Oddly, this reminds me of that.
So, in an interview a while ago, and apparently in some other places I know not of, Grant Morrison gave the impression that he was one of the distressingly many people who seem to believe that Superman belongs to the world, as the creation of Human Imagination, and not to Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster as their own creation. Though I still think the interview question at any rate was a bit of a trap — after all, through having spent years building up this massive thing about how superheroes are noospheric entities with some sort of independent “reality” of their own, Morrison has certainly made himself vulnerable to sneak attacks on the subject of creators’ rights, particularly from the de facto PR arms of the Big Two — nevertheless if he was not at least skirting the issue when he answered it then I’ll eat my hat, you know? And indeed it ain’t exactly hard to make the jump from his (arguably prudent) “well, I wasn’t around then” reply, to a (definitely odious) “they knew what they were getting into” stance. And so you can’t really blame comics fans too much for not giving him the very strictest benefit of the doubt, can you? And so many people online got exremely pissed at Mr. Morrison and his position: how dare he not stand up for the men who singlehandedly created the sandbox he plays in? How dare he play the company stooge? Morrison is nothing if he’s not a man who always has his finger on the cutting edge: as stories of DC haranguing Jerry Siegel’s widow come out, as Marvel bites back at Jack Kirby’s heirs, as Steve Bissette calls for a boycott…Grant Morrison seems to wash his hands and say “not my problem” even as he trumpets a Superman comic that takes the big S back to his common-man, unionist roots. And, you know…
It makes a splash.
A fairly instructive splash, actually. Now, I don’t know what Morrison actually thinks about all this (though I’m more than a little inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt as a private individual, you understand), therefore how to reconcile his public statements with the content of his art is a reasonably taxing problem, but I’ve been thinking recently that perhaps there’s more to be found in the vexation than there is in its reconciliation, no matter what residue is baked out on the one hand or the other. Morrison always leaves gaps in his stories for the reader to fill in, and I guess it’s a habit he can’t break even when the story is his own — because if he had said that what happened to Siegel and Shuster was disgraceful, what would’ve been the consequence for him?
Nothing, I’ll bet. There would have been no consequences. Nobody would’ve been mad. Everything would’ve been peachy. And I probably would have continued to read Marvel and DC comics, at least for a little while longer. But instead, my own filling-in of the gaps in Morrison’s story has led me to not wish to read them…with the notable exception of Morrison’s own Action Comics, which still tempts me. Possibly, it tempts me even more than it would have otherwise.
And is that strange?
Well, maybe I’m just naturally contrary. But consider: just a little lip-service from Morrison, and we would’ve had a thoroughgoing non-issue. The comics would’ve been the same. The lawsuits would’ve been the same. Nothing would have changed, except comics fans wouldn’t have been outraged. They wouldn’t have been outraged, and they would’ve kept on buying the books. A very interesting comparison with the recent state of affairs in which they were outraged, but kept on buying the books. Don’t you think?
And if Morrison had denounced DC, even done something as outrageously impossible as calling for a boycott himself? Would all the people recently outraged by his disrespect have, instead, followed him out the door and into the hills?
No, probably not: because I rather think it isn’t the injustice that outrages us, but the lack of lip-service. Because lip-service makes us feel better, salves our sense of responsibility for the injustice we see around us, and symbolically “settles the issue”, sort of like when Cliff Robertson gets a Lifetime Achievement Award. Well, but that’s the purpose of lip-service, right? To keep the money flowing in as smooth and uncomplicated a way as possible, by removing the rocks of objection from the stream. Think about it, there are so many things that Morrison might have said, that would’ve been both true and a salve: that the work of artists who have come before him needs honouring, and that it can’t be properly honoured merely by treating it as an economic transaction, but only by also continuing to breathe life into it as an artistic creation…that it’s a hell of a balancing act, but for all those who love and respect that work there’s no choice but to keep trying to make it work…that we must struggle with this responsibility in much the same way the superhero struggles with his responsibilities. Grant Morrison is a very clever man, whose fiction-suit these days is a distinctly reflexive superheroic one: he’s here to save the superheroes, so they can save us. So, would temporizing lines like these have been too much for him, seeing as he’s already wearing those clothes, and probably even has stuff stashed in their pockets by now? So it’s a bit of a shock that it didn’t get said, when you get right down to it…
But, the question then becomes: how is the shock constituted? What kind of a shock is it? A great deal of Morrison’s work is and has been founded on the problem of intentionality, so it’s always difficult to say he’s ever “meant” to do some particular thing, though he unquestionably means to do some things…and you can’t go by what he says, either, because: you know, it’s a suit. So what he meant, what he didn’t mean…that’s a little bit secondary, to the larger issue of how we took it, and why we took it that way. Morrison, an asshole? Some kind of traitor, or something? Well, let’s not get too carried away with the business of the Comics Capital Crimes: indeed, let’s try to remember that Grant Morrison’s never raped anyone, never murdered anyone…never even called for people to be shot, as far as I know, and so when we feel like burning him in effigy we should probably ask ourself why it is that we’re giving him such a rough ride, and letting worser others slide. Because, what inclines us to such judgements? Is it just personality, that makes that difference? Cults of personality are always bad, at least in part because they privilege aesthetics over ethics — they make of ethics an aesthetic sub-category, right and wrong not a difficult matter of acculturation and choice but a simple one of personal taste. And we should know, because comics blogland is primarily a battlefield of taste, isn’t it? Every messageboard flame war begins in the assumption that people are stupid because they’re wrong, unless that assumption goes (slightly more defensibly, if also slightly more disingenuously) the other way around, but whichever way you get it this leads on very obviously and evidently to the frequent and all-too-easy conclusion that there must be an equation of stupidity with wrongness, where to be one is to be the other because they’re both the same thing. But of course this isn’t true. This isn’t how we measure these things. Actions and intentions, correctness and stupidity, are both important…but taste isn’t important at all.
Taste isn’t important at all. That’s a hard one for people who are interested in taste to get their heads around, but it’s true: taste is individual, but it isn’t, itself, individuality…and it isn’t group belonging either, when push comes to shove. Trust me, I wouldn’t give up my taste for the world…but then again it’s always changing anyway, and everyone else has got enough of their own that they’re not even asking for mine, so the question doesn’t properly arise in the first place. And thank goodness for that, because if taste mattered to anyone but the one who has it, then everyone’s would have to be good or else it’d be shit, and then distaste would matter too, and…you know, if there’s anything that truly is an obstruction to the pursuit of happiness in the real and genuine scheme of human life, it’s other people’s distaste. Because if that did matter, then the whole world would be a messageboard…
…And nothing but, but fortunately that’s not where we’re at. So let’s leave taste and distaste to one side, and instead look at Grant Morrison’s sin against lip-service, and think about who is disadvantaged by it, and who is encouraged. Who was the offence committed against, and in whose favour did it work? What did it impede, and what did it enable? If you read this blog then you know I’ve been completely soured on all the work being made on the backs of past artists who were treated unfairly, whose families are still being treated unfairly. Now, I’ll admit this attitude gives me a slight shiver on occasion, because sometimes even in my own head it seems to decompose quite easily into the symbolic hollering of “SCAB!” at the current artists who are producing that work…even though that is not, most definitely NOT, what my own personal sourness is all about. Quite the contrary. Because as I’ve said before, I’m angry at the corporations for making this my problem, my own personal little ethics-based cognitive-dissonance moment, when it should’ve been their business to deal with it. So do I buy the comic, see the movie? Aren’t I hurting and/or demonizing perfectly innocent people if I don’t, isn’t like this being angry at the miners instead of the mining company? Well, actually it is the mining company I’m angry at, and it’s the miners I’m with, but cognitive dissonance is a powerfully-confusing thing, it turns things around on themselves in a sort of internal auto-spin…that’s where the “dissonance” bit comes in, natch. In the very nature of the ethical quandary, right in the logic of it, there is pressure on us to blame the current artists, just as there’s (inevitably) pressure on them to question how much they support the system in which they work to earn their daily bread. So, y’know, we all just go ahead and we do what we can when we can do it, but it’s the pressure that makes it a pressure-cooker, not just the heat. But then suddenly there’s Morrison, you see: and he said something that changes the balance of these forces.
So we can blame him, can’t we?
And maybe that’s it, maybe that’s the thing that works, the place where advantage and disadvantage lie. Morrison fails to play along in the way we expect him to, and it disadvantages us by making us think about what good it is to play along…but in the same gesture it advantages us by giving us a target for whatever dissatisfaction that self-knowledge creates. Morrison has stood up, so he is going to be hammered down…and hey! Better him than us, right?
But here’s the problem: it isn’t right. Not unless we’re prepared to do something about it. I mean: any of it. You know what I mean?
And that doesn’t necessarily mean “boycott”. It doesn’t even necessarily mean “protest”. But it does mean “reaction”. Take me, for example: I’m not engaged in a boycott, and I’m not protesting anything. But I am having a reaction, in that I’ve just stopped buying shit — even good shit — that leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth. And I’m not saying I’m any better or worse than anyone else because of it, but that’s the reaction that I’m having because I’m having one. Of course there are any number of reactions a person could have to the injustice on display in Marvel’s actions toward the Kirbys, DC’s actions toward the Siegels, if one is not actually predisposed to take the side of the companies. “Not caring” is one of these possible reactions. “Making excuses to oneself for still needing the job/wanting the comics” is another. And personally I’ve got no problem with people in the “making excuses” mode; I make excuses for things I do that don’t sit 100% right with me, just about every day. So I know that it is a reaction, a perfectly valid reaction. And you know it’s a little bit like work, too? It’s a little bit like work…
So you pay for the privilege, of making excuses. And that’s fine. But in my case, I don’t feel I have to pay that way anymore. And, in some way do I have Grant Morrison to thank for it? It was Steve Bissette calling for a boycott on Marvel that made me think of it, but maybe it was Morrison’s comments, and the reaction to Morrison’s comments, that finally made me feel like acting, made me feel like I wasn’t stuck with the situation as it was. So, lots of the people who are angry at him are people who buy and read comics from DC, but I’m not angry at him, because I’ve stopped buying and reading those comics. I can’t even let off steam at him, because I haven’t got any steam: there’s no pressure in this cooker, anymore. So the lip-service is nothing to me, whether it’s there or it isn’t. I don’t care about lip-service. Lip-service isn’t important at all. After all, how can you get mad at someone for not saying something should be done, about something you yourself have no intention of doing anything about? If you wouldn’t follow him into the hills if he said the right thing, then how can you be incensed about him saying the wrong one? When what you’re willing to do doesn’t change in any event, no matter what he says. To be sure, I am a little disappointed in Grant Morrison, because it would’ve kept me superficially happier to have him dole out a bunch of bumf about how it’s all about respecting the creators…I mean, in my own private opinion I think it probably is all about respecting them, to him, but I’m left in the uncomfortable position of not really having anything to back that opinion up with, and much to undermine it. So, disappointed: yep. But it isn’t like Morrison was any righter or wronger when he wrote All-Star Superman, or Batman & Robin, or New X-Men, or FF: 1234…and it isn’t like I was any righter or wronger when I read them. We both knew the score then, as we still know it now. I’ve known for decades how creators have gotten screwed by Marvel and DC, and I never felt moved to do anything about it. Morrison knew too, and he still went to work for them, and Morrison is not alone. I’m not alone either. Neither of us is alone.
So let’s call a spade a spade, shall we? If you work on or read Marvel or DC comics, you work on or read something that was largely wrested from its creators for pennies on the millions, and either you care about that enough to do something about it — any of it — or you don’t. And hey, if you don’t, that’s your business; if you’re on the side of the companies then I’ll cheerfully call you an asshole, but if you just meh it about caring then who am I to judge you? But then if you just “meh” it about caring, then you shouldn’t really give much of a damn about Grant Morrison paying “proper respect” to Siegel and Shuster either, should you?
But if you do care enough to do something about it…any of it…
…Then I ask you: is losing respect for Grant Morrison all you’re willing to do?
Because that seems like a funny place to start, and then stop.