The Dreaded Democratic Candidate Post

30 01 2016

I’m for Hilary Clinton.

All the Berners are probably calling me a big sellout right now. But Berners, I put it to you: Clinton is the real radical choice.

What could be more radical than electing a woman president? Possibly electing a black president. As a privileged white dude I’m not going to argue about which victims of prejudice suffer the most. Neither do I want to argue about the merits of Obama as president. But the mere fact of a black president has undoubtedly had an effect on the nation. If nothing else, it has dragged the bigots out into the daylight and forced us to face up to the very real and lasting legacy of racism in America. The problem is nowhere near solved, but getting some clarity is a crucial first step. Imagine if we were forced to confront insidious, entrenched sexism in the same way.

I’m really grateful to Bernie Sanders and all his supporters for speaking the truth about our economic system, and countering the strong rightward shift that has overtaken our whole political conversation for the past 20 years. I would love to see Sanders’ policies enacted. But a president alone doesn’t have that power, and congress is sure to stonewall him every second of every day. That means electing Sanders would be largely a symbolic gesture, wrapped in hope for a miracle or several. And I am all for that. But the more meaningful symbolic gesture, with more hope for miracles, would be electing Clinton.

In addition, I think Hillary would be an excellent president. She’s more qualified than any candidate in a generation. And whatever you think of her politics, you have to admire her courage. She’s seen how republicans attack a democratic president, endlessly and without scruple. She’s endured those attacks for her whole career and has to know how much worse it would be from inside the Oval Office. And as the birthers and the secret muslim believers have made Obama the target of their racism, Clinton would face the added pressure of the entire Old White Boy’s’ Club flailing to hang onto their unearned privilege. And she has shown that she can stand up to it. 

Sure, she’s not Elizabeth Warren. She’s not going to break up the banks, which definitely should be broken up. She is effectively part of a political dynasty, which makes me queasy. However she is the only candidate appropriately alarmed by mass shootings, which is a big deal to me. She’s sure to uphold and build on the progress made by Obama. She has the best grasp of international politics and the biggest stake in gender equality. And she will drive the privileged class right around the bend. Yes, she is the pragmatic choice, but that’s just a bonus. Clinton is the radical choice.

Star Wars: The Force Progresses

8 01 2016

I’ve got a spoilery feeling about this…

The major complaint I’m hearing about Star Wars Episode VII is how closely it mirrors Episode IV, beat for beat, motif for motif. That’s accurate, but it doesn’t bother me, for two reasons.

Reason 1: there’s a line in the movie about fighting the only fight, the eternal fight between good and evil. This could be taken to imply an Incal-style cyclical nature of the Star Wars universe; the same events played out by more or less reincarnated spirits in the endless ebb and flow of light and dark. I realize this is a stretch, and far too wooby-wooby for most. And it doesn’t change the simple fact that rehashing a successful original is the lifeblood of Hollywood. Many fans who both love Star Wars and hunger for fresh, rich stories are wishing The Force Awakens had taken more risks.

Which brings me to reason 2: the movie did take two very large risks. It is an action blockbuster starring a woman and a black guy. It shouldn’t be risky to put someone besides a white dude in the spotlight, but again, we all know how Hollywood works. Now, for the first time ever, a woman and a man of color are leading the biggest entertainment franchise in the western world. If the rest of the movie had to be overly familiar to make that happen, I’m okay with it.

Episode VII had to do one thing (besides making boatloads of money, which it could hardly fail to do): it had to redeem the Star Wars universe from Episodes I-III. It had to bring back the magic. I admit, when the music started and the words “Episode VII” appeared on the screen, my reaction was less plunging into a beloved imaginary world and more “holy wamprats, the grip this thing has had on my entire life.” But soon after that, I was hooked. The magic is absolutely back. With that mission accomplished, I’m hoping the movies to come will push the narrative boundaries and strive for real cinematic greatness. But if they end up being more of the same, I’ve still got my Incal-y half-assed karma theory.

Time To Earn That Privilege

11 12 2015

(for my fellow white straight dudes)

5 months ago I started a post along these lines: it’s not enough for us straight white dudes to avoid giving offense. Bigotry is real. “Not all men” might be true, but “Some men” is also true and they are a real problem for people less privileged than us. “All lives matter” might be true, but it’s an offensive petulant whine coming from a white dude. Non-white, non-male, non-straight, less-able people struggle every day in ways we cannot appreciate. So we need to do more than not offend. We have a duty to recognize our privilege and become ambassadors for equality. This can be pursued in small, simple actions, such as noticing your attitude at a four-way stop or entering a public building. Because I noticed, to my unpleasant surprise, than in such situations I often felt entitled to go first. Not out of any sense of biological superiority– most of the time I can’t even see who’s driving the other cars– but just due to the habit of getting my way. It’s less pronounced, but the same impulse that leads to things like manspreading. So now I hold the door for someone else whenever I get the chance, regardless of who they are, as a way to break the habit and embody common courtesy.

That was five months ago. Since then the chaos erupting everywhere hit home on several fronts. The tension between police and African Americans keeps boiling over. A close friend lost someone when an aggressive driver plowed into a crowd. If he’d had a gun instead of a car it would have been tallied with the increasingly commonplace mass shootings. White supremacists in Minneapolis fired into a crowd of Black Lives Matter protesters, in no small part because a major presidential candidate is giving space and permission to violent bigots. It’s been terrifying. My little draft about resisting white privilege suddenly seemed pathetically naive.

Then there was this incident of Deepinder Mayell being intimidated by a white dude at a Vikings game. Here’s the takeaway: “But what scared me the most was the silence surrounding me. As I looked around, I didn’t know who was an ally or an enemy. In those hushed whispers, I felt like I was alone, unsafe and surrounded. It was the type of silence that emboldens a man to play inquisitor. I thought about our national climate, in which some presidential candidates spew demagoguery and lies while others play politics and offer soft rebukes. It is the same species of silence that emboldened white supremacists to shoot five unarmed protesters recently in Minneapolis.”

Five or six years ago, I was on a bus in Portland, sitting near the front. The driver stopped the bus to aggressively yell at a young woman who he felt was speaking Spanish on her phone so loudly that he couldn’t concentrate on driving. I was sitting right across from her. I should have spoken up. I could have politely told the driver that his attitude was uncalled for. Anything to let the driver and the woman both know that his belligerence was his alone, and that she was among friends. But I didn’t do anything. Eventually people toward the back of the bus did speak up and shut him down, but not me. I’m disgusted with myself over this memory. I hate sharing it, but I feel I have to if this post is going to be at all honest. I sat there, safe in the safest cocoon there is; straight white dudedom.

Despite the title of this post, the kind of privilege we white straight dudes enjoy can never be earned. But still. We are the ones who don’t have to fear being arrested, beaten or killed for the slightest provocation. We are not the ones dismissed as hysterical when we say there’s a problem. We are not the ones receiving violent accusations of being terrorists (or terrorist refugees, as if that made any sense). We are in the position of power. We have the least at risk when we stand up to the bigoted ass-clowns. If we don’t stand up to them, we might as well join them, because our silence props them up and threatens everyone else.

Bigotry is out in the open again. We have to fight it. And holding a damn door open is not going to cut it.

Just Bozos in Tights

19 11 2015

Alan Moore recently said of superheroes: “this embracing of what were unambiguously children’s characters at their mid-20th century inception seems to indicate a retreat from the admittedly overwhelming complexities of modern existence … it is, potentially, culturally catastrophic to have the ephemera of a previous century squatting possessively on the cultural stage and refusing to allow this surely unprecedented era to develop a culture of its own, relevant and sufficient to its times.”

I also saw this from Jeet Heer: “Superheroes work best as all ages entertainment because the roots of the genre are in the children’s daydreams: to be able to fly like Superman, to wield a lasso like Wonder Woman, to run like the Flash, or to leap from building to building like Spider-Man.”

Moore’s comment expresses a nagging doubt I have every time I read and re-read superhero comics. But, I think what he’s talking about is a symptom of a larger cultural stagnation (see this article again). We are awash in reboots, remakes, and rehashes, from the upcoming Star Wars Episode 7 to the exploitative cash-grab of Go Set a Watchman.

Heer piling on forced me to walk back a bit from my view of superheroes as urban fantasy, with veins of cultural ore akin to classical folklore (I have a tendency to– guess what– take these things too seriously). Together these articles had me scrambling to defend my enjoyment of the superhero genre. But that’s a pointless exercise. I like what I like, that’s enough. But maybe I’ll try harder, in my own little way, to inject some originality into our stagnating culture.


Universes: The Point

4 11 2015

From Tim Leong’s Super Graphic

Nothing new or interesting in this post, I’m just writing to clarify my own thoughts. Because I’ve written a couple of vague rambling posts recently on fictional universes, and I finally figured out what my problem is. It’s not the universe, it’s the history.

So, assuming you’re still here, lemme back up. The gist of my previous post was, the Marvel and DC trans-media universes are fun but exhausting to keep up with. I didn’t make the point very well, because I was missing it myself. I only articulated my complaint as part of my efforts to chatter at Wyatt enough to foster his speech development (12,000 words per hour is about the minimum target, which I’m sure I never reach). When I notice the silence I usually just verbalize my train of thought, which can’t be very valuable for teaching a toddler to talk since it never relates to anything concrete he can see or grasp. But at least I get my complaints about pop culture in order….

Still here? Really? Okay. So in that previous post I was complaining about trying to keep up with the TV and movie versions of comic characters. But the movies and TV shows are already doing what I wished for; letting the individual stories breathe, rather than adhere slavishly to the entire published history. The TV shows and movies from the DC universe don’t acknowledge each other at all. Marvel has a very ambitious plan for movies and TV shows that all align, from 2008’s Iron Man to multiple projects through 2019, but each movie or TV series pretty much stands on it’s own. The reality of filmmaking is, they have to. The continuity elements are extra fun, but so far not critical to the enjoyment of the piece.

So really, the cross-media properties are the ones doing it right. My real complaint is with the comics. I tried in recent years to get familiar with the large canvases of both the DC and Marvel universes (see some other recent posts). Both publishing houses encourage that approach, through big crossover events and universe-wide reboots that encourage the purchase of multiple titles. But that’s just the wrong way to read comics.

These characters have been around for decades. The most recent creation that garners any kind of following is Wolverine, who first appeared in 1974. In that relatively short time he has literally been to Hell and back, been possessed by demons, lost and regained his metal skeleton, found and lost children he didn’t know he fathered, gone fully bestial and been restored, lost and regained his healing powers, and died (temporarily–count on it). Just about every other Marvel and DC character has a similar history; it’s the inevitable result of passing the character to different writers, trying to sell new books every month, for 40 to 80 years.

To learn the history of one character, let alone get any grasp of the various universe-shaking crossover events, is a scholarly exercise. It requires hours, days, weeks of research. Which is fine if you enjoy that sort of thing and need a hobby, but it’s not exactly casual fun. In recent years, Marvel has shaken up its universe with Civil War, Secret Invasion, Annihilation, Seige, Fear Itself, and probably more. I don’t know what order they happened in. I sort of meant to research it and get the trade paperbacks from the library and read everything in order, but that is a lot of work and I just don’t have the time.

When I was a kid (eech, I hate when bloggers say that) I would occasionally buy comics off the rack at 7-11, if the cover grabbed me. Often the issue was one part of a longer story, but it was still fun to read Hulk being Hulk even if I didn’t know what he was doing in The Savage Land.

I don’t want or expect publishers to return to doing things like they did in the 70s. I appreciate the more sophisticated writing, and I prefer stories that take a minimum of 5-6 issues and can spend one whole issue on secondary, connective material if they need to. So I always buy the trade paperbacks rather than the monthly issues. And during my whole attempting-to-grasp-the-universe phase, I tended to choose books that seemed like they had some relevance to the universe as a whole, rather than ones that just look like interesting stories.

But, I won’t be doing that anymore. I’m officially giving up on comic book universes, scaling way back on my comic purchasing, and going back to picking up the odd story that grabs my interest. In fact I’m feeling more and more dubious about legacy superheroes, mostly because of a recent critique from Alan Moore.

I have more mixed feelings about the culturally catastrophic nature of recycled characters, which I will save for another post.

But, I think I’m done with the universe issue, both in life and on this blog. Finally! Hooray…?

The Argument Against “More Guns, Less Crime

19 10 2015

is essentially this: “The problem… isn’t that criminals don’t follow laws, but rather that criminals aren’t dissuaded by weak laws. And gun laws in all but a few states are decidedly weak.”

The full article from The Trace is here. It’s long and complicated, as the truth often is. A simple sound bite like “only a good guy with a gun stops a bad guy with a gun” can have the ring of truth, because we want the world to make sense. But the world is messy and often counterintuitive.

What really drives me around the bend (and if you’ve been following my Twitter feed you’ve seen it happen) about people who argue that the only solution to gun violence is to turn everyone into an armed vigilante is this: not only are they living in an infantile old west fantasy, they are perpetuating the same fantasy that drives mass shooters.

(I’m going to exit the realm of facts for a bit, and express my own intuitive speculation. This is just for my own emotional well-being. We’ll come back to reality in a moment.)

Who are these men and boys who go into public places and randomly open fire? They are disempowered people, who imagine that shooting others will make them stronger. The only difference with the would-be vigilante is they are waiting for the other guy to shoot first. Or so they say. At a Detroit Home Depot, a vigilante recklessly endangered bystanders in the parking lot by firing at shoplifters who posed no threat to her. How is that different than a shooter using deadly force in response to petty or imagined slights from coworkers or fellow students?

A lone gunman waiting for their Dirty Harry moment, watching the crowd for some punk who feels lucky, is separated from the mass shooter by a hair’s breadth, by the tiniest or even illusory concession to social conventions which the murderer has completely abandoned.

I realize that I have very strong feelings about this subject, which lead me to make gross generalizations. I also realize that it is one of many issues that polorizes America into seemingly irreconcilable camps. If anyone from the opposing camp reads this, I hope they will take away an understanding of what their arguments mean to my side, so that we can communicate better. When you say we should all carry guns to stop shooters, I picture a world full of shooters. Therefore I find your argument horrifying, personally threatening, and infuriating.

And now, the promised return to reality. The fact is, mass shootings are not committed by career criminals, with connections and expertise at breaking the law. Mass shootings are committed by desperate, disturbed people, whose bloody visions tip into real life only because deadly weapons are so accessible.

A modicum of sensible regulation is necessary. Not a ban on guns. And no, it won’t eliminate gang violence or mob hits or armed robbery. But it will go a long way toward solving a specific problem that is getting tragically, tragically worse every day.

24 Hour Comic #11: The Crystals of Kwa-Bulawayo

13 10 2015

It’s been awhile since I got to do a 24 hour comic. Last year it was pretty much out of the question with a 3 month old. But this year, the artsy cartoony community of the Twin Cities came through! Organized by the local chapter of The International Cartoonist Conspiracy, hosted by the Minnesota Center for Book Arts, supported by Minneapolis College of Art and Design, and sponsored by The Source Comics and Games, 20-plus artists gathered on October 3rd to take up the challenge.

targetcomickitA couple years ago, as a joke birthday present, some of our new friends gave me a comic making kit for kids. It came with markers, some sound effect rubber stamps, and two 32 page books of blank panels. While designed for kids, it seemed like a great tool for drawing a spontaneous story. Normally I like to draw on much bigger paper, with fewer panels per page, so I knew I would have to change my style to make it work. I stuck to my larger format for the Bunnirah comics, and held the kit in reserve for a completely spontaneous story. I tried for a pared down style that would read well as very small images. I had a half-formed notion of doing the whole thing after the fashion of Chris Ware’s semi-stick figures, with a static camera, but I didn’t stick to it. I also thought I might have a page or two with lunatic colors and rubber-stamped effects, but that didn’t happen either. Still, I think there are a couple pages with very effective interaction between panels and content. I’m happy with it overall.

tcok_thum01My go-to story seed generator sites are all gone. This time I turned to Wikipedia, and did three random article searches to get a jumping off point. Wikipedia gave me the old capitol of the Zulu empire, a Columbian airline from the 30s, and a bad 2001 caper movie. I knew I wanted a female main character. As a privileged white male doofus I’ve been tripped up by blind insensitivity before, so a black character felt risky, but what’s the point of art if you don’t risk anything? I did some quick image searching for Zulu dress, and tried my best to make Bapoto a real person, at least within the context of my usual cartoon weirdness. I’d also been reading Philip K. Dick and listening to a lot of Legendary Pink Dots, so an atmosphere of post-disaster dystopia crept in. The result is The Crystals of Kwa-Bulawayo.

I still have the second book of blank panels, which I will probably use in a more dedicated attempt at a super-iconic, semi-stick figure comic, but not a 24 hour comic. Next October (or next May if I can make it work) I will go back to my large format for 24 hours.


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