Author Archives: langfocr

Online Community vs. IRL Community

I feel like I can definitely see the ways in which Graphic Medicine and Hatfield speak to each other. Just as graphic medicine rejects the objective-case-study “universal patient” and embraces the unique subjectivity of individuals, so does Hatfield embrace the subjective experience of individual trans people. There is neither a “universal patient” nor a “universal trans person,” so efforts to document the experiences of these populations (or any population) in an objective manner inevitably erase facets of truth.

I think Hatfield’s argument to merge the library with the people it serves is a really fascinating and potentially very beneficial idea. My one concern is that real-life meetings and forums are inevitably, inherently different from communities that form online. For starters, will people want to attend a meeting at their local library at eight-o’clock on a Thursday, leaving their own warm homes and driving maybe thirty minutes in the dark? The Internet does not require us to put on clothes or leave our homes. It also provides relative anonymity and allows us to duck out of a conversation at any time without anyone noticing. Time, in fact, works differently on the Internet – there is no such thing as an awkward silence, a gap of time that we feel we must fill with conversation. We can easily converse with someone who is not present right now, but who happens to see our post or comment later. People can contribute from anywhere in the world, and thus the community forms without geographic limitations.

Because of these differences, creating a participatory community at a library or archive will inherently be a different animal from creating such a community on the web. Envision for a moment the small, classroom-esque library room, fluorescently lit and a little chilly, with a circle of wooden, straight-backed chairs. Everyone has dragged themselves out their door uncertain who else would be here. Someone coughs.

This is a different environment from the Internet. Hugely. It is local, it is personal, it is face-to-face, and it is grounded in time. I wonder if it is possible for the unreserved sharing of personal details that we see on the Internet to occur in a setting like this. For instance, the author of “I Do Not Have an Eating Disorder,” who struggled over whether to publish several pages of her comic, would likely not have done so if she were confronted with a half-circle of faces, waiting expectantly to hear her story.

I think the medium is the key here. Graphic medicine empowers patients not just by welcoming their comments and opinions, but by inviting them to draw comics. Patients contribute to the archive of information on their illness and patient experience by producing comics themselves. This, I suspect, is a superior medium to the verbal-exchange forum proposed by Hatfield. Conversation requires us to hurry – we have to collect our thoughts to match the rhythm of the conversation. If someone talks too much, others can’t speak; if you don’t speak up fast enough, someone has already taken the stage. What if trans people were invited to add their stories to library archives through comics? Or, short stories or poetry or memoirs – whatever their choice of medium. This at least enables each individual to collect their thoughts in the privacy of their own lives, and share what they ultimately want to share. It would be interesting to formulate a system by which library readers could then comment upon the materials contributors had submitted, creating a kind of community that more closely resembles what we would find online.

Favorite Ayssa comic:

Oh Hey! It’s Alyssa #16: The Gelders (Part Two)

Redefining the Pornographic

This article is amazingly rich in just about every sentence, and I was continuously impressed and inspired the entire time I was reading. I’m really interested in Lorde’s distinction between the erotic and pornography as “opposites” (88). I think she makes a strong case for that distinction, and that her argument is an important one for us to keep in mind as a society. Her definition of ‘pornography’ is not ‘media portraying sex.’ Rather, the definition of pornography is that it emphasizes sensation without feeling, and that it ultimately looks away from the very human needs and desires that give rise to it – which I take to mean that while it creates a space to revel in what society deems to be inappropriate, it fails to affirm the desires that it invites.

I think this is an interesting definition because while certainly a form of media can be visually/temporally composed such that it ‘looks away’ from its own content, it is also true that the ultimate act of ‘looking away’ lies with the viewer. This suggests that there is a liminal space where one person’s pornography (that which they view, but also look away from) could be another person’s erotic, a powerful force shaping their own identity and enhancing their understanding of their own desires. A young woman secretly checks out a dime novel from the library and reads her first explicit sex scene – she finds it informative and exciting, and with the help of media like this, is able to shape a kind of sexual identity for herself in a sex-negative society. I would argue that although dime novels are considered ‘pornographic material,’ the girl’s story is not a story of pornography. Her experience is far from sensation without feeling – it is, in fact, deeply personal and packed with feeling, with surprise and anxieties and excitement.

Pornography, as Lorde describes it, is not necessarily a certain kind of material, but rather a certain kind of interaction with the erotic. The pornographic is an event, not a medium. It is a denial of the legitimacy of one’s own feelings and those of others. This is honestly a very satisfying explanation for something I have been wrestling with for a long time – how is it that some manga, for instance, feels ‘dirty’ to me, while other, equally explicit manga can feel okay? It is not a question of what exactly is shown, but more a question of how it is shown – does the work ultimately stand at a distance from its characters, othering them and their desire while at the same time offering us a peep hole through which to watch? What does that do to you, as a reader, if you see your own desires reflected in that othered space? What shame, and what disavowal of one’s own feelings! This, indeed, is the obscenity – to cut desires adrift from the humans who have them and put them in an ‘out there’ that no one quite takes responsibility for, an ‘out there’ without a shred of human feeling to warm it. Those obscene images then have a high potential to do damage – not because they are images of sex but because they exist separately from all the better parts of human nature.

Toward Nuance and Away from Collateral Damage

I should preface this by saying that I have never actually read or enjoyed Superhero comics. As J. Lamb points out, there is a tendency to actively avoid nuance, the grey area between right and wrong, and the notion of ‘not wrong, but different,’ such that the superhero story has never really called out to me.

That said, I think J. Lamb could be a little easier on the nerds of color they so viciously tear to bits in both of these essays. I certainly agree that if we have a character with the face of a person of color who does not bear the cultural values their appearance/origins would imply, that’s not really representation. However, I think it’s also important to recognize that the people of color yearning so earnestly for characters like a black Superman are looking for something. There is a yearning in their hearts, and that yearning is specifically for a superhero. A person of color who can do anything, and does the right thing always. When Lamb says the superhero has outlived its usefulness, it’s entirely possible that superheroes as they understand them may have. But must the superhero be abandoned entirely? Or could an extremely powerful, highly moral, (and yet mortal) being still wander the streets of our cities, just with more diverse and nuanced quests? Could there not exist a permutation of the superhero with more moral grey areas and less collateral damage?

I would argue that we have already seen these figures in the faces of Ms. Marvel and of Wonder Woman in “Hiketeia.”

We see Kamala use her own morality, a morality rooted in the Muslim Pakistani culture she learned from her father, to decide that she needs to save Zoe, even though Zoe is a terrible person. Here we have a grey area, and the decision is that even a really thoughtless and cruel person’s life is worth something. Kamala is still a superhero – she has a moniker, a disguise, super powers, and most importantly is driven by a strong sense of moral good. The thing is that in the book we read for class, she’s working on a smaller scale. She’s working with people she knows, in places that she’s familiar with. She’s responsible for whatever mess is made here, because it’s her place. Her family and school are here. As long as I’m talking about her family, I also want to say that Kamala definitely represents her culture, as opposed to just being an essentially white character painted with a “veneer,” as J. Lamb describes.

Wonder Woman’s “Hiketeia” also works a lot with moral grey areas and different value systems. The system of revenge in ancient Greece is what Wonder Woman’s charge pledges by, but she can’t escape the modern moral system of Batman. Is killing for revenge okay? Is killing for any reason wrong? Wonder Woman is caught in the middle, forced to mediate between these two value systems under the threatening gaze of the furies. The eventual death of the girl (I believe her name is Danielle) is of course tragic, and we never really do know what’s right and wrong – only that it’s a shame. In this situation, we have to acknowledge that the decision Wonder Woman makes is blatantly partisan – she takes a side. And that side is not necessarily the side of ‘all things good,’ but rather a) the side that aligns most closely with her own values, and b) the side she is pressured to take by the furies. Having made her decision, she acts on it, even though it’s a messy situation and nothing is perfect.

Basically, what I’m trying to say is that I don’t think fans calling for superhero diversity are so misguided that they need to pack their bags and move away from the fandom. I believe there’s a way the genre can give them what they so yearn for it to give, because the genre seems willing to be flexible in its understanding of what a superhero is and does.

 

Monsters as Vulnerability

I want to take a look at the final thesis, that “Monsters are our children … they bear self-knowledge, human knowledge … [and] they ask us why we have created them” (20). I feel like it’s best to think it through in terms of a concrete example (Cohen’s statement by itself is interesting, but not very convincing to me – when does this actually happen? How? What is the effect?) I’d like to dig into the example of “miscegenation,” thinking about this final thesis.

I think it’s safe to say that what we fear reveals our weakness and vulnerability. Reading Cohen, I see that monsters are a kind of vehicle for fear, a vehicle in which what we fear can be rolled to the outskirts of society and beyond, made Other. But, because that fear ultimately comes from the self, there’s no escaping what a deeply personal thing it is. When the white patriarchy in, say, colonial Europe, creates monstrous tales about white women having sex with other races represented as monsters, this ultimately reveals more about the patriarchy than it would probably like to show. Although certainly the monstrous tales have normative, policing functions, they also inevitably point back at the creators, and say, “Why did you create this story? Is there something you’re afraid of?

I would argue that the presence of these monsters of miscegenation betrays the tenuous grasp the patriarchy holds. (Cohen’s article is very fluid in history, so I’m not sure which time period this speaks to, but perhaps it could be argued to be generally true?) The presence of miscegenation monsters suggests that members and perpetuators of the patriarchy recognize, in some deep corner of their subconscious, that their power is arbitrary. There is no inherent hierarchy of race and gender placing the patriarchy at the top, as much as they’d like to believe there to be, and as many stories as they have made claiming it to be so. Their fear, embodied in monsters, taps on the door saying there is nothing actually stopping ‘their own’ women and other races, the two groups they have subjugated, from banding together. There is the fear of being displaced, of becoming irrelevant. And as a result, a desperate grasp to hang on tighter to power.

The presence of such monsters reveals another thing about the psychology of the patriarchy, I think: even proponents of the patriarchal system sense that the women may well be unwilling participants in the dramatic gender production that is society. They see women going by the societal/cultural script they themselves produced (for instance, marrying a man of the same race and having children.) From the patriarchal perspective, though, who knows, who can know, what it is that women really want, or are really thinking? What would women do if they were free? The patriarchy can’t know. Women might well leave if given the chance – maybe they would go off to some other culture, and leave the patriarchy of their home society behind in a kind of defacto-castrated lurch.

As a result, the axiom of, ‘If you love something, let it go; if it loves you, it will come back,’ is too terrifying for the patriarchy to contemplate. The patriarchy recognizes, in the subconsciousness represented by these miscegenation monsters, that the force it has utilized up until now to press women into becoming their wives and mothering their children has created an excellent performance, but does not actually guarantee women’s desire to participate. I suppose it goes without saying, but if they have never created a space for women to say what they want, men in power have no way of knowing what women want. The woman’s true desire thus becomes a terrifying mystery – because the patriarchy needs women. That the horror stories they create show women leaving them for someone/somewhere/something else (the ‘monstrous’) ultimately speaks volumes about the patriarchy itself, its fears and vulnerabilities.

Reflection on Autobiographical Web Comic Project

Although I don’t think my web comic could be called “intertextual,” and so doesn’t enter into the conversation about intertextuality in Bechdel and Barry, I think that it does speak to what Schlick describes as “a theory of autobiography” (26). My talky style, and the fact that I am trusting the reader with personal information, probably creates a sense of authenticity and the genuine. It also signifies an approach I am taking: I chose to directly address the audience, not just with my words, but also with the image of me talking to them on the page. This strategy calls a lot of attention to the medium, I expect, and to the constructed nature of the story. In some ways, owning up to constructed-ness to this degree may increase authenticity, while decreasing the potential for the reader to get ‘lost’ in the story. (It is more of a conversation than a story.)

My images, I realize, function largely as metaphors, and hardly at all for the re-presentation of actual scenes and people from my life. Only a handful of images are literally true. The others, most particularly the scene on the bicycle, never happened, but feature as a handy metaphor (as the bicycle moves through time and space) for what was actually a gradual and difficult-to-depict process: the shift in my understanding of my gender. I like how it works in ways similar to John Cheever’s “The Swimmer,” taking us through a large span of time (and a big change) symbolized by a relatively simple progression. It’s also nice that the street is not a long-shot from Kyoto’s downtown.

The image of femme-me sitting in the armchair is also a metaphor I am proud of. That image is not any one day or any one instance, but rather a conglomeration of a thousand times I sat that way in boots like that, looking up to greet my friends with a smile. It represents a sensation of the past that I suspect is worth missing. I honestly freaked even myself out a little bit with the next panel, where femme-me disappears. I wish I could have inserted a page-break between the previous panel and those two panels, because I would have liked for them to be on a page of their own, waiting for fresh eyes.

Within the comic, I navigate how I think about my past self. The scene on the benches in the mall where I am sitting near my old self rang particularly true, communicating my sense of sympathy for my past self like nothing else quite could – at the same time, I have to correct myself and remember that I also had my own thing going on in the past, and thus don’t need to feel pity for that ‘other me’. It’s true that I wasn’t thriving as much as I conceivably could have been, but I was still enjoying my life a lot of the time. I corrected my pity within the comic (as opposed to just removing the bench scene) because I wanted the reader to also experience the conflict about it that I feel within myself.

I guess my theory of autobiography here is foregoing the literal in favor of leading the audience to feel what I feel – a Time O’Brien-style approach. The sensation, and not the literal story, is shared. It’s also the sensation as I interpret it now, and not as I felt it then. I compare the liberation of my gender discovery to a scene on a bicycle, such that any reader can imagine that flying, freeing feeling. The scene of my disappearing in the armchair is slightly scary for a reason: I want the reader to feel the sensation I sometimes feel, a sensation like I’ve climbed one too many stairs in the dark, and my stomach is sinking down – What about me the way I was? I think the talky-ness protects me on an authenticity front, reminding the reader almost at all times that they are “conversing” with me, and thus hearing a summarized retelling of something true. I keep the sensation – the liberation, the doubt, and the strange sense of separation from the past – and let the rest be flexible. This is understandable to the reader (I hope…) because the interaction resembles a conversation.

Audiencing in “Misty”

It occurs to me that these images of “Misty” are really perfect for thinking in terms of audiencing. Few other texts come accompanied by consistent labels indicating how the audience is participating with the story, as well as a write-in section for readers at the end.

What strikes me as interesting in terms of audiencing and “Misty” is the unique way in which “Misty,” as a text, interacts with its audience. The audience doesn’t just read the comic – they play a huge role in producing it, sending in their fashion designs from across the country, and apparently Canada, too. The names of audience members who have participated are printed right in the meat of the text. Then, the audience members are given the opportunity to talk to ‘Misty,’ ask her questions, and ultimately, feel as though they know her personally.

I think the interactive nature of the text falls under the first aspect of audiencing: “the social practices of spectating” (Rose, 27). “Misty” is not just a comic to be passively read – it is a group effort, and to read it is to be invited to participate. I imagine this must be part of why the comic is so influential to the young girls whose comments we read at the end. It is not just that, as Amy Holmes from Waterloo, IA, puts it, “Misty is for girls, it has paper dolls in it,” although I’m sure “Misty’s” rare girl-oriented marketing is certainly part of the appeal. I would argue that part of what makes the text so appealing to young women (or made it so at the time), is the fact that it was theirs. They had a chance to shape it with their own imaginations via their fashion designs.

Of course, I would not necessarily describe the text itself as particularly ‘empowering;’ Spike’s short hair and Misty’s stint as a super hero certainly have a feminist bent and warrant more analysis, but the cattiness of Misty and Darlene in the wedding story, as well as the fact that Misty’s super powers are rooted in shopping, naturally leave the modern reader somewhat dissatisfied from a feminist point of view.

That said, I would argue that if “Misty” was a source of empowerment in its time, then that empowerment lay less in the quality of its content, and more in the fact that it advertised itself in every way as belonging to young women. Uber-feminine main characters and the addition of paper dolls to comic books (which are both ways to bring the so-called ‘feminine’ into a ‘masculine’ medium), and the invitations of audience participation appear to have made “Misty” into a kind of hub for young women’s culture.

With “Misty,” girls could communicate with older women and with each other on the troubles and travails of growing up. They also were able to take “Misty” as a kind of universalized example of womanhood, knowing that other young women across the country were also looking at the comic and aspiring to these standards. This is not to say that the standards were necessarily healthy (consider the commentary on Misty’s waistline …) but I do mean to point out that “Misty’s” function as a cultural hub may well have been a much-desired place of guidance for young women at the time.