Thursday, May 17, 2007

Amy Reads the Week (of May 18th, 2007)

You may have guessed this by now, Gentle Reader, but I don’t believe in essentialism. That is to say, I don’t believe that because I was born with a Uterus and 2 X Chromosomes that I am predisposed to liking Pink, and Dolls, and Romantic Comedies. Further, while I believe in it more than I do essentialism, I don’t particularly like the idea that social constructivism has determined my self. I don’t like the fact that despite my triumph over essentialism, that hive mind we call Society came along and determined that because I am a Girl—wrapped in a pink blanket upon birth and granted dominion over all things cute, ruffled, and/or fluffy—I have been socially geared towards things such as Pink, and Dolls, and Romantic Comedies. Also Motherhood, heterosexuality, passivity, intuition, and that annoying partridge in that bloody pear tree.

Even further, I don’t believe that because Mr. Reads was born with male anatomy and XY Chromosomes that he is predisposed to like football, beer, and, say, superhero comics. In fact, I would Greatly Argue that Mr. Reads likes, say, Superhero Comics because he was, as a child, inclined *not* to like football or trucks but rather liked books, and science, and fantasy. And I would say that This Humble Author likes, say, Superhero Comics not because I was inclined towards All Thing Male, All The Time, but rather because I saw a woman in satin tights fight for *my* rights and the good ole red, white, and blue.

Over the past few weeks, I have been thinking about What Attracts Us, yes, We Few, We Happy Few, We Fans of Comics, to the Comic Book Medium, at large, and the Superhero Comic Universe, specifically. Because while the argument can be made that Many People read Comics—Graphic Novels, Manga, William Blake, virtually anything defined as a Marriage between Image and Text, those Stories Told Visually, even Ekphrasis might work here, by definition—not all of those Readers are Superhero Fans. The Superhero Comic is a unique genre in and of itself, and it relies, by definition, on the existence of The Superhero, The Villain, and the Battle Between Good and Evil.

Of course, Gentle Reader, you may argue that All Literature is represented as The Battle Between Good and Evil, and you may just be right. But Said Battle isn’t always defined in clear-cut terms, complete with Flights, and Tights. And those who are attracted to Said Battles, again, We Happy Few, are attracted to them, specifically, for a reason.

I don’t know if I can express My Reason in so many words, because That Reason is Rather Personal. But then, all literary choices are personal; we are attracted to the things we are attracted to because we are Who We Are. While I no longer read Romance Novels (although I did for many, many years) because I find them somewhat unrealistic, I now read more Superhero Titles than I did ever before. And what is more unrealistic than the idea of an alien come to save America and the World? Or an Amazon leaving an Island of Women to save Man’s World? Or a son, marked by the tragic deaths of his parents, becoming the Savior of His City? Or that Said Amazon can fight for my rights in those assuredly confining and rather counterproductive satin tights, anyhow?

There is something to be said, then, for the Power of Fantasy. For the Suspension of Realism, even if just for the 30+ pages of a Comic Book, or the 300+ pages of a Romance Novel, or for the 2 hours of a movie. We read because we desire some suspension of realism, no? We escape to fictional realms every time we open a novel, or step into a movie theater, or play a video game. We, as a Fanbase, desire some sort of escape from The Real World.

But, as many have argued before me, nothing mirrors The Real World’s problems better than Fiction, and Science Fiction specifically. 1984 discussed the growing anxiety over governmental spying, surveillance, and control. Brave New World warned us of the dangers of “playing god.” Lord of the Rings showed the disastrous results of environmental disregard.

But I say that the reverse is true, as well. Nothing mirrors The Real World’s capacity for Greatness better than Fiction, and Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Comic Books, specifically. Just as Mysteries are about making the disorderly orderly, so too are Comic Books about making the Alien Familiar, the Other a person not to fear but to aspire to. Superman shows us that even the one who should be The Ultimate Outsider can be the one to Save Us All. Wonder Woman demonstrates that what seems to be radical inclusive feminism is in fact an attempt to save all of us, men and women alike. Batman shows us that with Great Anguish comes Great Resolve, and that Good can be born out of Evil. As does Spider-Man. As does Catwoman. As does Big Barda.

The more we depend on essentialist arguments, Gentle Reader—those arguments that claim this or that is for boys or girls, but never the twain shall meet—the more we isolate ourselves. The more we separate, and separate, ad nauseam. But let us not be so eager to embrace social constructivism, either. Let us instead think not in terms of Either/Or, but rather in shades of gray. Further, let us determine why some insist, yes, insist on claiming separatism For Us All.

When This Humble Author was growing up, Barbie said, quite loudly and publicly, “Math is Hard!” And so began the debate over whether this item of Pop Culture, this Doll, this Inanimate, Programmed Thing could have any bearing on Young Girls’ Lives. So began the discovery that elementary schools actually reinforced this idea that “Math is Hard!” if you were a girl. Unbeknownst to educators, almost an entire educational system was geared towards Feminine=Humanities, Masculine=Math and Science. And now, some twenty years later, we are still struggling to make sure our girls are encouraged in both literature *and* math, and our boys are encouraged in both math *and* literature. Colleges and Universities, even, work hard to encourage more women to go into engineering, hard sciences, and advanced math and computer fields. Because there just aren’t that many women there, even now, twenty years later.

All because of an essentialist argument that no one was even aware was being made.

All because a doll once said, “Math is Hard!"

10 comments:

D. Edward Sauve said...

Well said, Reads. Well said.

Amy Reads said...

Hi Edward,
Well said, Reads. Well said.

Thanks, Friend, for the kudos, for the read, always.
Ciao,
Amy

Chris said...

I REALLY enjoyed reading this post Amy. I couldn't agree with you more. I get so sick of everyone praising all of these novels and comics for doing such a good job of pointing out what's WRONG with our world or how HORRIBLE of a direction our world is headed towards. I, like you, tend to actually get a few positive things out of these same novels. I can read the same book or comic, and think..."it sure is a good thing that we're nowhere near being a civilization like that." People tend to focus on the negative too easily these days. Where's the love, man?!

Ami Angelwings said...

Excellent posts :D

What you said meant a lot to me, for reasons I dun rly want to talk about right now XD

But it did :)

And you're absolutely right :)

Amy Reads said...

Hi Chris,
I REALLY enjoyed reading this post Amy. I couldn't agree with you more. I get so sick of everyone praising all of these novels and comics for doing such a good job of pointing out what's WRONG with our world or how HORRIBLE of a direction our world is headed towards. I, like you, tend to actually get a few positive things out of these same novels. I can read the same book or comic, and think..."it sure is a good thing that we're nowhere near being a civilization like that." People tend to focus on the negative too easily these days. Where's the love, man?!

I agree that we occasionally get Caught Up in the idea of negativity, particularly with science fiction. So often, sci fi ends with the moral "there is no bigger monster than humanity," which is certainly a Lesson To Be Learned. But books are beautiful things, too.

Further, it frustrates me to see people discount comics, genre fiction, movies, etc. as *just* comics, genre fiction, movies, etc. The argument "It's Just Pop Culture" is decidedly old and rather tired, don't you think? It's never "Just Pop Culture," as Barbie's embarrassingly loud verbal faux pas demonstrates.

Thanks, as always, for reading!
Ciao,
Amy

Amy Reads said...

Hi Ami,
First, is it pronounced "Ah-mei" or "A-me"? I hear the first in my head, but suspect it may be the latter.

Excellent posts :D

Thanks!

What you said meant a lot to me, for reasons I dun rly want to talk about right now XD
But it did :)


:) I'm so glad it meant something to you! I am a huge advocate of popular culture (as This Blog Can Attest To!) and I think when we disagree with something in said culture, we try to pass it off as fluff, when really, it's not. Comics are important to me. Books are important to me. Fashion is important to me.

And you're absolutely right :)

Flattery swells my head, Friend!

:)

And thanks, always, for reading.
Ciao,
Amy

Scott said...

I've actually read a few romance novels, because even I'm in the mood to read about relationships that turn out okay every once in a while. But it's not really my favored genre. I prefer science fiction and fantasy, because that's where all the wild ideas are. I see romance (and straightforward fiction) as rather limited. Of course, it's always possible that if I can't think about how a romance or straightforward piece of fiction can be made interesting, then maybe I'm the one whose ideas are limited. I generally feel that stories should be in some way extraordinary, even during the more mundane moments.

Amy Reads said...

Hi Scott,
I've actually read a few romance novels, because even I'm in the mood to read about relationships that turn out okay every once in a while. But it's not really my favored genre. I prefer science fiction and fantasy, because that's where all the wild ideas are. I see romance (and straightforward fiction) as rather limited. Of course, it's always possible that if I can't think about how a romance or straightforward piece of fiction can be made interesting, then maybe I'm the one whose ideas are limited. I generally feel that stories should be in some way extraordinary, even during the more mundane moments.

I adore romantic storylines, because I am, at heart, a Romantic. I want love and happy endings. But the romance genre has become very formulaic for me, so that I was typing each book down *to the chapter* in which X or Y event would take place. Some mysteries suffer from this as well (as any genre fiction may) but romances became a bit too formulaic for me.

I also realized, in retrospect, that my reading tastes began to change when I began writing creatively, seriously. I stopped reading several authors who were too formulaic, too lazy with writing, and just plain *bad*. And I started reading a whole slew of interesting people instead.
Ciao,
Amy

Scott said...

I also realized, in retrospect, that my reading tastes began to change when I began writing creatively, seriously. I stopped reading several authors who were too formulaic, too lazy with writing, and just plain *bad*. And I started reading a whole slew of interesting people instead.

Same thing happened to me. I don't write very much, but I'm an editor, so I've been programmed to pay attention to things that I'd rather just ignore. I used to love reading Peter David's Star Trek books, but now I've picked up on too much of his style.

One of the things I hate the most about a story is transparency. Knowing or sensing why an author makes certain creative decisions breaks my suspension of disbelief and pulls me out of the story, even if the story is exceptional. The best authors, in my opinion, are the ones that allow me to leave myself behind, shutting off my hyperanalytical powers.

I'm reminded of a Jodi Picoult story that my mother read, in which a character dies senselessly and needlessly at the end, for no other reason, apparently, than to jerk the reader around. It was supposedly readable until that point. Bleh.

Comics suffer a lot from transparency. When a character dies, for instance, our first response tends to be, "They're trying to boost sales." And I think people still haven't forgiven Bendis for putting Spidey and Wolvie on the Avengers. We're not supposed to be aware of creative decisions as we read... just the story.

Amy Reads said...

Hi Scott,
Same thing happened to me. I don't write very much, but I'm an editor, so I've been programmed to pay attention to things that I'd rather just ignore. I used to love reading Peter David's Star Trek books, but now I've picked up on too much of his style.

My novel is a Mystery, so in writing it, I had to work out patterns, red herrings, etc. I was hyper-analyzing everything I read as a result, and while that serves me well in academia (as I am paid to hyper-analyze!) it wasn't as much fun in my recreational reading.
That is, I don't mind picking apart plot and purpose, but when I was getting down and dirty with the nitty gritty, I knew something had to change.
Of course, that meant my tastes were changing, too, which was a good thing.

One of the things I hate the most about a story is transparency. Knowing or sensing why an author makes certain creative decisions breaks my suspension of disbelief and pulls me out of the story, even if the story is exceptional. The best authors, in my opinion, are the ones that allow me to leave myself behind, shutting off my hyperanalytical powers.

See, I don't even think it matters what an author meant to do, because once the story leaves the author's hands, she no longer has creative control over it.
I wrote a post about it last year on the old blog. I'll see if I can find it, if you're interested.

I'm reminded of a Jodi Picoult story that my mother read, in which a character dies senselessly and needlessly at the end, for no other reason, apparently, than to jerk the reader around. It was supposedly readable until that point. Bleh.

I've not read any of Ms. Picoult's works in full, but I've read the first few pages (my touchstone for any new lit I come across) and it just wasn't my thing.

Comics suffer a lot from transparency. When a character dies, for instance, our first response tends to be, "They're trying to boost sales." And I think people still haven't forgiven Bendis for putting Spidey and Wolvie on the Avengers. We're not supposed to be aware of creative decisions as we read... just the story.

There are entire fields of study out there that try and diagnose just that: creative decisions. I guess I'm a bit insulated from it, given my field. I don't mind knowing the creative decisions; they don't change how I read the story. But I *can't* let them affect me, because then, my professional work goes a bit sack of hammers.
Does that make sense?
It's been a long day, so Apologies if it doesn't!
Ciao,
Amy