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You Are Free to Enjoy Pedantic Art! That Doesn’t Stop It from Being Pedantic

They literally had Wonder Woman say 'mansplaining.' lol
• April 10, 2015 3:03 pm

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As some of you know, I'm writing a weekly essay for Alyssa Rosenberg's Washington Post blog. This week, I wrote a bit about efforts the comic book industry has made to appeal to women, as well as some of the creative pitfalls artists can fall into while reaching out to specific subsets of audiences.

Now, I kind of expected some annoyance/pushback from my male-nerd friends, given that roughly the first 60 percent or so of the piece is about how the industry is creating content for female-nerd readers and carving out safe spaces for them to get interested in the hobby—something I wholly approve of! And I imagined that supporters of the neo-Christian-cinema—comprised of films such as God's Not Dead and Heaven's for Real—would be annoyed, given that I basically write that the movies are pedantic crap. And I guess I should've expected some pushback from the angry feminist set, given that I criticized the comic "Bitch Planet" and said that, you know, some of the grievances of longtime (male and female!) fans are understandable.

Still, I was a bit disappointed by this:

Screen Shot 2015-04-10 at 1.26.00 PM

Can't please everyone, I guess. I would like to expand upon the point that seems to have annoyed her the most: "Bitch Planet" is really, really dreadful, you guys.

I'll confess: I only read the first issue. I can't imagine purchasing another issue, except maybe to see how dumb the series gets. (That might actually be kind of a fun monthly feature, now that I think about it.) Of the recommendations I received at Fantom Comics, this was by far the most disappointing. Unintentionally hilarious, sure. But disappointing nevertheless.

As I noted in the Post, it's a comic about women who are sent to an intergalactic prison because they're uppity. One of the women is then murdered while in this prison so her husband can marry a younger, hotter woman. Because patriarchy!

What I didn't really get into was the essay at the end of the book by Danielle Henderson,* which drives home all of the lessons from the previous 20-or-so pages.

No matter how many examples of misogyny I provided, no matter how many times we talked about gender being a social construct, or how many times I asked them to question what, precisely, was natural about male leadership other than the fact that they said it was natural, one person always held out, one person refused to believe that women were culturally oppressed. … The striking thing about Bitch Planet is that we're already on it. We don't have to get thrown on a shuttle to be judged non-compliant—be a little overweight, talk too loud, have an opinion on the Internet.

This is a bit like following up John Galt's speech in Atlas Shrugged with a chapter-long discourse from a Cato fellow about the evils of government handouts. Or like letting Benny Hinn preach over the credits at the end of Heaven Is for Real. Or like including an essay from Chuck Norris on American exceptionalism in the liner notes of Toby Keith's "Courtesy of the Red White and Blue." God we get it.

Frankly, I was being nice by sticking to "pedantic didacticism." As my friend Jonathan V. Last, a relatively avid collector of comics, said when I emailed him,

Bitch Planet is so obvious and on the nose I was actually angry at myself for spending money on it. The least artful piece of fiction I've read in years. 

And that's the rub: there's just no art to being a pedantic bore. I'm certainly not arguing that art should be devoid of politics. Just that it should be done interestingly. For instance, I got a chuckle out of this panel in Brian K. Vaughan's "Saga":

The Horrors Saga

Even that's a bit on the nose, but it's kind of funny and subverts your expectations while also getting you to consider the ways in which we think about "the other." It's far more effective than, say, this scene in Thor number 2:

thor ceo

GET IT? CEOs don't care about working people, all they care about is the price of stock and they'll literally kill you to keep it up and they're evil and bad and wicked don't you get it please tell me you get it so we don't need another speech bubble here please please tell me…

Anyway.

You are, of course, free to love pedantic art. Lots of people do! Atlas Shrugged is one of the best-selling novels of all time for a reason. And some people are really convinced that boring pedantry is important, for justice or whatever.** Just, please: don't try to convince me (or anyone else) that it's not boring pedantry.

*I originally described Henderson in that Post essay as a "creator" of the series; rather, the book's writer introed Henderson's essay by saying she "has been instrumental in the development of this book since its inception, even going so far as to drive in from Seattle to spend a Saturday with Laurenn McCubbin and me, scrawling ideas on a whiteboard and talking me down off various ledges." On reflection, "creator's" a pretty big stretch there. More like "instrumental intellectual influence."

**I reserve the right to pants the first person who tweets "Clickhole is a parody site, stoopid" at me. No duh.