One week ago today Frank Miller wrote the latest in a series of batshit crazy screeds. A number of people are reacting to this event with various degrees of shock and bafflement despite the fact that he’s been going on in this vein for a number of years. While Miller is not mentioned by name in the relevant tweet, Neil Gaiman posted a link to something he wrote in 2006 about why we shouldn’t refuse to engage with art just because we disagree with someone personally or politically.
Neil Gaiman is an intelligent, insightful man, with impressive hair, and a wardrobe that I envy. He even makes several good points in the above response. However, when it comes to the work of Miller he’s wrong, because the work of “art” in Miller’s case is the artist.
My initial response to all of this can be found on Twitter, in which I said: Not going to waste a blog on this. Frank Miller is racist, obsessed with hyper-masculine fascism, and not a very talented writer.
#nuffsaid A day later David Brin articulated a critique that outs 300 for the meretricious heap it is, and says basically the same thing I did in my tweet.
300 is also a good place to start precisely because of a quote from Frankie-boy himself in response to some critics (including Alan Moore) whom called him out for having the Spartans call the Athenians boy lovers, when forced pederasty (i.e. raping teenage boys) was an open fact of Spartan society.
If I allowed my characters to express only my own attitudes and beliefs, my work would be pretty darn boring. If I wrote to please grievance groups, my work would be propaganda. For the record: being a warrior class, the Spartans almost certainly did practice homosexuality. There’s also evidence they tended to lie about it. It’s not a big leap to postulate that they ridiculed their hedonistic Athenian rivals for something they themselves did. “Hypocrisy” is, after all, a word we got from the Greeks. What’s next? A letter claiming that, since the Spartans owned slaves and beat their young, I do the same? The times we live in.
Sorry, Frankie-boy, but using your characters as a mouthpiece for your own beliefs is also propaganda, but way to try and discredit those who disagree with your views without ever forming an actual argument (but then that’s how you roll, isn’t it?).
Frank Miller’s work has never been anything but a mouthpiece for his own views. Ever. One trend I keep seeing in the commentary about his latest nuttiness is the way his earlier work, particularly Dark Knight Returns is given a pass. Dark Knight is rather famous in the annuls of comics, and it’s almost as if people don’t want to see its reputation tarnished.
It is true that Miller used Dark Knight as a vehicle to take pot shots at Regan. Sorry, Ron Marz, but that doesn’t make the rest of DKR any less right wing. Batman, as depicted in DKR, is a violent, fascist thug. He isn’t interested in America being free; he’s only interested in it following his own ideology, and he’s willing to savagely cripple anyone who doesn’t conform to his worldview.
This trait is common to most of Miller’s protagonists. Miller has always glorified violence, and “heroes” who adopt a “If you’re not with me you’re against me attitude.” We are all corrupt, venial little sheep that need the manly men to keep us toeing the line (and remind us that women are all whores in the process).
All of these traits exist in Miller’s work prior to his public breakdown following the attacks of September 11th, 2001. All of it. Even his period of anti-corporate sentiment follows the black and white pattern of his thinking; the reason corporations were bad was because Frankie-boy felt that he was personally being shafted on deals. Once that was no longer the case he no longer had a problem with corporations; because hey, if it isn’t inconveniencing Frankie, it isn’t actually a problem.
I realize I’m being a bit disorganized, dear readers, so I shall try to sum up.
In his personal life, Frank Miller worships a pseudo-film-noir worldview of black and white that praises the hyper-masculine image of the tough guy. He’s also quite fond of reminding us that women are whores and evil temptresses, which again ties in to his veneration of the ideals of noir. These ideas are also present in Miller’s work. Not just the recent work that is almost universally panned (such as the racist joyride that is Holy Terror), but it has been lurking there since the very beginning. Dark Knight Returns is as much a work of propaganda for Miller’s worldview as his current works are; that it has been successful, and is considered influential on the development of modern comics does not somehow liberate it from this.
Of course for all his worship of hyper-masculinity, Miller’s only claim to being a tough guy is that he… wait for it… wears a fedora. He’s never been a cop, hasn’t served in the military, or done much more than spouting his limited worldview while demanding that everyone else man up and fight the good fight against the dirty Jihadists who are hiding under his bed (they’re there right now, Frankie – don’t turn out the light or a Muslim might get you!).
This is why I think Neil Gaiman is wrong, at least as concerns someone like Frank Miller, or Orson Scott Card, or the racist dipshit responsible for something like The Turner Diaries. It isn’t that these people have views I don’t agree with. It isn’t even that their work expresses views I don’t agree with (Plato having been a totalitarian douche doesn’t stop me from reading Plato, it just informs my critique of his work), it’s that what these individuals are producing isn’t art, it’s propaganda. It isn’t designed to challenge us or make us think. It doesn’t present anything resembling an actual argument. Frank Miller’s only goal is to show us how manly he is, and how the rest of us should be grateful he’s willing to put his foot on our throats and show us the error of his ways. The work of Frank Miller is about as worthy of consideration, and possesses roughly the same level of intelligence, as the average George W. Bush soundbite.
Postscript: Why yes, I did recently write a critique of the “Occupy” movement. Unlike Miller I didn’t do it by claiming people who disagree with me are rapists, and then going off on a tangent I’ve been harping on for years. More to the point, I haven’t made an entire career out of beating the same damn drum in everything I’ve ever done.