Monday, January 01, 2007

Year-End Review: Fiction is the Future

When another driver abruptly pulled out in front of me on the way home today, my potential end flashed before my eyes. When I caught my breath I asked myself what would happen if I died one the way home today. The answer brought great relief and the realization that its simply not healthy to be me. I've heard that most people who reflect on their mortality get warm fuzzy feelings, a desire to see more family, do the things I never got to do with their lives, and in general resolve to live the rest of their days as if each one were the last. I got no such revelation. Instead, I got a little voice in the back of my head telling me that if I died it wouldn't matter that I'd spent so much money on books this week.

I spent a lot. In my short life I've only ever been overdrawn once (and it was a side-account that I hadn't been adding into) and that was because I'd spent too much money at the bookstore. I do this periodically. I can judge the years I've been out of Pennsylvania by the books on my shelves. I tend to buy in learning frenzies. My first stay in Mississippi from home put Sherlock Holmes, Marvel trade paperbacks, and self-help books on a little shelf. With San Antonio came King Arthur, Science, and Christianity. Philosophy and Folktales. Scattered science fiction, fantasy, various comic book series as I've gone crazy searching for back issues. The announcement that White Wolf was ending the World of Darkness setting had me buying second edition roleplaying games in bulk in Oklahoma. Most of my back issue boxes are from nearly all of San Antonio's comic book stories selling back issues for a dollar that one year. Most of the old and worn books I have come from when I got my car and sought out every used bookstore in that city. I like used bookstores, you can find cheap old copies of classics so you can read them and better understand the pop culture references. A couple shelves of metaphysics, new age, old age, and eastern religion from my spiritual crisis a couple years ago. My ex-boyfriend introduced me to Terry Pratchett and HP Lovecraft, well-read copies of their works are on the shelf above the self-help book that led me to end the relationship.

Most of my reading this year has been online, and actually driven by this blog. We started When Fangirls Attack in January, and that was when I made the Carnival of Feminists for the first time. This year saw the addition of real Feminist theory to my bookshelf (prior to this I'd just had women's spirituality and self-help there). This year I did more reading about Feminism and comic books that ever before, mainly because of that blog. Reading the theories and applying them to a medium and mythology I love made every lesson sink in much better than just reading it. I don't know if its possible to ever explain the impact of this.

Every once in a while this year I'd see a comment on how applying Feminism to comic books was a waste of time when so much was going on in the world right now, but really, it does make a personal difference and I believe examining trends in fiction makes a bigger difference than most people realize. I mean, how many people know who Mary Wollstonecraft is? How many people know who Mary Shelley is? Mary Wollstonecraft wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, the first major feminist work ever published. More of my readers should know that one than the average comics blog audience, I'll admit. Now, her famous daughter Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein. Every reader of every comics blog should know that one. The former is groundbreaking in its niche and has worked into the culture through activism, but the second is a morality tale that can be referenced with a simple name. A single word that immediately calls to mind all of the lessons about man playing god that Shelley put into that work. Nearly every person in our society knows the story. Nearly every person knows and understands the moral. Feminism, however, still eludes much of the populace.

Now, I'm not saying I don't respect nonfiction work. Its still important and brilliant, but when its a matter of nonfiction versus fiction I truly believe that fiction has more potential for impact. For everyone who has ever read a work of nonfiction Feminist theory, you'll find three more who've read classic works of horror, science fiction or fantasy. Fiction makes an impact, it captures the imagination. The imagination is the most powerful part of a human mind. It would be one hell of a thing if one day one of us could come up with a work of fiction that summed up the moral of equality, and captured the imagination so well that its title seeped into the public conscience and summoned the principles of Feminism every time the work was mentioned nearly two hundred years later.

We already have the barest tip of the iceberg. We have Wonder Woman to conjure up images of feminine strength. We have Buffy as proof that a female action hero will work on television. We have children's books with female heroes that young girls read by the truckload but somehow, somehow, we're still fringe. Superman and Batman are still much better known than Wonder Woman. We've gone backwards since Buffy went off the air. Boys aren't reading the books starring girls, though girls read the books starring boys. And each of these works falls short of perfect and can be improved to be less standard, more feminist. Because everything that does make the mainstream that is full of old gender-standards just serves to reinforce those gender standards and something, something is keeping the groundbreaking fiction on the fringe.

So, we have blogs like Feminist SF, the Hathor Legacy, Girls Read Comics, and Heroine Content, that are niche blogs that concentrate on analyzing the crap, analyzing good works that could simply be better, and figuring out just why the good stuff is not catching on. We have niche communities like Feminist Film, Feminist Fandom, Feminist Fantasy, Girl-Wonder.org, and Whileaway for discussion about this. We have linkblogs like Jade Reporting and When Fangirls Attack that track the conversations. And then we have personal blogs like this one (and a number of others on the sidebar) that started out like a general pop culture blog and then turned into niche blogs just for the ongoing debate.

Why? Because someone out there will write it. They will write the Frankenstein of Feminism. They will write a work about gender equality that is so beautiful, so vivid, so perfect, so powerful that it bursts into the mainstream like Harry Potter and nothing can stop it. It won't be fringe anymore. It will be common knowledge. We'll have a word, a name, a title to say whenever we want to call to mind all the principles of feminism and the bad things that can happen if you try to shove people into strict gender roles that don't properly fit, never have properly fit, and never will properly fit.

Maybe that someone will have read one of our blogs.

That said, I'm not sure if Written World will remain a niche feminism-comics blog. It all depends on what I read and learn. I found myself immersed in politics this fall because I did political satire for Nanowrimo, but I've kept those thoughts to another blog. Its just a matter of time before I turn my attention fully back to comic books, of course, but in the meantime my sister signed up for Janowrimo and I promised I'd go through the mess with her.

In the meantime, I have plans for tonight, and if anything happens to me on the way to 2007 I'll take comfort in knowing that I've saddled my church-going mother with over fifty books on witchcraft, metaphysics, and divination.

Happy New Year!


10 comments:

  1. Great year-end post - I love the ones that make me nod my head the whole way through, and leave me feeling optimistic at the end. Happy new year!

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  2. Wait a minute - you're a feminist? What the crap? I may have to rethink reading your blog ...

    Very interesting post. Keep it up - we all need fresh perspectives on comics.

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  3. You can NEVER have too many books. In Connecticut, the local libraries usually have a twice a year sale of older and slightly battered books, usually for a dollar a piece. I've gotten tons over the years, and it's a great place to look for more. Heck, sometimes, they're a buck a bag!

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  4. Mary Shelly's mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, was a noted feminist and "Frankenstein" has a lot of references to her and her work.

    Not sure how relevant it is to this essay, but I thought it interesting enough to point out.

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  5. Have you read Vindication of the Rights of Woman? It's dense but awesome. (I believe Wollstonecraft also wrote a Vindication of the Rights of Man, as well, under a pseudonym, to pave the way for Vindication of the Rights of Woman.)

    This post has given me hope. A poster on the girl-wonder.org forums has said that s/he believes that 2006 was Countdown to an Infinite Feminist Crisis (paraphrasing, obviously). Let's hope so.

    Thank you for this magnificent blog,

    Sandi

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  6. I felt Frankenstein was wanky and overly melodramatic. Can I opt for the Dracula of feminism instead? It's like a cheesy action movie in epistolary format!

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  7. Great year-end post.
    Frankenstein didn't have much imapct on me. Personally, I'd prefer, say, the Prometheus Unbound of feminism. It inspired an episode of Superman: The Animated Series--that's how you know it's excellent.

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  8. Have you read Joanna Russ's essay, How To Suppress Women's Writing? (Or, how about her novel The Female Man?)

    Dale Spender's Women of Ideas: What Men Have Done to Them?

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