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2014.01.24

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I will clarify in advance that when I refer to the theatrical quality of Moore's shit-talking, I am aware that such discourse can provoke a real and distinct effect (or harm) on, for example, Laura Sneddon, as Moore's comments on her strike at the performance of her job duties. I do not intend to suggest that the language employed in the interview is wholly without cognizable impact, but that in the context of wider fandom reactions there tends to be a certain face-value interpretation which tends to inhibit more substantive engagement with Moore's arguments. (And heaven knows there's room to argue...)

I've not seen anyone mention this yet: Moore's defense of his use of the golliwog is grounded in his (literal, rather than secondhand or inferred) reading of the original material and his analysis of that material in relation to the context where it originally appeared. He's not ignoring the context at all. Rather, his depiction *rests* upon that original context, which, frankly, most commentators (myself included) seem ignorant of. He is pointing out that the original golliwog was (he claims) intended as an heroic character, created by (he claims) an ardent critic of contemporary racism, and that his own variation was intended to pick up those threads and carry them forward. Notably, Moore insists that the original golliwog was (perhaps intentionally [artfully?]) never identified as African; the traits identified as negative (cartoonishly exaggerated features) linking it to racist depictions of blacks are indeed most offensive when the reader agrees that these traits are somehow unappealing. Maybe this is part of the reason for likewise not casting his version of the character as an African? I don't think Moore's intention was to agree that black skin is ugly. In fact, he suggests that the creator of the original golliwog might have intended the character as an almost subliminal way to familiarize children with non-white people, specifically in a climate where they were unlikely to encounter positive depictions of same. In light of all this, I think it does a disservice to the discussion to cast Moore's intentions as simplistically, hamfistedly racist. If his intention was in fact not racist, then much of the very specific ire and its attendant accusations seem misplaced. If racism is thought, instead, to be inevitable, then how much weight does his intention carry, anyway? It's tricky to categorically address the sin of categorizing categories. The quality of the attacks upon Moore is distressingly substandard. Rather than engaging the questions supposedly raised, it all comes across as a shallow two-minutes-hate, which Moore duly anticipates in the interview text itself. He's a bitter old man, sure, but we sound like spoiled children.

Disclosure: I've not read the original golliwog stories and I'm not necessarily advancing Moore's arguments as my own. I simply think that Moore's arguments have been mostly ignored in favor of engaging with tropes pundits find more objectionable than anything he's actually said. This is bad form, even if it's mostly unintentional.

I think Joe is exactly right about the "theatricality" of Moore's interview performances ("performances" in every sense of the word). I'd add that this theatricality can be linked to Moore's Englishness, a connection always worth making because Moore is so steeped in English culture. There's something of the old Music Hall ham about Moore, the orator in love with his own orotundity. Also, the sheer biliousness of Moore's debating tactic, his love of unfair nicknames and tags ("batman scholar") is a specificly English thing that anyone outside the British isle might not key into. Moore really belongs to a tradition that goes at least back to Dryden and Pope (think of the "Dunciad") and forward to Samuel Johnson, Hazlitt, Rebecca West, F.R. Leavis, A.J.P. Taylor and Hitchens. F.R. Leavis attacking C.P. Snow's "Two Sciences" lecture was not that far from Moore on Morrison. (Aside from West, it also seems like a very male tradition. I don't see women getting into these endless pissing matches too often).

About the "golliwog" debate. I think we have to distinguish between intent and execution, which is a generic problem with Moore's comics. I have the same problem with the "golliwogs" that I have with V for Vendetta, Watchmen, League, etc.: I think the thinking behind it is very clever, even fascinating, but the execution is woeful. (In all honesty, I have yet to read a Moore comic I'd call a successful work of art).
I am very fascinated by Moore's contention that the original "golliwogs" were meant to be anti-racist, or at least a means to teach tolerance of other races. The parallel that comes to mind is "Uncle Tom's Cabin." There's no question that Harriet Beecher Stowe had a very progressive intent in writing "Uncle Tom's Cabin" (the frigging book helped end slavery). But Stowe's characterization of blacks now seems cringe-making and for complicated historical reasons "Uncle Tom" is now the name is a term of abuse.
Imagine if Moore had decided to create a called "Captain Uncle Tom" who tries to recuperate the original progressive intent of "Uncle Tom". It would probably be awful, in part because to pull off an idea that bold you have to be a genius. (I know many people disagree on this, but I think Crumb's various outlandish satires on racial stereotyping do hit the right level of absurdity that they actually work. But Moore is no Crumb).
There's one other thing about about the "golliwogs". In the "League" books, Moore's satire generally makes sense because the characters still have some hold on the public imagination. We all have some idea of the Invisible Man, Mina Murray (or at least vampires), Dr. Jekyll, etc. But really no one even in England remembers the golldarn "golliwogs" -- they've been effectively shoved down the cultural memory hole. But perhaps that's one way to defend what Moore is doing: he's reminding us of an uncomfortable past (something I think is true of Crumb as well).

Since I'm here, I'll mention that I was listening to an old podcast you guys did about Chester Brown and it drove me nuts how everyone was mispronouncing "Louis Riel" -- it's loo-ee like "Huey, Lewey and Dewey" not loo-is like "Hewy Lewis and the News". Also I really hope Tucker and Matt read "Louis Riel" -- it's a brilliant comic, Brown's best work after "I Never Liked You."

"Also, the sheer biliousness of Moore's debating tactic, his love of unfair nicknames and tags ("batman scholar") is a specificly English thing that anyone outside the British isle might not key into"

You're kidding right?

No, all too serious. There's a kind of playful rudeness deployed by figures like Hitchens & Moore which seems very English. Very different from American rudeness, which is just rude (i.e Bill O'Reilly). O'Reilly is just a jerk, whereas Moore's rudeness has an element of showmanship & panache to it.

"But really no one even in England remembers the golldarn "golliwogs" -- they've been effectively shoved down the cultural memory hole."

Uh, people in England remember golliwogs. Up until a few years ago I used to see them in nicknack gift/touristy shops every now and then. And probably they're still there in some places.

I think "stanley lieber's" commentary above on the subject is pretty good. I've not read the Moore work in question, but I thought his defence of using the golliwog was interesting and SEEMED to make sense -- though I should add that like almost every other bit of the "interview", Moore seemed a BIT weird or overly invested in what he was saying at times (beyond theatricality), and that ahem coloured the golliwog defence too, a bit.

Ultimately I might think that there's simply no real way to "redeem" the golliwog or use it to much of any real use as a fictional character. I just don't think there's any way to sustain it beyond a scene or two, and I get the impression that Moore used the character a bit more than that. So while I can make sense of and tentative agree with Moore's defence, I find it hard to believe that the character could be sustained much more beyond a didactic walk-on role in which he says his peace about how his author intended him differently and then exits the stage before an inevitable and sensible aura of pointless uncomfortableness arises in the audience.

That said, as things stand, everything else that I've heard in response to Moore's golliwog statements seems like a bunch of ninnying white males who are so overly sensitive that they can't even allow themselves to think about Moore's argument and rationale before they scream "racist!" out of a sense of being totally overwhelmed by the prospect of ever having to consider anything that isn't politically correct.

Would you say it has gone mad, this political correctness?

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