Saturday, August 19, 2017

Let's Talk About Confederate Statues

This is a photo I took of our very own Confederate statue in the middle of downtown Bentonville. A petition is currently being circulated by a local activist group to have this removed--which I have signed, obviously. Arguments for this statue's continued existence are because this guy was an Arkansas governor. If you zoom in on the picture, though, you'll notice that it doesn't say "to the Arkansas Governors." It says "to the Southern Soldiers."

In this post, I want to talk about the current debate in the US about tearing down the monuments to the Confederate States of America that are scattered all over the United States, both in the North and South. Specifically, I want to address the idea that the statues should be left up to remind us of a dark moment in our history that should never be forgotten. The argument goes that these statues are warnings of where we've come from.

This is a load of bullshit, and I would like to demonstrate why. But first, let me address some common myths about the Confederacy. It's not the point of the post, but will help provide context both for these statues as well as how our country views the CSA since the South continues to lie and miseducate about the Civil War.

Why Secede?


First: what was the point of the Confederate States of America?

Many argue that the South attempted to secede over states' rights. Or taxes. Or tariffs.

This is patently not true, but the easiest way to disprove this is to let the Confederates tell you themselves, in their very own Constitution:

“In all such territory the institution of negro slavery, as it now exists in the Confederate States, shall be recognized and protected by Congress and by the Territorial government; and the inhabitants of the several Confederate States and Territories shall have the right to take to such Territory any slaves lawfully held by them in any of the States or Territories of the Confederate States.” 
[...] 
“1. The importation of negroes of the African race from any foreign country other than the slaveholding States or Territories of the United States of America, is hereby forbidden; and Congress is required to pass such laws as shall effectually prevent the same.” 
[...] 
“4. No bill of attainder, ex post facto law, or law denying or impairing the right of property in negro slaves shall be passed.”

So, you could make the argument that the Confederates seceded over states' rights. But the question is, what rights? It was the "right" to own slaves. To own people. To brutalize black people and use them for free labor under the threat of violence and death.

Was Slavery On Its Last Legs?


Slavery was almost the entirety of the Southern economy and the threat of emancipation and abolishment terrified them because it would have meant ripping away the very foundation of their economy. But then again...maybe they shouldn't have had slaves in the first place, y'know?

There's also a claim people float that the South was in the process of freeing slaves anyway. James Lowen, author of Lies My Teacher Told Me and Sundown Towns--the latter of which I read a few years ago and is FANTASTIC, tackled this myth and the previous in a great article a couple years back:
"Slavery was hardly on its last legs in 1860. That year, the South produced almost 75 percent of all U.S. exports. Slaves were worth more than all the manufacturing companies and railroads in the nation. No elite class in history has ever given up such an immense interest voluntarily. Moreover, Confederates eyed territorial expansion into Mexico and Cuba. Short of war, who would have stopped them -- or forced them to abandon slavery?"

Memories and Stories Cast in Stone


I want to preface this with a note: I am not an art student, nor a historian, nor an art historian, nor an engineer or a graphic designer. I'm just a dude with a blog who lives not far away from his very own Confederate memorial and who has Thoughts.

Carving something into stone (or molding it from brass or bronze) is a very difficult, very permanent process. Historically, statues weren't erected for nonsense. You won't find a statue from ancient Rome of some guy picking his nose. Statues were made to memorialize things of importance--to preserve them and have them last throughout time. Peasants didn't have monuments and statues erected in their honor--king's did.

"King Wenceslas" - Photo  Some rights reserved by Nan Palmero of Flickr
That's not to say that statues and monuments have to be uplifting. Plenty of statues and monuments depict dark, terrible, or scary things. For example, below is an art piece from Switzerland called "The Child Eater Fountain." This is a surprisingly not an uncommon depiction in art, although specifically what this statue is depicting is a bit of a historical mystery. Some theorize it's a depiction of Kronos eating his children, which is what I thought of when I first saw it. Others theorize it's just a depiction of a local ogre-like fairy tale to keep kids in line. Another theory is that it's an anti-semitic sculpture because, sadly, people have been terrible forever.

My point of using this statue (besides that it was easy to find under creative commons license) is that there is no ambiguity: the depicted creature is bad. They're eating babies. Eating babies is never good. The design is very straightforward.

By Andrew Bossi; sculpture by Hans Gieng (de) (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons
However, these statues of Confederates soldiers aren't depictions of cartoonish, terrifying, child-eating monsters. The Confederate monuments and statues have a very particular look about them. Namely, they try to mimic the statues and monuments of Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and other important historical figures in our country--which themselves are intentionally mimicking the style of ancient Greek and Rome.

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words, How Many is a Statue?


Let's look at a few pictures for a moment.

  Some rights reserved by Marc Flores on Flickr
This is a statue of George Washington. He was the first president of our country, general of what would become the Army of the United States. He was obviously a very important figure, not just for his leadership in the Revolutionary War and secession from Britain, but also in his leadership of our country for our first eight years.

He even established the tradition of a president stepping down after two terms. 

Fun fact, we call the leader of our Executive Branch "president" because he turned down the idea of calling the position "king" since we had just fought a war to get away from a "King George."

That statue is a fitting tribute to a great man. There's a conversation that can be had about the fact that he owned slaves, as did most of our Founding Fathers, but there's no questioning Washington's legacy and importance in US History.

It's really common to depict kings, soldiers, and generals on horseback--for a lot of reasons. Horses are generally ridden into battle, which makes the rider look like an active leader as well as like a courageous warrior.

Depicting a figure on horseback also makes for a dynamic, interesting statue.

Horses are often considered noble creatures.

And, of course, it makes the person on horseback look taller because they are literally above everyone else.

Below, I placed the statue of George Washington next to a statue of Confederate General "Stonewall" Jackson. Explain to me the difference between the two statues.

Left:   Some rights reserved by Marc Flores on Flickr | Right:  Some rights reserved by rjones0856 on Flickr
How is the statue of Stonewall Jackson on the right depicted any differently than George Washington on the left? If I'm to believe that the Confederate statues are a warning, how is the Jackson statue a warning? In what does it indicate a warning, or any negativity? Both men are sitting atop horses, are placed on pedestals, are sitting up straight, their heads held high, their eyes gazing forward as they survey the horizon.

Let's look at another statue.

Left:  Some rights reserved by Jim of Flickr | Right:  Some rights reserved by Eli Christman of Flickr
Look at these pictures of Robert E. Lee, Commanding General of the Confederate Army. These are different photos of the same statue from different angles. Again, just like in the previous pictures of Washington and Jackson, what is the indication that this is meant to be a warning of some grave past mistake? Lee is portrayed as classically empowered: astride a horse, straight back, head held high. Even his face is carved in a gentle, sensitive manner. He doesn't look evil. He looks thoughtful and kind.

Let's talk about something else: all three of these statues--in fact, many of the Confederate statues --are all literally placed on pedestals. This is a very, very common way to display statues since they are meant to be memorials, after all. It's where the phrase "to put up on a pedestal" comes from in the first place.

But what does that phrase mean, again? According to Dictionary.com, it means "to glorify or idealize."

The only types of figures we generally put on pedestals are figures we want to elevate to higher status--both literally and figuratively. For example, look at this statue of Abraham Lincoln from Scotland that commemorates the Scottish soldiers that fought alongside the Union in the Civil War.

 Some rights reserved by Ronnie Macdonald of Flickr
Abraham Lincoln stands nobly at the top of the monument--again, back straight, head high, eyes gazing into the distance. Meanwhile at the BOTTOM OF THE PEDESTAL, a recently freed slave is gazing up at Lincoln in what is supposed to be deference and praise, but honestly looks like suffering and subjugation to me. Either way, it's very clear from the placing of the two figures who has the power and who does not. The placement of those figures is basically symbolism 101.

Compare that Lincoln memorial to this memorial depicting slavery in Zanzibar, Tanzania, Africa.

By David Berkowitz [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Here the slaves are all chained together. They're prisoners both of their chains, and their lack of limbs which could be interpreted as a lack of personhood.

Rather than being placed on a pedestal, these figures have actually been dug into the ground. They have a sort of anti-pedestal going on, reflecting, among other things, their severe lack of power as well as the cellars that they were kept in.

The "Lost Cause" of the Confederacy


All of these myths that continue to be perpetuated about the Civil War--that the North forced the South into conflict, that the South just wanted states' rights, that the war was really about taxes and tariffs, that Robert E. Lee was actually a kind man and not a racist at all, that slaves were actually happy, that a lot of Southern folks fought to defend their land against the cruel war-time tactics of the North--ALL of this stems from a misinformation campaign that began not long after the war ended by the South. The myth of the Lost Cause was an attempt to recast the Confederacy as this scrappy underdog standing against the crushing, unstoppable juggernaut that was the United States Army.

In truth, most of these monuments in the US started going up around the 1900s--just long enough after the war for a lot of people that fought in the war to start dying off and for everyone else to look back on the war with somewhat of a degree of separation. The pain wasn't immediate anymore, the conflict starting to haze with time.

Statues began being erected again in the 1950s and 1960s in reaction to the Civil Rights Movement as an attempt to intimidate the black population into silence rather than speaking out. It's why the arguments around Confederate statues and flags have begun resurging in response to Black Lives Matter and our current political environment, which so conducive to white supremacists.

Perhaps you think that I'm reading too much into these statues, that these statues of Confederate generals in and of themselves are harmless and I'm being too artsy fartsy reading symbolism into someone standing on a pedestal or sitting on a horse. Maybe you maintain that we can just add a plaque that says "actually the South was racist" and completely change the way the statues are perceived.

What about the statues that depict the Confederates as literally blessed by angels and gods?

 Some rights reserved by Spencer Means from Flickr
The above statue is titled "To the Confederate Defenders of Charleston: Fort Sumter, 1861-1865." The statue is described as a Confederate soldier and his wife, but the Confederate has been depicted as a Greek warrior similar to Achilles or Hercules. Meanwhile, his wife is depicted in the style of a Greek goddess, similar to Athena. She's bestowing a blessing on him as he heads into battle to "defend" Fort Sumter from the Union.

So, now the Confederates are literally being placed on the level of Greek heroes and their cause was blessed by the gods.

 Some rights reserved by Ron Cogswell from Flickr

Above we have a statue that depicts a fallen Confederate soldier from Louisiana. He has been wrapped in the Confederate flag, and a literal angel--"the Spirit of the Confederacy"--flies above the fallen soldier, sounding its horn to honor his sacrifice.

Like...I mean...c'mon, y'all.

But What About Our History???


So we have soldiers that fought AGAINST the United States and FOR slavery being depicted as Greek heroes and blessed by divine beings, meanwhile, slave rebellions in the US are memorialized like this:

Photos by Mike Stroud, November 15, 2008 from the Historical Marker Database
This is a single sign in an empty field that commemorates an attempted uprising by our enslaved people. Why are we not valorizing these fallen heroes and other important black heroes? Why are town squares not built around Martin Luther King, Jr, or Malcolm X, or Harriet Tubman? Why instead are they built around literal traitors to the United States.

Hey, maybe build a monuments to people like Erastus Hussey, who was an abolitionist, one of the founders of the Republican Party (before the parties' beliefs flip-flopped), and someone that helped slaves escape through the Underground Railroad.

Look at how awesome this statue below is! Erastus and Harriet Tubman are sneaking people into his store to keep them safe. THOSE are heroes. THOSE are people this country should be proud of. THOSE are people worth having town squares built around.

And for the record, the figures below are valorized using the the same rules as the Confederates statues I showed above. Harriet Tubman and Erastus Hussey are both standing tall, heads high, staring into the distance, shielding the slaves huddled in the back while they scramble to safety. But notice that this statue isn't placed on a pedestal like the ones above. Interesting...isn't it?

 Some rights reserved by Battle Creek CVB from Flickr
In summation, slavery is America's original sin. It is the cancer that we never fully dealt with. From almost the moment that the Civil War ended, white supremacists have been spreading misinformation to muddy the facts about the war and to misrepresent why we fought. Erecting monuments to the Confederacy honors people that were traitors to the US, who defected for a racist, brutal, horrifying system.

Attempting to argue that statues of the Confederacy are a warning is disingenuous, at best, as everything about the design of these statues valorizes them and promotes the depicted individuals into near godhood. A simple plaque stating "actually, they were bad" would not be enough as the entire design would contradict th plaque. It would be the weakest Band-Aid to stick on the problem without actually dealing with the issue...which is the problem the US has had all along: not actually dealing with the problem of racism and slavery in a meaningful way.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Millennials Didn't Create Superhero Movies

I had a bit of a rant tonight on Twitter about superhero movies after some guy 1) said superhero movies ruined Hollywood, and 2) that it was somehow millennials fault.

I decided to make that thread into a Twitter Moment because I've never made one before, and I've always wanted to go one one of those really cool multi-tweet thread things with the links and the "I have something to say."

Please enjoy below. (I've never made one of these, nor have I ever embedded one before, so I have no idea how it'll look.)

Monday, June 12, 2017

RIP Adam West: September 19, 1928 - June 9, 2017

Adam West passed away of leukemia a few days ago, and I am very sad about it.

I have extremely fond memories of Adam West as Batman from when I was a kid. I used to watch Batman when I was a kid. We loved it. When I went as Batman for Halloween when I was four or five, the costume was partially inspired by Adam West's Batman (also Michael Keaton's Batman as Batman Returns had come out just a year or so before).

I used to play Batman in front of the TV, and I have watched the 1966 movie more times than I can count. Eventually, it was basically impossible to adjust the tracking enough to make the movie watchable because we'd worn the magnetic tape out.


There is a certain segment of nerd--usually white men--that don't like the 60's take on Batman because it was silly. It was campy. They felt it was mocking this beloved character. To be fair, it kind of was, but it was a loving mockery and a daring experiment since comic books were considered children's stuff--this was long before comics became Things For Adults and Collectibles. And because white guys can't abide even an ounce of ribbing or mockery without shitting themselves in the cereal aisle, they turned as hard and as far from West's Batman as they could.

While this this led to some fantastic Batman stories--Scott Snyder and Tom King's recent runs on Batman in the comics, Nolan's Batman films, and Batman: The Animated Series--too often, Batman was turned Batman into a cruel sociopath--someone who wasn't so much trying to save a city as much as break anybody that dared step out of line. A fascist in a bat costume. Look no further than Frank Miller's take on Batman, especially The Dark Knight Strikes Again and All-Star Batman and Robin (which generated the infamous "Goddamned Batman" meme).


Pictured: the Batman people want...I guess???

Other people have written better, more eloquent or personal things. I highly recommend Glen Weldon's essay on Adam West on NPR. But I would like to take a moment to express that Adam West is one of, if not the, best Batman.

The show was cheesy, but West's performance was 100% serious. That's what made it work. To West's Batman, there is nothing more serious than trying to figure out how a raven is like a writing desk, or making sure that Robin buckles up in the Batmobile because safety first. This was treated with similar gravity as the Penguin surreptitiously buying nuclear submarine secrets from the US government.

Batman's gadgets were sort of wacky, but they demonstrated how clever West's Batman was. He developed these things to peacefully resolve conflicts. He didn't break bad guy's fingers. He tried to outwit them. Of course, there were always punching matches, but it wasn't Batman stomping on someone's skull after breaking through a skylight. West's Batman knocked the bad guys out and took them to the police. West's Batman would give bad guys a stern talking to and try to convince them to turn their life around rather than branding those bad guys with a Bat-Symbol and sending them to their inevitable death in prison.

To me, the best exemplification of West's Batman is from the 1966 movie. Batman has a giant, cartoonish bomb he needs to dispose of, but he's on a crowded boardwalk. If he tries to just throw it away somewhere, someone could get hurt. This scene, while comical, shows just how much this Batman cares. He steers the bomb away from nuns, from children, and when he tries to dispose of the bomb in a lake, he even abandons that plan when he sees a family of duckies. This Batman so values life that he wants to safe EVERYONE--including the animals.


West's show was silly, but sincere. It embraced the roots of comics--that they are stories for children, and they're meant to be fun. And West himself loved this character so much, he basically never stopped playing him. That, to me, is wonderful. Whether he's playing the Grey Ghost--the inspiration for Kevin Conroy's Batman in TAS, or clever references like playing the mayor of Gotham in The Batman from the 2000's, or even parodies of himself like Catman and the Fearless Ferret in the Fairly Odd Parents and Kim Possible respectively, he always appreciated his fans and his legacy.

Please enjoy this musical tribute to Adam West. And maybe check out his old show if you haven't. Or the fantastic Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders which just came out last year.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

My Comics Project Update: April and May 2017


As part of my on-going comics project, I update monthly with what comics I bought and anything weird or interesting I stumbled across. Each post will have a running list, and I'll update with the new titles and where they fall chronologically.

I came up with the order of the books from this comment of all the Batman trades in chronological order (up to Flashpoint), this trade reading order list for Superman, and this one for Batman. I judged the rest for myself based on release dates and what the story depicted.

I want this list functional and readable, so I didn't focus on perfect chronological order. I tried to keep decent chunks of individual runs together where possible, then backtrack chronologically if necessary for a chunk of a different title--except in cases where something important was introduced, like a character dying, coming back to life, etc.

Below you'll see the list of canon DC titles that I own at this point. The ones in bold are the ones that I got this month.


  1. Blue Beetle: The Charlton Files
  2. Crisis On Infinite Earths
  3. Batman: Dark Victory
  4. Batman: The Killing Joke, Deluxe Edition
  5. Justice League International, Vol. 1
  6. Justice League International, Vol. 2
  7. Justice League International, Vol. 3
  8. Justice League International, Vol. 4
  9. The Death of Superman
  10. Batman: Knightfall, Vol. 1
  11. Impulse: Reckless Youth
  12. Justice League: A League of One
  13. JLA Titans: Technis Imperative
  14. Young Justice: A League of Their Own
  15. Birds of Prey, Vol. 1: Of Like Minds
  16. Birds of Prey, Vol. 2: Sensei & Stude​nt
  17. Superman/Batman Vol. 1: Public Enemies
  18. Superman/Batman Vol. 2: Supergirl
  19. JLA: The Hypothetical Woman
  20. Teen Titans Vol. 1: A Kid's Game
  21. Teen Titans Vol. 2: Family Lost
  22. Teen Titans Vol. 3: Beast Boys and Girls
  23. Teen Titans Vol. 4: The Future is Now
  24. Teen Titans/Outside​rs: The Insiders
  25. Teen Titans: The Death and Return of Donna Troy
  26. The OMAC Project (Countdown to Infinite Crisis)
  27. Infinite Crisis
  28. Teen Titans Vol. 5: Life and Death
  29. Supergirl Vol. 1
  30. Batman: Face the Face by James Robinson
  31. Teen Titans, Vol. 6: Titans Around the World
  32. Teen Titans, Vol. 7: Titans East
  33. Superman: Up, Up, and Away!
  34. Superman: Back in Action
  35. Superman: Last Son of Krypton
  36. Superman: Camelot Falls, Vol. 1
  37. Superman: Camelot Falls (Vol. 2)
  38. Superman: The Third Kryptonian
  39. Superman: Redemption
  40. Superman: Escape from Bizarro World
  41. Superman: Shadows Linger
  42. Blue Beetle (Book 1): Shellshocked
  43. Blue Beetle (Book 2): Road Trip
  44. Blue Beetle (Book 3): Reach for the Stars
  45. Teen Titans, Vol. 8: Titans of Tomorrow
  46. Blue Beetle (Book 4): Endgame
  47. Blue Beetle (Book 5): Boundaries
  48. Blue Beetle (Book 6): Black and Blue
  49. Batman: Batman and Son
  50. Batman: The Resurrection of Ra's Al Ghul
  51. Batman R.I.P.
  52. Final Crisis (New Edition)
  53. Batman: Battle for the Cowl
  54. Final Crisis: Legion of Three Worlds
  55. Teen Titans, Vol. 9: On the Clock
  56. Teen Titans Spotlight: Raven
  57. Wonder Woman: The Circle
  58. Time Masters: Vanishing Point
  59. Superman: Action Comics, Vol. 1: Superman and the Men of Steel
  60. Justice League, Vol. 1: Origin (The New 52)
  61. Batman Vol. 1: The Court of Owls
  62. Batman Vol. 2: The City of Owls
  63. Batgirl Vol. 1: The Darkest Reflection (The New 52)
  64. Batgirl Vol. 2: Knightfall Descends
  65. Batwing Vol. 1: The Lost Kingdom
  66. Justice League Vol. 2: The Villain's Journey
  67. Justice League International Vol. 1: The Signal Masters
  68. Aquaman Vol. 1: The Trench (The New 52)
  69. Aquaman Vol. 2: The Others (The New 52)
  70. Aquaman Vol. 3: Throne of Atlantis (The New 52)
  71. Batman Vol. 3: Death of the Family
  72. Batgirl Vol. 3: Death of the Family
  73. The Movement Vol. 1: Class Warfare (The New 52)
  74. Justice League United Vol. 1: Justice League Canada
  75. Justice League United Vol. 2: The Infinitus Saga
  76. Batgirl Vol. 4: Wanted (The New 52)
  77. Secret Six Vol. 1: Friends in Low Places
  78. Bizarro
  79. Cyborg Vol. 1: Unplugged
_________________________________________

Well, it's been a moment since I've updated about comics, right?

Seriously, though, May was a crazy busy month. I actually don't think I bought any comics at all that month because we were saving our money for going to a convention in Kansas City to see my friend, Brooke Johnson, author of steampunky goodness.

With that said, as you can see, my books were mostly pretty straightforward. I continued collecting Teen Titans, the Batman stuff that leads into GraysonBat (BatDick?), and, of course, Blue Beetle.

The two biggest surprise twists for me were actually both birthday gifts. I turned 28 April 1st, and my at almost 30, the best thing to get me is still funny books apparently. I'm fine with this, to be clear.

My mom got me volume 2 of Gail Simone's Birds of Prey series, which I am all about. Gail Simone in general has never disappointed me, but that Birds of Prey series is fantastic. I miss Oracle. Gail did a great run on Batgirl that explored her post-chair life, but the fact it was undone at all still sits poorly with me.

The other super cool thing is actually a reprinting of all of the original Charleton Comics Blue Beetle issues. This means I now have comics that feature all 3 iterations of the Blue Beetle. This volume is basically the entirety of Dan Garrett's time as the Beetle. It's not all that important to reading and enjoying most of Ted Kord's time as BB, but when Jaime Reyes takes over, there's much more emphasis on legacy and the idea of handing down a superhero identity through the generations, so actually having, in print, the adventures they're referencing...it's difficult to describe how cool that is.

This book is actually scans of the comics pages themselves (sans ads), so it's interesting to see the creases and folds from the old issues. I'm so glad I got it, though. It's not something I'll likely sit down and get super invested in since comics from those days were a bit doofier and disposable, but I'm so glad to have it, all the same.

My comic buying has slowed way down as money is needed for more important things, and I've gotten back into writing mode as I work on draft 3 of my novel codenamed "Werewolf Bar Mitzvah: Spooky! Scary!," but I've purchased a few things so far. Since coming out as bi, I've really been seeking out portrayals of bi and gay men in superhero comics. There's very few, but the ones that are there interest me. So I'll likely continue that. I'm also keen to start digging into Rebirth. I wanted to get some of the preliminary stuff first, but I don't think I'll be able to resist. It almost all looks good.

If you have any thoughts about, drop me a line in the comments. Want to discuss books I've recently purchased or read? Any suggestions for books I missed? Just please, no spoilers.

Happy reading!