Wednesday, 30 November 2011

On Frank Miller's "Holy Terror" (Part 4)

In which the blogger offers the penultimate part of a discussion of Frank Miller's "Holy Terror", which was begun here, and continued here and here. For anyone popping in who - quite understandably - doesn't want to wade through the previous pieces, this entry starts with something of a brief recap;

               
Anyone wanting to deny that Frank Miller's Holy Terror is a profoundly Islamophobic text is going to have a tough sell ahead of them. Whether he meant it to be so is the question, and that's something which nobody other than Miller or his closest confidants could possibly confirm. Perhaps it really could be that Holy Terror is the most unlikely of prejudice-pushing accidents, although believing so would involve being willing to swallow the conceit that a whole stream of racist content and implications just happened by chance to be scattered throughout the book. Yet if Holy Terror truly is only accidentally Islamphobic, then reading it as a work of "propaganda", as Miller's declared he intended it to be, becomes a problematical business. For if we credit that Miller was unable to spot how bigoted his work would appear to be, then we surely also have to accept that he's unlikely to have been bright enough to create a coherent polemic of a comic book in the first place. But Miller says that the graphic novel is "propaganda", and he's even claimed that the book became "more of a cohesive story" as his work on it progressed, which means that we do have to accept that he believes that Holy Terror hangs together politically. It's a paradox which will always defeat the man's apologists, I suspect, because accepting that Holy Terror is a well-thought through text inevitably means that its Islamophobia will have to be accepted as a deliberate choice on its creator's part. Anyone who wants to believe that Miller is in control of his art and yet somehow also ignorant and innocent of the racism which saturates Holy Terror is going to find it tough going squaring that particular circle.

             
Yesterday we touched upon the fact that there's few signs of Americans who aren't terrorist-slaying super-people in the pages of Holy Terror, while those citizens who do appear tend to be either incompetent - if not actively treacherous - servants of the state, or innocent but voiceless victims of an Al-Qaeda plot. Because of this, there's little sense in Holy Terror that Miller regards the majority of his fellow Americans as anything other than a mass of helpless individuals who are quite irrelevant to the politics of the conflict he's describing. Their safety from terrorist atrocities is undoubtedly something which concerns Miller, but he's unconcerned to use his art to show that the American people as a whole can contribute to the eternal War On Terror. As the Al-Qaeda assault begins, the typical American appears only in order to be slaughtered. None of them are shown taking the slightest initiative in order to help the resistance to the Muslim invaders or the welfare of their fellows. They exist in Holy Terror only to sentimentally evoke the horror of 9/11, and, in doing so, to legitimise the terrorism adopted by Miller's disturbingly inhumane heroes.

                 
Beyond that, the poor defenceless lambs of the Republic seem to be of no use at all to Miller's cause. Perhaps Miller really is suggesting that the majority of Americans exist only as well-loved but essentially passive and helpless individuals, to be valued and protected as vitally human individuals, but not to be regarded with any more respect or seriousness. Alternatively, Miller's "propaganda" may be suggesting that Americans will have to dramatically change so that they can take charge of their own protection, meaning that the hyper-violent likes of The Fixer and David, his fellow enthusiastic practitioner of torture, are intended by the artist as role models for the citizenry of the Republic's future.

Whichever reading's chosen, there's a certain irony in noting how Miller's apparent criticisms of the America of the recent past appear to overlap with those of the Islamic Fundamentalists he so despises. A nation of ill-informed and deluded lotus eaters? A Republic which needs to embrace both the leadership of warlords and the example of men willing and able to resort to the most violent and inhumane of acts?  It all has a remarkably familiar and disconcerting ring about it.

       
But if Miller seems to regard most of his fellow citizens as lovely weaklings to be protected by the Spartan strong, or even to be transformed into an army of the same, then his attitude to the American state is by contrast poisonously critical. Every single time an official in the pay of the government appears in Holy Terror, they're either patently not up to the job they've been tasked with, or, as a matter of fact or implication, corrupt. The closest the book comes to a sympathetic portrayal of a servant of the American state is Captain Donegal Dan Donegal, who The Fixer several times describes as being his "Captain on the force". Not that this means that The Fixer shows him even the slightest measure of respect, but then Donegal is, as The Fixer spits at him, a "moron". As with Miller's everyday women and men, Donegal is an apparently adorable human being who's just not fit for purpose now the killing fields of the 21st century have engulfed Empire City.

 
Donegal blusters his way across the page with no lack of energy and determination, but his only contribution to Empire City's fate is to doom a helicopter full of police officers, captives and medical personnel to destruction, leaving The Fixer to scream at his Captain the question; "Aren't you good for anything?". When Al-Qaeda strikes, Donegal doesn't even know which of his officers are "on vacation", and it seems obvious that he and his fellows have failed to established any procedures for the possibility of terrorist attacks upon their city. Nor do they appear to be capable of improvising any productive response; a police officer's shown running around as a comedy silhouette shouting "Jesus Christ! Where? Oh, Jesus!Jesus Christ!", while another's making a frantic personal phone calls about a loved one rather than acting to fight the city's enemies. And when Donegal's shown at the comic's end suffering from some fashion of post-traumatic stress disorder, we're expected to sympathise with him only as a victim himself, but not as a competent police officer. In truth, he's anything but, and The Fixer undoubtedly agrees with any such a definition; he involves the inept Captain in no part of his plans, and sidelines Donegal and all of his officers from the city-saving showdown which brings the book to a close. Only The Fixer and his few super-allies can be relied upon to act and to do so decisively and effectively,. Everyone else is at best a well-meaning idiot.

           
The destruction of the helicopter marks the only moment in the whole of Holy Terror when Americans other than super-people are shown as being worthy as respect as players in the crisis rather than much-mourned victims or fondly-regarded fools. Two small panels of "valiant medics" striving to save a terrorist's life on the downed helicopter are shown to us, and yet even that scene is used to accentuate the point that America's liberal values will inevitably led to its destruction in the battle against Islam. For Holy Terror seems to make it clear that any kindness to the Other will only result in the deaths of those who're so mistakenly decent-hearted in their efforts to help others. Jake attempts to help the suicide bomber Amina and is murdered. The medics try to save a wounded Al-Qaeda terrorist and are blown to pieces. The message does seem deliberate; empathy and the kindness it inspires will have to be overcome, or at very least reserved only for those who we define as our own, in order to create an America capable of withstanding the ever-threatening onslaught of the outsiders. In that, it's no surprise to note that torture is glorified in Holy Terror, and not simply a supposedly necessary weapon of war and vital means of self-defence, but as an absolute hoot too. Toughen up, America, toughen up.


            
How odd it is, that a comic which takes such care to show respect to the victims of 9/11 should also seem to be showing such a lack of respect to the police officers and public servants who did all they could on that terrible day. To be so precise in the way in which he aligns his narrative with the consequences of the fall of the Twin Towers, and yet to be so insulting in the way in which he depicts Empire City's police force has to be a deliberate policy, although not one intended in any way, obviously, to purposefully demean those in uniform who'd responded to the events of 9/11. Instead, Holy Terror seems awkwardly, and insultingly, designed to transmit a stabbed-in-the-back myth, in which the people have been betrayed by the state and the services which the state is responsible for offering to the citizenry. It seems highly unlikely that Miller, who appears quite obsessed with Al-Qaeda's attack on the World's Trade Centre in 2001, would mean to be so dismissive about those who strove so very hard to help on that day, and yet, in the muddle of his text, that's something that he does seem to be implying.

       
But in that business of associating Empire City's fate so closely with that of the WTC, New York and America too, Miller ends up using the helplessness and incompetence of his fictional police force as, it seems, a metaphor for the Republic's failings in the War On Terror. The result is a messy and tasteless confusion of messages. More unfortunate still, Miller decides that Empire City's Police Commissioner should be portrayed as being in the pay of Al-Qaeda. He has, The Fixer declares, although there seems no way that he could have discovered the fact during all the mayhem of the evening, "misdirected every squad car in town'. (Why those cars couldn't be re-directed is a mystery, as is why The Fixer hasn't done something about this unAmerican Commissioner when he's been on his 'tail for months'.) At least Captain Donegal and his well-meaning fellows are nothing worse than incompetent and ineffective. At least they're trying to serve on the side of the Republic. Yet Empire City's Police Commissioner is a traitor, meaning, it appears, that poor America isn't just naive and incapable, but betrayed by the enemy within too.

                   
What is Miller's propaganda telling us here, given that propaganda is nothing if it hasn't been shaped to deliver a compelling and consistent world-view to those exposed to it? Are we to believe that Miller chose to evoke 9/11 so precisely in certain sections of the graphic novel, and yet intended the rest of Holy Terror to be understood quite independently of those terrible events from a decade or more ago? If so, when is the reader to know when Miller's using the past to comment on the present, and when it's being used respectfully to evoke the tragedy of that day, and when Miller's paying no attention to 9/11 and its context at all? When is Empire City standing as the New York of September 2001, and when is it meant to represent America, and when is it just Empire City? For as it stands, and as ludicrous as it sounds, Holy Terror does seem to be saying something even more contentious than implying that the state and all its emergency workers were inept and partly responsible when Al-Qaeda struck, or even, that both government and public servants are catastrophically unable now. Because Miller also seems to be suggesting that either America was betrayed from within, or that such is occurring today in 2011. (He could even be suggesting both.) Well, surely not, unless it's all intended as a metaphor for how the American government effectively betrayed its people with a lack of attention to the Jihadist threat.

Or perhaps this propaganda simply hasn't been very sturdily constructed at all. Perhaps its lack of a taut and directed purpose, beyond a scattershot expression of loathing for alien Jihadists and American Statists alike, has resulted in Miller's purpose floundering when it comes to the key issue of making sense in addition to expressing melodramatic excesses of both sorrow and hatred?


               
                    
Things will obviously have to change for the Republic, and we'll discuss the corruption of Miller's America and the good example of her appalling superheroes in the final part of these pieces:

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Tuesday, 29 November 2011

On Frank Miller's "Holy Terror" (Part 3)

In which the blogger continues a discussion of Frank Miller's "Holy Terror", which was begun here and continued here:

             
Frank Miller seems to have not the slightest doubt about it. America is in the most imminent and fearsome of mortal danger. And yet it's not just the undeclared war with Islam, and its billion and more potential Mujaheddin terrorists, which is, it seems, so apocalyptically threatening the survival of the Republic and its vastly outnumbered 300 million or so citizens. For Miller makes it absolutely clear that the America he presents in his self-proclaimed example of "propaganda" has long been an idle, incompetent and corrupt nation. In that, it seems that this most patriotic of creators is presenting us with an analysis of the so-called "War On Terror" which begins by strongly suggesting that certain aspects of the nation share some - if only by comparison a fraction - of the responsibility for the horrors perpetrated by Al Qaeda and its Jihadist allies. Although its clearly the fundamentalists who responded  to "Mohammad" and his call to "kill the infidel!" who bear the great mass of the blame, America has, according to Holy Terror, allowed herself to become weak and corrupt. If only we'd be been less trusting and less lily-livered, Miller seems to be arguing. If only we'd been less idle and pleasure-loving and soft as individuals, if only we'd been less bungling and crooked as warriors, and if only we'd not been ruled by politicians who weren't so inept and corrupt and treacherous. If only America, it seems, had been an entirely different America, then her eternal enemies couldn't possibly have so wounded her people and threatened her very existence so.

                  
Yet it does appear that there's an exceptionally positive side to the gruesome business of this state of open warfare with Mohammad's infidel-killing people. (*8)  Though Miller is never once anything other than appalled and entirely regretful that so many Americans from all political and social backgrounds lost their lives, their health, and their peace of mind during the past ten years, he does present the conflict in shown in Holy Terror as the moment at which America can be entirely reborn. In the war against Jihadism, The Fixer himself discovers a purpose which leaves him at "peace" and able to admit to his "love" for Natalie, the heroic jewel-thief. Where once all he could do was punch her and screw around with her, now he's becoming fully human in the essential context of the war of us against them. For war isn't just a terrible challenge to Miller's heroes, but the crucible in which they can discover and express the very best of themselves, free from the negations of liberalism and the limitations of its inevitably corrupt political system.

*8:- Miller has his leader of Al-Qaeda in Holy Terror explain that his organisation is "scarcely a microbe, a speck, a part of an organism so vast as to be beyond belief". In the context of all the Islamophobic markers which we've been discussing over the past few pieces, it's hard to believe that this supposedly terrifying "organism" isn't supposed to be Islam itself.  Again, if it's not a part of the book which has been place there by design, then Miller's been incredibly careless with all the various and accidentally positioned elements of his work.


            
What is Miller saying to us? That from the ruins of the Twin Towers and, we must presume, the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan and beyond, can and must come a new type of American as well as a new kind of America? Faced with the brutal but inescapable truth, as portrayed by Miller, of a perpetual and worldwide religious war of the genocidal them against the virtuous but still-often-in-denial us, the individual and the state will have to be transformed. After all, if Miller really does believe that Islam can be reduced to an eight word commandment demanding a merciless and never-closing process of Jihad, then how can America's war with the Other ever end? Islam is, by Miller's definition, an incessantly militaristic and unreformable religion, and, as such, there never can be anything other than at best a cold, cold war. The price of liberty appears to be not just eternal vigilance, but the creation of a more Spartan citizenry in addition to a nightwatchman state dedicated predominantly to the physical protection of its citizens against a malignantly immortal opponent. 


              
But if we do credit that Holy Terror really is the hard-crafted work of propaganda that its creator claims it is, then there seems little doubt that Miller's Empire City represents an America which has fallen onto hard times, even before its invasion by the merciless, largely-faceless Jihadists. The very first we see of Miller's America is of a city being hammered by polar storms and buried beneath their snows. Little is distinct in this world at all, with everything vague and out-of-focus except, on occasion, for the super-folks who fight and mate and squabble up there on the rooftops, testing their skills and attempting to express their true selves in the face of the storm that's going to help to bring the city low. Occasionally Ditko-esque water towers and silhouetted skyscrapers rear up into view, but there's absolutely nothing beyond the tenderly-represented faces of the slain to suggest that The Fixer's bleak and seemingly almost-deserted home is a vital, colourful, and vibrant community.

               
In truth, Empire City often seems far more like some great post-industrial necropolis than a grand American urban centre, with its only notable landmarks being its doomed Statute of Justice and the great Mosque within and beneath which the bacilli of Al-Qaeda plot the destruction of the Republic. Families, homes, churches, jobs, shops, parks and so on; everything human and heartening beyond the consumption by the young of entertainment is absent from the pages of Holy Terror even before the first nail-bomb explodes. In that, Empire City appears to stand not as an Arcadia assaulted by a pack of religious fanatics, but as a grim and uncompromising symbol of American decay. In short, Miller's Republic had brought itself low long before the men and women of Islam arrived in an attempt to finish it off, and its citizens had been betrayed by a state which, as we'll discuss tomorrow, had clearly allowed, if not even actively caused, that degeneration to occur.

         
An appropriately dignified and sorrowful GWB, a slobbish and facile Michael Moore; propaganda it is, then.

Oddly, Holy Terror is a comicbook about America which features remarkably few Americans who do anything more than appear as untalking heads. The masses which do feature in its pages function as nothing more substantial than helpless and lovely victims, while those who ought to be defending them are at best incompetent and at worst a pack of modern-day Benedict Arnolds. The only characters of note, the only individuals who achieve anything in the war against Jihad, are the five super-people who eventually win the day against an Al-Qaeda "cell" and its various weapons of terror. Of these, it's uncertain whether three of their number are American citizens in the first place, although they're all most certainly not beholden to Islam. One is a Jewish torturer so depraved that "Mossad" didn't approve of him, two are notably silent and passive and "beautiful Asian twins", one is an amoral jewel thief, and the last an emotionally-stunted Great Man.

      
We'll chat a little more of their function in Miller's polemic in the last part of this discussion, which I'll post tomorrow, but it's worth asking here where the mass of Americans are in Holy Terror? Given Miller's stated intentions for the book, it seems safe to presume that his protagonists have been shaped in order to present the reader with a clear idea of what the opposite cause to the absolute corruption of Islam is. That is, after all, how propaganda tends to work. Yet such a crew as is Miller's society-saving heroes can hardly be seen as representative in their values and behaviour of any great number of Americans from any particular era. But, somehow, the murderers, thieves and torturers who line up in the hero's ranks of Holy Terror are a symbol of how America should defend herself, and of what she and her people must become. Given how radical is the cure for the problem of War Without End which Holy Terror presents, it's quite natural to assume that Miller regards the United States Of America as a fundamentally degraded and corrupted nation, despite the inherent if under-developed virtues of her people. (*9)

*9:- Of course, I'd lay odds that Miller's heroes also serve the secondary function of Liberal-Baiting too.

         
Five types of Americans appear in the pages of Holy Terror. In addition to the costumed saviours of Empire City and, in the unfortunate and telling words of the book's back cover blurb, "civilisation as we know it",  there are;(1) the ordinary and typically nameless citizens who've been allowed if not encouraged to become soft and trusting and self-indulgent by the nannying state; (2) the despicable political classes who've betrayed the nation through a variety of implied Liberal and democratic sins; (3) the entirely inept and even corrupt servants of the nation in the likes of its police and the armed forces, and; (4) those few, brave, pro-active and rarely-seen members of Empire City's emergency services who've not been bought by the enemy or disgraced by incompetence.

            
Of these, it's the helpless and endearing lotus-eaters who appear to make up the mass of America's citizens, and its they who are given the most attention on Miller's pages. They rarely appear let alone speak, they're shown as being quite unable to help each other, and they inevitably end up slaughtered. Yet Miller and his "Fixer" appear to bear the most intense and sentimental affection for them. Whatever else the graphic novel suggests, it surely doesn't carry a contempt for the American people so much as an immeasurable sorrow and frustration at those who've allowed them to become so naive and defenceless. We're shown them excited in the audiences for morally-hollow popcorn Big Killer Robot movies, we're placed into their company as they gather together in nightclubs like a horde of cheeky and lovable children.While the few strong grown-ups play their alienated games across the roof-tops above them, the city's young are so protected from the real world and its terrible dangers that they even attempt to care for the very same suicide bombers sent to murder them.

             
There can be absolutely no doubt that Miller is appalled, if not still traumatised, by the sufferings of all of those who were blamelessly caught up in the atrocities of 9/11. It's a topic which he returns to time and time again in his interviews, and it's one which he's quite clearly channelled into his scenes which depict frame after frame of individuals who were murdered in the Al-Qaeda attack he depicts in Holy Terror. Furthermore, Miller's scrupulously careful to portray a wide range of different races and ethnicities in his gallery of victims, or rather, he is with the exception of the absence of anyone who might be easily and immediately be associated with Islam. Once again, the line is drawn between good and evil, innocent and corrupt, American and Other, and yet that's a line which so cruelly and dishonestly distorts the record of  9/11 itself. In the real-world, and as the creator of Holy Terror must surely know, Muslims from both America and the world beyond its borders were also murdered and wounded as the Twin Towers were destroyed. But Miller, for whatever reason, just doesn't seem able to bring himself to represent that fact in any clear fashion. It's one of the most apparently cold-blooded aspects of Holy Terror, that a simple signifier of a Muslim victim of Al-Qaeda is entirely absent from its pages.

              
When we are presented with a picture of a woman in a burka, she's holding a rocket-launcher or an automatic weapon. When we are shown a keffiyeh, it's inevitably displayed on either an unsympathetically-shown Islamic and/or Arab leader, or a mass-murdering terrorist. None of which is to say that some of the lost shown by Miller couldn't have been Muslims who've embraced Western customs. After all, many of those who now follow Islam come from communities with no roots in Islamic or Arab culture at all, and an Islamic individual stands every chance of looking indistinguishable from any other typical citizen in the West anyway. For it's not that I'm trying to suggest that Muslims will by their very nature look different. Rather, my point is that all the obvious signifers of Islamic and Arab culture have been associated with evil in Holy Terror, and that's true to the point at which all of those who're shown to have fallen before Jihadism are marked by identities which are distinctly in opposition to Miller's fiendish Muslim antagonists. In this case, surely a spirit of compassion as well as one of fairness would have had Miller make a deliberate effort to emphasise visually that Al-Qaeda persecutes Muslims just as it does those from beyond Islam itself. For he sidesteps no opportunity to accentuate the villainy not just of Al-Qaeda, but of Islam and Arab culture alike, and yet the slightest gesture of conciliation towards the great mass of Muslims who have no association with fundamentalism at all appears to be quite beyond him.

Miller uses the device of having the faces of his victim fade from the page until all that's left are blank frames. It's an old conceit, but an inevitably touching one for all of that. Folks might note that the bottom left-hand frame contains a cat, meaning that felines actually receive more positive attention in "Holy Terror" in that one faded panel than does the Islamic and Arab worlds in the whole graphic novel. (It's also worth noting the priest at top right; obviously the reason for the absence of any easy-to-identify marker of the Muslim religion in the litany of Miller's victims wasn't that clothing associated with religion was being avoided by the artist.)
           

To be continued.

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Monday, 28 November 2011

On Frank Miller's"Holy Terror" (Part 2)

In which the blogger continues a discussion of Frank Miller's Holy Terror, begun here;
       
            
A thought experiment, then. Let's imagine we were to be presented with a comic book which featured a psychotic Jewish terrorist organisation dedicated to the destruction of the Arab world as it slaughters its way across the Middle East. Let's also picture that there are no other representations of the Jews in that comic at all, leaving nought but the most scare-mongering and dehumanising of anti-Semitic stereotypes on the page. We might wonder too at how the cathartic elements of this comic's plot rely upon the reader both loathing and fearing this Jewish conspiracy, so that they might better enjoy each scene of torture and murder as such is meted out to the book's antagonists. Finally, let's summon up an image of a double-page spread featuring nothing but the following quote from the Old Testament to serve as this graphic novel's prologue;

"When the LORD your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess and drives out before you many nations — the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites, seven nations larger and stronger than you — and when the LORD your God has delivered them over to you and you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally." (Deuteronomy 7:1-6)


            
I suspect that we'd all immediately conclude that such a comic book was profoundly racist, and that we'd certainly do so if the sole synagogue in the story was portrayed as an armed terrorist camp, deceitfully established in an Islamic nation under the pretense of  religious tolerance, and crawling with the most depraved of secret, world-conquering societies. I suspect it'd take most Western readers less than around 15 seconds for the word "Nazi" to come to mind, and that this would be a situation in which applying that label surely wouldn't loose the speaker the argument, while the specter of the Protocols Of The Elders Of Zion would perhaps hover over proceedings like Low's SS Angels of Peace descending into wartime Belgium. Others might consider more contemporary sources of rabid Anti-Antisemitism, but few would shrug their shoulders and think that what's before them is nothing but another action/adventure comic-book.

                  
Or we might care to summon up an image of a similar graphic novel which begins with the following quote attributed to Jesus from the Gospel of Matthew, 10:24:

"I come not to bring peace but to bring a sword."

If those few words were then succeeded by more than 100 pages of cold-hearted, bloody-handed Christian fanatics exploding nail and razor-bombs in the public spaces of, for example, Islamabad or Damascus, and if the comic appeared to be remarkably free of irony and profoundly informed by hatred and glee, then most readers would probably feel rather disgusted, and, I suspect, contemptuous too. Those impressions would surely only be intensified by the reader coming across the fact that the sole female suicide in the text was named after Jesus's mother. And, as with our first thought experiment, there would be no positive representations of Christians anywhere in the book, and the torment and execution of these despicable fanatics for Jesus would be presented not just as a very fine thing indeed, but as the most exultant and exuberant of Tyburnesque spectacles. It would certainly be no surprise to discover that the apparently anti-Christian text - for who's to say what a creator really means? - was the product of a team inspired by Al-Qaeda, just as we'd not be shocked to discover the anti-Semitic publication imagined above had been seized by police raiding the British Movement's summer festival. (They do have one, with tents and fast food and family entertainments too. Really.)

         
The almost psychedelic degree of spitefulness, the utter absence of balance and fairness, the entirely incendiary misrepresentation of scripture, the drama's reliance on the joyfully vengeful dismembering of irremedial monsters serving a unquestionably genocidal god; no-one beyond the similarly prejudiced would wonder too much about the morality of such a publication. These comics would be regarded as toxically racist texts and likely kept as far from the mainstream of the publishing industry as could be imagined. Their likes would certainly never be picked up and published by Legendary Comics, the publishing arm of Legendary Entertainment, a film production company who's currently snugly associated with Warner Brothers in the production of movies for a multiplex near you.

           
But it's Islam that Miller's representing in Holy Terror, and Islam doesn't often count for very much in the court of Western public opinion where a great deal of pop culture is concerned. A comic book which seems to do nothing except label the entire Muslim community as one great savage mass awaiting Allah's call to rise up against America can pass, it seems, without a great deal of comment of all. A few substantial negative reviews, a little paper and net-talk, and then the news cycle turns again and it's a new day, although the graphic novel itself remains on the shelves and the digital stores, and presumably in libraries too, while the editors and creators associated with it sit on the stages of conventions and laugh and joke about the product which they've brought into the world. Few of those possibilities would be open to a comic which so described the Christian or Jewish community, but Holy Terror will pass almost as just another superhero comic, and there add its own particularly unhealthy emanations to the constant background radiation of Islamophobia which saturates the West. Because of that, I can think of few better pop-culture products that might be passed onto someone who's being groomed for membership of a cause associated with Al-Qaeda than Holy Terror. Look at that, it might be said to them. That's what they think of us. That's what we are to them.

      
Given that Miller would have had to have been improbably lacking in political nous not to have realised that Holy Terror would be an exceptionally contentious work, and in the light of his claim that he'd intended no such thing, the future's literary detectives will presumably resign themselves to the fact that his words simply aren't to be trusted. After all, in the same interview with Bob Schreck in which he proclaimed an unconvincing lack of a desire to cause a stir with the work, a rather tired-looking and weary-sounding Miller defined al-Qaeda as "a message of killing ... It's not a religion". And yet Holy Terror appears to clearly imply, as we've discussed, that those who believe in the Prophet Muhammad are all obliged to become mass-murdering Jihadists.

*3:- For example, "Amina", a Muslim "Exchange Student", a "Humanities major", turns out to be a suicide bomber.  She repays a stranger's concern for her, and America's generosity too, by exploding a nail bomb in a club, and she - of course - shows that she's not even a good Muslim by swallowing down her "first alcohol ever" before she does it. (I just love the fact that she's a Humanities Student. Those damn Liberals.) However ,to those who don't know, "Amina" is the name of the Prophet Muhammad's mother, who died when he was 6. You really don't get more offensive, or specific, than that, I'd suggest, especially since the name is how associated with Muslim organisations campaigning for human rights, such as the Muslim Women's Resource Centre. For a man who knows nothing about Islam, Miller surely does know enough to be insult the religion in a quite precise fashion.
                  
From its opening and out-of-context quote from the Koran to its dedication to the murdered Islamophobic Theo van Gogh, from its constant association of Islamic and Arab culture with terrorism to its implication that Al Qaeda is funded and sheltered by Saudi-financed Mosques built on American soil, from its theme of Islamic men beating and murdering women as a matter of course to the suggestion that any example of Muslim individuals or organisations in America are servants of Al-Qaeda's fiendish plans,  Holy Terror seems to be nothing more than a book which portrays Islam and Al-Qaedada as one and the same inhumane phenomena. (*3) There certainly appears to have been not the slightest effort made to suggest that anything other than such a conclusion is possible. If it's a joke, then it's in the poorest of taste, and I mean that not aesthetically, but in terms of its creator behaving like a mensch. If it's a satire, then it might convincingly be argued that its creator is placing his own right to free expression above the rights of those from a community which has long been constantly belittled and undermined in the nations of the West.


            
For a man to appear to be so deliberately defining the Muslim religion as an irredeemably murderous endeavour in his work is at best a deeply regrettable business. That he does so while declaring publicly that "I can't tell you squat about Islam. I don't know anything about it." is an even more worrying matter. Miller, it seems, wants to say the most terrible things about one billion and more of his fellow human beings, as well as wrapping himself in the flag as a would-be nation-saving soldier who's unfortunately "too old to serve (his) country", but he doesn't want to announce that his purpose is more than just attacking Al-Qaeda. How strange a business that is, that what Miller says and what his book appears to state seem to be some considerable distance apart from each other. Propaganda, after all, is worthless if it doesn't state its point of view clearly and forcibly, and we have to credit the man who intended his work to be propaganda with the control of his work's meaning that allows it to function as such. Miller knows, for example, nothing about Islam, and yet he's so inspired by Theo van Gogh that he dedicates Holy Terror to him? Was he therefore so touched and moved by an incredibly vague impression of van Gogh's life that he just happened to think that Holy Terror would be by chance as good a place as any to respectfully reference the man? That's surely straining credulity way beyond its breaking point, as would be any surprise on Miller's part that the female suicide bomber in Holy Terror just happens to bear the name of Muhammad's dearly-loved mother. It's as if an artist had produced a work that seemed worryingly anti-Semitic, and then, claiming that he knew nothing of Judaism, dedicated his creation to David Irving or William Joyce. (*4)

*4:- No, I'm accusing van Gogh of having been a Hitlerite, and that despite his conviction in a Dutch court for anti-Semitic remarks, for he was an undoubtedly an illiberal democrat. But I am suggesting van Gogh was as biased in this matter as Irving is in his. It's also very much worth remembering that van Gogh also serves as a martyr for Islamophobes, meaning that Miller's dedication carries a great deal of power and meaning indeed. If that dedication's occurred by chance, it's an unlikely one indeed.


          
It's a paradox which it's difficult to resolve without assuming that Miller is deliberately misdirecting his public about both his beliefs and the breadth of his intentions for Holy Terror. Could it be that he regards himself as a freedom fighting creator who's forced by circumstances to bury himself in deep cover? (If so, the cover's not nearly deep enough.) Is it at all possible that this crusader for the Republic is stooping to distort the truths of an entire religion while avoiding standing up for that purpose in public? Could it be that all the self-aggrandising declarations of how Holy Terror is designed to serve the "war" against Al-Qaeda actually disguises a broader and repellently racist purpose for the book?

         
For it certainly seems odd that Miller lacks the will, or is it the backbone, to come out and discuss these contentious aspects of Holy Terror.  He obviously knows far more about Islam, for example, than he's willing to own up to, even if he doesn't know enough not to reduce it to a rabble-rousing sentence's worth of out-of-context quotation. How can this whole problem can possibly be explained away? Miller has, after all, made a career out of machismo, out of heroic tales of Great Men who stand bravely and violently outside of society's constraining laws and values in order to serve the highest of all causes; the preservation of the self-defined interests of the superior individual. One would expect, therefore, that Miller's pronouncements on Holy Terror's contents and it's actual meaning would coincide one with the other, for who could have predicted that a prophet of heroic resistance to power would ever apparently be obscuring a great deal of his purpose? For surely it can't be that Miller just doesn't know that he might be thought to have produced a text that's far more than just anti-Al-Qaeda propaganda? Yet, that does seems easier to believe of the Rand-admiring Miller than any proposition that he's hesitant to own up to the consequences of what he's written, that he lacks the courage in public of the convictions he expresses on paper. What to think, then, when the implications of Holy Terror do in so many ways appear to be quite transparent, and thoroughly unpleasant?

Readers who'd choose to believe that "Holy Terror" is only concerned with Al-Qaeda might care to consider the 5 wordless panels above. The characters seem to have nothing to do with the main story and appear and disappear quite without explanation; presumably the elect will understand. The meaning of the last four panels is clear; Islamic men beat their women savagely. It was an issue which van Gogh was particularly exercised about, and no-one could surely argue that such behaviour in any culture is unacceptable. (The levels of rape and sexual violence against girls and women is shockingly high in the West too, of course; let's not play our perfect world against your entirely one, shall we?) The placement of the panel of America's current President is entirely baffling, and stands as another example of the scattershot bigotry of "Holy Terror". Are we supposed to regard Obama as a Muslim man, or as a politico who's ignoring the evils of a supposedly monolithic Islamic culture? Miller knows, but he either can't or won't explain. Without the appropriate prejudices informing the text, the connection between President and psychotic religious masculinity remains undefined. And yet the meaning seems clear: Obama, with his damn smile and his talk-talk-talk, is to blame for this woman being terribly beaten by every single man in Islam!
        
For it would certainly seem to be morally incumbent upon a man who's willing to say such apparently terrible things, as Miller very much seems to have done, that he simply owns up to the intent of what he's done. At the very least, he might apologise for the accidental creation of any such an impression before perhaps even withdrawing the work and removing the careless and yet perhaps entirely innocent impression of absolute prejudice.(*5)

*5:- Either we believe that Miller just happened by chance to mention 'the Saudis' in a context  'involving conspiracies and terrorists, mosques that pass as revolutionary armed camps for Al-Qaeda and the flaunting of American security on its own soil, and so on, or we presume that we're being presented with yet another suggestion of a globe-straddling, apocalyptic Jihadist conspiracy which stretches far beyond Al-Qaeda.

           
It's important, of course, not to confuse a writer's politics with the apparent meaning of their work, and in the middle of all of the kerfuffle which Miller's Holy Terror and Anarchy has inspired, there's been a gentle but admirably civil cadre of creators, bloggers and commentors who've been keen to remind us of that fact. In particular, a few words by Neil Gaiman on the matter have been circulating through the associated blogospheres: "The art isn't the artist, the poem isn't the poet; trust the tale, not the teller". Yet those words clearly don't apply to Frank Miller's work on Holy Terror, given that he's told us how the graphic novel's designed to carry a fierce, specific and deeply personal political message. Where Holy Terror is concerned, the separation of, in Gaiman's words, the "poem" and the "poet" isn't just almost impossible, but quite contrary to Miller's stated intentions. (*6)

                
In short, Miller effectively demands that the reader associates the character and beliefs of the "teller" with the meaning of his "tale". For Holy Terror isn't anything but propaganda, and that's how it has to be read. And it wouldn't be any such thing if it didn't carry its own purposefully constructed heroes and villains, its specifically designed agendas of political problems and solutions. (*7) In this particular case, therefore, the art is the artist, and vice versa, or Miller's simply not achieved his intention, which means that there's little room to separate the character of the creator from the quality and morality of his art. To "trust the tale" where the matter of Islamophobia and political dishonesty is concerned, or rather, to very much not trust it at all, inevitably means that the values of the art and the artist reflect one upon the other. And if Holy Terror is what it appears to be, then that would say a great deal about Mr Miller.

          
All of which is why it's so exceptionally odd that Miller isn't talking about a great many of the issues that his work seems to be commenting rather forcibly upon. For this isn't a question of a politically correct demand that a creator retract his views. Rather, it's a matter of wondering whether an artist is being honest about the whole purpose of his propaganda, and of hoping that opinions which might be quite legitimately held in themselves aren't being propagated dishonestly, and at the cost of the rights of others.

Yet it would be misleading to suggest that Holy Terror is nothing more than, by design or accident, a - shall we say - misleading and - let's say it again - suspiciously Islamophobic harangue against Al-Qaeda and its apparently exceptionally numerous and powerful allies. It's also a seemingly contemptuous, furious, and despairing diatribe against America herself, if not the majority of her citizens. Frank Miller, it seems, is also exceptionally angry at the Republic too.
            
to be continued, in a final piece, looking at what Miller appears to be suggesting is wrong with America, and his apparent solutions for the terrible danger that the Republic is in. There's going to have to be some fantastically radical changes, America, although I suspect that Frank would still like to keep the name of the country intact at least. Also, how the man who denounced OWS as louts and thieves and rapists manages to make thieves and torturers the models of virtue in his "propaganda":

               
*6:- In his forward to "Absolute Dark Knight", for example, he argues that comics without political content are "irrelevant" and "dead", and he makes it plain that he considers his work to stand in the traditions of comics which are "overtly and plainly political".
*7:- It's that, of course, which makes the problem of the Islamophobia of Holy Terror so perplexing, for who would be so careless as to create a work of propaganda which seems to attack an unintended target in so many ways and to such a degree? And how much bad luck would Miller have to have had, to stumble by chance upon the name "Amina", and so on?

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Friday, 25 November 2011

On Frank Miller's "Holy Terror" (Part 1)

The fabric that masks the face of Mr Miller's enemy. Miller certainly seems to believe that we ought to be terrified by any cultural phenomena which he associates with Islam; Mosques, burqas, thwabs, etc etc. And every single time Miller puts to use his own take of these elements of both Islamic and Arab culture, he associates them unambiguously with the most malignant of thoughts and actions. In short, Holy Terror is a profoundly Islamophobic, and therefore of course racist, text.

Tomorrow's cultural historians are unlikely to feel comfortable taking Frank Miller's word for it when it comes to the matter of whether his Holy Terror was intended to function solely as propaganda against Al-Qaeda. For one thing, they'll undoubtedly note that Miller's public pronouncements during the period of the book's gestation and publication have often been, shall we say, somewhat contradictory. That he's made no bones at all about his longing to be personally responsible for the execution of every single member of Al Qaeda is of course beyond the slightest doubt, for he's assured us that, if he were only able to "serve his country" as anything other than a creator, he'd "gladly be pulling the trigger" himself. Indeed, death in this world is too easy a punishment for the women and men of Al-Qaeda according to Miller, who's stated both on his blog and at Comic-Con that he wants them all to "burn in hell". An unambiguous stance then, our future literary analysts might at first assume, and yet Holy Terror is far more than a passionate and patriotic polemic against a single and quite obviously utterly repellent terrorist organisation. Instead, Holy Terror appears to be nothing other than an unconditionally Islamophobic rant against the Muslim religion itself, and yet that's a platform which Miller himself has failed to publicly address at all beyond the graphic novel's pages..


        
As such, it's hard to take Miller at his word where Holy Terror is concerned, since his stated intentions for the work and the work itself seem to be two quite different things. Given how confusing this is even to those of us who're living at the same time as Mr Miller, it'll undoubtedly cause some considerable bafflement to those who'll one day find themselves trying to make sense of the long-distant, archaic past of 2011. Did Miller somehow produce such a fundamentally Islamophobic text by accident? Or was the self-proclaimed lover of free speech and chronicler of the fictional lives of Great Men somehow too bashful and hesitant to speak openly of the far broader agenda which Holy Terror appears to serve? Or, is it possible that the internal contradictions and quite obviously absurd content of the graphic novel point to a far more socially progressive purpose? Because the students of the forthcoming are going to look at Holy Terror and find themselves torn between deciding whether Frank Miller was catastrophically ignorant and insensitive, or profoundly bigoted, or the greatest satirist of the least humane aspects of the Dubya era's "War On Terror" that our age has seen.


The leader of Holy Terror's al-Qeada cell isn't just a bloody-thirsty terrorist who's thinking of executing almost-Catwoman in the nude, but he's also somewhat on the short size too. What does it mean, Frank, what does it mean?
       
At 2011's Comic-con, for example, Miller declared that he wanted Holy Terror to "really piss people off", which does somewhat clash with his statement that he "didn't set out to" be controversial with the book. Perhaps he originally believed that the work was so fair and balanced that it would stimulate debate without giving offence, and it may be that he only later developed a desire to exasperate those who don't agree with his point of view. It's possible, though highly unlikely, given that this is the man who wrote on his blog in the March of this year that "News objectivity is a twentieth-century myth. We only complain about propaganda when we don't agree with it." What a handy way that is of thinking about the business of dishonesty then, reducing as it does all statements of opinion, whether concerning matters which can be verified or not, to the same apparently virtuous state of innocence. An opinion that's objected to is simply, according to Miller, an opinion which clashes with an existing prejudice on the part of the listener. Perhaps such a relaxed stance where the matter of the truth is concerned can explain how Miller has apparently managed to miss the fact that Holy Terror expresses a range of cruelly offensive lies about the Muslim religion. For it's not the business of a differing opinion that matters here, as Miller seems to believe. Instead, what's so objectionable about Holy Terror is the fact that it presents a bigoted world-view which is (a) evidentially wrong, and (b) likely to reinforce if not actively inspire Islamophobic prejudice.


In a book where every one of the profoundly evil guys'n'gals are utterly without redeeming qualities, and in which they're all members of al-Qeada, the meaning of the Muslim religion is reduced to a single unattributed line of eight words. The closing three words can be found immediately below.
         
Miller's argument is, it seems, that anyone who objects to the content of Holy Terror can only do so on a fundamentally subjective basis. It's all a matter of opinion. Yet I'm convinced that a great many of those who're appalled by Miller's all-too graphic novel aren't merely objecting to the Islamophobia expressed there-in. Far worse is the fact that the apparent prejudice of the author's been buttressed with a blatantly discriminatory distortion of the Muslim religion, which results in page after page of negative representations of Islamic individuals as irredeemably murderous creatures. (*1) Miller has, of course, the right to feel distaste for the Muslim religion, and even to be as utterly terrified of it as he appears to be. But he doesn't have the right to reduce it to an intrinsically psychopathic creed associated with nothing but the most blood-curdling of violence. In essence, there's an absolutely fundamental - and surely obvious - difference between expressing a personal prejudice in terms of an opinion and pushing fanaticism in the form of a work which actively distorts the facts of the matter. For the Muslim faith is demonstrably not one that's essentially and definitively characterised by those qualities ascribed to it by Holy Terror, anymore than the Jewish faith is recognisable in the poisonous convictions of Anti-Semites, or the spirit of Christianity defined by the vengeance-obsessed passages of the Book of Revelation.

*1:-Even the book's title suggests that the atrocities committed by Al-Qaeda are demanded by Allah rather than committed in his name. I've no doubt at all that it did start out as a joke of a title riffing off of Burt Ward's dialogue in the camp Batman Sixties show, but it's hard to believe that Miller missed the sinister spin with which it opens proceedings. It certainly helps to create the impression that the book isn't just concerned with the evil that men do, but with the evil which Allah demands of them.   
        
How to reduce centuries of religious practise to one simple demonising label. Could this decision to demean more than one billion people be connected to Miller's impossibly vainglorious statement that he wants to "strike back" at al-Qeada and keep them "pissed off"? If so, that's a stance which values an impotent and vengeance-obsessed man's desire to vent far, far more than any sense of honesty, respect or kindness. But I do find Frank Miller's apparent belief that Islamic extremists read his comics and get upset about his representation of them there to be somewhat telling ...
             
Yet Miller presents his readers with a "Mohammad" whose message is defined by a single command to exterminate unbelievers, and then saturates his pages with cartoon representations of Islamic and Arab cultures which he uses solely to associate the entire religion with the most malignant of thoughts and actions. How telling is it, then, that Miller begins Holy Terror not with a quote by Osama bin Laden, but with an unattributed line credited to "Mohammad"? For a man who claims to be attacking just Al-Qaeda, Miller seems in the light of that opening quote alone to be launching himself against Islam itself. Now, he may be a brilliant humorist mocking the sadly all-too-popular conflation of Islam with Al-Qaeda, or he may simply be so inexplicably thick that he doesn't grasp what his work is saying. Or, as does seem probable given his dedication of Holy Terror to Theo van Gogh, Miller may be a man who believes that the Muslim religion is, in his dedicatee's words, nothing but a "retrograde and aggressive" faith whose holy book is "in part a license for oppression"? (*2)

*2:- "Theo van Gogh dubbed Muslims "goat-fuckers", a radical Islamic leader "Allah's pimp", and Islam a "retrograde and aggressive" faith." John Henley, The Guardian, 4/11/04. Henley was writing in the wake of van Gogh's savage and, of course, entirely undeserved murder by Mohammad Bouyeri, a Muslim of joint Dutch and Moroccan origin. Is this at least part of the reason why Miller has his superhero The Fixer begin his interrogation of the Al-Qaeda terrorist he tortures with what appears to be the following, and undeniably racist, sentence;  

"So Mohammad, pardon me for guessing your name, but you've got to admit the odds are pretty good it's Mohammad ..."
               
Did Miller intend that the victim of The Fixer's torture here to be taken for Mohammed Bouyeri, the assassin of Theo van Gogh? Many of the opinions and quotes attributed to van Gogh certainly do seem remarkably similar in tone and content to the apparent, rather than the stated, meaning of Miller's Holy Terror. (Of course, if Miller knows nothing at all about Islam, as he's claimed, and as we'll discuss next time, then why is he dedicating a book to Theo van Gogh?)
                
And for Miller to have produced a book which doesn't just imply, but actively states that Muhammad's followers are obliged, and indeed deliriously happy, to undertake murderous Jihadist activities against innocent unbelievers means that he's not simply a principled polemical artist standing up for his freedom of opinion and expression. Instead, he comes across according to the evidence of his own work as being at best an ignorant, and at worst, an intensely and unpleasantly bigoted individual. To say that everyone has their own truth, and to note that differences of such often generate ill-feeling, can't ever legitimise a decision to distort the facts in order to propagate a racist ideology.  And in publishing Holy Terror, Miller seems to have confused his right to his own personal take on reality with his obvious responsibility not to demonise one in seven of the world's population, including one million and more loyal Islamic citizens of the USA.

To have declared that he was going to produce "propaganda" is no more an excuse for Miller's protracted Islamophobic tirade than it would be if a hit and run driver were to announce in court that he'd told everyone that he was going to knock somebody over. Propaganda may so often be founded in deceit, but that doesn't make such deceit excusable, let alone necessary.

To be continued:

        
"News objectivity is a twentieth-century myth", Miller wrote, but what is he implying in the above string of wordless panels? Just as Miller confuses the "myth" of "news objectivity" with the right to tell lies, so too he forgets to make the target of his propaganda clear. Unclear, it seems on the ethics of truthfulness, unclear on the point of his propaganda. If this is "propaganda", it's propaganda which is so often ill-focused that it seems based on a lazy assumption that the reader shares the prejudices of the creator to the point at which transparency's unnecessary. Instead, the bile just sits there, demanding that the reader add their own values to the book in order to bring the page to life. Yet the point of propaganda, surely, is that it forcibly transmits its values in as clear a fashion as is possible. Clearly, the President, Vice-President and the Secretary Of State are in some way being associated with Bubya's "Axis Of Evil" here, but precisely why that should be so is hard to explain. Is it to be assumed that they're wasting their time on the trifles of democratic politics while the evil powers of the world become yet more powerful? If so, why is the Secretary of State being shown weeping like that in such an obviously derogatory manner? Are we supposed to read this as saying that any attack on America would be her fault? Why aren't they out torturing terrorists or doing something similarly patriotic? 
          

To be continued on Monday - see here -  when we'll look at the good gals'n'guys of "Holy Terror" as well as the nasty unAmerican antagonists too, before respectfully popping into Deuteronomy and Matthew too and taking a look at FM's declaration that he knows nothing about Islam. But next, a dry run for 2012's "Monday comment" on this blog with a look at Mark Millar's contribution to the OWS/Frank Miller debate, Marvel's strange attitude to literacy, and a worrying example of the wood being missed for the trees too. 

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Tuesday, 22 November 2011

The Very Political Frank Miller: From "The Dark Knight Returns" To "Anarchy"

In which the blogger celebrates his on-going recovery from The-Virus-Which-Punished-Movement-With-Asphyxiation - a.k.a. the man-flu - with a few pieces on Frank Miller's work, beginning with an askew look at the politics of "The Dark Knight Returns", and ending on Friday with a review of "Holy Terror". Caveat lector:- the following is a ramble used to help me sort out my own thoughts about Miller's politics in both TDKR and his most recent proclamations. As such, I strongly suspect that it might be best skipped for the many far more succinct pieces elsewhere. No, really; caveat lector ...

"Everybody's been too damn polite about this nonsense: The "occupy" movement, whether displaying itself on Wall Street or in the streets of Oakland (which has, with unspeakable cowardice, embraced it) is anything but an exercise of our blessed First Amendment." (Text from Frank Miller's blog-piece "Anarchy", art from "The Dark Knight Returns")

I'm finding it hard to separate Frank Miller's recent splenetic rant of a blog-entry from the vox pop talking heads of his The Dark Knight Returns. For the absurdities of Miller's Anarchy read as though they've been lifted directly from the panels of that book, which makes it hard not to believe that the whole distasteful harangue isn't actually the product of one of the smartest satirists currently writing. After all, how could a man given to the broadest of political sideswipes fail to notice that Anarchy was both absurd and incoherent? To catch so perfectly the tone and content of a belligerently confused and heartless old reactionary would, I'll concede, require the genius of a Swift matched with that of a Hicks, but who's to say what Miller's spent much of his time studying in the long years since he stopped producing smart and even on occasion compassionate comic books? A couple of feature films, a handful of "graphic novels"; there's been plenty of time for Miller to master rather than merely dabble in the dark arts of satire.


        
And I wish that I could believe that Anarchy was an example of smart-minded lampoonery, for, as Ty Templeton has his cartoon rabbit declare in his latest, and laugh-out-loud wonderful, Bun Toon, "I used to love you, Frank." But even if the cumulatively toxic effect of his last few decades of work could be ignored, and we comics fans do try, 2011 has brought us not just Anarchy, but the execrable Holy Terror, all bile and bigotry, ethnocentricism and ignorance. Frank Miller, it seems, isn't joking at all. Frank Miller is absolutely serious.
          
""Occupy" is nothing but a pack of louts, thieves, and rapists, an unruly mob, fed by Woodstock-era nostalgia and putrid false righteousness. These clowns can do nothing but harm America."

It's interesting to note how Miller seems to have changed the way he thinks about the "pond-scum" of American society in the quarter of a century since The Dark Knight Returns was first published Given Mr Miller's sense of himself as a political artist, as he argues in his forward to the Absolute Dark Knight, we're obliged to credit him with the skill and the intention of producing work designed to be read dialectically. For what kind of political artist would he be if his work wasn't rigorously and purposefully controlled? As such, it's notable that there are significant differences between the politics of The Dark Knight Returns and those presented in Holy Terror and Anarchy. For example, those involved in 2011's OWS protests are defined by Miller as a ".... a pack of louts, thieves, and rapists, an unruly mob, fed by Woodstock-era nostalgia and putrid false righteousness. These clowns can do nothing but harm America."  This marks a considerable decline in Miller's faith where the redeemability of what he regards as the very worst of American society is concerned.


            
For in The Dark Knight Falls, the gangsters of the "Sons Of Batman" are turned from their nun-slaying, cat-stapling, family-torturing activities simply through the good example, and the strong right and left arms, of Bruce Wayne. How odd, that a criminal organisation composed of hundreds of murderers, drug-dealers and, yes, terrorists should be so easily, so swiftly, transformed into a modern-day version of Washington's Continental Army, whereas, according to Miller's blog, there's only a hope that America's current "military" might succeed in whipping "some" of the folks associated with the OWS into "shape". It can't be the fact that Miller apparently believes that today's activists are all "louts, thieves, and rapists" which means he believes they're so unsalvagaeble as citizens of the new embattled American order. It can't even be that they're all apparently without gainful employment. After all, the "Mutants" who became the "Sons Of Batman" were all of those things, although they were at least free of the apparently emasculating markers of iPhones and Lords of Warcraft.

The first mention of the "Mutants" in TDKR, who later go on to become the backbone of Bruce Wayne's revolutionary army. Most of us would regard that as an extreme progressive position to take on the matter of criminal reform, but it appears that that's a possibility for all but the insane and Miller's dreaded "Islamicists".
           
Instead, it seems that something more appalling than the blowing up of innocent women by placing bombs in their handbags marks out the "clowns" of today's Republic. (*1) It's not hard to conclude that the OWS's sin is the heresy of unAmericanism, of the poisoning of both the nation's moral good health and its physical wellbeing in the face of the apocalyptic menace of "Islamicism". The act of challenging the economic status quo of America today is, it appears, the mark of a traitor, as well as a "lout" and a "thief" and a "rapist", because it seems that the USA's capacity to defend itself against the deadly threat of "Islamicism" would be fatally weakened if the very richest of the nation's super-rich were asked to pay just a little bit more in taxes.

*1:- Evidence that Mr Miller wasn't quite thinking as clearly as he might have been in "Anarchy" abounds. My favourite example is his ability to label a group composed of  "louts, thieves, and rapists" as "clowns". He must either have been somewhat confused as he typed away or he carries a particularly low opinion of clowns.

           
""Occupy" is nothing short of a clumsy, poorly-expressed attempt at anarchy, to the extent that the "movement" - HAH! Some "movement", except if the word "bowel" is attached - is anything more than an ugly fashion statement by a bunch if iPhone, iPad wielding spoiled brats who should stop getting in the way of working people and finds for themselves."

There is, of course, a particular irony in this, for The Dark Knight Returns is solely concerned with the heroic responsibility of the people, under the leadership of an outstandingly moral individual, to revolt against its government even during a time of war against a more powerfully armed enemy. Nothing so marks the apparent evolution of Miller's thought as this, that the arch-conservative of 2011 was once a comic-book advocate of an authoritarian revolution against a Washington reeling from a nuclear attack from Soviet Russia. (Miller, being a political artist, has to be respected as setting out the grounds in TDKR under which the overthrow of the state is justified. Otherwise, he's just playing around with the tropes of authoritarianism, if not fascism, as a jape, and no serious political artist would do that, surely?) If the citizens of Wayne's revolutionary army in TDKR had followed Miller's current credo of do-what-the-powers-that-be-demand, then they'd all have returned obediently home at the story's end, and shopped the Batman and Green Arrow to Reagan's authorities too. America was at war, so, according to Anarchy, obedience was mandatory regardless of the health of the Republic and the welfare of its citizens.

Miller used to mock the powers-that-be. Now he mocks those who'd question them. Times change.
         
To today's Miller, a threat to the Republic is, we must assume, the point at which legitimate protest becomes entirely illegitimate. Who defines what constitutes such a threat is, of course, a problem which Miller's not defined in anything but the broadest of terms, but he does seem convinced that America is so fiercely challenged and so fundamentally weak that the OWS events are in some way a danger to the nation. After all, if the movement poses no threat at all, then why would Miller be venting so about it? Why bother to tackle the "garbage - both politically and physically", why mention the war, why emphasise the virtue of the army, why raise the spectre of "Islamicism", if not to draw a line between utter depravity and absolute virtue? Obviously, a comic book which presented a heroic rebellion against the American state was perfectly acceptable to Miller in 1986/7, and yet today's situation is so bleak that even a discussion of the reform of the tax system constitutes an unspeakably dangerous heresy. Yet given that the America of The Dark Knight Returns was most certainly at war, the sins of the OWS today can't be that they've argued for social change while America's armies are engaged in Afghanistan and Iraq. That's obviously a terrible thing for them to do in Miller's opinion, but it can't be the tipping point that triggered the fury and contempt of his Moses-coming-down-the-mountain moment.

Miller's President Reagan commits American forces to a war on a foreign shore which, due to inept intelligence and faulty strategy, results in nuclear war blowing back at the U.S.A.  An obvious satire of Pressie Ronnie's habit of meddling in the sovereign affairs of independent nations which would presumably be unacceptable today, according to the logic of Miller's "Anarchy".

Instead, it's hard to suppress the suspicion that Miller must be aware of some appalling danger to the USA which threatens not just its citizens in the context of potential terrorist attacks, but the survival of very country itself. Assuming that there's any sort of continuity between the political meaning of The Dark Knight Returns and those values expressed in Anarchy and Holy Terror, we seem to have passed from a time when a state-destroying Batman can be presented as a laudable individual into an age when even a public debate about the obviously inequitable distribution of wealth will threaten the state. Things must be far worse for America than most of us ever thought possible! Or can it be that Miller would now look back at The Dark Knight Returns and be appalled by how naively he presented the argument for a rebellion against the very political system which is today so precious to him?

For surely it can't be that the serious political artist that is Frank Miller would invest his precious time insulting a group of people which he regards as being both powerless and worthless?      

"This is no popular uprising. This is garbage. And goodness knows they're spewing their garbage - both politically and physically - every which way they can find. Wake up, pond scum. America is at war with a ruthless enemy."
      
Or perhaps it's just that Miller's has become more conservatively-minded where the state is concerned in the years since TDKR. (*2) Yet in the mid-eighties, Miller presented his readers with a future America sending its soldiers overseas on Imperialist adventures based on nothing but self-interest, and in doing so, he made his position as regards Reagan's various unconstitutional South American adventures in the real-world absolutely clear. He had his President Ronnie catch himself in a televised address to the American people while owning up to having threatened the sovereignty of "Corto Maltese" for nothing but the most self-interested of  motives, and then showed the Great Communicator masking that slip by exhorting his people to "stand up for the cause of freedom -- and those cute little Corto Maltese people". That those "cute little .... people" didn't want America controlling their affairs was clear in TDKR, while Reagan's incompetence in creating unjust wars which might catastrophically backfire on America's national security is a major theme in the book.

*2:- Or is it only Miller and his fellow heroic individuals who are qualified to criticise America? Surely not.

           
Already uncaringly presiding over an economic crisis at home, Miller's Reagan matches his disinterest in the wellbeing of the American citizenry with an imperialistic zeal when it comes to over-seas adventuring. Having picked a fight with the U.S.S.R. over Corto Maltese for no defensible ethical or practical reason, and believing that Superman can counter any Soviet military threat, Reagan finds, as Miller's Batman declares, that "the USSR has taken the lead in the arms race". As a consequence, much of America's technology is fried by a Soviet super-nuke, and the world condemned to nuclear winter. In short, TDKR presents us with a President pursuing what appear to be at best laissez-faire economic policies at home while recklessly pursuing dubious foreign misadventures which cause endless disasters for the homeland The first matter triggers unbelievable economic hardship for the vast majority of the folks in The Dark Knight Returns, while the latter results in nuclear winter. The Miller of the mid-Eighties didn't just portray rebellion against such a state as a good idea; he presented it as a moral necessity, and, again, we have to credit that such a 'political' writer intended his work to carry such a revolutionary meaning.

"Maybe, between bouts of self-pity and all the other tasty titbits of narcissism you've been served up in your seltered, comfy little worlds, you've heard terms like al-Qaeda and Islamicism."
          
In the light of that, Bruce Wayne's cartoon rebellion against the American state as it struggles to survive after the Soviet assault, and with its troops still in the field, would surely be abhorrent to today's Frank Miller, who can't even stand to see the state's politics being peacefully challenged anymore. A matter too serious for political protest must surely be too serious for comic-book political satire too. (*2 - see above.) From proposing the case for what seems to be nothing so much as a rich man's uprising during a time of national peril to deploring even the right of free speech during relatively benign times today; that's a dramatic arc of political development for an artist to travel in two and a half decades. To have managed to ignore the parallels between his own take on a future President Reagan, who he clearly despised in TDKR, and the regime of President Dudya, whose policies he's seemed to vigorously embrace, illustrates how far Miller's come. Once he presented comics which, for all their thoroughly unpleasant far right politics, expressed a horror at the capitalist system's fleecing of the people and against the expansionist sabre-slashing of the state which many of the rest of us could emphasise with; now he seems appalled by anyone who'd speak up against either situation. (*2 - see above.) The anti-racism of several scenes of The Dark Knight Returns, for example, meant that the book could come across in places as almost a liberal text, which may explain how the toxic politics of the work as a whole failed to alienate far more of its readership. (Rand's disdain for racism is often ignored both by those who'd claim her as an inspiration and by those who loathe her work, but Miller obviously listened to his self-proclaimed inspiration.) Of course, that progressive stance on race didn't extend to Miller presenting a leading character in TDKR who was actually Black themselves, but he did show - bless him - a passing measure of concern.

Miller's moment of political sensitivity on the matter of race in TDKR.

Today's Miller would rather have his Dark Knight fall into line behind those who think America is engaged in a state-threatening war against the "Islamicists". As Miller wrote in Anarchy, "America is at war against a ruthless enemy". Given that the threat from al-Qaeda is barely the tiniest fraction of that posed by the USSR of the mid-Eighties, in fact or even in the pages of TDKR, we have to assume that there's something particularly threatening about bin Laden's organisation to Miller. For Miller's thoughts about obedience and the unchallengability of the State have certainly changed over the years. Where once Miller presented a Batman justified in trying to overthrow the state while American soldiers were engaged in "Corto Maltese", now he argues for the moral obligation to shut up and do what you're told, while in Holy Terror, his Batman surrogate "The Fixer" is set on murdering as many members of al-Qaeda as he possibly can. Indeed, the politics of Holy Terror are concerned only with the glorification of revenge, torture and murder in the name of the American state. Whatever "our" side chooses to do is by its very nature necessary and correct, it appears, and so why would a Batman choose to overthrown such a virtuous system?

The Occupy Wall Street Protestors: Man Upped Division. (Surely some mistake here: editor)
          
Where once Miller appeared to worship at a sub-Randian alter exalting the heroic individual in his battle against the "little people" and their hero-crushing institutions, now Miller presents us with the concept of the holy state of America, whose continued existence in exactly its current form marks the only possible social good. (Rand certainly believed that the very existence of a government was justified in terms of its capacity to protect the people from physical harm, but Miller seems to be granting the post-9/11 state his blanket approval where economic and social policies are concerned too.) Such an obsessively, irrationally focused concept of civic virtue means that Miller's work has ceased to carry any great weight of values which might be seen as sympathetic to liberal humanism at all. In short, the balancing act which TDKR achieved, in that it could appear to be socially progressive here and there while presenting the most extreme range of values in general, is now replaced by the one-note drone of My County Right Or Wrong, And It's Always Right, Pond Scum!!!!!. And where once Miller fully accepted, in his self-proclaimed "political" The Dark Knight Returns, that the American government could be both entirely callous to its own people and a dangerously predatory world power too, now it's shoulders back, watch your mouth, salute stiffly, and pray that the military really does "whip you into shape".

           
Of course, that would be the military which has been so let down by American capitalism in The Dark Knight Returns that its Generals, having been refused health insurance for their dying spouses, are driven into selling top-secret weapons to criminals before committing noble, tragic suicide. And the Miller of 1986/7 was apparently as concerned with the abuses practised by the Health Insurance industry as OWS is today.. In that, we might expect Miller to express a great deal of sympathy for the protesters associated with OWS, given that health insurance has been a major concern of theirs too. Yet the folks of "Occupy" are nothing but "spoilt brats" to Miller , who ought to "find jobs for themselves" rather than getting in "the way of working people". (Does Miller expect his readers to accept the monied elites of Wall Street into their definition of the hard-working proletariat? It does seem absurdly so.) At what point, it's hard not to wonder, did the Miller of 1985-7, who seemed absolutely determined to paint a picture of largely unregulated capitalism as a wholly corrupt system, decide that the system as exists is beyond criticism? For in The Dark Knight Returns, practically every mention of both government and business reflects a belief in their absolute corruption.

Not everyone in the media is held in contempt in TDKR. "Lana", for example, is clearly intended to be providing Gotham with the correct answers, and her words do carry a familiar contempt that's often presented in Miller's prose too; "... for any motive too big for your little mind?", for example, could've been a line in Miller's Anarchy.
           
That the News media is presented in TDKR as "stupid" and full of "little people" who "so poorly chronicled the gigantic conflicts of the time", as Miller's 2006 forward to the Absolute Dark Knight states, is just one part of Miller's assault on almost-monopoly capitalism. Accordingly, the Health Insurance industry is attacked with all the sentimentality that Miller can muster; poor Margaret Corcoran can't afford to pay for her varicose veins to be dealt with, her insurance having been refused, while General Brigg's wife has died of Hodgkin's disease because the industry won't "sponsor a rare treatment". Hand in hand with Miller's portrait of Reagan's deliberate policy of ignoring America's economic collapse, therefore, is a picture of a system of soulless, soul-crushing economic oppression, the cumulative effects of which appear to justify the Dark Knight's campaign against the Nation. In The Dark Knight Returns, the state's inattention to the rights of citizens of America and Corto Maltese stands as yet another marker of the nation which requires a "powerful, demanding, unrepentant hero" to save it. Today, any such awareness of any such a problem appears to have entirely disappeared from Miller's work or pronouncements, and those who protest against the "1%" are doing nothing but "spewing their garbage". Either America has fundamentally changed, or Miller has.

The question of whose nation it is, and in whose interest it governs, is now, it seems, entirely off the table. From a comicbook argument presenting the individual hero's right to rule nations to a blog-rant effectively supporting an economic elite's duty to do the same thing; in the strange world of far-right politics, it's not such an inexplicable transformation at all. But beyond the boundaries of the faith-based community, it all seems rather hard to make sense of in rational terms.

The environmental catastrophe caused by modern warfare "even" in nations characterised by a great deal of desert, as seen in TDKR.
          
Yet it's remarkable how much of The Dark Knight Returns is concerned with issues which might appeal to a great many of those involved with "Occupy". It's not just that the Government is concerned only with the perpetuation of its own power, from Washington all the way down the chain to Gotham City, or that the economy is permitted to act in such a way as folks great and small can't even attain minimum standards of health care, let alone face the next energy bill with anything other than trembling. At the heart of TDKR is the situationalist argument that it's circumstances which create criminality rather than individual choice, which would be a profoundly disturbing argument, we must presume, to a great many of the Republic's less liberal citizens. Place the Sons of The Batman under the good example of Bruce Wayne, as we're shown, and they become more than good citizens; they become the very guardians of civil society. Society, Miller seems to have been saying, doesn't have to be so heartless and exploitative, but it's been corrupted by the very institutions which typical citizens look to represent them.

         
Remove the pernicious influences and even the most depraved of individuals can be nobly transformed. Rather than needing to be punished, or even contained, the example of an untypically just, if mentally disordered, man can turn the worst of criminals into noble little Founders. (It's notable that Wayne is seen as a waster, at best a victim, until he puts his wealth and power into protecting his fellow citizens. Wealth as the just reward of the genetically-superior, economically productive wealthy isn't a principle in The Dark Knight Returns, anymore than unquestioning obedience to power is.)  Even those in favour of gun control can warm to Batman's speech in which he declares that such weapons are verboten in his new order. Similarly, the environment and the horrors of its degradation by modern science appears as a prominent issue in The Dark Knight Falls. As Superman struggles to survive after the Russian nuke explodes, Miller has him say;

"You cannot touch my planet without destroying something precious. Even her deserts are abundant. There were birds here, who she blessed with chest feathers absorbent enough to carry water for miles to their children ... bullfrogs who slept for years in dried out riverbeds ... they dug their way to the surface when the rains come .."

It's hard to believe that the Miller of today is at all concerned with the likes of the depleted uranium which the Allied armies have deposited across the so-called wildernesses of Iraq and Afghanistan, but the Miller of TDKR seemed well aware of the ecological disasters posed by modern weaponry.  For a creator who's seemed to always pride himself on being the most independent of men, Miller appears to have ended up as nothing other than an apologist for the least edifying aspects of the status quo. From impossibly dumb to even improbably dumber, there's something almost poignant about how Miller's thought has matched the decline of so much of America's public discourse over the period from the mid-Eighties to the present day.

"In the name of decency, go home to your parents, you losers. Go back to your mommas' basements and play with your Lords Of Warcraft. Or better yet, enlist for the real thing. Maybe our military could whip some of you into shape. They might not let you babies keep your iPhones, though. Try to soldier on. Schmucks."

Or could it be that, for a "political" writer, Miller doesn't know what he's talking about in any recognisably disciplined sense? Is it possible that Miller's own opinion of himself as a 'political' artist is contradicted by the evidence of his work?. Was he just making a joke about the rights of the heroic man in The Dark Knight Returns, and if so, how can we ever know when this political artist is ever being serious at all? Is it even certain that he's capable of producing a coherent satire that's anything other than the broadest of kneejerk libertarianism? This is a man, after all, who recently admitted that he knew little at all about the Muslim religion, and who yet began Holy Terror with a single supposed quote from "Mohammed" - "If you meet the infidel, kill the infidel" - chosen to present The Prophet as nothing but the most rabid of religious terrorists. (There's no attribution for the quote either. Should the word "chosen" in the previous sentence be replaced by "invented"? Either way, why not reduce all of Christianity to Matthew 10:34 too? "I come not to bring peace but to bring a sword?") That's either an act of impossible insensitivity or a deliberate attempt to brand an entire religion as a profound and irredeemable menace to America's security. The most overwhelming ignorance or a deliberate expression of unqualified bigotry? Who can say, but it's certainly one or the other, if not both, and neither is anything other than a despicable business in times such as these.

Perhaps we'll soon find Miller revealing that Anarchy and Holy Terror are nothing but grand political deceits, designed to mock the real bigots and fools who view the expression of liberal political opinion as tantamount to unAmericanism. What a wonderful satire that would have proven to be!

Hail Frank Miller, the people's - political - artist!

He does. He needs help.
      

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