Political cartoons

Posted on December 6, 2005 at 7:49 am by John Webster

After reading In the Shadow of No Towers, I’m questioning whether Spiegelmen’s comic is an appropriate medium for dealing with 9/11; he’s literally caricaturing these events, and I wonder if he’s doing what certain politicians – who he opposes – did in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks.  Remember how Bush told the world that they were either with us or against us?  Or when the president said that the terrorists attacked the U.S. because they hate freedom?  Bush’s characterizations were laughably simplistic; though the situations are incredibly complex, the president caricatured them for his own purposes.  When Spiegelman depicts President Bush as a cowboy, with a gun in one hand and a sword in the other, leading a band of Bible- and flag-toting reptiles and capitalist fat pigs in top hats, he’s creating humorous, though clearly exaggerated, representations of Bush and his evangelical and big business allies.  In effect, Spiegleman is doing something quite similar to what Bush and political hawks have done in previous wars:  demonizing the enemy.  On the next page Spiegelman presents Bush in a red-tinted hue with a sinister expression, suggesting the president is devilish, and in the process, reducing Bush to a laughably simplistic caricature.  To believe Bush is simply an oil-hungry, crusading imperialist is as deluded as believing Bin Laden is simply a freedom-hating psychopath.  Bin Laden may hate the Western ideal of freedom, and he may even be a psychopath, but he obviously has other motivations, which anyone seriously trying to counteract him needs to consider.  In Bush’s case, if Spiegelman wishes to counteract the president’s agenda, these demonic caricatures are for the most part unproductive; they’re only going to appeal to people who already dislike Bush.  What Spiegelman is doing is similar to what Michael Moore did in Fahrenheit 9/11.  Todd Solondz made a good point about Moore’s “documentary” in an interview in The Believer a few months ago.  Referring to the scene at the beginning in which we see former Deputy Defense Secretary (and current president of the World Bank) Paul Wolfowitz spitting on his comb and then running it through his hair, Solondz pointed out that Moore included that clip just to be mean; the scene served no useful purpose in countering Bush’s political agenda.  These caricatures of those who Spiegelman disagrees with may be cathartic for the author, but I’m not so sure they’re productive if he wishes to make effective changes in society.

Last Post. Sad.

Posted on December 6, 2005 at 1:35 am by Mike Scalise

While this whole book, to me, was a remarkable articulation of what many, many New Yorkers felt about 9/11 and it unfortunate (and squandered?) aftermath, I most notably identified with Spiegelman’ s statement in the preface that he felt that outside of the city, he felt like he’d "wandered into an inverted version of Saul Steinberg’s famous map of America as seen from Ninth Avenue". I moved to New York a few short weeks after 9/11, and had the rare vantage point of experiencing the event from afar, but the immediate aftermath of it up close. I do have to say that New Yorkers have an almost indecipherable ownership of the event that really can’t translate to much of the rest of the country (aside, from, of course, here in DC). I don’t necessarily agree with all of Speigelman’s commentary about extra-NY sentiment, but his viewpoint is a locationally rare one worth examining. 

Of all his re-allocations of century-old "comix" characters, I thought his keenest was McManus’ Jiggs as an iBook-addicted, paranoid theorist led astray by the media, which fed his faulty logic. The character here is less of an indictment of American foreign ignorance as in the "Bringing Up Father" plate, but rather an examination of an American made ignorant by an irresponsible media feeding off its public during one the most vulnerable times for this country’s public in recent memory. Spiegelman does the same thing with the Happy Hooligan, highlighting the fascistic abuse of the airwaves many major media outlets used then to forcefully paint a unified face on the country’s sentiment. He does acutely what his predecessors did obtusely, and his insights on the media in these regards say very completely and eloquently what (usually great) media watchdogs like FAIR have been trying to since the event’s genesis.

I’m interested, though, to discuss the other re-allocations, especially Verbek’s "Upside Downs." Spiegelman’s prose in his essays lends to a mostly-aesthetic commentary on those old plates, but there is so much more afoot here, and I hope we can talk about the possibilities in class.

That being said, nice blogging with you all.   

 Small update: just read an article about digital imagining as a branding tool. Has nothing to do with this week’s class, but still relates to some stuff we’ve talked about this semester.

Time is on my side! (yes it is)

Posted on December 6, 2005 at 12:32 am by Jakester

Being a publicly admitted comic book fan (graphic novels, if you please) I find that this has been one of the better plotted texts we have read. While I believe that Spiegelman’s initial response to 9/11 was a blur of confused images, as time went on it formed itself into what we have in front of us now. The fact that it took an enormous amount of time to complete even one panel meant that Spiegelman had to put thought and effort into the tiniest details. In this came small details that others might not have thought of such as dazed pigeons or a street painter who lost his muse because the towers had fallen and destroyed the picture he was painting.

Cartoons make many images more palpable to the tastes of readers. It’s one of the reasons why they become so entwined in our society. By using the medium of comics, Spiegelman is able to present ideas that many were unwilling to voice after 9/11 while still making something appreciated by many. Cal it the ultimate collage; harsh social commentary with cute and fuzzy comics (kind of). Page 9 is an especially illustrative of this. The images are confusing but comical, while Spiegelman is dragging newspapers, New York, and even his own displacement through the mud. It is illustrative (ha ha, pun intended) that many of Spiegelman’s illustrations mirror those older comics he displays in the back. As time passed, Spiegelman was able to pull from that which he knew best as a way to cope. While he rants about displacement on page 9, he is doing the exact same thing by attempting to image the same sort of chaos in the comics of the past. Just the fact that the mouse from “Krazy Kat” has come to resemble Osama Bin Laden is just slightly out there to me, but to Spiegelman, this is completely legitimate and also a way to process all that he sees as the aftermath of 9/11.

I think that is one of the main reasons Spiegelman created these panels. Yes, I believe that there were WAY too many stories after 9/11, but this is more than a story. This is one man’s intimate portrait of how the tragedy affected a man and his family and an attempt at some sort of catharsis. In the end, I believe that many people will learn from this, and many people will be completely distanced at the same time. The fact that it took so long to complete is one of the main points. His introduction speaks to this, the fact that he calls on very old comics as further illustrations and the mere fact that the subject matter encompasses issues long after 9/11 shows the reader that time may be the only real healing process. Spiegelman still seems so pissed off at the end, maybe it’ll take longer, but he at least shows how time helped him along.

oh yeah…

Posted on December 6, 2005 at 12:07 am by zpeterse

i completely forgot, but what i really wanted to talk about was how the cartoon ‘the upsidedowns of little lady lovekins and old manmuffaroo’ commented on the circularity and uncertainty of history (as opposed to the standard progress of history). this cartoon also relates to what we talked about in class before about ‘latent history’ which i think would be a good topic of discussion.

i have nothing to say and im going to say it

Posted on December 5, 2005 at 11:49 pm by zpeterse

history seemed to be the subject of spiegleman’s philosophic struggle. world history versus personal history, biography v. autobiography, abstract historical account v. first hand account…spiegleman is worried how 9/11 will be remembered.  he talks about how the first cartoon characters (starting in 1893) were drawn to be remembered for that morning and then forgotten. how interesting would it be, then, to unearth the dead comics and juxtapose them with present catastrophe. are these characters, krazy kat, katzenjammer kids, foxy grandpa, still alive? or were they destined for history to forget them. spiegleman chooses comics that feature explosions, falling towers, ethnic slurs on porpose. but they all, as spiegleman is well aware of, tap into their cultural milieux and are politically charged. silly antiquated comic characters take on new lives, spiegleman cares for and nutures them, he raises them from the dead. the comic, especially In the Shadow of No Towers, should not be forgotten.

spiegleman relies on history to finish his narrative. his memory of the events of 9/11 slowly comes back to him and sometimes it’s unreliable. only the incessant vision of the burning towers remain with him, so he turns to old comic strips to "flood my eyes and brain with something other than images of burning towers" but he also has nothing left to say, or, he’d rather piggyback on what some cartoonist in 1936 had to say rather than invent a new way of saying it presently. mckinley was assasinated by some crazy ‘other’ so the government arrested every suspect associated with this ‘other’. somwhere in the back of that issue of the New York World newspaper was a comic strip, some other history, there’s always two histories.

so for my personal history, id like to say that i have nothing to say and im sticking to it. this culture was inundated with 9/11 stories and responses for a year, then everything fell silent. during this distracted time, our leaders had their way (yes, even landing the republican national convention in NEW YORK!). stuff happened that according to spiegleman made his SCREAM! he found old comics as a remedy, a coping device, a source of inspiration. ill stick with having nothing to say. 


Posted on December 5, 2005 at 11:36 pm by karen

For the last post, I find myself almost at a loss for what to write about.  I found it interesting to examine In the Shadow of No Towers, which took a surprisingly long time to thoroughly peruse.  The first thing I contemplated was the title.  Spiegelman’s use of “no towers” indicates that the significance in his work is found in the lack of what was once there.  It makes me consider briefly the use of absence in Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” (as opposed to the road less-traveled, which the poem describes throughout it) – why make the title emphasize the path that the speaker did not choose?  The seeming contradiction of the lack of towers causing a shadow is a tremendous paradox that somehow becomes possible through Spiegelman’s text – the aftermath of the fallen towers creates a shadow over New York City and America (including possible toxic conditions for the physical surroundings, the changes found within the surrounding neighborhoods, and possible multiple agendas of the government and the media).

As Verna did, I initially found the comic medium for dealing with the events of 9/11 a bit unusual; however, as Spiegelman demonstrated with his “The Comic Supplement,” from the introduction of the comic strip medium, it has been used as a way to critique.  As most of our class has already acknowledged, Spiegelman is clearly making a critique on the way America reacted to and dealt with the events of 9/11 and what took place after 9/11.  My only problem was that for such a limiting medium, I feel that his big idea(s), what he is really trying to say, never quite gets across.  I feel that there is so much going on and such a mixture of his favorite and quite diverse predecessors that his true message perhaps gets lost.  Each “page” and in many cases multiple times within a single page, his techniques and foci seem to shift so drastically, that I found myself scrambling to “make sense” of the whole thing.  I also felt that there were dozens of tiny, subtle details that lacked enough background or connection to get across their full meaning.  Page 6 is one of such pages with Spiegelman (as 3rd person narrator) falling down the panel along the left side but ending in a pile of trash which hosts a Happy Hooligan-like tin hat-wearing character, while the majority of the page is taken up by the Crazy Lady scene (which is interrupted in the middle with a grotesque image of the Crazy Lady as a demon taking over a hellish version of the “shared reality” of Spiegelman and the Crazy Lady.  The page also contains a single panel at the bottom right in which a child mouse has fallen out of bed and discusses a dream (or reality?) with a gas-masked parent mouse.  The interesting thing for me is that even though Spiegelman’s use of so many different images confuses me, I find it an appropriate choice of medium for its flexibility in allowing for so many different images – as he says himself in the opening section “The Sky is Falling,” this medium best captures the chaos and influx of images and memories (some true memories and some planted by the media or distorted by time):  “I wanted to sort out the fragments of what I’d experienced from the media images that threatened to engulf what I actually saw, and the collagelike nature of the newspaper page encouraged my impulse to juxtapose my fragmentary thoughts in different styles” (no page numbers in this introductory section to reference, but this is from the second page of it).

Presentation and Timeliness

Posted on December 5, 2005 at 10:44 pm by Carolyn

Art Spiegelman may well be “ahead of his time,” as he suggests, or perhaps he is able to express things better through his use of comix. The presentation of the book, at first glance, is deceptive. It looks like a large children’s book because of the thick pages, and since there are significantly less pages than in a novel, the reader might think that the read will be an easy one. But I found that each panel was so engaging with the different panels—old comic characters mixed with a photographic image of an Ahnold movie and the glittering, smoking towers. An interesting thing about this piece was even though it showed the towers collapsing on fire, it showed them whole; it showed their ghosts. They do not disappear until page 10, and even then, they fade into the background, a reminder of what used to be. I compare Spiegelman’s images to the media coverage at the time of 9/11, which just plastered the screens with images of the towers collapsing repeatedly, to the point where my body becomes overwhelmed with the utter despair at the constant reminder of the pain and suffering of innocent people that I turned on Animal Planet. Why? Because it was the only channel that did not have constant images of pain and suffering, and it was comforting to look at life forms that didn’t do this type of thing to each other. Spiegelman’s use of satire also helps to keep the reader from getting overwhelmed and draw attention to other issues that have come to light as a result of the attacks, like the “weapons of mass displacement.”

I found it timely that a report was released today by the 9/11 panel, stating that the government has failed in its efforts (or lack thereof) to prevent terrorist attacks. A sampling: “The panel’s members told reporters in Washington that Congress and the Bush administration shared blame for failing to act in these and other crucial areas, and they warned that continued delays could cost American lives in the event of another domestic terrorist attack.” This calls to mind White Noise, with its notions of rehearsing disaster. The first disaster has already occurred, but because proper action is not being taken by those that have the power, the panel members believe that “the terrorists will strike again.” I share Spiegelman’s sentiments of anger towards the government for diverting the public’s attention and not dealing with the cause of the attacks. Another troubling part of the piece was when he recounted a true story where he was asked to be super-American by stating his favorite foods, etc. When his answers didn’t fit the mold, he was told that the proper answers could be edited in. If this is true, as Spiegelman asserts, it is troubling because it means that when a crisis occurs, anyone who does not fit the mold of being apple-pie American becomes “other” and becomes a threat. This was the first graphic novel I read but it was surprisingly rich and layered.

Link to 9/11 article by Dan Eggen (from washingtonpost.com): http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/12/05/AR2005120500097.html


Posted on December 5, 2005 at 10:41 pm by julie g.

It seemed to me that Spiegelman was making a parallel between 911 and the Holocaust. From the beginning he talks about “paranoid Arab Americans blaming it all on the Jews,” compares the air in lower Manhattan to the air in Auschwitz, and all the villains speak in mock German accents. He relates his patriotism to Kristallnacht and the feelings of the Jews in NAZI occupied Germany, saying, “I finally understand why some Jews didn’t leave Berlin right after Kristallnacht” (4).  The mouse head that continually pops up throughout the pages looks a lot like the character in the comic book, Maus. Unfortunately, I have not read the book, but I do know that the Jews are mice and the Americans are dogs (see lower right hand corner of page 8). So how, here, is Spiegelman a victim…? Or is the mouse head just a symbol that he is speaking from his Jewish lens?

While I think 911 was a horrendous tragedy, I’m not sure that I would agree that it is a parallel to the Holocaust. In WWII the victims were oppressed and then systematically exterminated by a fascist regime. In 911 the fascist regime (at least according to what Spiegelman seems to be purporting) is the one who is attacked. It is not the same. Or is Spiegelman saying that the Bush administration is parallel to the NAZI party and that our country’s prejudice and ulterior motive for going to war creates the dichotomy? If so, then how does 911 fit in and why does the death here remind him of Auschwitz? The only rational connection I can make is that the use of fear is the same. The Germans (or, more aptly, the Nazis) created a fear within their citizens that the depressed state of their country was due, in part, to the Jews. And then they managed to wage war on the oppressed based on propaganda. America (or, more aptly…you get it) has taken undirected fear of an Armageddon and purposefully directed it at the Arabs as a scapegoat for our breach in security…among other problems.

While I can agree with the last parallel, I still don’t think comparing 911 to the Holocaust is a justified analogy and I dislike the connotation.

Finally, I think that Spiegelman lays a lot of blame in this book…it seems to subvert his message since he seems to be advocating that blame is one of the causes of the problem.

Intertextual play

Posted on December 5, 2005 at 8:47 pm by skjeldaa

I enjoyed political satire of Art Spiegelman’s work (the first 10 plates), which was easy to perceive offhandedly – and became even richer through its intertextual play with media images, poems and old comics. Hence the term comix. By starting the work with an “Etymolocial Vaudeville” that installed the falling shoe as an image of threat, and showed how the people on the lower floors of the house waited in vain for it to fall to the floor, I felt Spiegeman from the very onset was undermining/ critiquing the American government’s narrative of fear. This narrative pervades the work both as a theme and through its constant use of orange and red – the colors of alert. Spiegelman presents the 2004 presidential election with an image of a sky full of shoes – cowboy-boots for the Texan candidate whose campaign played on people’s fear of new terrorist attacks. Other images work similarly. In plate two, Spiegelman has become the ancient mariner of Coleridge’s poem, doomed forever to tell his story to anyone who will listen. However, in the original poem, the mariner is not an innocent victim. Lacking respect for life, he shot the albatross, thereby setting in motion a series of misfortunes against himself and his crew. The variation offered in this strip is that the albatross is the American eagle, merging with the unfortunate mariner Spiegelman through a rope around the neck. The two are linked through their actions and their fate.

In the same plate, Spiegelman and his wife suddenly turn into Hans and Fritz with burning towers on their heads, connecting the events of this plate with those of the comic strip “The Glorious Fourth of July”. In the latter, the expected threat (caused by ‘other kids’) to the grandfather and his reading of the Declaration of Independence is discovered and neutralized. Hans and Fritz, ‘the insiders’ armed with sticks of dynamite resembling the burning towers (this image is also used in plate 10), make use of the spectators’ focus on the perceived threat to blow them up. The real threat to the American nation does, in other words, come from within. The same message is communicated in another version in plate 7’s Upside Down World story, which read in juxtaposition with its predecessor (Plate III), criticizes the war-eager president of making use of simple moralistic tales to ‘turn the world on its head’ and justify the war on Iraq.

The first time I read the book, I was puzzled by the mouse heads. Did they have any significance except resembling gas masks and displaying a sense of being small and insignificant in the face of big and threatening events? And why was mouse-Spiegelman carrying a small, red tower in plate 8? The interpretation of this image would have been impossible (to me) without Spiegelman’s description of his favorite comic strip, Krazy Kat, in which the malevolent mouse, Ignatz, regularly tosses a brick at the strip’s cat, and is in turn chased down and put to (a brick) jail by a bulldog in love with the cat. In Spiegelman’s comix, the Americans (in plate 10 several) are the mice, and after 9/11 what they toss against their adversary (Iraq) is the Twin Towers terrorist attack. (To put it very cynically, it could also be argued that there is a certain regularity in this attack, – if not in its means, then in its target.) This reading contrasts Spiegelman’s interpretation of the strip from 1936 (presented in “The Comic Supplement”), in which the mouse is the snake in the garden we must all learn to live with, and therefore probably not a representative of the American. But as the whole text plays with imagery, I don’t think one interpretation necessarily undermines the other.

Comparing “The Comic Supplement” with the extra material provided with Donnie Darko and Fight Club, I find the former superior because of its ability to enrich rather than restrict my reading of Spiegelman’s text. The inclusion of this explanatory historical survey, together with the old comic strips themselves, underline what seems to be one of Spiegelman’s points; that even – and perhaps especially – in times of tragedy and in the face of apocalyptic fear, we need a comic supplement. Irony cannot be dead.

Auden’s poem

Posted on December 5, 2005 at 8:46 pm by nicole

When I began working on my paper/presentation for In the Shadow… one of the places I started, just out of pure curiosity, was the September 1, 1939 poem by W.H. Auden. Not only does Spiegelman cite the poem in his book, but during at least two separate NPR interviews he mentions the poem again in reference to the “New York community” embracing poetry, finding solace in coffee house readings, in order to get a grip on what happened. I’m sure some of you, if not all, are probably familiar with Auden and his poem, whereas I was not. Aside from simply reading its entirety, I also found a deeply contradicting, and fascinating history attached to the poem. The poem was originally written at the beginning of WWII as Poland was being invaded, which leads me to believe that Spiegelman is more than likely completely aware of the poem’s historical context. The poem that people were finding comfort in and reciting in coffee houses, passing along through email, and even using in classrooms directly following 9/11, is the same poem used in the ever famous political commercial in 1964 with the little girl picking the petals off of a flower, the ominous countdown, followed by the mushroom-cloud image of an atomic bomb in the Johnson and Goldwater election. Bush senior also used the poem in his own fear commercials, and I just found it fascinating that a poem with such a rich history as being used as a political tool to fuel fear for the sake of political gain would be symbolically chosen as ‘the’ post-9/11 poem. Spiegelman does not directly cite this contradiction, or coincidence, or whatever you might call it, but I find it impossible to believe he is unaware of the connections considering his personal background. After understanding the history behind the poem, I re-read the panel including the citation (on page 10) and his commentary took on an entirely new meaning. Or maybe not entirely ‘new’ but definitely deeper.

Before and After

Posted on December 5, 2005 at 7:48 pm by kiraprater

It seems that when something traumatic happens, time is automatically divided into Before and After. I think this must mean that history – not just the future – is altered in some way. A person might never be able to look back, to Before, without looking through the filter of the event. For example, I seem to always find myself thinking about pre-9/11 events by saying, "Oh, that was four months before 9/11…that was one year and a half before 9/11…" It seems that one’s own history could be re-written that way. Then, of course, the future is partially scripted already (with the "Where were you when…?" stories that Josh and Ada mentioned in their blogs). I think that Art Spiegelman may have been getting at this a little bit in In the Shadow of No Towers.

On the subject of Before, Don DeLillo mentions in his article, "In the Ruins of the Future": " The terrorists of September 11 want to bring back the past." I got the same impression with Spiegelman, and perhaps that this why he included the century-old newspaper articles and comics (sort of like what Jarrod said about how he might want to align himself with the radical voices of the past). Perhaps this is why he says, at one point, that "Nothing changed on 9/11".

Certainly no disrespect about the 9/11 tragedy is meant when I say this, but reading this comic reminded me of a line from White Noise, when Stompanato, the head of the New York emigres, tells Jack that being successful in New York is mostly about expressing dissatisfaction in an interesting way…

What is Spiegelman Really Doing?

Posted on December 5, 2005 at 6:45 pm by verna robinson

At first I too was taken aback by the tone, point of view, focus, images and diction of Spiegelman’s "comic narrative" in In the Shadow of No Towers.  In fact, I thought this response to September 11th irreverent and bordering on tasteless, considering the magnitude of human suffering that resulted from the event. I thought the tragedy warranted a more serious and thoughtful response, certainly not a comic book. However, when I put aside my initial concerns and took a closer look at who Spiegelman was, at the medium through which he sees and responds to the world around him, and what he could really be saying in the work, perhaps his response is the sanest and most appropropriate response an artist in our postmodern world could muster.

Immediately after September 11th the government provided its own "master narrative" of the tragedy that began to define, align and limit just who was the enemy. We saw all media outlets participate in a "blitz" that was both needed, appreciated, and appropriated by all of us. Little did we know but it was really working to a deeper, darker agenda. I was sitting in the parking lot on my campus, horrified and immobilized by what I heard on the news. The image of the enemy took shape within my mind and every student who looked like the images reported over the radio and on television became a potential terrorist for me. I had bought into the myth of the Muslim terrorist. Could Spiegelman’s text work to subvert the "master narrative" in some way and provide his own "narrative" of the events he witnessed.  The event for him was both intensely personal and intensely political, and the amount of historiography indicates an attempt on his part to write over the master narrative. Also, I think the book is meant to be cathartic, for him and for the nation.

Also, he uses the third person point of view.  I considered the sense of detachment one must achieve to witness and survive such an event, in one’s own backyard no less. Perhaps the use of 3rd person point of view allowed him to suspend reality and write about the event outside himself. For example, in one panel the image of falling men has the caption "He keeps falling through the holes in his head, though he no longer knows which holes were made by Arab terrorists… and which ones were always there…" He goes on to say, "He is haunted by the images he didn’t witness" perhaps connecting with the trauma of the survivor who feels guilty about being alive. As far as his choice and use of point of view, we have certainly read a number of works this semester where a shifting of narrative strategy and point of view were characteristics of postmodernism. Perhaps Spiegelman’s text is living up to the tenets of postmodern writing in these respects.

The tone is no less offputting for the same reason.  It seems the first section is replete with irony, parody, dark humor, even bizarre humor. For example, in the same panel as I mentioned above, the line "… especially one man, according to a neighbor) who executed a graceful Olympic dive as his last living act" is bitingly offensive. This image (of a man’s last living act as an Olympic swan dive) and these words and the tone could be his attempt at articulating the unimaginable horror of the tragedy. I thought as well of the title of one panel as particularly postmodern: The New Normal. The scene is of a family–father, mother, child–sitting in front of the television on September 10th, perfectly normal. On September 11th, each member is horrified beyond belief by the events of that day, evidenced by the electric socket coiffed hairstyles each one wears. Then, things are back to normal, with only a mild shock registered by the hairstyles. What Spiegelman could be saying here is that the "new normal" is only a degree less shocking and we go about our lives numbed into oblivion.

Finally, perhaps he finds in the "comic narrative" a way to respond to and comment on our postmodern and post-September 11th world.

Use of voice in Spiegelman’s frames

Posted on December 5, 2005 at 6:12 pm by jmonte

In Art Spiegelman’s graphic narrative about 9/11/01, the alternating first and third person voices more completely conveyed his range of reactions and emotions to his experiences that day.  For example, on p. 5-6, the voice in the left column is in the third person, a device that seemed to communicate the tremendous coping involved with being a survivor on that day.  Spiegelman places his character in the position of those who fell from the towers, and the third person voice may indicate his personal struggle with discussing the experience; thus, “I” becomes “he” and the story becomes easier for the character to recount.  

            Whether or not Spiegelman intended for his story to be narcissistic, his graphic frames, or style of telling of it, slows down the story’s movement, allows one to analyze the message without the special effects and editing that one must counter with film, and emotionally transports reader/viewer to consider how a New Yorker processed the destruction, death, and misinformation accompanying the fall of the towers.  His inclusion of his relationship with a homeless New Yorker juxtaposed to his falling from the tower (the anti-Semitic Russian woman), written in the first person, shows a contrast between his willingness to confront day-to-day hatred (I dare say the normal hatred and intolerance of the everday) and his despair (as shown in the left column and written in a distanced third person voice) at how to make sense of the hatred that was behind the fall of the towers and the hatred that formed among Americans in reaction to it.  When the Russian woman reveals her knowledge of English and a boldness, born in her in the aftermath of 9/11, to assault him with it, Spiegelman voices his frustration.  A major source of frustration for him in these frames seemed not only to stem from his disappointment with how political parties sold out on the fall of the towers, but what overwhelms the pages is his knowing that there may be no one or worse yet, there are many sources behind the destruction and fall of the towers that day.

“Liberty will not descend to a people, a people must raise themselves to Liberty”

Posted on December 5, 2005 at 5:07 pm by Jarrod

I wonder if Spiegelman places himself at the center of his narratives (both Shadow and Maus) for a reason that is greater than his self-admitted narcissism.  The first “page,” or the opening image if you prefer, is a reproduction of a September 11th (1901) newspaper that heralds the assassination attempt on President McKinley.  Just as noticeable as the banner headline is the implication that Emma Goldman was somehow responsible.  I don’t know if this particular connection (the two events being news on Sept. 11th)  has been made before (or often), but they serve as an interesting juxtaposition.

The evocation of Emma Goldman, the anarcho-feminist or anarcho-communist (depending on who is appropriating her name) being falsely accused resonates on many levels.  First, the assassination attempt was an opportunity to arrest nine different members of the anarchist party (yes, yes anarchist party is an oxymoron), and one of them,  Leon Czolgosz, was executed.  As 9/11 became an excuse to round up and torture people who are “afraid of our freedom,” McKinley’s brush with death was an opportunity to discredit a party who was a major driving force for the labor movement.

However, returning to my initial argument, I would suggest that the evocation of Goldman’s name is an attempt by Spiegelman to align himself with radical voices of America’s past.  Much of the book is abut how Spiegelman feels that he needs to disseminate the message that he is dissatisfied with politics (the forming of the Ostridge Party, the interview that was never aired, the bed full of unconcerned men).  It is clear that he feels as though he is a lone voice of truth.  In light of this, the fact that his works are autobiographical aligns him with other voices of radical change, as many voices of radical change are expressed through this genre (Malcolm X comes to mind, not to mention Goldman’s own autobiography).

Through autobiography Goldman expressed a sentiment that was shared by a disenfranchised proletariat and Malcolm X spoke for an oppressed race: perhaps Spiegelman’s “narcissism” is an attempt to voice the opposition that is conspicuously absent from mainstream media.

I realize that this may be a grand comparison for a collection of “comix,” but I figured I could get away with a bit of overstatement on my final blog entry.  Speaking of which, I enjoyed our blogging experience and if this blizzard keeps us from having class tomorrow, I wish you all a safe and happy holiday… or as Max Headroom would say…

 “H-H-H-Happy Holidays postmodernists.”

In the Shadow of the Final Blog for This Course

Posted on December 5, 2005 at 2:54 pm by julie/jules

It’s not enough to say "my sentiments exactly" in response to Speiglman’s comic project, In The Shadow of No Towers, since this blog has to be at least 300 words. The theme that rings most true throughout the text is the government’s, in tandam with the media’s, "hijacking" of the atrocity, and its departure from the actual and experienced pain of the victims and survivors by repetitiously employing cinematic coverage of the images of the event, which removed the tragedy from the real and replaced it with a fantasy world akin to that of movies and video games. Personally, I was living in San Diego California at the time, and as I walked through our living room to the front door for work at 6am, my father sat motionless in front of the T.V. He had the same look on his face, one of excrutiating effort to suspend his disbelief, as he has when he watches a traumatic war movie or documentary. Of course, when I meant to simply glance at what he was entranced by on the screen, I couldn’t look away. I didn’t have to suspend disbelief; I simply couldn’t believe that what was happening in New York and at the Pentagon was real. I believed for the first few minutes and probably, for the following few days, that what I had watched on television that morning was fiction, a new rendition of Executive Decision where the inherently evil Arabs succede in their plan of terror, an add for a videogame, anything but real. (While the media had projected images of Arabs and/or Muslims as terrorists prior to 9/11, a ploy that implicates that all Arabs and/or Muslims are potenital terrorists, it only got worse after the event.) 

While Speiglmen indicts the U.S. government for hijacking the fear of the American public to go to war in Iraq in several of his strips, he also addresses the nation’s preoccupation with Hollywood. In the strip on page 2, the artist/comic suggests that American’s can no longer see beyond Hollywood. With the two towers on top of Speiglmen and his wife’s head, the towers being out of sight to the person with the tower on his/her head but visible to the other if he/she is observent, they are blinded by a Collateral Damage billboard with Arnold Swarzenegger’s head on it. Not only is the implication heavily ironic since the movie is about a ‘Veteran Firefighter’ who looses his wife and child in a bomb blast and then becomes an assassin or terrorist, in which case the billboard functions prophetically, but as the caricature of the author is preoccupied with trying to understand what’s really happening beyond the Hollywood banner, he and his wife are attacked and spanked by a caricature of an Arab Muslim, at which point, the towers on each of their skulls falls. (Perhaps this strip relates to Speiglmen’s insistence on the glowing bones in the North Tower just before it fell?) Speiglmen literally cannot see the towers falling behind the billboard, which suggests that the artist and by extension, the collective consciousness of America, are so preoccupied with film, media, and other spectacular diversions from reality, that it is impossilbe to comprehend real tragedy when it happens since we’re all so used to being detached from it when experiencing its simulation on screen.

Throughout the text, the author is simply trying to digest the experience as a New Yorker present at the time of the catastrophe. "Time stood still" and he conveys that it really felt as if Armagedon or the Apocolypse were on the horizon. DeLillo’s essay, "In the Ruins of the Future," is also obsessed with the essence of time, and he describes the clash of civilizations represented by 9/11 as being a matter of time. "The terrorists of September 11 want to bring back the past" while the West, currently spearheaded by the hyper-technological United States and the internet, live "permanently in the future." The terrorists, according to DeLillo, desire a premodern state of existence in which religion governs their perceived right to self-determination, which is a state of existence that the modernizing Western powers want ousted, a U.S. preference that appears to based more so on economic reasons than moral. For DeLillo, time stood still on September 11 because the premodern struck the modern "to reduce the world" and to bring about their vision of its return to an earlier time, ironically, with the hijacked technology of the West. Both works acknowledge that September 11 didn’t just come out of nowhere, and neither author subscribes to the simplistic notion that terrorists are psychotic animals without any objective but to senslessly kill. While DeLillo argues that the terrorists of 9/11 are reacting to global modernization, particularly their forced modernization, Speiglmen asserts that the U.S., particularly when under ‘the dictatorship’ of Administration’s like the current theif, G.W., are just as guilty of terrorism (terrorism of its own citizenry psychologically and peoples of foreign nations physically) as those the U.S. government accuses of terrorism- "Equally Terrorized by Al-Qeada And by His Own Government," Speilmen and many others, such as myself, are disollusioned by the violence and victimization of ‘innocents’ perpetrated by both nations and non-state groups. 

I was at the gym and saw it on TV…

Posted on December 5, 2005 at 1:07 pm by ada

It seems that the issue of ownership and personal associations with 9/11, as echoed in the works and brought up by Josh will be a sure preoccupation in reading and talking about this week’s text.  While the “where were you when” phenomenon permeates some of our understanding of the events, another aspect of dealing with the aftermath is the question of “what did you do after?”  One response, in the case of Art Spiegelman, is to create a series of comix.  (Oh, and if anyone can please explain to me the use of the word “comix” as opposed to “comics” I would be very grateful)  Continuing in this vein, I am also interested in the coupling of visuals and text to create a tone, one that is at once very somber and serious, and on the other hand is inextricably linked to previous understanding and associations with comics- playful, fantastic, funny, other-worldly.  How does one approach the reading of a text such as In the Shadow of No Towers?  How did the media response to 9/11 affect our understanding of what happened?  What were the implications of the inability and the purposeful holding back of humor and laughter in the wake of the tragedy in popular culture mediums?  Art Spiegelman, in his text, has found a way to approach the issue.  His introduction to In the Shadow of No Towers may suggest that the impetus for this was personal catharsis, but then, as a public figure, one that sought out a venue for publication, how can this not be viewed as a joint experience with the reader?  Don DeLillo’s “In the Ruins of the Future” seemed to me to oddly echo some of the same sentiments, perhaps more having to do with his jumpy, breathy writings style, which is how I tended to read Spiegelman’s text.  And again, perhaps this is a fitting assessment- a hurried, emotion-ridden reaction (even the word reaction has some unintended weight to it), an attempt to vocalize our reactions to something that we still have a hard time comprehending.