Thursday, 16 January 2014

Slipped Mooreings

I've said this before, but I've never quite got Alan Moore. Which isn't to say I dislike his work; Watchmen and V for Vendetta were both revelations when I first read them, and I love Top Ten and his Captain Britain work too (Tom Strong, Promethea, and League... I've tried, but couldn't really get into).  But there's always been something about his comics that renders them intellectually rewarding but emotionally unsatisfying.  Some might argue that should be sufficient, and that's fair enough.  For me, it isn't.  For me, Moore reads less like a writer and more like a super-computer extrapolating how a writer should function. There's something indefinable missing, and like pornography, you know it when you don't see it.

Given Moore's phenomenal standing in the comics world, I've thought it worthwhile on occasion topoke around inside this and try and figure it out.  So it was with great interest that I read Moore's "last" interview. Really, it works pretty well in identifying what is probably at the root of my problem with him, which is that he's a clearly phenomenally intelligent man who lives far too much in his own head.

(Trigger warning for below the fold: I can't really get into where I see Moore going wrong here without a discussion of sexual assault.)

Consider, for example, Moore's arguments about "reclaiming" the Golliwog from those racist fiends who subverted it all those decades ago.  A lot of what he writes is fascinating in terms of historical context.  Clearly the man has done his research, and can speak with some authority on the matter of who the Gollywog was, and how he came to be what he is.

But as soon as we move from the historical context with which Moore is clearly fascinated, we run into horrible trouble.
PÓM: How do you respond to the contention that it is not the place of two white men to try to ‘reclaim’ a character like the golliwogg? 
AM: The idea that it is not the place of two white men to ‘reclaim’ (although I’m not certain that’s exactly what we were doing) or otherwise utilise a contentious black character, unless I am to understand that this principle only applies to white men using black characters, would appear to be predicated upon an assumption that no author or artist should presume to use characters who are of a different race to themselves.
How is it possible that a man as smart as Moore clearlu is could fall into so obvious - and so frequently debunked - a pit-fall as this false equivalence?  I mean, for fuck's sake: the only options here are "only white people using black characters can be bad" or "everything is fair game"?  There's an excluded middle here you could drag Neptune through.  The sudden jump from "contentious black character" to "characters who are a different race to themselves" is a dodge that would embarrass the cheapest political shill.

These are arguments that could not stand up for ten seconds against an interlocutor who has followed even the most tangential discussions on race relations. It reads like the opinion of a man of undoubtedly fierce intelligence who is so totally lacking in data from the people who are objecting to this aspect of his work that his deliberations have led him to an hilariously inaccurate conclusion.

The same problem arises when he discusses his use of rape and near-rape in so much of his work.  Here he seems to be on firmer ground, in fairness.  His argument that the sheer frequency of sexual assault in this country and in others makes refusing to include the idea in fiction tantamount to deliberately ignoring it does at least carry some weight.  Indeed, Moore has identified one side of the common "damned if you do, damned if you don't" argument that straight white men are faced with when dealing with problems that exist outside of their experience: ignore them and you're a clueless tool of the patriarchy, tackle them and your white knighting or mansplaining, and picking at issues you ought to leave well alone.

There is no real answer to this, so far as I can see (Jack Graham likes to argue the solution is to change society to the point this problem shakes itself out, but this is not unlike saying the solution to the problem of carbon footprint vs supporting third world farmers is to move the Earth further from the Sun), so Moore's frustration is understandable. That said, there's a difference between objecting to being placed in a Catch-22 situation and writing crap like this:
AM:... Surely it cannot be because rape is worse than murder, and is thus deserving of a special unmentionable status.
As before, this is a tired and well-destroyed argument.  The difference isn't that rape is worse than murder, it's that the survivors of rape are still around to be affected by their experiences.  If this were Red Dwarf and holograms were having difficulty struggling through Die Hard, Moore's central premise to his defence might carry some weight. Out in the real world, really not so much.

If Moore really wants to go down this road, he should be asking himself why assault is so commonly displayed in fiction, as oppose to sexual assault. Germaine Greer, for example, has argued (if my comprehension and memory are both correct) that the wide gap between the two in society's comprehension stems from the kind of prudish distaste for sexual contact Moore discusses.  Now, a lot of Greer's comments on the subject have gotten her into trouble recently - her suggestion on Question Time that rape survivors should not have the right to anonymity in the courts pissed a lot of people off, certainly - but at least here is a comparison which can be dissected and considered at length. Rape vs murder is kumquats vs star fruit - to say nothing of how the obvious overabundance of lurid murder splattered across fiction isn't an argument for anything except less depictions of killings - and it really shouldn't be difficult to see why.  I give Moore credit for having discussed the issue with those directly affected by it, but the result of those discussions don't seem to have helped nearly so much as he believes.

(Or, in short, preferring being sexually assaulted to being murdered is not the same to preferring seeing fictional characters being sexually assaulted to seeing them being murdered.)

This is my problem with Moore, his apparent disconnection from the smartest criticisms of his work.  His endless kvetching about how dumb so much of the internet is blinds him to the fact that there are minority voices stalking these electronic halls that could smash his arguments to pieces with all the effort it takes to unpeel a ripe banana. It is, admittedly, much easier to be the smartest person in the room when you insist on keeping the door locked at all times, but it does leave you blind to what is going on out in the world.

(It also makes it damn hard to listen to Moore complaining that people aren't giving him enough credit for putting so much thought into these issues. If you're going to deliberately seal yourself away from contemporary debates on race and gender issues, you've got a fuck of a lot of nerve lecturing other people on not putting enough effort into their criticisms of other people's way of thinking).

There are other problems here. One might hope a man constantly talking about his dislike of interviews and his willingness to dismiss you and your publication for all time if they piss you off (not that Moore had no reason to be furious with the Independent) wouldn't be quite so willing to use the fact these issues haven't it come up in interviews before as some kind of reason to doubt their importance now.  You would think a man who is spending so long delineating the difference between what the Golliwog was and what it became would be smarter than to criticise contemporary superhero comics on the grounds of suspicious origins back in the forties [1].  Mainly, you'd think a man being asked to defend their decisions might take the time to understand what he is being asked to defend against.

Otherwise, you're not actually answering your critics at all.  You're simply dismissing them, whilst lamenting the fact that so many people are being dismissive of you. To which I say: cry me a fucking river, white guy.

(That said, whatever he might have said here that demonstrates a cringe-worthy lack of understanding of minority issues, he did also say this:
AM:... I understand that it may not be considered good form to suggest that class issues are as important as issues of race, gender or sexuality, despite the fact that from my own perspective they seem perhaps even more fundamental and crucially relevant. After all, while in the West after many years of arduous struggle we are now allowed to elect women, non-white people and even, surely at least in theory, people of openly alternative sexualities, I am relatively certain that we will never be allowed to elect a man or woman of any race or persuasion who is poor.
which - whilst not wanting to suggest electability is the only metric by which societal progress can be measured - is a point that needs to be made far more frequently than it currently is.)

[1] To be fair to Moore, he just tossed in his comment about capes being basically born in racist propaganda. Were he to speak more extensively on the subject his argument might prove more solid than can be deduced here.


Anonymous said...

John Major grew up in Brixton. Sure it was a time of easy social mobility, and he wasn't dirt poor, but he didn't get to be PM because he was from a rich background. And unlike Thatcher, he didn't marry money either.

Whether that could happen in America, I don't know.

Anonymous said...

Oops that was me!