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. You will be reading the graphic novel, Watchmen, and in preparation for that, we will be reading some scholarly articles over the next few weeks about five different ways we can use a critical lens to approach a piece of literature. This week, you read two articles: “Gender Evolution in Graphic Novels” and “Marxism and Consumer Culture.” Now that you have read these articles carefully, address the following discussion prompt:For each article, choose 1-2 claims or ideas that you found interesting. Include those claims word-for-word using quotation marks, and be sure to include a page number for each one. Then, explain why you thought that claim or idea was interesting. Be sure to organize your post logically, and make it clear which claim came from which article/author.
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Gender Evolution in Graphic Novels
Definition
Gender, a socially constructed demarcator for traits
generally associated with one sex, has long been presented in the graphic novels genre of literature. Gender
is now thought to be a continuum ranging from feminine to masculine with androgyny in the middle.
Graphic novels have portrayed men and women at
many points on this continuum, bending traditional
conventions since the beginning of the genre.
Introduction
While gender theorists such as Michel Foucault and Judith Butler have evaluated and redefined gender,
graphic novels reinvent gender roles in pronounced
ways. Graphic novels’ predecessors, comic books,
often represented gender in binary ways: Women were
either superheroines, such as Wonder Woman or Ms.
Marvel, or damsels in distress, such as Lois Lane. Similarly, men were either the “alpha” of humanity (examples include Superman, a hero whose name elicits an
image of perfect masculinity) or the subordinate, feminized sidekick, such as Batman’s Robin, who never
seemed to outgrow his “wonder boy” status.
As the genre has grown from the Marvel classics
and superheroes, gender distinction has become a
muddy area. Writers such as Alison Bechdel and Bryan
Lee O’Malley have presented men and women as creatures of duality, embracing the androgyny of their characters. Bechdel’s Fun Home (2006), a memoir about
her closeted homosexual father, their relationship, and
her childhood home (a funeral home), presents
Bechdel’s struggle with gender identity, both hers and
her father’s. O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim is a timid man
who, in order to secure a relationship with the girl of
his dreams, must defeat her seven evil exes: six alpha
males and a lesbian. Pilgrim is an awkward, nonviolent, and unlikely hero. Conversely, his girlfriend is
dark and mysterious, exuding ample masculine energy.
The Japanese graphic novel genre, manga, has also
revolutionized the way gender is represented in the
graphic novel. Manga often deals with homosexuality
and transgender issues, and gender is often questioned.
Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life. (Courtesy of Oni Press)
Gay characters are presented without question, and the
stories are built around their lives, while androgyny is
built into the characters’ personas. Shōjo mangas, produced specifically for girls, are often written to reveal
an ideal feminine character, although this trend is
evolving to present more androgynous characters. One
need not look far in the genre of graphic novels to find
gender definitions and redefinitions along a continuum
of masculinity and femininity.
“Super-AlphaMale-Man”
Traditional graphic novels and their comic book predecessors often portray characters that fit the mold of the
“alpha male.” He is a hero—strong, intelligent, agile,
and ready with a solution. A fantastic example of this
95
​Gender Evolution in Graphic Novels
motif can be found in Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s revisionist version of the Superman series, Superman: For
All Seasons (1998). Each of the seasons is narrated by a
different member of Superman’s cast of characters.
“Spring,” narrated by Clark Kent’s father, reveals
Clark’s life before becoming Superman. As expected,
Clark is the son of a man’s man, a farmer who provides
for his family with his bare hands. Furthermore, as
Clark grows, his powers become stronger at a rapid
rate. When he goes to get a haircut, he realizes he can
see through walls and his hair breaks the barber’s scissors. A tornado strikes Smallville, and Clark saves a
man from an explosion at a gas station. This message is
clearly one that is applicable to all pubescent males. As
male characters’ sex drives grow and their shoulders
spread, the tradition is to highlight masculine power:
strength, good looks, and the ability to woo any woman.
Alpha males need not be quite so obvious in graphic
novels. In O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim series (20042010), each of Ramona’s male exes, in his own way,
represents pure masculinity. From the first evil ex
(Matthew Patel, whose mystical powers enable him to
summon women as he may see fit) to the last (Gideon
Gordon Graves, a wealthy, self-sufficient entrepreneur
who is well-versed in fencing), each of Ramona’s
lovers has been sure of himself, confident, and incredibly ambitious. Scott, who at the outset does not seem
to be more than an awkward, mediocre musician, must
overcome these alpha males to achieve the status himself.
Damsel to the Rescue
The traditional view of femininity has been part of
graphic novels since the beginning of the genre. Shōjo
mangas often represent women as passive, willing, and
dutiful. These women are seen as the good wife or the
wise mother, who speaks traditional passive Japanese.
Similar passivity can be seen in American graphic literature. The alpha males of graphic novels cannot be
without their girlfriends. However, it would seem that
these women are of little value in their world and are
desperate to tie down the superheroes through matrimony. As brilliantly as Lois Lane has been portrayed
throughout the Superman sequences, even she is not
safe from becoming little more than a clingy girl, per96
Critical Survey of Graphic Novels
petually attempting to secure marriage and even willing
to marry Satan for a little attention (which happens in
Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane, issue 103). Apparition, otherwise known as Phantom Girl, has her soul
bound to her boyfriend upon her death. Green Lantern’s girlfriend is strangled by a supervillain and
stuffed into a refrigerator.
A marked gender difference occurs within the superhero genre. While superheroes have traditionally
taken their girlfriends for granted, nearly every popular female in the traditional superhero niche has
faced an array of horrible fates. Stephanie Brown became Batman’s first female sidekick in 2004. To do
so, she needs to create her own Robin costume and
demand that Batman train her. While she was physically capable of saving Batman from a serial killer,
she was not adept enough to avoid setting off a gang
war. Although this sort of chaos is not uncommon in
comics, Stephanie is tortured to death with a power
drill by a supervillain because she is not skilled
enough to avoid causing trouble. Further, some of the
most influential superheroines (Ms. Marvel, Power
Girl, and Wonder Woman) are at some point depowered, raped, and/or impregnated “magically,”
providing a clear picture to readers what “a woman’s
place,” traditionally, is supposed to be.
Gender Evolution
Although it is crucial to understand both the highly
masculinized prototypes and the often unappreciated,
devalued feminine characters in traditional graphic
novels, depictions of gender have evolved in the genre.
Frequently, androgyny serves as a means for creating
depth in characters. Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire
Slayer Season 8 (2007-2011), a graphic novel extension of the popular television series, features a main
character who is a prime example of the advanced, androgynous female. Buffy is physically strong, strongwilled, and opinionated. She is feared by much of the
world and is considered a terrorist.
Although she is not the dainty female portrayed in
much of the shōjo mangas or the brain-dead girlfriend
of a superhero, Buffy is still feminine. Her body is not
exaggerated for male fantasy, but it is not hidden to
hide her sex, which represents the more fluid, accepting
Critical Survey of Graphic Novels
standards of postfeminism. Buffy is involved in a love
triangle between two men, both alpha types, but is not
swayed by one or the other to deny who she is. This
woman can have it all and will not be unfairly punished
for having power like her predecessors.
In V for Vendetta (1982-1985; 1988-1989), Alan
Moore depicts an androgynous lead. V, a masked man
bent on destroying a totalitarian regime, wears a mask
and a cape. He has a male voice but does not exhibit
any secondary sex characteristics. V is often soft with
Evey, the female lead character, who eventually falls in
love with him. However, he is also vengeful, adept
with and knowledgeable about explosives, and strong.
On the other hand, Evey exhibits clear female sex characteristics. Because V saves Evey from a man who is
about to rape her, she then becomes clingy and overly
dependent upon him. As the story line progresses, V
stages Evey’s imprisonment and torture to make her
aware of the sort of circumstances that he faced and
that led him to choose a life dedicated to vengeance.
Evey survives, as did V, and eventually becomes his
successor. This progression of story line suggests that,
male or female, anyone is capable of mass terrorism
and vengeance.
Impact
In the twentieth century, visual media displayed few
variations of gender roles, particularly, the June
Cleaver-type domesticated woman and the John Wayne
alpha male. Graphic literature has generally followed
the same trajectory in terms of its depiction of gender,
having grown from ten-cent comic books that parents
refused to let their sons read to an expansive collection
of literature that depicts a wide array of gender roles
and identities.
Graphic literature still includes superhero fiction.
However, it also includes fantasy, science fiction,
horror, comedy, erotica, and creative nonfiction. In
each niche and in every genre, the hypermasculine
brute supervillain or damsel in need of rescuing may
still exist. Despite the stereotypical presentation of
such characters, they have appealed to many.
A growing number of educators are pushing for
graphic novels to be appreciated as an art form. The
graphic novel has allowed the comics tradition to ex-
​Gender Evolution in Graphic Novels
pand from a primarily preadolescent male audience to
an audience that includes women and men of all ages
and education levels. Despite long-held beliefs that
people must be either masculine or feminine, the majority of psychological professionals support a push
toward androgyny for optimal mental health. As more
youth are gaining access to quality graphic literature,
children who did not like to read traditional texts not
only are learning to enjoy reading but also are expanding their understanding of their own masculinity
and femininity. Also, because of the rise in likable
characters that are both masculine and feminine, children will gain a wider understanding of humanity.
Amanda Sheppard
Bibliography
Anders, Charlie. “Supergirls Gone Wild: Gender Bias
in Comics Shortchanges Superwomen.” Mother
Jones July 30, 2007, 71-73. With a somewhat humorous tone, discusses the history of subjugating
women in comic books. Provides a list of popular
heroines and the fates that they meet. Examines how
women have been viewed in the world of the superhero.
Carinci, Sherrie, and Pia Lindquist Wong. “Does
Gender Matter? An Exploratory Study of Perspectives Across Genders, Age, and Education.” International Review of Education 55, nos. 5-6 (2009):
523-540. Attempts to understand how a variety of
factors, including age and education levels, impact
perceptions of gender and other arenas of life.
Caselli, Daniela. “Androgyny in Modern Literature (review).” Review of Androgyny in Modern Literature,
by Tracy Hargreaves. MFS Modern Fiction Studies
54, no. 4 (Winter, 2008): 926-929. Looks at ways
androgyny influences literature, including whether
having androgynous characters affects how deeply
characters are understood.
Goldstein, Lisa, and Molly Phelan. “Are You There
God? It’s Me, Manga: Manga as an Extension of
Young Adult Literature.” Young Adult Library Services 7, no. 4 (July, 2009): 32-38. Explores graphic
literature as an introduction to reading for children.
Notes how manga provides girls with the ability to
mentally experiment with different sexual orienta97
​Gender Evolution in Graphic Novels
tions. Suggests that young adults are growing up exposed to more open portrayals of sex and gender
than their parents did.
Ho, J. D. “Gender Alchemy: The Transformative Power
of Manga.” Horn Book Magazine 83, no. 5 (September/October 2007): 505-512. Focuses on the
“boy-love” genre of manga. Explores how manga
may be able to allow youth both to experience life
from a variety of different perspectives and to understand different sexual orientations and attitudes.
Krensky, Stephen. Comic Book Century: The History
of American Comic Books. Minneapolis: TwentyFirst Century Books, 2008. Provides a detailed look
at how comic books influenced American culture
(and vice versa) in the twentieth century. Highlights
the changing face of comic books during wartime
and the evolution of masculinity.
Lefkowitz, Emily S., and Peter B. Zeldow. “Masculinity and Femininity Predict Optimal Mental
98
Critical Survey of Graphic Novels
Health: A Belated Test of the Androgyny Hypothesis.” Journal of Personality Assessment 87, no. 1
(August, 2006): 95-101. Examines the belief held by
psychologists that embracing the masculinity and
femininity inherent in all people is a step toward
mental health.
Ueno, Junko. “‘Shojo’ and Adult Women: A Linguistic
Analysis of Gender Identity in Manga (Japanese
Comics).” Women and Language 29, no. 1 (2006):
16-25. Examines graphic novels aimed at young
girls and women. Analyzes the speech presented by
female characters in these novels.
Wolk, Douglas. Reading Comics: How Graphic Novels
Work and What They Mean. Cambridge, Mass.: Da
Capo Press, 2007. An excellent overview of the
graphic novel genre, containing a section on theory
and history as well as an extensive list of book reviews and commentary. Provides information about
writing, understanding, and enjoying the genre.
597009
research-article2015
NLFXXX10.1177/1095796015597009New Labor ForumLehmann
The Marxist Moment
Marxism and Consumer Culture
Chris Lehmann
New Labor Forum
2015, Vol. 24(3) 34­–42
Copyright © 2015, The Murphy Institute,
City University of New York
Reprints and permissions:
sagepub.com/journalsPermissions.nav
DOI: 10.1177/1095796015597009
nlf.sagepub.com
Keywords
capitalism, contingent workers, democracy, equality, labor, marxism, neoliberalism, populism
Last winter, I dashed off an opinion piece about
the straitened political muse of The Daily Show,
suggesting that it had descended from its Bushbaiting heyday into cheap and easy segments
assailing the backward thinking of the Middle
American booboisie. The occasion for the piece
was the surprise announcement from the show’s
revered host, Jon Stewart, that he was planning
to step down, so emotions among The Daily
Show fan base were running high. Still, nothing
quite prepared me for the impassioned responses
sparked by my critique of the show’s insular,
self-congratulatory satirical tropes. Like most
journalists, I am anything but thin-skinned
when it comes to commentary about my published work; I have been attacked as everything
from a wild-eyed commie to an out-of-touch
elitist D.C. insider, and I have greeted nearly all
such salvos with quiet bemusement.
But the pushback on the Stewart essay was
different; people took it personally—and, of
course, replied in kind. I was scolded in no
uncertain terms about my rank right-wing apologetics or my ingratitude to the most robust tradition of critical liberal thought now going in
our mediasphere. The more solicitous (if still
outraged) correspondents on the subject soberly
informed me that my ruminations “reflected
poorly on me.”
It gradually dawned on me that I had done
more than merely tweaked a worldview or criticized a style of televisual satire; I had belittled a
sacred rite of consumption. My correspondents
relied on nightly rube-baiting Daily Show segments as something more than a ready stream of
laughs arising from the news cycle—and they
prized Stewart himself, it seemed, as something
more than the image of new millennial Walter
Cronkite. For a certain kind of devotee, relying on
The Daily Show brand was a badge of identity; it
shaped not only their response to the world but
also their own sense of being in the world. And
precisely because this brand of consumer-identification is fairly sophisticated, deeply media-savvy,
and (above all) self-aware, it stands, in turn, as a
useful indication of how far the “culture of consumption” has evolved.
For a certain kind of devotee,
relying on The Daily Show brand
was a badge of identity.
For much of the history in which social critics and political thinkers have pondered the
emergence of a culture of consumption, they
have been absorbed in the tricky calculations
involved in eliciting its signature state of mind.
On this line of inquiry, consumers tend to congregate along one of two fairly rigid binary
poles: They are either sheeplike and docile or
subversive and heroic. Accordingly, the range
of intellectual responses to consumer culture
also moves along fairly dreary and predictable
coordinates: Those in thrall to consumer culture
and its blandishments either suffer from a variation of false consciousness—the condescending dupedom that vulgar Marxists have
perennially assigned to unenlightened (i.e.,
non-Marxist) workers—or have become sub
rosa revolutionaries from within the citadels of
getting and spending, transplanting the signature struggles of class and caste into the familiar-yet-profound rites of savvy consumption:
Today Jon Stewart, tomorrow the world.
Corresponding Author:
Chris Lehmann, chris.lehmann@gmail.com
36
Our obsession with the question of what sort
of consciousness attaches itself most readily to
the culture of consumption has paradoxically
blinded us to the ways in which the ideal-type of
the American consumer has achieved a new
level of uncontested sovereignty in the political
rhetoric of our market culture. The notion of
consumer empowerment is the alibi of first resort
for any measure that tends, in reality, to continue
rolling back the hard-won gains of working
Americans in our businessman’s republic. Walmart’s business model, for example, is explicitly
founded on casualizing wages and benefits for
its retail workforce so as to secure the lowest
possible prices for its customer base—which
means the managers of our nation’s largest
employer are ideologically locked into the project of beggaring its workers for the sake of preserving profit margins in a price-lowering
race-to-the-bottom. Amazon—the Walmart of
the online retail world—likewise degrades the
basic working conditions for its laborers via
sweated speed-up regimens and piecework rates
in its mammoth distribution centers, all in the
name of optimizing consumer choice for the
lordly online shopper. Rational-choice economists routinely evoke consumer sovereignty as
the self-evident, and inevitable, telos of economic life; the notion of labor sovereignty,
meanwhile, is laughed off the historical stage as
an antiquated relic of the industrial age.
The notion of consumption itself
has morphed into dramatic new
forms, and expanded into new
reaches of economic, political, and
social thought.
As we have sought to diagnose the inward
temperament of individual consumers, the
notion of consumption itself has morphed into
dramatic new forms and expanded into new
reaches of economic, political, and social
thought. To better grasp this shift, we need to
train our focus away from the question of consciousness and its recursive body of attitudinal
constructs, and fix our sights more clearly on
how the idea of the commodity has been culturalized. We need, in other words, to lay aside the
New Labor Forum 24(3)
red-herring debate over consumer culture and
false consciousness, and to take up in its stead
the far more relevant question of how the fetishism of the commodity and the culture of consumption are now blurring into the same
blandly hegemonic historical force.
Opiate or Provocatuer?
To understand how this unsatisfactory state of
affairs has taken root in the house of left intellect, …
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