I have a lot on my mind, people, so let’s get to it! This is pretty scattered, so I apologize in advance. I tried to tie it all together, though!
(Before I start, I want to make perfectly clear that even if I don’t react the same way as many people react to things, I am not trying to belittle them at all. If you react to some of these things in a way I describe, that’s a perfectly valid way to react and nothing I write should make you feel differently. I’m just going to write about something that almost everyone has an opinion on, probably many of them strong, so I don’t want anyone to think I’m trying to insult anyone. I am offering my own perspective on events, which is all any of us can do. I just wanted to make that clear. I’m probably in the minority on a lot of this stuff, so I’m the weird one anyway.)
Roy Halladay died this week. Halladay, as some of you might know, was a fantastic pitcher for the Toronto Blue Jays and Philadelphia Phillies, and perhaps the biggest tragedy of the great Phillies teams of 2010 and 2011 was that they couldn’t get Roy a World Series title. He only pitched for the Phillies for four years and was only great for the first two of them, when he went 21-10 in 2010 with a 2.44 ERA, 9 complete games, and 4 shutouts (as well as doing well in more esoteric but accurate stats) and won the Cy Young, and 19-6 in 2011 with a 2.35 ERA, 8 complete games, and a shutout in 2011. He threw a perfect game in May 2010 and a no-hitter in the playoffs that year, only the second pitcher to do that (although Don Larsen’s in 1956 was a perfect game and in the World Series, but Roy’s feat is still impressive). Phillies fans LOVED him, and when he died flying a plane off the Florida coast on Tuesday, fans of the team (and fans of baseball in general, because Halladay was well-loved) poured out the love and appreciation. He was 40 years old and is survived by his wife and two sons. It’s a damned shame.
The first girl I ever loved, with whom I’m still friends with on Facebook, has a daughter who’s a freshman in college, and she (my ex-girlfriend, that is) posted that her daughter was really upset by Halladay’s death. Now, she’s a teenager, so I’m not terribly surprised by that, but I am always – ALWAYS – surprised by people who get so upset by the deaths of celebrities, people they don’t know or whom they might have met once, very briefly. With Facebook, we can see this even more clearly, so when Bowie died, and when Prince died, and when Philip Seymour Hoffman died, and when that dude from Steely Dan died, and when Len Wein died, and when Darwyn Cooke died, we get heartfelt tributes on Facebook or on various blogs. That’s fine – we’ve done it here, and we will continue to do so. What I don’t understand are the tears, and the very real emotions people feel. Was I sad when Wein died? Or Cooke? Or Wrightson? Not at all. I didn’t know any of those gentlemen, and while it’s a shame that they’re dead, it doesn’t affect me in the least. I didn’t shed one tear this week when Halladay died – I honestly hadn’t thought of Roy Halladay in four years, since he retired. All of the people who were mourning Prince were posting videos of “Purple Rain,” as if Prince never released any music after 1984. Prince released a lot of great music after 1984, after 1987 (when Sign “O” the Times came out), after 1989 (when he did the Batman soundtrack), after 1991 (when Diamonds and Pearls came out), even after 2004 (when Musicology came out). So why were those people so upset? Because they didn’t seem to be upset that Prince would no longer be producing new music, as they didn’t listen to it. It was sad that Prince died, sure, but “Purple Rain” still exists, so why did those people care?
I might sound bitterly cynical, but I don’t feel cynical. I just don’t get getting worked up about the death of people you don’t know. If everyone was so upset about Bernie Wrightson dying, why didn’t anyone buy Frankenstein Alive, Alive, his final work? It’s staggeringly beautiful, far more beautiful than his work on Swamp Thing, but everyone wrote about his work on Swamp Thing, which came out over 40 years ago. So Wrightson’s death didn’t upset people because they wouldn’t get more Wrightson’s work (which was the only reason it upset me, because he didn’t get to finish Frankenstein), it upset them because he did something they liked 40 years ago? Strange. Celebrity deaths are always bizarre to me, because it doesn’t seem like there’s any real reason to be bereft about them. It’s strange. I might be a jerk, but I really don’t understand it. Even if you’ve met the person, unless you were close to them, why get upset? Did Bowie’s death really change your life all that much? Did Wein’s? Halladay’s death is sad simply because the dude was only 40 and you can feel bad for his wife and kids, but his death had absolutely no effect on me. So why should I cry?
This ties into the other thing I’m going to rant about, something that John wrote about less than a month ago and which Greg wrote about a year ago, but which is still relevant in the wake of the nasty news about Louis C.K. Celebrity deaths get people sad, but so do celebrity scandals, and Louis C.K.’s ridiculous behavior has struck a nerve with many, including John (I won’t speak for John, but I’m just using what he wrote on Facebook – he wrote that C.K. was one of his “comic idols”). I’m not particularly bummed out about C.K.’s behavior (can we call him that, because every story I’ve seen about this uses the entire “Louis C.K.,” which is annoying – ooh, can I call him “Székely”?), because I don’t idolize celebrities. I never have, really. I get the inclination, but it’s just never been my thing. I think it’s something I got from my father, because he’s even more cynical about the world than I am (and again, I don’t think I’m cynical, just … realistic?), but I’ve never really been into celebrity culture. So I didn’t have Kevin Spacey or Louis C.K. or Woody Allen or Roman Polanski or any of these other scumbags on a pedestal. I’ve never been a big fan of Székely’s comedy, anyway, mainly because I didn’t find it funny but also because he comes across as kind of a creep in his stand-up, anyway. So I’m not terribly surprised? More than that, though, I don’t get celebrity worship/idolization/love. Celebrities entertain us, sure, but other than that, they aren’t our friends (I mean, some of you might be friends with a celebrity or two, but in general). If you think about the great artists in history, do you think of really excellent people? Van Gogh cut off his own ear, for crying out loud, because he was upset that he was attacking Gauguin with a knife. Jackson Pollock was, by all accounts, a complete asshole. Byron, Shelley, Eliot – all douchebags (and, yeah, three of my favorite poets, with Eliot way out in front). Ezra Pound was a practically a Nazi. Hemingway was a jerk. Fitzgerald was a jerk. John Lennon was a jerk. Ernie Kovacs was a jerk (and a far greater comedic genius than Louis C.K., by the way). Yes, they were all men, but I’ll bet the Brontës were jerks, too. How do I know that? THEY WERE ARTISTS!!!!
Okay, not all artists are jerks. I get that. But a lot of them are, for any number of reasons. The “tortured artist” is a cliché that I don’t necessarily agree with because, again, a lot of artists are not jerks. But just as the majority of athletes don’t beat women, they still get tarred by the same brush when one of them beats up a woman, and I’m pretty sure there are more jerk artists than women-beating athletes. The point of this is that people are deeply flawed, and people who, for whatever reason, seek fame and fortune are even more so. “But Greg,” you might say, “artists are pure souls who only want to elevate humanity!!!” Yeah, I’m going to call bullshit on that. Artists want financial security, they just do it in a way that is very public. They might be driven by demons, but so are a lot of people. But for some reason, we idolize those who can do things well. Throw a football? Make a jump shot? Hit a ball? Write a great novel? Paint a great picture? Make a great movie? Make us laugh really hard? We idolize them. It’s a weird thing, and it’s completely irrational. We idolize them partly because we think we can’t do what they do, so because they’re better at one thing, they must be better people than we are. Do we idolize the woman at the grocery store who bags our food quickly and efficiently? No, because we think we can do that, so she’s obviously nobody special. But Ezekiel Elliot. But Louis C.K. But Kevin Spacey. But Woody Allen. That dude can run really fast and make people miss on a football field! That dude makes me laugh! That dude was so good as Keyser Söze! That dude made Manhattan Murder Mystery (yep, that’s the one I chose – deal with it)! They must be good people if they can do that! See? Irrational.
I’ve never been one, as I noted, for idol worship. I admire artists, but it gets back to John’s post about separating the art from the artist – I do that easily. Unless the work itself is wildly hateful, I have no problem with it. I still read Orson Scott Card’s novels (not the more recent ones, mainly because he seems to be stuck in Ender Wiggins’s universe, and that well seems dry to me), because the dude is a great (and tremendously humanistic, which seems strange) writer. I watched Chinatown not too long ago, and it’s still a great movie. TCM was honoring Hitchcock a few months ago, and we watched Psycho with the daughter (she felt bad for Norman) and I DVRed a bunch of his movies I haven’t seen yet, and I will watch them with a clear conscience. Yes, those are examples from many years ago and I know Hitchcock, at least, isn’t getting residuals from his work anymore, but if I were a fan of Louis C.K., I would have watched I Love You, Daddy with no qualms (I would not watch it because it looks like more of his schtick, just in a movie). I still buy DC comics even though they continue to employ Eddie Berganza. I cheered for Michael Vick when he was on the Eagles (that was mainly because the dude went to prison and really seemed to have changed from the experience, although I’m not sure how I would have felt if he had gotten away scot-free). I don’t have idols among celebrities, and therefore their private behavior doesn’t gross me out. Obviously, if they’re committing crimes, they should pay for it, but I’m just pointing out that Louis C.K. didn’t disappoint me because I never thought he was a role model anyway.
I didn’t comment on John’s post because I thought the discussion was interesting enough, but I have noted in the past that I do boycott some people. Mark Millar, for a long time, was the only comics creator I boycotted, and it had nothing to do with his personal behavior or his politics. I boycott Mark Millar because I feel that he’s contemptuous of the people who made him a star, notably comic book readers. Millar is a big-time celebrity in the movie world these days (I assume – his comics keep getting made into movies!), but even before that, he seemed to be embarrassed that he had to make his bones writing comics. The end of Wanted, in which Wesley directly insulted the people reading the comic, was where I thought, “Well, if Mark Millar thinks those who read comics are such losers, I simply won’t read his comics anymore.” And I haven’t, unless I’ve been able to read them for free. I haven’t paid Millar one thin dime since the end of Wanted, and it’s too bad, because I like Millar’s work (or at least I used to) and he has enough money to get really good artists on his comics. But my life is fine without Millar’s comics in them. Recently, I added Gabriel Hardman to my list, and this is personal. In 2014, when I was writing about artists on Comics Should Be Good, I spotlighted Hardman. While researching him, I discovered that he drew comics in the mid-1990s, when he was only 19 years old or so, under a pseudonym, one he made no effort to hide later in life. I didn’t realize that, and I also realized I owned some of them, so I used them to show how his art had changed over the years. I tweeted about it and tagged him (as I did for all the artists I wrote about that year if they were on Twitter, mainly in case they were interested about someone writing about their art), and he got pissed off. He called Jonah and demanded that I get thrown off the blog, because I had “outed” him and his earliest, terrible work. Now, the only reason I knew it was him was because he gave an interview a few years earlier in which the interviewer asked him about the pseudonym and he admitted it was he. And it’s not like he drew some really obscure comics – he drew a story in Batman Chronicles, for crying out loud, and some issues of War Machine for Marvel. And I bet he cashed those checks, even if the work was “terrible.” I wasn’t even terribly mean to him – I noted that the art wasn’t great, but it might have been the inker or the colorist, and he obviously got better because he’s a really, really good artist these days. I did feel a bit bad about it, though, so I said hello to him in Seattle in 2016 and told him who I was and what I was trying to do in that series. He didn’t seem all that interested in discussing it, and while he wasn’t rude, exactly, he was kind of stand-offish. He also didn’t apologize for trying to get me fired for writing about art for which he got paid to do. Years ago, Tom Beland thought I was ridiculously rude to him and called Jonah, but he apologized, I apologized (I didn’t think I was being rude, but in hindsight, I could see why he thought so), and I even met him and had a nice conversation with him. Not so with Hardman, and so I decided to boycott his work. I don’t think he deserves my money, and while I’m sure he wouldn’t care in the least, it’s my small protest against him acting like a jerk in my eyes. Maybe an outside observer would think I was being the jerk, and that’s fair. But to me, he was.
Now that we’re done with that fascinating tangent, let’s return to my main point. Neither Millar nor Hardman were idols to me, so I wasn’t disappointed by what I saw as their kind of crass behavior. I grew up in a post-Watergate era, so the foibles of politicians prior to Watergate – when the press was more protective – don’t faze me, but they upset some people. However, we still have known about poor behavior from our icons for decades. Everyone knew Grover Cleveland had an illegitimate son back when “illegitimate” actually meant something, but he still won the presidency. Everyone knew about Fatty Arbuckle, and even though he was acquitted, the circumstances in which he was arrested are still skeevy. His career was basically over, but it’s still an example of an idol falling (whether he deserved it or not is up to you to decide). This kind of behavior isn’t new, so I wonder why people are still so affected by it. Is it because we all know better now about how we’re supposed to act, so we expect everyone to know better? Maybe that’s it. Back in the day, we didn’t know women had actual feelings, so we could treat them however we wanted, and it was okay! But now, we get that women have feelings, so maybe we shouldn’t rape them or masturbate in front of them! But that again ignores the idea of power, and people who have power almost always end up abusing it, because they think they can get away with it. Harvey Weinstein and Louis C.K. and all these other men had power, and as we know from … well, every moment in history, when you have power, you use it and then abuse it. Even when you should know better. (Here’s an article about why men masturbate in front of women. Apparently this is a thing. I can’t even imagine that. What the hell is wrong with these people? I know I’m a bit of a prude about sex, but even if I had some power, I can’t imagine abusing it by saying “I’m going to jerk off in front of you whether you like it or not.” That’s just … weird.)
You might think I live in a horrible, black world where no heroes live, and you’d be right … to a degree. I have no heroes (let’s all sing along to Awolnation: “I say you kill your heroes and fly, fly, baby don’t cry”), but I truly admire heroism. I think the thing people do wrong is conflate heroic acts with the actual person, turning normal, regular people who act heroically in certain situations into “heroes.” Recently the movie Only the Brave came out, and film critic Vince Mancini wrote this brilliant essay about it. I mentioned on his Facebook page that the men who fought the fire in Yarnell (the movie is based on actual events in a small town between Phoenix and Prescott in 2013, when one firefighter survived out of a crew of 20) are actual heroes, but I should have written that they did something unbelievably heroic. That distinction may sound small, but for me, it’s crucial. I find heroic acts amazing, but I resist the urge to turn the people who do them into “heroes.” I don’t know anything about the Granite Mountain Hot Shots as people, just that they died doing something heroic. They could have beaten their wives or bashed gay people or (horrors!) rooted for the Dallas Cowboys, but they still did something heroic. I feel the same way about police officers and soldiers. I don’t think of them as “heroes,” but I know they often do heroic things. I also know they often do horrific things, because, let’s face it, some people join the police so they can crack skulls quasi-legally, and some people become soldiers so they can murder other people legally. Those people who turn every cop or soldier into “heroes” are the ones who can’t accept that they’re flawed human beings, like the rest of us, and while they are capable of heroism, they’re also capable of horrors. So when they do something horrific, those people who consider them heroes can’t accept it, because heroes don’t so stuff like that. That’s where the disconnect comes from.
In a similar way, I’ve been seeing some troubling stuff on some web sites in the wake of these celebrity scandals. A few people have written articles blaming all men, mainly because those who aren’t scumbag abusers or harassers don’t do anything when they see it. Hey, that’s fine, I can take it – as a few women have pointed out, if men feel threatened by all of this, they know how women feel all the time – and while I can point out that I, personally, have never harassed anyone (as far as I know) and also I’ve never actually seen it (although, again, I might have but have been so conditioned that I don’t recognize it, which is certainly possible), I want to point out why this is dangerous. First of all, the women who are writing these articles or commenting about them on Facebook are, in some cases, married, and do they think their husbands are that way? Of course they don’t, because it’s easy to generalize about people when you don’t know them, but a little harder to do so when you live with them. We deride generalization when those we’re opposed to do it – “All black people are lazy,” for instance, when idiot racists say it – but don’t mind generalizing when it’s in service to our agenda. This idea that all men are culpable is a generalization, and it gets to what a conservative might deride as “political correctness.” I have no problem with political correctness, because in my mind it’s a nice way to say “Don’t be a dick.” If the words you are using offend someone, perhaps you might change the words you are using. Nobody calls my daughter “retarded” because that word has become associated with nastiness and insults, and it’s best if we use different terminology (“special needs” is generally the accepted terminology, although it’s not the only one). Very few people have asked “What’s wrong with her?” when they see her, because as a society, we’ve come to understand that asking a question like that is wildly insensitive. In fact, it’s actually nice to see more people not say anything with regard to my daughter because they’re afraid they’re going to say something wrong rather than simply speaking insensitively. It’s still not optimal, because they’re acting from fear, but it’s better than being rude. (For the record, “What’s her diagnosis?” is the preferred question to ask, because it acknowledges that she is not a typical person while not judging her by calling her “wrong” in any way. I have no problem whatsoever discussing my daughter and her issues with anyone, and I won’t get mad at people even if they ask “What’s wrong with her?” I will tell them that it’s the wrong thing to say and explain why, but I won’t get mad.) So the idea that we can find better ways to talk and act is not a problem with me. Some people have reacted harshly against “political correctness” because they believe it’s all about limiting their freedom of speech – the freedom to call all Mexicans “wetbacks” or all women “bitches,” I guess. People apply the term to almost anything they disagree with, and proponents of “political correctness” have expanded its reach, and with these celebrity scandals, it has reached an odd place. Why is it okay to paint all men with the same brush when it’s not okay to paint marginalized groups that way? Because white men have always been at the top of the pyramid? Maybe that’s true, but what use does it do to generalize about all men? The same use we get from generalizing about any heterogeneous group – it compartmentalizes them, makes them the “other,” and makes it easier to deal with them in an inhumane way. I get that society has to change, and many people are working hard to change it. But does the sick, patriarchal society in which we live explain Joan Crawford, who was apparently the worst mother of all time? Does it explain Margaret Thatcher, one of the most vile politicians of the late 20th century? Does it explain Allison Mack, who’s apparently co-running a sex slave ring? I’m sure plenty of women would say it does, because those women were “forced” by the patriarchy to act the way they did, but that’s a childish response, as if people can never overcome their conditioning and aren’t responsible for their own actions. If Mack is a product of the patriarchy and has been bred that way, so is Louis C.K., and no one is at fault.
The problem with both “political correctness” and the generalization it is reacting to is that stereotyping is insidious, but it’s also easy. People like easy things, and trying to overcome our own stereotyping tendencies is difficult and constant, so too often we fall into the easiness of stereotyping. But those on the side of justice – and I hope I’m one of them – have to be better. We have to understand the uniqueness of everyone, and how everyone struggles with their own set of problems and preconceived notions and ideas about the world, and how they use those to make the world a better (or worse, unfortunately) place is unique to them. Saying that all men are the problem is easy, and it’s as insulting as men saying all women are sluts. But this focus on generalization brings me to my last thread, which is Brian Hibbs and his bathroom. In this fascinating column, Hibbs writes about the bathroom at his comic book store, Comix Experience. Basically, the upshot is that over the years, he’s invited creators to draw on the walls of his bathroom, and naturally, some of them (Darick Robertson, John McCrea, and Garth Ennis) drew some wildly sexual stuff, basically Christian symbols screwing sheep. It’s hilarious and juvenile, like a lot of what those creators do (and I admit, I like their work more often than not, but a lot of what they do is juvenile), and it was done years ago and no one had a problem with it – the bathroom is not public, so very few people ever saw it. Recently, a female creator was at the store, and Hibbs said she could add to the art if she wanted to, but a few days later she sent him an email saying she was very uncomfortable with the sexually aggressive stuff and wanted him to take the art down. He did, and he asked his staff if they were uncomfortable with the bathroom, and a majority said they were. So he’s in a pickle. What to do with the art?
I wouldn’t want to be in Hibbs’ shoes, because I’m of the opinion that almost any art is fine and if you’re uncomfortable with it, then it’s doing its job (even juvenile doodles by man-children). Because guess what? Women have drawn on his bathroom walls, many of them after the sexual ones went up, and they didn’t have a problem with it. If it had just been one creator, I’d probably do nothing, but the problem becomes with the employees, because they have to work there. But art should make you uncomfortable. Great art always makes people uncomfortable. Just because so much art has been commodified and institutionalized as “great,” we tend to forget the violent reactions to some great art in the past by the vast majority of consumers. I doubt if Robertson’s, McCrea’s, and Ennis’s doodles qualify as great art, but it’s still something that is poking fun at one of the foundations of Western society, and taking down sacred cows is something art should do. If it makes a person uncomfortable, isn’t that fine? And it’s not like there are women involved – it’s an angel and God fucking a sheep, for crying out loud. So this is a problem for Hibbs, and as I noted, I wouldn’t want to be in his shoes. But it struck me as something that political correctness doesn’t want to admit, how its version of censorship is so close to those whom they deride on the other side of the political fence. If you think this art is triggering because it shows violent sex and men (well, Satan, but he’s a dude) masturbating, that’s fine. Do you think art, like this, that “triggers” Christians for its complete lack of respect for God should also be covered up? Whenever a Christian complains about art that is disrespectful to them, we get free-speech advocates going nuts about how it’s fine because it’s art. But stuff that shows women being treated poorly (or men masturbating and fucking sheep, because it’s “aggressive”) has to go. Where’s the line? What is acceptable and what is not? That’s not a bad discussion to have, but again, it’s difficult to talk about it. I have mentioned before that I really don’t like porn. I have no problem with pictures of naked women, but actual porn just isn’t for me, partly because I don’t really need to see dicks going in and partly because people tend to look ridiculous when they’re fucking. I own some porn comics, but it’s basically because I like the creators and want to support their work rather than because I have any interest in porn – I love Erika Moen’s work, and she’s done a lot of porn, so I own a lot of her porn simply because I want to give her money. But I don’t really like it, but I would never censor it. Some people do like it, and that’s their thing. It makes me uncomfortable (both “real” porn with actual people and cartoon porn drawn by an artist), but I simply try to avoid it. But again, some people simply want to ban porn instead of talking about why people watch porn and enjoy it. It’s far easier to censor and move on rather than have a discussion about what’s okay and what’s not okay in art. Censorship is so easy!
I’m rambling, and I apologize for it. Every so often I shake my head at the world, not because it’s so fucked up – it’s always been fucked up – but because we can’t seem to move past whatever is fucking us up. I understand all these issues – I understand why people get sad over celebrity deaths – because a celebrity did something that meant something to that person, and they’re expressing that. I understand why people get upset by celebrity scandals – in much the same way as deaths, those people did something that you enjoyed, and their private behavior taints that public expression of art. I understand why people stereotype – it’s easy and it feels like a solution is easy, too. And I understand why people want to censor things – no one likes being uncomfortable, after all, so if we get rid of the things that make us uncomfortable, life would be easier. I think it’s disgusting that men are such douchebags so often, and I’m very glad that women (and some men, too – George Takei, nooooo!!!!) are able to come forward and we’re starting to believe them. We have a long way to go, and I will always try to be on alert for things that aren’t kosher so I can try to change things. It’s not easy, and it’s going to mean more of our idols fall, but perhaps it will also mean we’ll get new idols who strive to not be assholes. We’ll see.
It’s a weird world out there, people. Let’s try not to be evil to each other, okay?