Thursday, August 21, 2014

A Tale of Bags and Artistic Ownership

This is my bag.
The ratty glory!

I've had this purse since I turned sixteen.  It's been festooned with buttons for the past, oh, six years or so.*  The buttons have changed due to lost members of the fleet--a Watchman smiley face, several Andrew Bird pins, and most recently a gorgeously minimal B.P.R.D. button have been among the casualties.

One addition was from a month ago.  My dearest Mary had gone to see Yale Stewart, the creator of webcomic JL8, at a Brooklyn bookstore.  She picked up a couple button packs, and generously gave me a Batman one.  After all, it only makes sense.  I am the Batman girl.  I was delighted, and it immediately joined the clattering crew on my bag.  A couple weeks later, I ran into Yale at Boston Comic-Con and had a brief, awkward exchange about Superman. Life went on.

This morning, I read about Yale Stewart sending unsolicited "explicit photos" to female fans and women in the comics industry.**  It was disheartening, particularly hearing yet another story where comic fandom (that vast, faceless mass of apparently rampant testosterone) turned on the victims, doubting the already wounded.

Doubly so because of how much I enjoy JL8.  As much as I love Batman, I can't come out as a total DC fangirl.  For the most part I find the rest of the Justice League so painfully boring.  Ah, The Flash!  You run so fast!  How exciting!  Ah yes, Superman!  Such blue, so boy scout!  Ah, Wonder Woman!  The token chick!  Way to have those legs!  What wasted potential!

Image from here.

But JL8 handled that differently.  By showing these characters as children, all that purity and optimism made sense.  It resonated.  Superman became an admirable bastion of goodness, standing up for the bullied and protecting all classmates out of a sense of altruism, not obligation born of superior race.  Wonder Woman wasn't an empty figure head.  She became a feisty girl who could hold her own against her peers, and who knew it.  Suddenly, Diana became the girl every mother should want their daughter to be, imbued with confidence and assurance.  It was incredible what a slight change in setting and time did. The Justice League became an inspirational gang.

And then came this morning's news.  After reading several articles on the topic, including two apologies from Yale's own tumblr, I'm still not sure what to think.  Ii's a bit strange that this comes out right after artist Ulises Farinas issued some severe criticism about Yale's charity work.  But on the other hand, this behavior is reportedly common knowledge to those on the inside.  I'll leave it to the wiser, more connected people to comment on it.  For right now, I have to say that the dual apologies on his tumblr and the donation to RAINN, are about the best response you could hope for.  I mean, it would be better to not send the pictures in the first place, but at least the apology wasn't making him the wronged party.  It's the appropriate method of fessing up to wrongdoing and laying low.  Definitely the classiest way of dealing with a misdemeanor.

But I do condemn his actions, whether they are a misunderstandings like he claims, or if these behaviors are more widespread than the two women he acknowledges.  ~BARELY COHERENT RANT AHEAD~ OK, I understand that sexting or nude pics or whatever happens.  It's one of those things where I'm against it morally****, but not everyone abides by my own moral code, and I respect that.  There are those who feel powerful with exhibiting nudity, and who feel comfortable enough and have such ownership of their body that it isn't a big deal, and I respect the hell out of that.  But sending a picture in a sexting situation involves at least two people, and let's face it, the possible audience can be larger.  In my mind, it's something you have to be totally agreed upon.  There needs to be a level of trust between the two people, and I think that level is more difficult, nigh impossible, to reach in the courting stages of a relationship.  I think if there's any, and I mean any doubt as to how it will be received the photo shouldn't be sent.  Full stop.  No misunderstanding necessary.  ~RANT OVER~

While I was reading up on this scandal, I would periodically turn to Taylor and update him on the situation.  After reading through the apologies and sitting with it, Taylor had an interesting reaction.  He told me he felt a little guilty.  He felt guilty for hearing those apologies, and yet still strongly believing that this dude was a scumbag.  Taylor's read a bit of JL8.  He didn't love it like I did.  But he was so offended by the allegations that he immediately assumed that Yale was in the wrong.  Which shook Taylor up, because he felt like it was too quick for him to be so condemning of the harassment, and yet he was wholeheartedly anti-Yale.

To be honest, I was proud of Taylor.  My husband is the best feminist.  Thanks be for a career that forces acknowledgement and concern for the victims!  Taylor rocks.

My gut reaction was more muddled.  This might be shallow (my gut is telling me that it is, but my gut also wants cake, so whatever), but my first response was: "Can I still wear this guy's button on my bag?  How can I basically advertise the work of someone who doesn't respect women?"

Earlier this week, I was discussing Kanye with my pal Ricky.  To quote white girls everywhere, I truly cannot with Kanye.  Ricky thinks the man is a genius.  He's totally wrong, but that's not the point right now.  In defending Yeezy, he said "I don't expect my pop figures to be likable. I just want the art I love."

It was an interesting idea.  I often struggle with untangling the persona of the artist with the art produced.  Kanye's terrible image leaves me with too much distaste to ever objectively judge his music.  Same with a whole slew of musicians.  Taylor Swift, Bono.  My personal dislike keeps me from enjoying their output.

But on the other hand, I know that I would loathe Ernest Hemingway if I ever met him, and yet I find his novels and short stories among the more beautiful writings on this earth.  Most authors of weight require a severe disconnect between personal life and creative works.  If personal life required my approval, I could hardly read anything, and what a sad existence that would be.

But this isn't a dead author.  It's a man who is still present and active in the comics community.*****  And the role of women is already so tenuous and fraught in that world, that it's harder to permit any slight.

Which is all to say, tonight I'm left with a button and with a quandary.

*As a teenager, I was very ... clean cut is the word for it, I suppose.  I didn't put posters on the wall because I was nervous that they wouldn't look orderly enough, or that attempts at manufactured chaos would be a few inches away from true visual appeal.  I didn't color on my binders, and while I loved other people doodling on my arm, I wouldn't do it myself.  I had a difficult time ruining pristine things, and little confidence in my own artistic eye, so I refrained from any typical method of teenage expression.  This also reflected in my wardrobe, which until my senior year of high school comprised solely of flared jeans, pastel button-up shirts (to conceal the fat), and brown leather shoes.  And I wonder why I was an unhappy teen.

**Yes, this story is a couple days old, but I'm behind, OK?  You don't want to know how many old tabs are open on my computer and phone.  I mean, I heard something about a Batman vs. Superman movie?***  What up with that? 

***Note: joke.  Of course I know about and am already majorly conflicted, pitting my love of Batman against my hatred of Zack Snyder.  Who will triumph?

****The whole chaste, not-outside-of-marriage thing.  Within a marriage, I say knock yourself out!  But still not my bag.

*****Announced hiatus of JL8 aside.


Christopher Hill said...

Cat, your blog is awesome. I must admit that I am a big fan, although an uneducated one. I don't know much about what you write about, but that is what I love. I feel like after reading your blog I actually come away knowing something I didn't before, even little things like internet comics. :)It was funny to hear your explanation of you in high school at the end; I was the exact same way. Here is a comment to keep you going.

Cat said...

Thanks Chris! Comments definitely keep me going, so I seriously appreciate it. Glad I can share some of the love. Also, speaking of high school--one of my patented "stories" is the time my bro-in-law taped a cat poster above my bed (so I guess I had some stuff in my room), and how I was so embarrassed because you saw it when you answered me for the Christmas dance. Mortifying. ;)

Christopher Hill said...

Hahaha, I actually remember that poster quite vividly! I wasn't going to throw that out on the interweb so willy-nilly, but now that it is out... :) You don't have to blame it on your brother-in-law though Cat. You can just own up to your secret obsession with your own name and all things that share it. ;) I know what I am sending you for Christmas this year.