Sunday, 12 January 2014

Moore to Say

As happens every few months or so, there has been a brief Alan Moore-related internet furore. An author of controversial works, with some strong and occasionally baffling opinions, Moore does engender a considerable amount of debate, into which he is generally eager to engage himself. I certainly disagree with some of his more aggressive criticisms of contemporary popular culture; while he has a point about the ongoing extension of earlier generations' characters that exist in place of modern creations, his attack on those who enjoy such retro-flavoured works grates. Especially considering that his most celebrated contributions to the comics industry, an industry that he is all to happy to attack, involve the appropriation of older characters. Of course, Moore does it rather better than most.

The recent publication of Alan Moore's biography, Magic Words by Lance Parkin, and an evening event with both men, has kicked off the latest whirl of Moore-bashing and defending. Never one to shy away from vehemently defending himself and expressing his own views, Moore responded to various attacks upon himself and his work in a long and fascinating interview with Padraig O Mealoid, which is available to read at his blog, Slovobooks. It's well worth reading, particularly Moore's thoughtful response to accusations that his work is racist or misogynist.

I'm no Moore scholar – for that level of analysis, you'll want to read the work of Parkin or Philip Sandifer – but I find myself agreeing on the major points Moore makes in terms of how I read his work. Having recently completed The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen in its entirety (thus far), I can see how someone might be put off by the seeming prevalence of rape in his work. While the rape scenes that occur in League and his other work can make me uncomfortable, I see that as rather the point. Moore's work isn't cosy reading, nor is it intended to be simple, straightforward adventure. I find his use of rape in his fiction is, as he says, a recognition of the fact that this most appalling of crimes occurs all too commonly in reality. It is uncomfortable to confront this, and that, of course, is the point. There is a world of difference between the presentation of rape in Moore's work, in which it is shown as the abhorrent act it is, its consequences explored, and the work of comics writers like Mark Millar, in whose work rape is consistently used as a form of ultra-violence, exaggerated titillation for the boys reading the books. In Millar's books, women are almost wholly portrayed as victims, there only for the benefit or use of men. Compare this to the rape of the younger Captain Nemo in League spin-off Nemo, in which the rape is shown wholly through the eyes of female character, the trauma leading to a horrific retribution at the Captain's hands.

The one instance of rape I find difficult to accept in The League is the rape of Griffin by Hyde in Volume Two. While I am gratified to see the existence of male rape addressed by an author who clearly feels strongly about the crime of the act against women, it is still played for laughs, albeit uneasy, sickly laughs. Male rape rarely appears in popular media except as a source of twisted humour, something I find utterly abhorrent. Even in real-life situations, it is dealt with as if it is somehow less serious than 'real' rape. (Take, for instance, the recent report throughout the news concerning a Russian woman who captured a man who tried to rob her shop and used him as a sex slave for several days. This was shared across social media with plenty of 'lols' and 'you go girl' comments, as if even a robbery somehow justified this kind of retributional abuse. Had the sexes been reversed, of course, the response would have been rather different.) While I recognise that women are raped far more commonly than men, male rape is a major issue with a serious social stigma attached, and using it as a grimly humorous comeuppance riles me, even if it for such an odious individual as Griffin, and perpetrated by a monster like Hyde.

Another controversial character in League is the Galley Wag, a version of the once-ubiquitous and now rarely seen Gollywog, a character consigned to the history books as an embarrassing racial caricature that today's enlightened folks would rather forget. Moore's argument is that it was never intended as a racially stereotyped character, but as an exaggerated barely-human sprite whose vague resemblance to black Africans caught on as racial tensions grew. It's convincing, but i'm not sure it really rings true; after all, whatever the origins of the Gollywog image, its contemporary reputation is well-known. Moore and his artist, O'Neill, made their Galley Wag an escaped slave from another cosmos, a clear allegory of the terrestrial slave trade, but at the same time, reconceptualised the character as an extremely powerful being from another order of creation altogether. To my mind, the Galley Wag, with his prodigious size, enormous strength and celebrated sexual prowess, represents the other side of the stereotypical black male, the aspects that repressed white men both feared in and envied their oppressed black populace. But that's my reading. Moore's intention no doubt differs, and I'm sure I'd see it differently if I, myself, were black.

A great deal of the latter half of the interview, however, sees more preoccupied with his ongoing feud with Grant Morrisson, rival magician and comic scribe. Frankly, for all the wit and eloquence with which Moore speaks on the subject, I frankly can't find it very interesting. I shall end with a searingly powerful quote from earlier in the dialogue, a point which I think is especially relevant in today's Britain:

"I understand that it may not be considered good form to suggest that class issues are as important as issues of race, gender or sexuality, despite the fact that from my own perspective they seem perhaps even more fundamental and crucially relevant. After all, while in the West after many years of arduous struggle we are now allowed to elect women, non-white people and even, surely at least in theory, people of openly alternative sexualities, I am relatively certain that we will never be allowed to elect a man or woman of any race or persuasion who is poor. "

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