Sunday, 14 April 2013

Ironically, she's not doing transwomen any justice. I'm genuinely fond of Gail Simone's work—both in comics and combative internet forums—and I fully support what she says about the addition of a transwoman to the cast of Batgirl: She added that she thinks most superhero comics readers don’t have a problem with increased diversity, but rather with stories that promote sermonizing over storytelling. Alysia will be “a character, not a public service announcement … being trans is just part of her story. If someone loved her before, and doesn’t love her after, well—that’s a shame, but we can’t let that kind of thinking keep comics in the 1950s forever.” Except it's not "just part of her story," because it's just not part of the story. It's an interruption in Barbara Gordon's issue-wide interior monologue. Because in this issue Gordon has quite a bit of confessing to do: You don't even need to enlarge the image to see that the majority of this conversation is filtered through Gordon's interior monologue—those black dialogue boxes speak for themselves. This is Gordon telling you a story about Gordon, which would be fine if this didn't happen: I admit to having edited out three panels of hugging and a close-up of that message-cat, but that doesn't detract from my larger point: Alysia's confession isn't an organic element of the narrative. It's utterly forced. Consider the first set off panels above: it's a series of two-shots emphasizing the bond between Barbara and Alysia that "transitions" to an unnecessarily dramatic close-up on Alysia. Because it's not as if Barbara's confession of having been paralyzed and tormented and stalked lacks emotional weight. Her burden is even indicated, visually, by the purple half-bat that haunts her words. She can't escape what's been done to her and who she is, not even when she's telling her own story to herself. Which, again, is all well and good. I adore the confessional mode so long as it doesn't involve Don Draper talking about swimming. But a narrative written in the confessional mode simply isn't the best place to have someone other than the confessor make a grand gesture. My editorial work above may be a little dishonest, but it's certainly indicative of the issue's overall narrative emphasis. If Simone wanted to have Alysia's moment be hers, she should've placed it in a narrative that didn't belong to Barbara Gordon, because that makes it seem like an afterthought. And that only provides more ammunition to people who think "cis-gendered" is just "another one of those terms invented in universities aimed at eliminating the word “normal” when discussing sexual preferences." Because people who think DC is pushing an LGBT agenda will feel like its being "shoved down their throat" when revelations like this are inserted into narratives so awkwardly. That close-up pushes Alysia into the reader's face in a manner liable to remind readers that the forced intimacy of all close-ups is actually really creepy, and when it comes to rhetorical effect, the difference between "shoved down my throat" and "thrust...
Mad Men: "Collaborators" in the Secret, Sacred Curb Dances of Suburban Love (Of course this is yet another one of those visual rhetoric posts. Can you not see all the pictures?) The title of the episode, "The Collaborators," is so obviously meant to be evocative that it almost sinks beneath its own freight. The episode's foremost "collaboration" occurs between Don Draper and his upstairs neighbor, Sylvia Rosen, who are acting out the transparent stratagems of Updike's titular Couples (1968). Though Updike's novel covers the time addressed in earlier seasons, its particular combination of adultry and war is relevant here: This pattern, of quarrel and reunion, of revulsion and surrender, was repeated three or four times that winter, while airplanes collided over Turkey, and coups transpired in Iraq and Togo[.] (161) Simply put, there's something about having sex while the radio describes some new front in the Tet Offensive makes The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit feel more like The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. (And we well know how accurate that novel is.) Consider the first time Don and Sylvia play "collaborators." The scene begins with a point-of-view shot from Don's perspective as the elevator door opens on Sylvia and her husband, Dr. Arnold Rosen, arguing over money: It's significant that even though she's shot in profile here, Don's able to see her entire face. He can see more of her than she can of him; he exists only in her peripheral vision, if at all, whereas he can observe her from two angles. He's not spying on her, but he is paying attention to their private matter. When Dr. Rosen enters the elevator, she throws Don the most meaningful glance she can in the half-second that she has: The director of this episode, some clown by the name of Jon Hamm, uses this medium close-up to great effect. Remember that close-ups are meant to suggest intimacy, whereas medium shots are designed to give some sense of body language. In terms of scale, this medium close-up provides intimate access to her face as she shoots Don a plea, while simultaneously allowing enough frame to depict the familiarity of Dr. Rosen's body language. He's distant from her (emotionally) but doesn't know it (physically); she's distant from Don (physically) but acutely feels it (emotionally); and Don's somewhere back there on the elevator, but the camera's not aligned with his perspective anymore so his feelings are absent from this shot. (If it were his perspective, the eyeline match wouldn't be slightly frame-left.) But not from the scene. This is the first example of the "collaboration" between the two, so it should come as no surprise that after Dr. Rosen enters the elevator, Don remembers he's forgotten his cigarette: The medium shot is perfunctory, because its main purpose is to capture Don's exaggerated gesture. The fact that the gesture's exaggerated is important, or would be if Dr. Rosen were paying attention. (Which he seems not to be.) But Don puts on a show just in case and zips back up the elevator: To...

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