Memo to Rhymer Rigby From 1992: Yes, Comics Are Literature

Are we still, in 2016, seriously considering the question of whether comics and graphics novels are a serious form of literary art?

You may have read the piece of clickbaity trolling by Rhymer Rigby, titled No Self Respecting Adult Should Buy Comic Books or Watch Superhero Movies. Niki did an exquisite rant about it in her Seriously?!? blog, in her piece titled Today in “Old Man Yells At Cloud.”  And John Scalzi took the whole thing down in one masterful tweet: “In fact, no self-respecting adult should give a shit what anyone else thinks about the entertainment they like.”

But there was one particular piece of this willfully ignorant, laughably hateful dreck that jumped out at me:

And yes, I know Persepolis started as a graphic novel – and very good it is too. But it’s an exception to the general rule that if you need to shave, you should be reading books where you have to make the pictures in your own head.

Really? Are we still, in 2016, seriously considering the question of whether comics and graphics novels are a serious form of literary art?

No. We’re not.

Maus cover
Mr. Rigby, I have a memo for you from 1992. That’s the year Maus won the Pulitzer Prize. It was the first graphic novel to do so. Maus is widely considered a watershed — not so much within the comics world itself, artists and fans had known this was an important art form long before that, but in the mainstream recognition of comics.

And Maus is very, very far from the only example of the comics form to earn and deserve respect. I have a memo for you, not just from 1992 and Maus, but from Fun Home. American Splendor. Love & Rockets. Blankets. Ghost World. Sandman. Watchmen. Why I Hate Saturn. Saga. Black Hole. Safe Area Gorazde. Barefoot Gen. Diary of a Teenage Girl. A Contract with God. American Born Chinese. Jimmy Corrigan. One Hundred Demons. Stuck Rubber Baby. My New York Diary. Akira. And yes, Persepolis, which you so casually dismissed as a fluke, an exception to the rule that you made up. Hell, I have a memo for you from Winsor McCay, from Little Nemo, from the year 1905.

There was a time when comics were considered silly and childish, and artists and fans had to fight for critical recognition. But that time is long past. That time is so far in the past, it’s old enough to drink. The list of counter-examples is so long, you could spend a lifetime reading nothing else and still not make a dent. Comics and graphic novels have had widespread critical recognition for decades. Maus won the Pulitzer Prize in 19-freaking-92.

So when you start rambling about how childish comics are, you’re not making comics look foolish. You’re making yourself look foolish. You aren’t just undercutting your opinions about comics or pop culture — you’re undercutting your opinions about culture, period. You’re making yourself look willfully ignorant, willfully out-of-date, unwilling to consider the possibility that your personal aesthetic tastes do not constitute a substantive social critique. And you’re not going to be taken seriously by anyone other than the rest of the Old Men Cloud-Yelling Society.


Memo to Rhymer Rigby From 1992: Yes, Comics Are Literature

Steven Universe Episode 8: Serious Steven

Steven Universe Episode 8 Serious Steven

Ingrid and I are re-watching the entire Steven Universe series — yet again — and I thought I’d blog some of my observations. Please note: I’m not writing these as a series summary or recap. I’m just writing down some of my observations and reactions, about individual episodes and the show as a whole. These posts will probably make more sense if you’ve already seen the show, but I hope they inspire the rest of you to check it out, as it really is one of the richest and most emotionally intense things I’ve seen on TV. This post contains spoilers about Steven Universe: the show as a whole, and/or about Episode 8: Serious Steven.

“This is just like the teacups!”

I’ve never been a parent, but I’ve been a kid. And I think one of the hardest things about being a parent has got to be deciding when kids are old enough for what kind of danger.

As a parent, it’s your job to keep your kids safe. But you can’t protect kids from every danger forever. Someday they’re going to have to do things like cross the street without holding your hand, use the stove, walk to school alone, drive, find their way around a strange city. If your three-year-old is behind the wheel of a car, you’re not doing your job: if your sixteen-year-old can’t cross the street alone, you’re not doing your job, either.

These decisions aren’t just going to be different for different ages. They’re going to be different for different kids. And they’re going to be different in different cultures and situations. If you’re growing up on a farm, you’ll have to learn to face different dangers earlier than if you grow up in a city, and vice versa. If you’re being brought up in a family of acrobats, if you’re the child of hard-core wilderness explorers, if you’re growing up in a war zone… you get the drift. And of course, these decisions are going to be different if the kid you’re bringing up is a magical half-human living in an uneasy temporary peace in a war between humans and aliens. Continue reading “Steven Universe Episode 8: Serious Steven”

Steven Universe Episode 8: Serious Steven

Greta Speaking at Oakland Sunday Assembly, March 27!

Sunday Assembly East Bay

I’m speaking this Sunday at the Sunday Assembly East Bay! There’ll be speaking (including me), singing, coffee before and a potluck with socializing after. If you’re in the Bay Area, come check it out!

CITY: Oakland, CA
DATE: Sunday, March 27
TIME: 11:00 am (coffee at 10:30)
TOPIC: I’ll be speaking about transformation (hey, it’s Easter Sunday!), techniques for changing our minds, and balancing confidence and humility when we understand that we don’t know everything and almost certainly are wrong about lots of things.
LOCATION: Oakland Peace Center, 111 Fairmount Ave, Oakland, CA, near Broadway and 29th
HOST: East Bay Sunday Assembly

Hope to see you there!

Greta Speaking at Oakland Sunday Assembly, March 27!

Steven Universe Episode 7: Bubble Buddies

steven universe bubble buddies

Ingrid and I are re-watching the entire Steven Universe series — yet again — and since we’ve been spending so much talking about it with each other, I thought I’d blog some of my observations. Please note: I’m not writing these Steven Universe posts as a series summary or recap. I’m just writing down some of my observations and reactions (not necessarily coherently), about the show as a whole and individual episodes. These posts will probably make more sense to people who are already watching/ have already watched the show, but I hope they inspire the rest of you to check out the show, as it really is one of the richest and most emotionally intense things I’ve seen on TV. Note: This post may contain spoilers about Steven Universe: the show as a whole, and/or about Episode 7: Bubble Buddies.

It would be so easy for Connie to just get rescued all the time. After all, she’s the human with no super powers; Steven is the magical half-gem with super powers. It would be so easy to make their friendship all about Steven rescuing Connie.

But Steven Universe doesn’t go there. From this very first episode of their friendship, Steven and Connie help each other, take turns saving each other, work together, play together, and act like a team of equals.

There’s a theme that runs throughout the show — the theme of what it means to be strong, and of having different kinds of strengths. That is so much what this episode is about. When Steven and Connie get trapped inside Steven’s magical bubble, they bring different strengths and weaknesses to the situation. Steven has magical powers, and when it comes to magical creatures, he has good instincts and insights. Connie is a better analytical thinker and problem solver, she has more knowledge and experience of the human world, and she’s better at thinking ahead. They’re a team. They’re different, they each have their own strengths — and because of it, they make each other stronger.

I also love, love, LOVE that Steven’s first approach to Connie — a fumbled attempt at stereotypical masculine showing-off, casually/not casually bragging about his bike as if it were a sports car — utterly fails to get her attention. What winds up working is a more direct and vulnerable approach. Okay, and yes, saving her from falling rocks with a magic bubble. I do think it’s interesting that Steven’s magic weapon isn’t a weapon at all — it’s a shield, it’s defensive and protective — and that his first bubble comes in service of protecting Connie.

And I’m struck by the theme of the bubble itself, and the two of them being stuck inside it. It can be tempting to try to live in a bubble, and when you’re fond of someone, it can be especially tempting to wrap yourselves and the relationship in your own little world. But even in a bubble, you can’t be completely protected from the world — and being in a bubble creates its own problems. (It’s interesting that Steven doesn’t seem to be aware of why being stuck in a bubble at the bottom of the ocean would be a problem: it’s Connie who realizes they could suffocate or starve. Suffocation or starvation — yup, those are the metaphorical dangers of a metaphorical bubble, as well as the literal dangers of a real one.)

A few side notes: The at-least-somewhat-romantic nature of the friendship between Steven and Connie is clear from this very first episode. Pearl doesn’t get this at first (I’m not sure she ever gets it), and she sees it as a childish friendship: “Let’s set up a playdate.” But Amethyst and Garnet immediately get that this is something else. And I’d be derelict if I didn’t point out the continuity error: in this episode, Connie says her family moves from town to town because of her dad’s work, but later on her mother is revealed to be a doctor at a local hospital, which isn’t very consistent with that.

Ingrid notes: This episode showcases some of Steven’s flaws, which is somewhat unusual in the show. He can be relentlessly upbeat, and overly-eager to please and make friends, in ways that put him out of touch with reality — and in “Bubble Buddies,” this gets both him and Connie into trouble. Ingrid is also curious about whether Steven’s bubble is the same thing as when the Gems bubble gem shards, and if so, why none of the other Gems use bubbles the way he does.

Steven Universe Episode 7: Bubble Buddies

Creepy Exes and Colonialism: Hamilton’s “You’ll Be Back”

Hamilton album cover
Content note: domestic abuse, imperialist oppression, mild Hamilton spoilers

It’s such a catchy, peppy tune. A classic in the “sad spurned ex-lover” genre, in the sub-genre of “denial about the romance being over.” The character singing the song has no self-awareness about this, but the songwriter clearly does, and the song is written with a wink to the audience. How funny and clever — to frame King George III reacting to the American colonies’ independence as if he were a bitter ex-lover, certain that his ex will miss him terribly, and determined to get them back.

Then it gets to the line about “I will send a fully armed battalion to remind you of my love.” And everything comes into sharp focus — through a completely different lens.

If you haven’t been evangelized yet by frenetic fans: Hamilton is the enormously successful, critically-acclaimed, totally-fucking-brilliant Broadway musical, mostly in hip-hop, rap, and R&B, about the life and death of Alexander Hamilton. “You’ll Be Back” is sung by King George III in response to the colonies’ increasing shows of independence: it’s one of the few songs that’s sung by a white actor, and it’s in a different musical genre — the genre of British Invasion pop. (Lyrics; audio.)

Here’s the genius thing about “You’ll Be Back” (well, one of the genius things): It uses the pop-song trope of the creepy ex-lover as an analogy for colonialism. It uses colonialism as an analogy for creepy ex-lovers. And it uses both to critique the entire trope, to take down pop songs that show lovers or ex-lovers being creepy, controlling, patronizing, unwilling to accept breakups, stalkerish, even threatening or violent — and that present all of it as romantic. Continue reading “Creepy Exes and Colonialism: Hamilton’s “You’ll Be Back””

Creepy Exes and Colonialism: Hamilton’s “You’ll Be Back”

Problems With Consent In a Show I Love Dearly: Parks and Recreation

Parks and Recreation banner

Content note: consent violations, passing mentions of sexual assault, Parks and Recreation spoilers

I love the show. I want no mistake about that. Parks and Recreation is one of my favorite TV shows of all time. It’s smart and funny, entertaining and original, with that slightly-exaggerated realism that lets it touch on truth about human experience while giving it room to be ridiculous. It has lots of amazing female characters. Its core relationships include a friendship between two women and a friendship between a man and a woman, neither of them sexual or romantic. It’s better than average on diversity (although I’d be interested to see some writing about the show by people of color). It aces the Bechdel test with gold stars and extra credits. And it’s an all-too-rare example of a comedy show where most of the main characters treat each other decently most of the time. It’s proof positive that affectionate and supportive human relationships have plenty of fodder for both conflict and comedy. It’s hilarious and comforting at the same time, and that’s very, very rare. I’ve watched it all the way through about five times now, and I’m getting ready to do another round. (If you’re going to start, I suggest you begin with Season 3; if you want to test the waters with just one or two episodes, I’d recommend S4 E6, “End of the World,” or S5 E10, “Two Parties.”)

Please bear all that in mind.

Parks and Recreation kind of sucks when it comes to consent.

Chris Traeger
A few examples. Chris asks Ann out multiple times, even though she keeps saying no — and Ann says to Leslie, “He is nothing if not persistent.” No, no, no, no, no. This idea that persistence is flattering and that refusing to take No for an answer promotes jolly good fun or is an admirable romantic trait — this isn’t just annoying. It’s dangerous. It’s a pop culture trope that needs to be taken out into the street and shot. (S3 E1, “Go Big or Go Home”)

tom haverford
Tom pesters Ann to date him a second time, even though she says No vehemently and several times. She finally gives in and says Yes, saying, “Dude, you wore me down.” Immediately after, in a one-on-one with the camera, Tom says, “The four sweetest words in the English language — ‘You wore me down.'” See above. No, no, no, no, no. Again, this isn’t just annoying. It’s dangerous. It’s an attitude that can make the world an uninhabitable misery for women just trying to live our lives, and it’s an attitude that can lead to sexual assault. (S4 E15: “Dave Returns”)

Tom flat-out deceives Nadia and wastes hours of her time so he can hit on her — in his government office, in his capacity as a government official, providing a service she had paid for as a taxpayer. And when he finally comes clean (or rather, when April comes clean for him), Nadia actually considers the question of whether this was romantic or totally scary — and concludes that it was romantic. She also dismisses his deceptions, chalking them up to “weird panicky dude behavior.” (S6 E4, “Gin It Up”)

Leslie Knope
Leslie refuses to accept Ben’s unwillingness to stay friends after their break-up — and interferes with his love life with other women. This is classic creepy, stalkerish ex-lover behavior. The fact that it’s done by a woman doesn’t make it okay. Yes, she eventually realizes that this isn’t okay and she needs to back off. But her behavior isn’t presented as stalkerish. It’s presented as overzealous, but understandable and cute and funny. Ann even tells Leslie that her tendency to steamroll over what other people want is a sign of her passion, and that while she needs to dial it back, it’s not a sign that she’s a bad person. (S4 E6-8, “End of the World,” “The Treaty,” “Smallest Park.”)

There’s also a trope, repeated so many times in the show I can’t even count them or document them, where people hug someone who’s explicitly said they don’t want to be hugged — and this gets presented as a sign of overflowing affection. It’s presented as a sign that when you love someone, sometimes you just have to hug them, even if they don’t want to be hugged, have said they don’t want to be hugged, and are visibly uncomfortable with being hugged.

And I have to add this to the list, even though it puts a knife through my heart — the entire early romance of Leslie and Ben.

I love Leslie and Ben. I love their romance and their friendship, their political relationship and their marriage. I love how in their marriage vows, they say, “I love you and I like you.” (Okay, tearing up a bit now.) But when Chris disciplines Leslie and Ben for their workplace romance, he’s not wrong. There are good reasons for having a policy that prohibits sexual relationships between bosses and their subordinates. And it’s not just because of the reasons Chris gives, that these relationships can lead to fraud, corruption, and misuse of public funds. It’s because these relationships can constitute abuse of power, sexual harassment, and sexual assault. It works out well with Leslie and Ben, but that’s not a good enough reason to suspend these rules or discard them. That just means they got lucky. (S4 E9, “The Trial of Leslie Knope”)

All of these characters are depicted as delightful. Tom is something of an annoying would-be player, but he’s never seen as predatory, and everyone is shown to be warm, affectionate, caring, likeable, and generally awesome. And none of this behavior is presented as troubling flaws in otherwise good people. It’s presented as just normal — annoying at worst, charming at best.

I love Parks and Recreation. Among the many, many things I love about the show, I love how (usually) feminist it is. But I’m not going to limit my pop-culture political critiques to blatantly sexist stuff I can’t stand. Lousy consent in pop culture helps normalize lousy consent. And when that happens in an otherwise-feminist show, it normalizes it in a whole different way. If feminist icon Leslie Knope winks at troubling consent and even perpetrates it herself, it makes it seem even more okay, even more like the ordinary quirks of healthy dating and romance.

We can critique the politics of pop culture and still enjoy it. I’m not going to give my favorite show a pass just because it’s a feminist favorite — or just because it’s my favorite show.

Problems With Consent In a Show I Love Dearly: Parks and Recreation

The Orbit Covered By Religion News Service!

(RNS) Organizers hope a new platform for blogs by atheists and others who identify as not religious will set it apart from other atheist sites.

“The Orbit,” a collection of 20-plus new and existing blogs, took off Tuesday (March 15) and will focus on social justice and activism through an atheist lens.

Religion News Service, the national wire service covering news about religion, has done a story about the launch of The Orbit! It’s a good story: succinct, accurate, fair, and positive. (Thanks to PZ Myers and Ed Brayton for their support, in this article and elsewhere.) Check it out!

The Orbit Covered By Religion News Service!

Steven Universe Theme Song Parody, Cat Edition

So I’ve written a song parody of the Steven Universe theme song, based on our cats. Because of course I have.

Are the tabby cats
We’ll lie around all day
And if you make the bed
We’ll both get in the way

That’s why the mamas of this world
Believe in
Comet, Talisker, and purrrrrr

Comet and Talisker snuggling asleep on bed 1000

(For those who aren’t Steven Universe fans, here’s the theme song, and the extended opening with the extended theme song.)

If you enjoyed this cat-themed song parody, you may also enjoy:

Saturday Night’s Alright For Biting
Love Me, Love Me, Love Me — I’m A Kittycat!
Everyone Knows It’s Comet!
The Comet Song: Theme from “Cat Over the Fridge Up High,” by ReasJack

Steven Universe Theme Song Parody, Cat Edition

Godless Perverts Social Club in Oakland, Thursday March 17!

Godless Perverts Social Club Oakland March 2016
Godless Perverts is having a Social Club in our wonderful new Oakland location, Thursday, March 17! 7-9 pm. We have a new location for the Oakland Godless Perverts Social Clubs — we’re now meeting at Rudy’s Can’t Fail Cafe, 1805 Telegraph Avenue, next to the Fox Theater (and right near the 19th St. Oakland BART station). Rudy’s Can’t Fail is a fun, friendly space that serves meals, small bites, beer, cocktails, soft drinks, and desserts. We’re meeting in the back room/ dining car, which is ridiculously cute: the dining car has somewhat limited space, probably enough for all of us, but it’s a good idea to arrive on time if you want to be sure to get a seat. The Oakland Social Clubs are on the third Thursday of the month (First Tuesdays are still in San Francisco at Wicked Grounds.)

So please join us! Hang out with other nonbelievers and chat about sex, sexuality, gender, atheism, religion, science, social justice, pop culture, and more. Community is one of the reasons we started Godless Perverts. There are few enough places to land when you decide that you’re an atheist; far fewer if you’re also LGBT, queer, kinky, poly, trans, or are just interested in sexuality. And the sex-positive/ alt-sex/ whatever- you- want- to- call- it community isn’t always the most welcoming place for non-believers.All orientations, genders, and kinks (or lack thereof) are welcome. We meet on the third Thursday of every month at Rudy’s Can’t Fail Cafe (we also meet on the first Tuesday of every month at Wicked Grounds, 289 8th Street at Folsom in San Francisco, near Civic Center BART). 7-9 pm. Admission is free, although we do ask that you buy food and/or drink at the venue. Continue reading “Godless Perverts Social Club in Oakland, Thursday March 17!”

Godless Perverts Social Club in Oakland, Thursday March 17!

“The Way of the Heathen: Practicing Atheism in Everyday Life” Is Done!

The Way of the Heathen cover
Well, for some values of “done,” anyway.

Earlier this morning, I finished the galley proofs for my upcoming book, The Way of the Heathen: Practicing Atheism in Everyday Life. This is the final step before the book goes to the printer. “Galleys” means the typeset pages of the book: the author makes sure there aren’t formatting mistakes, does one final round of proofreading and minor editing, signs off on the project, drinks or screams or does something else celebratory, and immediately goes into a panic about that paragraph that they were going back and forth on and whether Alex was really right about the word “green.” (Long story. We might do a podcast about it someday.)

And yes, I’ve been doing this at the same time that I’ve been co-building and co-launching a business. If any of my friends and colleagues have been wondering why I’ve been even more exhausted, overworked, scattered, terrible about returning emails, and impossible to schedule with than usual over the last few months —  yeah, this is why. Sorry I couldn’t tell you about it sooner. Loved writing the book; loved building this blogging site. Doing both at the same time — yeah, that was interesting.

So the book is done! Well, except that I’ll have to take one more look at the next round of galleys to make sure all the corrections were done right. And then there’s getting the ebook formatted. And recording the audiobook. And publicity. And… Writing a book and getting it published is funny: it happens in so many stages, each stage seems like the final one until you remember the next, and to some extent it’s never really finished. (I’m still doing publicity for my other books. Have I mentioned that I’ve written some other books? I have. I’m author of four books: Comforting Thoughts About Death That Have Nothing to Do with God, Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why, Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless, and Bending: Dirty Kinky Stories About Pain, Power, Religion, Unicorns, & More. They’re all available in ebook, print, and audiobook, they’re all awesome, and you should buy them.)

But being finished with galleys is a hugely important version of “done.” At this point, I am not making any more changes. I’m double-checking the changes I’ve made, I’m putting the book into different formats — but The Way of the Heathen: Practicing Atheism in Everyday Life. is done. It is what it’s going to be. I’m really, really happy. I think you’re going to love it.

“The Way of the Heathen: Practicing Atheism in Everyday Life” Is Done!