Another drawing created with my PaintJoy App, still getting the hang of it! Forgive the scruffiness of it all, (please remember this whole thing has been created with my forefinger!) I hope to get it tidied up for future comic strips.
Archive for May, 2011
They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
(Philip Larkin, This Be The Verse)
Parenting theories established in our post-modern society advise parents on the most effective methods of raising their child, stressing the idea of awarding and approval, rather than discipline. There are changes in the socialization of children, as there are increasingly more outside influences, such as the mass media and their peers, rather than their parents. There has been an increasing change in attitudes, which have been found surveys carried out in the past decade, where around ninety-three percent of young people and eighty-nine percent of their parents and grandparents believe that the main goal of socialisation of adolescents today is independence (statistic taken from here). According to research data, many youths in post-modern society aspire towards the state of autonomy, rather than making their decisions based on their parents’ views.
Alison Bechdel’s graphic Fun Home presents the idea that the child is not allowed to be a proper child, exploring the relationships between child and parents. She looks back on her childhood as an adult with retrospect, emphasising the idea of the individual, and effectively highlighting the difference between parent and child. Contemporary literature often stresses the importance of the individual, which is significant since the child from an early age establishes itself through its relationship with its parent. The idea of individualism is, then, seen as a process to gain independence from parental authority. While previously a sense of belonging was created from “the culture of interrelatedness”, a process of socialisation where the child referred to its elders for control and approval in its behaviour; in these post-modern times, this is no longer the case. Children, it can be argued, are becoming more conscious of their own identities, choosing to make their own decisions and shaping their futures rather than take the cue from their elders. It is interesting that while the Bechdel family fit into the traditional nuclear, middle-class family model, they are revealed to be quite dysfunctional, thus exposing the myth of a ‘normal’ family, so that in these contemporary times, it is abnormality that becomes the norm.
There is a continuous theme of the traditional parent-child relationship being challenged, as these roles are often reversed, reflecting the idea that these roles are fluid. It can be argued that in the creation and telling of Fun Home, Alison effectively gives birth to her father Bruce’s identity, thus making her a sumbolic ‘parent’.
The most interesting reversal of these roles is through the ‘Icarus and Daedalus’ allegory applied and reworked to suit the characters. Although initially, it is Bruce, the parent, who is required to support Alison in their ‘Icarian games’, this is quickly reversed as Alison depicts her father to be Icarus who “was to plummet from the sky”. There are other references, however, later on in the novel where Bruce is designated the role of Daedalus, who he relates to as a designer, “that skilful artificer” as well as a father. Thus Bruce becomes both the father and son, which also corresponds with Alison’s alternating identification with Icarus and Daedalus, which subsequently blurs their roles. It is interesting that the last and first pages of the novel present an almost symmetrical idea, which is that of Bruce supporting Alison. This may not be entirely convincing, since their relationship is revealed to be stilted, and complicated with their sense of fractured identity. However, ultimately, these last, idealised images of Bruce as a father catching Alison seem to stand as a clear symbol of the traditional parent-child relationship, serving as a form of resolution for their troubled relationship.
Another example of role-reversal is the scene with Alison reading her mother’s Dr. Spock parenting books while her parents fight in the background. Alison presents a double perspective of herself as an adult in the present while observing her child self, who makes herself “subject and the object, my own parent and my own child”. By explaining this as a “self-soothing, autistic loop”, Alison suggests that she is taking control of her parenting, as well as her status as a child or ‘object’.
There are also reversal in traditional, or rather, socially accepted gender and sexual roles, which shows how the roles of men and women in Fun Home are constantly sliding from one category to the other. Gender reversal is prominent in Fun Home, which is significant since this is one of the key ways that Alison is able to identify with her father on equal terms. Alison is ‘outgayed’ by her father: that is, when she reveals to homosexuality to her family, this is overshadowed and turned into a spectacle to reveal her father’s affairs, as well as his insistence that she should not ‘label’ herself. Although this would seem to undermine her sexual identity, it allows Alison to regard her parents as individuals as well as become secure in her own identity. Alison describes this reversal using Proust’s term, ‘inverts’:
Not only were we inverts, we were inversions of each other.
While I was trying to compensate for something unmanly in
him, he was attempting to express something feminine through
Thus Alison attempts to takes on the masculine gender that her father ‘should’ have, while her father correspondingly attempts to express feminine tastes. This is most clearly seen at the ‘centre’ of the novel, where Alison confronts her father in his car in order to ascertain his homosexuality, as well as her own. Interestingly, the pictures in this scene are as equally informing and significant as the text, with the same picture used in sequence that is unique to the rest of the novel, in the form of a film strip, thus making it iconic. This is a profound moment, with father and daughter mirroring each other’s actions, and perhaps is the moment where they confront each other and becomes equals in their own rights rather than through the fixed roles of parent and child. If anything, it is Alison who feels “distinctly parental” towards her father, while simultaneously explaining her own preferences. Ironically, not much action occurs in these pages, suggesting that it is the meaning applied to the scene that is important. Their relationship is best summed with their comparison to a “fatherless Stephen and sonless Bloom” , where although there is no “joyous reunion” ; there is still a form of acceptance and compromise. This scene serves as a metaphor for Alison’s and Bruce’s relationship, posing a sort of resolution: they are side by side, and while they do not look at each other, they hold an equal status.
In another scene, Alison depicts herself holding two photographs: one of herself taken by a girlfriend, the other is a picture of her father aged twenty-two.
“The exterior setting, the pained grin, the flexible wrists, even the angle of shadow falling across our faces – it’s about as close as a translation can get.” Again, Alison shows how she sees herself as an equal to her father through the realisation and acceptance of their respective sexualities.
Alison also plays on the words she uses to describe her home, like “queer home”, showing an awareness of her own and her father’s sexuality. Bruce’s obsession with restoring and decorating the house displays the idea that his identity and sexuality become buried in the house, effectively fetishizing it. It allows Bruce to channel repressed, secret desires, so that ultimately, the house also buries the family’s secrets.
However, this relationship with the house consequently affects the way that the children are treated, who become accessories:
“I grew to resent the way my father treated his furniture like children, and his children like furniture.” It is implied that in his absorption with the house, Bruce neglects his role as a father and distances himself from his children.
“My parents are most real to me in fictional terms” Alison states, comparing them to characters from Henry James, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Oscar Wilde, Marcel Proust and James Joyce’s Ulysses. It is interesting to note, for example, that the conversation between Stephen and Bloom in Ulysses is echoed by the only real conversation she has had with her father about their homosexuality. The Bechdels’ library is seen as the emotional centre of their home, and Alison contextualizes most of her experiences by thinking of them in terms of literature. It is also significant that her realisation that she is gay is not due to attraction to a specific person, but from looking at books recommended by her father. Word Is Out: Stories of Some of Our Lives, Colette’s autobiography, Kate Millett’s Flying and especially Ulysses provide the basis for Alison’s final discussions and correspondence with her father, as well as pointing her toward some kind of understanding of his death. Thus it can be argued that what ultimately brought her and her father together, in fact, were books. Even the fact that Fun Home itself is an autobiographical account shows how Alison understands her father better, delving into his past in order to better related to him.
“My parents seemed almost embarrassed by the fact of their marriage.”
Marriage is a big factor which affects both parents’ relationships with their children and the upbringing of children. It is significant that divorce rates have been steady since 1980 but six times higher than they were in the 1950s, with around forty to fifty percent lower marriage rates than previously . This inevitably implies that there is an increasing awareness of children affected by their parents’ relationships, with recurring themes in literature of idea of being ‘broken’ and having a fragmented identity.
Alison and her sibling’s discomfort at their parent’s, albeit rare and chaste, displays of affection can be argued to be a result of the “arctic climate” of the atmosphere cultivated by their parents and their home life. This is described as “unnerving as the antagonism” that their parents have with each other; by comparing her parents’ affection to their arguments, Alison depicts the awkwardness of their relationships. The fact that the couple do not appear to have a comfortable relationship with each other, such as Bruce avoiding addressing his wife by name, have the same effect on the children: that is, they too take on a “cool aesthetic distance” from personal situations. Like their parents, they are unable to criticise their father, nor show affection, which is a “dicier venture”, thus creating an atmosphere of detachment between them.
It has been suggested that in patriarchal cultures, achievement, competition and material success are highly valued, with a strong emphasis on sex role differentiation. While contemporary literature challenges the idea of a traditional male earner, as well as the traditional housewife figure, there is also an emphasis on the idea of giving children the right amount of attention. Although in this text, both parental figures have careers, the focus on the mother as a working woman highlights the progress of women in modern society. The changes to women’s statuses and their rights mean that new values have emerged in the system of bringing up children: the woman has been provided with more egalitarianism and more opportunity to contribute to her family income. Thus there is an increase in the representation of working mothers, which is present in both texts. Alison’s mother appears to be absorbed in her career, which, it could be argued, is a result of being neglected and becoming bitter over the years, so that her relationship with her children is also affected. Both her parents’ “rapt immersion” in their “creative solitude” suggest that it is not possible to give equal attention to their children and their careers, inevitably one will become neglected. In Fun Homeit is the children who are overlooked so that they are forced to look after themselves, and thus become more independent: “I learned quickly to feed myself”.
This leads onto the idea of absent parents, which also affects a child’s bonding with their parent. The fact that Alison’s mother is absent during the important milestones of her life: her period, her realisation that she is gay, her discovery of masturbation, serves to symbolically estrange them. Alison herself notes that it is only after she establishes herself as a lesbian and becomes secure with herself that for “the first time my mother had spoken to me as another adult”, where ironically her mother uses her as a confidante to complain about her husband. Similarly, Bruce is also described as absent, since “he really was there…but I ached as if he were already gone”; suggesting that Alison craves attention. It is interesting to note that while the novel focuses on Bruce, even though it was created after his death, Alison’s mother is still alive and yet treated with a sense of detachment, suggesting that this is a result of being unconsciously pushes away from her parents.
Death in contemporary writing is also a theme that affects parent-child relationship, since this leads back to the idea of an absent parent. Bruce’s death is a key moment, since it sums up the numb reaction felt by his children, who even laugh at its absurdity. However, this also creates a sinister overtone to the scene, since it shows the feeling of displacement they feel. By using his death to provoke a reaction from other people, Alison exposes the idea that they are ‘meant’ to feel something. The children’s lack of emotion makes them want to displace this disjointedness onto someone else, since it is too painful to confront, making them push it away. Perhaps this is their ‘legacy’ passed onto them by their father, and a result of their upbringing.
There are layers of life and death throughout the novel, since Alison’s father engages with her beyond his death, such as the ‘clues’ and notes written in his books which point to his sexuality and his death. It is here that the idea of meaning becomes significant, since her father’s death is seen as suicide not because of the ‘evidence’ but because of the meanings applied to his death.
One particular scene also becomes emblematic split across two horizontal frames is the image of Alison’s dead father in his coffin: Alison, with her back to the reader, is divided in two across either frame. Each half gives the reader the illusion of a single complete image, that of the daughter looking at her deceased father. However, the reader feels the divide more sharply than the connection, thus exposing the illusion of completeness.
Thus the idea of replacing the parents is also prominent, such as symbol of Bruce’s grave, which simultaneously disguises and highlights his death.
Although the relationships between parents and children are often vexed, writers have managed to create awareness about giving children the required attention, depicting the potential consequences of being neglected. Alison can finally make sense of her own history through her parents as well as a re-construction of her life. Like the actual graphic novel itself, relationships operate on the idea of the said and unsaid, which puts the responsibility of interpretation and revealing the truth back onto the reader. It can be argued that only when Alison leaves her family and her home can she confront her sexuality and identity.
Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, Alison Bechdel (London, Jonathan Cape: 2006) pp.
I’ve been enjoying the Paintjoy app on my android mobile phone the last few weeks, and have been messing around trying to get some different techniques and styles, here are a few samples! I’m hoping to create some more defined pictures, as it still feels a bit clumsy (although surprisingly freeing) using just my finger(s). Definitely will be more to come, but I would recommend that you also give it a whirl and see what you finish up with! It’s art with no mess, and if you make any mistakes, you can always go back a step.
I do love this sweet poster that someone created for their friend’s birthday, what a sweet idea!
Whats a lovely artistic way to break down a cupcake, and what a talented artist. Will definitely be looking out for more posts from this blogger 🙂
The Grand Bazaar is a lovely, cozy restaurant in Bond Street, very very busy most of the times that I go there and with large portions of Turkish cusine. Something to check out for you Londoners 🙂
-‘Snow-White and Rose-Red’, Household Tales, The Harvard Classics, 1909–14, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm.
Margo Lanagan’s retelling of the classic Grimm’s tale ‘Snow-White and Rose-Red’ depicts a detailed history to the story, set somewhere in Europe (although never really pinpointed, and this surely is a deliberate move). Central character young Liga, after suffering a series of horrific abuse and violence, escapes the very fabric of reality itself with her two infant daughters, thus weaving a luxurious tapestry of fairytale world intertwined with the real. It is here that the idea of “heart’s desire” is given life, where Liga and her two daughters are able to grow undisturbed. The characters of ‘Snow-white’ and ‘Rose-red’ (known in the novel as Branza and Urrda) begin to question their reality as they develop and grown older, eventually become drawn to the hidden outside world with all its “beauty and brutality”. The novel follows the original tale very faithfully, albeit embroidering and expanding the characters’ lives, adding further details and explaining events which occur in a more convincing way. Tender Morsels becomes, then, a much darker story than the average fairytale, choosing to show the disturbing features of humans as well as the more beautiful. From the very prologue of the novel, which depicts the idea of dreams coming true and having various desires, Lanagan hints at what is to come, creating a theme which does not shy away from downfalls and dangers of being a human.
However, a warning must be given to readers that although the novel is not explicit, it opens with perversity and violence, setting a dark tone for the novel. The reader may be shielded from the graphical side of the breaking of innocence and identity, but this does not actually masking the truth of what is happening. Both the narrator and Liga carefully hide the vulgarity of the abuse she endures, preferring to cloak it with more innocent descriptions. However while the graphic scenes are missed out, the readers are left to form their own idea of what has happened, guided by the hints given. We see the reality behind Liga and her relationship with her father, so that while her innocence and naivety loosely covers the brutality of the reality of abuse she suffers, it does not attempt to hide or undermine her situation, adding a touch of modesty to Liga’s character. The theme of ‘learning’ rules also embarks from here, with Liga feeling that her identity is shaped by everyday ‘rules’ and by certain ways to view the world. With her father inducing miscarriages for her unwanted pregnancies, we see how Liga’s perspective of herself begins to change, as events begin to quietly take a psychological toll on her. Becoming aware that she will have to make a new identity, as well as how she will be perceived by the outside world as a daughter and as a human, Liga winds herself in so tightly that when she loses her father, she becomes lost, feeling that without her father to corner and oppress her, her identity and self seeming to be “flying apart”.
Throughout the novel, even in the most powerfully emotional scenes, the author successfully harnesses a wonderfully poetic and beautiful style of language, bringing scenes alive with the imagery created. The imaginative, creative use of language is pivotal in adding feeling to the novel, from the “sidling thin black witch” used to signify physical pain, to the pure joy in watching her daughter’s wavering hands, opening and closing like “flowers on unsteady stalks”, and Lanagan captures her own beautiful dialect to speak when the characters do not. This metaphorical, descriptive language creates a whole new element to scenes, serving to strengthen emotional scenes.
Also interwoven into the fundamental functioning of the novel is the concept of magic, which are rendered in various forms such as the red and white jewels given to Liga, the ‘moonbabby’, and the alternative reality that has been created itself. It could be suggested that this can be interpreted as a metaphor for the process of disassociation, which certainly abounds in the novel as a coping mechanism for Liga. While the outside world continues about its normal business, Liga and her daughters remain in an introverted life, which allows them to follow their own rules and conventions.
The two sisters Branza and Urrda – silently recognised as ‘Snow-White’ and ‘Rose-Red’ – symbolise not only the two sides to being human, showing how there can be ‘darkness’ as well as ‘lightness’, but also the very intellect of the mind. Where the fairer, sweeter Branza delights in the innocent joys of nature, gentleness and has no desire to seek a greater world, the darker-skinned Urrda constantly pushes her boundaries, showing a great passion and determination to find out the real world and display her overt curiosity.
Similarly, the theme of ignorance and knowledge play against each other throughout the novel, showing how one is not able to exist without the other. The irony in Urrda’s realisation that she has been kept in ignorance actually serves to show her sharp intelligence. The fact that she is able to perceive this shows that she is the ‘darker’ sister in more than one way, showing that no matter how unpleasant, at least “Here [in the real world] we have truth”, rather than ignorance and comfort.
The representation of men in the novels appears largely as being intrusive and destructive. From Liga’s father at the beginning, to the profanity spewing from the physically challenged “littlee” man, it is a significant detail that shows how men are excluded from the world that Liga has created. The only way any men are able to enter are by stumbling into the world, and on the condition that they are unable to threaten the women. Thus the men from the outside world are transformed into real bears, who, while equally still very masculine and risky, are less threatening because they are literal manifestation of Nature. Similarly, the “littlee” does not pose a real threat, therefore is able to enter the enchanted world showing how men have to have their ‘maleness’ has to be altered or stunted in order for them to be admitted. However, even this begins to show its crack, as shown in the adolescent Branza, who appears to epitomise the concept of femininity and propriety. Her vexed, charged relationship with Tessel, the aggressive bear-man from the outside world reveals her emerging sexuality, showing that this can also be a natural thing, rather than a thing of violence and horror as suffered by Liga. Similarly, it is not always the men who are able to make a strong impression, as characters such as the white witch Miss Dance who stands and appears strong “like a man”, show how it takes courage to live in a world where there is cruelty and prejudice.
Liga’s world shows that even in a magical world there is a two-dimensional feel to it that even she can sense, showing how she cannot hide in a false reality forever. The idea of the real versus the mental state is constantly explored, showing how Liga seems to slip in and out of the ‘rules’ of the everyday world and although uses her hidden world as a way to heal, she also perhaps uses it as a way to avoid confronting her past and her fears. The alternative realities could be interpreted as a sci-fi feature, which is shown by the scientific explanation given to rationalise the ‘magic’, and grounds itself in logic (even if it does at times feel a bit confusing!)
The idea of society and it’s rules – as Urrda finds it when she is searching for ‘truth’ – shows how it is inevitable that the ‘real’ world will emerge. Although the rules of society seem cruel and oppressive, showing a need to conform and be shape, which is what Liga ran away from, it is also a medium to become a stronger person. By hiding the daughters away, Liga appears to have given her daughters “no kind of existence”, as they need to interact with others and experience cruelty as well as encounter the range of human emotions, develop deep relationships, and discover who they truly are.
Tender Morsels truly explores what it means to be human, as well as the idea of “heart’s desires”, showing how powerful emotions and human characteristics can shape identity and can be used to inflict both pain and joy. At its heart, it is a perceptive representation on the after-effects of overwhelming events, showing how the human mind can explicably emerge from the ashes and grow forward. This is a truly beautifully written book, despite some of the unpleasant and even at times, heartbreaking circumstances, which makes the narrative all the more poignant. As another book review summed up:
“Tender Morsels deals with rape, but it’s never actually explicit. What it does is suggest what happens, and your mind does the rest. But nothing is actually masked. Especially not the impact, physical and psychological, that this kind of violence has on Liga. I love that Margo Lanagan doesn’t ever make us pity Liga. She makes our heart break for her, yes, and she makes us love her, and respect her, and wish her the very best.”
Margo Lanagan, Tender Morsels (Vintage Books: London 2010) pp. 486 £7.99
Every time I go past this shop I have to laugh at the blatant thievery of the famous Disney font. Just like Bollywood films rip of Hollywood storylines, I do love seeing bit of this same blatant disregard in everyday life. The next time you go down to Green Street (Upton Park), keep an eye out for the ‘Desi’ Shop!