Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Jason Powell on “God Loves, Man Kills"

[Jason Powell continues his issue by issue look at Claremont's X-Men. For more in this series see the toolbar on the right.]

Conceived as a comic book that would stand on its own entirely apart from the continuity of the serialized monthly, “God Loves, Man Kills” is a 64-page self-contained story by Claremont and artist Brent Anderson involving a bigoted Christian preacher, William Stryker, on a crusade against mutants. Both its religiously motivated antagonist and its sci-fi MacGuffin (a machine allowing a brainwashed Charles Xavier to telepathically find and kill every mutant in the world) were deemed strong enough ideas to be used as the basis for Bryan Singer’s X2.

Because “God Loves, Man Kills” ran without the Comics Code seal, Claremont had license to go further with his writing, a freedom that manifests itself most memorably in the surprising use of the word “nigger” by Kitty Pryde early on, attempting to make a point to her black dance teacher, Stevie Hunter, about the hurtfulness of the word “mutie.” This attempt to assign the “X” metaphor so explicitly to a single minority group is problematic on any number of levels, and the particular audacity of trying to shore up the story’s metaphorical bite by the use of such an inflammatory term seems awfully misguided on Claremont’s part. That Stevie is humbled by Kitty’s rhetorical posturing – her final thought that Kitty “was right” suggesting that Stevie has been taught some kind of moral lesson – is absolutely too much.

That scene is meant to set the tone for the rest of the book, and indeed – unfortunately – it does. Political naiveté and heavy-handed metaphor are the order of the day here. William Stryker is actually a decent idea for an X-Men villain; in a regular issue of the series, he’d do fine. His philosophy – that if man is made in God’s image, then mutants are made in Satan’s – is a good one for a comic-book villain. Stryker is cut from the same cloth as Bolivar Trask, the original creator of the Sentinels from the Silver Age. Claremont, however, wants to use Stryker to make big, profound points about religion and hypocrisy, and the character’s one-dimensionality simply won’t support it. The issues Claremont wants to talk about are too complex to be dealt with so directly by tights-adorned superheroes. It is one thing to subtly allude to darker themes – as done so well in Uncanny X-Men #160, also illustrated by Anderson – but Claremont is taking the sledgehammer approach here. Intoxicated by the freedom to use Christ imagery and potentially offensive language, the author does not effectively integrate this new vocabulary into the X-Men palette. The result is a ham-fisted attempt at depth, whose occasional moments of gauche explicitness seem arbitrary at best, and offensive at worst.

The book’s saving grace is Claremont’s characterization of Magneto, which – despite the graphic novel’s place outside of the series’ chronology – seems to be very much a continuation of the ending of Uncanny X-Men #150. In that magnificent issue, it was suggested that a profound change in the character’s mindset had taken place. In “God Loves, Man Kills,” that does indeed appear to be the case, as he now seems to consider the X-Men his allies. Magnus’ characterization here is quite shrewd – miraculously as subtle here as in any other Claremont-written use of the character. Given the freedom to be as explicit about Magneto’s past as a Jew at Auschwitz as anything else, Claremont seems almost intuitively restrained instead. Upon his learning of Stryker’s plan to kill off mutants, Magneto’s response is not any kind of long tirade, but instead one single, brutal line: “Once more, genocide in the name of God. A story as old as the race.”

Claremont’s accomplishment with Magneto once again emerges as his greatest triumph as a writer of the X-Men. The garish aspects of “God Loves, Man Kills” demonstrate that Claremont was by no means immune from straying (albeit with good intentions) into poor taste when trying to paint a powerful metaphorical context for the X-Men. Yet he managed – for an entire decade – to strike a perfect balance with Magneto, alluding to the character’s connection with the Holocaust only intermittently, and always with a few deft and simple strokes. And the character’s Judaism was kept even more subtle, never once explicitly alluded to, yet clearly there for those (like Rivka Jacobs) who know what to look for.

With a genre as garish as superheroes, the very idea of giving a character depth by making him a Holocaust survivor seems grotesquely inappropriate. That Claremont ultimately succeeded with Magneto, and did so with grace and intelligence, is testament to his talent. That Claremont is also capable of the embarrassing excesses of “God Loves, Man Kills” is proof that his success wasn’t a foregone conclusion.

52 comments:

neilshyminsky said...

What about the art, though? Specifically, the coloring - I always thought that one of the reasons this comic is understood to be important or resonant is because it looks more serious, more artful. Which could have easily crossed that same line into gaudy or distasteful but manages to import some gravity on to the subject matter that is both believable in a superhero comic and sells (or at least obscures) some of Claremont's clunkier bits.

Anonymous said...

I agree with both your major points. Yes, GLMK is over-the-top, mawkish, and rather tasteless; and yes, Claremont handles Magneto very well indeed here. It's also interesting how Claremont dances with continuity here: the X-Men could be the X-Men of almost any point in 1981-3, but Magneto is clearly appearing after issue #150.

(Random question: does anyone know if GLMK was ever adopted into Marvel continuity? I have a vague recollection of Stryker, or someone connected to him, showing up in the 1990s... but it's /very/ vague, and I could be wrong.)

Magneto's not the only character who gets handled well here. Kitty Pryde, let's recall, saves the day -- not so much through her phasing power as by sheer goodness, bravery and force of personality. This will be a recurring theme for Kitty.

Two other things about Kitty here. One, Anderson -- like Byrne -- draws a Kitty who looks Jewish. She has an oval face, thick wavy hair, and a longish nose. This is in sharp contrast to Cockrum, Smith, and most other X-artists, who draw Kitty as a rather generic white-girl-with-dark-hair.

Two, the Kitty of GLMK seems to be the pre-Brood Saga 13 year old, not the somewhat implausibly mature 14 year old of the Smith era and beyond. This makes me think that Claremont had part of this story written, at least in his head, a couple of years in advance.

But I think there's some other interesting stuff here. Most obviously, GLMK was the first graphic novel to achieve breakthrough commercial success.

This is not to say it was the first graphic novel -- goodness, no! -- or even the first successful one. The GN was already well established. GLMK itself was "Marvel Comics Graphic Novel #5". (And a no-prize to anyone who can name numbers 1 through 4. I can't.)

But up until then, graphic novels had consisted of stuff like Eisner's A Contract With God, B&W spinoffs like Blackmark (remember Blackmark)? the Lee Silver Surfer hardcover, the the New Mutants intro book, and Phil Foglio's Buck Godot. (If you want to get a nerd-academic argument started, you could throw in stuff like the Cerebus and Elfquest TPBs, or even the giant DC vs. Marvel issues from the 1970s... but anyway.) Interesting, and in some cases promising, but there wasn't a major success among them. Up until 1982, there was nothing about the graphic novel format to make a publisher sink serious money into marketing and distribution.

GLMK changed all that. Whatever its artistic shortcomings -- and they were many -- the damn thing sold /nearly half a million copies/. That was probably more than any six other "graphic novels" combined had, up to then.

And it made a buttload of money. GLMK was not quite three times as long as a standard comic book. But it cost $5.95 -- almost ten times as much! Glossy cover and nice paper notwithstanding, the margins on that thing were pretty sweet.

So, GLMK was pretty huge. And it opened up the possibility of GNs being their own medium, spun off from comics and sharing the same creators but significantly different in form, content, marketing, and distribution.

GLMK is funny by modern standards. It's not in what's become the standard GN/TPB format -- put it on your shelf with more recent GNs and it'll stick out. And at just 60-some pages, it's pretty short. You could argue that it was just a big comic book, an oversized annual. But that line is blurry, no? Anyway, Marvel was trying for a breakthrough, and got it.

I also remember this as being a breakthrough for the X-Men in particular. Memory may be misleading me here -- 25 years! -- but this is checkable; take a look at the book's circulation figures and see if they surged between 1982 and 1983. (IMS, GLMK came out in the latter part of '82.)

Final thought: while I would be in no hurry to re-read this issue, there are enough fans out there to keep it coming back into print every few years. Google around, and you'll find a shocking number of admiring, even reverent reviews. You and I may not think much of this story, but apparently there are lots of people who disagree.

cheers,


Doug M.

Anonymous said...

Neil, good point about the coloring.

I remember it put me off at the time. It worked well in the opening scene -- and isn't that a very strong opening sequence? very grim, but effective? -- but otherwise, it seemed too dark and subdued in comparison to newsstand comics.

But in retrospect, yeah, it probably helped a lot.


Doug M.

neilshyminsky said...

Doug: Yeah, the opening sequence works particularly well. I'd even suggest that its grimness and aesthetic anticipates the approach that Miller and Varley brought to DKR. But I digress...

As for naming GNs 1 thru 4, #1 was Dazzler, I think, and #4 was the New Mutants. Silver Surfer might've been #3.

(Checks Wikipedia)

Or not. I guess Dazzler wasn't part of the series - #1 was the Death of Captain Marvel, #2 and #3 were Elric: The Dreaming City and Dreadstar, respectively (I also have no idea what those are), and #4 was indeed The New Mutants.

Curt said...

The Reverend Stryker was incorporated into Marvel continuity around the time of X2's theatrical release. Claremont even penned a GLMK sequel, which ran in his X-Treme X-men title towards the end of its run. What that means for the original graphic novel's "official" standing is still pretty unclear.

It's worth noting, as a footnote to the GLMK entry, that the project was originally designed as Neal Adams' return to the X-Men. In fact, I believe the Adams installment of X-Men Visionaries even includes some of his unused pages. I can't recall what happened with Adams' involvement, but Anderson was certainly a capable replacement.

Anonymous said...

Anon#1

Marvel GN #1 was Starlin's Death of Captain Marvel; #2 or 3 was, IIRC, Cockrum's Star Slammers; #4 was the intro of the New Mutants.

In Les Daniels's book on the fortieth anniversary of Marvel, it's not sales of GLMK not being counted for the NYT best seller lists, but the Death of Captain Marvel.

Anonymous said...

"It's worth noting, as a footnote to the GLMK entry, that the project was originally designed as Neal Adams' return to the X-Men."

I have to think we missed a bullet there.

(see also: Skateman, Ms. Mystic)

Anon: are you sure about that? Or, I guess, was Les Daniels sure? I'm pretty sure I can find a cite for GLMK being the biggest GN to date.


Doug M.

Curt said...

From what I've seen (from the aforementioned X-Men Visionaries collection), the pages that Adams produced before leaving GLMK were quite good. Certainly nowhere near the quality of work he produced during the peak of his career, but good nonetheless.

I, for one, would have loved to see Adams' take on the All New, All Different X-Men.

Jason said...

Doug, I didn't really know any info about the sales of the graphic novel. But certainly I'm aware that there are a lot of people who hold the graphic novel in high regard. Claremont himself is still very proud of it, from what I've read. But I think there work is mightily flawed.

I do agree, the opening sequence is strong. All the Magneto bits are quite well done. It is probably significant as well that Magneto and Kitty, the two Jewish characters in the book, are also the two narrative powerhouses of the story. (Significant then that Jewish director Bryan Singer came to direct the X-Men films.)

Still, overall, I think God Loves, Man Kills is overblown, and lacks the power of other X-Men comics that don't have the "prestige" that the Graphic Novel format bestowed on this one. (And I'd argue that the dark colors are a part of the mystique as well, contributing to the somewhat deceptive sense of gravitas.)

I'm generally not too impressed with Anderson's art either, apart from a few clever layout tricks. I agree with Curt; the pages Adams completed for this graphic novel are very good. Illustrations by Adams instead of Anderson's would have raised the quality of God Loves, Man Kills by a wide margin, I'm certain, and I think it would have become a jewel in Claremont's canon had Adams been the artist. Instead, I find it fairly overblown, not as good as its reputation -- several good ideas that don't cohere as effectively as they ought to.

Streebo said...

Nice review, Jason. GLMK always confused me as a youngster.

And I did know that the Death of Captain marvel was the first Marvel graphic novel. It has always been a favorite of mine and aside from Bucky - Captain Marvel held the longest record for dying and staying dead.

neilshyminsky said...

It just hit me - "God Loves Man Kills" is to Claremont's X-Men as "All You Need Is Love" is to the Beatles catalogue.

scott91777 said...

Hmmmm, Neil... Could you elaborate?

Do you mean that it is a well-inentioned but flawed work?

I rather like the lyrics to the verses... and the simplicity of the chorus is ... well... brilliant. All You Need is Love... what more do you need to say?

Some of the arrangement is a bit... gauche I suppose.

Oh, and on the topic of the history of Graphic Novels, The one thing that I can find people generally in agreement on about Contract With God is that, while it being the 'first' graphic novel is debatable, it is generally considered the first work to be marketed as "A Graphic Novel"... so the first to self-identify. I also believe that Marvel was quick to latch on to the term for it's graphic novel line. Contract was, what? 1978... Death of Captain Marvel was 79 or 80, right?

Jason said...

Neil, you won't believe it (okay, you might), but as I was writing my comment in this thread I was trying to think of a Beatles song analogous to "All You Need Is Love."

I think you nailed it.

Jason said...

Streebo, thanks for the compliment. Always appreciated!

neilshyminsky said...

scott: I was thinking, generally, that it's a song whose 1) reputation vastly exceeds its quality, and 2) painfully sincere message belies its sloppiness. Basically, "All You Need is Love" was written and recorded at the height of the Beatles' collective drug haze, and it shows in the laziness of Lennon's melody (the musical progression sounds exhausted, when the lyrics should suggest transcendence) and the banality (sorry) of the chorus. And, I should also add, in the awful job they did recording it: it hisses and clicks, it lacks much in the way of bass or any of the varying textures for which the Beatles were known. It simply sounds bad.

A lot of artists made the error of mistaking simplicity for an even greater depth during the 60s, and it just doesn't stand up to the more nuanced or ambivalent Beatles' takes on love that we see before and after this period. It's an accessible song, sure, in the same way that I think God Love Man Kills is a quite accessible X-Men story. But that doesn't make them particularly good. Like GLMK, I think that "All You Need is Love" has the reputation that it does because it appeared at the right socio-political moment and the right moment in the career of the artist or brand, rather than having mostly to do with the merits of the work, as such.

Christian said...

Elric is a Michael Moorcock creation. I don't know much about it, aside from that very amusing Warren Ellis anectdote about why he wrote the Elric books (.)

"But, but... My dear boy, I had to pay my Harrod's food bill. Yeah, I didn't have any money, but I wasn't going to eat crap. So, I just ordered the Fois Gras and the Smoked Pheasant and what have you, from Harrod's. And then I had to write a book to pay the bill. I dedicated one of those books to Harrod's."
-Warren Ellis, imitating Michael Moorcock.

"All of those books are sixty thousand words. On day one, when the bill came, he would draw a map, and write down a list of terms, names for things. And on Day Two to Four, he'd write twenty thousand words a day. On friday, he'd post the manuscript. [...] I think, he took more time on the Elric stuff; Elric always spoke more to him. [...]Frightening bastard..."
-Warren Ellis on Michael Moorcock.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I came in late...going back to the last issue of X-Men, "Professor X is a jerk!", the oddity of Kitty Pryde being 14 and yet being allowed to be on the X-men and not sent over to the New Mutants has a puzzling parallel. Karma, one of the first five New Mutants, was actually in her early twenties, past teenage years. She even worked at the school as the headmaster's admin assistant. Yet she was on the New Mutants and not the X-Men. If things made total sense, wouldn't these two have swapped teams?

plok said...

Wow, it seems I am about a hundred years too old for this room. Very shocking.

I would be careful of overestimating the power of Kitty's "use of the N-word" to trivialize and appropriate...of course she did not "use the N-word", as that is a much more contemporary construction of speech act as political act than yet applied in the mid-eighties. In the context of the times, and the popular entertainment of the times, Kitty could easily have said this: the way Claremont was bending the X-franchise at this time, it would've almost been a shock if he didn't have her say it. Ham-handed, perhaps: but I don't think he could have anticipated the specific disquiet with which we modern readers must confront that dialogue today.

And on a related note, Neil, what?!? You're entitled to your opinion about AYNIL, of course, but I can't say I think it holds much water -- you seem to be holding the song, the band, and the pop music of the 60s to a rather arbitrary standard, and personally I find little in that standard that's worth appealing to. I'd argue every line of that with you.

But I don't want to simply barge in and be an old fart, so I won't. I probably wouldn't mention it at all, in fact, except I think I've noticed on this blog a certain tendency to implicitly prefer the standard interpretive codes of the contemporary and site-specific moment when analyzing various works -- the discussion of No Country For Old Men springs instantly to mind -- to the point where, more often than not, surface meanings come up trumps. It can be jarring, especially when at other times artistic works are handled so carefully as the social documents they are. Then suddenly it goes all things-were-always-this-way brainwashy, and it confuses the hell out of me.

Apologies if any offense was given, but that's been bugging me for a while, and this seemed like the perfect time to get it off my chest.

Geoff Klock said...

Plok -- I want to use your second to last paragraph as a start for a whole new post where I quote it and we all talk about it, because I think that is a really good and complex topic.

plok said...

Please feel free, Geoff! I'll be very interested in reading that one. I might also note that I take this kind of thing to be a manifestation of the seductive joy of crafting narratives -- and of course, we've all taken it farther than we ought to on occasion, and I'm hardly immune. I also take the major purpose of an arts education to consist of exposing the two-edged nature of the crafted narrative to students -- whether it's large sweeps of conjectural history or just plain individual names, the power to make articulate is the power to bury meaning as much as to reveal it. Okay now I'm just ranting.

Side note: I just re-read your book the other day, and was wondering if there's anything in the America's Best chapter you'd modify, now that those stories have gone through to the end. I'd forgotten that ABC hadn't got through more than a few issues of each title when the book was published.

neilshyminsky said...

plok: It's not an arbitrary standard by any means - I'm holding the Beatles to their own standard, as defined by the stuff that they had recorded to that point as well as what they would record afterward.

And so, not-so-briefly:

The melody to "AYNIL" is plodding and lazy, even for a Lennon song. Just hum the the title itself, as sung by Lennon - it's totally monotone. And when such a monotone delivery is repeated again as it is in the chorus (with an odd choice of descending horns filling in the space between lines, the affect of which strikes me as depressing/ive) it causes the music to become tired and heavy. In short, the music fails to sell the sentiment that the lyrics are describing.

Not that the lyrics are by any means Lennon's best. He was prone, even then, to a skepticism verging on nihilism in his lyrics - a balance that he manages on something like "I Am the Walrus", which nearly contemporary with this song, and so is not in and of itself bad - and here he carves out a space for love solely by way of double-negatives: "there's nothing...that can't/isn't". It sounds to me as if the double-negatives are meant to help enact the stripping-away of the ego that accompanies LSD - love in this song, like "turning on/off" on a trip, is "easy" - but Lennon had already written a song of that sort once - "Tomorrow Never Knows" - and the ambiguity and allusiveness of those lyrics have been replaced here by an unavoidable, even if unintentional, negativity. (If it isn't tied to LSD in some way, though, then I don't know why he would've made those lyrical choices. But this was Lennon's least focused period as an artist - from late '66 to the India trip in '67 his personal life was a mess and his time was occupied by too many drugs, as evinced by the very few songs he wrote.)

The quality of the recording, I think, speaks for itself. It was rushed - the crew at the live broadcast were reportedly appalled at how it sounded more like a demo than a finished track - and it lacks the sheen and care of a typical Martin-produced song.

To its credit, though, the song does some interesting things with its tempo and time-signature - and I'm particularly fond of the music that bridges the verse and chorus - and it shows clear evidence that the Beatles had a canny sense for giving people the music that they wanted, even if it wasn't the best music that they could have produced. (And though Lennon would later decide - often to his detriment - that he should reverse those priorities, McCartney wouldn't - also often to his detriment.)

Jason said...

plok, I'm not entirely sure I get your point. I know that I'd argue that such a volatile word can't help but force a reader to look and see what exactly is going on here. And to me, I don't find the context justifies the weight that the word brings with it. Furthermore, it is borderline nonsensical. The exact exchange occurs after Kitty has been called by the Stan Lee-coined epithet "mutie."

Stevie: "They're just words, child."
Kitty: "What if he'd called me a 'nigger,' Stevie? Would you be so damned tolerant then?"

Later, Stevie (a tear melodramatically rolling down her face) thinks, "She was right."

It's also rather absurd the take the symbolic epithet and butt it up against an actual one, particularly one so intensely loaded. The idea of "mutie" was always a clever coinage of Stan Lee I think, as an implicit satire on hate-language. But it becomes stripped of that critical edge when it's juxtaposed with an actual epithet.

Also, on a more prosaic level, the scene doesn't really flow rhetorically. (Kitty asked a question rather than asserting anything, so what she was "right" about is a little muddy.) Which is one of the reasons I love Neil's analogy to All You Need Is Love, which also muddies its simple eponymous theme with its hazily conceived tautological double-negatives in its verse.

Both works get hamstrung in their rhetorical posturing, but both are remembered well because they -- in part -- manage to encapsulate the iconic perception of their artists. We think Beatles, we think that all we need is love; we think Claremont, we think of the mutants/civil-rights analogies. So "All You Need" and "God Loves" are emblematic of their respective authors while simultaneously and paradoxically turning out to be flawed, duller jewels in those authors' respective crowns when inspected closely.

plok said...

Would you believe I was going to go with the line "...but I can't say I think it's very informed", but changed it to "...but I can't say I think it holds much water" at the last second? And now, of course, I'm very glad I did. You're obviously informed, Neil.

But I just can't agree with you at all on the subjective appraisal front -- which I'll get to in a moment, so I can avoid being unfairly vague about my disagreement -- and I also think I'm skeptical of the idea that you're holding the Beatles to their own standard, since the way you define this looks to be not so much about "what they wanted/expected from themselves", as about "how AYNIL furthers the narrative of development that I'm imposing."

Not that I'm suggesting for one minute that you're the only person imposing this narrative! I've participated in this myself, and I wouldn't ever call it "wrong" to do so...it's just that I balk at agreeing that this forms their own standards. Because in my view it can (at maximum!) help to form our standards.

But even if these standards were also theirs, just by happenstance -- even if they were all imposers of that narrative too, even if they were just another sort of us -- then why would that make any difference? If Lennon (and all his bandmates too) thought AYNIL was a failure, it's still got nothing to do with me. Of course I am saying that I don't think they did think it was a failure, in which case it's got nothing to do with them either! So just at face value, I'm afraid I can't quite buy that bit about the standards being their own, that you're holding them to. But even if they were their own, I don't see the necessity for the holding.

Sorry, thread-jacking. Almost done.

As to (what I'm claiming is) the subjective criteria: I don't agree that music must "sell" the sentiment of the lyrics -- I'm more interested in the juxtaposition of the two, and suspect because of that I simply think the song is "about" something just slightly different from what you think it's "about". Sorry for the quotes, they're not intended as sneers, just recognition that the song is probably mostly about what it is in itself, as a song...anyway that's my philosophy. Though I don't question your musical credentials, nonetheless I don't find anything about AYNIL plodding, tired, heavy, or depressing, and I'm a big fan of those double-negative stripping-away lyrics: I find them elegant. But then I also liked In His Own Write and A Spaniard In The Works. Well, to each his own: what you see as inexplicable without the presence of acid and confusion, I see as perfectly comprehensible in terms of the verbal play Lennon had engaged in for years. But then, that's my narrative. On skepticism, nihilism, and the value of focus in Lennon's work you and I are simply over the horizon from one another -- I question the "best music they could have produced" thing, because I don't see how anyone could have any knowledge of what that was in the absence of it being actually played -- I often prefer the sound of rough demos to polished studio version, and I'd be surprised to learn I was the only one who did -- and finally I'm not sure what I would say Lennon's best and worst lyrics are, but surely, surely, that at least is purely a subjective judgement call based on personal likes and dislikes.

So, having tried to make what I think clear (not that anyone was asking), if you'd like to refute me, Neil, please feel free. But I think I've gobbled enough space without being invited to, so I'll let you have the last word unless you'd specifically like me to clarify or (attempt to) rebut anything in more detail. Or unless you use your last word to hang a beating on me, which would be harsh! But I don't think you will...and again, I mean no offence, here, I just disagree with you entirely about the Beatles.

And sorry again for the thread-jack, Geoff, and all, and sundry. Pip-pip!

plok said...

Jason, may people think "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" when they think Beatles, and many think X-Men #137 when they think of Claremont...and I imagine you can guess what I think of the "muddied" bit. As to the epithet, I'm certainly not denying its volatility, I'm affirming its volatility -- the weight and intense loading you speak of it having, these are things that have changed slightly over time. Not increased, not lessened: changed. The implicit social rules about when and in what context it's permissible to use it have changed -- slightly. But! Definitely.

And I'm not saying that definitely makes a difference, when it comes to analyzing GLMK...heck, I don't know. But I think it's worth thinking about.

I acknowledge that I am probably going to have to clarify this further. However, I hope that turns out to be unnecessary, despite my acknowledgement.

And I'm pleased to note, re-reading this thread, that my big comment wasn't so outsized as I first feared it was. Thank goodness!

plok said...

Okay, I'll clarify anyway: Jason, you're quite right to say that "such a volatile word can't help but force a reader to look and see what exactly is going on here."

That's as true today, as it was when GLMK was published.

But today, that forcing is conditioned by the fact that the term's taboo status is widely contested in a way that it wasn't back then, and possibly this makes the matter of what's an appropriate or permissible use even more fraught now, than it was at that time. In the mid-80s, I don't believe it would have been possible for anyone to complain that someone used the term "niggardly", for example...or at least, not with such force as they did when that happened just a little while ago.

So...you tell me: is your reading of the passage a 2008 one, or a 1986 (or whatever) one?

And for the record, I'm much more disquieted by Stevie's "she was right" than I am by the epithet itself.

And, I disliked this book when it came out, and I still do.

Jason said...

Plok, I think the whole scene is messed up. If I were to quantify/parse it, I might indeed agree that the "she was right" is the worser bit than the n-word. But the latter is such a lightning rod, it can't help but draw in my ire for the entire scene and what Claremont is trying to do with it.

I was generalizing with the analogy as far as what people think of when they think of the Beatles or Claremont. I maybe should've turned it more on the authors' own view of their own canon. At the end of The Beatles Anthology documentary, McCartney's summary statement is that he's glad most of the Beatles' songs were about "peace, love and understanding." He then says, "All you need is love, it's still true, there's nothing better than love, there never will be." That song title, one of roughly 200, is the one McCartney plucks out to use as his summary statement. In "X-Men: The End," Claremont has Kitty Pryde thinking about the moments in her life that have defined it, and sure enough, one of them is the "n-word" moment from GLMK.

So the two works in question to do seem to be -- in the minds of their authors at least -- emblematic works. I think there are plenty of fans who think along the same lines.

As for whether my reading of the passage is a 2008 one or a 1986 one ... hmm. That's an excellent question. You are right, I am viewing it through a present-day, post-liberal-arts-education lens. Reading it as a child, I most likely just thought the use of the word was surprising and strange, but not problematic. But then, that could be as much to do with my own maturity levels then and now as it is with the rest of the universe. Still, your point is taken.

As an aside, though it's addressed more to Neil than to me ... I'm not sure I understand what you're saying about the content of All You Need Is Love, by the way, when you write that "the song is probably mostly about what it is in itself, as a song." Try as I may, I can't parse that one. You may as well have used the Lennonian approach and said, "There's nothing that the song is about that isn't what it's about."

Sorry, couldn't resist.

For another negative opinion of Lennon's lyrics for the song, here's Ian MacDonald's take: he notes them possessing "a shadow of sense discernible behind a cloud of casual incoherence through which the author's train of thought glides sleepily backwards." Well said, Ian!

plok said...

Paul? I thought that was George! "Yes, I'm sticking to that." Last word of the last interview.

Perhaps I'm mistaken?

On "aboutness"...gee. As it happens, "there's nothing that the song is about that isn't what it's about" is precisely correct: language makes meanings fungible, but not all meanings belong to language. What's the Mona Lisa about? It's about a lady sitting in a chair.

What's "I Am The Walrus" about?

Go chop some wood! Go look in the water!

I hope that helps, Jason; if it does, pass it on.

And are you sure the quote from that MacDonald fellow is a negative opinion? To me, it sounds like he's saying he likes it...

Geoff Klock said...

Plok -- I lost track of ABC comics so I am not quite sure. I would probably be much less interested in it generally -- it all got so watered down.

neilshyminsky said...

plok: I'll pre-empt Jason regarding the MacDonald quote - yes, MacDonald was quickly severe in his criticisms of the song, though his incredibly poetic way of describing their faults, out of context, might seem to belie that. A "cloud of casual incoherence" and "thought glides sleepily backwards" should be read as synonyms for my far less beautiful "plodding", "lazy", and "tired".

As for the rest - I'm not quite sure what your auspices are, but it seems that you're arguing from a place of radical relativity, which leaves me quite unable to refute much of what you said. Needless to say, I disagree that music is ever a wholly subjective experience, and I'm try to avoid an analysis that's aware of a certain degree of subjectivity while aiming to address taste's structural determinants - the standards, conventions, and expectations within which we've been interpellated and have internalized.

I think I was unclear when I said "the Beatles' own standards", which could be read as "the Beatles' intentions". Since their intentions changed, this would be an impossible standard. Rather, I'm trying to read them as a musicologist or lit critic would, keeping in mind that certain manipulations of sound and language create different affective responses, (acknowledging that these a/effects are conventional) and also noting that the Beatles' other work and lives shows a certain consciousness of how these a/effects are created or solicited.

Which is just a long-winded way of saying that I think it's a mistake to say "the Beatles'" standards and "my/your" standards as if they aren't derived from a largely shared cultural norm that can be defined and deconstructed. (Though I'll admit that my relation to and investment in said norms will differ from the investment that you or anyone else has in it. But while your preferring demo-styled production is pretty subjective - or maybe you just like the demo's relation to a sense of authenticity? - the song's undeniable purpose in being a peace and love anthem demands a certain standard of production that the Beatles don't provide.) And, conventionally, the disconnect between the thematic content (love; world peace), lyrical content (tautological double-negatives), and musical content (monotonality) suggests that each level is supposed to undermine the other, or even undermine pop convention in general. (None of which, as if I need to add it, it would appear Lennon is consciously trying to do.) Or else is suggests sloppiness and the mere inability to synch the song's function with its form.

By way of contrast, think of how marvelously the music and production of "I'm So Tired" match and reinforce the content of its lyrics. Or, to go a different route, look at Lennon's "Don't Want to be a Soldier" off of Imagine, where he also uses tautological double-negatives, repetition, and a monotone delivery in a way that allows the music, lyrics, and thematic content to mutually reinforce one another's despair and frustration. Or look at another Lennon Beatles-era song that uses a disconnect between these elements to ironic effect, as in "Happiness is a Warm Gun" - the chorus features one of Lennon's most active melodies and most impassioned vocals, but their counter-intuitive pairing with a conventionally inappropriate lyric permits us the realization that the entire exercise is hilariously insincere.

But Lennon isn't aiming for despair or irony or humor in "AYNIL", despite the fact that its aesthetic is most readily comparable to other Lennon songs that aim at doing precisely that. And that's why it fails.

plok said...

Well, obviously I lied about the "last word" thing, Neil -- but not by much. I just had to say, look, I'm not "arguing from a place of radical relativity", so it should not seem as though I am. Like you, I don't believe that the appreciation of music is ever a wholly subjective experience, I just think you're drawing these lines in the wrong places. To accuse me of radical subjectivism really does a disservice to what I'm saying...I mean, surely you can defend yourself from the charge of tunnel vision without having to cast me in the role of solipsist?

Just had to mention that, because that's a thing that bugs me. Otherwise, fine and dandy.

Jason said...

Plok, I recall Paul saying that stuff about, "Love is still all you need!"

MacDonald is negative in his opinion of the song, definitely. As Neil said, his turns of of phrase may soften the blow. If I quoted the whole text of his opinion, there'd be no doubt.

I still agree with Neil, that the various elements of All You Need work against each other and make the song meaningless. It is catchy, and I actually like the arrangement (I'm probably more in your camp than Neil's or MacDonald's regarding the sound-quality, which has never struck my ears as substandard) -- particularly the brass ripostes in the chorus and the strings when they build up to the chorus ... but it's not nearly as interesting as other Beatles songs.

neilshyminsky said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
neilshyminsky said...

plok: I apologize for causing offense, but I didn't really think I was "accusing" you of relativism because it seemed as if you were foregrounding every response you gave with an appeal to relativity. To grab a few as I scan your last, long response, you use expressions like "subjective appraisal front", "subjective criteria", "imposers of...narrative", "purely a subjective judgement call based on personal likes and dislikes", and, what struck me as the clincher, "to each his own". All of which sounds to me like you're saying it's just a matter of taste.

But I think that I laid my auspices out pretty clearly, right? I'm looking at affect as a structural effect of pop music and judging it in relation to those standards. (I'm taking those standards for granted, I realize, but embracing my Foucauldian impulse to problematize them would turn this into an entirely different debate.)

Obviously, though, I guess I never really understood where it was that you were coming from.

plok said...

Don't worry, Neil, you didn't offend -- I'm just wary of being labelled that way. Heck, I think everybody should be!

Nevertheless, you may notice that each time I used "subjective" I was referring to you, and not me...which is to say I understand your structural view of pop music, but I also think it shapes what it sees more than you, perhaps, think. Additionally, you may notice that music is a human universal, as well as a culture-specific artifact: my point of view is probably the majority point of view by an astonishing margin, and though I'm not trying to claim any sort of privilege because of that, I also think it'd be a mistake not to factor it in. AYNIL may indeed have just happened to appeal perfectly to its time and place, rather than being any good -- but then again, I never heard it at that place and time, I am not a creature of that place and time, so why the hell would I like it? And millions like me, of course. Wow, millions! I'm not saying consensus opinion ought to be King (!), but neither can it be so marginal to our interest that it's worth our time to ignore it. Hasn't AYNIL helped to form people's taste, as well as answered to people's taste? That is the stuff, that I see your perspective as lacking -- and possibly why you heard me saying I was being radically subjective, when I was really saying that was you.

But, these things happen.

neilshyminsky said...

plok: I'm in totally agreement with everything you've said - totally aware that my standards construct the meaning of the song even as they try to describe it, that they create value even as they try to evaluate. So all of this is admitted. I won't agree that they're subjective, though, because I'm not convinced that anything every is - I'm never the sole arbiter of my own tastes, such as they are, and so my standards have interpellated me into some larger socio-cultural standard long before I'm able to give them a description. I mean, I get your point - but I think it's ultimately unhelpful in building any kind of dialogue.

But what I'm not understanding is what you actually think of this song and why. You're not really refuting my arguments except to say that they're ultimately subjective people like it and there must be a reason for that. Can you look at the song itself and suggest to me some standards by which it's good? There are, of course, reasons that the song did well that - I would argue - have little to do with the song itself.

First, I'd challenge your suggestion that its popularity was necessarily indicative of quality. (Or else we'd have to admit that Celine Dion, who has sold more records than all but about two dozen other artists in the world, is goddamned brilliant. And that's too terrifying to consider.) Like Bourdieu told us, a product's cultural value may have little or nothing to do with the attributes of the product itself, and depends more on the demands and needs of the cultural market, as it were.

And so AYNIL's popularity, from everything I've read and determined, would seem to be derived from at least three major sources that have nothing to do with the song itself: 1) it was first played on a TV world peace program to an audience of 400 million, 2) it was released during a period in which LSD-inspirednursery rhyme songs (think "See Emily Play", "Hello Goodbye"), most of which featured hopelessly absurd and banal lyrics, were topping the charts on both sides of the Atlantic, 3) it's a Beatles song, and it was released during an incredible uninterrupted run of #1 singles. (And how else do we explain the success of, say, the awful "Paperback Writer"?)

I'm sure that, as I suggested before, a good argument in favor of the song with reference to its theme of love in relation to the obvious LSD allusions. (Though I'd then have to counter with what I'd argue are better songs that do much the same thing.) But, really, I don't understand why you think this song is worth fighting for. And I don't think that you've really tried, in any case.

neilshyminsky said...

Heh. I just realized that I said I was in total agreement with "everything" plok said, and then a couple sentences later I disagreed with a larger substantial part of his argument. This is what I get for not bothering to re-read. :)

plok said...

Neil, you're not seriously asking me to supply some standard that will prove AYNIL is any good at all! I mean, I appreciate you explaining your aesthetic preferences, but are you asking me what's my reason to think I don't like it only because it happened to be on TV one time when I was lying in my crib?

That's an extraordinary suggestion!

Also:

"I'd challenge your suggestion that its popularity was necessarily indicative of quality."

But I have not said this! I'm merely saying that to think the value of music may have little or nothing to do with its own attributes is a blinkered point of view. Hey, I don't like Celine either, but when people hold out their hands to her from the audience and weep, that's not the power of the "cultural market" at work -- that's needlessly theoretical.

As for "Paperback Writer"...you know who likes that song?

Bassists.

I may actually come back here and give you a standard for evaluating AYNIL that makes it likeable after all, just 'cause I'm bloodyminded that way. But, can you really not imagine a standard like this yourself? Is it so difficult?

Pardon me for sounding frustrated, but you don't seem to realize just how far apart we are on this.

plok said...

Although, that was a needlessly melodramatic way for me to put that, wasn't it? Ridiculous of me, I hope you'll overlook that part.

neilshyminsky said...

plok: If I don't realize how far apart we are, it's because you don't actually tell me where you stand. Like, ever. I'm being a bit hyperbolic when I beg you to come up with some reason to like the song - and I admitted that there are elements that I do like - but that's because you never actually tell me why you like that song. All of these things about the social construction of standards admitted - what are your standards, anyway?

re: popularity. You're right, you explicitly backed away from a direct assertion that popularity indicated quality. But the way you phrased seemed to imply it, on some level, nonetheless. (Otherwise, why mention it if you were only going to disregard it?)

re: "Paperback Writer". You're right, it has a great bass line. But I think it's a bit disingenuous to isolate only the bass line, as if that alone can rescue a banal lyric with a ridiculously overdone and appropriately mocking harmony. So maybe an element of the song is worth noting, but the song as a whole is nearly the worst thing the band recorded.

Jason said...

Wow, I can think of at least two dozen Beatles recordings that are worse than "Paperback Writer"!

The lyrics might be trite, but certainly no more so than all the many cliche-ridden love songs of their early years. (And as I recall, "Paperback Writer" is significant as the first Beatles single to NOT be a love song!)

And it's not just the bass-line that grooves; the whole song moves along at a great clip, bouncily and catchily. I'm surprised you hate it so much, Neil. I'm not saying it's their best, but boy, I'd opine it's far from their worst.

plok said...

I mention it so that it is not disregarded -- I mention it because the link between creation, performance, affect, and popularity is a real one, and I think such an important one that it can never be set aside in any analysis such as this one without fatally distorting the subject. Music, as I said, is a human universal; more than that, it's our cheapest and most effective mood-altering drug. One could even argue that music precedes culture -- as Catholics argue their religion precedes Christianity.

So basically I think you're being too theoretical, Neil -- a clever thing to say which I have been avoiding (but it's just too tempting!) is, how is your socio-musicological approach not reminiscent of the "Aeolian harmonies" guy, who in the grand narrative of Beatles history has always represented point-missing on the question of how these songs are written and what they're for? On what tradition they belong to. I would say that Paperback Writer's bassline certainly can rescue its banal lyric -- why, after all, should it not be able to? -- except that I don't see the disadvantage of writing a song about paperbacks in the mid-Sixties anyway, but that's neither here nor there. Although in my opinion if you are interested in Modernity, you are interested in the paperback...

But, sigh, I suppose it'd be dickish to keep refusing to offer up the goods, so without further ado: why I like "All You Need".

You mentioned Tomorrow Never Knows. Okay, this is also Tomorrow Never Knows -- this is a song heavily influenced by religion, and specifically in my case a lyric that was in many ways the precursor to my interest in Zen. Accident? I'd be very surprised if it were. The monotone delivery you so dislike (I presume in juxtaposition with the music -- TNK (sorry, Geoff) obviously has much the same sort of vocal delivery) works for me to amplify the sense of detachment, of emptiness, so vital to meditative breakthroughs -- calm, as Lennon's little homemade koans go out, all words equalized, defeating the mind's tendency to abstract. Is this the stripping-away of ego? Perhaps; although the necessity to purge the ego entirely is (I think) downplayed. Is Love actually All You Need? Hilariously, it is: where Lennon once tore pages out of the Book of the Dead, intoning "lay down all thoughts/surrender to the void", this was just an opening movement -- this time he doesn't need to translate the language of the East, because with another couple of years under his belt he's cracked the code in English anyway. So the vocal is simple because it doesn't need to be complicated -- the vocal line is anchored in one spot because, well, "there's nowhere you can be that isn't where you're meant to be". The song is what it's saying; what the song is saying isn't separate from the song. This is Lennon's version of the Flower Sermon, except with guitars and Englishisms, and a certain amount of psychedelic compounds slipped into the tea. Convolution: but the convolution is part of the illusion, the convolution, the difficulty, is something that the listener is intended to pass through. The lyric turns over and over itself, but it's reassuring, not challenging. A neat trick: and I'm sure you'll agree with me, one left unachieved in Tomorrow Never Knows.

But why? What's important about achieving that? This brings us, I suppose, to psychedelic nursery-rhyme rock (nursery-rock?), which can't have just been popular because of no interesting reason -- what's going on here? Why does all the acid cause the British pop stars to focus on this stuff, instead of something else? Well, I won't say it's easy, but anyway I think it's not too complicated: all these guys started out wanting to be Eddie Cochrane, but they all ended up being Alice Liddell instead, and to me it's inconceivable that they would not have noticed this peculiar tonal shift in their lives as it was happening. The Alice influence goes right through the psychedelic era of British rock, as straight as a surveyor's line, and no one's standing more close to being on top of it than Lennon. But there's nothing too un-Zen about Lewis Carroll, either -- and indeed these things aren't from utterly separate worlds, and have many points of connection besides the ones in Lennon's head. Nevertheless, can you really watch this bunch of mind-blown English poverty rats sit on a stage and have their big jam session without thinking, just a little, of a kind of kindergarten gotten too big for the school? A nursery without a nurse, an ashram without a guru. These were all people dealing with a fantastically accelerated process of growing up -- cultural alienation driven by 45s and stadium tours, at reckless speeds, by jet fuel. Parties with Peter Sellers. And why did the Beatles go to India, in the first place? I think you could argue that a significant difference between Tomorrow Never Knows and "All You Need" is also where it's all pitched to: the first effort is pitched inward, and the second out. And how to disregard this element? There is the song as song, and then there's the song as (unmistakably) deliberate message to the planet -- so is this not a standard too? Like Paperback Writer, "All You Need" has a point to make, a mood to alter -- is it unsuccessful if it manages it?

And now a word about my reluctance to go into any of this in detail -- and I'm still holding back on this, because I actually find it slightly distasteful to try to explicate this song -- since the point of it, what it's "about", is at least in part the incapacity of words to express reality. And I value it for that; so analyzing it interferes with my enjoyment. Not that I'm saying no one should analyze it if they feel like doing so -- I'm not a cop! -- but it seems to me very Aeolian-harmony-ish to do so, rather missing the point of how it was made, and what it is for. Is it "good" -- well, it is, but it's only good for what it's good for. If you take it for something else...

plok said...

But, oh well, as long as I'm babbling anyway...

So in the backing vocals "love, love, love" (that cradle Lennon's faintly Dylan-esque main vocal -- except "Beat" isn't what he's going for here), we have pretty clearly a three-part stepping down kind of aural evocation -- what's the functionality of this? I'd argue it's impressing the idea of a gentle descent on the listener, which you could lay several different interpretations on: stepping into a pool, stepping down from a height, down stairs...with others or without them. These are just transient semi-visuals, they don't mean anything, they're not strong they're fleeting, fleeting at best...but they're easy things to add onto the song's message, or should I say Message, and that's not just arbitrary. It's a soothing note, a restful note, a note of completion, of arrival -- of homecoming? And then you've got Paul at the end doing something that sounds rather witty, coupling this latter-day hippie Beatles spiritual sound and concentration to the earlier pre-facial hair period of lovable moptops embedding slightly racy sexual implications in teenybopper songs, pretty much on purpose, pretty much just a half an inch below the surface...and now it's Cosmic Love and Enlightenment, but it's not really all that different. So here's a narrative for you, but this time it's the Beatles' own -- that "yeah, yeah, yeah" is on a continuum with "All You Need", represents something like a principle of origin being reaffirmed -- it's difficult, I think, to argue we're not meant to make that connection. And I do believe you can peel all kinds of layers off this thing: in my humble opinion, it's a very well-designed piece of work, and rewards repeated plays.

neilshyminsky said...

jason: There probably are at least a dozen equally awful or worse songs than "Paperback Writer". But considering that the Beatles have a lot of awful songs, this doesn't necessarily forgive "Paperback Writer"'s shortcomings. (Good point about its subject matter, though. And I suppose that would mean more if it weren't so obvious that Paul had too-deliberately thought 'all of our singles are about love - what else can I try?')

plok: I like that, in responding, you've been forced to become the "Aeolian harmonies guy" against which you've resisted. (Especially in the narrativizing of Paul's "She love you, yeah, yeah, yeah" - I can't agree, but I love the way you've unpacked its meaning nonetheless.) You play the part well. :)

I can see how you might argue that the socio-musicological approach (which, again, I think is precisely the one that you're using, albeit with a different angle to play) risks missing the forest for the trees, but I'm fine with taking that risk. Which is to say - I'd rather be accused of being too critical or too neurotic, and subsequently have to restrain or reign myself in, than risk being too uncritical or superficial. If I'm going to be accused of 'missing the point', I'd prefer I miss it because I tried too hard to 'get it', rather than didn't appear to try at all.

But yeah, you're right - clearly we're looking for very different things in this song (for very different things in songs about/influenced by excessive drug use, maybe?), and I really love what you've written here - how you've written it, too - even if I personally feel that they don't trump my many reservations about the song. I can see the layers, but can't help feeling that the song is just one of Lennon's "glass onions" - none of them are particularly revealing, and once you get deep enough you realize there was nothing at its core to begin with. (Or I suppose you could say that there was nothing you could see that isn't shown.)

hcduvall said...

I feel like I'm interrupting an interesting conversation that I don't have anything to contribute...I have to let out the one thing I remember about GLMK that sticks with me as an adult. In the middle of the after-school special feel of it, the street gang that Kitty meets is multi-cultural, Sikh and everything. For a story about tolerance, funny how almost all the non-whites pop up only there. Incidentally, the story worked well enough on me when I read it way back when, ponderous as it was, but then, maybe I was less annoyed as the mutant=minority group was an idea I could articulate at the time, even if I clearly got it.

neilshyminsky said...

plok: One more thing - I think that our demands, as consumers or fans of the Beatles and their music, are actually quite similar. We concede that it's a sincere song, and seem to have a common demand that the musical and lyrical content of such a song be sympathetic if not mutually reinforcing. The disagreement seems to be with regard the song's semantic content, to a large degree. (And, to a smaller extent, with our reading of The Beatles, as a narrative or myth.)

All of which is to say - despite all of the text splayed across this screen, I don't think we're really disagreeing all that much.

plok said...

plok: I like that, in responding, you've been forced to become the "Aeolian harmonies guy" against which you've resisted. (Especially in the narrativizing of Paul's "She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah" - I can't agree, but I love the way you've unpacked its meaning nonetheless.) You play the part well. :)

Grumble...thankyou...ha, I can see how a person could get addicted to that! I've got new sympathy for the Aeolian Harmonies guy...

And ah, I bump into trees all the time, so I'll take the foresty where I can get it...I wasn't actually claiming you and I were operating from two different planets of analysis, just that what's in our analyses are from two different continents -- mine the continent of the Good and the Right, and yours the devilish antipodes where people walk on their hands and sing through their feet...and you know, I really do think that the question of drug use is a big toe-stubber in all this, don't you? I think that's plenty interesting, and perhaps (hypothetically) would be worth examining in more detail...'cause music's got a lot of drugs in it...

I like your "glass onion" conclusion: undoubtedly you're right. I'm not sure that I would uphold the idea that a song needs sympathy between its parts, though -- I also like it when the different "tracks" of a song, comic, what-have-you are deliberately dissonant. But whether it produces dissonance or consonance I do subjectively favour an active juxtaposition of elements in my art...not to say that I favour that strategy exclusively -- not at all! -- but I do like it. At a guess, I would say that you do favour that strategy exclusively, as it seems to form a core part of the way you go about analyzing structure -- and I would further guess that you privilege consonance and reinforcement because they're more efficient in terms of creating affect. They certainly are: but perhaps, not for all affects equally.

Quite a bit of paint on this wall, eh? Certainly I've got my version of Beatles Mystique operating at full throttle as well -- they're my favourite band. But one more thing about Paperback Writer:

Just think of it as music that a Kingsley Amis character might hear at a party.

In case this thread dies: fun chatting with you.

neilshyminsky said...

plok: I don't prefer consonance by any means at all! Most of my favorite contemporary stuff goes for ironic and seemingly inappropriate juxtapositions between the lyrics and music or even sections of the songs. And I love Springsteen for his ability to match anthemic music and impassioned vocals with utterly depressing and/or painfully anxious narratives.

But in a song about a transcendent sort of universal love? Well, yeah, I expect a kind of structural harmony among its various levels.

And yes: it's been fun.

Jonathan Brown said...

Jason,

I have to disagree with your assessment of the "nigger lover" line. In my opinion, it would be a mistake to assume that the epitaph "mutie" is nothing more than a symbolic racial slur. The argument between Kitty and Stevie can be seen as a debate between two women who are both minorities, albeit from different groups. Kitty's comment points out Stevie's hypocracy -- she tolerates racism towards the minority group Kitty is a part of, but if her own group was threatened she would react differently.

This scene could easily work with real-world example. Just imagine a similar debate between an African American and a homosexual, with the word "fag" inserted instead of "mutie". It is entirely plausable that a black person might not give homophobia a pause for thought but would be morally outraged by anti-black attitudes.

It also works as a symbolic statement as well. Claremont is showing that this story is no mere escapist fantasy but is explicitly ground in the real world of racism, intolerance, and xenophobia. In the reader's mind
Kitty's comment serves as a not-so-subtle reminder that this comic is a direct reference to the racism and bigotry that exists in our everyday lives. Claremont is making his point with a sledgehammer, and I feel he was probably rather upset at the wave of conservatism in the country at the time.

Either way, I would defend this story as one of the high points of Claremont's run.

david said...

I couldn't be bothered to read all of that, I just skimmed through a few chunks of it. I can see not liking All You Need Is Love (I tend to agree with most of the criticisms leveled against it, but still love it regardless),but holy shit, Paperback Writer is an awesome song. How is that even up for debate?

Anonymous said...

Two years later...

No one seems to be looking at the song for what it actually was: a "instant single" written and recorded in about a week with an implicit message of tolerance and acceptance given in the simplest terms because it was broadcast across the globe on the world's first satellite link-up. The words are simple, the melody is basic, it's "eaaasyy..." On purpose. So it could be easily understood by a global audience.

The slapdash nature of the recording and the resultant sound is also, unfortunately, evidence of the immediacy of the song. Lennon would do the same thing, to much greater effect, with Instant Karma. Also based on simple chord changes and an elementary melody with only slightly more advanced lyrics. Instant Karma however comes off much stronger, with a greater sense of urgency.

As a single, AYNIL is only trying to accomplish one thing: promote love and tolerance to a largely non-english-speaking world. As a song, it needs only to be accessible and relatable. As a recording, it needs only to be a snapshot of that moment. As a cultural artifact, it it becomes the "anthem" for the "summer of love" however simplistic, slapdash and lazy it might seem.

I love Ian MacDonald's book, there's a lot of good in there, but his rigid insistence on holding the Beatles to his personal standard of "pop" song perfection is dangerous.

Aaron Forever said...

Normally, I love reading the comments on these posts, and when I saw that there were 50, I was excited. I got bored at around the 20th one, so I'll just make it 51 in a very tedious comments thread and say...

The scene is great and not disquieting to me at all because if you're going to do a graphic novel as an allegory for racism/homophobia/whatever in a serious way, which is what the X-Men does and GLMK especially, then a scene like the Stevie Hunter one is important in hammering home that "mutie" in this story is analogous to "nigger" or "faggot" in the Marvel Universe.

If it's that bothersome to anyone that comics are addressing real life situations dressed up in spandex, stick to Betty & Veronica instead and stay away from the X-Men. That's the entire point of comic books as a mirror to society. It's SUPPOSED to be ham-fisted so that a 13 year old gets the point and takes something away from it. As a gay man who grew up with the X-Men coincidentally, or subconsciously, aiding in my world view and how I viewed myself, I applaud that occasionally a comic book writer will just come out and say, when it's an imporant parallel being drawn, "HEY DUMMY! THIS IS WHAT THIS STORY IS ABOUT" instead of wrapping it up so tightly in genre conventions that the commentary he's trying to make gets lost in a bunch of superhero bullshit and completely loses sight of the parallels it's trying to make. See also: Civil War. I like that Claremont just comes out and says it here. Had he used the word "faggot" I'd have been just as glad for it. As a reader it's easy to say that it sounds ridiculous when "mutie" and "nigger" butt up against each other in a comic, and might be cringe-inducing on the surface, but if this is the story you're going to tell with these characters, it makes absolute sense in-story.

Also, "All You Need Is Love" is great.

Thank you.

DB said...

I prefer Paperback to AYNIL but I appreciate what anonymous said two years later. Aaron Forever, great point. If I were omnipotent I would ask myself how X-Men has influenced its readers' attitudes re: equality.