Frank Miller & OWS: When politics infiltrate entertainment
|FEATURES - OFFWORLD|
Do Miller's recent rants against the OWS taint his creations? Only if you haven't been paying attention...
“I’ve got a great story and I’ve been looking for, it’s a ‑‑ it’s a great story and it needs to be a graphic novel and a graphic novel TV show. And I’ve been looking for the right person to write it.” – Glenn Beck on Frank Miller, 2011.
Being a ‘fan’ means many things to many people. To a troublingly large section of the population, it apparently means dressing as Knuckles the Echidna and sobbing alone in front of a mirror, while to others it simply means an interest that goes slightly beyond the causal. One thing common to all fans, from those who carve “QT ROX U3 SUX” into the side of a burning dog before throwing it through a friend’s window, to those who just happen to know slightly more about Batman than most, is the willingness to let their interest – at least partially – define who they are.
I’m not just talking about those with facial tattoos of Captain Bucky O’Hare, or couples who name their child ‘ZZ9 Plural Z Alpha’, I’m talking about people who may own a couple of Venture Bros boxsets, or an Achewood poster. Even a passing interest – in football, comics or chess – will have an impact on who you are. For the nerdier hobbies it’s perhaps most obvious. References are dropped in conversation with like-minded chums, speech patterns change in response to long-term absorption of particularly well crafted dialogue and, in extreme cases, the way you process the world itself will be changed. After all, who hasn’t played Minecraft for twelve hours straight before going to bed with cubes of stone etched across their eyelids?
What we love becomes part of who we are; for that, we love it all the more.
However, this kind of internalisation of a creative work can often go both ways. Not only do you allow the work to alter your thoughts and opinions, but you also allow yourself to project those characteristics you most admire in yourself onto the creator
It makes you feel better. You feel closer to the work – you don’t just like it because it’s funny or moving, you like it because both you and the creator share a bond. If you met in a bar you’d get on like a house on fire! They’d ‘like’ all of your Facebook posts and re-tweet all of your tweets. Life would be a strawberry-scented wonderland of shared jokes and longing looks. Sure, they may occasionally produce something that doesn’t quite sit right with your world view, but you can let that slide. They’re probably being ironic. Or subversive.
Oh. They’ve done it again.
Maybe they’re trying to make a point?
There then begins a frantic battle to clutch at as many straws as possible. Your brain will perform any number of strange leaps and painful contortions, desperate to ignore the horrible thought that this person may well be the type you'd do your best to avoid at a party.
It's an oddly selfish way of looking at creativity. I was recently pointed towards RatFist, a comic by Earthworm Jim creator Doug TenNapel. I loved Earthworm Jim as a child (I still do, despite how vindictively hard the Megadrive game is) and so I leapt into RatFist with gusto. I had a whale of a time. It was weird, funny, imaginative and wonderfully drawn. I was thrilled to have found A New Thing.
Then, suddenly, the tone shifted. From an engaging and off-the-wall story about a mutated superhero, it mutated itself into a strange objectivist fantasy. From nowhere, the tone shifted and what was at first a suitably silly story became a strange, awkwardly-constructed attack against the welfare state.
I couldn't believe it. I felt cheated, betrayed. How could TenNapel do this to me? How could he retrospectively ruin Earthworm Jim with his watered-down, Ayn Rand-flavoured political punditry? What was he thinking?
The answer is obvious to anyone with even half a brain. The problem wasn't with TenNapel's work, it was with me.
I've had a connection to Earthworm Jim since childhood. I loved the show, the game, the comics - everything. Even now, if someone pointed me in the direction of a good statue of Jim in his super-suit it would immediately take pride of place in my living room, visitors be damned! It has been a part of my life for so long that it actually felt like it was a part of me. Discovering that my comfortable, liberal views weren't held by the creator was like a punch to the gut. All of my previous enjoyment had been coloured, tainted by newly-expressed right-wing politics splashed across the page. It was like finding out that the Chuckle Brothers were horse murderers, or hearing Andi Peters deliver a sermon on the benefits of burning down orphanages, live on Radio 4.
It wasn’t, of course.
There was no betrayal. No taint. No sacred icon defiled by the clammy fingers of supply-side economics. There was just an artist expressing himself in a way which he saw fit. I was still disappointed, of course, but I was disappointed in the smug, superior way one can feel when others don’t share your world view.
When I read Frank Miller's angry, frightened word pile on the Occupy Wall Street protests, my feelings couldn't have been more different.
The shock I felt from RatFist's sudden political sermonising came because it was so unexpected. RatFist, like Earthworm Jim before it, had been something which I identified with easily. I wore my fondness for it on my sleeve. I certainly hadn't discerned any hints towards a kind of politics which is so profoundly alien to my own, unless you count a princess being crushed by a falling cow as a proud statement on the benefits of rational self- interest.
Miller's stuff, on the other hand, I've always had more trouble getting on with. Sin City is beautifully illustrated and tremendous fun, while The Dark Knight Returns is a fascinating take on Batman's future, but neither give me anything more than a visceral thrill. I'm simply not able to see parts of myself in worlds where all possible problems are solved with Fists and Anger, while all possible women are Beautiful and Deadly Hookers with Hearts of Gold.
Frank Miller’s reality is far removed from mine. In my world, there are very few situations that can't be solved with a nice chat over a cup of tea, whereas I get the strong impression that Miller can't even arrange for the milkman to bring an extra pint without holding the poor chap’s face against a belt sander and screaming about dairy's dark betrayal. Since the events of September the eleventh, he seems to have got worse. Terrible Fear seems to be throttling his brainstem, causing his creative lobes to blacken and swell. Islam! He shouts, as he’s being tucked in at night, Danger! His American flag hot water bottle offering little comfort...
This is why I was more surprised by the public reaction to his comments than to the comments themselves. Why were they shocked? Sure, he was being extremely wrongheaded and vindictive, but his words were shot through with Fear. Haven't you heard of Islamification? Why aren't you as scared as I am? Why are you trying to improve your futures when you could be dying in a desert? Hippies! Hippies and rapists! Coming out of the walls and stealing my biscuits! My biscuits!
Those astonished by his remarks, or the out of character remarks of any beloved creator, ought to take a few moments to think about where that shock comes from. It's nice to think of comics as being welcoming and liberal – Superman took down the KKK, after all – but it's important to consider that any varied pool of people is bound to have a varied pool of opinions. Having a strong fondness for an artist’s work does not confer any say over how the artist thinks, any more than eating at a restaurant allows you to tell the chef how to vote. Something that feels unique and personal, something that speaks to you, will also speak to thousands and thousands of others. By all means, enjoy it. Take its message to heart; just don't make the mistake of thinking that it was written just for you.
Does it taint his previous work? I don't think so. You may re-read it with different ideas in mind and you may appreciate the story in a slightly different way, but it is ultimately the reader’s choice to look for the Fear. If you set your mind to it, you'll see terrified ranting across every page, yourself inching closer to Miller’s lonely, paranoid world.
Or, you can ignore it. You can enjoy the works of the artist without ascribing to their views. Miller may have started burbling purple prose across his blog like a spiteful, washed-up Hunter Thompson, while Doug TenNapel can craft a suit of armour out of copies of Atlas Shrugged and scream at streetlights for all I care; I’ll take note of their views, respectfully disagree, and enjoy the work I’ve always enjoyed.
That is, of course, until Alan Moore speaks out in favour of the Tories...
IF YOU ENJOYED THIS ARTICLE, PLEASE HELP SUPPORT OUR SITE, AT NO COST WITH ONE CLICK ON THE FACEBOOK 'LIKE' BUTTON BELOW:
If you're interested in writing for Shadowlocked (disc and screening reviews, etc, or just getting some extra coverage for your extraordinary writing talent, get in touch with us.