This is actually prompted by the news that the lead writer and artist are abandoning the DCnU “Batwoman” comic.
What writers create shows the world something of who they are. This can be intentional or unintentional, and quite often is unintentional. But this is also why writers occasionally (or often) take criticisms of their work personally – because in a way when a work is criticized, it is in some way a personal attack on the writer. We are fragile flowers. We also make stuff up. So on the one hand, it is fair for a writer to say, “Hey, that’s not me! I made that up!” On the other hand, what we make up is the accumulation of a lifetime of experiences in which case yes, in some ways, what we make up is in fact us. Sometimes there are really no profound consequences for unfortunate implications. Someone says to the writer, “Hey, that’s not how it is at all,” and a writer says, “Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to offend,” and that’s the end of it. But sometimes there are more significant consequences, and the writers are left baffled at why they are suddenly taking so much flak. See also this TvTrope link.
Intentional – I touched on this when discussing offense in narrative choices and how dystopic an author makes a world. Sometimes the writer stands up and says, “Yes, what you are seeing and interpreting in my work is exactly what I intended.” See 1984 and “A Series of Unfortunate Events.” At this point, if the writers were intended to offend, they are knew what consequences they were inviting.
Unintentional – I wrote a bit on this too, but I will expand. There are two types of unintentional unfortunate implications of narrative choices.
a) Glimpse in to the abyss
b) Cognitive disconnect
I’ll expand on those in a moment. I find people to be interesting, and I study people. I am a writer, and since I can’t experience everything, I try to pay attention to people who have had different experiences and assimilate those into my writing as best I can. As I mentioned in part 1, I can’t be everything and everyone I write about, and I’m sure my observations of others are flawed, and ultimately the interpretation I write down may be flawed as well (and hence lead to unfortunate implications and hence lead to offense). So I wonder how people think, in particular other writers. What kind of person writes horror, I wonder to myself? By all accounts, Stephen King is actually a very mild-mannered man with comically large coke-bottle glasses who’s played in a rock band with Dave Barry. He seems, well, nice. And yet he writes horror stories. Neil Gaiman writes strange, dark stories (one of his children’s book’s started with blood dripping off of a knife) and he seems nice as well, albeit slightly creepy in that quiet way. But Alan Moore? No one is surprised he writes what he does. So I am often curious how writers end up creating works with some very unfortunate implications indeed.
a) Glimpse in to the Abyss –
This is when a writer includes something in the book that has a theme or message that makes the readers wonder why. The brain of a writer (at least mine) is a strange bubbling cauldron of ideas. Some are downright weird and some are downright gross and some are beyond unprintable. I am a bundle of neuroses and while I, like most people, think I’ve got it all under control, well, sometimes maybe things slip through my filters and I unintentionally give the readers a glimpse into the abyss of my mind (note to self: “abyss of the mind” would make a great book title).
I sort of touched on that with the discussion on dystopias. Why was the “Hunger Games” series, which is aimed at young adults, so very dystopic? “A Song of Ice and Fire” could fall under this. I don’t know anything about the writer, but when every character is either sexually assaulted or maimed/mutilated, that makes me wonder why did the writer make this choice? What does this say about the writer? Is this a manifestation of some deep, dark trauma or fear? Consider also the V.C. Andrews books that all seemed to be about incest. Okay, one and it might be shocking, but more than one? That’s just getting weird and squicky. Sometimes this only leaves the reader thinking, “What the hell?” Sometimes there is no answer forthcoming, and their’s only speculation on snarky blogs. Sometimes there are hints and allegations. For examples, the way Joe Quesada broke up Spider-man’s marriage made me wonder what he had against marriage. Well, it turns out, he may have had a quite a lot, so his narrative choice turned out to be reflective of his real life issues.
This, however, does not tie into “Batwoman.” But now we come to the second unintentional unfortunate implication.
b) Cognitive disconnect – This also manifests in two ways.
I) The writer creates something s/he is proud of but doesn’t understand is terrible.
II) The writer creates something s/he knows is offensive, but doesn’t understand why the creation is so offensive, or is offensive in a way s/he did not expect.
b)I) Actually, “Tarot” is to me a really good example of a cognitive disconnection of a creator (and his wife) who seem to think the work is really good, but really isn’t. I’ve ranted on “Tarot” before, and as far as I can tell, Jim and his wife seem to be nice people, and she seems to be a serious pagan practitioner, and yet the comic is a strange mix of porn without plot, super-gory horror, and cartoon humor, and the religious aspect has as much depth as Teen Witch. It’s pretty (except for the super-gory horror) but shallow and not well-written.
b)II) The “Song of Ice and Fire” could also fall under this. Martin’s world is horribly brutal and terrible on every level. Critics, particularly feminist critics, have had unkind words to say about this. I don’t know how the writer actually feels about this, but it’s quite possible he thinks that since he based his world on medieval England (i.e., a fantasy-themed re-telling of War of the Roses), his fictional world has to be just as terrible and brutal as he thinks England in that time period was (other criticisms concern whether or not this is the case). Of course, the cognitive disconnection here is, “Why does fantasy have to be anything like history (or our perception thereof)?” I’m pretty sure there were no dragons or zombies during the War of the Roses either, and yet Martin put them in his book.
Or (to slowly tie back into DC), I have conceded maybe Gotham City has to be as dystopic as it is for Batman’s stories to be told. “The Killing Joke” was incredibly dark, but brilliant. But then there’s the “All-star Batman and Robin” where Batman sets criminals on fire and let’s them burn to death. That is another level… For Frank Miller, I can only assume he felt Batman had to be that dark (that could also fall under ‘glimpse into the abyss’ and it’s pretty scary in there…).
The New 52 Universe has caused DC to practically trip over unfortunate implications (Barbara Gordan is the new Batgirl and magically unparalyzed in three years of comic time, Starfire was turned into a soulless sex-bot, Amanda Waller was at least left as a person of color although she was youthened and prettied up, and in the new world there was a map labeling Africa as “ape-controlled” and that’s just the ones I can think of off-hand). And then there’s Batwoman. The current incarnation is the only openly gay superhero to be headlining a comic. The creative team had every intention of getting Batwoman married to her main squeeze, a Gotham City cop. The executives at DC nixed that, so the creators quit, and that of course started a firestorm about DC being against gay marriage. The executives clarified that no, they’re not against gay marriage, they’re against any marriage.
This, to me, is only marginally better. And the executives don’t seem to understand why that is offensive either. I don’t assume all the guys running DC are in horrible marriages. Statistically, half are divorced, and the other half may not be happy, but surely they don’t all think marriage is the worst thing that happened to them. So how come they seem to believe marriage is the worst thing that could happen to a superhero? The unfortunate implication is that marriage is bad (and Batwoman is not the only example; pretty much any member of the JLA who was hitched prior to the reboot no longer is). Oh, sure, ordinary people get married, but heroes, ppfff, why should they get shackled down? Or possibly it just shows that all the executives are uncreative and lazy and figure writing a marriage is too hard. Or, well, I have links…
Honestly, if this was an isolated incident with DC, maybe it wouldn’t be so bad. I would just wonder, “What the hell is that about?” But this is a string of unfortunate implication after unfortunate implication. To be fair, Marvel has had some doozies (like Avengers #200). For myself, I think there are a lot of writers who need to see this link about avoiding unfortunate implications, or at least take a few minutes and think about what the hell they’re putting down on the page.
As for Kate Kane… well, damn, the creative team really tried, but apparently the executives just don’t learn very quickly.