"The women of Bikini Kill let guitarist Billy Karren be in their feminist punk band, but only if he's willing to just "do some shit." Being a feminist dude is like that. We may ask you to "do some shit" for the band, but you don't get to be Kathleen Hannah."--@heatherurehere

Monday, July 31, 2006

Out In the Boonies: More Sexism in Comic Strips

Ok, so it's not exactly a comic strip that I wanted to talk about, but rather a TV show based on a comic strip.

I love Boondocks. I think Aaron McGruder's series of strips called "Flagee and Ribbon," which were run as satire on censorship directly after 9/11, are some of the best satire I've ever read. I have a lot of respect for a person who has stood up for what he believed in even in the face of losing some money/reputation around it (although it could be argued that standing up in that way actually increased his wealth and reputation).

I often feel conflicted about the strip, because, I think, it tends to pick at some of the various raw nerves that I have around race. There's something at once intriguing and at the same time frustrating about the charicatures that he paints--partly because I recognize myself and others in them, but partly because, well, I wish he'd write a novel or something about race, and really get into this stuff more deeply, on a more conceptually adult level.

I think he tries to do that a bit with his TV series based on the strip. I had seen bits and pieces of it here and there, but being a person without cable TV, I hadn't seen much. The first season came out on DVD recently, and I was eagerly anticipating it. I watched the first episode, which was relatively satisfying, full of humor of the cutting sort, and full of really neat animation; beautiful backgrounds, anime style artwork, great voices. The 'plot' of the first one harkened back to the first days of the strip, as Grandad moves the kids into suburbia. The second episode took on the 'Trial of R. Kelly'-and, while it had its funny moments as well--most of which were pretty shocking/funny--it introduced what seemed to me to be a not-so-subtle form of sexism. Kelly's victim in the trial (and if you don't know about the accusations and such, get thee to Google; suffice to say he was accused of peeing on an underage girl for sexual gratification) is portrayed as not-so-bright, 'into it' (i.e. she says, "if I didn't want him to do it, I would have gotten out of the way"); granted, this helps move the story along, as the story is based on Huey's frustration with Kelly not being held to even a very low standard of accountability simply because he's an icon of the music community. But still, when Riley's remarks that he would have gotten out of the way if somebody was going to pee on him go unchallenged in the show, I had to start wondering if maybe McGruder needed to take a closer look at how he treats women in the show.

And then there was the third episode, wherin Grandpa gets seduced by a 20-year old woman who is a prostitute--and Grandpa is the only one who doesn't realize this. Eventually her pimp shows up to get her back, and she does go back with him, despite the protestations of grandpa, who offers to send her to college, to help her find another sort of work.

And this woman, 'Chrystal', is played for laughs almost completely. When faced with the (false dichotomy) prospect of either going back to work for her pimp or 'going to school and getting a job,' she mutters under her breath that she doesn't want a real job, that she thinks school is boring--as if the sole reason that she's working for a pimp is that she's too lazy to go to school. But the straw that broke this camel's back is when Chrystal's pimp hauling his hand back to smack her is played for laughs. Granted, he doesn't get to smack her (this time) because Grandpa stops him, but up until he does, her pimp and his violent tendencies toward her are played fully for laughs (he says the 'pimp's prayer' before hitting her, which amounts to 'please god let the back of my hand heal this woman,' or some such).

It made me sick.

Watching some of the dvd extras, McGruder talks about his intentions in the show--he doesn't intend to just make political statements, he says--his intention is mostly to focus on the comedy. And I know he likes to walk a line between offending people and getting people to think and laugh; I didn't watch the episode on MLK coming back as an older man to see what has become of his legacy, but apparently that generated a lot of outrage and thoughts about things. Seems to me that McGruder takes the very easy way out as regards a woman being trapped in a life as a prositute with a violent pimp. Why doesn't he want us to think and examine our preconceptions there?

Of course, you might say that it's just a cartoon show, albeit an adult one. But it seems to me that this is another example of people being willing to take on a serious subject--race and racism--but to not acknowledge in any serious way the ways in which gender roles and sexism intersect race and racism. If McGruder can take on racism, censorship, and religion, why does he find it so easy to ignore gender inequalities?
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