Thursday, October 27, 2011

Crumb's views on women

One thing that was focused on in the documentary Crumb was the artist’s sexuality. By delving into Crumb’s childhood, past relationships, and works, his view of women became quite obvious and I was personally a bit disgusted by it. When talking to one of his ex-girlfriends, she even came right out and asked if he “still hated women.” Growing up, Crumb was the typical “dorky kid” who was always overlooked by girls. While he tried desperately to get their attention through his drawing abilities, he was the farthest thing from being lucky with the ladies. Additionally, he had a mother who was an amphetamine addict so was without a strong positive female influence as a child. Although Crumb talks about both subjects casually, they had a deep impact on both his sexuality and his views towards women. He spends a lot of time, both in the film and in his works, focusing on sex and women. While the topics are significantly downplayed in Crumb’s version of The Book of Genesis compared to his other works, he definitely is still making a strong point about them.

At one point in the film, Crumb is discussing sexual phycology with a group of women at a party. One of the women states that men who are more attracted to the female lower body tend to have a history of suppressed feelings of inadequacy and inferiority. When I first opened the Book of Genesis, I was taken aback by how the women were illustrated. They are extremely curvy and thick, and while women in the media often get portrayed as having large breasts, it is less common for their lower halves to be quite as voluptuous as Crumb draws them. Although phycology can be easily disputed, I feel like there is some truth to what Crumb’s friend claimed in his case. He spent his entire life feeling as if he wasn’t good enough. Throughout his childhood, there was constant pressure from his military father, he was always trying to impress his older brother with his comics, and of course there was that never ending desire to be accepted by girls.

As a counter argument to the woman at the party, Crumb pulls out one of his strong opinions towards women that has been drilled into his mind since middle school—women like power. In school, he watched all the girls go for the popular kids and even includes them in his comics picking on his brother Charles. They were obviously jerks and the only reason the girls flocked to them had to be because of their high school status. Clearly Crumb is not the only person to ever have been neglected and deemed unpopular, but whereas others are able to leave these animosities at the door, Crumb held on to them after graduation. What is unfortunate is that his viewpoint was actually strengthened as he became a popular artist. He was now entering the world of fame and fortune and women came along with the package. Just like all of those high school jocks, Crumb was able to attract women based on his status.

These opinions come through in his work and can be seen through Rebbekah’s character in the Book of Genesis. Initially, she is seen as a simple, kind woman wanting to help the traveling servant in Chapter 24 where she is introduced. She is not interested in him until he pulls out the nose ring and gold shekels, and then her eyes widen in delight. There is a drastic change that Crumb illustrates in her appearance, as if she is possessed by the idea of such wealth and a secure future. Her face is frozen in a crazed smile and she is rigid as if this news is too much to handle. The servant has become one of those popular kids that Crumb despised, able to manipulate women with his wealth and status, and of course Rebbekah cannot turn him down. Later in the Book of Genesis, Rebbekah is again portrayed in a negative light. She is the fuel behind the feud between Esau and Jacob. While Crumb stays true to the text here, he illustrates Rebbekah in an extreme way, again almost possessed by power. She wants Jacob to get Isaac’s blessing and goes to all ends in order to get what she wants. When Jacob questions her plan, Crumb shows her in excessive, irrational anger, another typical stereotype of women. Crumb’s version of the Book of Genesis probably his most tame work, but he still makes his mark on the Bible by including illustrations that portray his view on women.

1 comment:

  1. I liked this a lot. It's very drafty, especially in that the best material is in the last paragraph, but I like very much that you're doing a reading of Crumb which is thoughtful and nuanced, but not afraid to pull punches (one reason I like the film so much is that even though Zwigoff obviously admires Crumb greatly, he gives lots of screen time to articulate feminist criticism of Crumb's work).

    The problem here is one of balance - or, if you prefer, of being too short. You set us up pretty well through your reading of the film: Crumb's disturbing and problematic views of women are rooted in a sense of inadequacy which is related to his understanding of how women (and here one wonders why it's not just "people") respond to power.

    Then, you launch into a good but brief reading of his portrayal of Rebekkah. This reading could be greatly extended (it feels rushed), or you could add portrayals of other women from Genesis (does he show Dinah as being attracted to power, for instance). I also feel, though, that you should be returning (if you revise) to your initial statement of disgust at Crumb. Is this feeling of disgust strengthened or weakened by your reading of Genesis? Has she really become toned down, or has he just become more subtly vicious? (We might also address this sort of thing comparatively; one of your colleagues did some good work detailing the visual ways in which Abraham is basically portrayed as a brainwashed cultist)

    I wonder, in other words, if a more detailed reading of Rebekkah might turn into a kind of attack on Crumb. Maybe I'm wrong that this is where you're headed - but I think that, regardless of which way your feelings on Crumb have gone, you should return to them after having offered a more extended reading of R.