Why Are Marvel and DC Comics So Resistant To Major Change?

   death_of_flash

“I hope this noble sacrifice of mine inspires many to greatness. I guess I’ll find out once I get better.”

To start things off, let me say that this post was directly inspired by this excellent blog from Josh Costella.  Josh’s analysis of why Bruce Wayne should be expected to die at some point really resonated with my psyche, because it reminded me of a broader topic connected to it:  Why the Big Two comic book companies (that’s Marvel and DC to those who actually may not know in this day and age) greatly limit what kind of growth and change they allow with their most popular and iconic characters by almost always eventually reversing any major alteration to their mainstream status quo. That’s because it’s a question I’ve often pondered myself, considering how enamored I am with the concept of legacy and the generational approach to heroes and villains. That is due to my extensive interest and work with the Wold Newton Universe concept:  Simply have new individuals take over the roles of mortal costumed identities as the originals eventually become too old to continue, or meet the tragic but often noble end that some heroes will inevitably experience (think: Barry Allen… until he eventually got better).  So why didn’t they ever consider this way of doing things? And would it work if they did?

I. To Embrace Change… Or Not

 

 

Josh makes a good argument specifically in regards to Batman, his fav super-hero of them all (and of many, many other people too, including my cousin Gene), as to why DC should allow someone other than Bruce Wayne to eventually take over the identity of his crime-fighting alter-ego on a permanent basis. Yet DC adamantly refuses to allow anyone other than Mr. Wayne to wear the exalted Mantle of the Bat for more than a year at a time (if that!).  Even Dick Grayson himself–who took over the mantle twice–was soon booted back to his duds as Nightwing by DC to allow Wayne to take back the suit.  And we all know that following the epic “Knightfall” storyline from the early ’90s which introduced mega-popular Bat-villain Bane–where Bruce Wayne had his back broken until he got better–successor Jean-Paul Valley (the former Azrael) was set up to fail as the new Dark Knight from the get-go.

 

 

This also begs the question as to why Marvel and DC explicitly refuse to adopt the generational method of explaining the longevity of their characters within their mainstream continuities, instead preferring what my colleague Kevin Heim has referred to as the time-crunching phenomenon. This method is to constantly posit that stories in comic books that were published 40 years ago actually took place only over a time frame of 5-15 years as we reckon time in the real world, with all the resulting anachronistic clothing styles, slang, pop cultural references, etc., from stories published long in the past now explained away as having been nothing more than topical license on the part of the writers and artists. And if that doesn’t preserve the status quo, particularly the static or artificially slow aging of the characters to keep them forever in a certain age group and/or life situation, then DC, at least, will resort to its now famous reality reboots. That entails publishing a mini- or maxi-series where a cosmic event of epic, universal proportions re-sets the timeline from the very beginning, de-aging many characters and restoring certain previously ended status quo elements across the board (their latest such “Crisis” event, Flashpoint, having occurred as recently as the summer of 2011).

 

 

So, why this powerful loyalty to the status quo and resistance to truly fundamental change in the Big Two’s mainstream universes? Why does it seem that the fan base itself seems to prefer, as Stan Lee once famously said, not actual change but simply “the illusion of change”? My theory is that it’s a bit more complicated than simple, stubborn adherence to a certain specific status quo, though I certainly agree with Josh that the human psyche’s strong comfort with the familiar plays a strong role.

 

 

II. What, Me Change?

 

 

I think part of the reason the Big Two comic book companies will never permanently let anyone but Bruce Wayne wear the costume of Batman, or Peter Parker wear the costume of Spider-Man, respectively, etc., et al. has much to do with merchandising requirements. I’m far from the first fan to point this out, so this should come as anything but a “light bulb” moment to anyone, and more akin to a “duh!”  However, I mention it here because I think it’s a very accurate and important explanation that anyone discussing the resistance to change phenomenon in comic books would be remiss in not mentioning. This is also the reason we won’t see other merchandise-unfriendly changes to “stick” for good, such as costume alterations that are a radical departure from the image people have been used to for so long.

 

For example, as popular as Spider-Man’s way cool black costume introduced in the ’80s was, we all knew it wouldn’t be long before the powers-that-be at Marvel would order the writers and editorial team to bring the old one back. The black costume has returned from time to time, but a reason is always found to put Spidey back in the classic outfit, no matter how contrived.  Whether Peter has to give up the black suit out of deference to Mary Jane now becoming unnerved by the sight of it due to a horrific encounter with Venom, or simply the new suit getting torn to shreds in battle and Peter not having enough time on his hands to knit a new black suit (or maybe red and blue thread is a lot cheaper in his universe; I dunno, as I don’t live there), Marvel simply has too much money invested into the classic costume to try and grow an acceptance of a new one, no matter how cool and well-received by the fans. The fan base is not the bulk of Marvel’s or DC’s bread and butter, and the need for recognition value outside our geeky niche audience is of very strong consideration to a corporate enterprise. How often has artistic preferences ever trumped financial concerns in this business-centric world of ours? (If that came off as yet another potshot at capitalism from me… well, that’s because it was. Boo-yahh!)

 

 

Spider-Man_black_costume_introduction

Artistically stunning, it really did the Web-Head justice, and the fans loved it! They were never going to let him keep it.

 

 

 

III. To Change Or Not to Change… That Is Never the Question

 

 

So, yea, this insistence on certain aspects of the status quo always remaining static is built into the overall business mindset of the corporate overseers of the Big Two. Now don’t get me wrong, the Big Two love how their media announcements of major, game-changing events in their popular comics bring a lot of short-term attention and added profits to their comics. Perhaps the best example is the death of Superman stunt by DC back in 1992, but the powers-that-be never had any serious intention of letting one of the four new characters who briefly appeared in the wake of this death to fill his shoes remain the Superman permanently. The intention from the get-go was always to bring Clark Kent back from the dead to fill the mantle, and you didn’t even see DC denying it (even they had too much respect for their fans’ intelligence to claim otherwise).

 

 

Reign_of_the_Supermen_poster

Don’t you love when they ask rhetorical questions on these event posters?

 

As more examples, a lot of fans really like Miles Morales in the Spider-Man costume (I’m among them!), but he will never be allowed to completely replace Peter Parker within the context of Marvel’s mainstream continuity (yanno, the stuff that takes place on Earth-616, for the more geeky amongst my readers). Publishing the stories featuring Miles exclusively within the bounds of an alternate reality, i.e., the Ultimate Universe, is Marvel’s way of having their cake and eating it too, while insuring that Peter remains the main filling (but lately Peter’s counterpart in the Ultimate Universe seems to be back too! Is this just a gimmick–like a clone, android, or shape-shifter imposter–or did the “real” deal really get better after his ill-fated “final” encounter with the Green Goblin?).

 

 

And yes, we got some major success with an older Bruce Wayne and Peter Parker acting as protege’s to their familial* successors, Terry McGuiness and May “Mayday” Parker in Batman Beyond and Spider-Girl respectively, but these two were “safely” sequestered outside the mainstream continuity in alternate futures. Would DC and Marvel have embraced such good characters as Miles, Terry, or Mayday taking over the iconic roles on a permanent basis in the present of their respective mainstream continuities? For that matter, how long did Bucky Barnes remain in the Captain America suit, with Steve Rogers graduated to head of S.H.I.E.L.D.–which I thought was a way cool idea with many story possibilities promising potential growth for both characters in a logical direction–until Bucky was relegated back to his clandestine Winter Soldier role, and Steve back to his familiar gig so soon after he got better from his gimmicky, attention-seeking “death”? The short answer: Not long at all.

 

*Terry McGuiness was revealed in the Justice League Unlimited episode “Epilogue” to actually have been conceived by Bruce Wayne’s DNA. Not the fun way, thought.

 

IV. Not All Change Is Good

 

Of course, we’ve had our share of really bad attempts at shaking up the status quo of top-tier characters. Two notable examples hail from the 1990s, which I personally consider a nadir decade in the comic book industry despite the important growth of creator-owned characters finally finding a huge audience during the Clinton years.

 

One of these was the attempt to throw a monkey wrench into Superman’s long-secure status quo (despite his then-recent marriage to Lois Lane) by radically changing his look and powers. This idea grew out of the semi-intriguing “Superman Red/Superman Blue” story arc–which was actually inspired by a better take on this concept from an old “Imaginary Tale” of Supes from the Mort Weisenger editorial era, not the jingle popularized a long time ago by the Good Will (it’s a lot more appealing when the Whoniverse’s Amy Pond says it). Yes, the Man of Steel became the Man of Energy by having his vast superhuman physically-based powers totally replaced by the power to convert his form into living electricity and put the shock effect on his enemies in place of the punch effect. And let’s not forget (or, maybe we should try to forget) his blue skin and the oddball blue and white costume he acquired while in “super” mode during the too-long period of time that this gimmick was carried out (even a mere year was far too long, as far as moi is concerned). Even worse, this less-than-stellar change soon followed the Super Guy into the recently revived JLA comic, putting something of a damper on Grant Morrison’s highly applauded run on the series.

 

Hell, even Superman’s equally famous logo font style was altered with a less-awesome one to reflect this less-than-awesome change. DC certainly went all-out for this one!  Meaning, DC was grasping at every possible straw during the mid-’90s to find a gimmick to elevate the sagging sales of their (at one point) five Superman titles after the novelties of the John Byrne reboot and the “Death of Superman” event and follow-up events had sufficiently faded from the public consciousness. After all, the late 20th century sales slump of the once super-selling Super Dude’s titles is one familiar aspect of the status quo that DC does not want to maintain.

 

Superman_#123_cover

Some attempts at cool change… just aren’t.

 

 

All discussions of such ill attempts at change would be incomplete without mentioning the infamous, overly-long, convoluted “Clone Saga” in the Spider-Man comics of the 1990s that replaced Peter Parker in the costume with his clone Ben Reilly for an extended spell. Ben wasn’t a bad character, and he had lots of potential as the Scarlet Spider, but things took a turn for the worst when Marvel gave one big mac (I prefer that over “whopper”) of an ill-conceived attempt at a status quo shake-up by presenting the contention that Reilly was actually the real Peter Parker, and the Peter that the fans knew, loved, and followed for the past 25 years was the true clone. (That is, two decades in regards to what we fans experienced as “real” time; it was just a few years in “crunched” time for Pete and Ben, but still long enough even for them!). Ben then took over as Spider-Man in all of the webbed guy’s multitude of titles, with Peter mostly being written out by way of a contrived means of losing his powers.

 

Spider-Man_clone_revelation_cover

Is there such a thing as a rhetorical revelation? If so, the above cover blurb gave us one.

 

 

Had he remained the Scarlet Spider, Ben may have ultimately worked as a character, and achieved a following apart from the Spider-Man mythos. But due to Marvel’s use of him in a shake-up attempt that that played too much with the fans’ collective head, the readership lost whatever affection they may have had for Ben, and Marvel felt it necessary to kill him off and do their best to forget he ever existed (his identity of the Scarlet Spider has since been taken on by a cool but much less likeable Parker clone, Kaine). Peter was back in the costume after a year (again, in “real” time) of having lost his powers, now having regained them along with the union suit.  And, of course, the familiar status quo was now back to appease both the fans and Marvel’s bottom line. Isn’t it nice how things always work out in the end for corporations? (Another potshot against capitalism! Is this socialist on a roll or what? Wah-hoooo!)

 

 

SpiderManvsScarletSpider

Sorry, Ben, but your genetic sire has you outmatched via corporate support!

 

At least Peter was still married to Mary Jane when he was divested of his powers and the spider suit. But that happy marriage was another “violation” of the cherished status quo that Marvel would eventually decide had to be dealt with…

 

 

 V. At Least Good Changes Are Spared, Right? Wrong!

 

 

We may be satisfied when a bad change that we perceive as impeding the growth of a character or legend is reversed… once we get over being pissed that it was ever enacted in the first place, of course. But how pissed do we, the fans, get when genuinely good changes in the status quo that many of us loved are reversed? The short answer again: Very, especially considering that it happens often enough.

 

This adherence to the status quo by the Big Two remains the case even with the likes of their second-tier but still greatly popular and iconic heroes like the Flash and Green Lantern.

 

Cases in point:  Many people loved Wally West and Kyle Rayner filling those respective roles, and they were in many ways more interesting as people than their predecessors, Barry Allen and Hal Jordan, not to mention easier for the readers to relate to. Both them weren’t “born” for these roles like typical idealized hero types–which Barry and Hal initially were for a long time–but grew into the roles, doing an admirable job of personal growth and character development over the long haul. Yet even though it took many years in both cases (nearly 25 years in Wally’s!), eventually Barry Allen and Hal Jordan were brought back, each getting better from heroic, self-sacrificing deaths; and Hal eventually redeeming himself from a massive fall from grace in the process. Hal subsequently continued his need for redemption after death by having his soul become the human part of the Spectre, resulting in a version and series run of DC’s literal avenging wrath of God that was much more interesting than the previous Jim Corrigan iteration. But DC couldn’t conceive of anyone other than Barry and Hal in these costumes, so both had to circumvent the meaning and lessons wrought by their respective selfless sacrifices–as well as appreciation for the finality of death that is all-too familiar to those of us who do not inhabit a universe like theirs–by returning from beyond.

 

Wally and Kyle were thus the inheritors of a legacy no longer. DC became the ultimate “Indian Giver” to both of these good characters.

 

Kyle was graciously left around, albeit now more or less shunted to the sidelines, even though at this writing he’s still the main character of the ongoing Green Lantern: New Guardians series. At least the then recently revived concept of the Green Lantern Corps. team allowed space for him to retain the ring and the general name, even if he was no longer considered the Green Lantern as far as DC and the fans were concerned, but conceptually demoted to “a” Green Lantern. His evolving saga as a character striving to be worthy of the ring could at least continue, but he was no longer the main focus of the Green Lantern sub-mythos within the greater DC Universe (wait, that’s Multiverse again this week, right?).

 

Wally, in contrast, didn’t fare as well as Kyle. After so many years of proving himself worthy of the scarlet uniform (over two decades as we fans in “real” time reckon!) after spending many prior years (again, over two decades of “real” time!) in the sidekick role of Kid Flash, he was completely thrown to the wayside. The central focus of the growing “Flash Family,” which both Wally’s loins and capacity for inspiration had largely contributed to, had to be given back to Barry in DC’s eyes. When it came down to it, despite a whole generation having grown up with Wally and Kyle in these roles, DC still decided that Barry and Hal were more immediately recognizable in the scheme of things, and that the next generation should pretty much forget about what Wally and Kyle had been to the previous one for perceived marquee and brand value.

 

Also, this was made so despite the fact that Wally and Kyle have proven to be much more interesting people than Barry and Hal on any day of the week, despite a rather unsuccessful attempt to make Hal more interesting for the first cinematic effort at bringing the Ring Guy to the big screen. I’m not trying to say that truly interesting stories cannot be told with Barry and Hal in the outfits, because we have a few decades of such stories to demonstrate otherwise. I’m simply saying that Barry and Hal do not have to be in those uniforms in order to tell good stories or achieve widespread iconic name recognition, and this has also been amply demonstrated.  I think the generational, legacy-based method of story-telling has a lot of merit that the Big Two are averse to fully embrace or explore no matter how much potential that concept has. Again, this is largely due to business concerns.

 

VII. It’s Not Just About Who Wears the Suits, Though…

 

Even life-altering changes in their personal lives do not last permanently, despite how much support, character growth, and media fanfare each of these may receive. For example, let’s consider how the marriages of Superman and Spider-Man to their long-time lady loves were each milked for lots of publicity and sales, and both lasted a long time (over two decades each in “real” time). However, both were eventually eliminated by reboots; Spider-Man with a god-awful “personal” reboot courtesy of a literal deal with the devil, and Superman courtesy of one of DC’s periodic universe-wide timeline upheavals. Now both of them are not only single again, but “always have been.”  If only 50% of real people had this nifty “retcon” option!

Spider-Man_wedding_cover

A marriage made in Heaven, but annulled by the ruler of Hell.

Superman_The_Wedding_Album

“Lois, I thee wed… until a reality reboot does us part.”

 

I think these frequent reversals mentally condition the fans to prefer the status quo more than they normally would, and to embrace the familiar rather than support truly dynamic, lasting change. This is because the powers-that-be of the Big Two give fans the additional comfort of knowing they can count on the corporate overseers and their editorial lackeys to provide this for them. We may have no choice but to accept lasting change in real life, but we often have a nostalgic yearning for what Barbara Streisand elegantly referred to as “the way we were.” The fictional lives of the characters we follow in books need not adhere to this stringent law of the universe we know all too well, so the expectation of always seeing a youthful Peter Parker in the spider suit the way we’ve always remembered him is something our emotions cling to like… well, a fly trapped in a spider’s web (sorry, couldn’t resist such a relevant metaphor).  The end result is a lack of impetus for investing time and effort into nurturing a dynamic status quo that grows and changes with the generations.  Consequently, our acceptance of change in the comic book universes is only enthusiastic if we know, deep down, that it won’t be permanent.

 

 

For another example, let’s recall  that the Iron Man story arc from the early 1980s that had James Rhodes don the metal suit, taking over from an alcoholism-debilitated Tony Stark, was a great idea that was destined to go the way of too many great ideas in the worlds of the Big Two (hint: that would be the way of the dinosaur, peeps). We all rooted for Tony to recover, but we couldn’t count on him taking a new positive direction in his life that wouldn’t entail him taking the suit back from Rhodey. We had to be content with the two years or so we were given to follow Rhodey’s memorable struggle to fill the iron boots, because the real-life people in the suits would never let it go on indefinitely. We knew right from the onset that the most this could lead to would be the Rhodester eventually being fitted for a new armored suit and code name once Tony got off the sauce and fulfilled his fiduciary obligations to the Marvel executives… er, the Stark Enterprises  executives (Anti-capitalist Freudian slip! Woohoo!).

 

JimRhodes_as_IronMan

“What do you mean I have to give this suit back to Tony after such an inspired run of stories? You’re gonna let him just steel back the glory from me? Yeah, that was a bad pun you heard, since it’s not like you deserve a good one!”

   Then there’s the matter of certain supporting characters who are so prominent that they can never be killed off for good. Not even when doing so after a long and distinguished career results in a heartfelt and highly respectful send-off.  Undoing and undermining such a send-off seems to be the decision of choice for the powers-that-be if a certain big change begins looking too permanent.

 Back in the ’90s (when new #1 issues and bank-breaking gimmick covers were as common as chlamydiae on college campuses… well, almost, anyway), one of the best Spider-Man stories produced during a truly lackluster decade was the latest death of his Aunt May. I’ll never forget that story, because it was poignant and beautiful to behold. May Parker was treated with dignity and with great respect for her intelligence (finally!), when she revealed to Peter during a brief recovery from a life-threatening coma that she knew he was actually Spider-Man for a long time, as it was impossible for her to live in the same house for so long and not know (yanno, like you can’t expect your mom not to know about that sexual orientation you’re afraid to reveal to her). When she was soon back on her deathbed, she explained that her strong will wouldn’t let her just fade away like that without first telling her nephew the truth, and how she was always proud of him, despite being in denial over the dangers he constantly faced. She told him how she accepted that it was her time, and then quietly expired while in the loving presence of Peter and Mary Jane, who then held each other and shared tears to an endearing quote from Peter Pan (actually Peter and Wendy;  and it was the same quote used by the newly de-commissioned Captain Kirk at the end of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country,  btw) .

  It was a hard story to forget… until a few years later, when a new creative team on the Spider-titles decided that they wanted us to do just that by revealing that Aunt May never actually died in the first place. No need for a resurrection when you can always rely on that little contrivance, right? Well, at least we can still say that the dying actress disguised as Aunt May and secretly placed into Peter’s life by Norman Osborn to only make him think  his aunt died gave a poignant and beautiful final performance (I wish I was making that up). The explanation given for another Aunt May death turning out to be false (yes, there was another one in the late ’70s) was given in the letters page as, “… we felt that we lost more than we gained.” Well, whatever they gained by bringing May Parker back, it sure as hell wasn’t credibility or respect for either the readers’ or May’s intelligence; the latter due to the fact that she was revealed as not knowing her nephew’s secret for real, which made the lady seem as dense as lead to those who remembered her actress imposter’s dying words.

   AuntMay-death

“Cheer up, dear… you know I never die for good. So no need to make another deal with the Devil the next time I’m on my deathbed, okay?”

VIII. Why Not Do the Generational Thing, Then?

   I’ve read other writers, including a well known comic book writer/artist, say that there is actually a good reason why the same person is kept in the most famous hero suits forever.  This, they say, is because the origins of these individuals have stood the test of time, and that simply having their children take on the role would result in a bland genesis sans the huge emotional impact of the original’s origin.

  I don’t really buy that justification, however. I think there are many ways to give the familial successors interesting backstories in their own right. This, in fact, was done with Mayday Parker, whose efforts to live up to her father’s lessons made for the only book in Marvel’s now defunct ANext line of ongoing alternate future titles that had enough lasting power to outlast the entire line. I also thought John Byrne’s depiction of Bruce Wayne’s successor son Bruce Jr. in his Elseworlds mini-series Superman & Batman: Generations made for a compelling character that may well have paved the way for such successors to take over the Mantle of the Bat on a permanent basis had DC chosen to go the generational route instead of doing the time-crunching thing a few decades before the reality reboot option came into vogue. Thanks to that, in fact, nearly the entire concept of legacy that DC did so well for a while was wiped off the face of the cosmic map thanks to the recent Flashpoint event.

Generations_#1_cover

Ah, What Might Have Been…

  Not only that, but this defense of the perpetual retention of the same person in the costume overlooks the established fact that not all successors would need to be in any way related to the original. This includes the likes of the previously mentioned Miles Morales, along with popular characters like Miguel O’Hara, the Spider-Man of 2099 (another one safely confined to a distant alternate future). They both had very compelling backstories, and proved as worthy of the suit as Peter Parker did. There are no end to good, tragically compelling, and emotionally riveting origin stories which can make for a good successor to Batman or Spider-Man, etc., to set up a similarly driven motivation for fighting crime. And that’s not to say that a different motivation altogether can’t be used:  Just look at the popularity surrounding the recently introduced character of Kamala Khan, a.k.a., the new Ms. Marvel. She has proven a likeable character with great (if currently not fully realized) potential, and this despite her backstory being quite distinct from that of Carol Danvers, the classic Ms. Marvel (and now the new Captain Marvel… don’t confuse her for the DC guy of that name in drag; they’re now simply calling him “Shazam” nowadays anyway).

Kamala_Khan01

   “Watch me fill this uniform as good as Carol Danvers ever did! Um, calm down, I didn’t mean it that way…”

  My closing contention is this:  The generational approach could have worked had writers during the Golden Age chosen to try it. But since the ancestor of comic books, the comic strip features, had already taken the path of ignoring the passage of time, creative teams of the era probably considered this an indelible aspect of illustrated story telling. They were likely already used to it, and simply believed that doing things this way was a given. They were hardly thinking about anything related to “realism.” The parallel universe concept introduced into the comics by DC in the early 1960s was an early semi-attempt at addressing this issue, but even that weak pretense of concern was abandoned as another decade passed and it was obvious that the Silver Age characters weren’t getting any older, and the aged Golden Age heroes weren’t getting any older than that (rare exceptions like Dick Grayson reaching college age and leaving the cave… er, the nest notwithstanding).

   Hence, after seven decades of doing things this way, the Big Two likely now view themselves as having too much invested into their respective mainstream lines–in every conceivable way–to change this policy.

  So, though we can always count on major changes and upsets in these two comic book universes, we can’t expect the biggest ones to stand the test of time. How much they may catch on with the fans will also be mostly irrelevant to the corporate force of change-reversal. The most we will get is tantalizing insights into what could have been by way of alternate futures and parallel realities carefully tucked outside the mainstream continuities of the vaunted Big Two. C’est la vie.

Sam_Wilson_as_Captain_America

Don’t get too comfy in that costume, Mr. Wilson.

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Doc Wildman’s Savage Daughter is Back in Action!

 

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I’m pleased to remind my fellow pulp fiction fans that Meteor House will soon be publishing a trade paperback version of The Evil in Pemberley House by Philip Jose’ Farmer and Win Scott Eckert. This collaborative novel marks one of the two final published works by the late, great PJF, which came to completion thanks to the pen of his friend and most prominent successor as chief curator of the Wold Newton Universe concept (that would be Mr. Eckert; the other, his true last published work circa 2012, is The Song of Kwasin, concluded in collaboration with Christopher Paul Carey).  This is the first of two original novels featuring Patricia Wildman published to date,  this extraordinary woman being the daughter of none other than the legendary pulp hero Dr. James Clarke “Doc” Wildman, better known to pulp aficionados by a more, shall we say, Savage moniker.

 

 

This novel was previously published in two rather pricey hardcover editions by Subterranean Press, and has been out of print since 2010. Now it will be back in publication before the summer of ’14 is out, and in a more affordable format that has a lot of interesting extras. For full details and where to pre-order, simply go here. The second Pat Wildman novel by Win Scott Eckert, btw, is The Scarlet Jaguar.

Why I Loathe the Concept of Political Correctness

Voltaire_quote-learn_who_rules_over_you

 

As a proponent of progressive politics and a devout socialist, some are surprised–or worse, actually disappointed–to hear that I routinely decry the concept of political correctness (or, for all of us lazy typists and acronym-lovers–“PC,” not to be confused with the abbreviation for “personal computer,” a.k.a., any computer not manufactured by Apple, which is most of them, but let’s get back to the subject at hand before I end up going on one of my infamous off-topic tangents). Many seem to believe that the PC attitude is endemic to the progressive or liberal mindset. Many people on the Left, unfortunately, do indeed display PC attitudes and reactions about certain issues that are particularly “close” to them on a personal or experiential level. But is PC truly an inherent aspect of progressive or liberal sentiments? No, it isn’t, and moreover, it shouldn’t be, IMHO.  Why do I famously (or infamously, take your pick, I don’ t care) loathe this concept? Read on, if you have the time and can stomach food for thought.

 

 

I. What Is Political Correctness?

   For the record, the PC attitude is defined as fealty or appeal to sentiment over objective fact or almost any possibility of nuance. In other words, it entails thinking with your emotions  rather than using reason, empiricism, or logical and rational thought regarding a given topic… or group of individuals, specific individuals, etc. Such attitudes and reactions are most often attributed to the Left, but the mindset of the Right is quite capable of adopting PC attitudes and reactions to certain topics despite constantly deriding “PC” whenever they perceive it as being spouted by left-leaning folks. For example, the Right’s tendency towards uncritical and heavily emotionally biased reaction when assessing any conceivable action taken by the U.S. government against other nations has been dubbed patriotic correctness, and this is clearly a sub-category of PC. In other words, anybody  can be prone to this tendency if they feel strongly enough about anything in particular.

   In fact, the attitude of patriotic correctness represents the dark side of patriotism and national pride (which is why it’s frequently called nationalism), much as PC as used in a general sense represents the dark side  of liberal and progressive politics and thinking. Yes, liberalism can be taken too far, and you just read me saying this–and too many have actually had to endure hearing  me say this–with not the slightest bit of shame, and a hefty degree of commitment. This is because, for all my manifold faults and foibles (sorry, that’s the price I pay for being human), one thing I can say for myself is that I strongly believe in the principles of justice, equality, and reason on all fronts–political, social, and economic–that are supposed to be cherished parts of the liberal and progressive platforms, and frankly the PC attitude betrays  these principles to an unacceptable degree. It confers the doctrine of exceptionalism  to any individual or organization representing individuals who happen to belong to a group that are considered minorities, and have been heavily oppressed and/or victimized in the past.

   In other words, in contrast to many on the Right, many on the Left can be prone to bequeathing exceptionalism to those who are not  perceived as being in power or in a privileged socio-political-economic position, as opposed to those who are considered to be (justifiably or not) in such a position of advantage. And this doctrine always applies to those belonging to said groups without first considering individual circumstances, or judging by individual merits rather than on the basis of what group  they happen to belong to. The Left and the Right are simply prone to bestow this exceptionalist bias to individuals or orgs at opposite ends of the perceived privilege hierarchy, while deriding each other for venerating the “wrong” side.  Moreover, both sides believe there can be justifiable reasons–or more accurately,  justifications or rationalizations–for conferring the bias of exceptionalism upon people in their preferred direction. With me so far?

II. What Happens to Justice and Equality When the PC Principle is Put Into Common Practice?

   One of the strongest principles inherent to progressive politics that I ascribe to are those which posit that all human beings should have equal rights. This doctrine, to me, should apply regardless of race, gender, age (the latter sadly not yet ascribed to by liberal or progressive politics at large), ethnic background, sexual orientation/preferences, religious beliefs (or lack thereof), or political position on any given issue.

   Of course, not all human beings are born literally equal in a biologically intrinsic sense: Some are stronger than others; some are faster than others; some have great talent in one area or discipline, while others are naturally skilled in distinct areas; some have high ambition, whereas others have more modest dreams and goals; some regularly enjoy good health, while others, unfortunately, do not; the majority of men may be physically stronger than the majority of women, whereas the majority of women may be physically faster and enjoy generally greater longevity and hardiness against disease than the majority of men, etc., et al.  I think you get the gist.

   What I’m talking about here is equality of opportunity, and the right to have full material compensation for whatever service you provide to society, be it of a physical or intellectual nature. These rights  include (but are far from limited to)  freedom of speech; freedom of lifestyle choice; freedom of movement & association; and the right to be judged according to facts and actual individual merit.  The PC attitude, alas, does not favor this notion, no matter how much some of its adherents may claim that it does. This is because it essentially commits the same form of injustice against all people belonging to a certain a group that has traditionally been advantaged in society–even if often not on an individual level–which people on the Right have commonly inflicted upon those in a traditionally disadvantaged or victimized status.

  Further, it attempts to justify or rationalize such actions and reactions by doing another thing the Right has been infamous for doing, albeit in the opposite direction: Claiming that not all human beings are inherently equal in a moral  sense, i.e., that some groups of people are inherently more noble, innocent of ill intentions, less capable of committing unscrupulous acts, or deserving of adulation than those from another group… again, irregardless of individual merit or any observable evidence and (sometimes) proven facts.

  This is because, as noted, the PC attitude is based upon people’s emotional connection to a group or what that group may represent to them, and not any type of actual principle or anything related to facts or evidence. This is rationalized with the belief that such an attitude somehow “balances out” previous injustices inflicted upon the oppressed individual or group. In other words, if some group has shown prejudice or hatred against your group, it’s perfectly justifiable to turn around and be prejudiced and hateful back  at them. This, as opposed to rising above   prejudice and hate itself, and fighting any system, policy, or mindset that promotes the types of inequality that fosters prejudice and hatred in the first place.

   Like, yanno, maybe an entire economic system based upon unequal distribution of material goods and opportunities, competition that pits individuals against each other for these material goods and opportunities, and in which power disparities and hierarchies are an established part of its framework (yes, this was a dig against capitalism, in case anyone actually had even the slightest doubt). Or, failing that, at least opposition to any policy or program within such a framework that exacerbates or extenuates prejudices and hatred.

   The PC attitude pushes this “eye for an eye” doctrine while claiming that what it’s actually all about is achieving equality and a fight for justice. But in the immortal words of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, “you can’t fight evil by doing evil.” Or another way of saying this: You cannot fight inequality with inequality, or combat injustice by promoting a different form of injustice. You cannot solve the inequality and injustices that stem from the prevailing hierarchy, or lessen instances of victimization, by simply flipping the power hierarchy upside down, with claims that the oppressed or victimized people would somehow be expected to create a kinder, gentler hierarchical system. This goes back to the PC notion that some races, or one particular gender, or one particular sexual orientation, etc., are inherently less inclined to abuse power and enact unscrupulous behavior when in the same type of privileged position–either as individuals or as a group–than those who were hypothetically replaced in that position.

  As one PC-minded individual once told me in adamant disagreement: “No, it’s not the system that holds women down; men  hold women down!” Mmm-hmm, as if men are just naturally oppressive beasts, and the framework of the system in which we live has no impact upon the way our lives are structured, or the nature of the opportunities available to different groups within.  Such an attitude works well for those who need to mindlessly vent against certain people, but when emotion is replaced with common sense and reason, does this work well for assessing the reality of the situation? The problem is, the PC attitude insists that generalization-heavy attacks on one group do not bear the same moral weight as the same type of attack on another group. This is the crux of the PC attitude, and the very essence of the dreaded doctrine of exceptionalism, no matter what group of people it’s awarded to. Too many people from all groups do not take a pause and consider the implications of such double standard biases.

III. Why is Political Correctness a Form of Injustice Rather Than a Justifiable Reaction To It?

   The answer to the question headlining this section should be a no-brainer, but since we humans are heavily emotional creatures… it’s not. This isn’t saying that emotions are an inherently bad thing, but rather that we need to have them under control, and to never lose reasoned perspective or succumb to the temptation to embrace bias. We, as progressives, must never abandon our principles, nor put sentiment over reason under any circumstances.

   This is not always easy to do, and we all get tempted to “give in” at one time or another. But we must keep in mind that, as is often stated, most often the right thing to do is the hardest available option to actually choose. This is why people so often do the self-serving and expedient thing instead of the right thing, even when the right thing may be obvious (though sometimes the right thing may not be so obvious, of course; introspection is important). Adopting the PC attitude as a means of combating or rectifying injustice is going to be as effective as the notion of achieving peace by fighting endless wars, or curing an allergic reaction to penicillin by injecting the patient with an antibiotic of the same pharmaceutical family as penicillin.

   By not addressing the intrinsic causes of prejudice, hatred, ignorance, and inequality, and instead taking the side of Group/Person X against Group/Person Y based upon which group you personally belong to or which person (or group) you happen to feel sorry for, respectively, you end up eschewing the moral high ground and simply declare war for control over who most “deserves” to enjoy the privileged position. This counter-productive attitude and tactic is favored by the PC-minded over that of going to the root of the problem and opposing the concepts of hatred, inequality, and bigotry themselves… or any policy or system that by its very nature creates and nurtures them.

IV. Does Political Correctness Actually Benefit the Group It’s Directed in Favor Of?

    No, it doesn’t. Not when you put the emotion aside (I know, not easy to do) and actually think about it, and then follow that up with taking a good unbiased look at the actual results. The PC route ultimately benefits no one, and actually corrupts any cause it may be intended to “benefit.” Please bear with me and allow me to provide some real-life, personally experienced examples that illustrate my point.

   About a year ago I came across two individuals having one of the usual heated arguments you see in the comments section of online articles. The article dealt with issues faced by homosexuals in their civil rights battles to get their attraction base accepted in many venues, which is a good cause that I fully support. As we all know, the LGBT community in general is a group that is often the target of nasty bigotry from the Right, and just as often incessant coddling from the Left.  Hence, the article, group of people, and comment section exchange in question combined to form a perfect example of PC at work, illustrating how it’s actually the flip side of commonly understood bigotry, not its antitheses (sort of like how hate is actually the flip side of love, not its true opposite, but you know what I mean). And this exchange was made all the more interesting and relevant since it was between someone harboring the common biases of the Right and someone harboring the common biases of the Left.

   The first commenter, coming from the Right, made a statement that went something like this: “I’m sick of how gays are always pushing their attractions on everyone else!” The second commenter, coming from the Left, made the following rebuttal: “No, gays do not push their attractions on everyone else!” So, being the opinionated egalitarian that I am, I felt the need to intervene and make the following statement-cum-lecture, which went something like this:

  “Both of you are actually incorrect, because both  of you are spewing generalizations. Both of you made a declaration implying gay people as a whole either always  get ‘pushy’ with their attraction base, or as a whole they never  do.  I think anyone who takes a truly unbiased view of the matter will observe the following:

   “Many in the gay community are very cool and decent people who display pride in who and what they are without shoving it up anyone else’s nose, and fully respect the fact that others can accept their attractions and support their civil rights without sharing any attraction to members of the same gender. Other people in the gay community, however, are indeed pushy nuisances who are annoyingly ‘in your face’ with heterosexuals about their attraction base, mistaking that for genuine pride, and have the belief that anyone who says they are not attracted to members of the same gender, or at least willing to give it a ‘try,’ are ‘immoral’ bigots who cannot possibly truly accept gay people and support their rights.

   “Any person, from any particular group, who refuse to see beyond their own perspective – be they heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, or even asexual (this group really exists, btw) – are the true bigots. Those people from any particular group who have open-minded values that accept any natural attraction base as equally valid despite not having it or even necessarily understanding it themselves are the true egalitarians.

   “Anyway, both generalizations basically deny gay people their essential humanity, but in opposite directions. The first speaks of gays as if they universally have more  faults than heterosexuals, whereas the second speaks of gays as if they universally have less  faults than heterosexuals. The real truth is that gay people are, first and foremost, well… people.  That means human beings,  and all the potential attributes–good, bad, and in-between–that invariably come with being human. They have the same inherent capacity for being good people, and achieving true greatness, as any heterosexual; and they likewise have the same inherent capacity for being bad people, and actually committing truly atrocious acts, as any heterosexual. The same goes for bisexuals, asexuals, etc. Demonizing them collectively like the first person did is bigoted, ignorant nonsense; and canonizing them collectively like the second person did is pandering, bleeding heart nonsense.”

   No doubt that diatribe of mine was long-winded and on the pretentious side, as my diatribes and anecdotes tend to be, but I think many get my point here. The PC attitude isn’t supporting minorities and victims, but engaging in brown-nosing and ass-kissing. It’s putting them on a virtually angelic podium that does a great injustice not only to everyone who isn’t considered a minority or a victim, but also against the minorities and victims themselves.

   I’ve known many members of different minority groups–including blacks, gays, and women–who are some of the greatest and inspirational people I have ever known. The list of my personal real-life heroes includes Martin Luther King Jr., Harry Hay, and Rosa Parks. I’ve noticed that every cool and awesome member of a minority group whom I have had the honor of knowing all have something interesting and, I think, wonderful, in common: None of them appreciate the PC attitude, and none of them typically eat it up when it’s directed at them, or to others of their group in front of them.

   My best friend in the world is a woman, someone who is very strong and independent, and runs her own successful business without ever having received help or financial support from a man. She has told me many times how she finds the PC concept of chivalry, or the White Knight attitude extended to her by many men, to be degrading rather than coming off as considerate or gentlemanly. It offends her sense of pride and accomplishment as a strong-minded and confident woman, because it implies that she is inherently vulnerable and in need  of special treatment. This in turn carries the implication that she actually requires  special treatment in order to get anywhere in this world, because she is unable to earn it on her own merits. She is quite adamant about never having needed anything of the sort, and she takes great offense at this type of brown-nosing, feel-good attitude from men.

    In all honesty, how many people with true pride in what and who they are actually respect anyone who kisses their ass?  When have such individuals ever wanted or expected special treatment for some arbitrary reason rather than simply equality of opportunity, and the same civil rights as anyone else in society? How many of them need or want respect handed to them solely on the basis of what  they are as opposed to who  they are as a person?

   Affirmative action may have had its merits to balance out the lack of economic opportunities afforded to minorities in the job market for so long (the job market being a characteristic of capitalism, I will shamelessly add), but extending the basic concept into personal relations or a court of law to “balance” things achieves nothing of the sort. Instead, it simply replaces one form of injustice for another. Examples of these things include taking the side of a black person over a white person during a social dispute when you either knew the black person was in the wrong, or had no evidence either way; or, taking the side of a woman over a man in a court of law without even considering the available evidence first.

   The rationalization that such biased and disingenuous behavior somehow balances the scale for past injustices against these minority groups misses the point about fighting injustice and inequality by a long shot. It also espouses a really peculiar definition of the terms “equality” and “balance.” Perhaps worst of all, it crosses the line between justice and revenge. For those who may not see much of a difference between the two terms, the former is enacting retribution in accordance with strong principles; the latter is an attempt at enacting retribution at any cost  while giving the finger to any code of principles. It’s the difference between a desire to improve conditions for everyone and create a better world for all to live in, and a desire to simply lash out and hurt others as a vent for your own pain and anger.

   I’ve personally known individuals of every conceivable race, gender, sexual preference, etc., who were very good people,and others who were very bad people. I’ve known gay people who have made great and totally selfless sacrifices for others with no expectation of anything in return; and I’ve known gay people that were shameless users and thieves with every friend they had. I’ve known black people who were awful criminals, and black people who were so noble and self-sacrificing that they went out of their way to bail me out of a difficult situation despite the fact that I was a stranger, asking for or expecting nothing in return. I’ve known women who were some of the greatest and most inspiring human beings I’ve ever known (*waves to my best friend*), and I’ve known others who were among the worst liars and most selfish and cruel people I’ve ever had the misfortune of knowing. And of course, I’ve known fellow white, male, heterosexuals who ran the gamut of some of the best people I’ve ever known, with others being among the worst sociopaths I’ve ever crossed paths with.

    Moreover, I’ve known many people from all of the above groups who fell somewhere in between the visible spectrum of good and bad. All of these people had but one thing in common: typical human flaws. The differences among them where how they handled these flaws. Some of them dealt with their flaws admirably to become very good, selfless, and caring people,; while others gave into the temptation to act selfishly or expediently, to hate others, and to embrace any form of ignorant thinking that may have been to their social advantage.

   I think this evidence is readily observable to anyone who has routinely spent a lot of time around a diverse, cosmopolitan crowd of people, and not developed a chip on their shoulder against any group in particular due to negative personal experiences. In other words, people who have not lost their proper perspective, or considered an egalitarian view as a burden that gets  in the way of an out-of-control emotional desire to vent and spew noxious resentment towards a particular group.

V. What Happens When Political Correctness Runs Rampant

   This leads to the next section of this post. Thank you for sticking with me up to this point, those of you who stuck with me (*waves to those who stuck with me*).

   Anyway, here is the most important reason to oppose rather than embrace PC attitudes:  Plain and simply, due to some of those human flaws I mentioned, pandering and ass-kissing that are part and parcel of the PC attitude encourages many individuals to become selfish, inconsiderate assholes. Why? Think about it for a minute. Then, take a look at and consider my second real-life example.

   Some time ago, I worked in a warehouse with several other guys, among them a genuinely nice guy named Jim. In fact, he was one of the coolest guys I had the privilege of working with there.  At least at first he was. That changed thanks to our esteemed manager, a guy named Paul. I personally liked Paul, but he had a strong bias against me because of my personality traits; specifically, those traits that tend to annoy certain people, like my quickness with an opinion, the fact many of those opinions aren’t popular ones (remember, I’m a socialist! Paul hated that!), my admitted enjoyment of instigating those who are sensitive (sensitive people are another pet peeve of mine, but that’s a subject for another post), etc.  Anyone who knows me well fully understands, I’m sure.

   On the other hand, Paul was highly enamored of Jim’s personality, who was undoubtedly much easier to deal with than me on a personal level, and this led to Paul’s tendency to give special treatment to him. So it got to the point where, because of Paul’s bias extended in different directions, he would do things like being quick to notice if I wasn’t doing my job for a minute at a time, and neglect to notice if Jim wasn’t doing his job for lengthy periods of time. Or, if Jim and I had a dispute over something, regardless of who was at fault, or if both of us were equally at fault, Paul’s typical reaction would be to say (directly to me): “Leave Jim alone, he’s a good guy.”

    And Jim was a good guy. But after a while of being on the favored side of Paul’s biased behavior, his own behavior started to change, taking on patterns that betrayed the upright person that he was (and I’m not  talking about his posture here!). It pretty much came to a head when he and I were goofing around one day to relieve the boredom of a slow shift, and both of us ended up falling on top of a table, our combined weight smashing it to the ground. Both of us were at fault. I knew that. Jim knew it. And the only other guy present, another worker named Chris, saw the destructive incident and knew it. So I suggested the obvious: That Jim and I both apologize to Paul for goofing around, basically throwing ourselves on his good graces by owning up to the fact that we were goofing off and it got out of hand. Except, Jim didn’t feel that was required. He told me that he felt he was in no way at fault for the lambasted table, and would make this clear to Paul. Why would Jim lie like that, being the nice guy that he was (or used to be, at least)?

  Simple: Because by that point in time, he knew that Paul would never  take my word over his that we were both to blame (which we were), even if the only “evidence” was his word against mine. The only reason that didn’t happen is because the other Chris intervened and reminded Jim that denying his complicity was ethically wrong, as he clearly saw what took place and that it was both our faults. So Jim thought about it a bit, and then grudgingly agreed to own up along with me. Deep down, he was still a good guy, but the bad side that everyone potentially has was being encouraged by the emotionally-based privileges that Paul was extending to him, which granted him the social and job equivalent of diplomatic immunity for any possible wrongdoing.

    As you might imagine, I got extremely angry when Jim made that declaration of non-guilt by default of Paul’s bias, but as I made clear to Jim, I was not angry at him  so much as pissed off at Paul. Why? Because Paul’s biased attitude and coddling of Jim was effectively turning this nice guy into an asshole. Yes, it was Jim’s fault for taking advantage, but it’s a well-known human flaw that people in general–no matter what group they belong to –will take advantage of being granted a privileged status by others for what amounts to emotional reasons. It’s a form of power   given to these individuals. It’s nothing less than a despotic form of privilege, and by its very nature it taints and negatively influences the behavior of people in the same manner as it does to those who are given positions of official power. Power based on emotional deference that effectively grants diplomatic social immunity is still a form of power, and it corrupts personal behavior accordingly. Power and privilege, in any of its myriad forms–whether financial, political, or social–corrupts. And no group of human beings are immune to this corrupting influence.

   Perhaps most importantly, this highlights the difference between power and empowerment. Some people are too quick to cross the line from one to the other, or to confuse the two, much as revenge can be confused for justice.

VI. Let’s Get to Some Controversial Political Examples That, Like It Or Not, Are Very Apt

    As a good political example of the PC doctrine in action, one of the emotionally-charged aspects of our society which can aptly serve as a macrocosm of the above personal example is discussions over how accusations of rape should be dealt with. Specifically, accusations by women against men. Please bear with me again, and let’s dive into some fiery territory whose heat surpasses solar levels, because I think it’s necessary to do so to gain a full and comprehensive understand of the price we pay for championing PC attitudes, let alone laws based on it.

   The accusation of rape is a very serious one,  because it’s a terrible crime that does indeed happen all too often, and it needs to be dealt with effectively when it does. Further, we need protective measures in place to decrease the chances of it happening as much as reasonably possible, and proper education and awareness about this subject need to be made readily available to everyone. I believe some of these measures should include proper training for girls in self-defense techniques being encouraged and made affordably available everywhere, along with raising kids with values that do not instill typical macho attitudes in boys, and which do not subject girls and women who openly express their natural sexual desires to the shame game. But this can be part of a whole other topic, and I certainly do plan to take on our society’s horrid and hypocritical practice of “slut-shaming” women in a future blog. My point here is to show what happens when this very serious and legitimate concern is met with emotional bias rather than reasoned thought.

   When the bias is in place, you will see rape support websites that purport to provide good information, advice, and support give the following instruction on what to do if a woman tells you she is raped: Always believe her. Seriously? With only that little tidbit of information given to the readers? What, you may ask, should be the fair and reasoned response, then? It should, IMO, be this: Consider the individual source.

  Meaning, we need to ask these important questions: Is this accusation being made by a girl/woman who has a reputation of being a generally honest and scrupulous individual? Is she known for being clinically sane? Does she have a known history of frequently going to unreasonable extremes to get attention or sympathy? Could she have any obvious ulterior motives to make such a serious accusation against this man in particular? If the answer to these questions are yes-yes-no-no, then you sincerely should  believe her, because she is very likely telling the truth, and the ensuing investigation and possible subsequent trial should take all of this into account.

 But conversely, what if the answer to any or all of the following questions turns out to be “yes”: Does she have a history of mental illness that has manifested as issues with men and multiple verified instances of making untrue accusations? Is she simply known to be a sociopath in general, or to be a generally unscrupulous person who is known for nasty attitudes or abusive behavior towards men? Does she have a known and verifiable reputation as a chronic liar and “drama queen”? Is she simply a person who has an extensive reputation for making stupid comments for frivolous reasons without putting much thought into what she says? Has she been known to have a major grudge against the man she accused which many who know her could agree was not due to justifiable reasons? Is she known to take rejection extremely badly, and be inclined towards vengeful behavior with those who have slighted her due to past experiences?

    If any or all of the above is true, then she could conceivably be lying, and judgement on both her and the accused needs to be reserved until a full  investigation can be made. Of course, just because she has a history of these negative behavior patterns doesn’t mean she is lying. Any woman can be a rape victim, and this certainly needs to be taken into consideration. That being said, everyone should be told the story of “The Boy Who Cried Wolf,” and the simple but important lesson it teaches, as soon as they become cognizant enough to listen to and comprehend stories.

 Conversely, not all men are equally capable of raping a woman, so what is known about the history of the accused’s behavior and character should also be considered. For instance, does he have a history of aberrant behavior towards women, or unusually aggressive sexual conduct? Is he known to be abusive? Does he have a criminal record along these lines? Is he known to act very out of line, with poor self-control, when he’s inebriated? Is he on any type of medication that may affect his behavior in extreme ways?  Has he enjoyed a very privileged upbringing and/or adulation for a series of accomplishments–such as being a renowned and popular athlete–that have rendered him known for not being able to handle being told “no” in response to any request or demand? Is he known for simply being a selfish jerk who could care less about the boundaries of others, or has he displayed obvious sociopathic tendencies? Does he have a reputation for being a chronic liar? All of these are important questions to ask about the man who is accused, and all are relevant to an investigation.

   Now, ask yourself these questions with serious consideration: Is there anything inherently unreasonable, let alone sexist or outright misogynistic, about the above suggestions? Is there anything to suggest that women are inherently more likely to tell lies than men? I certainly think not. But many who have gotten emotionally swept up into the PC attitude would deep throat me with their fist while accusing me of of the above things. Which is similar to how individuals with other types of biases and PC-oriented positions of emotionally derived privilege would accuse me (or anyone else) of being “anti-Semitic” for criticizing the Israeli government’s savage policies against Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

    But due to the seriousness of this issue, and the powerful emotions that come with it, many PC-leaning folks on the Left will verbally eviscerate  anyone who implies that women are anywhere near as morally capable of telling lies or of exhibiting unethical behavior as men. This is not due to any inherent moral inferiority in men, but rather the fact that those who are PC-inclined about these issues feel that due to having been in a privileged societal position for so long, men have not earned the moral capital that women have, and as a result an injustice against a man is a lesser evil than an injustice against a woman. It’s also based on the misguided belief by way of PC rationalization that even if innocent men are thrown into prison on false rape charges, it’s an unfortunate but “necessary evil” if that’s what it takes to bring more awareness and sympathy to the legitimate danger of rape.

    The above belief, however, ignores the fact that the reason men have acted so abusive and domineering to women on such a scale is because they grew up in a system that established their privileged position, and even the majority of women complied with it in the past, sometimes because they were raised to believe that was the natural way of things, and other times because their particular husbands were as pampering as they were domineering and not blatantly abusive. In short, it was this power and privilege afforded to men that corrupted the behavior of so many of them, not some form of moral failing that is inherent to the male gender.

   To go with the Israel analogy again, this belief in the accumulation of moral capital being used to rationalize members of a group that was previously oppressed and victimized committing similar actions against another group of people at a later time  is an emotionally manipulative tactic commonly used by the right-wing and Zionist supporters of the Israeli government no matter what it does to the Palestinians. The rationalizations often used are that because of what they have been through in the past, Jews who support such policies, or who attempt to instigate war with Iran or other Middle Eastern nations, are simply “defending” themselves so that they will never be thrown into those gas chambers again. Any non-Jewish people who criticize these horrid policies are denounced as “anti-Semitic,” and the many reasonable and morally upright Jews who criticize these policies are derided as “self-hating Jews.”

   This right-wing attitude insists that the Israeli government be exempt from moral judgement no matter what it does, including establish an overt ethnocracy and a system of apartheid against Palestinians that Israel supporters (yanno, like Bill Maher) wouldn’t hesitate criticizing South Africa for doing. This is because the past status of Jews as victims is used as an emotional rationale to justify any conceivable action taken by the right-wing Israeli government as long as it purports to “represent” all Jewish people and their interests anywhere in the world.  Since Jews have been unjustly hated by many in the past (and they certainly have), this variant of the PC doctrine insists they have thus earned the “right” to act the same way towards other groups that happen to inconvenience the right-wing pundits who rule Israel on their “behalf” with their presence or mere existence. The Israeli government, their AIPAC lobbyists in America, and the American politicians who are terrified of going against this powerful lobby out of fear of being called all the usual names (which is just about all of them, btw) for breaching this impermeable PC membrane justify any atrocity committed against other ethnic groups by this government–including by blowing numerous innocent Palestinians and what passes for their homes to bits on the Gaza Strip during their periodic bombing assaults–with the usual claim that they’re simply “defending” themselves against ever becoming “victims” again. Sound familiar?

    The implication is often made that the German people had moral failings that Jewish people do not have, despite how many Jewish people act no different when in similar positions of power, and in regards to adopting similar policies and ideologies based on conceptions of ethnic-based apartheid. Or it’s argued that it’s “different” when Jewish people behave that way, because Germans and other ethnic groups “never went through what they did.” Never mind the fact that many other ethnic and racial groups, including blacks, Native Americans, Vietnamese, and various Caucasian immigrant groups (other than Jews) have likewise been subject to extreme oppression that could, in their own way, easily be classified as “holocaust events” (as opposed to the Holocaust, or perhaps more accurately, the Jewish Holocaust). In fact, other Caucasian ethnic groups were likewise targeted by Hitler’s despotic regime, including Czechs, Poles, and Gypsies.  Hitler and his cronies cast their net of hatred far and wide, and as horrible as what happened to the Jews under his regime certainly was–a horrific atrocity I am in no way intending to make light of, as innumerable innocent people of Jewish descent were murdered and incarcerated simply for being  Jewish–what happened to them was hardly uniquely  horrific in the annals of horrors perpetrated by various groups of people against others when it was convenient for ruling classes–whatever ethnicity they may have been at any given time and place–to stir that particular pot so as to sustain or increase their privileged positions in the class hierarchy.

   People from any one of those above groups, regardless of race or ethnic background, would be apt to behave in such ways if in positions of privilege… including positions perceived on the accumulation of moral capital as opposed to the financial sort. As noted earlier, this is a form of exceptionalism that simply encourages bad and even inhuman behavior in people from these groups. Fortunately, many individuals from each of these groups do not  succumb to this temptation, because their strong sense of pride and ethical values do not allow it. But many others would, because this is a flaw common to  all human beings. Those who serve as defenders of these PC attitudes, whether coming from the Right or the Left political direction, are acting as enablers for these individuals.

    The same thing applies to the example of how to handle the serious problem of rape. Before any reader (of either gender) gives into the temptation to let their emotions get the best of them and start shouting invectives at me such as, “I’m so offended by what you said! Women very rarely lie about this sort of thing! It’s you fucking men who refuse to believe it! You hate women! You’re probably a rapist yourself, you pin-dicked creep!” or “So you’re saying that women are more likely to be lying than men? You dickhead misogynist!”, yadda, yadda, yadda, please take a step back, take a few deep breathes, kindly go back and read what I actually  wrote in a calmer (and hopefully more reasonable) frame of mind, and ask yourself the following questions.

   Regardless of whatever your gender, race, sexual preferences, age, or ethnic affiliation happens to be, if you were well aware that you could get away with negative actions towards someone you dislike because you knew that you could count on many others around you to always  protect you, shield you from any conceivable consequences of almost any conceivable action, and take your side with no questions asked,  how might that affect your behavior? Have you seriously never seen this type of bias played out amongst individuals in your personal or professional life? And when you did, how did this affect or influence the behavior of those individuals who were on the favorable side of this bias? Has any group of people you have ever associated with, either on an individual or collective level, ever been universally “above” taking advantage of this type of coddling and enabling?

   It should again  be noted here that many people from previously oppressed groups are highly scrupulous individuals, with a high standard of ethics that would never expect, accept, or justify privileged treatment. For example, you will see the renowned Jewish political activist Noam Chomsky routinely give harsh criticism to Zionists, the right-wing Israeli government, and the American Israeli lobbyist group AIPAC. You will likewise see this done very courageously and ethically by Jewish author and peace activist Uri Avnery, with some examples of his articles being here and here. You will also see this done by other highly principled and conscientious progressive activists of Jewish descent like Norman Pollack, as evidenced by examples of his articles here and here.  Are these men “self-hating Jews” as the Zionists and right-wing Israelis would claim, or simply individuals who are fed up with the Israeli ruling class committing atrocities against others while claiming to “represent” all Jewish people? I think that’s clearly a rhetorical question, by the way.

    Also, one of the strongest and most independent woman writers whose material I have read, Christina H, is my favorite columnist on the hilariously subversive Cracked.com. Like all strong, independent-minded women I have known, she resents the PC attitude directed at women as special deference to their gender by misandrists of either gender. Note this article from her column on Cracked, and scroll down to her point #2 (“Women who get mad for no reason”), and you will see her harshly (and hilariously) critique the tendency for screenwriters to portray strong and independent woman in film as displaying blatant misandrist attitudes towards men, or to react with hostility or rudeness to relatively harmless approaches by men that are no way being overly licentious or disrespectful. You know, as if it’s “cool” or a sign of strength for women to be rude to every man who displays an interest in her if she doesn’t happen to reciprocate his attraction, irregardless of his manner of approach; or sometimes, even if she does find him attractive, so as to “put him in his place” from the get-go. Christina makes it quite clear that these distorted film depictions of female strength and independence sends very distorted impressions to many girls and women about how genuine strong and assertive woman act, and just encourages and enables this type of negative behavior in many of them.  It also encourages men of the “White Knight” mindset to be accepting and complicit with this type of behavior from the less enlightened females out there, thus acting as further enablers and defenders of abusive behavior directed by certain women towards men, interpreting and judging it very differently from the way they would (rightfully) react to abusive and misogynist behavior directed by certain men towards women.

  This should pre-emptively put paid to any ridiculous notion that I’m a misogynist… or anti-Semitic, or anti-Arab, or anti-Ecuadorian, or anti-Atlantean, blah blah blah… for pointing the above examples out, or for railing against PC attitudes in general. In order to do that, one would have to willfully overlook the large number of principled, ethically upright people from any given minority group who likewise oppose the PC attitude as a tendency that in no way benefits minorities or serves as an antidote to injustice, nor as a form of reparation for past oppression. Rather, it simply perpetuates injustice–albeit in the opposite direction–and encourages further antagonism between the genders and different ethnic or racial groups rather than establishing tolerance, understanding, cooperation, and equality.

   So, my point is this: By coddling any group of people, or any individual therein, you are running a serious risk of bringing out the worst  type of behavior in them. You are increasing the chance of some of them feeling comfortable with resorting to lies, manipulation, hatred, bullying, finger-pointing, and even extreme atrocities. You encourage them to look the other way when they see an injustice committed by someone from their group against someone of another group, and rationalize doing this as a form of just retribution or “self-defense” (the latter being the most common rationalization for the U.S. government supporting every abominable action taken by the Israeli government against anyone of Arab descent). When you do this, you encourage people to think with their emotions instead of their reasoning faculties. You teach them that important notions of justice and fairness only apply to some  people, and that an atrocity committed by Person/Group Y against Person/Group X carries less moral weight or inherent wrongness than if the reverse was to occur.

 I ask you to please think about this the next time you are tempted to defend the actions of someone whom you know to be wrong, or do not have good evidence or proof of their rightness, simply because they belong to a specific race, gender, ethnic group, or religious/ideological doctrine.

VII. So, What Are You And What Do You Stand Against, Anyway?

   I consider myself an egalitarian,  a word you noted me using a few times throughout this post. Hence, I support the empowerment and equality of all  human beings, regardless of what group they belong to, while not  supporting the special veneration of any of them. I believe the potential for good and even greatness is something all people, of any group, are potentially capable of. Likewise, I believe that members of any group of people are equally capable of terrible acts of selfishness, hatred, ignorance, and outright atrocity if they are given positions of disproportionate privilege and power, or forced to live in an environment that breeds mass material deprivation, with the insecurity, desperation, and extreme anxiety that comes with such a system.

 I believe this kind of behavior is bred and encouraged by systems and policies that are based on hierarchy and unequal opportunity & distribution of material wealth. Hence, I oppose such systems, as well as the concepts of hatred, ignorance, and bigotry themselves  rather than putting the blame or focusing my ire on any particular group of people.  I believe that hatred and inequality are never justified, regardless of what you, or a group you are associated with, has experienced, either in the present or in the past. By the same token, I believe that privilege and exceptionalism are never justified for any person or group of people for any reason.

 That’s what I believe and stand behind in the proverbial nutshell, dudes and dudettes.

Important Article by Percival Constantine About Kindle Unlimited

As readers and writers alike jump to excitement about Amazon’s new Kindle Unlimited subscription book service, published author Percival Constantine has posted a great article on his blog explaining in detail why he will not not be joining this new service. It provides great food for thought, and should be read by all authors, either published or prospective, especially those of us in the growing self-publishing market.

Why I Won’t Be Joining Kindle Unlimited – Percival Constantine

Reviews – Philip Jose’ Farmer’s Lord Grandrith/Doc Caliban Trilogy

This post is my triple review of the three novels by Philip Jose’ Farmer featuring Lord Grandrith and Doc Caliban, his pastiches of Tarzan and Doc Savage respectively, as well as some related material that followed. These novels are, in order of publication:  A Feast Unknown; The Lord of the Trees; and The Mad Goblin.

I. The Man, the Mythography, the (Flawed) Legends

The late Philip Jose’ Farmer (1916-2009; often respectfully abbreviated to ‘PJF’ by us lazy typists) is one of the breakout sci-fi/fantasy/pulp adventure writers of the 20th century. Never afraid to push the boundaries, PJF brought the world numerous interesting and sometimes discomfortingly intimate stories of human interactions with truly alien life forms in various speculative alternate futures. Whether you liked or hated PJF’s material, you weren’t likely to forget what you read, or the questions he forced his readers to ask about themselves and their place within the cosmos. The 2005 collection of some of his early sci-fi novellas by Baen Publishing – Strange Relations – provides a good sampling of this mind-boggling material.

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However, PJF’s early sci-fi is not the focus of this review, since, to my knowledge, no major attempt to fit any of that material into the various alternate futures branching off from the “consensus” Wold Newton Universe (WNU) has been attempted to date (but stay tuned!). Instead, I’m going to focus on a trio of closely interrelated books penned by PJF at the close of the 1960s decade, which have the distinction of being considered by many creative mythographers to represent the beginning of both his great foray into pulp adventure; and his famous work on para-scholarship intended to tie disparate pulp adventure characters from classic (and sometimes not-so-classic) literature into a single shared universe – and often to a shared and complex genealogical lineage – all within the framework of a reality that is as close to the “real” world we know as one can expect of a universe with such inhabitants, and with physical laws that allow them to exist as they are.

The events recorded in this trilogy of books, interestingly enough, occur within an alternate time track diverging from the “consensus” WNU. However, a subsequent follow-up work of short fiction by PJF that was later augmented by a series of short stories composed by one of his main successors — chief curator of the WNU concept today, Win Scott Eckert — have made it clear that the story quite literally overlaps with the “mainstream” WNU continuity. This trilogy and its follow-up short story, “A Monster on Hold” (more on that later), combine to form an interesting might-have-been history on a world existing on the frontiers of the same megaverse (or, as Win Scott Eckert prefers to call it, pluriverse) that the “consensus” WNU exists in quantum alignment with. They specifically involve obvious pastiches of two of PJF’s favorite pulp adventure characters: Lord Greystoke, a.k.a., John Clayton Jr., a.k.a., Tarzan; and Dr. Clarke “Savage” Wildman, a.k.a., Doc Savage.

The pastiche iterations of the Tarzan and Doc Savage we know exist in an even closer genealogical relationship in this divergent world crafted by PJF than they do in the mainstream WNU: Here they are actually half-brothers whose shared parent, John Cloamby, was the notorious serial killer Jack the Ripper of this timeline, who stalked the decrepit Whitechapel section of London in the late 1880s, leaving the remains of several mutilated prostitutes in his wake. One of the many individuals across the span of many alternate timelines to carry the mantle of Jack the Ripper, this version became the horror that he did due to a bout of temporary insanity brought on by the side effects of a life-extending elixir that he was one of the few human beings in the world who were privileged to receive it. Mr. Cloamby’s victims during his bout of insanity would certainly beg to differ that this elixir constituted any sort of “privilege” to the greater world around him, no doubt. However, Cloamby would seek to give the world reparations for the horror he wreaked while “under the influence” upon his return to sanity (or at least a semblance thereof).

Who granted Cloamby and a handful of others such an amazing (if tainted) privilege, you might ask? That would be the Council of the Nine – or simply the Nine, for us lazy typists – who are a small but incredibly powerful cadre of truly ancient human beings who secretly control many aspects of the world through their international criminal and para-military organization. There are nine of them in number, in case that wasn’t clear by the name of their group, btw (just checking!). They separately control a vast degree of financial resources and heavily armed manpower across the breadth of the planet, and by collectively uniting their forces throughout the millennia, they can effectively be considered the secret rulers of the world (take that, Illuminati!). This was made possible by a discovery many ages ago of an extremely rare elixir that extends the human life span tremendously, and they have the sole knowledge of how to distill this incredibly precious formula. They, and they alone, choose a handful of human servitors that make up the upper echelons of their organization to partake of this elixir and gain a life span where they will but very slowly age, and can expect to die of the universal disease of elderliness only after 10-30,000 years have passed (depending on how old the individual recipient was when the elixir was first administered).

Of course, the few extraordinary human beings who are chosen to receive this gift cannot benefit from it without one hell of a price. And that price is complete compliance with the orders, interests, and directives of the Nine when called upon. Moreover, they are not given the means to distill the elixir themselves; that remains the most closely guarded secret of the Nine. In order to earn the right to receive the annual booster required to keep the benefits going for thousands of years, they must not only remain members in good standing with the Nine’s organization, but they must all participate in a truly grisly and sexually charged ritual which takes place annually in a hidden location. This involves, to put it mildly, the sacrifice of some of the most prized portions of their anatomy to both each other and to the Nine – which will thankfully grow back during a short period of post-ritual convalescence thanks to the regenerative properties bestowed upon them by the elixir. Despite being able to regenerate quickly from non-immediately-fatal injuries and being immune to all known disease (save for the very slow progression of the aging process), they are not truly immortal, as they can be injured as readily as normal humans, and can be killed by any phenomena that can instantly prove fatal to a normal human being (so yea, it’s not advisable for any of these guys or ladies to openly confront a group of Uzi-wielding gangbangers or starving pack of wolves while unarmed or alone).

This leads us to the formerly separate but soon to become intertwined histories of Lord Grandrith and Doc Caliban – the two main protagonists of this trilogy – whom, if you haven’t already guessed, are this reality’s version of Lord Greystoke and Doc Savage. They not only share an infamous father, as described above, but are the grandsons of XauXaz, the oldest and perhaps most powerful of the Nine. This is why their genetic potential was at such a high level at birth, and why their individual life styles and training led to the complete attainment of their amazing peak human physical and mental acumen. After establishing their respective legends as an adventuring lord of the jungle; and a master of technological innovation, medicine, & crime-busting, the two were obvious candidates for the Nine’s organization (and hey, look who their granddad was… nepotism rules!). The chance for such incredible life extension proved too tempting for either to question the nature of the organization they were offering fealty to in exchange, so both made this Faustian bargain, each becoming near-immortal in short order.

This led to the main crux of the storyline to follow, and one of the main points of focus that PJF brought to his interpretation of classic pulp heroes: Despite their greatness, they were encumbered with the same foibles as any other human being, and this inherent weakness added many uncomfortable shades of gray to the pure white that their uber-noble literary antecedents seemed to embody in their every recorded exploit. In fact, PJF was to make it clear that their official biographers largely romanticized and sometimes outright sanitized their written adventures to make them more palatable to the sensibilities of their early 20th century readers; and to the marketing & editorial requirements of their biographers’ publishers. This is because the readers and publishers of the time (usually) wanted larger-than-life heroes who were noble to the core. PJF the iconoclast would have none of that, however, and instead interpreted them as simply larger-than-life people who strove to overcome their human foibles and faults to accomplish heroic deeds, often succeeding but sometimes not, and occasionally falling short of their exalted principles in rather spectacular fashion. Just like, yanno, each and every one of us, and all the other people we know who genuinely strive to be good people; you can become a good person, but overcoming all of your human foibles is not something you can ever realistically expect to do.

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The recent edition of A Feast Unknown published by Titan Books

In short, PJF gives us heroic people, rather than pure idealized heroes, a tradition followed quite successfully by the work of great creators like Alan Moore (think Miracleman, Watchmen, and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen); and Joss Whedon (think Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, and Firefly). This, of course, can lead to the debate as to whether we, as readers, prefer heroes we can relate to or heroes we can be inspired by. That is a worthy subject to ponder, and individual mileage amongst readers will vary on this point. I will leave this poignant topic for a future blog to tackle in depth in regards to my own preferences along these lines, and my thoughts regarding the merits of these two conflicting hero interpretations.

Of course, whether one prefers unequivocally noble heroes that you can look up to; or amazing people who have to fight internal as well as external demons to achieve greatness that we can relate to on an inner psychological and metaphorical level, probably determines which interpretation of the characters any given reader would prefer: The originals as written by their creators/official biographers, or as interpreted by PJF and subsequent writers who followed his lead (e.g., Alan Moore; Neil Gaiman; Mark Millar; Joss Whedon; Stephanie Myers). If you happen to prefer the latter interpretation, or can find a place in your psyche for both interpretations (like me), then you will likely find much to offer in PFJ’s work. If you prefer the former interpretation, then likely you will find yourself complaining that PJF “desecrated” what those heroes were “supposed to be all about” as written by their creators in any review you may compose of these works. You will note that the customer reviews on Amazon display both opinions, as one might expect.

II. Sibling Rivalry

 The main storyline of the trilogy involves a vacuum left in the ranks of the Nine when the incredibly ancient XauXaz finally bites the bullet (or so they all thought) by succumbing to old age. One of the upper echelons of their worldwide secret organization was now up for a huge promotion, and who better than one of XauXaz’s amazing grandchildren? (John Cloamby himself was since done in by his masters and benefactors for going against their best interests, though Doc Caliban would not find out until the course of this storyline.) Since both were deemed equally worthy, but only one could be given the promotion, the Nine utilized their answer to affirmative action policies by determining that whichever of the two was capable of killing the other in combat would prove themselves more worthy. As you can see, the concept of political appointment, let alone democratic election, was not a consideration for a group of all-powerful, warrior-oriented oligarchs like the Nine; they had to do things the hard (more like hardcore) way.

As you have probably already surmised, the Nine were capable of adding “taints” to the elixir that would have unfortunate side-effects. This compromised version of the elixir resulted in extreme changes in behavior that directly affected the sexual drive. In Cloamby’s case, it resulted in a form of insanity that caused him to be overwhelmed with a compulsion to commit horrific sex crimes. In the case of Grandrith and Caliban, they both found that they suddenly could only gain sexual satisfaction – and to a profound degree, it should be mentioned – by committing acts of extreme violence. This, of course, encouraged the propensity for violence that both had, something Grandrith ordinarily indulged in whenever he deemed necessary but which Caliban tried to keep under mental lock and key after contemplating the effects of his unleashed temper during his earliest cases as a crime fighter. And we all know what repression of one’s natural urges leads to, hmm?

To get the two unwitting half-siblings to participate in such a brutal contest, the Nine did one of the things they did best – manipulation (but with a little help from their other talent for kidnapping) – to provide false “evidence” to convince Caliban that Grandrith killed his beloved cousin, secret lover, and staunch ally, the voluptuous amazon Trish Wilde. Trish would play an important role later in the first novel once it was discovered that reports of her murder were greatly exaggerated (in the expected way upon meeting Grandrith, for one), and later elsewhere in the trilogy, this time in a manner befitting the incredible action hero PJF used her as a pastiche for, Doc Savage’s equally extraordinary daughter Patricia Wildman (the main protagonist of the recent novels The Evil in Pemberley House, co-written by PJF and Win Scott Eckert – this being the last published work of the former – and Win Scott Eckert’s The Scarlet Jaguar, an audio review of which you can check out here courtesy of Jason Aiken’s terrific YouTube channel Pulp Crazy).

This led to an extraordinary and vicious cat-and-mouse game that spanned the globe as Doc Caliban relentlessly hunted down Lord Grandrith, with the latter doing his impressive best to fend off the attempts at misplaced retribution by his long lost half sibling. As the reader happily expected, Caliban proved to be the most formidable foe the great jungle lord ever had to contend with; and Grandrith proved the most difficult target that the ersatz man of bronze ever attempted to put paid to. This led to an ultimate mano-a-mano unarmed battle between the two in the headquarters of the Nine, as the bronze warrior wasn’t inclined to listen to reason even after the jungle master discovered and revealed their actual relationship (and honestly, what fun would that have been for the readers if the bronze guy had taken the reasonable route?).

The battle was as graphically brutal and way cool as one would expect at this point, featuring two largely equally matched peak human titans struggling to inflict maximum damage on the other. And what damage was inflicted! Let’s just say that one of the two was particularly thankful for the regenerative properties of the elixir following the battle, otherwise even had he survived after what he had torn off of him, he would have forever lost the will to live.

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The original cover to A Feast Unknown by Essex House. Yes, the two fought each other naked. Did you expect otherwise?

Needless to say, when Trish’s survival was made clear to the Doc; the secret of the Nine’s tampering with the elixir to encourage this battle was likewise made known; and the side effects of the tainted formulae had run their course, the siblings’ shifted their mad-on for each other – not to mention losing the literal hard-ons they acquired by committing acts of extreme violence against others – to the real perpetrators of this mess, the Nine. They then resolved to join forces and undertake the most difficult task they ever undertook: The take-down of the Nine. This would prove just as difficult and outright grueling as it sounded, and it led into the plots of the two sequel novels, The Lord of the Trees and The Mad Goblin, which occurred mostly concurrently with each other, and which dealt with the separate but interconnected efforts of Lord Grandrith and Doc Caliban, respectively, against the individual members of the Nine.

III. Sex, Lies, and Violence… and Lots of All Three Together

 The first novel interspersed these aforementioned fantastic pulp adventure exploits with raw, graphic, and outright controversial sex scenes, which included homosexuality (not overly controversial today, but certainly so during at the time of publication) and the homosexual rape of Grandrith himself (PJF wasn’t known for pulling his punches). These scenes were both gratuitous and connected to various plot points in the story. PJF stopped short of dealing with pedophilia and its political “cousin” hebephilia, both encompassing the Great Taboo of the modern era (most traditional and indie publishers won’t even consider stories that deal with intergenerational liaisons in a thoughtful manner these days), but he didn’t shy away from bestiality, including a grotesque scene of truly violent bestiality rape and direct allusions to a passionate love affair that Lord Grandrith once had with a female big cat companion. No, I’m not making any of this up for cheap shock value, so bear with me.

As you may expect, those controversial and graphic sex scenes in A Feast Unknown (which would not be repeated in the two sequel novels; see below) have subjected this book to much criticism by readers and reviewers who did not understand PJF’s mischievous ways, or the fact that they served as a crude parody of what he felt was the ridiculous over-abundance of violent sexcapades that were then appearing in the adventure and sci-fi literature of the time, i.e., circa mid-to-late 1960s. As famous genre author Theodore Sturgeon noted in a postscript for the first edition of this novel, “ultimate sex combined with ultimate violence is ultimate absurdity.” Also important to note is that this first novel was published by Essex House, who specialized in erotica, and didn’t shy away from the more controversial aspects of it. A novel with such elements was not likely to be accepted by any other publishing house of the time, at least none that would give it a quality release.

Of course, not only was this first novel in the trilogy only really noticed and read by niche audiences – specifically readers of exotic erotica or long-time fans of PJF – but it received the expected derisive reviews from critics who didn’t “get” the satirical intentions of the author. Moreover, publisher Essex House likewise didn’t “get” the true intent of PJF, which is why they published the book as pure erotica, not caring to notice the point made by the author. These harsh and often misguided reviews have continued right up to the latest edition of the novel, a quality release by Titan Books.

Granted, these elements make this novel one best avoided by the squeamish and overly PC out there, and is understandably not everyone’s cup of tea. This is to be expected by all authors and fans of any authors, as there is no writer whose oeuvre or writing style is suitable for all sensibilities; that is simply the nature of human nature in regards to our diversity of preferences in every which way. This is especially true for authors who push the boundaries of “acceptability,” and are not averse to tackling topics and asking questions that the prevailing culture are not comfortable with. PJF was an author who was inclined to confront such questions and transgress boundaries if need be, so those who are considering reading his work do need to take this into consideration. That said, this author believes that PJF did a great service to our culture by asking such questions and opening the many minds who were willing to listen as a result, and he is considered a great inspiration for many modern authors in the fields of speculative and pulp fiction for good reason.

Was the transgressive sexual elements of this book over the top? Of course they were. Were they in “bad taste”? Yes, they were, though I will gladly support Picasso’s famous saying that “the greatest enemy of creativity is ‘good taste’.” Culture and society cannot progress unless artists of all stripes push against existing boundaries, and insist on confronting questions that mainstream culture strives hard to avoid dealing with. These questions tend to be of extreme importance, and the frontiers of knowledge, understanding, and growth as a society are curtailed as a result of denial of any important facet of the world that is difficult to face. Denial has ever been the easy way out of things, and as I’ve often noted, the right thing to do is most often the harder of any two choices (or the hardest of any available choices). So personally, I’m thankful for what PJF and other authors before him and those whom he would inspire have given to the world, particularly as a writer who works with the same genres PJF did.

Nevertheless, no one should expect everyone to look favorably upon any given author’s work, and there are many available avenues for growth and progress, not all of them suitable for everyone. One person’s detritus is the treasure of another, and vice versa. With that point acknowledged, I certainly believe that PJF’s boundary-pushing way can be of immense value, interest, and inspiration to many readers and prospective authors who do not mind having their comfort zone violated and possibly shattered, and look upon such a thing as the path to enlightenment rather than the proverbial road to perdition.

III. A Lord Takes to the Trees, as His Brother Takes on a Mad Goblin

 This brings us to the concurrently occurring sequels, published a year after the first: The Lord of the Trees and The Mad Goblin. These sequels, however, were initially published by Ace Books, at the time being the premiere publisher of straight sci-fi, fantasy, and pulp fiction (which has since been absorbed into Penguin Books, which in turn has since merged with fellow publishing giant Random House to become – what else? – Penguin Random House). This change in publisher is highly important, because it greatly affected the tone and thematic elements of these two sequels.

Specifically and significantly, PJF wrote these two sequels as straight pulp adventure, focusing nearly exclusively on action and characterization, and keeping the sexual elements within “reasonable” bounds. Having seemingly gotten the desire for satire out of his system, and wanting to pen a serious pastiche of his two favorite pulp heroes under the aegis of a much better known publisher which would afford him access to a considerably larger audience, he wrote these two sequels accordingly. Any reviewer or non-reviewing reader who has a harsh reaction to A Feast Unknown for its graphic sexual aspects shouldn’t judge the two sequels on the same criteria, or based upon mere association. Those who prefer standard pulp adventure of high quality with good characters that continue to explore the philosophical nuances of the heroic ideal as few authors other than PJF can or are willing to try, should be encouraged to give these sequels a whirl and judge them entirely separately from the novel which spawned them both.

The sequels take place within months of the ending of A Feast Unknown, and directly reference its events. The Lord of the Trees focuses on Lord Grandrith’s battles against the Nine on one particular front, while also further exploring his origin, giving us a non-sanitized re-telling of the origin of Tarzan begun in A Feast Unknown, seeking to explain and/or discount many of the anomalies and less logical aspects of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ tales. In other words, this novel can be seen as a precursor to PJF’s effort at doing the same for the real deal with his ground-breaking para-biography of a few years later, Tarzan Alive: A Definitive Biography of Lord Greystoke. That tome, in fact, is considered the one that jump-started the para-scholarship sub-genre of pulp fiction that is such an integral part of creative mythography, which this author is heavily involved in (yup, you can blame PJF for much of my own work!).

The Lord of the Trees delivers an adventure of Lord Grandrith that paints a heavy picture of PJF’s propensity for very in-depth research of any subject he tackles, in this case military conflict and strategies. He never glosses over any detail, such as what weapons are often used and what they are capable of, and this can be daunting for some readers while utterly fascinating for others. Again, your mileage will vary. What you basically get here is a grand adventure of Tarzan as interpreted by PJF, and what a grand adventure it is. The general plot revolves around the Jungle Lord taking on one member of the near-immortal Nine, Mubaniga.

This novel would also serve as a worthy predecessor to PJF taking on the real deal in his classic novel Time’s Last Gift, one of the best pulp adventure/sci-fi novels in his oeuvre IMO. Many of the elements of The Lord of the Trees would find their way into this other novel, and have since become some of the most pertinent elements in the Tarzan mythos as championed by creative mythographers.

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The recent edition of The Lord of the Trees published by Titan Books


The real treat of this duo of sequels by this author’s estimation is, hands down, The Mad Goblin. This novel dealt with the battle against the Nine on a different front, this one fought by Doc Caliban and his two allies Pauncho and Barney, who are the near-identical offspring of the two main members of his previous crew, who were themselves pastiches of the two most popular members of Doc Savage’s Fabulous Five, the brilliant but simian-like Monk Mayfair (a template for the character Henry P. McCoy, a.k.a., the Beast of X-Men fame) and the debonair, sword cane-wielding master attorney Ham Brooks. The characterization in this novel as captured by PJF was superlative, and affectionately loyal to the originals as classically written by Lester Dent. This is especially the case regarding the banter between Pauncho and Barney, who – like Monk and Ham – were the best of friends that were always amusingly at each other’s’ throats, the same type of relationship you saw between the Human Torch and the Thing of Fantastic Four fame. Of course, as noted before, Trish Wilde is also present, this time really getting to strut her stuff (and not in the same way she did in A Feast Unknown!).

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The recent edition of The Mad Goblin published by Titan Books

Very well highlighted in this novel is the myriad of technological gadgets, weapons, and pharmaceuticals carried by Doc Caliban and associates, displaying PJF’s great fondness for these products of Doc Savage’s inventive and scientific genius. They put anything in Bruce Wayne’s or James Bond’s repertoire to total shame. We also have a well-crafted mystery, as Caliban’s crew picks up some unexpected allies, a bickering English couple, whose true identities and purpose are not made clear until later in the novel.
The basic gist of the plot concerns Doc Caliban and crew’s conflict with the dwarfish though ultra-cunning member of the Nine, Iwaldi, whose nickname was the titular basis for the book’s title. Iwaldi was easily the most interesting and dangerous of the Nine, and that’s saying something. His presence as the main antagonist of this book provides a major work-out for Doc and the crew throughout the book.
As it turned out, Iwaldi had also gone rogue from the Nine (though certainly not for noble reasons!), and some of the most interesting elements of the plot dealt with the “Mad Goblin” fending off and initiating assaults against his former comrades in the Nine, culminating in a shoot-out with the forces of former Council member Jiinfan at Stonehenge. Iwaldi was as much the hunted as he was the hunter, and his legendary ingenuity was taxed to the limit here.

The major highlight of this book, however, is when Doc and his two allies are given perhaps their greatest challenge ever courtesy of Iwaldi’s machinations: Having to go bare-handed against a Kodiak bear, the largest existing ursine in the world. This provides a truly grueling battle sequence that is nothing less than epic, and one that pushes the great strength and battle prowess of Doc Caliban and his crew of two to their limits and beyond. They weren’t to emerge completely unscathed, but emerge they did, showing what stern stuff they were made of like never before, albeit under the most difficult conditions imaginable.

Also highlighted is more of the de-romanticized re-telling of Doc Savage’s backstory, as told by PJF in a way that character creator Dent never would have been allowed by his publishers. As with Lord Grandrith and the real deal he was based on, Lord Greystoke/Tarzan, this re-told backstory of Doc Caliban would serve as the basis for the second of PJF’s great para-biography, this one on the “real” Man of Bronze, Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life. Taken together, the Wold Newton family tree provided by PJF in both Tarzan Alive and Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life would serve as the (sometimes tweaked) blueprint for the Wold Newton Family genealogy followed with consummate authority by pulp fiction authors and fans of creative mythography. Moreover, also as before, it would serve as the basis for PJF’s later tackling of the “true” Doc Savage with his novel Escape From Loki, which told the tale of Doc’s first meeting with the individuals who would become his Fab Five crew during his youth circa World War I.

The end of this novel brought the separate but related adventures depicted in The Lord of the Trees and The Mad Goblin together. This, of course, caused both Lord Grandrith and Doc Caliban to realize that the latter would have to find a way to synthesize the life-extending elixir on his own, which was a major task even for his bio-chemical genius. Naturally, the Doc had been feverishly at work on this very project for decades, as a crime fighter like him was never comfortable with the price he had to pay for access to this life-prolonging elixir.

IV. A Monster Held Up, and More

Reading the above novels, many readers will lament the fact that PJF had never written a whole series of novels based on the exploits of the “real” Tarzan and Doc Savage, as opposed to just a few isolated examples. Others will lament the fact that he didn’t simply write many more novels featuring Lord Grandrith and – perhaps especially – Doc Caliban, as these two alternate reality pastiches are pretty awesome in their own rights. I have heard it said that the reason we didn’t see more of the pastiches is that PJF didn’t want to risk alienating the estates of Burroughs and Dent, who could well have balked at his alternative depictions of their prized iconic characters. He wanted opportunities to write these real deals (and I’m not talking about Evander Holyfield here… any boxing fan remember him?), and though only a few materialized, his fans are quite thankful for these few.

Whatever the case, it should be noted that PJF did eventually begin working on a fourth novel in the series, this one another solo Doc Caliban book (yay!). It was to be entitled A Monster on Hold, which was to deal with Caliban encountering bizarre subterranean creatures that would have represented a monstrous otherdimensional intelligence called Shrassk, whose power the Nine had attempted to utilize but had since simply entrapped due to it being too dangerous even for them to mess with. He penned a single chapter for this projected novel, and one of its major highlights was the rather extraordinary depiction of Doc Caliban looking through a dimensional veil and seeing the “real” Doc Savage on the other side looking back at him!

This was clearly intended to bridge any gap between the two iterations of this single archetype, with the dimensional veil representing the red tape barriers of the real world that normally keep different characters owned by different companies and/or individuals in separate fictionalized universes (each one being fictional to anyone not actually living in it, if you want to get really technical). This represented PJF’s high-concept thinking and patented sense of mischief taking a most spectacular turn, and it’s a shame this fourth novel wasn’t brought to full fruition.

Nevertheless, this chapter has been published three times to date, first in the World Fantasy Convention 1983; second, in Myths for the Modern Age: Philip Jose’ Farmer’s Wold Newton Universe, published by Monkey Brain Books in 2005; and third, in Pearls From Peoria (Peoria, Illinois being PJF’s home town!), published by Subterranean Press in 2006.

World Fantasy Convention 1983_cover

First…

Myths of the Modern Age_cover

…second …

Pearls From Peoria_cover

… and third. Three times is the charm!

 Of further note is how this chapter directly deals with PJF’s interpretation of the only Doc Savage story that actually caused the Man of Bronze to experience extreme fear – to the point of trauma, in fact. This was a 1948 tale depicting his encounter with nightmarish supernatural forces that completely devastated his rationalistic, agnostic worldview. The exploration of a hero facing his greatest fears and overcoming them can serve as a metaphorical inspiration to each of us having to do the same with matters usually mundane but often no less overwhelming. In fact, to me this represents the very essence of the heroic ideal: Not being stoically immune to fear, but finding the inner strength and determination to overcome it for the benefit of both your own good, and the greater good.

This final section should close with the acknowledgement of two important short stories written by PJF’s most prominent successor and chief curator of the Wold Newton concept, Win Scott Eckert. These stories build upon the alternate universe created by PJF in his pulp trilogy and subsequent follow-up chapter, and solidify their connection to the “mainstream”-“consensus” Wold Newton Universe. The first of these, “Is He in Hell?” was published in The Worlds of Philip Jose Farmer 1: Protean Dimensions; the second, “The Wild Huntsman,” was published in The Worlds of Philip Jose Farmer 3: Portraits of a Trickster. This publication is the great PJF-centric anthology released annually by Meteor House.

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Cover to Meteor House’s 3rd volume of The Worlds of Philip Jose Farmer. The guy was a trickster, don’t ya know?

 Of further note is that “Is He in Hell?” was previously published in the annual French pulp fiction anthology Tales of the Shadowmen 6: Grand Guignol from Black Coat Press, this anthology being one that I’m proud to have stories of my own published in (beginning in Volume 8; plug, plug, shameless plug!). For a synopsis on “The Wild Huntsman,” you can check out this post on Win’s blog.

tales-of-the-shadowmen-6

In summation, the Lord Grandrith/Doc Caliban trilogy is a very worthy addition to the library of any fan of pulp fiction and hero-driven literature in general, and essential for any fan of PJF and the Wold Newton Universe concept. They represent the beginning of PJF’s foray into pulp fiction, which would have a major influence on many writers who followed in his stead, as well as the great pulp revival of the previous decade that led to today’s New Pulp movement. Despite the controversies surrounding the elements of the first novel, it’s still worth picking up by non-overly sensitive readers who can get behind PJF’s intentions, and whatever one may think of the book, it does hold an important place in the history of the post-Golden Age pulps. As for the entire trilogy assessed as a whole, it should come highly recommended to anyone who can appreciate heroes who dress in shades of gray, and who are closer to the people you know than you may be comfortable with.

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The man himself… thank you for everything, Phil!

Awareness Bracelets.

Awareness Bracelets..

 

Go to the above link and check out the awwweeee-sssoommee awareness bracelets my esteemed fellow author is selling to help raise awareness for epilepsy. This is a good cause, the bracelets are totally BAMF (look up that acronym on a search engine if you must! LOL) and  way cool, and since she makes them by hand, each one receives a lot of personalized care, straight from both the fingers and the heart (a good combo!).