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Posts Tagged ‘Comics

“I never wonder to see men wicked, but I often wonder to see them not ashamed”*…

Perhaps because they– we– are not, there has arisen a culture of shaming. Charlie Tyson considers the rise of online humiliation…

“Men punish with shame,” wrote the sixteenth-century poet Thomas Wyatt. It is the “greatest punishment on earth, yea! greater than death.” Other forms of punishment—torture, solitary confinement—may do more to break the body and spirit. But the primitive power of shaming, and the reliability with which shame punishments are administered informally by the community as well as formally by the state, make it an especially disturbing mode of discipline. The ubiquity of shame punishments across many cultures—from the penal tattooing of slaves and criminals in ancient Rome to the stocks, pillory, and cucking stool of early modern England to the practice in modern China, only recently outlawed, of roping together suspected sex workers and forcing them to march barefoot through the streets—alerts us to the likelihood that we are dealing with a human propensity that can never be banished, only contained.

An ambient culture of shame saturates the online social environment. On such platforms as Twitter or TikTok or YouTube the risk of humiliation is ever present. Some online performers have neutralized the threat of cringe through stylized self-embarrassment: comedians riff on their own narcissism; dancers engage in cartoonish slapstick, reminiscent of Buster Keaton or Charlie Chaplin (as if, on the internet, the history of cinema is replaying itself ), ensuring that they pie themselves in the face before anyone else can. The rest of us, fated to play “ourselves” before an unknown and fickle audience, must improvise other defenses.

Cancel culture, callouts, online harassment, mob justice, accountability: all of these terms refer to structurally similar phenomena (the targeting of the one by the many, in front of an audience), yet none offers a neutral description. What is decried as “cancel culture” is sometimes just spirited criticism; what is endorsed as “accountability” is sometimes gratuitous and cruel. Given the confusion and sophistry that mar discussion of online shaming, it is worth keeping two facts in mind. The first is that, regardless of one’s views about the merits of shaming in any one case, we have devised a social-technological structure in which persons can be selected virtually at random and held up for the scorn of thousands, as in the cases Jon Ronson recounted in his 2015 book So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed. The second is that these shame-storms occur not in a public square, as Twitter is sometimes misleadingly dubbed, but in spaces controlled by private capital. “Egged on by algorithms,” Cathy O’Neil writes in her book The Shame Machine, “millions of us participate in these dramas, providing the tech giants with free labor.” Pile-ons increase engagement. Our fury pads the purses of tech capitalists.

Skepticism about public shaming was once widely shared by leftists and liberals, on the grounds that shaming threatens dignity and tends to target stigmatized groups. Article 12 of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that people deserve protection from attacks on their “honour and reputation.” Shame campaigns might be deployed effectively, and justly, in response to harms committed by corporations or governments. But shaming citizens was another matter. A good society was supposed to defend its members from humiliation.

These days, shaming is more in vogue. Many commentators on the left, while rejecting the shaming of vulnerable groups (queer people, poor people, people with disabilities), see the technique as a valuable way of shoring up social norms. Some argue that it’s an effective response to racist and sexist behavior. Tressie McMillan Cottom recently argued in The New York Times that shaming is a corrective to a white-dominated culture: against the backdrop of a more open and diverse public square, “shame is evidence of a democratic society operating democratically.”

Yet in its insistence on conformity, shaming, even when harnessed for ostensibly progressive ends, has a conservative flavor. Indeed, though the American right may complain about cancel culture, it has an undeniable taste for public shaming. The right-wing Twitter account Libs of TikTok, for instance, has gained more than a million followers by holding up queer and trans people as objects of disgust. The account’s method is to rip videos from TikTok (featuring, say, gender-fluid teenagers talking about their pronouns), a strategy that should remind us that our theater of shame is not a single toxic website but an entire networked architecture. Conservatives have also enlisted the force of law to shame transgender people, as with bills mandating genital exams for young athletes whose gender is disputed. The ascent of Donald Trump, whose principal qualifications seemed to be his immunity to shame and his gusto for shaming others (as when he mocked a reporter’s disability and taunted Michael Bloomberg for being short), confirms the political resonance of shame in our present moment.

Structural problems in how the online world is organized have also deformed our thinking about shame. The most popular social-media sites are commercial platforms flooded with advertising and propaganda and run by black-box algorithms that exploit shaming campaigns to boost user engagement. A neutral public square this is not. The wide reach of digital life means that one’s reputation can be muddied in a matter of minutes; the speed and scale at which this can take place make today’s online shaming dynamics different from past forms of shame punishment. Technology companies have handed us weapons of reputational damage that are invariably set to hair-trigger alert. The result is an atmosphere of surveillance in which the threat of humiliation has emerged as an effective tool of social control…

A provocative analysis, eminently worth reading in full: “Theater of Shame,’ from @CharlieTyson1 in @YaleReview.

(Image above: source)

* Jonathan Swift

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As we mind our manners, we might recall that it was on this date in 1896 that Richard F. Outcault‘s comic strip Hogan’s Alley— featuring “the Yellow Kid” (Mickey Dugan)– debuted in William Randolph Hearst’s New York Journal. While “the Yellow Kid” had appeared irregularly before, it was the first the first full-color comic to be printed regularly (many historians suggest), and one of the earliest in the history of the comic; Outcault’s use of word balloons in the Yellow Kid influenced the basic appearance and use of balloons in subsequent newspaper comic strips and comic books. Outcault’s work aimed at humor and social commentary; but (perhaps ironically) the concept of “yellow journalism” referred to stories which were sensationalized for the sake of selling papers (as in the publications of Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer, an earlier home to sporadic appearances of the Yellow Kid) and was so named after the “Yellow Kid” cartoons.

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

October 18, 2022 at 1:00 am

“No offense to real jobs, but comics seemed a lot more fun”*…

It’s been just over 12 years since (R)D last visited Dinosaur Comics (though your correspondent checks in regularly). Ryan North— the creator of Adventure Time (comics), Squirrel Girl, numerous books (e.g., How To Take Over The World and How To Invent Everything),and other delights– is still doling out prehistoric profundity…

So much more at Dinosaur Comics (@dinosaurcomics).

* Ryan North

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As we parse percipience, we might recall that it was on this date in 1950 that the daily comic strip Peanuts premiered in eight newspapers: The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, The Minneapolis Tribune, The Allentown Call-Chronicle, The Bethlehem Globe-Times, The Denver Post, The Seattle Times, and The Boston Globe.  Its creator, Charles Schulz had developed the concept as a strip (L’il Folks) in his hometown paper, The St. Paul Pioneer Press, from 1947 to 1950.  At its peak, Peanuts ran in over 2,600 newspapers, with a readership of 355 million in 75 countries, and was translated into 21 languages.

First Peanuts strip

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

October 2, 2022 at 1:00 am

“What is the use trying to describe the flowing of a river at any one moment, and then at the next moment, and then at the next, and the next, and the next? You wear out. You say ‘There is a great river and it flows through this land, and we have named it History’.”*…

Ian Hesketh on “Big History”– its attractions… and, he suggests, its dangers…

Big History burst on to the scene 30 years ago, promising to reinvigorate a stale and overspecialised academic discipline by situating the human past within a holistic account at a cosmic scale. The goal was to produce a story of life that could be discerned by synthesising cosmology, geology, evolutionary biology, archaeology and anthropology. This universal story, in turn, would provide students with a basic framework for their subsequent studies – and for life itself. Big History also promised to fill the existential void left by the ostensible erosion of religious beliefs. Three decades later, it’s time to take a look at how Big History has fared.

David Christian first made the case for what he called ‘Big History’ in an article in the Journal of World History in 1991. He based it on an interdisciplinary course that he had been teaching at Macquarie University in Sydney that brought together faculty members from the sciences and the humanities. The idea for the course was to situate human history within a grand historical narrative that stretched backwards in time to the origins of the cosmos in the Big Bang and forwards to include the present and future development of the human species. The course promised to transform the way students were taught history by focusing on the big picture and what united all humans rather than what divided them.

At the time, Christian was reacting to a trend in academic life towards increasing specialisation. This trend played a role in further dividing the ‘two cultures’ of knowledge represented by the arts and sciences, but also led to divisions within those two cultures as well. Christian’s discipline of history, for instance, had grown fragmented into geographic and temporal specialisations, while narrow studies of archival sources were preferred to large-scale narratives that were more common earlier in the century. At a time when, in Jean-François Lyotard’s memorable phrase from 1979, an ‘incredulity towards metanarratives’ represented the era’s postmodern condition, Christian headed in the opposite direction…

Three decades later, much of Christian’s vision has been fulfilled. Big History has become well established. It is now entrenched in Australia where it is taught at several universities, and there’s a Big History Institute at Macquarie. It is taught at universities around the world such as at Newcastle University in the UK, Dominican University in California, and the University of Amsterdam, to name just a few. There is an International Big History Association (IBHA) that was founded in 2010, which has organised five conferences since then. And in 2017, the IBHA launched the Journal of Big History, now published three times per year. Several monographs and textbooks have also appeared since the mid-1990s, notably Christian’s book Maps of Time: An Introduction to Big History (2004) and Fred Spier’s book Big History and the Future of Humanity (2010).

Big History was in fact at the forefront of a broader shift to large-scale, scientific history. A very different attempt to establish large-scale history on a scientific footing was proposed by Peter Turchin, the Russian American evolutionary anthropologist. In Historical Dynamics (2003), Turchin sought to apply the kind of mathematical modelling associated with evolutionary biology to social processes, such as the rise and fall of complex societies. Closer to the Big History formula is the recent work of the medieval historian-turned-public intellectual Yuval Noah Harari. His bestseller Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind (2011) reconstructs the story of humanity, beginning with the Big Bang and ending with a lament about how humans have become God-like. A subsequent bestselling work, Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow (2015), speculated about what the future holds, based on the scientific story of life that was presented in Sapiens. The popularity of Harari’s works indicates that there is a public appetite for the large-scale, scientific approach to history.

Thirty years on, it is becoming clear that the issues that confront Big History are not unlike that of earlier attempts to utilise the cultural authority of science to write a history of everything. We’ve already seen that Big History relies on the same mythopoeic rhetoric that was central to E O Wilson’s works of popular science that yearned to project the same sense of wonder and meaning on to science that has traditionally been found only in religious metanarratives. This desire has a deeper history, however, that stretches to the 16th century, and has produced genres of scientific history that resemble Big History. This includes sacred histories that sought to elaborate and narrativise the historical events of the Old Testament as well as universal histories that sought to uncover the overarching stages of human history from Providential and secular perspectives.

There are similarities with more recent forms of large-scale history as well, such as the positivist histories of the 19th century, which sought to explain the development of civilised society as the product of a progressive scientism, or the evolutionary epics of the 19th and 20th centuries, which sought to tell the story of life from an overarching evolutionary perspective. What these forms of history all share with Big History is the desire to synthesise contemporary science to tell a story of humanity and to reduce its development to a set of laws or stages leading to the present and future.

…thanks in part to Big History, large-scale accounts of the past have moved from the periphery to the centre of historical thinking and writing. What Big History has done well is challenge the long-held assumption that has limited the discipline of history to the era of written records. As it is clear that we live at a moment when, as Dipesh Chakrabarty has argued, the previously relatively separate processes of human and geological timescales are now colliding, so we need new ways to think historically in order to grasp what is happening and how to respond. Big History provides one possible answer to this problem by producing a holistic, singular and universal story that seeks ultimate knowledge in the overarching laws of science.

But, much like the Judeo-Christian conception of history from which it derives, Big History reduces the vicissitudes of human history to processes that are ultimately beyond human control. What this means is that Big History necessarily privileges the cosmic at the expense of the human, the natural at the expense of the political. This is, unfortunately, a necessity that follows from Big History’s goal of uniting the human species under the framework of a story that is supposedly for everyone. It may make for a popular just-so story that appeals to billionaires looking to empty history of politics and divisions, but it offers little for those hoping to understand how we go about thinking through the problems and possibilities of writing history in the age of the Anthropocene…

Sweeping the human story into a cosmic tale is a thrill but we should be wary about what is overlooked in the grandeur: “What Big History misses,” from @IanHesketh in @aeonmag. Eminently worth reading in full.

See also: “On the wisdom of the historians,” by @Noahpinion, and this thread from @JoshuaRHall3.

* Ursula K. Le Guin

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As we contend with context, we might recall that it was on this date in 1972 that Spire released the first Christian comic books, a version of Brother Andrew’s God’s Smuggler and David Wilkerson’s The Cross and the Switchblade. They were primarily written and drawn by Al Hartley, who was working for Archie Comics at the time; the following year, he got permission to use those characters at Spire, and added an Archie series. Then, in 1974, the company added Bible stories and a series dedicated to younger readers including the Barney Bear series.

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

September 1, 2022 at 1:00 am

“I would say lenguage is that we may mis-unda-stend each udda”*…

Long-time readers will know that your correspondent adores George Herriman’s Krazy Kat (c.f., e.g., this post: the remarkable Chris Ware on the modern relevance of the seminal strip). Today, Amber Medland on Krazy Kat‘s huge resonance with Modernists throughout its run…

The Kat had a cult following among the modernists. For Joyce, Fitzgerald, Stein, and Picasso, all of whose work fed on playful energies similar to those unleashed in the strip, he had a double appeal, in being commercially nonviable and carrying the reek of authenticity in seeming to belong to mass culture. By the thirties, strips like Blondie were appearing daily in roughly a thousand newspapers; Krazy appeared in only thirty-five. The Kat was one of those niche-but-not-really phenomena, a darling of critics and artists alike, even after it stopped appearing in newspapers. Since then: Umberto Eco called Herriman’s work “raw poetry”; Kerouac claimed the Kat as “the immediate progenitor” of the beats; Stan Lee (Spider-Man) went with “genius”; Herriman was revered by Charles Schulz and Theodor Geisel alike. But Krazy Kat was never popular. The strip began as a sideline for Herriman, who had been making a name for himself as a cartoonist since 1902. It ran in “the waste space,” literally underfoot the characters of his more conventional 1910 comic strip The Dingbat Family, published in William Randolph Hearst’s New York Evening Journal. Hearst gave Herriman a rare lifetime contract and, with his backing, by 1913 the liminal kreatures had their own strip. Most people disliked not being able to understand it. Soon advertisers worried that formerly loyal readers would skip the strips and miss the ads. Editors were infuriated by devices like Herriman’s “intermission” panel, which disrupted the narrative by stalling the action…

For [E.E.] Cummings, who, with his flagrant anti-intellectual stance, privileged what he called “Aliveness” above all else, Charlie Chaplin was the only artist to rival Herriman. But technology disrupted both Chaplin’s and Herriman’s idiosyncratic work. At the introduction of sound in film in 1927, Chaplin said that the “spontaneity of the gags had been lost,” but what he really lost was his control of time. Sound erases distance; there was no longer a delay in which the incongruity between seeing and comprehending could bloom. In his essay “What People Laugh At” (1918), Chaplin noted “the liking of the average person for contrast and surprise in his entertainment.” Both Herriman and Chaplin orchestrated meticulously timed, silent dialogues between images and words. Slapstick—a word that originally referred to two pieces of wood joined together, used by pantomime clowns to make loud noises—is, in their work, a deliberately clumsy cleaving of the relationship between words and images. If people could explain themselves, there would be no time to revel in ludicrous situations, as when in The Kid, Chaplin, caressing the hand of a policeman’s wife, is accidentally caressed by her husband…

The unsung Modernist: “E. E. Cummings and Krazy Kat,” from @ambermedland in @parisreview.

Enjoy Krazy Kat strips here.

* Krazy, to Ignatz (Herriman one-upping Wittgenstein…)

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As we praise percipience, we might recall that it was on this date in 1948, in the Bugs Bunny cartoon “Haredevil Hare,” that Marvin the Martian made his debut.

“Haredevil Hare”: Bugs Bunny, disguised as a Martian, hands Marvin the Uranium PU-36 Explosive Space Modulator. (Animation by Ken Harris.)

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“The more beautiful will the piece be by reason of its size”*…

From the annals of animation…

A Boy And His Atom earned the Guinness World Records record for the “World’s Smallest Stop-Motion Film.”…

What you see on screen are individual carbon monoxide molecules moving around. The film was zoomed in 100 million times. The actual plot of the film is about a boy who bounces his atom around and watches it morph into different forms such as clouds and the word “THINK,” which has been IBM’s slogan since 1911…

And as to how it was made…

A Boy And His Atom is the world’s smallest movie,” from @BoingBoing.

* Aristotle, Poetics

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As we muse on the micro, we might lament that fact that it was on this date in 1944 that the final installment of George Herriman’s comic strip Krazy Kat appeared– exactly two months after Herriman’s death. The strip– aguably the best ever; inarguably foundational to the form– debuted in New York Journal (as the “downstairs” strip in Herriman’s predecessor comic, The Dingbat Family (later, The Family Upstairs).  Krazy, Ignatz, and Offisa Pup stepped out on their own in 1913, and ran until 1944– but never actually succeeded financially.  It was only the admiration (and support) of publisher William Randolph Hearst that kept those bricks aloft.

The final strip

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