Friday, July 7, 2017

Cautionary tail or racist necroporn? In which the author gets judgmental

So. . .

A comic book under the name Divided States of America decides to adorn one of their covers with a dead Pakistani man hanging from a noose with his balls cut off. Classy.

The publisher of the comic, Image, perhaps not surprisingly decided to withdraw the cover after the public outcry.  Also unsurprisingly, the creator of the comic, Howard Chaykin, was quite unrepentant, and tried to justify said cover:

"For the record, the cover depicts the horrific wish dream of some 45% of their fellow Americans. . .Perhaps if they spent a bit more time paying attention to the fact that the world they were born into is on the brink of serious disaster, they might have less time to get worked up about an image of genuine horror that depicts an aspect of that impeding disaster.”

Such self righteousness. You'd almost think he was depicting a real event, rather than making one up. . .

Consider me unconvinced. In fact colour me “Uughh!”, which I can’t help thinking is the reaction he wanted more than any cerebral reconsideration of American politics. There are any number of ways a comic could explore racism, Islamophobia or the horrors of mob rule without mutilating a brown man for benefit of the comic buying public, and good artists can inspire emotions in many different ways – reliance on pure shock value often signifies lack of gifts in other areas.

 The crudity of the drawing leads me to suspect it was more about selling comics than raising awareness; lacking either realism or artistry, and with all the subtlety of a Friday the 13th film, it screams to me nothing so much as “blood and guts sold here!” I do not detect respect for the dead, or concern with human dignity; I’m not convinced this would be foremost in the minds of anyone drawn to picking it up. I do detect an appeal to base adolescent blood-lust rather than higher civic-mindedness.

Read this one instead
I could be wrong – judges of books and covers and all that – but I can’t help thinking how few truly effective social critics need exploitative imagery to make their points. I remember in particular how Joe Sacho managed to vividly portray all the horrors of the war in Bosnia (including gang rape) in Safe Area Gorazde without a drop of blood.  

Concern for society? Maybe. Concern for severed genitals? No question.

As said by comic blogger Beth Elderkin, such an image divorced from any context contributes nothing to the understanding of the issue. All it does is add more nastiness to the world. So there’s now a picture of a dead Muslim man on the shelf of your local comic shop: do you feel more enlightened? More aware? The picture itself says nothing – for all we know it could be the cover of a neo-nazi tract.
More than a few people would probably flip through it just to establish if it were such a tract – drawn by the irresistible wtf?!? factor. That’s the whole idea of covers: catch people’s attention. Get them to look at it. Maybe lay down a few clams for it. In other words, to sell it.

That is what we call “exploitation”. There are many in the comic book world who confuse it for gravitas. 

The publishers tried to justify it like this:
 Watering down in any way how bad things have become, seems like a cop out, like turning a blind eye at a time when we all need to be paying attention. 
 Possibly. And glorying in the gory details seems ghoulish, like turning a deaf ear to people genuinely affected by this sort of thing. I wonder how many Muslims Chaykin interviewed in preparation for this comic. How many mosques he visited in embattled Muslim communities. How many Pakistanis would be grateful for his efforts, and how many he bothered asking.  . .
 From what I can gather, the comic itself wasn't taken off shelves; no one tried to silence Chaykin's great cautionary tale. Read it if you must. But do yourself a favour and read Safe Area Gorazde as well. See how they compare. . .

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