Saturday, October 15, 2016

Amazing Spider-Man #10 (II): Why does J Jonah Jameson hate Spider-Man

Why does J. Jonah Jameson hate Spider-Man?

Amazing Spider-Man #10
 A rare moment of self-knowledge
A Randian monster?

In 1997, Diana, Princess of Wales died in a car accident. 

She had been by far the most high profile celebrity of the 1980s, and had she lived, might still have become titular queen of England. Attractive and well-meaning, she had been arbitrarily selected as a symbol of female beauty and British patriotism, a role which engulfed her until she seemed to believe in it herself. Pretty much her only public function was to be photographed at public events; yet she came to regard photographers as her implacable enemies. An inquest eventually decided that she had been unlawfully killed by those photographers. The media obsession with her has never really died down. 

At her funeral her brother delivered an astonishing eulogy in front of what is still the highest UK TV audience of all time. Why, he asked, did the press and the paparazzi pursue his sister so relentlessly? What explanation could there possibly be for the fact that professional photographers wanted to take photographs of the most glamourous woman of her age?

She talked endlessly of getting away from England, mainly because of the treatment she received at the hands of the newspapers. I don’t think she ever understood why her genuinely good intentions were sneered at by the media; why there seemed to be a permanent quest on their behalf to bring her down. It is baffling. My own and only explanation is that genuine goodness is threatening to those at the opposite end of the spectrum. 

This is an absolutely fascinating remark. Earl Spencer believes that his sister was “genuinely good” and that press photographers were the opposite – genuinely evil. And he thinks that genuinely evil people want to destroy – "bring down" – genuinely good ones. Not for any reason. Destroying goodies is just what baddies do. 

And the way they do it is by printing photos of them in the newspaper. 

At the end of Amazing Spider-Man #10, after Foswell has been unmasked as the Big Man, J. Jonah Jameson speaks directly to the reader, and reveals for the first time why he hates Spider-Man so much.

"Heaven help me," he says "I'm jealous of him."

In Amazing Spider-Man #5 Betty Brant confronted her boss about his obsession with the superhero using the fine old journalistic technique of telling him what "some people might say". 

“Some of our readers are starting to think that you are jealous of him.” 

Jameson admits that his motives are entirely cynical “I have only ONE real motive - to make money. The more I attack Spider-Man, the more people read my papers….Spider-Man sells papers, understand?” 

Would it be too much to imagine that he has been pondering Betty’s words deeply in his heart for the last six months? Some people might think I was jealous. Some people might think I was jealous. And that, after making a complete idiot of himself two months running (accusing Spider-Man of being Electro, and then accusing him of being the Big Man) he suddenly has a moment of self-knowledge. Betty with the dangly ear-rings and the silly hair-cut has hit the nail precisely on the head. 

“Heaven help me. I am jealous of him!”

J.J.J. must really value Betty as a P.A, incidentally: he wouldn't put up with even indirect criticism from anyone else. 

We all talk about Stan Lee’s print persona, the fake hipster voice, the self deprecating irony, the hype, the endless insertion of himself into the narrative. But his dialogue is so damn good that we almost forget it exists. Peter Parker says something in Peter Parker’s voice and Flash Thompson snaps back in Flash Thompson’s voice and we almost forget that Stan Lee put those words into their mouths as well.

Jonah’s soliloquy is a little masterpiece. 

"Am I always to be thwarted, embarrassed, frustrated by Spider-Man?"

Jameson made up the idea that Spider-Man was Electro, and feels embarrassed because he was exposed as a liar.  Jameson made up the idea that Spider-Man was the Big Man, and feels embarrassed because he was exposed as a liar. Yet somehow, he thinks his repeated public humiliations are Spider-Man's fault. Jameson hates Spider-Man because he thwarts and embarrasses him; but if he'd quit hating him there would be nothing for him to be thwarted and embarrassed about. 

“I hate that costumed freak more than I’ve ever hated anyone before!”

The “costumed freak” bit is a major problem: he doesn’t hate Daredevil or Captain America, and before long he’ll be making alliances with the freakishly costumed Scorpion and the equally freakishly costumed Mysterio to destroy Spider-Man. 

“I’ll never be contented while he’s free!” 

As long as Jameson thinks in terms of locking Spider-Man up, his hatred has a veneer of justice. He can see that Spider-Man is a crook, even if no-one else can, and if he could get him arrested, he'd be doing the world a favour. But isn't one of the things he blames Spider-Man for taking the law into his own hands?

“All my life I’ve been interested in only one thing — making money!”

When J.J.J. told Betty he was only interested in making money, he was boasting – at the very least, admitting a manly flaw. He's a businessman. The bottom line is more important than the truth. When Jameson orders Foswell to print obvious lies about Spider-Man, Foswell reflects this line back at him. “I’ll do it. I’ve gotten into the habit of eating three squares a day.” 

Money isn't really the only thing which Jameson is interested in, incidentally: he cares about his family, his personal reputation, the other members of his club, and very probably his supply of good cigars.

“And yet Spider-Man risks his life day after day, with no thought of reward!”

Jameson is entirely wrong here. Peter Parker may not be quite the dickhead we met back in issue #1, but he is not purely altruistic. He care about fame; his whole life is a performance. And he thinks about his reward all the bloody time.

  • “Luckily I had the automatic shutter of my camera working, so old tight-wad Jameson paid me a bundle for the pix!”
  • “I’ve got to raise some money fast! I’ll scout the city until I find some sort of crime that I can photograph, then I’ll sell it to Jameson for as much as he’ll pay!”
  • “What a fool I am! There’s a reward for Electro’s capture! If I can nab him, I won’t have to beg the money from anyone!” 
  • “I’ll snap a few pix of the burning building, old skinflint Jameson may be willing to pay Pete Parker for them!”
  • “What a picture this will make! Jameson will pay me a fortune!”

Spider-Man is no longer the young man who only cares about Number One. He goes into action for many reasons: to pay his family's medical bills; to help people he personally cares about, like Betty; because he's found himself in a situation where he can help and no-one else can. And he does have a sense that preventing property crime contributes to the public good. But he doesn't yet think of himself as having a professional obligation to catch bad guys. 

Jameson doesn't know any of this. Jameson hates Spider-Man's public image. Jameson hates Spider-Man for fighting crime without any reward, never knowing that he, personally, is the one who rewards him. 

“If a man like him is good — is a hero — then what am I?”

Does Jameson sincerely believe Spider-Man is a criminal (even though it is obviously not true) because the alternative is to believe that he, Jameson, is a bad guy? People can and do engage in doublethink of this kind, altering the facts to fit their views. Newspaper men are particularly vulnerable to this kind of cognitive dissonance. It is possible to believe so strongly that the E.U. has banned Christmas that you literally cannot see the giant neon baby Jesus in the high street. 

“I can never respect myself while he lives!” 

A minute ago the only thing that would make him happy was sending Spider-Man to jail. Now the only thing that will restore self-respect is actually killing him. But if you feel bad about yourself because you are a selfish businessman, why on earth would you feel better about being a murderer?

“Spider-Man represents everything that I’m not! He’s brave, powerful and unselfish!”

Hold your horses. Spider-Man is certainly brave; although we have no particular reason to think that Jameson is a coward. Jameson believes Spider-Man to be unselfish, although a lot of the time, he's mistaken. But how can J.J.J. possibly think that Spider-Man is powerful and he is weak? J. Jonah Jameson is the person who can wind public opinion round his little finger. J. Jonah Jameson is the one who gets visits from all the most important people. J. Jonah Jameson is the one with a huge workforce he can hire and fire at will. J. Jonah Jameson orders bankers to attend to his account after hours. Spider-Man can’t even cash a cheque. There is a warrant for Spider-Man’s arrest, because Jameson campaigned for there to be one. Spider-Man can’t appear in public, because Jameson has turned public opinion against him. Spider-Man has to beg and plead and compromise his moral principles in order to get life saving medical care for his loved ones; Jameson, is, presumably, insured up to the hilt. 

Spider-Man certainly has one thing which Jameson does not have: physical strength. Is it possible that Jameson seeks power and wealth because he believes himself to physically puny? (It will be remembered that Charles Foster Kane's sought power and wealth as a substitute for motherly love.) Or perhaps, when Jameson says that Spider-Man has great power at some deeper level he understands that with great power must also come… something else. 

“The truth is, I envy him! I J. Jonah Jameson — millionaire, man of the world, civic leader — I’d give anything to be the man that he is!"

What do we think about heroes and gods and stars and celebrities? Do we try to live our lives on a higher level because we want to be like Jesus or Princess Di or Spider-Man? Or do we give up and stop trying altogether because whatever happens we will never be as great as Jesus or Princess Di or Spider-Man? Would Jonah really give anything (anything?) to be Spider-Man? Then why doesn't he?

"I can never climb to his level!" 

Can’t you Jonah? Can't you really?

The difference between you and Spider-Man is not that he can climb walls and you cannot. The difference between you and Spider-Man is not how much power you have. The difference between you and Spider-Man is about how you have chosen to use your power. Why not use your vast wealth to start the J. Jonah Jameson foundation for the victims of crime? Why not use your paper to campaign against slum landlords and drug-money launderers? Why not pay for bullet proof jackets for cops? Why not take a sabbatical and become a human rights lawyer?

If you could change one thing about yourself, why haven't you?

“So all that remains is — for me to try to tear him down!"

Stan Lee is trying hard to rationalize Jameson's hatred. But in the end, he can't get much beyond what the bitter Earl Spencer said about the photographers who killed his beloved sister. Spider-Man is good. Jameson is not good. Bad people will always try to bring down good people. 

"...because, heaven help me — I’m jealous of him.”

Jealousy is an irrational emotion. A writer who is very nearly as famous as Stan Lee once said that there was no reason for it: 

"They are not ever jealous for the cause. 

But jealous that they are jealous. 

It is a monster, begot upon itself, born of itself…” 

If Stan Lee had been leafing through the Bard for inspiration he might also have lighted on an aside in the same play. The evil Iago is plotting to kill the harmless Cassio. His explanation brings us about as close to J.J.J's mindset as we can come. 

“He hath a daily beauty in his life that makes me ugly.”

Bad people hate good people because good people make bad people look bad. And that's that.

If you are terrified of traveling by plane then no amount of evidence that plane accidents are infinitesimally rare is likely to overcome that fear. You’re not scared for any reason: you’re just scared. It’s why we’ve coined words like "Islamaphobia" and "Homophobia". Boring people may say “ha ha it really means fear of things being the same” or “ha ha Islam is not a race”, but most of us see the point. The belief that children shouldn’t go into a swimming pool that has had homosexuals in it in case they catch gay, and the belief that you can cure Islam by throwing sausages at it don’t really count as opinions. They are irrational fears; like being afraid of mice. Or elevators. Or walking under ladders. Or...

And that’s the third reason why Spider-Man couldn’t have been Fly-Man or Mosquito-Man. J. Jonah Jameson –  and also Aunt May and Betty Brant and many of the people in Ditko’s man-in-the-street tableux – has a wholly unjustified fear of Spider-Man. A phobia. 

What was it Martin Goodman said when Stan Lee told him his idea for a new superhero character? 

People. Don’t. Like. Spiders. 

So that’s what the comic is all about. Snap!


Later continuity has revealed that Jameson had an alcoholic father who beat him.

A Close Reading of the First Great Graphic Novel in American Literature
Andrew Rilstone

Andrew Rilstone is a writer and critic from Bristol, England. This essay forms part of his critical study of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko's original Spider-Man comic book. 

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Amazing Spider-Man was written and drawn by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko and is copyright Marvel Comics. All quotes and illustrations are use for the purpose of criticism under the principle of fair dealing and fair use, and remain the property of the copywriter holder.

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Gavin Burrows said...

I've always imagined the "sells papers" speech was Lee's rationalisation for Jameson and the jealousy soliloquy was Ditko's. It has a Randian sense to it of there being innately greater and lesser people, and to me the cadences sound more Ditko than Lee. Though it does work well as a spoken rebuff leading to a later 'thought voice', the quick denial followed by the later admission only to himself.

Andrew Rilstone said...

That's a very good point, and would fit in nicely with my split-hero split-text thesis.

Damn you...

(Goes back to chapter 1 and starts all over again :))

SK said...

The first reaction, of course, is 'he doesn't mean jealous at all, he means envious.'

But then… one wonders, what would it mean for him to actually be jealous, not envious, of the Spider-man? Is that an interesting line of thought?

Andrew Rilstone said...

1: Stan Lee certainly sometimes misuses vocabulary, often when he is using slightly grand words. (In the Silver Surfer he uses "pedagogue" (a teacher) when he obviously means "demagogue" (a rabble-rouser); in Thor he thinks that "noisome" means "loud" when it really means "smelly"; and of course he thinks that "Enfant terrible" literally means "terrible child".)

2: I take it that you wish to limit the word "jealousy" to meaning "sexual" or "romantic" jealousy, and use the word "envy" when someone wants another persons wealth, talent, comic book collection etc. The Protestant Church treats "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house...or anything which is thy neighbour's" as a single commandment, where the Catholic Church treat "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife" as one sin, and "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house...etc" as a different sin.

Google Ngram cites a rather charming book from 1804, with the snappy title "The Joy of Faith in the Shadow of Death: Addressed to the Respectable Family of the Blakers of Bolney, in Sussex, Upon the Death of an Indulgent Husband, a Tender Father, and an Honest Believer in Christ". It contains the following passage:

"Your nice distinction between jealousy and envy I must leave to the learned. I believe that Rachel was provoked to jealousy at the fruitfulness of Leah; and thought that she stood higher in the divine favour than herself; and the consequence was, that she envied her sister. The apostles were provoked to jealousy when James and John craved their seats on the right and left hand of Christ in the Kingdom, and the other ten were filled with indignation against the two brethren."

(Note Rev Huntington still uses "nice" to mean "pedantic" as opposed to "mildly pleasant. I don't know at what point we started saying "brothers" rather than "brethren"; or indeed why we carried on saying "children" rather than "childs", or I suppose logically, "childers".)

3: If you utterly insist on this usage, then, yes, it is easy enough to see how Jameson might be "jealous" of Spider-Man

a: Jameson puts up with having his authority challenged by Betty because, at some level, he is in love with her.

b: Jameson resents the younger and more good looking Peter Parker, because Betty is obviously attracted to him. (This is why he keeps making jokes about "lonely hearts clubs", etc.)

c: Jameson is subconsciously aware that Spider-Man and Peter Parker are the same person.

d: Jameson's hatred of Spider-Man is a projection of the fact that he is sexually jealous of Spider-Man (Parker's) relationship with Betty?

4: No-one apart from Quentin Letts thinks that language is fixed and unchanging. "Jealousy" as been used as a synonym for "envy" for decades. Every dictionary which I can find includes both shades of meaning, and most regard "wanting what the other fellow has got" as the primary meaning.

2: unhappy and angry because someone has something that you want:


1: Feeling or showing an envious resentment of someone or their achievements, possessions, or perceived advantages.


feeling resentment against someone because of that person's rivalry, success, or advantages (often followed by of):

feeling resentment because of another's success, advantage, etc. (often followed by of):


1: an unhappy or angry feeling of wanting to have what someone else has


1: 1. Envious or resentful of the good fortune or achievements of another.


1: feeling angry or unhappy because you wish you had something that somebody else has

SK said...

'Envy' is when you want something someone else has, like their car or their wife.

'Jealousy' is when you are afraid someone else will take something you have got (eg, a lover).

So Othello is jealous of Desdemona, because she is hers and he is afraid someone else is having her. But Iago is envious of Othello, because he wants the position and regard in which Othello is held.

SK said...

(So, for Jameson to be 'jealous' as Spider-Man would be something like him being possessive of Spider-Man, and not wanting to share him with the world; perhaps to the extent that he regards Spider-Man is 'his' discovery, for first publicising him, and would rather destroy him than let the rest of the world think of him as also belonging in some way to them.

It sort of makes sense, as a newspaperman, for Jameson to think in terms of exclusive, doesn't it? So if Jameson is 'jealous' of the Spider-Man, rather than 'envious', it could be because he can't control him: he can't hold him to a deal whereby his deeds only get reported in the Daily Bugle, for example.

so he decides that if he can't have sole rights to publish Spider-Man's heroism, then damn it he will make Spider-Man into a villain and then everybody will hate him and the fact that he isn't Jameson's own creature will not matter.

But I haven't read the comics so I don't know how well that fits. Maybe not at all.)

Andrew Rilstone said...

'Envy' is when you want something someone else has, like their car or their wife.

'Jealousy' is when you are afraid someone else will take something you have got (eg, a lover).

Not according to the six dictionaries I consulted. Sorry.

Andrew Rilstone said...

Anonymous said...

"Later continuity has revealed that Jameson had an alcoholic father who beat him"

Coming late to this, but not sure if this should be a reference to Flash? Don't remember this about JJJ having an alcoholic abusive father, and if true it seems Marvel probably forgot, as they recently introduced JJJ's father who was a very nice man who married Aunt May & then died. (All a bit silly, but I guess it's not always easy coming up with new stories of characters that have already been in thousands of stories.)

Come to think of it, as well as Flash, you also have MJ's alcoholic crook father & Harry's abusive super-villain father. I guess Peter was lucky that his father was only a dead spy who was believed to be a traitor to his country.

Anonymous said...

"Later continuity has revealed that Jameson had an alcoholic father who beat him"

Coming late to this, but not sure if this should be a reference to Flash? Don't remember this about JJJ having an alcoholic abusive father, and if true it seems Marvel probably forgot, as they recently introduced JJJ's father who was a very nice man who married Aunt May & then died. (All a bit silly, but I guess it's not always easy coming up with new stories of characters that have already been in thousands of stories.)

Come to think of it, as well as Flash, you also have MJ's alcoholic crook father & Harry's abusive super-villain father. I guess Peter was lucky that his father was only a dead spy who was believed to be a traitor to his country.

Andrew Rilstone said...

I was referencing a story called "Behind the Moustache" in Tangled Web of Spider-Man, in which J.J.J is in therapy and reveals his father's cruelty. I have no idea the extent to which it is regarded as canonical. Certainly the "cruel/alcoholic" father motif has been quite heavily over-used over the years.

I was dimly aware of the "Auny May marries J.J.J Snr" story but am rather weak on contemporary Spidey continuity. It could have been worse; she could have married Doctor Octopus...

Thanks for your interest!