Note: If you haven't read Culture and Comics Need Multicultural Perspective, read it first. Then return here to continue.
>> Is it really that simple? <<
Yes, pretty much. I could discuss this subject at length, but my summation would remain reasonably accurate.
>> You could easily argue that it was the "might makes right" policy of the Soviet Union that kept the peace in the Balkans, and that Slobodan Milosevic sees himself as a hero of his people, acting in defense of his "culture." <<
These cultures are rooted in Western thought as much as America's is. If the "other side" also thinks violence is the solution, I'm not sure how that contradicts my case. Sounds like an example of "two wrongs don't make a right."
>> The motif of the lone hero goes back a long way, and has little to do with the frontier mentality. <<
The frontier mentality goes back a long way too. Empires such as Egypt and Rome felt they had the right to expand indefinitely. They defined themselves in contrast to the "others" they confronted on their borders.
>> Actually, Native American literature is full of violent loners, including giants like Glooskap, and giant-killers like Chekaubaewiss. <<
Full? "Full" of isolated examples, maybe.
Some of these heroes slew monsters in the "mythic" past when people first appeared. These legends are akin to the legends of the Greek Titans. They're a form of pre-history and not part of the repertoire of stories intended to guide behavior.
In the more "current" stories...sure, sometimes a protagonist kills someone who opposes him. But the stories almost never dwell on violence. Killing is usually incidental to the protagonist's real goal, which is to find or retrieve something.
More important, you ignored the thrust of my argument. It wasn't that Native stories are the opposite of Western stories in content. In fact, I didn't say anything about the content of Native stories at all.
My statement about Western stories had several parts: lone...hero...defeats...forces...of evil...etc. You showed you could take a part in isolation and find a Native story to match it. Great. But as I wrote the statement, it's the cumulative effect, the combination, that's perversely Western.
If you want to compare the typical Western story with the typical Native story, let's do it. The exercise should prove illuminating:
Western story: The protagonist is a young alpha male, unless it's a fairy tale for children.
Native story: The protagonist may be a boy or a girl, or an old man or woman. It may be an animal, since animals are considered people also. Often there's more than one protagonist: a father and son, a man and his wife or wife-to-be, or two or more siblings.
Western story: The protagonist acts alone and succeeds through his own efforts.
Native story: The protagonist calls upon humans and animals for aid. These acquaintances provide assistance necessary to advance the story.
Western story: The protagonist is a hero recognized as a special or honored person, often the son of a god or king.
Native story: The protagonist is a common person equal to everyone else.
Western story: The protagonist must defeat or kill an enemy to succeed. The enemy's death is central to the story.
Native: The protagonist must find some object or perform some duty to succeed. "Battles" are often contests of some sort, such as a race or a game. Deaths are quick and prosaic, not glorified.
Shall I go on? Again, you can find protagonists in Indian stories to match any of the Western traits. The relevant question is what's typical and what's not.
These points show the tendencies in each mode of thinking. Together, they paint a picture that's almost conclusive. You'd have a hard time finding a Native story one could mistake for a Western story or vice versa.
>> These themes are found in all literature, not just in the American psyche. <<
I never said they weren't. The point is, they're found much more commonly in American literature. A monster-slayer is merely one character among a thousand in a typical Native American mythology. In Greek mythology, almost every hero slays or defeats a monster at some point, and often two or three.
In addition, almost every hero has a name and a pedigree—a family tree. The concept of the anonymous hero doesn't exist. The idea in Western storytelling is to glorify the individual by his heroic deeds. In Native storytelling it's to educate by example.
>> You also fail to understand that John Wayne and James Bond are acting as heroes in the name of their community <<
Have you read John Wayne's America by Garry Wills? If you had, you'd know I understand Wayne's role well. He often played a lone stranger who had no legal authority or was outside his jurisdiction. He acted on his uncompromising instincts without consulting anyone.
M gave Bond the general outlines of a problem and told him to solve it. The methods Bond chose were almost always his and his alone. They reflected the violence of his cultural background (British imperialism).
Journalist Michael Sragow seems to have clearer view of what Bond was all about than you do. From the LA Times, 6/30/01:
As a boy, I whiled away sleepless nights reading comic books by the dozens and absorbing hundreds of heroic fantasies. In adolescence, my world was dominated by such dazzling and disreputable secret-agent role models as James Bond and Matt Helm, who on the wide screen or in well-worn paperbacks were as deft at women-handling as they were at manhandling, and equally capable of uncorking champagne and defusing nuclear bombs.
Did these fantasies have any wicked side effects? They might have fed into juvenile notions of male and Anglo American supremacy, but current events quickly obliterated my adolescent fascism.
Too bad not everyone can say he escaped from his macho fantasies of John Wayne, James Bond, Dirty Harry, Rambo, the Terminator, the Punisher, Hulk Hogan, Mike Tyson, et al.
>> It's the villains like Blofeld and Goldfinger who are the true loners, and they never win. <<
Didn't several Bond villains belong to SMERSH or some such organization? Whatever. The villains generally had vast resources at their disposal, including legions of henchmen and henchwomen. I doubt Bond has ever faced a real lone operator. And excluding his female appendages, he's always been a lone operator himself.
Likewise, the classic Western hero such as Wayne went up against a gang and picked them off one by one until only the leader was left. Again, the theme was one vs. many. The times when a group of good guys fought an equal number of bad guys were few and far between.
>> Those myths are predominant not because of cultural imperialism, but because they strike a chord in people. Always have—always will. <<
So do all the other types of stories, such as a team working to achieve a goal (e.g., Apollo 13) or a family caring for each other (e.g., The Waltons). So?
I didn't say Western culture has conquered Native or other cultures—although it has. My argument is that the Western culture inherent since the dawn of civilization is still guiding us in unhealthy ways. Your reference to "cultural imperialism" strikes me as irrelevant.
Let's concede that stories involving a single protagonist are a major literary form. It's obviously easier to tell a story about one person than about three or four. Then the question becomes: How does this lone protagonist think and act?
IOW, the question is what predominates in our culture vs. others. I've never heard a Native American story where the hero entered the scene with bow cocked, ready to shoot first and ask questions later. I've never heard an NA story where the protagonist was called a "hero," period. That mindset is almost exclusively Western.
>> I went to see [The Phantom Menace], and I really enjoyed seeing the story of some loners struggling against an evil force against insurmountable odds. <<
Wonderful. Next time a kid decides to take out an entire Death Star of imperial stormtroopers (i.e., his fellow students and teachers), we'll know where to put part of the blame.
Do you also enjoy Western movies where Wayne kills hordes of bloodthirsty Indian savages? Because many people have compared Star Wars to the classic Western. That you're touting this model as something to worship is precisely the cultural myopia I noted. It's not necessarily wrong, but it's myopic. It assumes our way is the best or only way to resolve conflicts.
>> the ethics and spiritualism of the film's heroes seems to be based largely on non-Western religions (Zen Buddhism not the least among them). <<
The dark side of Buddhism? I've never heard that one.
Obi-Wan could just as easily be saying "Feel the force...of Christ inside you, Luke." So I'd call Star Wars' spiritual beliefs akin to "generic theism." Regardless, the prevailing attitudes are Western.
>> These are the most popular films of all time, and they hardly champion monocultural beliefs. <<
Guess again. I haven't seen Phantom Menace, but there isn't a trace of alien belief systems in any of the Star Wars characters in the first three movies. That includes Jabba the Hutt, Chewbacca, Yoda, and all the WASPish people from planets such as Tatooine and Alderaan (which should be wildly divergent). About the only race with a hint of foreign culture is the Ewoks, a trivial example at best.
In case you missed it, people roundly criticized Lucas for not including nonwhite charcters in Star Wars (Episode IV). Hence the blatant insertion of Lando Calrissian in The Empire Strikes Back, which only highlighted the omission. That's how "multicultural" the Star Wars movies have been.
See my posting titled "Jar Jar Must Die!" for a short list of all the cultural stereotypes you've apparently overlooked in Star Wars.
>> So it can't be quite as one-sided as you present the issue. <<
Can't it? And what if it isn't? A good editorial-type article generalizes precisely to stir up reactions in the readers.
If you have your own explanation for why American is so much more violent than other countries, feel free to offer it. Then we'll see if it holds up better than mine is doing, which is quite well.
>> I know your intentions are good, Rob, but you really have to be careful of generalizations. <<
A lot of people have tried to punch holes in my thesis. Since I distributed this second draft, I've changed only one or two words. And since I'm hoping to get this published, I've looked carefully for flaws.
>> Rap stars, pro wrestlers, and video games are far more influential. The comic books are just spin-offs of the video games. <<
True, comics and cartoons aren't the most immediate or intense influence. That position probably goes to video games or movies. But comics and cartoons are arguably the most pervasive.
Relatively few adults—including me—could identify one frame of Doom or Quake. Relatively few could identify one lick of Snoop or Puffy. But almost everyone knows Popeye, Flash Gordon, Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Superman, Batman, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, Peter Pan, Casper, Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Tweety Bird, the Roadrunner, Tom and Jerry, Rocky and Bullwinkle, Charlie Brown and Snoopy, Dennis the Menace, the Cat in the Hat, the Grinch, Archie and Jughead, the Pink Panther, Yogi Bear, the Flintstones, Spider-Man, the Hulk, GI Joe, Big Bird, Kermit the Frog, Garfield, Calvin and Hobbes, The Far Side, the Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Pocahontas, Beavis and Butt-head, Barney, South Park, Rugrats, Dilbert, Doug, etc., etc., etc., etc., etc.
Add a couple hundred characters who are slightly less memorable and you have quite a list. These—along with their live-but-cartoonish counterparts such as the Lone Ranger, Lassie, and Gilligan—are some of our long-term cultural icons. They'll be around long after every video game and rapper fades into obscurity.
>> There wasn't much information [on the old version of your website] but from what I gather, your answer to the problem seems to be to add yet another comic book to the mix <<
>> that trumpets a person's racial heritage as their primary indentity <<
...and no. Wherever did you get that from—because I mentioned "Native American" exactly once, in the small print? Is that what you call "trumpeting"? I call one mention "mentioning."
Check the title: PEACE PARTY. Check the series synopsis: "Two young heroes fight everything from prejudice and pollution to supervillains and the supernatural." Check the company slogan: "Smart superhero comics for a sophisticated audience." There's nothing about racial identity there.
>> When you write a story that places a political or social agenda above the task of trying to understand the universal aspects of the human condition— <<
When I write such a story, I'll let you know. I haven't so far. If you saw our first or second cover, you saw no hint of a political or social agenda. Perhaps you missed the covers, because the only things they suggest is action/adventure. Which is essentially what our first two issues are. Gangsters shoot...heroes flee...cars race...etc.
If you have keen eyesight, perhaps you read the first seven pages of PEACE PARTY #1, which are posted on the site. In these pages, you'll find some talk of Indian history and lore. What you won't find is any statement saying the three characters are Indians. Far from trumpeting their identity, the story leaves it completely implied.
>> —rather than seeing him or her as an individual who may or may not identify with a particular culture, government, religion, or gender. <<
Sounds like you'd oppose a number of books on the market today. CAPTAIN AMERICA is affiliated with a government. The INHUMANS are an ethnic minority. WONDER WOMAN identifies herself by gender. The BLACK PANTHER identifies himself by race. The MARTIAN MANHUNTER identifies himself by planet. Any group labeled X-something is part of the mutant subculture. Any book labeled HELL-something takes a religious stance. And so forth and so on, ad nauseam.
If DC's and Marvel's books can pander to group identities, so can mine. So I think I'll stick with my mainstream approach. Some of our characters will identify themselves by race and some won't. Some will do it part of the time but not all the time. If I execute it right, it should be exactly as it is in reality, where group identification occurs frequently.
>> When you write a story that places a political or social agenda above the task of trying to understand the universal aspects of the human condition (love, suffering, conflict, faith, sacrifice, and so on)—
You left out the struggle for identity, a perennial theme. And countless works have addressed political and social issues in the context of more universal themes. As examples, we could start with Huck Finn, continue with most of Dickens and Steinbeck, and proceed from there.
>> —what you've got there is propaganda, not art, no matter how well-intentioned. <<
I'm clear on the difference between propaganda and art. Are you? Art doesn't have to eschew political or social issues to be artistic. Not even.
If you want examples of fine art based on political, social, and universal themes, check out WATCHMEN and DARK KNIGHT RETURNS, both of which were rife with sociopolitical commentary. Check out Doonesbury and Bloom County, two of the most influential comic strips in the last few decades. Or Pogo and Li'l Abner, two earlier examples.
If you want references on the small screen, check out All in the Family, MASH, or Roots. If you want them on the big screen, check out Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, To Kill a Mockingbird, or Schindler's List. If you need them in person, check out plays such as Antigone, Major Barbara, or The Crucible.
Heck, even the original Star Trek (unlike Star Wars) was riddled with sociopolitical commentary. Did Spock's self-identification as a Vulcan hurt ST thematically? No. That central theme worked precisely because real humans (including Native Americans) go through such conflicts daily.
If PEACE PARTY's "racial identification" is anything like's Spock's racial identification, I'll take the results. Four TV shows, nine movies, and a billion-dollar licensing, er, enterprise. All are based on Spock's multicultural conflicts, without which ST wouldn't have achieved the iconic status it has.
'Culture and Comics' links
More evidence of Rob's thesis
Another critic attacks "Culture and Comics"
(G)nat Gertler's criticism—and Rob's reply
Culture and Comics Need Multicultural Perspective 2000
Art vs. propaganda links
Indian comics: Art vs. propaganda
Defining great American literature
The political in literature
Why write about Native Americans?
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