Thursday, June 26, 2008

FOUR

Judenhass is a 40 page comic book, with stiff card covers and shiny pages, with a few pages of text notes at the back. As everyone knows, it deals with the holocaust, or, as Dave Sim prefers to say, the shoah. According to the theory of the Unity of the Literary Virtues, I ought to say that Glamourpuss, being sexist, is Bad, whereas as Judenhass, which sets out to remind us that the holocaust was horrible, is Good. In fact, while I found Glamourpuss interesting-but-bonkers, I felt that Judenhass failed to cast what little it had to say into any particularly interesting artistic form.


Pages 1 - 7 depict six shots of the gates to Auschwitz: in the first frame it's in the middle distance, and it gradually gets closer and closer. Clearly, the point of view is that of a victim in a train to the camp. There is no dramatic narrative: the text consists of Lucid-Dave, (in his own voice) telling us why we still need to think about the holocaust -- especially if we are comic book readers, since the founding fathers of the American comic were, to a man, Jewish. The final panel of page 5 states that people often talk as if the shoah was inexplicable and unique to Nazi Germany, "Whereas I believe that the historical record of non-Jewish culture and its tolerance for and embracing of Jew hatred shows, instead that the shoah was very much..." We turn the page an are confronted by a 2 page spread of the gate to the concentration camp, accompanied by the single word "inevitable."


This may be a little mannered and obvious; but it's definitely making use of the comic book form to progress an argument. The big (and not at all small or cramped) panel gives an interesting rhetorical emphasis to the little word in the caption.


Unfortunately, this is the last page of comics in the whole pamphlet. Oh, the rest of the book is laid out like a comic, but there's no sequence and certainly no narrative. We are simply showed a series of pictures of holocaust victims. Pages 12 and 13 each consist of 9 panels. The first is an extreme close up of someone's eye and each subsequent panel "pulls back" until we are looking at a body on a pile of victims. (Because no context is provided, it isn't always easy to tell if we are looking at live people or corpses, which may be the point.) This sequence of panels doesn't have any particular point of view: it represents, if anything, a camera zooming in and out of the scene.


Page 33 and 34 consist of 2 large pictures of horribly emaciated children, and around 24 small close-ups of their faces. A photo realistic picture of Hitler, making the familiar Nazi salute is superimposed across the spread, along with three panels of text about Hitler's anti-Semitism and Europe's reluctance to accept Jewish refugees. So far as I can see, there is no sequential way of reading the comic book panels – the image of Hitler and the text completely disrupt any sequence. The comic book grid is simply one element of a montage: a well constructed and striking montage, but just a montage.


If Dave Sim chooses to spend his retirement sitting at a light box trying to work out how to translate satin gloves or leather shoes into pen and ink, that's his business But the idea of Dave Sim taking documentary images of dead Jews and trying to translate them into photorealistic pen and ink drawings... and then, presumably, scanning or photocopying the result and assembling a collage which repeats the same picture 20 or 30 times....strikes me as, if anything, a little distasteful.


Do the pen and ink drawings say anything that the actual news pictures would not have done? And do we in fact need to see the images to understand what the holocaust was? The book doesn't tell us about the scale of the genocide, or the cold-blooded industrial way it was carried out. It just shows us that people were treated appallingly and some of them were killed. But, surely, we knew that already? There might be some purpose in showing someone who agrees with meat eating, abortion, or capital punishment pictures of an abattoir, an aborted foetus, or an execution: It might be that they thought it was possible to switch a cow, a foetus, or a murderer off like a light, and need to be told how horrible the procedure actually is. (Mad-Dave would say that this was an appeal to emotions, and therefore invalid.) But is anyone in a similar state of ignorance or denial about the holocaust? There are a small number of nut-jobs who already know that no such event ever took place. I don't know why they would be impressed by pen and ink renderings of what they believe to be faked photographs. Everyone else already uses "holocaust" as a synonym for "human evil".


Throughout the comic, images of famous and in some cases reputable historical figures are juxtaposed with the death porn, along with captions quoting anti-Jewish remarks that they made. Sim's notes show that his research on this has been characteristically thorough: he has taken care to verify that everyone really said the things he attributes to them, and that they really meant what it sounds as if they mean. He says he rejected a widely circulated quote from George Washington, because it referred to war profiteers rather than Jews; he gives Aquinas the benefit of the doubt, assuming that a passage about usurers is a condemnation of people who charge excessive interest, not of Jews in general. He quotes famously inflammatory remarks made by Martin Luther, but notes in that nearly all modern Lutherans have repudiated this aspect of their leader's theology. If only everybody was this careful about their use of the internet.


Other than "the holocaust happened", does the book have anything to say? Sim rejects the term "anti-Semitism" -- after all, Arabs are "Semites" too --- and says that the Holocaust was the result of Judenhass -- Jew-Hatred. And he prefers the Hebrew word shoah (calamity) to the Greek holocaust (sacrifice by fire) adding:


"The shoah was done to Jews -- and yes, to others as well. But the fact that "to others as well " has become a universal interjection when the subject of the holocaust comes up it seems to me, points to a central and malignant evasion on the part of non-Jews."


Evasion? If you define "shoah" as "the massacre of Jews in Nazi Germany" then it is trivially true that only Jews were victims of the "shoah" I do not see why it is "evasive" to say that between three and five million non-Jews were also killed. And I don't buy his central claim that there is a specific thing called "Jew-Hatred" that made the concentration camps inevitable, any more than I believe that Diocletian, Stalin and Richard Dawkins are all infected with a single thing called Christian-Hatred. I think that at times of plague, war and economic recession, stupid people will look for someone to blame, and will generally pick on a small, easily identifiable group that looks or acts differently.(British Jobs For British Workers, and all that.) I think that similar fibs are always told about the target group. Romans said that Christians were cannibals; Christians said Gnostics ate babies; Gentiles have often said that Jews steal Christian babies to use in their sacrifices. Nick Griffin says that the Koran requires Muslims to molest white children; Richard Dawkins thinks that raising children Catholic is the moral equivalent of etc etc etc etc.) I think that saying that "the holocaust was caused by Jew-hatred" is like saying "Crime is caused by criminals". It tells you nothing; it gives you an excuse not to even attempt to understand the specifics of why it happened when it happened where it happened.


I wonder whether Sim's essentialist belief in one specific thing called Jew-Hatred is related to his increasingly shrill insistence that although he thinks that women should not be allowed to have jobs, should not be allowed to vote, and should be spanked when they disobey their husbands he does not in any sense suffer from Woman-Hatred?


As ever, some of the strangest stuff comes in the text epilogue.


Unfortunately in this age of diminishing attention spans it seems to me that there is also a need for distillations of the facts that allow even the slowest reader and the most reluctant teacher to comprehend and convey some measure of the enormity of the Shoah and the profound level of enmity against Jews which made it possible. I hope that Judenhass with roughly a 25 minute reading span will serve that purpose. It is to be hoped that 25 minutes could be found to teach high school students on the subject..and the on-going significance...of the holocaust."


Even when he means well, Dave still exists in his own parallel little universe.


I don't know anything about Canada, but I find it spectacularly unlikely that any child in the UK could get through school without knowing what the holocaust was. You can't avoid Anne Frank's Diary, for one thing. Don't some schools pay attention to something called "Holocaust Day"? There is a widely disseminated complaint that English History has been reduced to "Henry and Hitler": a curriculum that concentrates on the Second World War (and the Tudor dynasty) to the exclusion of everything else. We English can't resist mentioning the War because we single handedly won it without any help from anyone else. But maybe things are different in Canada.


It's an intriguing picture. The teacher, who is apparently reluctant to teach the children, possibly because he himself is an evasive non-Jew who thinks that the holocaust was done to other people as well as the Jews. The little emotion based beings, totally out of control since we stopped beating them, with no idea that such a terrible event ever happened. One morning they come to school. They sing a hymn or swear allegiance to a maple leaf or whatever happens over there. Teacher goes to the cupboard and hands out 30 copies of Judenhass, presumably neatly covered in brown paper and paid for by the Canadian government. The little emotion based beings put their heads down and start to read. The silence is broken only by the occasional question. ("Please Miss, who was Stan Lee?") Twenty five minutes later, the books are put back in the cupboard, and the children never hear another word about Hitler until they leave school.


I am not sure whether, during those 25 minutes, they will actually have learned very much.




Cerebus: How many of these off-limits cattle do you suppose your people mutilated and burned trying to please the living thing, the big light and the big fire in the middle of the earth?


Konigsberg: Once again, I decline to answer on the basis of feeling even more nauseous than I did a few minutes ago. [thinks] Millions, probably


Cerebus: There's the sad part. Someday, Yoohwhoo is going to demand that that "debt" be paid. And... millions, you said? Millions of your people are going to... um. [Long pause] [Clears throat] [Another long pause]

Cerebus the Aardvark, "Latter Days"


No comments:

Post a Comment