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Still Tired... | The Nation

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Eric Alterman

Eric Alterman

Well-chosen words on music, movies and politics, with the occasional special guest.

Still Tired...

We (Danielle and I) have a new Think Again up here It's called Media To Climate: 'DropDead'

We had a few problems with the links last time and apparently a great manypeople, through no fault of their own, did not get the joke. Here's one:

Name: Father Joseph Sullivan
Postal: Boston, MA

Young Man,

Please refrain from all the profanity. It's hard to take you seriouslywhen you write like an 8th grader.

Please shape up.

Ok let's try it one more time, with everybody clicking on the link thistime: Barack Obama is tired of your motherfucking shit and if you're offended,take it up with the president of the United States of America.

I went to see Harvey Pekar interviewed at the Center for Jewish History this week andit reminded me of how interesting I find comics as a phenomenon, thoughnot always as actual comics. Harvey turns out to be a great guy andentirely without affectation, and you should buy and read his stuff. But if you want to learn something about the comics , well then howabout the excerpt that follows:

Notes on A Comics Studies Reader
By Jeet Heer and Kent Worcester

In late 2004 the New Yorker published a Bruce Eric Kaplan cartoonshowing a couple passing by a bookstore. One of them complains, "Now Ihave to start pretending I like graphic novels too?" That's a questionthat might bedevil not just readers who want to keep au courant with thelatest bestsellers but also book reviewers, film critics, museumcurators, and cultural analysts both inside the academy and out. Comicsseem to be everywhere these days: every summer movies like Watchmen andthe X-men series, adapted from old comic books, dominate the Cineplex; acohort of graphic novels, including Maus, Persepolis, Jimmy Corrigan,and Fun Home, have become standard items on college and university courses; rising literary writers like Jonathan Lethem and MichaelChabon have taken to writing novels with comics related themes, andsometimes have even tried their hand at writing comic books; museums andgalleries are increasingly giving space to cartoonists like Robert Crumband Gary Panter.

The current cultural respectability of comics is astonishing consideringthat only a generation ago comic books were a by-word for banality andtrashy art. As David Hajdu's The Ten-Cent Plague reminds us, in theearly 1950s many guardians of morality, ranging from the PTA to churchgroups, organized comic book burnings while the US Senate investigatedwhether comics were contributing to an upsurge in juvenile delinquency.

Given the energy and ferment surrounding comics, this strikes us as anideal moment to step back and survey the terrain. Our anthology A ComicsStudies Reader is intended as a starting point for anyone interested inan intelligent analysis of comics, giving both the history of the artform and a map of lively current debates on the topic.

The earliest writing on comics mainly emanated from journalists and bookcritics who used the topic as a jumping off point for larger culturalconcerns. Our earlier collection Arguing Comics (2004) featured essaysfrom the late nineteenth century and the early-to-mid twentieth centurythat castigate illustrated storytelling on behalf of establishedliterary values. We also included works by more sympathetic voices, suchas Thomas Mann and Dorothy Parker, as well as Gilbert Seldes, whovigorously championed Krazy Kat and other comic strips. For Seldes,comics were part of a distinctively American vernacular that deservedrespect for its liveliness and vigor. Seldes' cultural tolerance waschallenged by mid-century authors such as Irving Howe, Gershon Legman,and the psychiatrist Fredric Wertham, who all invoked comics toillustrate the deleterious effects of mass culture. Wertham's 1954screed Seduction of the Innocent was particularly influential in makingthe case against comics.

Comics, the accusation from critics like Wertham ran, were inherentlysensationalistic and cheap, deadening of fine feelings and nicediscrimination. As proof of the inherent inferiority of this plebian artform, Wertham noted that comics had never provoked a coherent body ofaesthetic analysis.

Wertham's influential polemic not only made comic fans embattled anddefensive, it also produced an important counter-response. To refuteWertham's claims, a group of teenage comic fans started pouring theirsouls into self-published chapbooks filled with detailed criticaldebates about their favorite art form. If an outsider like Werthamthought comics weren't worthy of critical analysis, the fans wereprepared to create a body of writing to prove him wrong.Comic book criticism was born, therefore, as an act of fannishapologetics. To this day, some of the most informed and intensewriting on comics is found in fan magazines like The Comics Journal orin books by cartoonists nurtured in fan culture (like Art Spiegelman andScott McCloud).

This fan scholarship has produced a small bookshelf's worth of insiderstudies emerged that was rich in anecdotes and craft lore. The superheroand horror genres provided a special locus for fan criticism and creatormemoirs. Fan culture continues to generate in-depth interviews,biographies, and reprints of old and obscure comics.

In the academy, pioneering comics scholarship by such authors as ArthurAsa Berger, Thomas Inge, Donald Ault and Umberto Eco, found inspirationin literary studies, film theory, and semiotics. These writers oftenpaid close attention to the textual elements of comics, and, inparticular, their storytelling conventions and narrative devices.

The study of comics has benefited from what critic W.J.T. Mitchell hastermed the "visual turn" and an awakened interest in a broader range ofvisual culture, something had been traditionally ignored by scholars whofocused their energies on texts rather pictures or sculptors. Theemergence of cultural studies in the postwar period opened up space forstudying popular culture in general and comics in particular.

The new comics scholarship has pursued multiple lines of inquiry, frombusiness history and poststructural theory, to oral history and therediscovery of primary texts. It has paid special attention to theformal aspects of comics. Will Eisner's (1985), and Scott McCloud'sComics and Sequential Art Understanding Comics (1993), are touchstonesfor this formalist turn, as are the contemporaneous essays by cartoonistArt Spiegelman and essayist/cartoonist R.C. Harvey.

In preparing this volume, we have kept three broad goals in mind: first,to highlight the rich diversity of approaches to the investigation ofcomics; second, to locate comics in a multiplicity of contexts(historical, artistic, spatial, commercial); third, to showcase theremarkable new wave of comics scholarship. Taken together, the essaysmap the major approaches to the history, form, impact, and assessment ofcomics. Rather than privileging any single genre, framework, or style,the volume is informed by an appreciation for the diversity of forms androles that comics inhabit, as well as for the divergent roads thatscholars, critics, and essayists have taken in thinking and writingabout comics.

The collection introduces readers to the debates, fault lines, andpoints of reference that continue to shape the field. The fact that thevolume has pieces on Carl Barks, Superman, EC Comics, Chris Ware, ArtSpiegelman, Alan Moore and Charles Schulz is hardly accidental, giventheir cartooning landmark status. Taken together, the essays show thedebate on comics has moved far beyond it's origins in polemics andapologia, and become rich, textured, and nuanced.

For more, please click here

The mail:

Name: Debi Riggs Shaw
Hometown: Wyndmoor, PA

Ok, so the Richland County Sheriff's Office has been making arrests to put a case together against Michael Phelps. What I want to know is, how is it any kind of legal to arrest people for violating drug laws on the basis of a photograph? This is not a child pornography video. Where is the lab evidence proving there was a controlled substance in use? Many a drug bust has gone bad when the material confiscated turned out to be baking powder or catnip, so how much more unreliable is a mere photo? And the people who have already been arrested weren't even at the party when it was going on! THEY'VE been arrested on the basis of actual evidence, a trifling amount of weed in a DIFFERENT home!

In the meantime, South Carolina was rated as having the highest crime rate in the country in 2007, and during that time only nine out of forty-six counties had HIGHER rates of non-drug crime than Richland County. So you can see, extra vigilance against Olympic heroes was warranted in these dire times.

Name: Bill Dunlap
Hometown: Lake Oswego, Oregon

Hey, Eric: How about some "Well-chosen words" on movies, namely a shoutout for the Spirit Awards on Saturday at 5 p.m. (EST) on the IFC cable channel. It's the best movie awards show if you like indy films and uncensored skits and acceptance speeches. Much more fun than the Oscars.

Name: Steven Hart
Hometown: http://theopinionmill.wordpress.com/2009/02/18/the-iraqi-prisoner/

I've already noted how closely the actions of the Bush administration, and conservative fiscal policies in general, correspond to a venerable con game called the "Bust-out," in which fraudsters pretending to take an interest in running a business use a down payment to gain access to the company's credit lines and assets, then max out all the credit lines, sell off assets at fire sale prices, then clear out just before the deposit check bounces, leaving a bankrupted company hollowed out by unpayable debt.

Reading new stories of how US contractors and military personnelappear to have siphoned off billions of dollars supposedly targetedfor Iraq reconstruction projects, an even more venerable con gamecomes to mind: The Spanish Prisoner, in which the mark is inducedto pay out large sums of money to secure the release of some unidentified prince being held overseas, in some vaguely defined location, with the understanding that the contribution will be returned tenfold when the grateful prisoner wins his freedom and showers his supporters with royal largesse. A variation of this con, known to police as "419 Fraud" or "Advance Fee Fraud," has probably turned up in your e-mail--instead of liberating a prisoner, the pigeon is asked to help broker the release of a big pot of money in a West African bank. The target usually expects to get a phat return on the initial investment, but sometimes the con men are also milking the target's idealism or charitable impulses. To get a picture of how it works, watch House of Games, David Mamet's first and best film, in which the psychologist heroine is drawn into a long con with the promise of helping her patient get free of his gambling debts. (Though Mamet went on to make another film called The Spanish Prisoner, that con actually doesn't figure in the plot, curiously enough.) Michael Caine's character in Dirty Rotten Scoundrelsis also running a similar scam by convincing rich widows he's a deposed prince trying to raise money for freedom fighters back home.

The designation of Bush's little Middle East killing spree as "Operation Iraqi Freedom" was already a museum-quality specimen of Orwellian Newspeak when he rolled it out, but it becomes even more richly ironic when we consider how the American people were gulled into thinking that by throwing open their coffers to the Bush banditos, they could secure the liberation of the Iraqi people from a cruel dictator in a place many of them couldn't have found on a map if they had a three-day head start. In return for pretending the whole thing was a John Wayne movie with extra sand on the sets, they would get cheap oil and a nice friendly regime that would recognize Israel and provide us with free military bases, along with the promised cascades of candy and flowers. Remember how we were told the whole thing would pay for itself once the good guys got their hands on all those oil wells? Those were the days, huh?

Meanwhile, while Bush's cronies went on looting with both hands here in the States, another team of con-men (maybe even some freelancers -- who could tell, with so much money flying around?) tapped into the tsunami--one might even call it the surge -- of unmonitored cash flowing into the country. In return, we got a taxpayer-funded training ground for aspiring Islamist terrorists, a pseudo-government composed of crooks, religious fanatics and terrorist sympathizers (kind of like the GOP, when you think about it) and a host of brand- new regional worries that will plague the world long after Bush has strutted off to that great gated community in the sky.

The only upside I can see to any of this is that political science students attempting to grasp the nature of conservatism need no longer waste any more time studying Friedman, Oakeshott or any of the other great minds of wingerdom. They need only read the latest e- mails from Nigeria, and everything they need to know about conservatism will become crystal-clear.

Name: Greg Hilliard
Hometown: Phoenix, AZ

Eric,

Years ago I was given Black Beauty: Miles Davis at Fillmore West because my sister had confused Miles Davis and Buddy Miles (I had wanted, and still do, a CD version of Buddy Miles Live). Four times I have tried to listen to Black Beauty, and four times I have found it unbearable. To me, it's a lot like NASCAR: People love it, but for the life of me, I can't understand why.

Eric replies: Yeah, I agree, though I do like that BuddyMiles/Carlos Santana cd...

Name: Michael Rapoport
Hometown: Montclair, NJ

You know what the real problem is with that conservative-movie list (beyond, of course, the fact that it includes howlers like Red Dawn)? It assumes that any movie which concerns itself with moral choices and freedom must be "conservative." The people who compiled this list can't seem to entertain the thought that maybe morality and liberty aren't the province of one ideology, and that there are a few liberals out there concerned about those issues too.

And the compilers seem to be projecting a wee bit. Here's a line from their explanation of why the depiction of the folly of "elitist utopian schemes" indicates that Brazil is a conservative movie: "Terrorist bombings, national-security scares, universal police surveillance, bureaucratic arrogance, a callous elite, perversion of science, and government use of torture evoke the worst aspects of the modern megastate." Um...didn't they just describe the Bush years?

Name: Rich Gallagher
Hometown: Fishkill, NY

I'm sure that Mr. Pierce was just having a senior moment or something when he wrote that Matt Dillon was played by "Peter Arness." The actor's name, of course, is James Arness, although he does have brother named Peter, who is better known as Peter Graves.

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