story, her rival Liz Allan makes Betty feel "a hundred years old" simply by addressing Betty as "Miss Brant"-- she doesn't work as a mother-substitute any better than does Aunt May.

So does Betty Brant possess any "density?" Not within the mythopoeic domain, certainly. Whatever storytelling virtue she has would seem to apply only to the dramatic potentiality, which deals with affects. Here's one of the better examples of Stan Lee's skillful dialogue melding with the energetic visuals of Steve Ditko:

Even so, one never knows as much about Betty Brant as one knows about an Ibsen character. Aside from the eventual revelation that her brother Bennett became involved in the criminal life,  she comes from nowhere and doesn't really have a meaningful arc of her own. She is simply-- note my use of the word-- Peter Parker's first love.

But in contrast to the "denser" concerns that make the Lee-Ditko SPIDER-MAN compelling, simple characters like Betty-- and Ned Leeds, Anna Watson, and others-- have a valuable function. They don't ask the reader to understand them in any depth. Their simplicity is like a breath of fresh air next to all the breast-beating and hairshirt-tearing.

And that is probably the simplest I can get about the aesthetic of simplicity.

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