Crumb is a documentary about cartoonist, Robert Crumb. It delves 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. I find this documentary to be a credible source of Crumb’s true meaning of his illustrations because I believe that when it comes to family life, brutal honesty will always be involved.
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, both 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 and has a mental illness, labeled with having “homosexual pedophiliac tendencies.” Depressed and suicidal, he is a hermit in the home and does not have much social interaction. I believe this is what causes Crumb to involve his sexual fetishes into is work. He is aware of his own sexual tendencies and speaks about them publicly. Because of this, he saves himself from the fate his brother ended up with. Rather than letting his sexual fetishes 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.
As evidence, we can look at Crumb’s illustration, Genesis. This book contains many images of sex, rape and nudity. He also draws the characters in an animalistic way, with disproportionate features and harsh, dark lines. In theme with the animalistic style, the women are depicted as sexual objects, used solely for childbirth and intercourse. Many times, the male is portrayed as the dominant character, performing most of the action and persuading. In chapter 34, Dinah, the daughter of Leah and Jacob, goes out to see the other women of the land. While she is traveling, Shechem, son of a Canaanite prince, notices her and takes particular interest in her. In Crumb’s illustrations, Shechem is seen taking Dinah and laying with her, which I interpret to be rape. The first image in the chapter shows Shechem peering at her from a distance, eyeing her up as if she is a piece of meat. This correlates to the animalistic theme Crumb uses. 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. There was no consent, as the image and text together imply that Dinah had no say in whether she wanted to be taken or not. The third image shows him on top of her outside in a garden, not even in the comfort of a private bedroom. The accompanying text explains, “…and (Shechem) laid with her and defiled her.” In my interpretation, Dinah was violated and raped in these images.
In the bible, it is said that Dinah went out to see “the daughters of the land” and not the “the men of the land.” Therefore, it was a coincidence that Shechem happened to see Dinah, because she did not travel to the city specifically to find a male companion. The original Genesis goes on further to say, “And his soul clave unto Dinah, the daughter of Jacob, and he loved the damsel and spake kindly unto the Damsel.” This text, in modern language, translates to, “he spoke to the heart of the damsel,” meaning that he worked to make her like him (Genesis 1). Their interaction was a creepy, one-sided relationship. Dinah did not have any sort of affection towards Shechem.
Dinah’s father, Jacob, and her brothers, were furious upon hearing this news. They later trick the men of the city and tell them that they must agree to circumcision, because they cannot let Shechem marry Dinah until he is circumcised. Genesis states that Shechem was a man “more honourable than all the house of his father.” This brings into question the integrity of the household since the most honorable man is a rapist (Genesis 1). Dinah was only finally released from Shechem’s house and control when her brothers saved her. They did this by slaughtering all of the men while they are gathered for the circumcision. After, Dinah’s brothers asked the question, “Should he [Shechem] treat our sister like a prostitute?” This was sourced from a feeling of helplessness through Dinah’s “powerlessness and shame” (Clark 88). It is important to note the role of male dominance in Genesis. In the original text, Dinah was not given a voice, as if to give all the power to male leadership. It is also noteworthy that during this time, sexual relationships had the ability to encourage a community’s reproduction, but it also threatened its purity and honor (88). Therefore, when Dinah was raped, she was humiliated and considered to be extremely foolish. On the other hand, Shechem, was seen as a threat to the community. He, as the rapist, threatened the honor and faith of the people. This is because when women become “victim through manipulation and abuse, the sanctity of marriage and sexuality are destroyed.” They become the result of violence and not love (Clark 90). Therefore, I argue that Dinah was in fact raped. Crumb, as a male, gave himself all of the power and chose to depict the incident in this way.
It is true that this scene could be viewed as either Dinah being raped or as caught in an affair. I argue that Dinah was raped due to the fact that she had no power during this time period. To clarify, I would like to define “rape.” According to an online dictionary, rape is defined as, “the unlawful compelling of a person through physical force or duress to have sexual intercourse” (“Rape” 1). As stated above, all details of Crumb’s drawings, in my opinion, lead towards Dinah being raped. This can be seen through the facial expressions of the characters to the setting it takes place in. Shechem rapes Dinah in a garden rather than in a bedroom. I believe this happens because Shechem could not willingly get Dinah to a bedroom, where their act could have taken place privately. I also believe this gives the act an “animalistic” aura of force and aggression. The ambiguousness of Crumb’s illustration could have been intentional, hinting towards his crude interest in sex. He allows for individual interpretation. However, I believe that he drew this incident with the intent of it being rape, and this knowledge, while giving readers no direct knowledge, gave him some sort of sick satisfaction. Crumb wanted his readers to feel uncomfortable about the situation.
I believe this scene stems from Crumb’s sexual obsessions, similar to that of his brother, Charles. He turns these obsessions into characters and even admits to having sexual attractions to cartoon characters in the documentary. He uses this art form to escape the reality of his “mental illness” and fuels it towards sexual fantasies. It could be said that Crumb draws what he secretly desires, and what he desires may be taking aggressive control of women. He may also view women similarly to how they were viewed during biblical times, used for nothing but sexual intercourse and children. This explains 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. It also prevents him from becoming like Charles. Crumb is seen in the documentary as strange and sexually obsessive, but it is important to note that he is able to control these obsessions. 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, bringing to light the defilement of women.
Clark, Ron. “The Silence in Dinah’s Cry: Narrative in Genesis 34 in a Context of Sexual Violence.”
Journal of Religion and Abuse 2.4 (2001): 81-98. Web. 8 Nov. 2014.
Crumb. Dir. Terry Zwigoff. Perf. Robert Crumb, Alice Kominsky, Charles Crumb. Sony Pictures Classic, 1995. Crackle, Inc., 2014. Web. 8 Nov. 2014.
Crumb, R. The Book of Genesis. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2009. Print. 8 Nov. 2014.
“Genesis 34 (The Rape of Dinah).” A Skeptics Journey Through The Bible. 2011. Web. 8 Nov. 2014.
“Rape.” Dictionary.com. Dictionary.com LLC, 2014. Web. 8 Nov. 2014.