Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Hallowe'en! Aren't Gender Stereotypes Fun?

Ah, Hallowe'en...that favourite holiday of cartoonists everywhere. Christmas leads to a lot of soppy, heart-warming goop, and Valentine's Day allows explorations of the human heart,* but only Hallowe'en offers a certain kind of licence: an opportunity to let loose, turn things upside down, bring out the monstrous sides of one's characters.

Some cartoonists embrace this opportunity. Some ignore it. Many completely squander it, possibly because they are phoning it in.** Jeff and Bil Keane take it and bludgeon it upside the head until it stops moving.

In the comic presented below, Billy, Jeffy, and Dolly eagerly await sunset so that they can go beg candy from their neighbours. Billy is dressed as Iron Man, probably because an Iron Man movie came out this summer. Jeffy is dressed as Batman, probably because a Batman movie came out this summer. Dolly is dressed as...

............Sarah Palin?

Gosh! I guess little boys want to be superheroes, whereas little girls want to be ultra-conservative, moose-hunting figureheads who have been shunted into positions of power not because they deserve to be but because somebody is trying to pretend he's progressive! Let's celebrate Sarah Palin as the closest a woman can come to being "super"! Excuse me while I go kick several walls in impotent fury, then throw up! Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaargh...

The Keanes have also, of course, demonstrated that they don't know their superheroes. Iron Man and Batman are from different comic-book universes, but more importantly, they represent almost opposite superhero impulses. Iron Man, especially lately in Marvel's Civil War storyline, tends to ally himself with the U.S. government, whereas Batman is a vigilante who works outside the law and frequently comes into conflict with it.*** In between them, we have Dolly as a potential Vice President who thinks she is a "maverick" and, while happily promoting the Republican party, seems determined to undermine it at every turn and promote herself as the next-but-one President of the United States. I'm getting mixed messages on the politics here, Keanes. Or did you expect me to read the comic in an entirely brain-dead manner? Oh, probably did.

Medievalising this comic actually helps it marginally. No, there were no superheroes per se in the Middle Ages, but our "superheroes" are really just "heroes" under another name. Medieval texts, especially romances, are not afraid to present the larger-than-life hero, with his monstrous personality and his tendency to tear off heads with his bare hands;**** in fact, in a few little poems based on the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew, Christ himself appears as such a hero. Significantly, other poems and stories elevate real historical figures to hero status. Several romances deal with Alexander the Great in this fashion, and one does it to Richard the Lionheart, who appears as the son of a demon princess: a man who wields a huge axe, consumes human flesh, and is frequently compared to the devil.

It could be that Dolly's Palin represents this type of national hero. The Keanes are implying that though she may seem monstrous, she will use her monstrosity to beat back the outsiders and make the States strong. Iron Man and Batman are all very well, but Sarah Palin is a real-life American hero.***** Right? Right? McCain-Palin 2008!

My name is Angry Kem. I am a Canadian. This message has not been paid for by any existing political party. I assume my politics are becoming rather clear by this point, but try not to worry about it. We Canadians tend to become rather passionate about the American presidential election because though it affects us quite a lot, there's not a damn thing we can do about it.

*Well...the part of the human heart attached to 1) the greeting card industry, 2) the heart-shaped chocolate industry, and/or 3) horrible, horrible glurge.
**What am I saying? They are obviously phoning it in. They don't care. They are forcing us to bear their unforgivable trash because they believe that the fact that they are all great-grandchildren of great early-twentieth-century cartoonists entitles them to steady paycheques. I hate them all.
***Yes, I am simplifying. I am simplifying a lot. At this point, feel free to exclaim, "Golly, she's simplifying a lot!" Then go shopping at the comic-book store to let off a bit of steam.
****Or, occasionally, his bear hands.
*****I would like to make it extremely clear that this sentence is meant to be read in a highly sarcastic tone of voice. I in no way condone a reading of this sentence that does not include either sarcasm or irony. Thank you, and good night.


john said...

Perhaps the two different superhero costumes are a commentary on the nature of the kids wearing them? Billy, like Tony Stark, demonstrated talent early in life and went on to great things (Glen Keane being a Disney animator and all that,) remaining on good terms with authority figures (ol' Bil.) Jeffy, on the other hand, has ever been the outsider, the middle child who gets neither the respect afforded the older kids nor the affection lavished on little P.J. Like Batman, though he puts on a good face (although his is more Clark Kent's affable everyman than Bruce Wayne's suave sophistication,) and even works with the authority figures (he is, after all, drawing the strip for his father,) he is not one of them, and his resentment is just barely suppressed. It's an interesting thing to be reading into The Family Circus, but it seems to fit fairly well.

Angry Kem said...

John: Huh...good point. Also relevant is the fact that Billy/Tony is now open regarding his nature as a superhero/success, whereas Jeffy/Bruce keeps his status under wraps. Many have seen sly jabs at Billy in JK's version of the comic; perhaps Jeffy's secret identity as a rogue is here coming to the surface, though the authority figure represented by his father has not yet realised it. Watch for Jeff Keane to lose it completely and bust out as a true Dark Knight sometime in the near future. If he starts drawing Dolly as a porn star, you'll know what has happened.

john said...

Ooh, good point. I'm almost wondering if it was intended now, but it's The Family Circus, for crying out loud.

yellojkt said...

Dolly looks less like Sarah Palin than some generic grandma from Little House on the Prairie.

Michael said...

Sorry, yellojkt, but I agree with angry kem. Dolly is done up as Sarah Palin. If Dolly were winking (sorry, that should be winkin') the guise would be complete.

Jana C.H. said...

Did the color monkeys in this strip make a mistake, or was Iron Man red and blue in the movie instead of red and yellow?

Jana C.H.
Saith Will Cuppy: Nero did not fiddle while Rome burned because the violin has not yet been invented. He played the lyre and sang of the Fall of Troy.

Angry Kem said...

Jana: The colour monkeys made a mistake. Silly colour monkeys.

Jana C.H. said...

Good. Making Iron Man red and blue violates one of the principal rules of heraldry: Never put a metal on a metal or a color on a color.

This is actually just a rule of good design, which I see frequently violated, particularly on the flags of African countries.

Jana C.H.
Saith Nora Maloy : The irregularities and variations are characteristics that add texture and uniqueness to this human and should not be considered defects or flaws.

Jessica said...

Perhaps the strip unintentionally mirrors Palin's, and by extension the Republican party's, political identity crisis. The party wants to be perceived as bravely "maverick" like Bruce, who does his best work in cooperation with (but unregulated by) the government. The party's modus operandi of the past seven years has actually been closer to that of Tony Stark, who has spent recent months busily constructing a panopticon police state. Dolly/Palin knows these two figures' approaches are incompatible, but attempts to stand equidistant from each and conceal her nagging cognitive dissonance behind a mindless grin. In the end we know she'll choose Tony, because he's standing on the right.