Each day we get closer to having to admit that some of our heroes have views we disagree with. Some views we might even call nuts.
Sure, we might love our heroes to be a little egocentric, to be the mouthpiece for what we feel but never say. But what happens when a famous creator like Frank Miller creates a work that he himself describes as “propaganda” (his book Holy Terror) and then goes on a tirade against the Occupy Wall Street protestors?
It seems a mountain of response was triggered by Miller’s book and rant: from cyber vitriol to full on calls for boycotts, Miller’s tirade has been nothing but affective. Even Mark Millar went online, not to defend Miller but rather to quell the mobs gathering for Frank Miller’s downfall.
Mark Millar’s main caveat against this tsunami of disgust from the comics community is that it is a mob mentality. When you take it apart, what we are seeing is quite hypocritical. We do not have to, by any means, enjoy the perspectives of our favorite, even canonical, creators. We don’t have to agree with Dave Sim about religion or women. We can ignore that Orson Scott Card is a bit of a bigot now. We can still enjoy the work, but not the creator.
After all, the German philosopher Martin Heidegger (who many will proclaim as one of the most brilliant minds to ever live) was a Nazi. Heidegger never colluded directly with the Nazis, but he did take up several academic positions because of his affiliation (including becoming the head of Freiburg which at the time was one of the most prestigious universities). Despite this, his work to this day reverberates through much of philosophy, literature, and even theology.
To put it bluntly: it sucks to have someone make compelling, amazing works but otherwise be a shithead. But we can certainly still enjoy their works. It does not change the feelings we had when reading works like The Dark Knight Returns or Cerebus.
While political / philosophical affiliations can temper our love of creators and their works, we should be careful down this road. It is a bit more slippery than first thought. Wholesale condemning a body of works for one bad sentence is a bit too much of a blanket statement.
There are aspects of even Watchmen that make me groan a bit, but does that mean the whole thing is broken from the start? Hell, no.
Now, if the work makes you have that groan-inducing feeling throughout much of it, then it might just be a bad work or have a lot of faults, more than can be ignored.
Then there is the case of Holy Terror. Stated by Miller himself as propaganda, it reads a bit more like enemy porn than anything. In fact, the book itself is far worse in its philosophy and implications than even then entirety of Miller’s Occupy Wall Street rant.
“Empire City is in peril… and a whole lot of folks need killing.”
That’s one of the tag lines from the back of Holy Terror, the obtuse story about killing terrorists that hate ‘Merica.
Being that this is propaganda in some form makes that tag line feel crass at best, if not inhumane.
This is not the cute, coy comics of the ’40s with Captain America chasing around Nazis and trying to stop the Axis Powers. Superman wasn’t on the cover of Action Comics going: “Nazis need killing!!”
After all, asking for the blanket death of a sect of people based on political affiliation is like asking for the death of any group of people based on one item, be it race, gender, or religion.
This is why the tag line, and much of the book, is inhumane in what it is saying. To say some people need to be killed implies a morality. One that allows Group A to demonize and murder Group B based on difference in myths and philosophy. Group A is really just asserting its dominance over Group B, but cannot claim any real moral dominance or prove such claims.
What we are dealing with is a blanket morality and this is always more than a bit solipsistic.
Saying that a person needs killing implies that they are flawed on some level, but this perception is never objective. This is relativistic morality being touted as the Morality of humanity. Miller is putting forth, perhaps accidentally, a highly contentious philosophy that the “enemy” needs to be killed because they are against us.
After all, it is not white male Americans that the Fixer, the main murderer, of Holy Terror is killing. In truth, Miller is not creating a type of therapy to deal with all the emotions around 9/11. He is creating enemy porn. Something for all American’s to read and then pump our fist shouting: “Fuck Yeah! Git ‘R Done!”
This is where “need” becomes a tricky word. Propaganda is always one side of a multi-perspective argument. One that most would never agree with the terrorists’ side of.
While his remarks — and Holy Terror itself — are largely just silly and dismissible, this type of rhetoric is not. His blanket statement changes morality. Frank Miller is actually saying that some people can be murdered, and that it is totally reasonable, because they were against us.
Anything opposed to our morality and values is wrong and therefore flawed. Not simply just flawed, but so emphatically wrong that the person holding this idea should be murdered.
It is absurd to base a philosophy, not to mention a plot, around the idea that those holding an idea should die. While Miller’s protagonist, the Fixer, mainly murders terrorists, it is not hard to see the xenophobia Miller is facing with this work.
In fact, on NPR, before the book was fully created, Miller was recorded as saying:
For the first time in my life, I know how it feels to face an existential menace. They want us to die. All of a sudden, I realize what my parents were talking about all those years. Patriotism, I now believe, isn’t some sentimental, old conceit. It’s self-preservation. I believe patriotism is central to a nation’s survival. Ben Franklin said it: if we don’t all hang together, we all hang separately.
It is easy to conclude that 9/11 left an indelible scar on Frank Miller. Perhaps one that will never heal, but a wound nonetheless that Miller seems to use for inspiration now.
But what about the other side of the table? What about those that see America as the enemy and likewise seek to only kill or inculcate us? Who is right then?
Obviously, these are a bit more nuanced questions than Mr. Miller is dealing with above. But this begs the question of why? Why isn’t Frank Miller thinking this through more?
Because he is afraid and wants someone held responsible for the shape of the world.
There is none of who can say his fear is right or wrong, but we can point out that it is bankrupt morally, intellectually, and humanely. What Miller is missing is that we cannot kill an idea. We cannot destroy that kernel of a philosophical / religious idea that ushers men to crash planes into buildings. It also doesn’t destroy the idea that those of color, especially Arabic, are the enemy and should be murdered.
We cannot give a blanket morality to the world as Frank Miller so clearly wants to.
We no longer live in a black and white world.