What Evil Lurks in The Hearts of Men

mandarin

I. 

It’s hard to think of a more perfect synecdoche for the American superhero comics industry than C.B. Cebulski, recently named editor-in-chief of Marvel Comics, admitting his first day on the job that he spent more than a year writing comics under the name Akira Yoshida in what we’ll generously call a Japanese idiom.

Cebulski, of course, is not Japanese.

According to comics columnist Rich Johnston, who broke the story through industry news outlet Bleeding Cool, Marvel talked up “Akira Yoshida” as though he was a one-in-a-million prodigy; “He was someone from non-English speaking country who could write well for an American audience — something Marvel had struggled with in the past when seeking authentic voices,” Johnston recalls being told. 

“Yoshida” was writing Japanese-flavored work for Marvel about the villainous ninja clan called The Hand in 2004 near the beginning of a manga boom in the US book market. Manga had become especially popular among younger readers and women; Cebulski’s tenure as editor of Marvel’s manga efforts—the company welcomed him to the fold as “C.B.-san” in a press release—had not brought the company the new market it expected.

As a fake Japanese man, Cebulski got quite a bit of work set in Japan and about Marvel’s Asian characters, of whom there are many. The Hand are a creation of writer-artist Frank Miller; other Asian or Asian-ish characters are the work of Don Heck, Steve Ditko, Jack Kirby and others white artists. Some—Miller especially—have worked to bring Japanese work to American readers and to absorb not just stereotypes but artistic substance from Japan’s own venerable comics traditions; assessing their accomplishments alongside the work of their peers in Japan is complicated.

But only Cebulski managed to create an Asian character who literally drew a paycheck for him.

Cebulski started out working on a Manga-ish series called Darkstalkers for Canadian artist Pat Lee’s now-defunct company Dreamwave. When he got to Marvel, Cebulski gave a lengthy interview in character as Yoshida, saying he’d been introduced to American comics by his father, who worked in “international business” and would bring them home to Japan from trips abroad. 

People claimed to have seen Yoshida in Marvel’s offices; according to Johnston, that person was a Japanese translator. For years, editor Mike Marts swore blind he’d eaten lunch with Cebulski’s pseudonym; he, too, may have dined with the translator.

II.

Orientalism—the patronizing depiction of Asian and Middle Eastern cultures in Western literature—is older than C.B. Cebulski; it’s older than Marvel Comics, too. It’s certainly older than pulp characters that filled matinees and newsstands in the 1930’s but it might be worthwhile to start with those rather than trudge all the way back to Kipling and Sax Rohmer, because the pulps are where comics were born. 

The Shadow learned how to render himself invisible “years ago in the Orient.” Doc Savage found himself embroiled in some plot or other in Asia or on the Arabian peninsula about twice a week. Flash Gordon battled a space emperor with long, thin mustaches called Ming the Merciless. The Green Hornet’s martial artist houseboy Kato was so much cooler than the Hornet himself that the role catapulted Bruce Lee to stardom when the character got a TV show in the 1960’s, but (white) billionaire playboy Britt Reid was in charge in the 1930’s and he stayed the boss until very recently.

That’s not to say that these characters and stories aren’t fun. They’re loads of fun. Orientalist window dressing is one of a dozen expedient narrative gimmicks to get the reader to buy Shiwan Khan’s piranha-infested moat or to explain away ridiculous nonsense like the neato power to read minds. It’s effective because the reader is likely to think, “Oh yeah, that sounds like something that would happen in a mysterious place where I don’t speak the language.”

The problem with that narrative device and not with, say, a time machine, is that there are people underneath it, with stories that aren’t about piranhas. Some of them even create comic books in a distinct tradition.

Though they share DNA, contemporary superhero comics differ from pulps in that they are about a whole new class of character, rather than a wealthy eccentric who makes the New York crime blotter more exciting. Among superheroes, Orientalist caricatures are presented alongside aliens, demigods and robots—this guy has claws that come out of his knuckles, that one is a despotic cyborg from outer space, and that one… well, that one’s Chinese. 

Marvel has tried to smooth this sort of thing over but it’s hard to know which way to jump; the grief the company caught for casting a white woman as Doctor Strange’s mystic mentor The Ancient One is probably nothing compared to the wrath that would have rained down on it for casting a person of Asian descent in the role. And, largely for the worse, the Mysterious Asian is integral to Disney’s precious proprietary stockpile of Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko creations. Most people have forgotten that Mickey Mouse is, at base, a blackface caricature; it will take a while longer to forget that Iron Man spent many, many issues fighting The Mandarin.

III.

Authorial impersonation is practically its own genre of prank, and it exists on a continuum of outrageousness from clever commentary to queasy appropriation, depending on who is doing it, how, and why. Stephen King, on being told that the horror market could only sustain a single book a year bearing his name, consigned his pulpier efforts to a lesser byline, Richard Bachman. J. K. Rowling, anxious to keep writing murder mysteries after her first attempt failed to elude the shadow of Harry Potter, began publishing mystery fiction under the name Robert Galbraith. 

These deceptions are harmless, even instructive—King’s second name became such an open secret that he developed a distinctive style for it. Rowling ignited a conversation about whether or not her work would have been received as well had it had a woman’s name on the cover instead of man’s (it probably would have, so long as it wasn’t Rowling’s own; the best authors in the mystery genre are and have nearly always been women).

But there are less comfortable examples. A poet named Yi-Fen Chou published a poem called “The Bees, the Flowers, Jesus, Ancient Tigers, Poseidon, Adam and Eve” that was selected for the 2015 Best American Poetry collection; Chou turned out to be a white man named Michael Derrick Hudson, who was hoping he could get his poem read more closely if he could convince editors it was the work of a person belonging to an underrepresented minority. Yale’s Joe Scanlan, who is also white, created the character of a black artist named “Donelle Woodford” to whom he credited some of his own collage work, and who was played by black actresses who wrote the character with him. In an interview he said he’d hoped the project would prove that “a white man and two black women can acknowledge their unequal power relations and still decide to happily work together, because something might be accomplished that is greater than that inequity.”

Cebulski’s deception is a sort of hybrid of those two pranks, combining Hudson’s invidious aspirations with Scanlan’s theatrical flair, and all in a professional context far shorter on irony than the conceptual art world. 

The notoriously tyrannical Bill Jemas, at the time occupying the editor-in-chief job to which Cebulski has just been elevated, would surely have fired Cebulski, whose small, experimental imprint that wasn’t working, for writing comics freelance under his own name. Marvel editors weren’t allowed to write for their colleagues, either. 

So Cebulski created a character who, in hindsight, looks about as plausible as Ming the Merciless: an Asian guy who writes in an exactly American style and makes a lot of mistakes about Japanese culture, which supposedly produced him. From his position overseeing Marvel’s attempts to reach American fans of Asian culture, Cebulski would have understood the demand among editors for competently written stories that could exploit the growing popularity of manga, and he really had lived in Japan. 

It was a bad decision, but one that made a certain amount of tactical sense: That land over there, where I don’t speak the language and mysterious things often happen—perhaps it produced this extremely implausible person who appeared out of thin air with the ability to decorate Western comics plots with detailed manga window dressing.

IV.

Pulp characters have been through a number of resurrections; they’re quite durable, like superheroes, but they’re also troublesome. They are different from superheroes, who live in fantasy worlds with rules that don’t resemble out own at all. Both are inextricable from the need for a faraway land filled with villains, heroines, and magic, but pulps are, perhaps, a little more honest about where that desire actually points: The reader believes deep inside that this land is somewhere close by, on earth, if we could only reach it—not in the shadow dimensions or on a distant planet. Our neighbor who talks funny—we think he’s a cartoon villain with a long mustache. This sort of belief is, I would say, a primal, fundamental cruelty, not a product of culture.

It is an evil, not to put too fine a point on it, that lurks in the hearts of men.

Cebulski’s grift succeeded because it depended on his readers—and, apparently, some of his bosses—to approach Yoshida they way they would a foreigner, with an expectation of the exotic and a patience for amateurism. “It wasn’t transparent, but it taught me a lot about writing, communication and pressure,” Cebulski told Johnston. “I was young and naïve and had a lot to learn back then.”

There should be space for marginalized artists, and it shouldn’t be taken away so that white people using pseudonyms can benefit from low expectations while they learn about communication. But it’s worth understanding why Cebulski was able to do this so easily in the first place: This isn’t a problem with comics. It’s a problem with people who love them.

And with people generally—me, for example. I love the pulps. I love the old ones and I like reading the new ones and every time I pick up a new reimagining filled with the exploits of some problematic old hero, I hope that the author will have been able to rescue him from the embarrassing menace of Shiwan Khan, Fu Manchu, Ming or Akira Yoshida.

These villains were invented to be inscrutable and sly, and it turns out they are wilier than ever their inventors intended—they keep on killing the Shadow, Doc Savage and the Green Hornet with Western bigotries that look paler and less appetizing each time. We know how to read old adventure stories, forgivingly or prosecutorially as we see fit, but we don’t quite know how to write new ones yet. We can create new characters, but we can’t escape our influences, whether or not they’re racist. Try to purify art, and you’ll destroy it. Start over with a different set of matinee idols, and they will turn out to have feet of clay, as well. 

Frank Miller proposed an interesting solution to some of these tensions with Sin City, a hard-boiled detective series that incorporates the visual grammar of manga. His peers Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill, too, have spent twenty years tirelessly trying to find progressive expressions for old adventure novels for their League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, turning the original white savior, Ayesha from H Rider Haggard’s “She,” into a cold-blooded villainess while making Jules Verne’s terrifying Captain Nemo into the patriarch of a heroic dynasty of stateless Indian nobility. These are answers to the questions of appropriation and racism that come not just from careful study of art, but from moral reflection, as well.

The writer Garth Ennis reworked the Shadow recently, setting most of his story in meticulously accurate historical renderings of of China and Japan, with the Shadow himself the weird foreigner. It’s a clever inversion, drawn by Aaron Campbell; while it doesn’t work completely, Ennis has an unobstructed vision for what makes the Shadow tick, and that gives the tale a foundational honesty that has a greater capacity to redeem its beloved lead character than all the self-righteous think pieces on the internet.

It’s this: One of the villains, a likable Chinese gangster named Kondo, knows the Shadow from before he was Lamont Cranston. What secrets, Kondo asks him during their showdown, did the Shadow learn when he learned to cloud men’s minds?  

“Whoever it was. Wherever they took you,” Kondo asks. “What the hell did they make you into?” Knowing his enemy is about to die, the Shadow finally tells him the whole truth.

“They taught me to recognize evil in the hearts of men,” he says, “by looking into my own.”

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Comics 10/24

the wild storm.jpg
Void, from The Wild Storm #3 variant by Jim Lee
  1. Kill or Be Killed, the new series by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips, is two paperbacks’ worth of issues deep and so I picked the first volume up. Brubaker and Phillips remind me very much of Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale, in that they pair a consummately adequate writer with an artist who is doing something really rare and wonderful and stylish and so I tend to endure the plotting and dialogue rather than enjoy it, but it doesn’t matter at all when faced with the beautiful art. Phillips, I think, is drawing with a computer now—there’s a telltale thing that happens when you digitize line widths that makes them come out weirdly uniform. It looks worse on some artists than others—Jesus Merino’s Astro City stuff is a bit distracting, for example—but Phillips pulls it off. Anyway I feel like I should briefly drop in a disclaimer observing that neither Loeb nor Brubaker’s writing is contemptible, merely undistinguished to a degree that constantly reminds a reader that the script would suffer not even a little as a teleplay. But those two guys are the primary collaborators of two really astounding artists so I recommend Loeb’s Hulk: Gray and Catwoman: When in Rome—both very solid, fun-to-read books—and Brubaker’s Sleeper and Fatale, the former being a clever superhero narrative and the latter being a time-hopping horror-crime tale that I really enjoyed. I’ve found Brubaker’s warmed-over roman noir style to be kind of samey, though, and I enjoyed The Fade Out basically in spite of him; his protagonists are always such insufferable dickheads. This time he may have out-dickheaded himself: His main character, Dylan, is a vigilante who runs around blowing away “bad” people; Brubaker is not a dummy and the book is loudly telegrpahing that it will question what exactly it means to be a bad person, and there is a supernatural aspect to our hero’s motivation. The problem is the hero: He is not merely a murdering punk but also the whiniest little incel in comics and the net effect, which I’m not sure is intentional, is that he seems like someone who actually would go on a killing spree on an Eliot Rodger model. Anyway the art is terrific.
    1a. Actually please just read Graham Chaffee’s fantastic To Have and To Hold from earlier this year instead. It’s very much as if James M Cain wrote comics.
  2. Along thematically similar lines but as different as possible in execution, Rick Veitch has finally returned to comics publishing through Amazon’s print-on-demand service, and let me tell you, demand it I do. Veitch is one of the most talented cartoonists alive and his incredibly weird sensibility has given the world some graphic novels that I think will probably stand the test of time alongside crazy shit like Jim Woodring’s beautiful Disneyfied hallucinations. This time his subject is a sort-of-Superboy character with a lot of the same gross impulses as the Kill or Be Killed protag, but much stranger. Veitch has written two mind-meltingly weird but ultimately cohesive superhero graphic novels, Brat Pack and The One, the first being an intensely sordid deconstruction of all the sexual undertones in comics and a solidly pointed piece of industry criticism, to boot; the second is just a good graphic novel about the evolutionary end of humanity. One thing I truly love about Veitch is that he’s perfectly happy imagining changes to the status quo in his narrative so huge that they end the story, or the industry, or the species, and I guess it’s inevitable that his new book, Kid Maximortal, would attempt to end the superhero genre. It’s a sequel of sorts to his Superman riff, The Maximortal, which I believe is due for a new edition from IDW, and both read a lot like literary criticism, if literary criticism had fun characters and didn’t make any more sense than it had to. The new book has two plot threads totally overcome by heavily symbolic surrealism and a third, based on the life of Jack Kirby, that is an expertly rendered and deeply felt bit of realism. I wish the whole thing cohered narratively with more attention to plot and character and less to theme. Veitch isn’t bad at plot or character; he’s just less interested in them than he is in, it has to be said, the extremely well-traveled path of comics-as-comics-criticism. It’s still worth reading and has a ton of goodies in the back, among them his manifesto and a bunch of pin-ups of Swamp Thing and his and Alan Moore’s wonderful Greyshirt character, as well as a terrific old story from Heavy Metal where the robot characters speak in bar codes. I recommend it very, very highly, if not unreservedly.
  3. I discovered to my delight that I’m a book behind on Kurt Busiek’s consistently good Astro City; the series is always so much fun that I find myself occasionally saving it for a day when I’m depressed. Busiek is one of the best pure writers of superheroes alive; Alan Moore is, at his very best, a masterly horror writer, and Neil Gaiman is a fantasist, but Busiek seems to have been genetically engineered for the sole purpose of writing colorful super-characters, and the 13th volume of the series, Honor Guard, sees him stretching out into different varieties. One thing that distinguishes Busiek from other contemporary superhero writers is that he remembers there are influences deserving of his (and the reader’s) attention beyond Jack Kirby. There’s a quasi-Edgar Rice Burroughs story in this book, and one with some anime influence, and a less successful tale about an Australian guy with the power to shrink. It’s a catch-all collection, bringing together a bunch of one-off stories, and I miss one-off stories in these days of infinitely long crossover series, so I was pretty happy to read it. The art is by Jesus Merino, as mentioned above, with Tom Grummett, one of DC’s better and least-sung workhorses, and a couple of other guys I’d never heard of—Joe Infurnari and Gary Chaloner. The final story is a real knockout, and repositions an old foe of the super-team of the title as a new ally; it’s surprisingly moving. I’m looking forward to digging in to that 14th volume I hadn’t spotted on the shelves yet.
  4. As the retro marketing train slowly and disturbingly approaches my young adulthood I keep running across comics projects that play on my fond memories of 1990’s comics with upsetting precision. The best of these is absolutely The Wild Storm, a 24-issue, ugh, maxi-series, I’m sorry for that word, it sounds like an expensive bacteria panel your doctor runs when his first two diagnoses fail, merging all the disparate high-concept characters from Jim Lee’s ridiculous Wildstorm Universe into a single cohesive narrative. This is an insane task undertaken by an insane man, Warren Ellis, who remains a writer whose work I will read in pretty much any form, prose or comics. Ellis is particularly interesting because he and Alan Moore came along at a time when Wildstorm, which had formed because Lee and a few other artists were sick of being shortchanged by Marvel and wanted to own the characters they drew, needed some solid writing to guide what would otherwise have continued to be very shoddy knock-offs of Marvel’s several X-Men teams. The comics had been mildly fun for a while before Moore and Ellis came along but the artists had largely either moved on to greener pastures or gotten so wealthy they didn’t need to work for a page rate anymore, and without Lee’s over-rendered art, it was clear that there wasn’t a lot holding, say, the WildC.A.T.S together conceptually. Moore and Ellis reinvented the WildC.A.T.S and Stormwatch respectively and turned the whole superhero universe into a big Le Carré-but-with-heat-vision spy story of double agents and shadowy intelligence operations that stretched across time and space in sci-fi ways. It was great; I still go back and reread old issues from time to time, and it launched a number of worthy careers, notably Brubaker and Phillips’s (see above). In the new book, Ellis, with a really remarkable and precise artist named Jon-Davis Hunt, is weaving together a big, action-packed super-narrative that thus far focuses on Angela Spica, a character who went by The Engineer in Ellis’s great superhero book The Authority 17 years ago, and treats the various super-teams as rival intelligence firms looking for competitive advantages with Angie and her budding science-powers caught in the middle. I dig it a lot.
  5. Garth Ennis is suddenly everywhere: With the mildly shadowy comics company Aftershock, he has a moderately preachy spy-comedy comic called Jimmy’s Bastards with art by Russ Braun, whom I like (I find this book very funny not least because of Braun’s gift for faces; many of you may not, which would be reasonable, and I may be ashamed that I found it funny in ten years, the way I feel about Ennis and the late Steve Dillon’s Preacher now); he’s doing a very enjoyable Hanna-Barbera-branded Dastardly and Muttley comic for DC because God is cruel; and best of all, he’s returned to a character everyone now loves to hate because of the dumb Netflix TV show, The Punisher. Disclosure: I love The Punisher. I am a pacifist and do not like violence in real life one little bit but Ennis’s take on the character is just devastating in the pathos he manages to wring from a stoic serial killer. Part of it is that Ennis is an annoying military history wonk and he can go toe-to-toe with anybody who cares to try on the topic of World War II aircraft or machine gun manufacturing contracts (this is what ruined the pacing of big sections of his series The Boys at Dynamite, incidentally; he got so interested in making up plausible fake military-historical details that he completely derailed the story he was telling), and Frank Castle—The Punisher—is a canonically a Vietnam veteran. So Ennis has set Punisher: The Platoon during the legendary Tet Offensive, and it’s killer so far, largely because he’s working with the amazing Goran Parlov, an artist who didn’t get a chance to hit his stride while he was working monthly with Ennis on the last few arcs of his justly celebrated Punisher: MAX run, almost certainly because of deadlines. Even there, he was doing suspiciously good work; it turns out that when he has a decent lead time, his stuff is genuinely beautiful. (Attentive readers already knew this from Starlight, but Ennis writes a better story than Mark Millar in general.)
  6. I thought I’d mention that DC has reprinted Alan Davis’s gorgeous JLA: The Nail series in an oversized hardcover; it’s a spectacular book and Davis deserves a place in the pantheon alongside other writer-artists of superhero stuff like Frank Miller and Walt Simonson. For a few years not long ago Marvel seemed to happily publish basically whatever Davis wanted to draw; that was a good policy and I hope they re-adopt it or someone else comes along to do likewise. Anyway I thought I’d list my favorite Justice League stories because that dumb movie is coming out. Here they are:
    1. JLA/Avengers
    2. The Nail
    3. JLA: Earth-2
    4. Heaven’s Ladder
    5. New Maps of Hell
    6. Formerly Known as the Justice League
    There’s only six of ’em. Them’s the breaks.

Stray Thoughts 10/15

dirty harvey

  1. Several actresses say the vastly wealthy and influential movie producer Harvey Weinstein raped them. Further reporting by Ronan Farrow, himself something of an expert on sexual malpractice among celebrities, suggests that Weinstein had most of the movie industry help him arrange liaisons, often in hotels, with young women who wanted to act or had begun to act, and then he tried to coerce them into giving him “massages” or watching him jerk off or having sex with him, and when he could, he raped them. Asia Argento and Rose McGowan, two women who, queasily, were 1990’s avatars of the same very particular kind of noirish beauty—dark-haired and -eyed, petite, pale, tattooed—have accused him of forcing himself on them. The details are annihilatingly vile: Argento said that she despairingly returned to Weinstein to give him more sex after he first raped her, because she felt that she had to. Everybody knew, and everybody is shocked; everybody helped, and everybody is concerned. It is a web of complicity and wickedness that stretches through the film and television industries and crosses borders into real world-political power, which, make no mistake, Weinstein had; the details of the fat, wealthy, legendarily crass producer forcing himself on starlet after starlet have a sort of operatic, Dickensian putrescence about them. Weinstein’s professional demise—and he has been expelled from the Academy and denounced by all of his closest colleagues including his brother—is said to be the first of many, but it feels too late.
  2. What are we to do with his movies? One of the dangers not just to his victims but to the world of allowing a voracious sexual predator to carry on unopposed for decades is that his legacy, however tainted, must be reckoned with, because it is so huge. Does he deform the entire canon? It’s a question that is often asked of work by, say, Alfred Hitchcock or Woody Allen or Roman Polanski, but those men are individuals and their work can be isolated and watched with a responsible skepticism. Weinstein had approval over a staggering number of films and he legendarily recut many of them—what does that mean?
  3. Shortly after the Weinstein piece broke, a Buzzfeed article announced the existence of a list of “Shitty Media Men” who had mistreated the anonymous women who contributed to the list. The bar for adding a name was apparently very low; the accusations ranged from “flirting” to “creepy af in the DMs” to anal rape, and choking a woman unconscious, according to multiple writeups by women who had presumably seen the list. I haven’t seen it; I’m told it was expressly forbidden to share the list with a man though some women seem to have done so. I don’t have access to what people have been calling “the whisper network” the way women do but I have good women friends who’ve confided the occasional coded warning about more than one high-level male journalist, and of course I listen to gossip; there are people I’m curious about. A male friend who’s been looking for work for a long time worried to me that he’d done or said something wrong and not known about it and that perhaps this was why he was having such trouble getting hired; I understand his queasiness—the job market in journalism is dreadful right now and if you’re naturally awkward or even inclined to worry that you’re awkward, you’re now terrified that someone mistook your awkwardness for a gross come-on that is being circulated among people who might be looking at your resume with no chance for you to correct the record or even apologize. I also understand that this seems like a perfectly acceptable risk to the people whose physical safety is on the line.
  4. There is a huge clash of cultures going on quietly in journalism at the moment, between, on the one side, the crabby, middle-aged, proudly dysfunctional generation of forty- and fiftysomething men and women—but mostly men—who, now un-rehireable, cling to jobs for which they fought their way through the ranks by being harder-nosed and less shockable and more dogged than all their peers; on the other are the  serious, health-conscious, aggressively well-adjusted, perfectly dressed, workaholic, politically sensitive generation of twentysomething women—and they are almost all women—going to absolute war for $30k-a-year jobs covering the open sewers of politics and culture. The former are flamboyant and uncensored in their personal lives and meticulous and dry in their prose and the latter are bomb-throwing opinionators on the page and champions of workplace hospitality in person, and the two groups don’t particularly like each other, largely because of the economic scarcity created by the ongoing slow-motion collapse of the industry. Each group is fanatically idealistic and each rolls its eyes at the other. And the former, frankly, is used to being aggressive and boorish and not suffering any consequences and now it is probably time to pay the piper; if the latter is often prosecutorial, naive and self-righteous, it seems to contain fewer actual rapists and it certainly won’t countenance them when they’re sniffed out. They need older allies, and male ones.
  5. Here is a grotesque article by Adrian Vermuele, a conservative Catholic who holds an endowed professorship at Harvard Law. In it, Vermuele praises the erudition and moral acumen of Carl Schmitt, the chief jurist of the Nazi Reich, while supposedly deploring everything Schmitt’s moral acumen directed him to do, namely support the Nazi Party until 1936. Schmitt’s support was rewarded, as Vermuele notes, with “thirty pieces of silver;” those pieces were hand-delivered by Hermann Goering, who gave Schmitt a position at the University of Berlin recently vacated by an exiled Jewish social-democrat named Herman Heller, among many other tainted honors. Incredibly, Vermuele seems to think Schmitt is a source worth citing on the topic of moral compromise and its limits; he suggests making expedient political alliances based on Schmitt’s 1923 essay about Catholicism.
    I’m only going to say this once but I hope anyone reading this will pay close attention: If your church is slowly Nazifying and the chief thinker of your nation’s nascent far-right movement, Steve Bannon, claims to be a member of it to almost no objection, and, rather than devote all your energies to expelling that person and everyone who agrees with him from fellowship, you choose to whine about creeping progressivism, Jesus and I think you would be better off with a millstone around your neck. That is all.
  6. On Thursday while I was listening to CNN play, repeatedly, the recording of Harvey Weinstein trying to browbeat an Italian 22-year-old into fucking him, I suddenly realized that many years ago a slightly older man had made a point of touching me more and more intimately and kissing me surreptitiously at times when I couldn’t object without making a scene, often while we were around other people in our peer group who might have thought it was consensual because he had spread rumors about my sexuality. Or they might have felt too awkward to interfere. Perhaps they didn’t notice. Without ever indicating that he knew what he was doing, he explained to me that he had done similar things as an authority figure and gotten into trouble for it, which made him fear for his safety. I let him touch me because I didn’t want to hurt his feelings and I didn’t want to damage our relationship, which was the key to a lot of other relationships, which he knew; he also knew that I was straight and I tried to remind him of this. I let him kiss me without comment at least once though I certainly didn’t kiss him back and strategized about how to avoid being near him after that (I failed in that). Ultimately he stopped because a woman I was friends with publicly told him to, not because I was brave enough to stop him, because I wasn’t.  When I told him privately afterward that yes, I wanted him to stop, he grew very angry with me and spent several months after that pointedly excluding me from things our friends were doing together. Realizing that this was not misunderstanding but some mild form of predation, years later, feels deeply bathetic; what a dumb thing to be upset about. It was unwanted kissing and feeling my leg, and then some unpleasant social consequences; that was all. I wasn’t a child, I was a young man. Nobody raped me. Women I know personally or professionally have been through so much worse, some of them several times. I do know it made me ashamed of myself for a long time and it took many years for me even to identify the behavior. I feel conflicted even writing this much about it; gay men are in much more difficult circumstances by default than straight ones—what right do I have to share even these details? What if they identify him to the few people we still mutually know? What if he reads this and recognizes himself? Will he suffer consequences for something he probably regrets and I doubt he ever did again? I don’t know. Ultimately I do know that it happened to me, so I get to talk about it.
  7. Of course, the question of where to do the talking is a reasonable one. There aren’t really informal networks of conversation around this stuff for men; there are men-only abuse survivor support groups but they tend to be for people who have suffered unspeakable, unforgivable things. Women, much better at this sort of thing, shut men out for understandable reasons. Being male feels inescapably shameful; one thing women have said is that men rarely suffer consequences for sexual impropriety but if you have any sort of a soul there are internal emotional consequences, both for collective guilt at the privilege of manhood, for memory, of mean or badly calibrated jokes, and then of course there is the garden-variety fear and shame that accompanies the memory of being weak or gullible enough to fall prey to another man, which is a peculiar kind of exceptionally humiliating defeat. And then there’s the feeling that it’s wrong to call down another man for doing something like that—what if he didn’t know he’d done it? Do you want every unkind thing you’ve ever said or done trotted out? No, of course not. Better to be silent. These are all emotional consequences, not financial or physical consequences, and perhaps it’s not right to conflate all of them, but they are all weirdly, inescapably a part of the complex and isolating trap of masculine sexuality. Patriarchy, ultimately, destroys everyone, men, women, children.
  8. Actually, men don’t really have a place to discuss sexual behavior at all beyond the conventional truck stop hooting and hollering we’re supposed to perform, more to ward off suspicion from each other than for the benefit of any women who are subjected to (and certainly unimpressed by) it. Luckily for me, I have very good, close male friends these days—not many, but a few—who can serve as sounding boards. It’s been mentioned more than once that the conversation about sexual assault and harassment tends to focus on women, as though it was a disease specific to their sex and not something men do to them. Why don’t men talk about it? Why don’t men call each other down for participating in it? One reason is that we often don’t know. Men don’t brag that they raped someone; they brag that they slept with someone. We are acculturated to spread myths of desirability about ourselves, not stories of cruelty, or at least that’s true in my circles. There do seem to be other circles, like the one in which the president moves, where it’s common practice to proclaim abuses as though they were conquests; men with a predator’s eye for weakness are usually astute enough to spot a potential narc, as well. So that’s the form of the problem.
  9. The form of the solution is to raise our sons better, I think—to encourage them to admire beauty, to value gentleness, to seek comity and peace. I love my own son more than I love my life, and I hope he grows up to rat out Harvey Weinstein.

Stray Thoughts 9/16 — A Real American Hero

I’ve gone pretty far afield on here from comics, which are this blog’s stated purpose. It’s not for want of trying: I’ve taken a couple of not especially successful swings at larger essays, which make me tired to think about—someday, hopefully, they’ll see the light of day—and I’ve also written quite a bit about politics at my current port of call. I’ve also profiled Chris Ware, the remarkable cartoonist behind Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth, and a few other truly brilliant comics, notably Lint, which I think is probably a landmark of the kind we will look back on in 20 years as critically important to the development of comics as a form. The profile isn’t out yet—probably in the next week or so—but it was a tremendous pleasure to report. I’ll drop the link in here when it goes up.

  • Of course, comics can be political. Here’s Aubrey Sitterson, who writes GI Joe for IDW Comics:

And here he is again, after he gets ratioed:

Then a staggering number of people flooded his mentions and the mentions of his publisher, IDW, demanding that he be fired, proclaiming his tweets to contravene the spirit of the property he works on, and demanding apologies.

I’ve avoided writing about this for a couple of days partly because I wanted to get my thoughts in order but also because I didn’t want to be intemperate, which I think often has the effect of alienating people who might otherwise listen to your argument. GI Joe is an important touchstone for a lot of men in their thirties, and they perceive the comics series in particular as a zone outside of politics where they can comfortably read a good story without having to worry that they’re being judged, an increasing worry among white conservatives who feel that the walls are closing in on them, culturally speaking. There’s a lot of nostalgia for the toys and of course the old cartoon we all watched as kids; most of these people are probably about my age and probably look like me, and when they see Sitterson, they don’t just see a random guy on Twitter, they see someone who is steering a narrative with which they have a deep connection that reaches all the way back into grade school.

The first comic I ever got that was my very own and not my dad’s was a copy of GI Joe #50, and I have a pretty solid collection of the toys. So I definitely understand the appeal of the franchise.

Anyway, those people can all go fuck themselves. Go watch some goddamn drone strike videos, you gaggle of unbelievable little assholes, and think about how in less than two years the people who were born on 9/11/2001 will be eligible for service in a war that we will almost certainly still be fighting because in the immediate aftermath of the attacks, people were so filled with respect and remembrance of the fallen and national grief that they allowed themselves to be goaded into blowing up mosques and hospitals in Afghanistan for the length of an entire childhood. This guy lived in lower Manhattan during the attacks, his feelings about them are more valid than yours by quite a bit.

But beyond that, aren’t these the same shrill children who think Milo Yiannopoulos’s fans shooting people at his rallies is free speech? Aren’t these the people throwing enraged tantrums at the prospect of video game characters without erect nipples? If you make a Venn diagram of people shit-talking Chelsea Manning on Twitter and people who are offended that the GI Joe guy thinks 9/11 remembrance on social media is self-involved bullshit, it just looks like a circle.

What depresses me most is that this same crew was defending Frank Cho and Howard Chaykin and all the other middle-aged guys whose politics are out of fashion and whose work now offends a sizable portion of the readership. Everybody has a right to offend someone else’s sensibilities, apparently—just not yours. As someone who had the Tout Est Pardonné issue of Charlie Hebdo shipped to him from France and donated enough to the Mike Diana documentary Kickstarter to get a drawing, I often wish we lived in a grownup country where someone could see a cartoon that offended him and then go about his day without trying to burn all the copies of the cartoon or make the artist homeless, and not this artistically desiccated Puritan hellscape.

One thing that’s particularly dangerous about this is that the superhero and, by extension, GI Joe audience actually is pretty right-wing. A boycott by these people might actually have an effect. It’s all adolescent male fantasy that complements feelings of powerlessness; there are sizable minority readerships—women, black people, actual children—but the comics industry really does cater to guys about my age, mostly by nostalgizing every product in the worst possible way. That’s the most effective way to appeal to a huge swath of America, I think: remind them of a time that never was, when things were better than they are now. That way they can keep their precious grudges and lash out at anybody actually trying to tell them about the world they live in today.

Do you ever think about how genuinely brave the great American artists must be, to be able to carefully examine a culture to such a degree that you can’t escape the fact that it hates you for simply existing, and then hold up a mirror to it? Kara Walker, we are not good enough for you.

It’s the certainty in the backlash to Sitterson that gets to me, I think—there’s barely any discussion of the content of the tweets, it’s just “disrespectful.” Nobody interrogates whether people deserve respect for having died in a particular way or what the expressions of that respect look like and whether that is the same thing as what they ought to look like. There’s just this inchoate grievance, prowling the digital world in search of prey. I wish it was an exclusive function of the online right but it isn’t.

At any rate, if you really think the liberalizing culture is attacking you, maybe you could think about changing. Is your deeply held conviction that Muslims are evil something that affects the way you live your daily life? How about your dislike of abortion? Your suspicion of the gay agenda? Are they really things that make you a braver, better, more generous person or are they just ways of itemizing the various times you’ve felt wronged, you’ve been denied something important, and are you personalizing them because you’re angry and don’t know why?

Perhaps you could quietly stop talking about those things and see what happens. Maybe you’ll find some friends who aren’t 3.75 inches tall and still packed in their original plastic blister cards so the rubber bands holding their torsos together don’t degrade.

It’s hard to imagine what the response to all this outrage and the threat of boycotts will be. I hope Sitterson doesn’t get fired. The line of argument from the trolls seems to be that they don’t get enough comics anyway because of all the SJWs at Marvel and DC ruining things and why does IDW have to make some PC hipster the writer of GI Joe.

And the answer is that war-loving tragedy respecters can’t spell, let alone write compellingly, because compelling writing requires the ability or at least the inclination to understand other people, and further that there’s nowhere written the obligation to publish one thundering dickhead for every reasonable person in order to be fair to thundering dickheads. There is no need to scrupulously represent their beliefs, that is why they are dickheads.

Here endeth the lesson.

  • An editor whose name I’ll spare the association with mine published a list of the ten best American comic book artists ever, and I liked it so much I had to publish one of my own disagreeing with his. Please note that they are AMERICAN comic BOOK artists, so Herge, George Herriman, etc are not eligible.

    Robert Crumb
    Jack Kirby
    Harvey Kurtzman
    Jaime Hernandez
    Daniel Clowes
    Wally Wood
    Frank Miller
    Walt Kelly
    Will Eisner
    Jack Cole

    And for the record, for comic strips:

    George Herriman
    Winsor McCay
    Charles Schulz
    Kate Beaton
    Bill Watterson
    Gary Larson
    E. C. Segar
    Berkeley Breathed
    Frank King
    Walt Kelly again

  • I’ve been meaning to do this for a few months: In the almost exactly two years I worked for the business section of The Guardian, my wonderful editor, Dom Rushe, was kind enough to let me wander off the biz beat to the arts desk and write about comics, more or less whenever I got an itch to do so, and so I took a great deal of pleasure in abusing my Guardian email address to book interviews with all my heroes. The arts section guys, Alex Needham, Lanre Bakare and later Ben Lee, were amenable to this and occasionally used me to do entertainment stories they actually wanted, too—I’d worked for Variety and Adweek before I joined the paper—which was fun and a good use of muscles I didn’t, and don’t, want to let atrophy. Anyway, the work below was way off the reservation but I remain grateful to my bosses for letting me do it. For better or for worse, of the 561 pieces I wrote while I worked there, the 15 below felt the least like work. There’s stuff I wrote for the business section that I think remains my best writing and reporting, including articles that had a direct effect on the issues I was writing about, hopefully in a positive way. These pieces, though, were personally very important to me before I even picked up the phone to make the first call, and they form a discrete body of writing I’m very proud of.

Criticism:

An essay on Charles Schulz, Peanuts and the movies, which is probably my favorite piece of my own critical writing

Feature stories:

Gary Panter and Songy of Paradise

Dan Clowes and Patience

Daily news:

An obituary for Jack Chick

An story about Robert Sikoryak’s adaptation of the iTunes Terms and Conditions on Tumblr, which he has since published as a graphic novel

Q&As:

Dan Clowes

Emil Ferris

Dash Shaw

Al Jaffee

Ben Katchor

Matt Furie

Mike Mignola

Adrian Tomine

Kate Beaton

Dan Clowes (yes, again. Would you interview Alfred Hitchcock more than once if you got the chance?)

Lists:

My best of 2016

My beginner’s guide for grownups reading comics

 

On the Nashville Statement

YouTube
Jove looks down at the original humans, each of them a partnered pair, in an animated sequence by Emily Hubley from John Cameron Mitchell’s musical film “Hedwig and the Angry Inch.” (2001)
When the earth was still flat,
And the clouds made of fire,
And mountains stretched up to the sky,
Sometimes higher,
Folks roamed the earth
Like big rolling kegs.
They had two sets of arms.
They had two sets of legs.
They had two faces peering
Out of one giant head
So they could watch all around them
As they talked; while they read.
And they never knew nothing of love.
—Stephen Trask, “The Origin of Love” (1998)

 

I personally like quite a number of conservative Christians. I find them to be very sincere people, by and large, who have large chunks of their personal identities invested in the idea that they consider the nature of right and wrong with a special care. And yet I often find myself wishing that I never had to think about them again.

The problem tends to come about because the above belief in one’s own personal commitment to morality works in the negative, as well: Christians also think that no one else thinks as hard as they do about what’s right, and what’s wrong, and what the difference between the two concepts is, and that anyone who is not a Christian, or who is a different kind of Christian and has come to a different conclusion, is not merely a person with different moral priorities and perhaps even a broader life experience, but someone who is deceived and worthy of course of compassion but never compromise. Compromise would be cruel—you can’t split the difference between right and wrong.

This gives rise to a persecution complex which, taken without understanding the train of thought that terminates there, can confound. The evangelical subculture controls every single branch of government and most statehouses, so it’s fair to say that we live in a state of Christian apartheid, where the mongrel majority made up of Catholics, mainliners, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus and of course atheists and people who just don’t care very much about religion are regularly bent to the will of Southern Baptists, conservative Presbyterians, Seventh-Day Adventists and the odd Pentecostal who dictate national and international policy. And yet talk to Christians and they will tell you they are under siege.

At base, conservative American Christians hold a strong belief that persecution by The World—that’s us, fellow mainliner/Catholic/Jew/whatever, that’s you and me—will always irrationally hate true Christians—that’s basically all Calvinists and some scrappy free-will Baptists who like power—because they/we cannot stand the sound of the Truth in our ears. It is just too terrible to us to hear the Gospel of Jesus in our fallen state and so we assault the helpless bearers of capital-G Good News from all sides and ultimately martyr them, so blind is our rage.

That there are still mild public concessions to gay people trying to quietly live out their span of years with their beloved wives and husbands is, to evangelicals, proof of their coming martyrdom: Openly gay people demonstrate the reality of a teeming subculture enslaved to its own lusts of which these are probably the least shameful—see the right-wing subcultural obsession with child molesters, notably Pizzagate—and ready at any moment to boil over into armed conflict.

It’s a reason so many Christians are also gun enthusiasts. They genuinely fear a militant uprising by gay people, black people, or Antifa. (I should say that this is by and large a white phenomenon purely in its political expression but not exclusively white by any means.)

So when a bunch of Lifeway theologians like J. I. Packer and James Dobson and RC Sproul join forces with conservative media creatures like Al Mohler and Marvin Olaksy (disclosure: I used to write movie reviews for Marvin’s Christian weekly, World, which does some good reporting on the church, though it is reliably wrong about the color of the sky when it comes to extramural politics. That’s not much of an excuse; I’m very ashamed of that association now.) to create something pretentiously called “The Nashville Statement,” I feel a sort of preemptive fatigue, as though a million Thanksgiving dinner eaters started talking about partial-birth abortion at once, and then were silenced.

The Nashville Statement is the usual contemptible publicity seeking by the usual contemptible suspects, minus, blessedly, the humanitarian and fathead Franklin Graham, to whom the Lord must teach humility in his own time, and not mine. Its signatories are mostly megachurch pastors of the Considered Intellectual variety, with a lot of notable Never Trumpers like Russell Moore, whose signature I think is the gravest disappointment.

I don’t know why I’m being coy here; the content is just the political stance, deceitfully couched as an ecumenical stance, of a few dozen tremendously arrogant people on the subject of whether or not Christians can participate in consensual sexual relationships with their partners if they happen to be gay. The arrogant people in question, none of whom are personally gay, say they can’t, and, in a particularly galling “article X,” say that anybody who disagrees with them isn’t a Christian, which doubtless comes as a real shock to, I don’t know, Jesus, among others.

It’s taken me a long time to write this and the reason it has is that I don’t like giving this sort of thing oxygen. It is a transparent bid and effective bid to get space on op-ed pages and funding for anti-gay lobbying groups in order to try to drag the culture back toward a time when you could beat the hell out of somebody for kissing his boyfriend in public and no one would care. Again, this all comes because these people have taught each other that whenever someone disagrees with you, no matter whether that person is standing in front of you yelling in your face or has never met you and is whispering her disagreement to someone else who has never met you, you are being attacked. Mohler, in the op-ed linked above, says the Nashville Statement is mere self-defense: “[W]e now face challenges to biblical teaching that require an unprecedented level of specificity,” he writes.

What I find so intolerable is the kindness. Lord knows there are bigots in the world; we see them every day, masturbating on the subway or doing something simple like giving a press conference in the Oval Office. Mohler, Moore, Piper and their ilk want us to know that they want gay people to be murdered in the streets for their own good, that they want the partners of AIDS sufferers locked out of the ICU on the grounds that only immediate family can be admitted, yes, but also, they feel they ought to be thanked for it. They don’t expect to be thanked, of course, because of the inexplicable hatred the world has for them, but they want us all to know that they deserve it and that deep down, we know they deserve it, too.

So I guess in the face of this all I can do is entreat my fellow Christians who read this stuff and find it persuasive and come down on the side of Mohler and Moore to do me a single courtesy, and that is to follow the shunning principle described in Matthew 18 and deployed as a cultish disciplinary tool in megachurches: Please break faith with me. Do not return my phone calls or emails, remove me from your list of friends on Facebook, tell people you’ve never met me before if my name comes up in conversation. Leave my company forever, if you “deny that the approval of homosexual immorality or transgenderism is a matter of moral indifference about which otherwise faithful Christians should agree to disagree.” I assume that is how you would treat your gay friends and neighbors, or your gay sons or daughters, so you can go ahead and lump me in there with them.

Notably, there is no Houston Statement from any evangelical leader of note. The environmental crises that led to record flooding; the near-prohibition on zoning regulations in Texas that allow corporate waste to seep into neighborhoods; the deregulation of facilities like the Arkema chemical plant, which dumped toxic chemicals into the water and air as it exploded during Hurricane Harvey; the problem of majority non-white and poor neighborhoods bearing the brunt of the destruction; these are all policies that consistent Christian support for Republican and libertarian policies in Texas has helped to bring about.

The primary mode of Christianity, despite what the Mohlers and the Moores of the world preach and demonstrate in their personal comportment, is not accusation. It is confession. The Christian church is always in the process of self-perfection; its goals for earthly improvement are internal, not external. Of course, anyone with a sufficient lust for power can turn the mechanism of confession into a tool of control and can argue without too much effort that the pastorate is the part of the body of Christ where individual men and woman stands in for God. But that is a lie. The truth is that we are all called to confess our own sins, not our neighbors’ sins.

And so here is one of mine: When I was close to evangelical Christians, I was not enough of a bulwark for the gay men and women I knew among them. I did not understand the intense fear of people like me—not people who hated them, people who were straight and didn’t understand them—that governed their lives, and I did not understand how easily the intensity of that fear drove them away from a church that, though callous and infested with power-hungry and cruel leaders like the signatories of the Nashville Statement, had still been assembled around the truth of the love of Jesus for sinners. Now that I am on the outside, I see more clearly what I could have and should have done better, but the truth is that I always knew what the right thing to do was, even when I didn’t do it.

That is why I find it so vital to renounce the Nashville Statement as the work of preening, pitiable, selfish men, covetous of power and control, who worship no God above themselves.

Stray thoughts 8/26


You Are Not Forgotten, John McNaughton (2017)

Last week on a Fox News show called Outnumbered, one of the co-hosts, a woman named Melissa Francis, started crying in the middle of a discussion about racism and Donald Trump’s proclamation that there were “very fine people” among the white nationalists who marched through the streets of Charlottesville recently.

“I know what’s in my heart and I know that I don’t think anyone is different, better or worse based on the color of their skin,” said Francis, who is white. “But I feel like there is nothing any of us can say right now without being judged.”

In 2005, Joe Arpaio made 700 inmates, nearly all of them hispanic, march through the streets of Maricopa County in pink underwear and flip-flops.

In purely anthropological terms, Francis’s appeal to viewers of what is ostensibly a news program is fascinating: She is a Harvard-educated financial journalist who moved to Roger Ailes’ media organization in 2012, saying two years later she had been “silenced” by superiors at CNBC who objected to prophetic on-air criticism of the Affordable Care Act while it was being debated in 2009 (Francis didn’t cover policy at CNBC: she covered oil for the most part. I couldn’t find the statements for which she said she’d been reprimanded).

Once, Joe Arpaio’s prison guards wouldn’t take a pregnant hispanic woman to the hospital, causing her baby to die from what turned out to be a placental abruption. Another conservative sheriff, popular on TV and a welcome supporter of Donald Trump’s, named David Clarke, also allowed a baby to die in his prison.

Francis also played Cassandra Cooper Ingalls on NBC’s Little House on the Prairie, a notably pure expression of white Americana extremely popular among conservative Christians and produced by 1980’s Christian icon Michael Landon—Little Joe, from Bonanza. Little House is a good show, produced in the late 1970’s and early ’80’s, based on Laura Ingalls Wilder’s vivid, fictionalized remembrances of life in a family of pioneers in the late 19th century.

Many other people—more than 160—died in Arpaio’s prisons; one in four deaths was from suicide, a much higher rate than in other prisons. In addition to the suicides, for half of the deaths on Arpaio’s watch, there is simply no cause reported.

Little House on the Prairie is set in the unspecified Midwest, in a central part of the country that is supposed to contain fewer big cities and cultural keystones than the coasts. This is a source of consternation, as the president might have it, on many sides; the cities condescend and the regions stew in anger. For all the many foolish and cruel things Trump has done, he still knows how to stoke populist ire; as soon as he pardoned Arpaio, he set about emphasizing the importance of Hurricane Harvey, exactly the kind of natural disaster that the news media ignores unless it happens in New York City or San Francisco.

Trump is not much of a political strategist but he knows what plays on TV: Would the libtards care more about sending an 85-year-old man to jail than about a hurricane that seems primed to devastate the Republican stronghold of Houston, Texas?

I don’t really feel like I am in the right position or frame of mind to comment on the pardon of Joe Arpaio but that’s never stopped me before, so here we go: Joe Arpaio obviously did not deserve to be pardoned.

He is a vile, sadistic racist who tortured people for looking like they might be undocumented immigrants, which is to say, brown. Very few people deserve to be in prison; Joe Arpaio is one of them. He refused to investigate 400 sex crimes, including crimes against children, when the victim was Hispanic. He warehoused mentally ill prisoners by themselves away from the general population in what the ACLU called “punitive housing units” where they were systematically denied treatment and medication, causing their conditions to worsen so severely that they were sometimes declared unfit to stand trial for the crimes that had caused them to be imprisoned in the first place. When he was finally convicted it was because he was referred by a federal judge appointed by George W Bush for criminal contempt on the charge of racial profiling; he had eventually simply decided to go around arresting people who looked Mexican. 

It’s unfashionable and impolitic to say that you feel bad for your friends under these circumstances but I have had wonderful hispanic friends, some of them extremely close, some who looked white, some who didn’t. They are all in more danger now than they have been in the past, because Arpaio is merely a symptom of the systemic racism that plagues our laws and systems of enforcement. He is a profoundly evil, even despicable symptom, but without the law, he would merely be a contemptible, violent old man, and he would probably be in prison.

Some of these friends are past the stoicism we for some reason expect of oppressed people and are simply openly terrified. Some came to this country as children and do not have their citizenship; president Trump, elected by the good white people like Melissa Francis who just want to be understood, will soon try to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Act (DACA), closing the door on these people, who are trying to raise money through Kickstarters and from family members so they can remain in the United States with their families and won’t be deported to countries where they barely remember living. None of this is theoretical. It is happening now. 

White American culture is focused on rewards for good behavior – on the evidence available to white people that an honest, hard worker with a good heart can make something, even something great, of him or herself. To the extent that the culture of Little House on the Prairie and Fox News spills over into the rest of the melting pot, it constitutes something like a high-pressure sales tactic: pick our strawberries, invisibly prepare our gourmet food, build our houses, care for our children and clean up after us – then one day you or your children can be the new pioneers, living in the little house you made all by yourself, and no one, nor even the Indians, will be able to take it away from you. It’s how us white people got to be so rich, we lie. 

At some point the question of whether someone, especially a Christian, is actually a racist becomes moot and the question rebounds: Is racism a lesser evil? Can you justify racism because you favor other policies that a racist also likes? Would you be embarrassed to explain your politics to the child of a missionary whose parents have to give him up to go live in another country where he doesn’t even speak the language?

If so, it’s not my judgment you have to worry about.

A short play

Banksy, “The Banality of the Banality of Evil” (2013)

EXEC: what do we do about jeff lord

HR: we can say his schtick of calling black people racists is tiresome and inconsistent with our editorial direction

EXEC: that’s all he’s ever done, though

HR: yeah

EXEC: like it’s basically the reason we hired him

HR: yeah

EXEC: calling black people racists is super popular

HR: I know

EXEC: he could object and he’d kind of have a point

HR: maybe we could say we’ve changed our editorial direction

EXEC: no then I look dumb

HR: ok

EXEC: he is pretty racist now that I think about it

HR: yeah we’ve had complaints

EXEC: I guess hiring him as a commentator in the first place was kind of racist

HR: lol who are you, my anonymous complaints inbox

EXEC: lol

EXEC: we didn’t do anything about the complaints though did we

HR: god no

EXEC: lol

HR: lol

EXEC: so what else can we do

HR: we can say he said nono words and completely divorce them from context and then if people complain we can say hm very telling that you are the one who is defending the racist, never wondered about you before, very hm indeed

EXEC: why would we do that

HR: well then we can fire anyone whenever we want because people say dumb shit all the time

EXEC: what did he even say?

HR: he said “seig heil” to some guy at media matters

EXEC: that’s awesome

HR: well he was obviously trying to call the other guy a nazi. like it was in the column they were talking about. he calls liberals nazis all the time

EXEC: he’s sort of a nazi himself though. like everybody says

HR: sure whatever

EXEC: who cares lol okay let’s do that one

HR: lol okay

EXEC: lol

HR: lol