Posts Tagged ‘gender politics’
Ok, here goes. I have a long history with this comic strip. For those unaware For Better of For Worse is a long running family comic by Lynne Johnston. The comic ran for 28 years and one of its signature elements is that it aged the characters in “real” time. So as time progressed in our world, so too did it in the characters, a young couple whose family grows and passes through various generations. Her comic is noted for tackling tough issues: marriage, parenthood, homosexuality, death, birth, etc. [ How well it tackles these issues is another matter all together. ]
The comic runs very much like a family sitcom. I think I noticed this comic in my newspaper back when I was a young adult and I would glance at the panels and usually would move on. It never struck me as anything significant, as a child I preferred Peanuts & Marmaduke. About 5 or 6 years ago I was sitting at Chapters during one of my breaks and I picked up a massive anthology of her work, a compendium of 20 years of strips and it somehow infected me. I found myself pouring through the various collections she had released throughout the history of the strip. I found myself looking forward to the events of the family. “Farley is getting old, what’s up with that?” … “Wow, he just came out to his friend, interesting.” … “She’s working with Native Americans up north, didn’t realize they had it so poor.” While the strip is not always politically correct, I mean lets face it, who among us is without a single prejudice or bias; still Lynn Johnston tackled some fairly heavy subjects and it is nice to see a Canadian work of art so popular throughout the world examining the minutia of small town family life.
Recently though, the strip has changed and is not as “progressive” as it once claimed to be.
The comic began in September 1979, and ended the main story on August 30, 2008, with a postscript epilogue the following day. The various family members, all grown up and with children of their own was given some closure. Then, beginning on September 3, 2007, For Better or For Worse changed to a format featuring a mixture of new, old and retouched work, which allowed Johnston to “keep alive her partly autobiographical comic while not having to devote as much time to it.” On September 1, 2008, Johnston began what she calls “new-runs”, restarting her storyline with new art and jokes. The time frame appears to be 26 years before the present day.
Stephen Pastis comic artist and writer of one of the best strips ever made: Pearls Before Swine [ Which I urge you to seek out and enjoy. comics.com & gocomics.com ] made this joke about the new format: In the strip, Pig referred to For Better or For Worse as “that great strip that was gonna retire, but then didn’t, then started running repeats, then didn’t, then ran new ones, but then fixed up the old ones, and now is gonna run new old un-new new ones”.
Ok, so why this blog post on FBoFW you ask? With the new format I and I am sure a few others thought, this will be nice. Her character who started off as a young 20 something wife/mother ended up as a retired book seller, so this “reboot” of her strip into the “classic” era would put Elly back in a more youthful place, providing some more commentary on young women who juggle family and work.
This is not what has happened. One thing that I have noticed throughout this strip is the firm adherence to the “nuclear family” model. Yes, yes, fans will cite the those historic panels and moments where she did tackle issues: homosexuality with Lawrence a friend of Elly’s eldest child Michael who came out to his mother:
I’ll let you reflect on the way that Mrs. Johnston tackles this issue yet still conforms to basic stereotypes of how heterosexuals view homosexuality. Look at the last strip, oh you’re so witty Michael 😦 Ugh!
Anyways, you can see from this series of panels that she does indeed bring up subjects that people encounter every day and for the most part it is done well. I’m not saying it’s perfect but there you go.
Now with this reboot, she was afforded the opportunity to go back and let a whole new generation see how Elly transformed herself from a young house wife whose sole occupation was the household, to a woman who balanced a hectic lifestyle of work (at a bookstore, and subsequently bookstore owner), along with her husband, and children, and grand-children. It was a nice thing to watch her character grow and as much as the Nuclear Model was still emphasized, it did show a woman in the work force and not simply in a domestic capacity.
This “reboot” is what pisses me off. I think Mrs. Johnston has gone senile in her old age and has reverted back to a 1950’s Ward & June Cleaver idealization of the home. Her current strips reflect the standard: HUSBAND WORKS, WOMAN CLEANS AND COOKS model. Let me post a few strips from the past few months and you reflect on what kind of a message she sends to readers and young adults everywhere. Please, post some commentary and lets get some discussion going, it pisses me off so much. Cheers.
Over at the Washington Post Book section I recently read two articles that can essentially be summed up by the following two bullet points:
1. Males don’t read. (Only 20% according to the article.)
2. It’s because we no longer have strong masculine fiction, we’ve moved away from the Hemingways, Roths, Updikes, & Bellows of the world.
Let me explain.
The first article is a review of a book entitled The Signal by Ron Carlson. It’s not so much the content of the book that is the focus of this post but the type of ideological critique of how men read and how women read (as if we still need to gender reading and intelligence in the sexes, so glad we’ve learned from our past mistakes and history).
Ron Charles, not to be mistaken with the author of the book that is being reviewed, starts his article by citing that he has accepted the fact that men do not read any more and that this battle was lost long ago as he writes: Norman Mailer published right on this spot!). Chuck Palahniuk and his “Pygmy” vibrator gags notwithstanding, polls suggest that only 20 percent of fiction readers are male. Ian McEwan warned in the Guardian that “when women stop reading, the novel will be dead.”
But not to worry my fellow men, those 20% of us that are capable of reading intelligence, there is a solution. Take Ron Charles’s advice and read The Signal by Ron Carlson because there are some books out there just for us. This is when Mr. Charles refers to an article posted sometime last week by Michael Lindgren who seems to be mourning an older style of masculine fiction that he sees missing from the world of fiction and literature today. As he states:
What ever happened to the American Man? You know, the one who bullied and swore and drank his way through novels full of cigarette smoke, big cars and red meat? The one who’d abandon his family for a prostitute, or coerce his girlfriend into a threesome, or sleep with the housekeeper after murdering his wife? What happened to all those Rabbits and Portnoys and Rojacks and Wapshots and Herzogs? And does anyone really miss them?
Apparently Mr. Lindgren and Mr. Charles both miss this style of fiction. Both men seem to agree that what is missing from our literature is that rugged masculine style of fiction, the type referenced above. I think these gentleman fail to see something about all of the canonical American authors they cited above. People enjoy reading Hemingway, Roth, Mailer, Updike, not because of the types of rugged, misogynistic, arrogant, often homo-phobic male characters that they present to the reader, but IN-SPITE of them.
Their fiction and writing is beautifully crafted and enjoyable to read, the only problem is that often they seem to be a product of their generation which for the most part has seen fit to perpetuate patriarchal systems of authority and socially constructed roles of gender.
I take offense to the fact that first off, men do not read, and secondly, when we do, we need to have fiction at less than 200 pages and that it must be focused on rugged outdoor activities or some antiquated notions of masculinity that rely on violence and sexuality as primary themes of interest.
Why are Mr. Charles and Lindgren mourning the fact that as a society, writers today have moved beyond these issues. I am certainly not saying that we couldn’t use more writers like Roth or Hemingway, god forbid, the more the merrier. But, that style of writing was appropriate back then, writing today should reflect our current concerns and issues, and I would like to think that as a society we’ve progressed beyond these types of gendered readings and associations. Sadly, these two writers for the Post have simply reinforced and reminded me that we have not.
Mr. Lindgren writes: that men want to be bad boys, kind of, but they can’t quite get there. They’re too comfortable, and they like women too much, to be engaged in all that operatic despair. Why is this a bad thing?
Read and form your own opinions but I for one could do without this type of gendered bigotry.
I just updated some of the “Sites I Frequent” located on the lower right of this page and I thought I’d push a site/blog that I’ve been reading recently that I’ve enjoyed quite a bit.
DoubleX – a spin-off site from the Double X Factor, a blog on slate.com that focuses: conversation among women—about politics, sex, and culture—that both men and women listen in on. Double X takes the Slate and XX Factor sensibility and applies it to sexual politics, fashion, parenting, health, science, sex, friendship, work-life balance, and anything else you might talk about with your friends over coffee. We tackle subjects high and low with an approach that’s unabashedly intellectual but not dry or condescending. The blog is at the heart of the site, but we also publish essays, reporting, and other features.
The site is amazing in that it actively engages in intelligent conversation about culture, politics, and art and examines the ways that these issues impact people (men and women of all sexes and orientation). My only complaint is not with the site but an effect of the articles presented on the site, more often than not I find myself outraged at the idiocy of society.
As long as you’re prepared to be shocked and dismayed at the civil injustices and trampling of rights that occurs so frequently on women and men of all sexes and orientations, it’s something worth reading and exploring.
Recent Articles of Interest: