Friday, August 15, 2014

How Far Should You Analysize Something?

People have got to stop reading into comics what they want and start looking them as they are. Too many people add intent beyond the original auther's thoughts. This school of literary criticism believes that the intent of the original author doesn't matter, and that the writing in question needs to be re-interpreted every so often.The good news is that this kind of thinking keeps the work alive and fresh, and allows everyone to put their own spin on something. It also allows a greater number of scholars to discuss the work and thus give it a thorough picking over.

The bad news is that ignores the work of the original author in constructing something through which he wanted to become immortal by sharing his thougts; re-interpreting it every so often without care shows a certain disrespect for the author. It also shows weak scholarship, as a lot of the writing depends on mores of the time it was written; without that added information a lot is lost in translation. But the worst thing is that it allows people to shape it in the form that they find more palatable; they feel free to read whatever they want into the story

And I say worst because too many groups have thus turned the meaning of a lot of stories around. This has been done the most in books such as "Huckleberry Finn", which has been interpreted as one of the most racist books on the planet despite Twain's attempts to make it a nail in the coffin of racism, and others such as "Mein Kampf", where it is used as proof of Hitler's Christianity despite how often it points out that religion should not be used as a tool of enlightenment but of the state.

It gets really interesting when that kind of thinking gets attached to comics. The most obvious example is the Sidekick Syndrome. When sidekicks were introduced the idea was to increase readership by having someone in the story that boys could vicariously adventure with the hero; they could actually imagine that they were in the story. It worked well with the times because the boy would quickly become the surrogate son of the hero, as well as his apprentice; this paralleled reality to a degree as sons took over the jobs of their fathers over time. It was a great way to have legacy characters. such as Bart Allen as Flash, who took the job over from Wally West as Flash, who took the job over from the original Barry Allen Flash.

However, in one of the few times I'll condemn a civil rights group, too many gay rights activists decided that sidekicks were signs of homosexuality wanting to express itself. Keeping in mind that by the 1970s most of the teen sidekicks were legal, he hero/sidekick relationshp represented the ideal bear/twink relationship: Two equal partners on a grand adventure able to be who they wanted to be outside of soceity's norms. They bought into Wertham's concept that Batman and Robin were living in sin, and thus they became gay icons.

It did not help that they exercised shirtless together a lot and apparently slept in the same bed. The first was because the culture was different; men had fewer modesty problems issues at the time, mostly because skinny dipping was still the norm, school shower were still enforced, and larger families meant that everyne saw everything. Two guys, even a man and a boy, training together in nothing but shorts was hardly an issue. The sleeping together was seen as more innocent; boys from less affluent homes, the usual audience for comics, were used to sharing their beds, even with parents and older siblings, so seeing Bruce and Dick in the same bed was hardly unusual.

By the 1980s mores had changed. Boys and men didn't exercise together anymore and swimming naked was on the way out, and the smaller familiies and greater affluence ensured that boys were sleeping in their own beds. In short, the rules had changed. By then, however, gay culture had really started working out, and there was a simultaneous resurgence in Golden Age material; not only were readers into the simpler era of story-telling due to the deconstruction of the super-hero genre such as "Watchmen" and "Dark Knight Returns", but Crisis on Infinite Earths made people interested in what had come before. It helps that this curiosity was being fed by retro series as "The Invaders", "All-Star Squadron", and "Batman vs. The Justice Society".

[Historical Clarification: "Physique mags" (where muscular men wore little more than loincloths) were already an established part of gay culture, as well as bath houses. In the 1980s, there was just a renewed interest in physical health in general, and in the gay community as a whole.]

As Batman and Robin were already the subject of a lot of homo-erotic humor and speculation, the pictures of them exercising an sleeping together helped fuel the fires. The problem, from a literary critique perspective, is that the gay culture was putting their own spin on the relationship, shifting what was a healthy father-son relationship to a slightly more perverted one. It didn't help that the older artists would subvert the Comics Code any chance they got, and so some additional material got tossed in that sort of helped obscure their relationship a bit, and Master Grayson's name did not help matters.

In essence, their relationship was re-interpreted by a new generation, and that re-interpretation changed how they looked at Batman, and super-heroes in general.

So...this puts me in a weird position. As a Christian I tend to get nervous about looking at a text without putting it into a historical context and re-interpreting it based on current philosophies, in order to fit the current mindset. I've seen way too many times when that's led down a dark path. As such, I think it's important that when doing a proper literary critique it's important to know the author's thoughts or at least allow for the era in which he lived. Basing a literary critique solely on the story feels like I'm missing half the story.

On the other hand, as an artist I love the idea of a re-interpretation, especiallywhen it works with the character in question. Not only does it lead to some interesting thoughts on the subject matter and the genre in general, but spurs creativity in other directions as well. In that regard, I fully endorse looking at things differently every so often.

So when it comes down to it, when we talk comics, if you're going to put a 1940s comic into a modern context, let me know. Otherwise, expect a hard glare followed by an eye roll; you may as well be making stuff up as you go, and that's not as much fun as you would think..

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