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Frank Miller & OWS: When politics infiltrate entertainment

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Do Miller's recent rants against the OWS taint his creations? Only if you haven't been paying attention...

Graphic novelist & director Frank Miller

“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...

See also:

The problem with Kevin Smith


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Comments 

 
#1 angry, frightened word pile PlaysWithWolves 2011-11-23 17:12
Funny. I was trying to find the best words for this "article", and then realized they were written right there by the author himself!
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#2 ??? Gabriel_Ruzin 2011-11-23 18:36
Quoting PlaysWithWolves :
Funny. I was trying to find the best words for this "article", and then realized they were written right there by the author himself!


Thank God we live in a day and age where people can anonymously sit at a computer and make pithy comments about an article that it's obvious they didn't really read or understand. Keep working at your attempts at 'humor'. You'll get there one day.
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#3 !!! PlaysWithWolves 2011-11-23 19:29
Quoting Gabriel_Ruzin:
.


Always refreshing to see one Shadowlocked author defend another. This particular author degrades his argument with ad hominem attacks. So much so, even this dull dimwit wonders if it's not projection of the author's own "Fear" (sic), far-removed reality and very "vindictive" behavior.

As an American non-Miller fan who leans on the conservative side of the battle, I fully -- FULLY -- understand the choice of giving up something enjoyable thanks to an author, director or actor's views or other media. After all, Hollywood is very liberal and so I make these choices very often. Sure, movie "A" looks fan-freaking-tastic, but does that mean I'll be in even the smallest way be supporting movie "B" which promotes the opposites of my beliefs? Or what about a movie like ~Avatar~ which combines A+B?

I presume my name is fully available to the editors of this site as I use it in my email address, so while I may be anonymous to most, I'm hardly so to those who can see the address.
But if it makes you feel better, pretend I read almost nothing and that I hide behind a mask like some Alan Moore comic character.
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#4 ?!? Gabriel_Ruzin 2011-11-23 20:49
I suppose that I will continue to not understand your point. Guy admits to not enjoying Miller's political views or creative output, but he gave another example (Earthworm Jim) of a character that he really enjoys created by an artist whose opinions he does not enjoy. The article was about dealing with loving a character and then finding out the person who made it is somebody you find disagreeable.

If you want to hate something out of turn when you find out that its maker is a liberal, go right ahead. Good for you. I think Tom Cruise is a terrific actor but I wouldn't walk across the street to say hello to him. Because he's nuts. Guy said that he has tried to rise above that mindset. And because of that opinion, he's an idiot? Ooooooookay.
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#5 RE: Frank Miller & OWS: When politics infiltrate entertainment PlaysWithWoIves 2011-11-23 21:40
Quoting Gabriel_Ruzin:
Guy said that he has tried to rise above that mindset. And because of that opinion, he's an idiot? Ooooooookay.


Why are you calling Mr. Kelly an idiot? I sure didn't.

Oh, and you might re-read his editorial, as Mr. Kelly did exactly the opposite of "rise above that mindset" in his own angry, frightened wordpile.
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#6 Alrighty... Gabriel_Ruzin 2011-11-23 22:57
We'll agree to disagree. Thanks for reading. Interesting topics inspire interesting discussions. :)
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#7 Burning Books Miso Susanowa 2011-11-25 12:48
It's not that I didn't enjoy Miller's work, but since he's putting out messages, as an artist I wanted to send one back; by burning my collection of his original 1st-printing works and publicly letting him know about it (with pix).

"OMG those were valuable!" people cry. Yes, they were. I can't afford the press Miller can command (or seduce) so I had to use my own capital.
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#8 Okay.... Mike B 2011-11-26 04:59
So Miller doesn't support OWS. Now the fans come out in full force screaming for his head. If he would have supported it, we would be reading articles about his being a genius, but since he doesn't, we read he wasn't very good anyway. Oh yes, and he's paranoid, clutching to his American flag water bottle. Whatever.

Liberals, tolerant as long as you agree with them. Don't, and they'll try and ruin you.
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#9 it wasn't the views... nothingmusic42 2011-11-28 04:58
i have to go on record as saying that i was a fan on frank miller's work; that has ended with this diatribe though. it wasn't that he he completely disparaged OWS, and just regurgitated a bunch of Faux News talking points. my problem comes from the fact that, in doing so, he also managed to insult his entire fan base! pulling out every stereotypical "nerd" insult is what pisses me off. "go back to your mother's basement" and "keep playing your Lord of Warcraft"? seriously frank, who do you think buys your comics? it's not the high-school quarterback. it's the people who have been fighting the very same crap stereotypes you just slung in your rant. so congratulations frank, you can count me in as a lost fan. i could really give a rat's ass what you think about OWS, but when you start insulting the very people who buy your comic books, you've crossed the line.
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#10 Miller and TenNapel Alonso 2012-04-18 10:04
Great article. I had the same "problems" with the exact same authors. It's like if I had written it myself.
Anyway it's great to enjoy them even if they don't fit with your political views, it makes it even a greater pleasure. At least for me. It gets boring when authors deliver the same thoughts as you. It's nice to see some confrontation, some real "provocation".
Sorry if my english is not great. Me some spanish fly.
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