I took an arcitecture course in college, and had to do a report on a local building. I opted for a local church, primarily because it was literally across the street from the apartment I was in at the time. The pastor there was friendly, and provided a tour. I quickly noticed, though, a number of swastikas embedded in the tile floor near the alter. Probably seeing my gaze, he proactively responded that, historically, the swastika was an icon with very positive connotations and can be found in religious texts and artifacts dating back thousands of years. “Being with higher self” is sometimes given as the literal translation of the word “swastika.” It was perfectly normal and appropriate to use swastikas in churches built before the 1900s.
Adolf Hitler developed a specific version of the swastika for use with the Nazi party. It’s black and on a 45° angle, set in a white circle which is then set on a red field. Despite the specific usage, though, swastikas of any sort have come to symbolize Nazism and white supremacy. In part, this is due to the attrocities committed under the Nazi regime, but it’s also partly because Hitler was an expert propagandist and used his swastika EVERYWHERE. Not only were the banners and flags all about at the rallies, but it was clearly on the bicep of evey, single Nazi soldier. Sure, many countries incorporate their flag as part of their uniform, but Hitler’s swastika was exceptionally easy to read and very distinctive. It didn’t take long for Nazi ideals to seep over into other forms of the swastika as well.
This is the notion of symbol reappropriation. That an individual or group is able to take an existing symbol and bring enough identity to it, that the symbol’s original meaning is subsumed. It’s of course not limited to visual icons like the swastika; it can happen with textual icons (i.e. words*) and broader icons like Superman and Batman. The question becomes: when does it make sense to do that with regards to characters?
Batman’s a good example. The character, as he was known in the 1950s and early ’60s was very banal. A generic superhero who was pretty interchangeable with any other DC superhero. The only real difference was the costume; they all saved the planet from kooky aliens and used strained logic to solve crimes. And they did so for no other reason than it was the right thing to do. Batman essentially represented everything bad that happened to the comic industry in the wake of Seduction of the Innocent. Despite the “New Look” Batman introduced in 1964, the 1966 television’s popularity took hold of the character’s image. It was then in 1969 when Dennis O’Neil and Neal Adams deliberately tried to re-image the character into more of a dark detective.
Not that sales shot up (they didn’t) but what I’m talking about isn’t necessarily related to sales. What I’m saying is simply that they weren’t happy with what the icon of Batman represented, and deliberately went about trying to change that. The problem O’Neil/Adams ran into relative to that was that Detective Comics got the barest fraction of an audience that the TV show did, so their work wasn’t seen by everyone who “needed” to see it. Which is why we got “Bif! Pow! Wham!” headlines in newspaper articles about comics for YEARS afterwards.
Of course, that’s OFFICIAL reappropriation. It’s entirely possible to do the same thing more surreptiously for older characters that are more in the realm of public domain. How many times has Dracula been reappropriated over the years? Or, for a more complex version, how has Mr. Sulu’s image changed since George Takai took up a more flamboyant public image for himself?
Just because an symbol — whether it’s a chracter like Batman, an icon like the skull and crossbones, or a word like “otaku” — means something to you right now, that doesn’t mean that it has to continue to mean that same thing.
* The notion of “Big Brother” is one of the more innocuous ideas to come out of George Orwell’s 1984. Read the book, if you haven’t — he spends a good amount of time talking about how words get deliberately redefined to mean the opposite of what they used to me. See also: Fox News and Republicans.
Kleefeld's Fanthropology #10: An Interview America's Greatest Otaku, Pt. 2 -
from MTV Geek
“Runnin’ Down a Dream” is the title of a Tom Petty song released in July 1989. The video for the song was almost entirely animated and was a clear homage to Winsor McCay’s Little Nemo in Slumberland.
We were visiting a friend’s place near downtown Chicago yesterday. She’s in a townhouse in an upscale, fairly hip, urban area. As we were walking to her place, I spotted a copy of the day’s Chicago Tribune on the sidewalk. Not litter, but a copy that was delivered to someone’s doorstep. Still in a clear, plastic bag along a busy sidewalk. This was pretty late in the afternoon, mind you; late enough in fact that the paper had already begun yellowing in what little sunlight there was there. The paper was still there when we left an hour or so later.
What struck me was that the paper had clearly been sitting there all day with hundreds, possibly thousands, of people walking by. And no one — zero people at all — thought it was worth swiping.
When I was in college, very few people (well, my peers at any rate) had extra cash for newspapers and magazines. But we still had enough interest and respect for those media that when we happened across a free paper — one that was left behind in a toilet stall or one that sat on somebody’s front porch too long* — we scooped it up and it got passed around to a few friends. Today, everyone just ignores the paper as if it was just more litter. A crumpled McDonald’s bag or an emptied can of Red Bull.
This evening, I happened across a copy of today’s Chicago Sun-Times. Not unlike how I came across them in college, this paper was left behind at a booth in a fast food restaurant. So I flipped through it while eating my burrito. Now, granted, the Sun-Times is not as reputable a paper as the Tribune but there was absolutely zero in that paper that I felt was worth my time, even considering that I was also using that same time to eat! The process of turning the pages, only to find page after page of worthless tripe was mind-numbing. I tried reading, I think, two actual articles, but couldn’t finish them because they were so vapid as to insult anyone with enough intelligence to pass the mirror test.** Even the comics, which surprisingly did NOT include any of those old legacy strips that stopped being funny 50 years ago, were crap. It was a free newspaper and I still felt I overpaid for it!
We all know that newspapers have had problems trying to keep up with the internet. The web provides a much faster, easier, more efficient way to get news and comics. I don’t need to go into the details about all that. But I find it stunning that newspaper publishers still seem oblivious to this. I mean, they must still be making SOME money; they’d all have gone bankrupt by now otherwise. But to continue doing exactly the same thing that they’ve been doing, when that’s clearly not working, seems willfully ignorant to the point of stupidity.
Look, I know I’m not a newspaper man and I haven’t studied the newspaper business enough to provide anything I would even claim as a possible solution. But just killing time by doing the sam-ol’-same-ol’ while you earn less and less each passing year seems like a sure-fire way to write your own obituary.
* I think the general rule of thumb we followed was that if you were too busy or lazy to pick your paper up by noon, you either weren’t home or weren’t interested. Yes, this was totally rationalizing on our part.
** No, not the psychological study to see if animals/children have enough self-awareness to recognize themselves in a mirror. The physical test of holding up a mirror to your face and seeing if your breath fogs it up.
Kleefeld's Fanthropolgy #9: An Interview America's Greatest Otaku, Pt. 1 -
from MTV Geek
Running a bit later than I’d like today, but apparently Mother’s Day is a popular holiday for cartoonists. Here are the related cartoons I found on the subject today…
Richard Pini posted this a while back and I’m really surprised it hasn’t made the rounds yet. It’s a ten minute clip of the Mike Douglas Show from 1977 featuring Phil Seuling. He posted it because Wendy Pini makes an appearance towards the end as Red Sonja, but there’s a lot of other fascinating stuff there.
I like to take advantage of free comics. Not just the ones from Free Comic Book Day, but somebody’s cast-offs or giveaways or any other promo books. That “#1s Promotion” that Marvel recently did with comiXology? I went ahead and downloaded all 700-some books, even though I’m pretty sure I won’t read most of them. You might be asking yourself why I would do that?
The first possible answer would, I think, stem from a collector-type mentality. “He who dies with the most comics wins” or some such. And, to a degree, that would make sense in strictly a physical world environment. But it doesn’t really click in a digital space. Especially one like comiXology where users are basically just renting the comics, and don’t have the ability to store local copies. If comiXology — a single company that’s trying to make a profit — goes under, the books in that already emphemeral (i.e. digital) collection vanish.
No, the answer in my case is the same as why I’ve never gotten rid of any of my comics. I use them for reference.