Proving once again how culturally irrelevant they are, the Book Babes have declared graphic novels as the harbinger of evil. So suggesth one Ellen Hetzel:
I am patiently working my way through two graphic novels, David B?s Epileptic and Marjane Satrapi’s Embroideries, just one more indication in our world that Western culture increasingly depends on visual messages to perceive and understand what’s going on. Do I think this is a good thing? No. It seems like the mind has to be able to wrap itself around abstract ideas in order to reason, and visuals?at least as we know them through TV, movies and advertising?cause us to respond instinctively and emotionally.
Let’s discuss just how profoundly stupid this paragraph is. Consider the following:
First off, if the objection here is over any book medium contains “abstract ideas,” then I suppose we should discount the whole of literature outside of rigid genre-based narratives that offer nothing in the way of ambiguity. Ulysses? Sorry, Mr. Joyce, you’re too “abstract.” Tristram Shandy? Borges? Faulkner? Gaddis? Lessing? Flann O’Brien? Sorry, folks, the mind must “wrap itself around abstract ideas” in order to understand you. We’ll have to throw you into the dust heap. But Dan Brown and John Grisham? Well, you’re part of the literal-minded club. So come on by for some barbeque and MGD.
Second, what specifically is wrong with “visual messages?” Is Hetzel really advocating a culture based entirely (if not exclusively) on words? That’s sure fantastic for the 42 million Americans who can’t read or for quick international symbols that convey a point faster than words. I guess those Egyptians were fundamental dumbasses “wrapping themselves around abstract ideas” when they dared to communicate through hieroglyphics. I suppose Hetzel will be demanding next that we replace erect penises and floppy breasts with great Puritanical raiments of language.
Third, “visual messages” — or, more specifically, mediums that involve visual messages — are not exclusive to Western culture, nor are they as recent as Hetzel suggests. (Get schooled in ukiyo-e, Babe.)
Thus, if I am to understand Hetzel’s argument, it is this:
1. I can’t understand this graphic novel thingy. My head hurts.
2. Well, if I can’t understand it, then it must be fundamentally wrong for everybody! It must be abstract!
3. The cute little comic book thingy is composed of “visual messages.”
4. Since I can’t understand the cute little comic book thingy, therefore anything involving “visual messages” is fundamentally wrong!
5. My head hurts. I’m out of aspirin. This is NOT A GOOD THING!
6. There are other “visual messages” on teevee and advertising.
7. Teevee and advertising are lesser mediums than the book.
8. Therefore, the cute little comic book thingy is a lesser medium.
It’s good to have such circular bullshit come so easily, isn’t it?
I’ve had my problems with the Book Babes before, but I never suspected that they’d serve up such idiotic logic. I’m quite stunned that the Book Standard would allow something so fundamentally moronic to infiltrate its pages.
For those interested in speculation upon Tanenhaus’s NYTBR, check out Juana Libedinsky’s “Un cambio polemico,” where we were delighted to see that declining book coverage is of international concern, and that our thoughts were happily preserved in Spanish. Interestingly enough, the Book Babes are there too.
It has now been eight days since we’ve heard anything from the Book Babes, with the last column featuring Margo alone (with an almost Stalinist exclusion of Ellen). Have the Book Babes been canned? Did someone actually pay attention to Mark’s petition? Inquiring minds want to know.
To be clear to the Poynter Institute (if they are indeed watching), the collected hope was to raise the level of discourse, not eviscerate it completely.
Being out of touch with literature is one thing. Letting Norman Mailer get away with that New Journalism remark was another. But when the Book Babes went soft on Joe Eszterhas, the Book Babes did something unpardonable. I had little choice but to add my vote to this petition to dump the Book Babes. For goodness sake, they can’t even type the word “fuck” for an online column. I urge all self-respecting lit lovers to do the same. (via Mark)
[UPDATE: In a shocking twist of fate, Bill Keller has signed the petition. Does this offer some small clue that the man actually cares about literary fiction? You make the call.]