Pretty, Fizzy Paradise

I'm back! And reading! And maybe even blogging! No promises!

Sunday, March 02, 2008

On Dave Sim, Cerebus, and Genius as a Personal Pardon

I've been thinking about Dave Sim. It's perhaps understandable. He's the subject of my most recent newsarama column. Ragnell's also blogged about him.

I haven't yet, but now I will.

I haven't read Cerebus. I've looked at it in the store. I've pulled a volume or two down from the shelf. I've considered the recommendations of friends who assure me that Jaka's Story is so incredibly moving, for example, that I'll be able to forget the opinions and philosophies that the man expouts.

I've opened it, skimmed enough to at least have an idea that the man's reputation for quality and genius does not appear undeserved. I very rarely respond to visual imagery alone, but I remember being struck by certain panels, just gazing at them.

And then I put it back on the shelf.

I can't help but think of Leni Riefenstahl. I'm sure I'm breaking some sort of Internet law in doing so. I await accusations that I'm equating general anti-feminism/misogyny (while I generally balk at using the term to describe someone I do not personally know, I think that we've seen more than enough of Sim's philosophy from his own mouth...or keyboard, at least, to be able to make that judgment with a reasonably clear conscience) to the atrocities committed by the Nazi party. The truth is though, that I'm using Leni Riefenstahl as a comparison because she's one I know quite a bit about. I'm sure we can all find our own personal examples of a particularly talented creator with beliefs or practices that we find personally abhorrent.

Leni Riefenstahl is an unquestioned genius in the field of film-making. The techniques and imagery that she used in Triumph of the Will can be seen aped everywhere from Citizen Kane to Star Wars. In a strictly technical sense, she may well be the greatest film-maker that ever lived.

She was also a nazi.

Of course, the amount of Riefenstahl's actual involvement in the Nazi party is debatable. She certainly claimed later that she was unaware of the true nature of the concentration camps, for example, or that Triumph of the Will was going to be used a Propaganda film. She might well be telling the truth.

But she's also a woman who read Mein Kampf and said that she became a National Socialist upon reading the first page. She's a woman who saw the 1935 Nuremberg Rally, the pronouncements that eventually became the Nuremberg Laws, and saw in it the possibilities for another propaganda film.

It's often argued that a creator's personal beliefs shouldn't be allowed to taint the merits of their artwork. I think in an ideal world that's probably true. I think in the real world, however, it is not.

When it comes down to it, art, be it a painting or a sculpture, novel, film or a comic book, is an act of emotion and passion. It's an act of sharing from the soul. The beliefs of the artist can't be denied because ultimately they're all in there. One can look at the Lord of the Rings, for example, and see all the elements of Tolkein's particular interpretation of Catholicism bared for the world to see, if we know what we're looking for.

I think that's ultimately why so many of us try to avoid reading interviews or political views of the particular creators that we enjoy. We think that this will "color our perception". The truth is, that we're not afraid to bias ourselves, we're afraid of the opposite. We're afraid that by knowing a little about the creator's views, our own blinders will be removed and we'll see the truth in the artist's work.

And then it doesn't matter how much of a technical genius the creator is, because the end result is like a world class chef cooking with bad fish. It doesn't matter how beautiful the dressing, or how exquisite the sauce, when you're vomiting your dinner up later.

Art isn't made in a vacuum. Morality. Principles. Right-and-Wrong, all of these things are a part of the world we live in, and they're a part of each of us. We're not going to agree with every talented writer or artist out there, and I'm certainly not arguing that we should destroy all the works of art by people who express unsavory beliefs or commit abhorrent actions. But it is wrong to pretend that these actions or beliefs don't exist. Genius is not an all-purpose excuse. Talent is not a universal pardon.

When it comes down to it, we have no obligation to judge any piece of art solely on its own technical merits. We have every right to consider every aspect of the creator when evaluating a piece of work. We have every right to completely dismiss an artist, to completely avoid his body of work, if he's someone who we can't stomach. I've decided that I will not read Cerberus. I may change my mind later, but it's my decision and I don't feel guilty over it at all.

From his words, Dave Sim is probably fairly called a misogynist. It's true that his comments are not the danger to women that the actions of many other misogynists are. It's also true that for all his ranting, I've never heard that the man ever personally harmed a woman.

But at the same time, I consider how Leni Riefenstahl never, to my knowledge, harmed a Jewish person. She's can't be accused of killing any Jewish people herself. She's certainly not culpable for the death camps or gas chambers. She may indeed have never known they existed.

But she certainly helped promote an idea that, by most accounts, she genuinely believed in, which involved the dehumanization of a large group of people, and was the core of a movement that acted according to this idea and led to one of the greatest atrocities the world's ever seen.

The only real difference that I can see is that, fortunately, there is no such equivalent movement for Mr. Sim.


  • At March 02, 2008 10:32 AM, Blogger SallyP said…

    I...I don't quite know WHAT to think. On the one hand, I agree with many of your assertions. On the other hand, I can't help but think that in many ways, being an asshole is almost a requirement for genius. By all accounts, Picasso was a jerk, but still an amazing artist. I would have hated to have been a patron of either Da Vinci or Michelangelo because they were so hard to work with, but look at the results!

    On the other hand, you are quite correct in stating that it is sometimes impossible to separate the artist from his or her beliefs. I really used to think that John Byrne was like unto a God, until I stumbled upon his message board and got sick.

    I've never read a lot of Cerebus either, but I've heard amazing things. My resistance is more a combination of apathy and an innate resistance to reading best sellers. I'm just contrary sometimes.

    But this is indeed a thought-provoking article.

  • At March 02, 2008 10:46 AM, Blogger kalinara said…

    :-) To be fair, I do think that it's okay to like the work of someone who likes Cerberus has every right to like Cerberus, whatever they think of Sim's politics. But at the same time, I don't think we're obligated to ignore the politics just because the art is pretty.

    Essentially I think it ought to be a matter of individual choice. If a person enjoys the art despite the background, that's perfectly fine. But I think we also have the right to decide not to partake or appreciate art (regardless of technical proficiency) if the creator's beliefs truly interfere with enjoyment, because that's a part of it too.

    ...I have no idea if that's even remotely coherent. Heh.

  • At March 02, 2008 12:12 PM, Blogger SallyP said…

    No, you're right. AND coherent. I can't help but feel a wee smattering of pity for poor old Dave. From what I've read, he went completely off the rails. What really burns my toast, is reading the idiots who think that his rantings are perfectly reasonable, which is why I get so much joy from having Gail Simone post her brilliant ripostes.

    It's just SO cathartic.

  • At March 02, 2008 12:26 PM, Blogger megs said…

    This kind of thinking isn't something new. Same with F. Scott Fitzgerald and other much lauded geniuses. Do you discount The Great Gatsby because of Charles Wolf? I don't think so myself, but at the same time I wouldn't like to read the book without noticing the prejudice in his portrayal and noting the time in which this was written. Not to excuse it, but to inform me. I think you can read a lot of things you don't agree with, and ideas you abhor, and come away with enjoyment.

    I've read some of Cerebus, the first few books. I enjoyed them. I stopped when I stopped enjoying them. That's all anyone should do - even if that means just looking at a few pages. The Great Gatsby may be a great book, but I don't think (and really, no one should think) lesser of anyone who hasn't read it, for whatever reason. I know people who have read and enjoyed Ayn Rand and they hate Objectivism and are disturbed by the male and female relationships, but still find it fascinating. But if you don't like those things, you shouldn't feel the need to read Rand.

    So I'm agreeing and disagreeing, I think. If you can't separate Sim from Cerebus, or the parts of Sim you might otherwise enjoy from the misogyny, then yes, naturally. I myself have no problem doing so and often think it's a shame when people deliberately stay away from amazing things because of small details that they dislike. Except that there is SO MUCH out there that you really have to discriminate in some way and me (or others) thinking it's a shame carries absolutely no weight except for ourselves and how much we enjoyed something. So I also think it's a shame if anyone is troubled into thinking they have to read and like something because everyone says it's great.

  • At March 02, 2008 1:02 PM, Blogger Andrew Hickey said…

    I totally agree. Sim's views are repellent and evil, and you have every right to stay away from his work because of them.


    The comparison with Riefenstahl is off because Riefenstahl's work is explicitly designed to promote her ideology. For the *vast* majority of Cerebus, that's not the case. If you look at the actual comics (not the editorial matter which isn't in the trades) there is very little in there that has anything to do with his views on women (his equally strange religious views do make an appearance towards the end).

    The material in Jaka's Story and Melmoth in particular, but in much of the rest of the series, has stuff to say that is true and important. It is impossible for me to separate out the moral/philosophical underpinnings of a work from its technical merits - I wouldn't recommend Mein Kampf even were it the best-written book ever - but Sim-the-creator is completely different from Sim-the-misogynist, and I would take Cerebus without a second thought over the combined works of Moore, Gaiman and Eisner...

  • At March 02, 2008 2:36 PM, Blogger Alexandra said…


    As a good teacher of mine put it, ignoring the context gets you nowhere.

    The example I like to use in these discussions is H.P. Lovecraft. I'm a HUGE fan of his work - I think that he wrote some of the best stories ever. But I would be the first to acknowledge that he was (among other things) a racist, and that there is a lot of racism in his stories. That doesn't (to me) make him any less a genius writer, or ruin the fun and the point of his works, but it might for some others, and I can't blame them for that.

    On the other hand, I'm much more sensitive to song lyrics, so songs about violence, or with racist or misogynist lyrics, I'm more likely to avoid than a story with any of those things.

    We make these kinds of judgements all the time. I have no problem with people who can tolerate works I can't stand, or who can't tolerate what I can. I DO have a problem with people who stubbornly keep wearing their blinders, though.

    (Whoo. Sorry.)

  • At March 02, 2008 2:43 PM, Blogger Alexandra said…

    (Sorry for the double-post. I just saw this.)

    Sim-the-creator is completely different from Sim-the-misogynist

    No, he's not. They're both the same person, and frankly, thinking like this is insanely problematic. It denies context; it denies that we are unified beings, and that the ideas we hold DO influence the things we do, and make.

    Yes, a good writer can leave his own views out - to an extent. He can leave out overt stuff, maybe even do a good job of writing the opposite views. But his own views are still there. They still show up, in the little things, the subconscious choices he makes.

    We may like to think we're compartmentalized beings, but we really aren't. What we think bleeds over into what we do into what we make into who we are, and round and round. Me my father's bitter daughter and me the student and me the undiagnosed crazy and me the writer are all the same person, and all the rest will out in my writing, even if not overtly.

  • At March 02, 2008 3:24 PM, Blogger Flidget said…

    My position on this changes on whether the creator's dead or not. While they're alive I'm far less willing to consume their work because I don't want to financially contribute, through them, to whatever cause they support that I disagree with.

    With the dead creators it's not such a problem and, to be fair, once you get past 100 years ago creators who I don't violently disagree with on some aspect get pretty thin on the ground.

  • At March 02, 2008 3:35 PM, Blogger Andrew Hickey said…

    Alexandra, have you actually read the works in question?

    Towards the end of the run of Cerebus, Sim's views do start to creep in - and the work suffers for it. I would not recommend the last third or so of Cerebus without caveats.

    But when Cerebus was at its best there was *none* of Sim's insanity in there. While Sim hates women and homosexuals, Cerebus contains the most realistic, rounded female characters I've read in comics, and Melmoth, which tells the story of Oscar Wilde's death through the letters of his friends, is heartbreakingly beautiful.

    If you can find me one panel or sentence in Sim's best work (Jaka's Story and Melmoth) that has the slightest suggestion of his hateful views, I'll accept what you say. But I've looked long and hard for it, and it's not there. In fact what I find so disconcerting about his work is that it's so completely opposed - on a deep, structural level and on the level of his depictions of characters - to every single view he holds.

    Cerebus is not Triumph Of The Will or Birth Of A Nation. At its worst, in the last few years of its 27 year run, it's on the level of The Spirit, with offensive stuff you have to get past to see the good stuff. But to say the earlier parts are contaminated by the creator's views - even though there's no evidence of those views within the comics - is to enter into very strange, and I think meaningless, metaphysical waters.

    George Orwell was a homophobe, but 1984 and Animal Farm are not homophobic works and contain no evidence that I can remember of his homophobia. Bernard Shaw defended the Holocaust, yet Pygmalion and Saint Joan are not pro-genocide works. If we were to discover tomorrow that Shakespeare was a child molester (to borrow an example from Orwell) that would not invalidate King Lear one iota, or make it in some way 'about' child molestation. Martin Luther King was an adulterer, but "I have a dream" is not an adulterous speech, and to say it is would be some sort of weird category error.

    Which is not to say someone does not have every right to say "I refuse to support this person whose views I disagree with" or "I can't read this without thinking that I dislike the creator, so I'm not going to read it". Those are both entirely reasonable positions, and ones I would not try to dissuade anyone from - Sim's views *are* repellent and should *not* be supported. But to claim that the work must contain elements that can't be found by even the most detailed reading is just silly.

  • At March 02, 2008 4:29 PM, Blogger Alexandra said…

    Andrew - I must be misreading you. Did you just tell me that yes, his views do creep in but they don't and I need to find proof for you? (I am having a bad brain day. No, really.)

    I haven't read Cerberus - it really hasn't crossed my path. And I only have cursory knowledge of this whole thing with Sim. I do wonder, from what you say, though, whether or not he has always held these views?

    Yes, a writer can write something that doesn't show his dark side. That doesn't mean that dark side, or those wrong ideals, haven't influenced the work. I'm talking something subtle here.

    In fact, let me ask you this: you say Cerberus becomes more misogynistic later on. Was this a total surprise? Did it just suddenly happen, or did it still seem to fit in with what had come before?

    It is vanishingly rare to find a creator whose creation is so perfectly and completely opposed to his views that his views come as a complete surprise to those who have admired his creation. And even then, I would wonder - did his views still not shape his creation, if only through some decision to make it reveal the opposite views?

    Context, context, context. We do not create in a void.

    And really, I was taking issue with your assertion that people are compartmentalized beings, and that we can talk about Sim the writer as someone wholly different than Sim the misogynist. You yourself have said that as of now, they're both overtly the same anyway. I simply assert that they were the same all along (if he held misogynist views all along, obviously - people do change), whether or not it was obvious in the stories he was telling.

    As per my first comment, this is not to say that you shouldn't like Cerberus. Heck, it's not to say that I wouldn't like it - I might.

    ...I really get the distinct impression that I'm making no sense.

  • At March 02, 2008 5:19 PM, Blogger Dane said…

    kalinara, I love your blog, but I really can't agree with your main points here.

    First off, yes, of course there's always a part of a creator in his/her work. But what parts, and how much? How much emotion, how much pure narrative cognition is in those scenes created by the author or artist? Sometimes it's obvious like with Tolkien and Catholicism and JMS and his views on Iron Man. And sometimes it isn't. We aren't omniscient to a creator's spectrum of intentions and influences, so it can be a dangerous game to shoehorn someone's work because of a label someone gets.

    You say that in the real world, the idea that we should separate an artist's work from their beliefs breaks down, but I compartmentalize creators all the time. Orson Scott Card has written a ton of essays against the liberal agenda and gays, but still I deeply respect him as a writer, and applaud him for his stories of ostracized, gifted, children living in worlds that don't quite know what to do with them. And in many of those stories, lessons of tolerance and kindness to others are preached.

    It bothers me quite a good bit when people won't read or see someone's work because of their political views. Sometimes people need thicker skin than that, or they'll lose on some great art or theories. I've read many a Newsarama interview where I thought, "That was a stupid thing to say," but the work they were promoting still shined through, so I bought it.

    Whatever happened to respecting differences of opinion (or rolling eyes at bad ones) and judging someone on their works? Don't we do this with great figures in history all the time? Someone used Orson Wells as an example before me, and I know I'd be a poorer mind for not seeing his work.

    You aptly said art isn't a vacuum -- it can't be -- but you still haven't sold me on why it is okay to NOT judge a piece of art solely on its own technical merits.

    Why can't we have both points in writing reviews of an author's work? Something along the lines of "I don't agree with this person's views on Italians (I have Italian heritage), but wow, their line work and pacing in the story is AMAZING and we can learn much from this creation style." Racists can still make good points on other subjects. Isn't that better than completely ignoring the work?

    But going back to your first reply, it's certainly your right and everybody's right not to buy something for personal, sociological, or political reasons reasons. Anyone who argues differently isn't worth talking to. It's just like how I can drop out of a conversation that I don't like in a party. It's simply my right; no one can force me to talk about something I don't want to talk about. However, I do take the consequence of not knowing about what they talk about in the future for doing so. To me these are fairly obvious points and since it already is a matter of personal choice, I'm not quite sure what you were arguing about your first reply. All I can say is that I have a tough time relating to someone if they choose to ignore or greatly judge a piece of work because of the creator's personal views, especially if the work isn't directly related to those views. When deciding whether to buy a book, I'd rather consult someone who read it than someone who abstained from it because they didn't like their online essays.

    This all reminds me of my dad's beef vegetable soup, which I enjoyed for a long time as a kid until I learned there were peas in them. I hated peas so I decided no more beef vegetable soup for me. But as I got older, I realized that the soup as a whole was great before I realized their were peas in them, and I was making a big deal out of one part of it. Don't let some peas ruin a good soup for you. I think really good works of art easily overpower the peas, or at the very least, we can always eat around them.

  • At March 02, 2008 5:35 PM, Blogger Andrew Hickey said…

    "Andrew - I must be misreading you. Did you just tell me that yes, his views do creep in but they don't and I need to find proof for you? (I am having a bad brain day. No, really.)"

    So am I actually - only had three hours' sleep last night. It's entirely possible I'm not making sense.

    To clarify - Sim puts his views on women into the mouth of an author-insert character in one issue (186 - collected in volume 9 - Reads) of his 300-isue story. He also, in volume 15 (Latter Days) of his 16 book epic, has the title character massacre women fairly indiscriminately - however, the title character is *not* meant to be a sympathetic one. Given the context of Sim's views, that sequence looks a lot more unpleasant than it otherwise would. But those are the only instances where those views affect the work. The stuff that most people consider the peak (volumes 2 through 6 of the 16 volumes) has none of that. Certainly in the first 185 issues, it's just not there.

    "I haven't read Cerberus - it really hasn't crossed my path."

    You really should - not in the sense of it being a moral obligation, but just because at its best it's as true, real and beautiful as anything created in any medium ever.

    To avoid going on about it too much more here, I'll point you to the posts I (and my wife) have done about Sim's work on my own blog - especially the post on Jaka's Story.

    " And I only have cursory knowledge of this whole thing with Sim. I do wonder, from what you say, though, whether or not he has always held these views?"

    That's very difficult to say, for a number of reasons. To summarise something that can't be summed up easily, Sim had some kind of mental breakdown in 1979, and spent some time in a hospital, where he claims he experienced some kind of revelation. He spent the next 19 years working through the consequences of that revelation in his own head and in the pages of Cerebus. He claims that during that time he also learned how to portray someone 'normal' while in fact being anything but.

    Sim's views on some matters definitely changed during that time - around the time he went public with his misogyny he also had an almost overnight religious conversion - but he claims that he held the same views about women all along. However, Sim is notorious for misrepresenting his earlier views in the light of his later opinions.

    In retrospect his publicising his misogynist views is pretty obviously a sign of his increasing inability/unwillingness to continue portraying himself as 'normal', and his later statements have been almost completely detached from reality. However, most of his readers left en masse when he first started making public statements about his misogynist views, so they've not seen the later evidence of severe mental illness (he believes the tsunami in 2004 was a direct response by YooHWHooh, the evil female demiurge in the earth who's also the YHWH of the Bible, to stuff he put in his comic).

    So the nature of his views prior to the early 90s is difficult to gauge, because he himself claims to have been lying about them. But he also claims that he held the views people find offensive at the time, and the good stuff was close enough to him going off the rails that I believe him.

    To compound this, Sim's views are unpredictable anyway. For example, he thinks homosexuality is the work of the devil and is viscerally disgusted by it, but he contributed to Alan Moore's GLAAD compilation for gay rights, because he doesn't think the government should impose his views on gay people.

    "Yes, a writer can write something that doesn't show his dark side. That doesn't mean that dark side, or those wrong ideals, haven't influenced the work. I'm talking something subtle here."

    But when it's so subtle as to be undetectable, then for all practical purposes it doesn't exist. Certainly I have looked for it and been unable to find it.

    "In fact, let me ask you this: you say Cerberus"

    Cerebus - sorry to nitpick but it's a bugbear of mine. Cerberus is the three-headed dog. I know it's even in the title of this blog post, but I only actually noticed when I got this far in.

    " becomes more misogynistic later on. Was this a total surprise? Did it just suddenly happen, or did it still seem to fit in with what had come before?"

    The question presupposes a lot of things it's difficult to explain. Put it this way, the first few volumes of Cerebus are, in order, a parody of Conan comics, a political satire in the style of Duck Soup, a huge two-volume epic story of politico-religious conspiracy which ends with a trip to the moon, a small-scale novel of ideas modelled on Dostoyevsky in which the title character doesn't appear for about half the 500 pages, and a direct adaptation of the letters of Oscar Wilde's friends as he was dying.

    Someone described Cerebus as being like if Alan Moore had tried to do Watchmen, Swamp Thing, V For Vendetta, From Hell, Lost Girls, The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen *and* Promethea all as part of the same series and starring Maxwell The Magic Cat. Every volume of Cerebus is so different from its predecessor that there's no 'fitting in'.

    "It is vanishingly rare to find a creator whose creation is so perfectly and completely opposed to his views that his views come as a complete surprise to those who have admired his creation."

    In this case it's true - right up until the point where Sim started talking about his misogynist views, the common industry view of it was that it was 'the comic your girlfriend can read' - it was one of the only comics being published that had a near-as-dammit 50/50 male/female readership. Even now, it's almost impossible for me to believe that the man who wrote Jaka's Story really thinks like that - for several years, many people hoped that Sim was pretending to hold these ludicrous beliefs as some sort of situationist prank, because they just don't sit *at all* with the work.

    " And even then, I would wonder - did his views still not shape his creation, if only through some decision to make it reveal the opposite views?"

    This is something I've debated myself on many occasions, and I can't come to a reasonable answer, but it's really the heart of my fascination with the man (as opposed to the work). Because everything he's written *outside* his comics work is so very, very unlike the comics themselves I find it almost impossible to believe it's the work of the same man.

    Put it this way - imagine if you'd read all Alan Moore's work without knowing anything about him, and then discovered he was a devout fundamentalist Christian who thought that no-one should have sex outside marriage (and then only in the missionary position) and that occultists should be executed, and that George Bush and Ronald Reagan were the best things ever to happen to the world, the cognitive dissonance you'd feel then would be roughly equal to what I feel when comparing Sim-the-creator with Sim-the-thinker.

    "Context, context, context. We do not create in a void."

    In context, this line makes me laugh for reasons it would take too long to explain, but which other Cerebus fans will get...

    "And really, I was taking issue with your assertion that people are compartmentalized beings, and that we can talk about Sim the writer as someone wholly different than Sim the misogynist. You yourself have said that as of now, they're both overtly the same anyway."

    Not quite. Elements of the latter have leaked into the former on occasion, but still *far* less than, say, Bill Willingham's views leak into his work. And I don't think that 'people' in general are compartmentalised - just that in the case of Sim, there is some unusual stuff going on, stuff that I can't work my own head around after years of reading the man's work, but that leads me to think the simplest way of dealing with a very complex problem is to treat Sim-the-comic-creator and Sim-the-esayist as two different people.

    "As per my first comment, this is not to say that you shouldn't like Cerberus. Heck, it's not to say that I wouldn't like it - I might."

    I suspect you would - it's such a rich work that I really can't imagine any reasonably intelligent person who has any appreciation for comics at all not getting at least something out of it.

    "...I really get the distinct impression that I'm making no sense."

    Not at all. The problem is more that Sim seems to be a special case to all generalisations, as does his work...

  • At March 02, 2008 5:44 PM, Blogger Andrew Hickey said…

    Dane, I agree with most of your comment, but this:

    "but you still haven't sold me on why it is okay to NOT judge a piece of art solely on its own technical merits. "

    is just wrong. It is entirely fair to judge a piece of art based on its content as well as its form. Ezra Pound was a great poet, but the Cantos praising Mussolini are still crap. Art should be judged on whether it has a positive or negative effect on society, on whether it says something true that needs to be said, and in general by the same criteria we use for any other work. A gun can be beautifully crafted by the most skillful metalworkers in the world, but it will still be an obscenity designed to kill people, and likewise a film like Triumph Of The Will is if anything *worse* because its technical merits make its grotesque message more persuasive.

    The difference between Triumph Of The Will and Cerebus being that the content of Cerebus itself is not geared towards expressing Sim's disgusting views, and if anything argues against them.

  • At March 02, 2008 7:18 PM, Blogger Dane said…

    Andrew: I agree that it's totally fair to review art on its content and form as well, so I don't think we're on the same wavelength of definitions here. Content for me is the material in the story, and form is how the material is relayed to best possible effect. Does this match with you?

    I want to be sure, because I can still appreciate someone's content and form in their chosen field while still not agreeing with their personal view.

    And regarding the Cantos, why were they crap? If Ezra Pound used powerful imagery or took me by surprise by the poem's structured form, then I would respect the work on that level, while still thinking Mussolini was a scum bag. I haven't read the Cantos, so maybe they really were bad. But working as a writing consultant, I can disagree with a person's viewpoint and still respect how they present their argument. On the flip side, I can agree with their point and criticize how they came to their conclusion.

    And no, I can't agree with art being judged on whether it has a positive or negative effect on society. The artist doesn't owe society that. He or she only needs to present his message, and the audience decides how "true" it is. To compound matters, what was faux pas 50 years ago can be considered a cultural norm today. Where do you draw the line in what is good for society? I read a few comics that don't say anything of value, but I still enjoy the entertainment value of them. I can also read and watch scenes of extreme violence and rape because in the end these things are ink on paper, and I decide what offends or affects me. To say something is damaging to society is sometimes as bad as disrespecting the public's ability to differentiate fact from belief/fiction.

    And what's the verdict on Triumph of the Will, anyway? Should young film makers watch it? The thing with progress is that it's a two-way street when it comes from it's good and bad creators. Do we ignore a medical breakthrough just because a cure was created by a bigot? I certainly hope not. Triumph of the Will has a bad message, but what if someone took the filming techniques from that movie to create something beautiful preaching tolerance? Techniques have no morality; they are tools of the creator, but if we block these things just because of their skeevy origins, then I say we are worse off for it.

  • At March 02, 2008 7:28 PM, Blogger Alexandra said…

    Andrew -

    First, I think we may actually agree. I'll bow out of this conversation until I actually read the work in question.

    I will say, from my own personal experience, that it can be incredibly hard to know what someone with a genuine mental illness thinks - especially because of the pressure to act normal. Faking normal is a coping mechanism and, sometimes, a survival mechanism; I know that I still filter my stories into "normal-people style", because otherwise, with the random jumps and weird descriptions, they mostly only make sense to me. (Or I'm giving other people too little credit. Never sure which.)

    This is one reason that, while the subject of how a creation should be judged vastly interests me, I feel a little uncomfortable voicing an opinion in this specific case. (Not that that stopped me...) As you say, Sim is mentally ill (God, I hate never knowing the current terms; sorry for any offence) - and that makes this a whole different ballgame.

    And secondly, thank you for correcting me on the title. (I perpetually have mythology on the brain; it makes for some interesting slips sometimes.)

  • At March 02, 2008 7:37 PM, Blogger Alexandra said…

    I can't agree with art being judged on whether it has a positive or negative effect on society. The artist doesn't owe society that. He or she only needs to present his message, and the audience decides how "true" it is.

    Ok, one more comment, then I bow out.

    (This, incidentally, is why I don't comment often; I tend to go on sprees when I do. Apologies.)

    But if you're judging the art, it is entirely fair to judge what impact it had on society - largely because art is a form of communication. It is NOT just one-way (artist to audience), or even two-way (artist-audience-artist); it's all over the place.

    To use a benign example - it's entirely fair to talk about the Mona Lisa's impact (and therefore Leonardo's impact by the painting of it) on society, and how by painting it he (intentionally or not) gave us a new symbol for something enigmatic.

    To use a less benign, but pet example of mine - it's entirely fair to talk about the racism in Lovecraft's stories, and how he perpetuated (intentionally or not) negative stereotypes of all manner of people - despite the fact that he was about as racist as most others of his time.

    Art both reflects and influences the societies of which it is a part. It is entirely fair to judge a creation - and its creator - in any context it exists in.

  • At March 02, 2008 7:40 PM, Blogger Alexandra said…

    And Dane, note that I'm not saying "don't watch this", or "you're evil if you do read this". I AM saying that the techniques, content, AND context (both at the time in which it was made, and the time in which it is viewed, and information about the creator) are of equal importance.

    Do you really want some young film student to watch "Triumph of the Will" and be sucked in wholeheartedly by its message?

  • At March 02, 2008 8:31 PM, Blogger Dane said…

    Don't worry, I know no one is really saying "Don't read this." I'd be really upset if anyone was.

    Yes, form, content, and context are of equal importance. My issue is that context and the creator's personal beliefs are being taken out of proportion in Kalerina's post.

    You're Triumph of the Will question is a bit skewed because you're asking me if I want someone to exercise the right to make bad decisions. Alas, I don't want them to, but that's the problem with free will and freedom of speech. Sometimes people fall into contradictory views and groups, and as long as they aren't hurting others, who am I to stop what they read or watch?

    Hopefully a film student or any student learns what high school and college are supposed to teach us: To separate a message from its meaning and evaluate it. If someone gets sucked in to a bad philosophy, then that's his problem. Triumph of the Will should be as accessible to a film student as any other film of historical/technical importance. Just like Mein Kampft and its various dissertations is available in many college libraries for review.

  • At March 02, 2008 8:36 PM, Blogger Dane said…

    Oh, one more thing and then I gotta go. I'm finishing some script writing work that I've been putting off like an idiot. Kalinara has every right to place context and the author's beliefs above form and content, but it's also my right to disagree with the idea behind it.

  • At March 02, 2008 8:55 PM, Blogger sardonyx said…

    You should do as I did and borrow the volumes from the public library to read. High Society, Church & State, Jaka's Story and Melmoth are just brilliant. I had the same torn feelings about him that you do. I guess I still do. I've been a bit confused because well, I'd heard all the stuff about him being misogynist and then I volunteered at a comic convention and was made to sit with him and give people free comics to get him to sign. Oh my god I was so scared shitless. But he was really nice to me and didn't kill me because I was a girl so that was a relief!

  • At March 03, 2008 9:15 AM, Blogger Billzilla said…

    Ehhh.. I just think that it's unfair to compare the guy to a Nazi. Saying "I don't like women, I think they're inferior, I don't think anyone should want to be a woman if they had a choice and I choose not to associate with them when possible" is worlds different than being part of a group who's core beliefs include "Something needs to be done about all these Jews."

    Which is going to sound like I'm a Dave Sim apologist, and I don't want to sound like that. I just think that any judgement about his work based on his beliefs is unfair, especially since the point of the book isn't really "Women are bad," or even "Women are stupid." Pretty much the only character in the book who gets what could be considered a "Happy ending" is a woman.

    I really enjoy the work of a lot of people who I think are just plain wrong about life.

    I don't want you to love the guy. I don't know the guy. I just think there's an awful lot of "I haven't read Cerebus but.." going around.

  • At March 03, 2008 9:37 AM, Blogger Billzilla said…

    I guess I should read the entire thread before I make an argument that is more or less in sync with what the thread ultimately decides. Didn't mean to seem like a brow-beater there.

  • At March 03, 2008 9:46 AM, Blogger kalinara said…

    I guess I should read the entire thread before I make an argument that is more or less in sync with what the thread ultimately decides. Didn't mean to seem like a brow-beater there.

    Heh. Happens. You're more than welcome to say your piece, even if it sounds a bit like "brow-beating". :-)

    Besides, I'm enjoying the discussion. :-)

  • At March 03, 2008 12:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I'm going to buck the trend here and admit that I liked Cerebus best when it was still a parody of the sword & sorcery memes of Robert E Howard and Michael Moorcock. As time went by the book became less and less amusing, and Sims' desire do "serious" work eventually ruined a good book. Like many fans of the early series, Jaka's Story was the killing blow for my interest, but the author's personal hangups were becoming increasingly intrusive (and repellent) long before then.

    I could, perhaps, forgive Sims' personal misogyny and homophobia (especially if it had remained personal, and not become part of the story) but I cannot excuse him for forgetting that making us laugh was what mattered. Cerebus was a humor book, and should have remained one.

  • At March 03, 2008 5:01 PM, Blogger originalslugboy said…

    Me like when smart people say smart things.

    I haven't seen a reasoned and nuanced discussion like this since college.

    I'd contribute, but my views were mostly covered in some way or another in here.

    Everyone gets a gold star and a sodey pop.

  • At March 03, 2008 8:12 PM, Anonymous Jon H said…

    alexandra wrote: "Do you really want some young film student to watch "Triumph of the Will" and be sucked in wholeheartedly by its message?"

    Her work has been echoed so often that it would probably be useful for a film student to know the source material, so they don't end up adding unintended subtexts to their own work thinking they were just doing an homage to a scene from Star Wars.

  • At March 03, 2008 10:14 PM, OpenID thomwade said…

    "Context, context, context. We do not create in a void."

    I don't disagree, but often, a story can a context outside of it's creator's views. I have conceived stories that are, in many ways, in opposition to my beliefs.

    And honestly, if I am troubled by one thing from my fellow diversity minded bloggers is that we seem to play fast and loose with "context". If we accuse a particular work of being misogynistic and the writer or artist defends themselves and points to the context of the story, we tell them their context doesn't matter, because the reader's response (and experiences) trump that. Suddenly, creator "context" matters less than the reader's "context."

  • At March 04, 2008 3:27 PM, Blogger Siskoid said…

    Well... that took a while to read...

    I really do wish Sim had had the good sense to shut up and let his work speak for him. Because Andrew is essentially right, it's not a particularly misogynistic work until "Reads".

    Actually, the misogyny comes before then. I'd say in Mothers & Daughters, but there it's a satire of feminism or, if you like, of women's rise to equality or power. It explicitly attacks Oprah-philes, for example. I realize satirizing women is something of a sacred cow, but I don't think that's a good reason not to do satire on the subject. And because that whole Cirinist thing is part of the political landscape of Cerebus' world, well, it's something that sticks around from then on.

    And if Sim had shut up and NOT explained what was behind his satire (actual hatred rather than good-natured spoofing), it would remain "acceptable reading". It still is once divorced from letters page essays.

    As for that very special issue of "Reads", it's a non-uninteresting philosophical/symbolic diatribe about male Light and female Void, repleat with negativity and bitterness, but again, out of sight of his letters pages, 1) the opinion of the Reads writer (which is Sim/Not Sim) and 2) metaphysical enough to be interpreted in a number of ways, most prominently as a form of "masculinism" or in a sense I suppose, a parody of feminist ideology.

    The text actually makes some valid (if tonally tainted) points about modern society and gender roles. Taken as social observations, it's not politically correct, but it's interesting. Seen in view of his vocal opinions, it's obvious that they're not dispassionate observations. Now if Sim had shut up... he would only have lost readers who were buying comics to read comics, and not long essays.

  • At March 05, 2008 7:05 PM, Blogger notintheface said…

    My limited experience with the writing of Dave Sim:

    1. Read a SPAWN story Sim guest-wrote back in the early 90's. The plot was essentially "Creator-owned,GOOD. Company-owned,BAD. Guest-starring a talking aardvark". Had some good Todd art, though.

    2. Found my way to his site a few years back thanks to a link on a Gail Simone "You'll All Be Sorry" post making fun of him. Read approximately 1 page of his screed about the differences between the sexes. Had to escape out at that point to avoid a brain hemhorrage.

    3. Read a Ragnell post which linked to his current blog. Clicked on the link out of curiosity. Again narrowly escaped a brain hemhorrage.

    Did I miss anything?

  • At August 22, 2008 8:38 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Dave Sim is a genius that has been marginalized by a constant deluge of bile and hatred. Comparing Dave to Nazis is tantamount to libel.

    It would seem that if you truly believe what you say about Dave hating women, and how abhorant it is, then you would have the strength to keep your opinions to yourselves. This constant piling on and spewing vitrole is basically doing exactly what you all claim to hate Dave for.

    Dave Sim is antifeminist not anti woman, there is a difference.

    Some of the far out ideals that extreme left feminists espouse are down right silly. If we are truly equal in all ways, why are there two sets of physical standards for gaining employment by the fire dept. police dept. and military?

    To state that men and women are different isn't hatred it's just plain truth.

    I know there are people out there that agree with me, they just don't want to speak up because the likes of all of you are relentless and thorough in your animosity towards anything that doesn't fit into your belief parameters.

    Dave Sim has achieved greatness and all you can do is slice into him for doing nothing more than being a conservative in a field that is rife with liberals and liberal thinking.

    I would say that women are much more objectified by all of the costume heroines that look and dress as if they just stepped off the pages of playboy. Why is that never brought up in these "Lets' kick Dave in the Nuts" discussions?

  • At August 22, 2008 1:50 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    Aw. Dave Sim defenders are very cute. :-)

    And sweetie, look up libel before you try to pull that with a law student. Thanks!

  • At November 07, 2009 12:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    You're a dipshit and you should feel bad.

  • At December 31, 2009 7:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Dave Sim hates women but makes a great comic. There, I said it in few words.

  • At August 31, 2012 12:10 AM, Anonymous Drusilla said…

    Well, I do not actually imagine it is likely to have success.


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home