The Intermittent

Why Are You Still Here?

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

AND ANOTHER THING

There never was a golden age. Everyone complains that everything is getting worse; and they're all, mostly, wrong.
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THE WISDOM OF MR. ROSE

Mrs. Intermittent and I (and of course, the ever-loving Intermittent Puppy) leave for North Carolina today. Thanksgiving with her sister in lovely Raleigh. It should be fun....so long as nobody decides to talk about politics. But then again, that has been the rule for as long as I can remember with my own family; nothing like a traditional holiday, I say. I vividly remember my Grandmother stopping conversation by asserting that the Red Chinese were taking control of the National Park System. Lots of polite nodding and folks hurriedly stuffing their mouths so as to avoid having to, you know, say anything in response. Even the rest of my fairly Red family was flabbergasted. My sister, who talks wistfully of the Chiapan rebels, almost choked to death.

So, like I said, I'm an old hand at dealing with holiday political weirdness. But I still don't enjoy it. I wish there weren't as many borderline moonbats in my family as there are.

And yet we all still sit down together, and laugh, and pitch in to clean up. Because, no matter what, everyone knows that the people at the table are good people. No one has changed their mind on the issue du jour, but...you overlook things. You see the person in context; the loony John Birchy statements in relief against the hours she spends at the church soupkitchen.

This is turning into a paean to tolerance. Which it is, sort of. Though I think my Grandma is wrong, wrong, wrong on any number of issues. I would by very unhappy to see her agenda put into legislation. But of course, if she saw the world as full of me's, she wouldn't want to legislate; sure, I do things that she would not, would never, do. She thinks that Friends is godless show. Something like, oh, Preacher would make her head explode. And yet she overlooks the things I read, or watch, or listen too (a convenient semi-fictional ignorance). I'm me. She knows I'm a good person; the rest is just details. The stuff I do isn't who I am to her. I suspect most people are like this with their family and neighbors; we tolerate the people we know for their politico-cultural transgressions--while at the same time imagining that somewhere out there are the really scary folks, folks who don't have the redeeming qualities we see in those around us.

This idea is, I think, flatly wrong.

I've lived in Red America most of my life. Raised in a small town. Played in the woods. Hunted with my dad. Went to church (one of the first comics I got was a comic version of the New Testament, from, of course, my Grandma). Watched a lot of football. Done a lot of time in Blue America too. School in Chicago. Living now in South Florida, where, if you really want it, your whole life can be lived as a background player in E! specials on sex, skin, drugs, and the beach.

Everywhere I've been I've know folks who disagreed with each other on the issues. Usually civilly (though not as much in college, where the future activists of the world tried to out D'Souza each other in the hopes of winning attention from their Big Ideology patrons). Why civilly? Because the people know each other. They know that the guy who wants to clean up TV is the same guy who swears like a sailor about Tennessee football. The know the woman who wants legal abortion is also the same woman who bakes brownies for every class party.

The see through the noise and bullshit and to the people underneath. Real people don't reduce easily to ideological caricatures (side note: Tom Delay is not a real person. Sorry. Cheapshot).

And that's the heart of the matter. There doesn't need to be a stark divide between the Red and the Blue. And yet there ism and getting starker. Why? Because that divide serves its purpose.
The whole red state/blue thing is a construct; a machine for getting out the vote. Yes, yes, of course, there are in fact nutcases out there. Yes. In a country of three hundred million people, you're going to have a lot of crackpots. These people are dangerous, don't get me wrong. They should be kept away--far away--from the levers of power. But the ability of the Dr. Dobson's of the world to weasel up to the wheel of state is dependent on the machine I just mentioned. A machine that projects a fictional Other out there, a bogey man to scare the people back into the camp.

The people who vote for moral values, most of them, I'd wager, don't care that I play Vice City (or live there, for that matter). One of those voters in fact just bought my brother--my church going brother, paramedic brother--Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas as a Christmas gift. I'm not scary; my brother is not scary. We don't implicate the Death of the West. But of course these same voters, who might tolerate my peccadilloes in context, believe that liberals writ large do pose a threat.

lllllllllLLLLLLiberallllls. And who are these Liberals? Fictions, mostly. The people who wife-swap their way to the porn-store, usually while high, and have fully absorbed the UN injunction that spanking is a violation of international law; the ones who want to legalize man on boy love, who want to kill Christ (again), who want their to be no standards on what little kids can see on TV? They don't exist.

I mean, sure, you could find me examples of same--nutters and greens and Berkley students and Katha Pollit. But really; for the appeal to work--for the Liberals to be scary---you're talking about real people who believe in that kind of hooey. Otherwise you're talking about Hare Krisnas, who are funny precisely because they have zero power. You need numbers of folks to be scary. And these folks, in numbers, don't exist. But their non-existence as a matter of facty does nothing to diminish their importance as a political illusion bought by millions of otherwise tolerant people. This is the truth: Red American doesn't hate YOU, Blue America; it hates an imaginary version of you. A bed time, scary story version of you; a version of you where New York is only filled with pimps and the C.H.U.D.S. And the converse is true as well; New Yorkers, you only think you know what we're like out in the sticks.

So, on the one hand, we've solved the riddle of Red State hypocrisy; the moral values voters aren't absolutists. A little sin is okay for otherwise good people, and lots of people are otherwise good. Guilty pleasures, but pleasurable nonetheless. What they fear is not the instant vice, but the constantly looming shadows of a more extreme moral decay; the movement of the strip club from next to the airport to next to the preschool, or of the Sopranos into prime time, as described in the latest bulletin from the Family Research Council. It's not the act; it's the threat that act will crowd out the wholesome bits. Is there some hypocrisy? Yes. But not much.

So that's the good news. Hey: we don't need to secede! I get to go back home without flashing a passport. The bad news, of course, is that this (assuming my anecdotally supported argument scales up nationally) gives little ammunition to the Democracts to fight back with. Moving substantively rightward on cultural issues might help at the margins. But of course the machine doesn't depend on facts anyway. The cultural threat level will remain red, because red scares the otherwise tolerant into voting Republican, and better to be in power than right. There will always be a threat to the children. It's a classic move; a threat really does wonders at helping political cohesion.

The even worse news is that this move is not without its risks. As Tim Burke has noted, use this language enough, with enough vehemence, and someday maybe you don't look across the holiday table and see otherwise good people. The stakes have been made too high; you see someone who you must, regretfully perhaps, consider an enemy. And Reds and Blues turn into Tutsi and Hutus. Or Serbs and Croats; contrary to the common wisdom, it was only after Milosevic began playing the race card as a way to ensure his party's political viability did the whole thing melt-down. Are we there yet? No. Are we heading that way? Well, you tell me. I'm busy watching otherwise reasonable people, people who I read and enjoy gird up for war. Me? I'm with Axel on this one: we don't need no civil war.

And in the meantime, I'm going to just hope that holiday is, if not free of political acrimony, at least a reminder that an opponent is not necessarily an enemy.

Also, that my pies turn out okay.
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Wednesday, November 17, 2004

THREE MORE DAYS TILL HIP-HOP EASTER

If my theology is right, Big Baby Jesus rises from the grave on Saturday. Make your peace, protect your neck. Y'all.
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THINK LIKE A BOMB

More bombs and violence. All set, of course, by terrorists, because only terrorists set bombs. Only terrorists cause violence. A notion, of course, confirmed by our sterling intelligence. There is no chance, of course, that various Iraqi factions are using the cover of the current chaos to, say, rearrange the political scene in advance of the upcoming elections. No good Iraqi, of course, would try to get a leg up on his political opponents by blowing the legs out from from under them. Why, that would be cheating. It would be violent.

And certainly, no one involved with the political process in Iraq has a history of violence. Or cheating.
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TO SPEAK, AND REMOVE ALL DOUBT

Thoughts tonight in a very curmudeonly vein. Though no howling.

Reading through the DC solicts, found over at Newsarama. Seven Soldiers looks, like everything else Grant Morrison writes, to be a must read. But then I stumble across this, which reinforces my conclusion that I should really stop reading interviews with Morrison. Wonderful, wonderful writer, but really; interviewed, he's an incredible ass. "The most intricate and ambitious superhero story anyone's ever attempted?" Really? Well color me duly impressed. Hopefully he has a Sherpa to guide him on these icy paths to comics immortality.

Also nice is the backhanded way he insulates himself against failure, linking the success of the book to a hope that there are enough people who want "new kinds of thrills" to make Seven Soldiers a go. Because, of course, the only reason it could possibly fail is if the audience, content to continue chewing reguritated literary cud, is simply not interested in the sheer magnificence, the dizzying highs, the deep lows, the creamy middles, of the most intricate, ambitious superhero story ever! Note that audience stupidity is of course what killed Seaguy sales as well. Poor Grant Morrison, bravely keeping alight the fires of reason against the darkness of the age. God bless him and his symbols, deployed as always, with utmost clarity.

I'm also curious to see if Morrison gets a pass for whatever reinventions he has made to the characters he is using. From the sound of it, he's basically shoehorning new characters into old names. Does Morrison get the Question treatment? Does Kirby get the same deference as Steve Ditko? And if not....why not?

Other than the fact he writes brilliant comics, I mean. Talent: it erases a multitude of sins.
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Tuesday, November 09, 2004

RED COMICS FAN BLUE COMICS FAN: LIKE A BAD SUPERMAN STUNT

One of the few good things to come out of last week (a week I otherwise am still pretending did not actually happen) is that people are making noises about engaging with the Other, American version. You know: maybe not all gun owners are wingnuts, maybe not all New Yorkers are pedophile drug users, no matter what Rorschach thinks. Maybe it's pretty fucking obvious why no one is engaged in constructive dialogue when all conversation is shouted down by the catcalls from the corners.

Maybe telling someone you better know their wants than they isn't going to win alot of converts. Maybe people like what the like, independent of what you like. Maybe being an asshat better be its own reward, since it's not going to advance the cause much.

So, yeah. Mr Red State, Meet Mr. Blue. And no arguing over who got the better color, please. I'll have more, much more on this, later. A tedious, audience paring amount. A whole lecture on the virtue of humility, the uses of group identity, and lessons from Serbia. You're spared it tonight, but still; it's coming. A whole lot of sanctimony wrapped in the usual half-assed analysis found here. But not tonight.

Tonight, you get this: the micro version. The comics audience version. Comics fans don't break down into red/blue geographic lines. They can, however, be broken down into some sort of binary: indie/spandex, or artcomix/mainstream, or whatever other appellation one wants. We all know who we're talking about. And this breakdown is by its nature arbitrary. There are lots of people who live in both camps: hey, I'll cop to it. I've got Seth sitting on top of my Best of Wolverine even as we speak. But still: there is enough truth to the two camps breakdown to get us somewhere useful.

So, anyway. Two groups, both of whom spend their time sniping at each other. How much time you got? I can't give you the chapter and verse about the idiot legions of drooling fanboys, the perverts who refuse to grow up and let go of their childhood toys, unless you've got some time. And if you have even more time, we can talk about all the sneering grad students who only read untranslated copies of The Adventures of Worker and Parasite and comics about the ennui, the ennui, preferably as found in suburbs or cubicles.

Think of how many otherwise good reviews are marred by weird, out-of-left-field attacks on people who presumably won't like the book in question. About how much time is spent admiring shit-knives. Think about how much market analysis is grounded in the assumption that people's choices are bad for them.

Think about how stupid this all is.

I get hooked on comics blogs because here were a bunch of smart folks talking about comics without it devolving into hair pulling and name calling. Here were folks arguing about comics in good faith, understanding that there is not One True Path to Comics nirvana.

I miss that.
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PAY NO ATTENTION TO THE SCOT BEHIND THE CURTAIN

Some of the usual suspects are pimping James Webb's new book Born Fighting as explanatory of the whole red state/blue divide. Which it is, partly; there is a pretty good (albeit pretty old) data suggesting that the Scotch immigrants did shape the culture of the South, particularity in Appalachia. This data does suggest that the Scottish experience in America has contributed to the general Southern willingness to go to war. Fair enough.

But note: cultural predisposition is not predestination. In fact, James Webb, Scot through and through, Reagan's Secretary of the Navy, opposes the war in Iraq. Just something to keep in mind as the Scotch meme turns from explanation of a willingness to go to war into one that justifies the decision to go to war.
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Wednesday, November 03, 2004

WISDOM

I've been in somewhat of a daze today, frankly. A winning electoral strategy of econonic profligacy plus cultural jihad plus Empire! is designed with focus group precision to raise my hackles and dampen my spirits. The culture war thing in particular, if only because I hadn't had time to prepare for it and the fact that it brings back unpleasant childhood memories of being handed Hal Lindsey books by relatives.

Anyway.

These two essays by Tim Burke did a little to raise my spirits today, despite their fairly dire prognosis. The kind of moral clarity these essays trade in is its own reward; both essays shine with good sense and charity. Two little lamps in an otherwise dark day.

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BAD TIMES ARE COMIN' ROUND AGAIN

Jon Langford, prophet. So the hard cultural right played the role of the cavalry in this one, making them, I suppose, the Calvary Brigade. The question then, is what happens now; whose heads are they demanding in payment?

Well, let's just say that this is a good time to look under the couch for change to send the CBLDF. Despite the vehemence of the reddest of the red staters, and despite the fact that their bill will be due and owing, don't expect big big changes to the fabric of American society. Not yet, though the leading edge may cut its way deep enough into the polity to make those changes imaginable, someday. Success breeds new wedge issues; the bad guys are done with containment and now dream of rollback. But still, despite the dreams, not yet. Too much risk in the frontal assault. There are twenty two million people who watched such a quintessientially blue state show as Desperate Housewives; eight million people who bought Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. Besides, Kulturkampf, phase one, didn't go so well, electorally speaking. That's the good news (though not so good that I can be of good cheer). They won't be that dumb again; they'll start with the low hanging fruit. And few hang lower than comics.

Look. The big targets--hip hop, porn, cable tv--are consumed by millions on millions of people; the producers of these products have billions of dollars with which to fight. Comics have neither. Comics have little money and less clout with which to defend themselves. They're defended by a couple of thousand unorganized fans. They're "for kids." They promote homosexuality, deviant sex, and occultism. Easy targets for, say, DOJ. Castillo writ large. Pressure on libraries to stop stocking comics. A return to the good old days of Ed Meese. It could be ugly. It might not be; but the potential for a truly ugly worst case scenario is definitley there. Comics would be a nice trophy to hand to the flesh eaters, one that could be hunted and killed at the cost of little political treasure. Who will complain if they clean up a kids medium filled with filth? How much easier would it be to go after comics instead of The Sopranos?

Going after comics is all political upside at a low cost. Motive and oppurtunity; two thirds of the way to the crime.

More Langford:

We all knew that things would get better/if we kept acting rational and sane/now I can see the clouds on the horizon/bad times are coming round again.

This CBLDF link courtesy of Tom Spurgeon, by the by, proving yet again that he is something far beyond a blogger; blogo superior, maybe, with powers feared and envied by other bloggers.
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A SUMMATION, COMICS STYLE

I'm in a very Elektra:Assasin kind of place right now.
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Tuesday, November 02, 2004

BAD REVIEWS OF GREAT COMICS

Just noticed this review of Mail Order Bride over at Indy Magazine, which I discovered via Marc Singer. Mail Order Bride is likely the best comic I've read in the past five or so years; it is a phenomenal, breath-taking work, one that I come back to over and over again. Really, I can't say enough good things about it.

The review, though....well, it falls prey to a typical flaw made (I think) by those looking at the book. Many people seem to want to read Mail Order Bride as the story of Kyung's (the titular bride) triumph over the limitations of her husband Monty, who embodies all the worst stereotypes of the comics nerd; Monty is limned as the kind of guy who likely masturbates to Chuck Austen comics, a sad little man who reads comics and plays with toys because unable to deal with the real world and, especially, real women. The book is read to end with Kyung liberating herself from this oppressively geeky, horribly pathetic world, emerging as a whole person from the nether world of the emotionally crippled middle aged comics fan. This is the wrong way to read the book.

Mail Order Bride is about the abject failure of communication, about the ways in which people are unable, or unwilling to communicate with each other. All the characters--including Kyung--are trapped by their inability to make a real connection with another person. Kyung's rejection of Monty--to the extent that there is a rejection, and there may not be--is less a triumph than an admission of cowardice; she rejects him because it's easier than trying to understand him. Both Monty and Kyung reach out to each other during the course of the story, and both are rejected by the other. Both are equally pathetic, both trapped in fantasy worlds where the hard work of claiming their own happiness is foisted off on others; both are complicit in setting the trap that swallows them. Kyung doesn't liberate herself, because that would mean acknowledging her part in the tragedy. It would mean forging an honest understanding of another person. And that she can't do, and neither can Monty; and Monty and Kyung are thus stuck with each other. This is not a tale of triumph, it is a tale of failure.

Anyway. The book deserves a far more thorough treatment than I'm giving it here. Something for me to come back to; but in the meantime, to the extent that my recommendations mean anything, consider this as my unqualified recommendation. Kalesniko's book is worth your time.
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