Monday, October 20, 2014

Crumb's Family Influence

Crumb is a documentary about cartoonist, Robert Crumb. It looks into his family life and the drive behind his illustrations. It also focuses heavily on the dysfunctional family he comes from. In particular, I found his brother, Charles, to be the most interesting element of the documentary. It is a completely honest story and provides a substantive background for the reasoning behind Crumb’s illustration styles.
            The very first line of the documentary shows Crumb drawing and stating, “If I don’t get to draw, I get depressed and suicidal.” This indicates how passionate he is about his work. It can also be said that he is extremely dependent on it, socially and emotionally. As stated, his family is an important element to his work. His brother, Charles, plays an especially important role. Charles lives at home with their mother. He has a mental illness, labeled with “homosexual pedophiliac tendencies.” Depressed and suicidal, he is a hermit in the home and doesn’t have much social interaction. I believe this is what causes Crumb to take his sexual fetishes into is work. He is aware of his own sexual tendencies and speaks about them publicly. I think that because he does this, he saves himself from the fate his brother ended up with. Rather than letting it take control of him, he uses his own control and creates illustrations. Therefore, I argue that Crumb takes inspiration from his brother, Charles, and covertly saves himself from the same fate. He does this by turning his sexual obsessions into characters in his work.
Crumb’s illustration, Genesis, contains many images of sex, rape and nudity. The women are depicted as sexual objects, used for childbirth and intercourse. Many times, the male is portrayed as the dominant character, doing most of the action and persuading. In chapter 34, Shechem is seen taking Dinah and laying with her. The first image in the chapter shows Schechem peering at her from a distance, eyeing her up as if she is a piece of meat. The second image shows him aggressively grabbing her from behind. Her facial expression is panicked and he is looking around as if to check for bystanders. Dinah looks unwilling to go and the text, “…and took her…” also hints towards this. The third image shows him on top of her outside, not even in the comfort of a private bedroom. The accompanying text explains, “…and (Schechem) laid with her and defiled her.” Dinah is violated and raped in these images.
I believe this scene stems from Crumb’s sexual obsessions. He turns these obsessions into characters and even admits to having sexual attractions to cartoon characters in the documentary. It could be said that Crumb has desires of taking aggressive control of women. Which is why the images in Genesis are expressed in a combative way. As further explained in the documentary, images and secrets of his two wives are weaved into many of his works. There is also a scene early on in the documentary where Crumb is illustrating his high school crushes. He was sexually attracted to them in school and made the effort to point out physical features of them with which he liked. For instance, one of the girls was nicknamed, “the shelf,” because of her shelf-like butt. Through these acts and his graphic images, I believe that Genesis, along with his many other works, provides an outlet for his sexual fantasies and fetishes.
The illustrations Crumb creates are undoubtedly crude, aggressive and sexual. This is what I think saves him, however, from an early suicidal death or from a mental illness, such as depression. It also prevents him from becoming like Charles. As stated earlier, if Crumb doesn’t draw, he becomes suicidal and unhappy. His drawings in Genesis are graphic and I personally think they don’t portray the story of Genesis in the most accommodating way. I do, however, believe that it is reflective of his personal life and mental state. It is clearly seen that Crumb pours his honest personality into his work.

1 comment:

  1. How do we know the documentary is honest? It’s not that I don’t agree, exactly - but how would we know?

    “Therefore, I argue that Crumb takes inspiration from his brother, Charles, and covertly saves himself from the same fate. He does this by turning his sexual obsessions into characters in his work.” -- That’s a perfectly good argument about the film. Can you make it an argument about Genesis in particular? That’s not easy, but it’s an interesting challenge.

    To really make this an essay about how Crumb uses his art in genesis to express and escape/transcend, you need to explore how he does that in particular. I think zeroing in on the story of Dinah is the correct start - we’re on the same page there. For my part, I think that Crumb is taking advantage of genuine disagreement or even confusion among modern readers about whether Dinah was raped or whether she got caught in an affair. He draws it ambiguously, or tries to have it both ways, which is uncomfortable at best. I just think you needed to analyze it at greater length. Why are they in a garden? Is it rape? How do we define rape? What gives us a hint that Crumb enjoys these scene and its discomfort? Etc. The last two paragraphs don’t do much, when you could have been delving into these details.

    Overall: Good topic, good start, but it’s not as well developed as it could be.