Sunday, March 11

And I Believe You're Lying

Thursday night I got caught in a History Channel retelling of Thermopylae. I happen to be a military history buff. I happen not to be someone who breathlessly scans the trailers looking for the next must-see Hollywood blockbuster. So it was only after the first segment, after the fifteen minutes the History Channel had given me of remarkably hot, remarkably metrosexual, remarkably Northern-European-looking Spartans was followed by commercial spots for 300 that I realized the latest installment of Clash of the Pectorals, this Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon cartoon with costumes by Tom of Finland I'd already been bored by in 30 second increments was, in fact, a "retelling" of Thermopylae. Oooh, pinch me, I'm dreaming.

And I had no idea that this cartoon actually started out life as a cartoon, until Tbogg and his readers introduced me to Frank Miller. Mr. Miller is said to be the author of the thing by those fearless or foolhardy enough to temp the gods of Meaning; personally, I think "loving sculptor of its abdominal crunchiness" works better. And Mr. Miller turns out to be something of a wingnut.

Okay, I'm not going to start. I'm a small-d democrat with small-c catholic tastes. But just because I don't blame all Christians for the excesses of a substantial majority or begrudge the theoretically well-adjusted sci-fi fan his leisure on the grounds of the rampant Spock-eared juvenalia in its wake it doesn't mean I don't think both groups should be setting aside some time each week to think about it in the privacy of their own homes, if not in print. As the Amy Sullivans need to confront the reality of James Dobson, et. al., so too should fans of the Space Western or Gladiator Epic metaphorically mud-wrestle Jonah Goldberg or Daffy Davy McHugh or that den Beste character, and meditate on the tender mercies we all require and some receive.

Anyhow, it turns out that NPR accorded Miller the Fifth Anniversary of 9/11 spot in its three-pounds-of-squish-in-a-leaking-paper-bag feature "This I Believe" (tip o' th' fedora to darrelplant) so he could--you'll never believe it!--rail at dirty hippies and their spiritual leader, the Maharishi Mahesh bin-Laden:
Morning Edition, September 11, 2006

I was just a boy in the 1960s. My adolescence wasn't infused with the civil rights struggle or the sexual revolution or the Vietnam War, but with their aftermath.

My high school teachers were ex-hippies and Vietnam vets. People who protested the war and people who served as soldiers. I was taught more about John Lennon than I was about Thomas Jefferson.

Both of my parents were World War II veterans. FDR-era patriots. And I was exactly the age to rebel against them.

It all fit together rather neatly. I could never stomach the flower-child twaddle of the '60s crowd and I was ready to believe that our flag was just an old piece of cloth and that patriotism was just some quaint relic, best left behind us.

It was all about the ideas. I schooled myself in the writings of Madison and Franklin and Adams and Jefferson. I came to love those noble, indestructible ideas. They were ideas, to my young mind, of rebellion and independence, not of idolatry.

Let's get the quibbling out of the way first. Miller was born on January 27, 1957, granting him an adolescence and post-adolescent schooling running from, roughly, 1968 through 1975. Or put another way, the Nixon years. "Aftermath"? No. "Math" in this instance is from the Old English for "mow". The aftermath was the second cropping of grass which grew after the harvest. That is, there has to have been time for a regrowth before the scythe came out again; "aftermath" is not a synonym for "in the wake of". This might be mere trivia, but the distinction is not: what Mr. Miller celebrates in himself here is backlash. "Lash" is from Middle English; its meaning has remained constant, and I suppose the reader is familiar enough with it in the context of Civil Rights.

We assume that Miller has simply appropriated the arguments of the following decade of wingnuts who would claim that by the time they got to school civil rights was a settled matter and reverse discrimination the public shame they struggled selflessly to subdue. And we don't buy it from them, either.

Our second quibble is that simple math--meaning, in this instance, "to actually go back and count"--is enough to suggest that Miller could not have found himself spending his high school years caught between ex-hippies and Vietnam vets, dodging a constant wall of hockers, no doubt. We had little more than one half-assed surge worth of troops in country before 1965. Tours were twelve months. You figure out how long it took a returning vet to become a teacher, and then how long it would take for them to actually capture an entire Maryland school district. Bear in mind just how popular "teacher" was as an occupational choice for men in those days.

Okay, so maybe Frank's high school was the last one-roomer in Maryland, and he was team-taught by a shell-shocked vet and Snowflake, his new Ol' Lady. Or maybe it's all bullshit. Take your pick. Meanwhile, I'm giving odds on Frank having studied US History and World History, alternating one year each, between fifth and six grade; one more year in junior high, plus a year of history/civics in high school, minimum, as a requirement of state law. I'm guessing John Lennon was an elective, and was more likely to have appeared as Bad Example #1 in the burgeoning anti-drug campaign than as homework in English lit.

(This is where we reverse our age-experiences, since I can attest that by 1972 school anti-drug programs had gone from the 40s-era, Reefer Madness films of my junior high years to all-school assemblies at which the filmed images of Sonny and Cher assured us we could remain just as hip as they were without goin' on the needle. Which was more laughable was a toss-up.)

So here's the verdict: you were not oppressed. You were not taught by half-mad ideologues. You were unfashionable, and maybe unpopular, difficult as that is to believe about a guy who doodled superheroes all the time. Tough toenails.

Try giving up your exaggerated sense of grievance for Lent!* We say it again: you are entitled to pat yourself on the back for resisting Fascism if you were a Spanish farmer or a German shopkeeper of the 1930s. Resisting tie-dye and muttonchops in the 1970s, well, not so much. And as we have not just said many times but effectively demonstrated (to our own exacting standards), you, Mr. Dewey-eyed Jeffersonian High School Graduate of 1975, and you, Miss I Wanna Be Bobby's Bouffant resistance fighter of the Wars of Sexual Liberation, you were not forced to copulate with Negroes or Dance the Peyote Dance or Let Your Freak Flag Fly as a condition of future employment. If you found the Sonny and Cher show too Dadaist and Donny and Marie just a bit flashy there was always Hee Haw and Lawrence Welk. Duke Wayne and Dirty Harry were packin' 'em in at the General Cinema. It was the Smothers Brothers who got booted off the air. It was the audacious Petula Clark who touched a black man and touched off a firestorm. The happy white people of Happy Days seemed to have escaped any cultural marching orders from the omnipotent Left.

We suggest, finally, that the more serious problem facing public education today is how we begin teaching people that the world isn't wired to their individual asses. Bully for you, Mr. Miller, and Huzzah! for reading beyond your high school requirements. We could name a new literacy medal after you, but then we'd have to revoke it after reviewing what you've done to other people's literacy since then. Grade schoolers learn about jolly Ben and the Kite; middle schoolers read the Declaration. High schoolers get the Constitution, maybe some of the Federalist papers, perhaps Jefferson's "Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom" or Franklin's Autobiography. What more, exactly, would you have them read? How does that escape idolatry? Since History, the most abysmally taught and most politicized public school subject, gets taught linearly, how much are you willing to chop off the end? The Reagan Revolution? Watergate? Vietnam, the Sexual Revolution, the Civil Rights Movement, the rise and fall of the 20th century Klan? Have I just answered my own question?

*Tom Hilton, with much thanks.


Anonymous said...

I had a 'Nam vet in about '74, but I can't recall any others.

Isn't this just a cultural version of Dolschlosslegende, rather than an overtly political one? Or is it a new "false memory syndrome?" The hippies took over the schools blah blah blah?

Anonymous said...

Speaking as a hard-core comic fan, thank you! Miller is horribly overrated. He's good, but he's not the god everybody seems to think he is. His art's not even that great.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, fiver, Miller truly is one of the greats of comic art. I don't mean his drawings, which, imo, have been getting worse over the years.

It's his panel layouts, his pacing, his integration of text and art, that really makes him stand out. It's hardly an exaggeration to say that anyone interested in drawing comics should study Sin City.

That said, his more recent stuff is definitely lacking something. It's too bad he's such a damn wingnut too, and sorta surprising. I always kinda assumed he was toward the left because of his work for creator rights and, well, he made Reagan a hapless villain in Dark Knight Returns. I guess all the focus on manly ultraviolence shoulda been a clue.

Anonymous said...

I see your point, Jrod, but I still say he's overrated. I'd like him a lot better if he had somebody else writing his stuff. I'll give him credit for being innovative for his time, at least.

Anonymous said...

Nit pick: you mis-spelled "substantial minority"