Thursday, October 27, 2011

Crumb's View on Women -- Anthony Garuccio

In the 1994 documentary Crumb we are given an in-depth look into Robert Crumb’s views on women through his own artwork as well as the commentary of the interviewees. The perception that the viewer develops is that Crumb is a womanizer with problems sexually connecting with women in a healthy way. To support this argument the documentary shows that Crumb’s work is full of sadistic sexual themes and instances of the objectification of women. If we choose to only look at the surface of these images then we can draw the same simple conclusion that the documentary came to. However, if we choose to look a little deeper, especially in relation to his work on Genesis, we can see that the lines are not so clearly drawn.

The film Crumb presented quite a few examples to show Crumb as a womanizer. It is possible to defend some of Crumb’s work in which he portrays women in a negative light as being satirical, however I feel that the following comic goes way too far to be written off as merely social commentary. The most extreme example I found was the comic in which Mr. Natural shoves a woman’s head into her own body and then gives her to Flakey to be used as a sexual object. Flakey proceeds to have sex with the headless girl after which he feels guilty and returns her to Mr. Natural. The story is peppered with offensive one-liners stating things to the effect of “I removed her head and now all my problems are gone.” This comic quite honestly offends me, and when I look at it I desire to cast Crumb as a sexist jerk like most of the female commentators had done. However I don’t feel as if this is the whole picture.

Crumb’s general style is to draw women as full figured, curvy, and strong. His female figures have an undeniable sexuality about them, especially in Genesis. This sexuality, unlike in his some of his other work mentioned above, is more of a source of power and strength than oppression. For example in chapter 38 Tamar uses her sexuality to make Jacob see the error of his ways. In chapter 19 the daughters of Lot choose to be impregnated by their father, not the other way around. In chapter 34 Dinah’s choice to have sex with Shechem causes an entire village to be slaughtered. In all of these examples women are not being sexually objectified but rather they are in a position of sexual power. Crumb’s illustrations also reflect this position of power, drawing these women with faces reflecting determination, resolve, and decisiveness. Here we see another side of Crumb’s views on women where he sees their sexuality as not a medium through which men can diminish them, but rather as an aspect though which they should be empowered.

These two different views seem contradictory on the surface, but then I was struck by a quote from one of the interviewees in Crumb. She made the claim that men who are sexually attracted to women’s legs—like Crumb—tend to feel inferior to women due to some psychological issues with their mothers. This inferiority leads to fear which leads to objectification to protect one’s Id. Viewing Crumb’s varied portrayal of women through this lens we can see his earlier work as his first attempts to deal with this fear by bringing women down and his later work as his more mature acceptance of the sexuality of women. Even if one is hesitant to accept this idea that Crumb actually thinks women are superior so he must draw them as inferior, it is clear that his views on sexuality and women are far from clean cut and simple. This complexity makes it difficult to draw the broad characterization—demonization—that is made in the film.

1 comment:

  1. This is a good example of how work can be both compact and effective. You address both the film and the book, with a degree of complexity, in two pages, and manage to tie it all together into a neat argument. It's probably about as much as you could do for this prompt in two pages.

    How, then, to effectively expand it, if you expand it? I can think of a couple approaches

    1) Currently, you're basically arguing that his views on women are more complex than they might seem and/or that his views might have matured. Figuring out which of the two you're doing, and then doing it, would be an effective way to expand. Can we find complexity in his early work (that would require reading some)? Or if his views have matured, can you explore that maturation in more detail, possibly just in Genesis?

    2) You might investigate further whether the film fully portrays the views of female cartoonists. One could do more work with Aline Kominsky-Crumb (for instance, work that she and her husband have done together would be relevant), or with some other female admirer/defender of Crumb and his work: Alison Bechdel, a prominent and fantastic cartoonist who mainly works with explicitly lesbian characters and subject matter, comes to mind (I almost included her comic Fun Home in this class).

    3) You might simply greatly expand your reading of Genesis itself, by including more scenes, or by doing what you do in greater depth.