Criticism and Pop Culture

This quote illustrates the problem with criticism and art today, especially when it comes to pop culture critics.
Wonder Woman, by Cliff Chiang

The comic book critic Kelly Thompson dropped Wonder Woman after issue #7, and explained herself in her article “Is the Destruction of the Amazons The Destruction of Feminism in DC Comics?”  Basically, the writer of Wonder Woman, Brian Azzarello, has returned the titular character Wonder Woman to ancient Greek mythological roots. However, Greek mythology is much more bloodthirsty and savage than their previous incarnations, notably expressed by George Perez in the mid 80s. The Olympians of Perez seemed closer to the stoic figures of Roman mythology: certainly noble but mostly detached from the affairs of mortals.

Azzarello’s update meant the Amazons became corrupted as rapists or liars and murderers. What is the problem? The critic Thompson has chosen to project her modern PC inflected social consciousness onto Greek mythology and despite herself, dropped the book for political reasons. The paternal struggles of the gods, or the male and female dynamic cannot be ignored.

In fact, the Amazons were never the so-called “female empowerment myth,” because that only implies they were created during the age of patriarchy, which is actually a late emergence during Hellenic Greece. There was a sophisticated Minoan culture with women in prominent positions (in religious ceremonies, female deities of first rank, attending and participating in festivals and entertainment, particularly sacred ceremonies like Bull Dancing). Recent studies of Greek scholars Evans, Foley, Clinton, Burkert, Richardson, and Mylonas show that there were centuries old tradition with classical Greek civic religion that focused on female experience, while addressing the relationship between the divine and the human, where ‘human’ refers to both males and females.

Amazons, the legendary founders of Ephesus

Moreover, the version of the Amazons in Azzarello is entirely consistent with the original Amazon mythology where the Amazons visited the all-male tribe in Gargareans in order to reproduce, and if they bore male offspring, they were either killed outright, or sold back to the Gargareans. Many accounts consisted of rape and coercion.

Comic books are capable of expressing an ideal world, especially when Perez portrayed the Amazons as a noble race that did not engage in petty human behavior of lying or exploiting, but they are also equally capable of expressing a more difficult world of corruption and competition. Azzarello should be commended for trying a new tack rather than recycling old ideas – much like John Byrne did with Wonder Woman in his late 90s’ run.

Since there is a difference between being social conscious and utilizing it for political correctness policing in art, or using social conscious dialogue to emerge from art and using it to judge artistic merit, the critic must be aware of this distinction. Therefore, the critic must check herself before forcing the artwork into the square holes of social judgment, and commit the Noble Lie by editing out salient facts for political reasons.

The critic has to educate the public; the artist has to educate the critic. – Oscar Wilde

I’ve determined a rubric to distinguish the good critic from the average and the forgettable ones.

The forgettable critic attacks the artist because he is incapable of accepting the representations in the artwork, and thinks he is the defender of the readership in order to fight this corrupting representation.

The average critic also defends the readership and tries to attack the artist with some social consciousness or academic language that “proves” the artwork is not of acceptable aesthetic standard.

The great critic appreciates the originality and courage of the artist, and tries to assess the best qualities of the artwork. This attempt ignores the shortcomings of the artwork and tries to invent a story that contextualizes the art and the artist in order better relate the readership.

Most fans fall in the forgettable critic category, and most “critics” fall in the average category. The great critic are few and far between – they move beyond fanboyism and social consciousness in order to recontextualize the artwork that juxtaposes the qualities of the art in order to elicit approval or disapproval, instead of endorsement or condemnation. This recontextualization will isolate the best themes in the artwork and place them in the context of alternative artwork.

If you want to be a superior critic, do not hold dogmatic positions or opinions, and stay open to conclusions that aren’t pleasant or compatible with your beliefs. It’s probably impossible to avoid being an average critic given the noise to signal ratio or momentum of popular opinion on the Internet – you are expected to summarize the artwork, isolate its qualities, and quickly weigh the execution of those qualities – never mind the value judgments uncritically inherited from society.

The superior critic is capable of re-interpreting the artwork and adapt it to her purposes. She is creative enough to have a well-formed and original view, and the courage to go beyond the conventional strictures of society in judging the artwork.

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...a philosophisticator who utters heresies, thinks theothanatologically and draws like Kirby on steroids.

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