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Speaking of Martians


Look, I like Dirk Deppey. I think he’s an interesting guy and I loved Journalista… But obviously we don’t agree on much. I mean, what the hell is this?


Finally, pornography is inherently cooler than superheroes to just about everyone who isn’t a sexphobic puritan or a hopeless nerd. This is why the porn industry rakes in billions of dollars worldwide, and Marvel Comics doesn’t. Porn rules. Sorry to burst your bubble, there.

Just a few things Dirk.

1. The Puritans were not “sexophobic”–this particular distortion of American history is a construction of the late H.L. Mencken (who had reasons for putting it into circulation in the 1920’s that needn’t concern us at this late date). The term “Puritan” refers to the Calvinist desire to purify Anglicanism of its outmoded High Church rituals–not to any prudishness on the part of the movement’s proponents! Puritanism was about facing the naked facts of existence dead on, without any of the comfortable buffers that a peasant’s religion like Catholicism traditionally provided its adherents.

2.Are we using sales figures as an indicator of what’s “cool” now? If so, then how “uncool” is Fantagraphics?

3.Finally, maybe I’m wrong, but I would guess that the porn industry gets more than its fair share of “hopeless nerd” money. Maybe even more than Marvel does. What do the rest of you think?


Good afternoon friends!
Dave

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22 comments

  1. 1) It’s not clear from Dirk’s post that he was referring to historical Puritans. It would seem to me that ‘puritan’ is an adjective while ‘Puritan’ is a noun.

    2) I’d be careful about romanticizing the Puritans. In early modern England at least the description ‘sexphobic’ seems to fit, if their reactions to their neighbors are any indication. See, for example, David Underdown, _Fire From Heaven_.

    3) These are the people who, once they had seized control of the government in mid-seventeenth-century England, closed the theater and banned Christmas celebrations because the excessive carnality of the former and licentiousness of the latter disturbed them severely.

    rob

  2. no one’s romanticizing anybody Rob–I just have a beef with the adjective… no historian worth her/his salt will ever claim that “sexophobia” was the prime characteristic of historical Puritanism, that’s all I’m saying… of course you’re right when you claim that they did hate Christmas mumming–who wouldn’t?

    Dave

  3. Well, first of all I don’t think Dirk was referring to historical Puritanism. That was my first point. But as long as we’re talking about historical Puritanism, let’s look at some other things they did once in power, since you’ve decided to ignore their abolition of the theater: a revealing document of the attitude of the English Puritans to sex is the Blasphemy Act of 1650.

    “The selection of sin in the…Act (murder, adultery, incest, fornication, uncleanness, sodomy, drunkeness, filthy and lascivious speaking), was a typical but by no means complete list of those that the godly helped to abolish.”

    [From Barry Coward, _The Stuart Age: England 1603-1714_.]

    Not to mention their attitudes towards Sunday sports and pastimes, and alehouses.

    rob

  4. Are we really going to have a debate here about whether it was fun to live in England in 1650?

    come on!

    it wasn’t fun in 1620, and I’m sure matters didn’t improve over the course of the next 40 years, what with all that Civil War stuff going on! There were a lot of hard-core peace, love, live n’ let live puritans at the time too (some of them belonged to “the Society of Friends”); but obviously, in a time of crisis, the right-wing elements of the movement are going to be in the ascendant!

    However, the energies unleashed by “puritans” of all sorts (and here you have to include “quakers”, “seekers”, “diggers”, “ranters”, “fifth monarchists”, “levelers”, etc.–you can’t just say: ‘this is what Cromwell’s government did, therefore, this is what “Puritanism” stands for…) led, by a series of steps, to all of the good things that committed liberals/humanitarians hold dear today… (which is not to say that there weren’t a lot of bad things about Puritan ideas too!)

    check out Chritopher Hill’s work… or Perry Miller’s!
    We can argue about this for weeks if anyone wants to!

    But maybe we ought to forget I said anything about historical puritanism ! Let’s just assume the man was using the adjective without concerning himself about the etymology involved–doesn’t anyone think Dirk’s statement is ridiculous on its own merits?

    Dave

  5. Are we really going to have a debate here about whether it was fun to live in England in 1650?


    come on!

    it wasn’t fun in 1620, and I’m sure matters didn’t improve over the course of the next 40 years, what with all that Civil War stuff going on! There were a lot of hard-core peace, love, live n’ let live puritans at the time too (some of them belonged to “the Society of Friends”); but obviously, in a time of crisis, the right-wing elements of the movement are going to be in the ascendant!


    However, the energies unleashed by “puritans” of all sorts (and here you have to include “quakers”, “seekers”, “diggers”, “ranters”, “fifth monarchists”, “levelers”, etc.–you can’t just say: ‘this is what Cromwell’s government did, therefore, this is what “Puritanism” stands for…) led, by a series of steps, to all of the good things that committed liberals/humanitarians hold dear today… (which is not to say that there weren’t a lot of bad things about Puritan ideas too!)

    check out Christopher Hill’s work… or Stephen Foster’s (the scholar, not the composer)…or Perry Miller’s!

    We can argue about this for weeks if anyone wants to!

    But maybe we ought to forget I said anything about historical puritanism ! Let’s just assume the man was using the adjective without concerning himself about the etymology involved–doesn’t anyone think Dirk’s statement is ridiculous on its own merits?


    Dave

  6. First of all, you can’t use Christopher Hill’s work unproblematically anymore. Too much good work has been done to criticize it.

    Secondly, you’re painting with a pretty broad brush if you’re going to include everyone from the Levellers to the Diggers under the rubric of ‘puritanism.’ It seems to me that now you’re being loose with your definitions. There exists a pretty specific definition for Puritan in early modern England, and most historians agree that Cromwell and his government fit that definition. He didn’t crush the Levellers just for fun.

    And I’m not debating whether or not it was ‘fun’ in England of the 1620’s. I’m taking issue with your interpretation of the Puritans’ attitude towards sex.

    Getting back to the issue at hand I don’t know how much of what Dirk wrote is really that objectionable. The porn industry _does_ rake in millions of dollars where Marvel doesn’t.

    rob

  7. Okay Rob–let’s just say we’re talking about radical protestantism then! I’ve never liked the term puritan anyway…

    My real interest is in the Non-separating Congregationalists who went to New England–a group which included John Winthrop, John Cotton, Anne Hutchinson, and Richard Mather. A pretty diverse bunch, and all pretty important… I agree with you that these folks didn’t go out of their way to promote “sexual empowerment” and even saw the body as a bit of a problem, but they spent a lot more time worrying about the idea that the human soul was inherently corrupt…

    they didn’t put any stock in cheezy body/mind distinctions, and that’s why I have a problem with Puritans being characterized as “flesh-scourgers”. That’s a Catholic hang-up.

    So, Rob, can I assume that you vote in favour of the proposition: “pornography is cooler than superhero comic books”?

    That’s what this little post was supposed to be about.

    Dave

  8. I don’t really have an opinion either way about porn vs. super-comix; I don’t consume of enough to make a value judgement. (Actually, I don’t think the last porn movie I ever saw was in the early 90’s, around the time I read my last porn comic.)

    They’ve struck me as somewhat similar, recently. Each follows their own set of rigid genre conventions. Each features a group of characters with ridicuously idealized physiques. In porn, I suppose, they spend all their time having sex, while most superheroes do all they can to studiously even the mention of it.

    rob

  9. alright Rob, that’s 1 vote (you) for “happy sexy pron”, 1 vote (me) for modern romance/”repressed” men n’ women in tights!

    I have forbidden myself from defending the validity of this genre ever again, so we’ll leave it at that!

    Anyone else?

    (and Rob–what about radical protestantism?)

    Dave

  10. alright Rob, that’s 1 vote (you) for “happy sexy porn”, 1 vote (me) for modern romance/”repressed” men n’ women in tights!


    I have forbidden myself from defending the validity of this genre ever again, so we’ll leave it at that!

    Anyone else?

    (and Rob–what about “radical protestantism”?)


    Dave

  11. Did you miss the first sentence of my post, where I stated quite clearly I don’t have an opinion one way or the other about the relative merits of porn vs. superheroes?

    Oh, and ‘radical protestantism’ is fine, I suppose. Coming at it from my perspective as an historian of EM England, however, the term ‘protestantism’ is so broad in its theoretical application to be utterly meaningless. So I don’t use it, instead preferring to use the terms the people I’m talking about used to define themselves.

    rob

  12. I didn’t miss the first sentence Rob–but the language you used certainly did sound like you were privileging the stories which feature characters who spend “all of their time having sex” over those in which the characters “try to avoid mentioning sex” (never mind that this is the most simplistic definition of the superhero genre since Domigos hit the Comics Journal Messageboard!) Was I wrong to count yours as a vote for porn?

    Also–I think that the term “radical protestant” makes a lot of sense. It ‘s not nearly as broad as you contend. Quakers & Puritans had a lot of positive ideas in common–they weren’t just “strange bedfellows” unified by their hatred of Laud… As in the case of the Hutchinson flap in New England, the radicals in power felt the need to silence those who wanted to take the radical ideas too far (in the ruling party’s estimation… not mine!)

    Dave

  13. No, I wasn’t voting for porn or superheroes. Like I said, I don’t have an opinion one way or the other; I get just as bored with too much sex in my pop culture as with too little.

    And about that simplistic definition– I know it was simplistic. I was just thinking out loud, really.

    rob

  14. sounds good Rob–and now that that’s out of the way…


    So! What’s your take on 17th century England?

    I’ll stop whining about Puritans and listen this time!

    Dave

  15. personally, i tend to find pornography a little depressing, like i’m admitting the failure to find human contact. i find it frustrating to *watch* people having sex and not participate. but it seems like a taste that could be cultivated as part of a larger realm of erotic life and culture, so i’m still planning to find a way for porn and actual sex to interact.

    on the most superficial level, an engagement with pornography (read as sex) might be a closer engagement with the “real world” than an engagement with superheroes, but this ignores the role of fiction and all of the interests you have in the meaning created by narrative structure.

    i keep looking at the “adult” section of the comic store, because i definitely find narrative more arousing (is that even the point? i don’t know. i keep meaning to make comics where sex has a purpose in the narrative. digressing a little bit, i hate in mainstream comics when sex is hinted at or shown coyly. i don’t know if you read promethea but there’s an issue (10) where jack faust is teaching sophie as promethea and they have sex for the whole issue and not a single penis is shown! it’s mind-boggling! is that a good representation of sex?) than isolated images but i often prefer the written word by itself which may reveal a certain puritanism on my part. (sorry, i couldn’t resist. okay, “prudishness.”)

    if porn is “cooler” it’s because it exists as part of the larger fantasy life of the world in a more primal way than most superhero comics. i was watching a history channel program about superheroes and it has michael chabon (i think) describing the early superheroes as super-“new-dealers” in which aspect they are much more potent fantasy than simply having people with powers exist in a fictional analogue of the world. the element of fantasy c

  16. the element of fantasy connecting most superheroes to human longing/nature/drives seems to be largely missing and this separation may be what takes them out of the mainstream and into the hypothetical “nerd realm” of collectors of information, like baseball cards, or anything statistical.

    i wish i had studies in front of me about the (largely-private) porn habits of america. i always wonder who buys it all and why so secretively and what the value is of encouraging fantasies that aren’t instructional or intended to be realized.

  17. this is all a digression, but i feel like we definitely definitely over-privilege the image in our culture, to the detriment of our actual experience and quality of life. when i find sex unfulfilling, i do feel like partly it’s because it’s a completely different experience than its visual presentation.

  18. “cool” seems to concern itself with the presentation of the body (a jacket, a stance, a cigarette brand altering the body through signification) in a way that moral discussions (through superhero comics) tend not to. maybe an interest in pornography is a diverted interested in the body?

    (just trying to find ways in which deppey’s statement might be correct)

  19. of course he was joking James, but the joke is perfectly consistent with his stated opinions on superheroes, ins’t it?


    Dave

  20. Not really, no. To the extent that porn is more widespread and financially successful than superhero (or any) comics, he’s right. But a short read-through of his blog makes it obvious this isn’t how he defines value in arts and entertainment. And he’s never placed any worht in “cool” that I know of. In addition, Dirk reads superhero comics, which he’s stated repeatedly:

    http://www.addblog.com/archives/2004_02_01_archive.html#107576003141024024

    I believe an ability to see your limitations AS limitations is the only way to evolve beyond them. The argument that this way is the only way to talk about these issues is a self-inflicted handicap.

    It’s not an accident that discussions of how interesting this genre can be focus almost exclusively on Morrison, Moore and Miller. How many other writers fill out this promise? How does the visual art support it?

    You’re right, you know. Everything that you say is in superhero comics can be seen there. Eve Tushnet, too. But to suggest that– even within the genre– this is the only way to handle such topics makes no sense. Is it a western if no one wears a cowboy hat? Is it a romance without one ripped bustier?

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