Tuesday, 21 August 2007

No "Coloreds" in Our Classrooms: On Segregating Media Via Warren Ellis, I learn of this request, made three years ago: I'm going to be teaching a short course at my college next winter called "Comic Book Politics." The idea is to have the students read the best comics published since the mid 1980s which raise—either directly or indirectly—challenging political issues. I define this pretty broadly—anything from The Authority as a way of discussing the ethics of intervention to Maus as a route for discussing the Holocaust. I can't do things not collected into trades—just too hard to get enough copies to 15-20 students otherwise. So here's the problem: I only got back into comics over the last year after not reading them for a decade or so. I've been doing my best to catch up, but I'm sure that there are great authors, series, or TPB's that I've missed or else haven't fully appreciated. Here's a tentative list of what I want to include: Cerebus , Transmetropolitan , Watchmen, V for Vendetta, Dark Knight Returns, Palestine, [&c.]. Comics blogosphere: tell me what you think I should include in the syllabus, and why. That sounds like a fine list, but the sales pitch bothers me. It suggests that funny pages, as a medium, have something particularly important to say about politics. I don't think they do. The ideology behind this course seems to be: comic books shouldn't stand alongside the real political novels on a syllabus, because people remember reading them as children. (Plus, they have pictures.) That I remember reading Moby Dick as a child is irrelevant. (As is the fact that it has pictures.) Any medium with such a low barrier of entry must be inherently inferior and separated from the rest of the books. We teach "words only" courses. We won't stand for having any of them "coloreds" in our classrooms. That some of those "coloreds" rival the fine words printed on those pristine white pages is immaterial. This is the way we've always taught courses, all the way back to the days of my great-great-great-grandfather's advisor. We can't allow these "coloreds" in our classrooms. They're the last refuge of the most honorable printed word. We need to honor that tradition. It's ours. The only one we've got. If that means segregating the "coloreds," then it means segregating the "coloreds." Let them have their own course on the political novel. Separate but equal's a sound policy. Only a fool would resist it. Offensive parallels aside, it seems to me that Timothy Burke's "Department of Everything Studies" offers a better model of how to treat literary phenomenon which aren't (or never were) limited to traditional literary media. Consider the example of "noir." In order to present an accurate account of noir as a cultural phenomenon, you might begin with the novels of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett , but you'd be remiss if you ignored film noir, as it was not merely a contemporary phenomenon, but a complementary one. (Many of the early films being adaptations of...

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