Apocalypse Now, Dispatches, Michael Herr, and Shooting War

OK, I think some clarification is in order.

Yes, Apocalypse Now is based on Heart of Darkness, but! the screenplay for that movie–as well as Full Metal Jacket–is co-authored by none other than Michael Herr. Herr wrote a non-fiction account of his time as an embedded journalist in Vietnam–complete with his accounts of actually accompanying troops into the shit, his dealings with Generals clearly lying about the situation in Vietnam, etc. The point I wanted to make in class is that Apocalypse Now is, in fact, based heavily upon Herr’s experience in Vietnam. The story follows Heart of Darkness but some of the things that happen are based on the very real scenes in Dispatches–this is how Herr makes both Apocalypse Now and Full Metal Jacket so damned realistic–he was there. The cover of Shooting War quotes Forbes magazine: “A winner…The Apocalypse Now of the War on Terrorism.” My question/point had to do with whether the authors knew about Dispatches or not. If they did, then this is a great example of their view on the media. Forbes didn’t say it was the Dispatches, but referenced a movie–much more popular culture. This is just like the media going sensational/getting everything wrong in Shooting War and not really presenting both sides/doing their homework. The real Shooting War of Vietnam is Michael Herr’s book, DispatchesApocalypse Now references the book frequently. Scenes from both of those movies pull from Herr’s book, which does a lot of the same things Shooting War does, just without the graphical element. Since we just left last class, I doubt many people will read this–but now I feel vindicated. This is my rant/revenge post since I lost that point so quickly in class. I feel better now, but will concede that I didn’t vehemently back up that point because I wasn’t sure if it was Full Metal and Platoon or Full Metal and Apocalypse that Herr co-wrote. Dispatches is an amazing read for anyone interested in what it was like to be a journalist during that fight, or anyone just looking for an excellent read. For those familiar with Full Metal Jacket, that line about shooting women and children (easy, just don’t lead them so much) is something a real heli-gunner said to Herr. Yeah, it’s that kind of book. Just thought I’d finish the thought I didn’t finish in class because I lost faith in my reference. That’s what I get for saying “based on” instead of “partially based upon” :-)

Good luck on your papers and read Dispatches!


Apacolypse Now–right there in the top paragraph–“drawing elements from…Dispatches.” Ha! (not that Wikipedia is scholarly or anything, but…)

Zotero Alert

Hi All,

I thought I’d let you all know to be on the look-out if you’re using Zotero for your bibliographies. It’s not a big problem, but it’s worth double-checking when you create your Works Cited page. I just used the function for another paper and two things happened with the authors identification section. This only happened with the works with multiple authors:

The first problem I had was with Zotero getting the authors right but messing up the MLA style. Rather than doing it: Clark, Jared and Jack Larder  it tried to say Clark, Jared, and Larder, Jack. This is a very minor detail and maybe only a style stickler like myself actually cares. The second problem I encountered was a bit more serious.

One of my articles had two authors but for some reason Zotero combined them using one of the authors’ last name as the first author’s middle name. So be on the lookout.


Systems, Birds, No Towers

I enjoyed both readings this week. I may be biased because I’ve dabbled in the graphic novel genre before (they’re not comics! They’re literature worthy of any scholar’s criticism!). I am particularly drawn to Spiegelman’s In the Shadow of No Towers. I’m not sure if this is because of the size of the strips, the creative use of page space, or simply Spiegelman’s unique style–it is probably a combination of all three.  I noticed that birds are an image often conjred in this graphic novel–and often these images of birds help Spiegelman reveal the systems that dominate our society. Spiegelman reveals these sytems in his writing as well, but I felt these images did a great job of providing visual support to his argument that Americans can’t seem to break free from the systems that have always been in place (as seen in the circa 1900 comics) and become even more imbedded after the Sept. 11 attacks.

The two images I was most drawn to occur on page 2.

The first is of George W. and Dick Cheney riding an eagle, one would assume into battle. Upon closer inspection, we see Dick Cheney is slitting the Eagle’s throat. This works on many levels. The Eagle is the symbol of American freedom, yet as the leaders of American ride the emblematic bird into combat, they also murder the very freedom it represents. Much of Spiegelman’s piece focuses on the ways in which the ruling class used tragic attacks for political advantage in securing America’s interests overseas. For all the words Spiegelman spends describing this, I find that this image succinctly says it all. Upon closer inspection, one can see that the tool used to slit Freedom’s throat is a box cutter–none other than the purported tool used by Sept. 11 hijackers. In this way, Bush and Cheney both serve as metaphors for terrosts in the skies. They’re sabotaging that flying eagle and everything it stands for in the name of freedom and, to an equal extent, revenge on the terrorists that did this to us (or at least the relative, but not quite exact, region where the terrorists who did this to us reside).

On the same page is the frame with the journalist saying “vatch here the burdy.” In the journalist’s hand is a vulture. It is pretty clear that this image is calling the press vultures, but I felt that in the context of the soaring Eagle that appears just above it is a pretty meaningul image. Even as the government creates systems to proclaim freedom even as they take it away, journalism exists as a very powerful system as well. The press is supposed to be fair and balanced, reporting with the nearest to objectivity a person can conjur. In reality, the press just cares about the next big story and is more concerned with profit than truth. Spiegelman’s juxtaposition of these two images makes a strong point: the government is a corrupt system that we all buy into, and the fourth estate (journalism), which is meant to reveal government wrongdoing, is just as systematic and corrupt–yellow journalism, indeed.

If it bleeds, it leads--also if it reeks of corruption, won't make you think, or tells you what you want to hear
If it bleeds, it leads--also if it reeks of corruption, won't make you think, or tells you what you want to hear

9/11: Personal or Political?

Before reading In the Shadow of No Towers, I hadn’t had the chance to read neither a graphic novel nor a book on September 11th before. I had assumed that reading a graphic novel would be a laborious process (probably because I take too long staring at the artwork) and that a 9/11-focused book would be too politically charged and biased (to either extreme) for my taste. This book reaffirmed both speculations, but it was fairly interesting to read nonetheless. Spiegelman offers his personal experience of the 9/11 disaster as his family lived and worked right next to the World Trade Center. This personal touch gives his accounts an accessible poignancy, with more validity and passion than the news coverage that is essentially detached since news pundits weren’t physically there to experience the trauma! I think that Spiegelman’s drawings are exceptionally animated, with his talent for creative allegorical representations bursting on the page. Spiegelman’s ability to relive his 9/11 experiences on each page is remarkable, but they seemed a bit too focused on his personal life and his individual post-trauma anxiety rather than on the general impact of 9/11 on the American public.

Still, I really think Spiegelman should have kept the narrative a personal one and left it at that. Unfortunately, Spiegelman introduces too much of the political aftermath of 9/11 too early in the book: “In those first few days after 9/11 I got lost constructing conspiracy theories about my government’s complicity in what had happened that would have done a Frenchman proud. (My susceptibility for conspiracy goes back a long ways but had reached its previous peak after the 2000 elections).” While I wouldn’t deny the fact that the Bush administration has used the 9/11 disaster to consolidate votes for the election and to instill fear into the public to increase the chances of their supporting Bush’s political agenda, I still found the political and social philosophies presented in the book to be undeveloped and vague, especially when compared to his stellar and poignant artwork. In the first ten panels, I found several references satirizing the 2000 election and the Iraq war, and I couldn’t really understand how these issues neatly tie into the 9/11 disaster narrative. Plate 7 was especially striking because of the extreme emphasis on partisan politics. Spiegelman seems to be contributing to the idea of a divided nation by including statements describing Bush as “the loser in office” and “that creature in the White House.”

Finally, I found the last seven pages of the book which include reprints of comic strips from newspapers from the1900s somewhat unrelated to the 9/11 tragedy and its impact. I’m not sure if this impression is because my knowledge in history is somewhat lacking or because there really is only a weak link between the first and second parts of the book.

One final note: I was really surprised by the lack of emphasis on the actual victims of the 9/11 tragedy. Any idea as to why Spiegelman would leave out much of that information in a book about 9/11 and focus more on the partisan debate of the 2000 election instead?

Can’t Stop the Signal

I was puzzled by some of the posts I read talking about the graphic novel form as comical or simplistic – I never carried those expectations, so to me what “Shooting War” felt most like was pulp fiction or even young adult fiction. While the content was adult and somewhat explicit, the style of writing was hackneyed and the characterization and narrative were rushed and incomplete. I heard that the authors were asked to expand this novel from the first two chapters, and if so, that accounts for what I felt as a confused narrative arc with an ending that I can only call… pasted on. (Also, wow, I hope those blog posts were meant to be whiny and annoying …because they were.) Not only was Jimmy’s redemption unbelievable in terms of his previous actions (With so much previous introspection there was surprisingly little immediate insight into what made him upload those clips.), it was unbelievable in terms of the world he lived in. With such a media splash with those Youtube clips, there’s no way he would be allowed to be freelance and not get snapped up again! Maybe I just wasn’t reading closely, but does anyone know what happened to his people at Global? And what was up with the sanctification of Yoda Rather? Is he some kind of hero to the Left that I don’t know about? I felt in general like I was watching a made-for-TV movie with cut and paste bildungsroman characters.

The art style, however, was arresting and very effective at conveying the aesthetic message, I thought. I particularly enjoyed the skull and cross that formed the maskfaces of the soldiers. Talk about anti-religion! Overall, while the story gave a good framework for the art’s scope, I didn’t feel like each carried the other to its full potential or to a true marriage.

I did fully enjoy the alternate universe aspects of the novel, however, as science fiction works best when it is scarily plausible. McCain and the eminent domain struck a chord in me, as some have pointed out in their posts, but I still don’t see what the solution to fight back against the Evil Oppresors is. I suppose we should all become vloggers and keep information flowing constantly?

“In the Shadow of No Towers,” on the other hand, was very charming and effective. I was a bit taken aback by the extreme leftist views of the text. No matter if I share those views, it’s disorienting and strange when literature and propaganda/advertising explicitly overlap. Of course I was charmed by his references to his own work when the mouse appeared. I liked the image of his family running away from the disaster paralleling his own running away temporally to the old comics. It’s strange how influential these comics were but how we don’t typically read them either as part of the canon or as popular ad-packaged entertainment. The traces of their influence on pop culture and literature is all that’s left, so that’s one reason that I was excited to see some of the original works (especially Little Nemo and Upside-Downs).

Brian’s first graphic novel adventure

I admit, prior to these two texts, I was a graphic novel virgin. As recently as two years ago, in fact, I recall thumbing my nose at the whole “glorified comic book” thing. I was young, impulsive, stupid. Still, even though, working in a pretty cool book store, I was surrounded by impressive looking graphic novels, I resisted – this time not so much because I was being a snob, but rather because I was a bit intimidated. It felt like I had missed getting in on the ground floor of the whole “graphic novel thing” and thus missed my chance – there was too much backstory, too much foundation. How do you catch up??

I bought Watchmen…and Scott McLeod…but I was still a little tentative about diving in. Enter Shooting War and In the Shadow

I read Shooting War, about a month ago, for the first time and have to say, after all the buildup in my head, I was disappointed. I had this idea that the “graphic novel” earned said title because it went beyond the comic book genre I so loved as a 7 year old…that somewhere out there was a William Faulkner with a sketchbook waiting to pen and draw the great American graphic novel. What I found in Shooting War (while clever and occasionally very funny..and with a brand of snark near and dear to my heart) was something too reminiscent of the stilted dialogue and flashy cuts of my childhood comics collection. I know I know, I get the satire and the hyperbole…and its fine to do those things, but the writing still has to be great…. the dialogue just felt a bit heavy-handed and it took me out of the text. Bite my tongue, but it felt like a glorified comic book..

I appreciated it mostly on a cinematic level – the angles and framing of the illustrations were innovative, the art itself is dazzling and I found myself spending more time reading the pages without any words on them, than those filled with exposition/dialogue.

Moving on…I opened up In the Shadow and a light shone in my heart! This is what I wanted graphic novels to be! Indeed…Spiegelman was tearing through the boundaries of what art, fiction, journalism, and narrative have set forth. In fact, the way he redefines/subverts/perverts the readers’ assumptions about story and news is just plain jarring and lovely. The multimedia/inter-hyper-textuality is just as baffling and chaotic as the events upon which the novel is based – and it’s an incredible success. I really wanted to love graphic novels. So many of my friends and colleagues speak so highly of them, so many professors are buying them from our bookstore for cultural studies/lit classes, and I wanted them to be a NEW form, not just long comics and/or not just a decent piece of fiction with some sidekick cartoons. Spiegelman gave me exactly what I was hoping graphic novels would be/could be capable of and much more. He exceeded the capabilities of both the traditional novel and the comic form and created something moving and terrifying and frankly more evocative than I think most authors would be capable if limited to a single medium.

Also, thanks to Sara for including his thoughts from AWP – really interesting and spot on.

Now, let’s address that whole “death of snark/irony/sarcasm” I heard so much about in high school….

Corporations and Flat Characters

Some of you have commented on the parts of Shooting War that seemed flat (the characters) or gimmicky (the ending).  I agree with those comments, but I also think that the book gives us a very real sense of the fine line between our current way of life and a full blown dystopia.  As Don DeLillo points out in “The Guardian,” corporations have become a fatally important part of our society, deemphasizing the power of our own government.  Our current market is run according to the idea of exponential growth.  Corporations go uncontrolled, wreaking havoc on the environment and the economy. 

One of the first things we hear about in Shooting War is “eminent domain.”  In the dystopic America that Burns lives in, the government has the ability take private property and redistribute it to the corporations who can promise the most revenue.  Although we don’t see this idea fully fleshed out, it is easy to imagine the horrors that would accompany this law. 

In this scenerio, the government doesn’t work for the people anymore, but for the big corporations.  Lappe shows how the government is not only ineffective, but actually harmful.  All the government actions we see, such as the masacre of citizens, culminates to the final action in the book.  The last thing we hear about the government is that McCain will not run for another term, a sign that our government has failed.

Getting back to the idea that the characters were flat, what did people think of Abu?  Like most of the characters, I felt like he wasn’t very developed.  The psychological underpinnings of a terrorist just weren’t there.  I was hoping for more complexity from that character, but instead I got things like “of course I may die, but this isn’t about me.”  His dialougue often seemed cheesy and oversimplified. 

But to be fair, Burns and Crash are not very complex characters either, so perhaps its just a flaw of the medium. I have to admit, I’m not an avid comic reader, so I’m not sure how the medium may stifle some the psychological development of characters.  Unlike the terrorists in Shooting War, DeLillo gives an eery look at terrorism: “He builds a plot around his anger and our indifference. He lives a certain kind of apartness, hard and tight. This is not the self-watcher, the soft white dangling boy who shoots someone to keep from disappearing into himself. The terrorist shares a secret and a self. At a certain point he and his brothers may begin to feel less motivated by politics and personal hatred than by brotherhood itself. They share the codes and protocols of their mission here and something deeper, a vision of judgment and devastation.”

I think this passage does a better job getting at the psyche of the terrorist.  DeLillo shows the terrorists’ intense sense of separation from the rest of the world.  In one passage he discusses the lifestyle of the terrorist, their vision, their motiviation, and their sense of self, which is more than we see out of Abu.

WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I wasn’t sure I was going to have time to time to write this post as I was so busy putting duct tape up around all my windows to keep out the swine flu, luckily delicious, refreshing, Celsius provides me sustained energy while burning up to 100 calories an hour.

As both of the texts that we read this week, had to do with the media, I thought all the brouhaha dealing with swine flu was especially timely.  It is the perfect example of media sensationalism, and Americans’ seemingly unquenchable desire to be scared about insanely stupid things.  Ok, swine flu is believed to have caused upwards of 100 deaths in Mexico in the last report I read (sometime this morning).  However, the article did not mention the number of verified fatalities due to the virus, which would be much lower, nor did the mention whether there was a common characteristic in those for whom the disease was fatal.  Most likely, the people who actually died were the elderly and already sick, who unfortunately would have died if there was an outbreak of any strain of flu.  The cases in the U.S. among healthy, young people have sent some people to the hospital as a precaution, but they will all pull through.  The article does include the scary warnings from the US Travel Bureau, and the (over) reaction of the Obama Administration, which all ratchet up the fear.  Doesn’t anyone remember avain flu? SARS? flesh eating bacteria? Yes each of those killed a (very) small number of people, but none of them have turned into the pandemic that the media predicted each time.

In Barry Glassner’s The Culture of Fear, he points out that every year there are news reports around Halloween telling parents to make sure to screen all their children’s candy before letting them eat it, in fact, many parents now hold enclosed trick or treat parties where they control the guest list and the kids do not leave the house.  We look suspiciously at our neighbors and pine for a more  innocent era.   No one bothers to stop and think about how someone could physically push a razor blade into an apple with cutting themselves or mangling the apple, or tamper with the candy in any serious way without anyone noticing.    From 1958-2000 there were two deaths that were blamed on poisoned Halloween candy.  They later found out that one of the children died after he accidentally ate his Uncle’s heroin stash and the Uncle made up the story as a cover.  In the case of a child actually poisoned by candy, it was later revealed that the child’s father poisoned him to collect the insurance money.

At the best, the media plays on our fears to boost ratings, or just have something to fill out the multiple 24 hour news channels (Y2k is another good example I just remembered).  At the worst the media is complicit in allowing people to use our fears to manipulate us into taking actions we normally might stop and question.  The media’s coverage of the build up to the Iraq War, and their subsequent refusal to hold the previous administration accountable for essentially lying to us about why we went in (Saddam has WMD’s!) and allowing them to just change their reason mid-stride (It’s about Iraqi freedom!) is a low point in American journalism.

To switch gears a little bit, the choice to have McCain be President has come up in several posts, and I just wanted to comment on why I think Lappe and Goldman went that route.  Basically, it made it easier.  Republicans are easy to demonize.  It is easy to make fun of the angry, old guy, and make snarky comments about how he could survive a torture camp but not being President.  It would have made the book much more interesting if Obama (or Clinton may have been the front runner when this was being planned) was the President in the book.  A lot of Democrats voted to go into the war, because they had no backbone, but we don’t demonize them, we just go after Republicans.  However, that would have added some moral ambiguity to the novel, and the authors were obviously not interested in that.  And that was (one of) the reasons I could not get into it.  The novel was very clearly about the morally superior, rebellious cool guys, showing the evil, old, bible thumping uncool guys how they went wrong.  It was so hipster elitist with its lame jokes, and easy targets.  The novel is not an indictment of the state of journalism, it goes after Fox news and its surrogate “Global News,” an easy target for their primarily left audience.  Anderson Cooper and CNN remain unscathed at the end of the book.  The novel does not delve into what is systematically wrong with American politics, it blames everything on those old, out of touch Republicans.  If these texts want to be called “graphic novels” then I insist that we should hold them up to the same standards that we expect of a “novel.”  As a novel, Shooting War was lacking, so I am relegating it to comic book.

P.S. If swine flu ends up killing us all, I am going to look really stupid.

Form and Message in Graphic Novels

I thought I would start out by conveying some of my coworkers’ thoughts on graphic novels.  One of my coworkers said that they are usually “too busy,” and that it’s hard to get through a graphic novel in a timely fashion.  When another coworker agreed with her, she added that our high school students cannot possibly get through graphic books quickly enough because, while we would focus on the text and concentrate on the story, they would make the mistake of concentrating too much on the images.  In the course of that conversation, when I realized I didn’t quite agree with those two coworkers, I also realized just how much these two graphic novels would appeal to a number of my students…. and then I remembered that I could never quite get away with teaching books this racy in public school.

That said, I love both of these books.  The Shooting War read like a movie to me, if that makes any sense.  It reminded me of a visit I made to a friend who worked at Disney Pixar Studios.  I happened to visit just after the release of The Incredibles, and I got a chance to see those graphics displayed on boards along the hallways of the building.  It was enchanting to see computerized graphics identifying the characters and the scenes, just displayed as wall decoration. 

In any case, the animated form of such a traumatic tale really renders a different kind of tone to this book.  I realize that graphic novels must take an incredible amount of collaboration and a broad range of skills in order to be successful and powerful.  I think these two books succeed– and though others may find characters or plotlines to be trite or contrived, I thoroughly enjoyed the juxtaposition of the serious topics with the representation which we have often called “comic.”  I understand the correct terminology is graphic, but there are certain comical elements in each book– well, obviosuly in In the Shadow of No Towers— so I wonder what it means to draw out a story.  Is comedy an essential element, something we expect from “cartoons”?  It is always so striking to read about melancholy topics when the stories are animated– like Art Spiegelman’s other famous graphic novel, Maus, based on his father’s struggle to survive the Holocaust.

So what does it mean to create a trauma tale using pictures?  In film, it means that you are able to have images speak for themsleves; take for instance the scene in Atonement (which is actually just one five-minute tracking shot that took tens of thousands of extras to film) which pans the shore of Dunkirk as something like 300,000 British troops await evacuation during World War II.  In The Shooting War and in In the Shadow of No Towers, trauma is almost made comical, perhaps as a coping mechanism, but definitely as part of a larger political message. 

Both books clearly present liberal messages, which follows with the tradition of many of our visual industries– particularly Hollywood and the American media (or so the conservative party cried during a somewhat biased coverage of Barack Obama during the election).  I wonder whether video games, another venue for graphic representation, could be categorized as much less liberal.  I wonder whether the politically charged themes in these books contrast with the shoot-’em-up style of so many popular video games.  I am not sure where I am going with that, but I guess I am noticing a connection between a lot of graphic images we “read” today– and a liberal spin on the messages implicit (or explicit) in those images.

That also brings to mind another question that occurred to me as I read these two books: Does Postmodernism lean left?  Or does literature do that more generally?  As for these books, clearly Lappe and Goldman had concerns over McCain becoming president.  Alanna expressed the opinion I share, that The Shooting War has not necessarily become outdated or “unprophetic,” but rather it has presented an alternative universe.  I have to wonder whether Lappe and Goldman wanted to at all influence the impending presidential election with this book.  Likewise with In the Shadow of No Towers on page 10, the inscription under the mice being clobbered by cowboy boots reads, “And September ’04?  Cowboy boots drop on Ground Zero as New York is transferred into a stage set for the Republican Presidential Convention, and Tragedy is transformed into Travesty.”  Though he does try to balance out criticism of Democrats and Republicans, the anti-Bush sentiment throughout the text and the overwhelming discussion of the rip-off in the 2000 election clearly come from a liberal point-of-view.  If that kind of conversation’s not politically charged, I don’t know what is.

Overall, in spite of my convoluted and rather jumbled train of thought in this entry, I really enjoyed reading these two graphic novels.  I know that they are both rather controversial, too, which should make for fun class discussion, and more so, make for an interesting consideration of what makes these texts postmodern.  And in response to my coworkers, I do want to say that though these texts are too controversial to teach at the high school level, I am going to see what I can do to get my hands on some other graphic novels because I believe that younger generations (myself included) really benefit from and enjoy the combination of animation and text when reading a story.

Is snark dead?

Apologies in advance if this is even less coherent than usual…the amount of antihistamines that I’m on right now makes it difficult to open my eyes fully, let alone form thoughts.

Can you just imagine how different reading Shooting War would be if McCain had won? At its time of publication, I can understand why so many reviews called it “prescient” or “prophetic.” As it is, reading it is like reading a weird mirrorworld version of American history. Still relevant? I have a feeling that Shooting War would be better known if McCain had won.

I had a lot of issues with Shooting War and its characters-the slacker-makes-good technophile, unhinged, trigger-happy Army thugs with menacing nicknames, the slutty foreign journalist, and of course, the Muslim correspondent who helps Jimmy discover what’s really important. Lappe and Goldman’s characterization of Sameera just seemed like they were plugging in a Magical Arab. I think the overall shallowness of the graphic novel really lessened its impact.

In contrast, In the Shadow of no Towers seemed more invested in asking (but not answering) the really difficult questions that no one wanted to raise, or felt they could raise, in 2001. As Speigelman’s muddled narrative makes clear, there aren’t really any easy answers. I think one of Speigelman’s most effective points was the treatment of Americans who disagreed with the United States’ global response after 2001. Katha Pollit wrote a really moving article about not letting her teenaged daughter put an American flag up after 9/11 in The Nation. Below is the link if anyone wants to read it.


In Pollitt’s collection of essays, Virginity or Death, she wrote about the response to her article. Several conservative blogs and pundits responded to it by publishing Pollitt’s address and encouraging people to send American flags to her child. She got a lot of hate mail and death threats, some pornography, and one of those little 99 cent paper flags on a wooden dowel that you can get at the gas station. It was made in China. Pollitt wrote that this was a more valuable lesson than anything she could have taught her daughter. I think people responded to harshly to Pollitt’s article because she insisted on bringing up what no one wanted to talk about, specifically the fact that many of the current regimes in the Middle East were installed with U.S. support.

Soooo….in light of what’s happened since Shooting War was published, is it still relevant? Helpful? A frightening look at what might have been? Do the reviews of the novel that call it “preachy” and overly politicized have anything to do with how poorly movies like Stop Loss and Lions for Lambs performed at the box office?

Graphic Self-deception

I have to admit I was a little resistant to this week’s reading, not to do to the form of the graphic novel, but because of the subject matter regarding 9/11.  Like many others, I have trauma fatigue and-still one administration later-remain a little nauseous from the transformation of tragedy into an excuse for fear-mongering and little American flags.  That said, I feel that the two texts, read together, accomplish something that would have been impossible singularly-they act as foils to one another.  Anthony Lappe and Dan Goldman’s Shooting War attempts to personalize a war on foreign soil to the American reader; whereas Art Spiegelman’s In the Shadow of No Towers depersonalizes terrorism in the United States.  To that end, the styles of illustrations complement each.  As other have noted in their blogs, Shooting War blended graphic design, photography, and drawings to create a blended reality (not quite a comic strip, not quite a computer generated image, not quite a hand-sketch).  Conversely, In the Shadow of No Towers withdraws from reality, adopting nostalgic forms from the comic strip tradition.  The former defamiliarizes, whereas the later one soothes and orients [the implied American reader].

As complements, In the Shadow of No Towers and Shooting War represents responses to trauma-one first-hand, over a short period of time, the second abstracted and extended over time.  As Jimmy Burns states in the beginning of Shooting War, “But that asshole was right about a couple things.  Not all the dime store Hegel, but the part about my stupid blog.  It wasn’t changing shit… I did need action.  I couldn’t shake the rush.  It was like noting I had ever felt.”  Anthony Lappe and Dan Goldman underscore the adrenaline-rush call-to-action that many experience after a trauma-the knee jerk reaction to do something.  In the Shadow of No Towers, however, parodies that response-extended over years of tangerine-coded threat levels-to which there is no clear resolution.  In one of his strips, one of his characters admits, “…maybe I really want the world to end, to vindicate the fears I felt back on 9/11!  May it’s just my little world that ended… But then I glance at the news and there’s absolutely no doubt… THE SKY IS FALLING!!!” (9).  Rather than contend with the fact that his world pre-9/11 held a false sense of security, he must (and like many others) go to the other extreme of alarmism instead of realizing that he lives in the same world no more or less safe.  Moreover, In the Shadow of No Towers concludes with “Bringing Up Father,” a comic strip that emphasizes Americans desire for a clear resolution to (even fictional) problems.  It seems that Americans can’t get over that sometimes there is nothing that can be done-that in fact, as the old axiom goes, “Motion should not be confused with action.”  In fact, Shooting War seems to demonstrate this self-deception.  Rather than take ownership over the emotional payoffs of being the center of a media blitz, Jimmy Burns demurs, “I’m a magnet for death; mayhem.”

Starbucks in the Middle East

It’s interesting how many McDonald’s, KFC, and Starbucks signs we see in the Iraqi streets in Shooting War.  This focus on American food outlets says something about economic globalization and “international integration” in the Middle East.  I won’t delve into this much, but a quick note on the attitudes towards globalization the Middle East: although some Middle Eastern intellectuals welcome the idea and note the benefits of economic globalization for its offering better job opportunities, others have expressed negative attitudes toward globalization in general, and cultural globalization in particular.  It’s been considered an equivalent to “Westernization” and also as a form of imperialism, since the ideas, cultures and institutions that are being spread around the globe are largely originated in the western part of the world.

Starbucks has large presence in Shooting War (after all, it is the “Frappucino” note that saves the day). The story opens with an explosion inside Starbucks in Brooklyn city by a Syrian named Al-Taheri.  Golden seems to have made a deliberate choice of making Starbucks the target of the bombing, considering the demonstrations against Starbucks coffee company held in some Middle Eastern countries.


I remember a few summers ago in Beirut, I was walking back to my hotel as I bumped into an Iraqi/Kurdish girl that I’ve gotten to know during my stay.  When she saw what was a tall Caramel Frappacino in my hand she was infuriated and went on a long rant about Starbucks supporting Israel and donating a part of its profit to US troops in Iraq, and explained that by merely buying this Frappucino I was contributing in the killing of innocent civilians.  That was when I learned about the campaign against Starbucks that called for boycotting its products. It was a reaction to what Starbucks chairman Howard Schulz had said to a crowd of American Jews on Seattle’s Capitol Hill that the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is fueled by anti-Semitism:

“What is going on in the Middle East is not an isolated part of the world. The rise of anti-Semitism is at an all time high since the 1930’s,” “The Palestinians aren’t doing their job they’re not stopping terrorism.”

This was the response of Yousef Al-Yousef, chairman of Global Peace:

“We are concerned that his [Schultz’s] statements exude Islamophobia and only seek to maintain the myth that the Palestinian struggle is against the Jewish people as opposed to being against an illegal occupation of land and an onslaught of aggression.”


After sales dropped in Arab countries because of its pro-Israel rep, all six outlets in Israel were closed in April of 2003, while it continued to operate in other Middle Eastern countries. Starbucks spokesperson states that the decision was due to “operational challenges” and was not for political reasons.  This is the link to the full Starbucks article:


Interruption of Form

Art Spiegelman did the keynote address at the AWP Conference this February, and he talked about the form of In the Shadow of No Towers. He explained how comics typically lead readers from one frame to another in easy-to-follow boxes and text blocks. Because of his state of mind following 9/11, he created frames which were much more jarring. Reading through the pages, you can’t always tell where you’re supposed to begin and where to end. I think this echoes his feelings of alienation and confusion. He’s trying to make sense of what happened, but the frames, like his mindset, are fractured and can’t line up in any logical way.

Spiegelman continually reverts to depictions of the stalwart towers, either by revolving his frames into them, or showing their fuzzy images (like a TV screen) over and over again, just as the public was shown footage of the moments of collision over and over for a long time following the attack. However, instead of being desensitized by these images, his paranoia and shock reactions are just further inflamed. The skeleton of the tower is burned into his mind, to the point where he at one time even morbidly personifies the charred human skeletons of the running Katzenjammer Kid towers.

I’d be interested to hear everyone else’s opinion on the inclusion of the old comics in the back. I thought it was really interesting, and sort of creepy – creepy in the way that DeLillo kept talking about the twin towers in Mao II. I think the inclusion of these plates serves to recontextualize the events of 9/11, just as his multitude of styles and personalities (mouse, cartoon, etc.) places his own form in multiple realities. These are supposed to be nostalgic and innocent, and yet they’re flipped on their heads.

Now that I think about it, The People of Paper was hinting at graphic novel form too, although the formal structures and visual elements are dwarfed by the story and text (except when the black dots overtake the text). I guess in The People of Paper, the elements were competing, whereas graphic novels require a conversation between visual and textual elements. The narrative is equally dependent upon both.

Honestly, I found Shooting War kind of ridiculous. I read it at the beach, which may have had something to do with my reaction. But I think it was more the Jimmy Burns character (“I’m the hipster who’s going to save the world!”), and the “Burn, Baby, Burn,” catch phrase. I do like how they have the corporation logos rising clear above the rubble. And I appreciate how they created the frames to look like a buffering video shot. It’s like taking a fake site on the Internet and making a paper version – kind of like how House of Leaves takes a fake movie and makes a book. Kind of.

And it is a fake website. I checked. I mean, it’s real, but something different. Make sure to turn the sound up all the way.

The Frequency is Courage!

Anthony Lappe and Dan Goldman’s Shooting War was humorous, entertaining, but also informative and politically charged.  The graphic novel seems to revolve around the issue of media manipulation.  At the center, Jimmy Burns finds himself blogging politically charged journalism,  field reporting, and dodging rocket-propelled grenades all at once.  Initially seen as a maverick of sorts capable of penetrating the political agendas, Jimmy Burns and his camera become tools of manipulation for various ‘parties’: terrorists and the sensationalist American media.  Shooting War seems to be commenting on the dangerous powers of instant media outlets.  The graphic novel brings to mind Don DeLillo’s Mao II and the manipulative power of images.  It is suggested that Brita’s photography might be turned into a political tool used by Bill Gray (or at least he initially intended to use his photograph) and Abu Rashid, but Brita demonstrates that the image can be used by any person or party (she ‘claims’ the child terrorist by removing of his hood and taking his picture).  In Shooting War, we see a similar trend: Jimmy Burns is used by both terrorists and media outlets like CNN.

Visually, Shooting War is equally intriguing, mixing drawings and real photography.  I think one of the most interesting illustrations done by Dan Goldman is the convoy ambush scene (sorry, no page numbers).  We enter the point-of-view of an American soldier through his tactical mask.  If you have ever played a ‘first-person shooter’ video game, the layout is very similar.  Later, we see another connection between video games and warfare with the mobile robot guns controlled by ‘gamers’ of the ’10th Infantry Division, Remote Battlefield Operations’.

Side Note:

I thought the inclusion of Dan Rather was hilarious, and apparently, “The frequency is courage” is a reference to a 1986 mugging of Rather by a man who said to him “Kenneth, what is the frequency?” which has become somewhat of an inside joke for pop culture.

On a completely unrelated note, I was watching an episode of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” [#2.18, Up the Long Ladder] (…Yes, I’m a dork…), and I found quite a postmodern twist in the episode: Picard and his crew come across a planet with two near-extinct societies (Bringloidi and Mariposan).  The Bringloidi are a pre-modern, agricultural community, and the Mariposans are a technologically superior society who have stricken sexual reproduction from their way of life; they have survived only through generational cloning.  They are nearing extinction, however, due to ‘replicative fading’, which reminded me of the essay we read from Jean Baudrillard (‘Simulacra and Simulation’) earlier this semester.  The colony’s clonal replication has become reductive: each subsequent copy of a copy becoming less defined, more incomplete, and eventually fatal.  The solution was to merge the pre-modern Bringloidi with the Mariposans to ‘replenish’ the DNA pool.

Consuming news and peaceful (?) endings

This week’s reading was my first experience with graphic novels, and, I have to admit, the experience was better than expected. I found the form interesting, and both works provided clear commentary on the media and the ideas of sensationalism that we have discussed throughout the course.

I thought the Lappe and Goldman work employed an interesting mix of real photos and graphics. The commentary on consumerism and globalization was obvious, with Starbucks and other American stores and products appearing throughout the work. Also, the idea of the media itself cutting off true reporting comes up repeatedly throughout the work. After Jimmy’s first video appears and he interviews with Global Television, the anchor repeatedly cuts him off. He is continually cut off throughout his experience. Jimmy feels that he has a “real” story to tell. Clearly, Lappe and Goldman are attacking news media through their work, and they seem to specifically focus on how stories and true reporting are hindered.

Both Shooting War and In the Shadow of No Towers speak to how news can consume individuals and society. Jimmy says that “being a war correspondent eats away at your soul. It happens slowly.” Spiegelman’s character is obviously consumed by the events of September 11, 2001. Another one of Spiegelman’s characters pulls her husband from the computer, saying that he’s “gonna get news poisoning” (8). Interestingly, though, Spiegelman portrays almost everyone else as having a lack of awareness or consideration for the catastrophic events. He mentions that “by 9/12/01 clocks began to tick again” (10). Time moves on, but, for many, the catastrophic event fades with each year, a reality which he depicts with the image of the fading tower.

Spiegelman makes an interesting point about what he “actually” saw versus what he saw on TV (4). He says that “he saw the falling bodies on TV much later…but what he actually saw got seared into his skull forever.” In the introduction, Spiegelman talks about his experience traveling to the Midwest in October of 2001. Whereas New York was still dealing with the tragedy, “in Indiana everything east of the Alleghenies was very, very far away.” Spiegelman speaks to the idea that TV is a sort of alternative reality—the events aren’t truly real unless they happened to you. Otherwise, the pictures are entertainment. Here he is definitely commenting on the sensationalism of news stories.

Although I enjoyed the overall experience of reading these graphic novels, I really feel unsatisfied with the ending of both works. I truly don’t know what to make of the ending of Shooting War. Where does Jimmy stand in the end? It seemed that he was realizing the “evils” of the news media industry, but then, in the end, it seems that he has become consumed by it and is in it for the thrill. In the final pages of In the Shadow of No Towers, Spiegelman reflects on “old newspaper comics” in which some searched for “solace” after 9/11/01. He ends with the comic of a man trying to prop up the Leaning Tower of Pisa because he is convinced that it will collapse. The ending seems unclear, but I wonder if Spiegelman is commenting on himself and his purpose or goal. He expresses self-conscious thoughts throughout the work. He admits that he “see[s] glasses as half empty rather than half full” (8), and he even doubts his own thoughts and fears when he cries out when he’s among “complacent” sleepers (9). Perhaps ending the work the way he did is his way of acknowledging that his work has no real effect (or that the “problem” can’t be fixed), but he’s making an effort. Alex makes some great points about Spiegelman’s work as “trauma literature.” It seems that the book, written over a period of years, was Spiegelman’s way of dealing with the tragedy. Hopefully he found more peace when he completed the work, as Alex suggests that the final “Ah!” indicates.

Will the real Spiegelman please stand up?

Maybe it is because I have been reading Baudrillard and others discuss signs and signifiers for my final paper, but I couldn’t help but notice the ever-changing way that Spiegelman represents himself in In the Shadow of No Towers.  A great example of this self-representation is on page two.  At the top of the page there is a frazzled, red-eyed Spiegelman with an eagle/albatross around this neck.  In the next frame, there is a little more life-like drawing of he and his wife as they hear the plane hitting the north tower.   From there, the husband and wife duo changed into a what appears to be an homage to an older cartoon, two boys in jackets and ruffled shirts.  The catch is that each have a WTC tower blossoming from his head. In another strip on the same page just left of center, there is a black and white cartoon of Spiegelman looking into a mirror. All the reader has is a profile, but a fairly realistic profile at that.  The last frame of the four-frame cartoon is Speigelman looking into the mirror, but instead of the human, the reader sees a mouse.  (Presumably a reference to his previous graphic novel Maus in which he depicted the Jews as mice and the Germans as cats.)  The caption in this last frame is “issues of self-representation have left me slack-jawed.”  Finally, there is a sleeping Spiegelman on his drawing board with a human body, but with the head of a sleeping mouse.  

All of these representations have left me slack-jawed too.  Certainly Speigelman is aware of his changing self-representations and calls attention to with with the aforementioned quote.  However, is the reader supposed to take each sign or representation as a different side of Spiegelman? A different response to an element of the tragedy? A different emotion?  I tried following the last idea throughout the novel.  Does the stylistic rendering of one Spiegelman that portrays a particular emotion reoccur when the same emotion resurfaces later in the book?  Here was how I went about it.  

1)Frazzled, red-eyed.  Initial emotion: panic.  Appears on page 2, 7, 8, 9, and 10.

2)  Life-like husband and wife.  Initial emotion: stunned. Appears on page 2, 3, and 4.

3)  Old-fashioned boys with towers on their heads.  Initial emotion: panic. Appears on page 2, 4, 5, and sort of on 10.

4)  Profile–black and white–and mouse.  Initial emotion: astonishment.  Appears on page 2, 3, 9, and 10.

5) Human with a head of a mouse.  Initial emotion:  reminisce?  Appears on page 2, 3, 9, and 10.

Even though these same self-representations continually resurface throughout the book, the emotions association with each style change.  So this maze has lead me no where.  That said, the same story line does seem to continue through similar representations.  For example the stunned husband and wife on page 2 go in search of their daughter  at the UN school after hearing the plane crash into the WTC on page 3.  Similarly, the mouse/Spiegelman representation reoccurs when he is drawing connections to his parents time in Auschwitz to the horrors of the September 11th.  So which Spiegelman is the “real” representation?  Are all of these representations just simulations of Spiegelman?  Or to the reader do they become a simulacra of Spiegelman?  Is the cartoon representation more real to us as readers than the actual Spiegelman?

Trauma and Media; Magnification and Desensitization

Reading this week’s material reminded me of an article on trauma narratives that I read for my theory class a couple of weeks ago.  According to this article (“The Black Hole of Trauma” by Bessel A van der Kolk and Alexander C. McFarlane), we live and die by stories.  People who suffer trauma must make sense of the their suffering, put in a story, a context, a metanarrative, to make sense of it.  Individuals who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder fail to make sense of the pain and so the pain becomes the only story in their lives, the sole metanarrative.  

I think that In the Shadow of No Towers is a good example of trauma literature.  Spiegelman’s intense focus on the incidents and aftermath of September 11 indicates a kind of fixation, which may or may not be healthy.  His proximity to the tragedy, physically and emotionally, and the influence of his family’s history with the trauma of the Holocaust contribute to Spiegelman’s gravitation toward this dark subject matter.  He also admits at various points in the text that he was fairly neurotic before 9/11, further suggesting a state of mind that is not ideally suited for comprehending the disaster.  Even still, I think that this work is cathartic for both the author and his readers.  The last sentence of the book is particularly conciliatory and redemptive, giving us all a reason to hope.

An individual afflicted with PTSD ruminates on the events of his or her trauma, and, in the case of Spiegelman, the news media fans the flames by covering the story non-stop.  He writes 

     I know I see glasses as half empty rather than half full, but I can no                longer distinguish my own neurotic depression from well-founded                   despair!  I’ve consumed ‘news’ till my brain aches.  The papers have                 confirmed that the towers I saw fall really did fall… aside from that, the         news just confirms that I’m right to feel paranoid.  My subconscious is     drowning in newspaper headlines! (8)

I wonder about what role the media plays in how we view not terrorism, which is a politically charged subject, but but just the simple experience of trauma.  In the case of Spiegelman, the media’s constant coverage of the 9/11 immediately after the attacks helped his already somewhat highstrung, paranoid personality (this is not an indictment of Spiegelman’s mental constitution) to focus even more on his trauma.  Of course, the media does not always encourage this kind of fixation.  For people who are more distant from an act of violence, the event is less jarring, less traumatic, thus the media’s buzz becomes background noise and the individual becomes numb.  Media has this strangely dualistic capacity to bring people closer to trauma and also to numb them to it, an idea which I’m having some trouble reconciling.


An semi-related side thought: do you think we can come up with a more original, imaginative, unpoliticized name for what happened on September 11, 2001, which does not rely on saying the date?  Just something to ponder.

An even more unrelated side thought: to celebrate the end of the semester and to provide you all with something to soothe you as you work on your final papers, I give you this link. 



More real than magic?

Sorry for the late post- haven’t been feeling well at all today…

The issue I have with magical realism is that because the reader is aware that anything is possible and accepted as real, there is nothing surprising about the text. In People of Paper, we encounter characters made out of paper, characters who resurrect after dying, and a convoy of mechanical tortoises. Like House of Leaves, the text is ergodic and requires more than a linear reading to comprehend the points made therein. The characters take turns narrating the story and the pages are split according to who is narrating. Leafing quickly through the novel, the reader witnesses long paragraphs of text totally blacked-out, crossed-out lines, and even “holes” cut in the middle of paragraphs (which are there to carefully mask the name of Plascencia’s ex- lover). Nothing too new—I’ve seen this similar style in House of Leaves before.

The only weird thing about this book, in my opinion, is that the author features himself as one of the characters. All the characters in the novel are on separate journeys to mend their paper cuts and broken hearts. They are all aware of Saturn’s presence in their lives; and they blame him for their complications—which mirrors the image of humans blaming a God for their miseries in real life; thereby alluding to the metanarrative of free-will and deterministic fate. Anyway, the characters of El Monte towards the end of the novel are warring against the author’s obtrusive narrative voice, or what Frederico calls “the war on omniscient narration (a.k.a. the war against the commodification of sadness).” Readers learn that “Saturn’s real name is Salvador Plascencia” (102). They attempt to get rid of Saturn (aka Plascencia) by using thei compounding voices and increasing the number of columns on the page to literally try to force Saturn—and conjunctively, the concept of authorial control—out of the novel. Plascencia’s use of both graphic and dramatic intensity simultaneously makes the book definitively postmodern. As this war goes on throughout the pages of the book, the reader witnesses the destructive effect of Saturn’s world intertwining with the other characters because Saturn’s inability to have control over his own life leads to chaos in each of the characters’ lives. To me, the book then becomes an allegory for the repercussions of fighting against a confused God who is responsible for human life. In this sense, I believe the novel deals with reality more than it does with magic as it seems at first glance…

Magical Realism in Spanish American Fiction

Sorry this is late.

For the most part I liked the Flores article we read for class this week. It did a great job of saying what magical realism is and how that fit into the context of Spanish American Fiction. I found the article informative because I’ve known the term “magical realism” but never really knew its exact definition. Some parts of the article were frustrating however. I didn’t recognize a lot of the authors she mentioned which made it hard to relate the evidence she used in the essay to her actual argument, and some of the quoted Spanish passages were beyond my reading comprehension of Spanish. Also, this article was written in 1955–predating postmodernism–so I started thinking about how it relates to the broader scope of our postmodern theory lessons, which it doesn’t touch on for obvios reasons.

First, there’s the obvios linear path: Flores’ essay helps us understand elements in The People of Paper, the book we read this week for class. The People of Paper features postmodern elements like multiple narratives and so “Magical Realism in Spanish American Fiction” relates in that way.

However, there is one point Flores makes in her essay that I believe includes some of the elements in postmodern fiction. Flores writes that a crucual element to magical realism is the magical element “was accepted by the other chracters as an almost normal event” (191). I believe this is one way that magical realism can fall into postmodernism. Many postmodern writers attempt to reveal the narratives that societies follow without realizing they follow them. Magical realism is a technique that allows some of these narrative threads to be revealed. By changing society’s norms to the point where something like people made of paper is accepted by the characters in the novel and also the reader of the novel, we can get a better glimpse at the norms that define society in genereal. One example in the People of Paper is that the multiple narratives present the differing view points of what is really happening in “reality” while accepting the magical parts as true. In this way, we are given differing perspectives of the real and forced to ask questions not about whether people made of paper are real but how reality is manifest to each individual observer.

People of Paper

Sorry if this is a little late.

The People of Paper tackles the age-old book themes of sorrow and loss.  Unlike most derivative writing that deals with these ideas, Plascencia presents them in a fresh, innovative, and often comical way.  After reading some of the posts, I found that most people were surprised with the subject material in People of Paper, and their expectations where changed when reading it.  I feel the same.  Sorrow and loss are certainly not new themes in novels, yet they are far from becoming passé; there is always something to say about sorrow.  To discover this postmodern novel focusing on such recurrent topics, while employing new strategies in its presentation, made for a very interesting read, and I would agree that People of Paper is one of the most interesting novels we’ve read this semester.   I would like to focus on these themes and how they are handled in the novel. 

Frederico’s bed wetting problem served as a hilarious catalyst for Mercde leaving him.  Though it is under a ridiculous circumstance, I know of no woman who would stay with a lover in spite of such a problem, thus the bed-wetting is funny yet true.   Frederico’s self-mutilation is handled in such a way that makes the violent act seem absurd and, coincidently, heartbreaking.  Frederico’s maiming of himself may seem far-fetched, but I think it is pulled off well with the magical realism that Plascencia creates in the novel.   But the most absurd comes when Froggy adopts an Oaxacan Songbird and chooses to listen to its loud calls to deal with the pain of Sandra leaving him.  The curandero gives Froggy the bird as an escape to his distress and loneliness. 

The idea of escapism is interesting and has been touched on in the posts.  Just how Frederico, Froggy, and others escape their loss through pain, Saturn, who turns out to be a character named Salvador Plascencia, escapes his loss by creating these self-mutilating characters.  This part of the book I found strange and startling but also very interesting.  I like the idea of the writer putting himself so freely and to the forefront of the text that deals with loss.  I’ve read many novels that tackle this subject matter (there seems to be at least a tinge of this idea in at least all of them) and I’ve always felt that there is some sort of cathartic process going on, like the writer is putting his characters through loss and pain in order to deal with his own.  I think that Plascencia recognizes this and thus puts himself right in the text, like he is saying that he is dealing with it just like his characters, as if he is beating us to the punch.