Monday, June 25, 2007

Positive Space

Well, Erin asked for more blogging, so if this one is crap, hassle her about it instead of me.

Last weekend (it was last weekend, right?) I and some compadres (you know who you are) went to the MOCA to see an exhibition of feminist art from the seventies and eighties. It was very cool. As with lots of modern art the specific message of a lot of the pieces wasn't quite clear, but I think I got the gist of it.

What really interested me was the fact that the images and subject matter were centering around certain topics, and tended to avoid others. I think this had a lot to do with the decades they were representing, but it was still really thought provoking to me.

There were lots of pieces on violence and objectification. Performance pieces on being treated as a thing, images of violence against women, and a healthy number of body image studies and self esteem examinations. There weren't actually very many on menstruation and motherhood, although I hear there were more on motherhood upstairs that I didn't see.

It made me think about what aspects of gender people think are important. In fact, the women at my work said the first things they thought they would depict if they were making an art piece were motherhood and menstruation. One even said that she thought depicting violence and body image was demeaning and portrayed women as weak. She said she'd pick aspects of femininity that showed strength, like motherhood. I think attitude is actually a very good compliment about effectiveness of the women's lib movement, by the way.

Of course, all this got me thinking that there haven't been many (any that I know of) exhibits dealing with men's issues. I started thinking about what I would want to depict if I was going to depict something. So, here's a short list of issues that I think are ripe for discussion surrounding men's liberation:

(my favorite topic) men's appreciation for their own childhood and emotional responses

a culture's view of men's lives as public resources/natural resources

the threat of injury and death being part of a man's expected gender role

strength vs. responsibility: two aspects of the male role that appear to be one and the same, but are in fact quite separate, even if they necessitate one another.

men's reaction to the feminist movement. This one is pretty scary because there's a lot of misogyny involved in it, but it's still an important issue to cover just the same.

I notice these are mostly negative, so how about I throw in the positive aspects of Stoicism for a little appreciation of the cold, unfeeling man.

There, that seems like a bite appropriately bigger than I can chew. It would be reeeeeeeeeally cool if someone wanted to go in on this with me and actually make some art on these topics. Though I suppose I'd have to set an example by actually doing it myself. I wonder what the likelihood is of that happening. My ideas so far are a little too elaborate. Maybe I can take some masculist photos. Just call me Robert Mapplethorpe!

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Ideals are All We Have Sometimes

It's my fault for not locking my car's door, but now I can't listen to music in the car, and I can't play Magic with my friends.

I don't want to be sad. More importantly I don't want to be bitter, or angry, or cold, or suspicious.

I frequently feel like being nice means being a pushover. I feel like not seeking retribution means I stab myself in the face. I question whether "nice" is just my word for "afraid". But it's important to me to maintain my ideals. It's hard to combat wrongdoing by doing right. I really believe that that's the only way to do it though. Nothing good will ever come of doing what you think is wrong.

So I feel sad. But I don't want to be angry and bitter. So here's an attempt at comfort.

My car wasn't stolen.

My bike is still there.

I wasn't hurt.

I have a job to go to.

My friends and family love me and are safe.

I am still me. I am not my objects, my objects are me.

I have a place to cry.

I can smile while I cry.

I have a home to go to.

I'm given an oportunity to be more responsible without having to lose something really important to me.

I have a fabulously supportive girlfriend. Who's very pretty.

There's some perspective for ya. People are shits sometimes, but there're more who aren't than those who are. So, to keep that ratio strong, I'm gonna try to do and think what I think is right. Even if others don't. So there!

Sunday, June 03, 2007

A Picture Substitutes for a Thousand Words

I love comic books. I haven't always.

For the longest time comic books were a way for me to see artwork depicting the Aliens and Predators that I couldn't get enough of when I was fourteen. Eventually comics forged a small fissure in my perception of the world when Spawn made me question the Christian mythology surrounding Heaven and Hell. Even after that, though, it took a long time for me to really get into comics and realize why they were the perfect medium for me. Actually, it took the dynamic panel layouts of Gunnm, the Oxy bookstore's willingness to special order the collected Maus duet for me, and a fabulous site which had an unfortunate format overhaul called Comics Worth Reading for me to see why superhero comics never did it for me, and to be reassured that in fact I need not be embarrassed by my attraction to stories narrated by images.

With the help of the college bookstore and the nearby Comic Odyssey, I quickly absorbed what i still think are pretty essential works necessary for not only the appreciation of comics as literature, but works necessary to transition someone who's interest in the medium was sparked by superheros and space monsters, who really wants to be included in the discussion about what a great medium comics are, but still can't quite stay awake for From Hell and Epileptic.

The Dark Knight Returns, V for Vendetta, Finder, Persepolis, Maus, Sin City, Ghost in the Shell, Watchmen, Sandman, Bone, Strangers in Paradise, Akira and Understanding Comics have all done their part to solidify my love of visual literature.

I take frequent breaks from comics, mostly because I can't explore the world of comics for free the way I can with music and photography, and partly because it's really hard to find comics that I really like and want to invest what little capitol escapes being used to maintain my poverty.

And so I am excited to report two new series which excited me enough to get me to write about my general enjoyment of comics.

Transmetropolitan is a cyberpunk series (do i have your attention now, Nico?) based on an ultra technological New York seen through the tremendously biased eyes of world famous journalist Spider Jerusalem. A good portion of the narration and panel to panel content is taken up with vulgar profanity, violence or body function humor as Spider professes his disgust for the unconsciously wasteful and destructively apathetic city that he admits (grudgingly) suits him perfectly. You can smell the city through the artwork, and the glimpses you get into Spider's mind makes you feel a little dirty. With and endorsement like that, I can't imagine it's possible for you to be more excited to read this. But, just for the sake of argument, I'll explain why I would want to buy the next book. The series' awareness of its own crude form absolves it from being judged too harshly, and lets the base humor and vulgar content serve as criticism of both the world it's portraying, and the appeal of such a world as a guilty pleasure to the reader. What results is a concentrated view of the disparity between technological advancement and moral evolution (a concept that's been done, I know). What makes it different though is that it's seen through the eyes of a maniac who is a self professed intellectual, and who indeed appears to be exactly that from time to time. It blurs the line between self and community, rational and instinctual, modern and primitive. It makes me view both internet and celebrity cultures differently.

The second series that I started this weekend has been recommended to me so frequently that I assumed that it was going to be pretty formulaic. Fortunately for the erosion of my pretenses, Y the Last Man ended up being a pretty thought provoking look at gender issues. It's premise is not altogether original: catastrophe leads to the destruction of a population (in this case, male mammal) leaving one lone unlikely protagonist (the only man miraculously spared, and his male monkey) to run from the resulting anarchy and help put things right. But pretty early on, it becomes clear that this series, like Transmetropolitan, is aware of it's potential to fall into the routines of it's predecessors, and is making a valiant attempt to make good use of it's time with an established format. It does a good job of skipping over predictable conflicts like "oh my god, a man! how can this be?" and "finally, we aren't victims of patriarchal oppression!". It does deal with these cliches, of course. They need to be dealt with, being as cliche as they are. (I'm sorry i can't find the 'e' with an accent over it. Stupid ASKII) But it does so in a way that lets you skip over what the reader and the writer can assume. The issue of women being liberated by the absence of men is discussed through vehicles like the immediate emergence of an intelligent Israeli leader who begins a struggle for worldwide military control, a group of violent radicals praising the eradication of men as a devine act world cleansing, and a reluctant Secretary of Agriculture who finds herself next in line for President of the United States.

The social commentary and plot progression are delightfully free of excessive exposition, and although the series moves with a tempo that could easily be seen as unrealistic, it feels like the writer is intentionally glancing over things that would really only be reiteration for the sake of realism. The result is an easy to digest, fast moving story laden with questions about gender identity and social power. My only real qualm is with the main character. He's a bit flat. He makes jokes entirely too much and seems to be actively unaware of the danger he is in and the gravity of his situation. That and the artwork. I like the art style and panel layout. They are very straightforward, which does indeed enhance the intention of the story to be taking place in a contemporary, real world. My complaint has to do with the portrayal of women. While dialogue is wonderfully ambiguous and does a good job of creating an unbiased atmosphere, the images are all of attractive, young women with sexual figures. Nobody looks over 45, and certainly nobody is physically unfit. For a series trying to portray gender issues in a thought provokingly realistic way, this seems a tremendous oversight. Still, I'm definitely following this series. If it doesn't degrade into sexual tension and crazy dyke hippies vs. sane penis-nostalgic ex-wives plus man/monkey, I'll still be interested.