Monday, 08 February 2010

Paris Hilton : Bruce Wayne :: Roosevelt : The Bat-Man Timothy Burke's post on how characters who originated during a particular cultural moment in the first half of the Twentieth Century are incapable of escaping it is compelling: Batman (and most other comic-book and pulp characters from the time of his original appearance) draws a lot of his basic storytelling and setting from a moment when middle-class and working-class Americans were enmeshed in a complex national encounter with crime, law enforcement, corruption and Prohibition: a helpless frustration that the state couldn’t control organized violence and illegal commerce combined with a thrill at the lurid spectacle of gangster criminality and in more than a few cases, direct participation in an illicit economy of leisure that exposed the ludicrousness of middle-class respectability. One of the commenters on the Varney article very incisively observes that the result is that the Batman character is forever trapped fighting “Italian-American gangsters in pinstripe suits and crazy circus folk.” However, drawing on expertise I can't legitimately claim, I think it's wrong. "The Bat-Man" (as he was then called) first appeared in Detective Comics 27, published in May of 1939, six years after Prohibition had been repealed, but two years before military mobilization would help the American economy recover the losses of the Recession of 1937. The economic situation was bleak, but the violence associated with Prohibition had so abated that even Dick Tracy was being re-purposed to fight threats abroad. The pulp aesthetic still appealed to the popular imagination, but its villains had become more myth than menace, which is why I would argue the appeal of Bruce Wayne in 1939 had more to do with the "helpless frustration" created by the depressed economic climate. Wayne is, after all, introduced to the reader as that most pointless and contemptible of people: He may be the dullest socialite ever, hanging out with Commissioner Gordon deep into the night, but he still represents the only upper-class figure commonly reviled by anyone with any political affiliation: the idle rich. Even the feigned ennui in these panels is designed to play upon a deep annoyance with people who have no cares and care about nothing: Did the Bat-Man become a popular character because the largely middle-class children who read comics wanted to see a wealthy man beat up, down, and upon common criminals? Not really. I don't think we can underestimate the potential appeal of believing that the Paris Hiltons of the Great Depression secretly deserved the air they breathed. Roosevelt's popularity was due, in part, to the image of him as a patrician who cared. He could have weathered the Depression on the strength of his family's fortune, but he believed in social responsibility (or so the story went). The socialite-as-secret-hero narrative almost reads like a deliberate attempt to cure a literary-naturalist hangover: the robber barons and their idle children had been savaged for the better part of three decades, but with the Roosevelt's rise to national prominence, a new mode for what had become an archetypal villain became possible....
Just because he hates feminism and festoons his virtual office with photographs of naked women doesn't mean he makes female students uncomfortable. On Monday at 3:09 p.m., Donald Douglas belittled Roy Edroso's feminist credentials for publishing at the Village Voice alongside a link to a bikini burlesque slide-show that a web-editor had slapped on half the site. Edroso is a hypocrite, you see, because he claims to be a feminist and someone else created an active element that appears on his page. On Tuesday at 12:41 p.m., Donald Douglas wrote a post about the new Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue in which he complains that "Photobucket deletes any bikini images I've ever saved from SI, and it took practically no time for their prowling image-hawks to delete the brand new cover shot of Brooklyn Decker." Because Douglas never claimed to be a feminist, his saving bikini photographs to Photobucket for future use and prominently featuring an image of a topless woman on his blog is not hypocritical. It is, however, extraordinarily odious and, in all seriousness, absolutely unprofessional. Many have been fired for less. Imagine, for a moment, that you are a female in one of his classes who is having trouble with her assignment. He tells you to come talk to him during office hours, and when you do there are posters of women in various states of undress covering his walls. How comfortable would you feel? Would you consider his office a safe place, or would you be worried about where his eyes wandered when they broke contact with yours?I only ask because a blog functions somewhat like a virtual office: it is a private space that the public, including students, can access. It functions as an extension of your professional persona. I could understand if it transpired—as it often did when I taught literary journalism and had issues of Rolling Stone, GQ, and the like in my office—that a magazine on your desk contains provocative advertisements that are visible when you read the articles on the pages opposite them. This incidental appearance of contemporary marketing tactic would be the equivalent of Edroso's post at the Village Voice. I cannot, however, understand the rationale behind plastering the walls with images of objectified women approximately the same age as the students you teach. This deliberate decision to decorate with photographs that stimulate him would be the equivalent of the seventeen posts Douglas has devoted to what he himself calls "fawning" this year alone. "If you don't like my fawning," he writes in that post, "don't read the blog." Which is fine for readers of his blog—but what if you were a financially strapped female student in his course at Long Beach City College? What if you were searching for course materials and stumbled upon American Power—a blog written by the very person you needed to impress—and clicked through only to find countless images of objectified women and your professor complaining that the copyright holder of others prevents him from saving and displaying more? How comfortable would you feel sitting their in during office hours? Would the intensity in his eyes indicate an...

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