“I’m not PC, but…”

Writing for the South African daily the Mail & Guardian, artist Khwezi Gule critiques Bitterkomix co-founder Anton Kannemeyer’s new book Pappa in Arika for perpetuating stereotypes of what he, with tongue-twisting élan, calls “the white-supremacist-capitalist-patriarchy.” Although I haven’t yet seen the book, I’m familiar with Kannemeyer’s work and since my pal Li Se has poked my interest, I want to add a few words to this debate.

Gule’s further point is that the racially and politically provocative art of the Bitterkomix group and others does not receive proper critical scrutiny by what one assumes to be the liberal intelligentsia, because these artists hide their racism behind a fig-leaf of subversiveness. What Gule doesn’t seem to grasp is that Kannemeyer’s being racist is essential to his art — of course he’s racist, that’s what his art is about. He is not merely exposing “white fear”, but a much more complex set of emotions held by many whites, African and otherwise, vis-à-vis their colonialist legacy and life in a multicultural society. He further extends his reach to fathom the situation of non-whites, in casu parts of the black political and coporate establishment which he “coons” in a bold move, tying their abuses to the history of Western imperialism through vicious stereotype.

On Murakami and Observing Reality

Last week, I got the chance to attend an afternoon of readings and on-stage interviews with Haruki Murakami in Møn, Denmark. Although the interviewers were fairly unimaginative and failed to probe below the surface or pursue any of the interesting points made by the author, Murakami was such a charming, unpretentious and earnestly thoughtful speaker that it nevertheless turned out a great session.

I’m fairly new to Murakami’s work, having only read a couple of his novels and short stories, but found it pretty compelling — if perhaps unsurprising — how his work process and whole approach to writing, as he described it, so closely mirrors the way his protagonists experience life and events. Murakami described the creative process as descending into the subbasement of a house and letting the darkness dictate the writing. He emphasised that he avoids research entirely when writing his first draught, only turning to source material and implementing factual corrections from the second draught onward.

He said that he starts with a word or an image, from which the story unfolds, but doesn’t plan anything out ahead. “When the phone rang I was in the kitchen, boiling a potful of spaghetti and whistling along to an FM broadcast of the overture to Rossini’s The Thieving Magpie, which has to be the perfect music for cooking pasta”, is the opening sentence of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. Murakami described how his first question would then be, ‘who’s on the phone?’ and then he would go with the idea that came to him, worrying about who the anonymous woman he has talking sex to the protagonist is and what her call means later — or not at all, as the work may dictate.

Picks of the Week


The picks of the week from around the web.

  • Li Se on the proposed South African media bill. As good a critical overview as any I’ve read on the ANC’s latest media clampdown in disguise.
  • Sam Lipsyte on Wilson. A fine review of Dan Clowes’ latest comic. One of the few I’ve read that seems to get it.
  • “1000 Years of Pretty Boys”. Guest-blogging for the Hooded Utilitarian, JR Brown provides a great, detailed survey of homosocial depictions of bishounen, beautiful young men, in historical Japan as a framework for understanding especially shoujo and yaoi manga.
  • Thomas Thorhauge on the proposed Danish ban on drawn child porn

    As explained here the other day, there’s currently a public debate raging in Denmark about drawn and animated child pornography, triggered in part by the opening of an exhibition on the topic in the city of Odense, in part by the conviction in Sweden of a manga translator alleged to have possessed drawn images of minors engaged in sexual acts.

    This site’s sometime contributor, cartoonist, and chairman of the Danish Comics Council, Thomas Thorhauge, had the following op-ed piece published yesterday in the Copenhagen daily Politiken:

    Disturbing perspectives in proposed ban on drawn child pornography

    A polemical exhibition on animated child pornography has finally launched widely a debate on the proposal made by the Social Democrats to ban drawn child pornography. The proposal is based on catastrophically misconceived notions that have recently led to almost Kafkaesque situations in Sweden. There, ordinary comics readers, art book afficionados and others owning illustrated books, may consider double checking their shelves and perhaps getting rid of a book or two, if they wish to avoid a pedophilia charge.

    To anybody even remotely acquainted with comics history, this recalls earlier eruptions of media hysteria in the 20th century. Both here and abroad, comics have been subjected to the censorious tendencies of concerned psychiatrists and psychologists: comics turn kids into juvenile delinquents, psychopaths, and so on. And we have all seen how film and video games have been subjected to similar treatment.

    And now it is happening again. This time the concerned citizen is the Social Democrat Karen Hækkerup, whose proposal is based on exactly the same premise as earlier instances of hysteria: looking at naked cartoon characters turns you into a pedophile, just as violent films and video games make you violent. And so on.

    This is not convincing. Even if one found conclusive, incontrovertible evidence that pictures have that effect, the proposal risks enabling the banning of all cultural products that concern themselves with “dangerous” subject matter, such as violence, sex, lies, deceit, and so on.

    Hækkerup’s proposal is based on Swedish legislation, under which a special police unit decides whether a given drawing is child pornography, or whether it has artistic or scientific merit. In the latter two cases, it will be protected from prosecution. But it is obvious that such a distinction is impossible to make in practice.

    The Kafkaesque case of a Swedish manga translator who was convicted last month for possession of child pornography, because his extensive comics collection contained 51 erotic manga cartoons of characters which the court in Uppsala considered to be “under 18 years of age” is a disturbing wakeup call. The translator has defended himself convincingly and is unlikely to be more of a pedophile than the daily newspaper Dagens Nyheter and Swedish Television, who have now both been reported to the police by citizens offended by some of the manga cartoons they showed as part of their reporting on the case.

    The conviction establishes a precedent that places under suspicion ordinary children, who may own copies of the international smash hit Dragon Ball. Or their father, who may have on his bookshelves a couple of old, anti-authoritarian and transgressive comics of the kind created by the great American master Robert Crumb. Or their grandmother, who may be in possession of an art book containing Carl Larsson’s delicate scenes of Swedish country idyll with small, naked girls in them.

    This situation is now the new reality in Sweden. If Karen Hækkerup’s proposal is passed, Denmark will soon follow suit.

    It should be unnecessary emphatically to state that sexual abuse of children is totally unacceptable. Photographic child pornography documents real, illegal sexual abuse. A drawing on the other hand, no matter how disgusting and horrible it might seem, is still a drawing. There is no victim.

    Karen Hækkerup’s proposes to ban fiction and drawings — ideas. It is, in other words, the right to think, debate, polemicize and, not the least, to question, which is at risk.

    Will everyone who seriously wishes for the establishment of thought police in Denmark please stand up?

    Images from Comics and Beats 4

    This Sunday saw the fourth Comics and Beats event in Copenhagen. Organised by the Danish Comics Council, it is a live drawing event where cartoonists improvise to music provided by a DJ and prompts given by the audience and the MC. This time, it took place as part of a charity event in Copenhagen’s Fælledpark, with the resulting drawings subsequently being auctioned off to benefit Zimbabwean farmers.

    This time, the artists were Allan Haverholm, Ina Korneliussen, and Erik Petri, the DJ was M. Dejean and the MC was Cav Bøgelund. As usual, Frederik Høyer-Christensen was there and caught the event on his camera — check his Flickr set here.

    Image: Cav Bøgelund and M. Dejean vs. Korneliussen, Haverholm & Petri.

    On the Child Pornography Debate in Denmark

    The highly publicized child pornography conviction last month of a Swedish translator, for possessing manga which allegedly depicted sexualised minors or minors engaging in sexual acts, is but the latest manifestation of a debate concerning what constitutes child pornography that has been going for a number of years. The chairman of the Swedish Comics Society, Fredrik Strömberg, has written succinctly about the case here and here.

    The debate has also been raging in Denmark for the better part of a year, with Karen Hækkerup — a member of parliament for the main opposition party, the Social Democrats — leading the charge against the kind of animated child pornography currently legally accessible on the internet (from a Danish website amongst other sources). Hækkerup and the Social Demoncrats want to change the law opening the people manufacturing this kind of material for prosecution, and she has recently found support from the powerful, right-wing Danish Peoples’ Party. The issue exploded in the media this week because of the opening, Friday, of an exhibition about drawn and animated child pornography at the Odense museum Brandts klædefabrik.

    Hækkerup’s proposals have been met with criticism from a number of quarters, including not just free speech groups, but also the child protection organization Red Barnet. The research cited by Hækkerup, purportedly showing that looking at pornography may ultimately lead to actual transgressions, has been questioned and the proposal described as a slippery slope, potentially leading to cases like the ones in Sweden, or worse. Mie Harder, a member of the government’s junior coalition partner, the Conservative Party, has been very vocal in her opposition to the proposal and has started a Facebook page to fight it.

    The government is currently awaiting a promised statement by the Sexological Clinic at the National Hospital in Copehagen on the possible links between pornography and criminal sexual transgression. The minister of Justice, Lars Barfoed, as well as the judicial spokesman of the Danish Peoples’ Party, whose votes will be important to the passing of any new legislation, have both noted that it will be important for their further consideration of the case.

    The Danish Comics Council, on the board of which I sit has also been involved in the debate. Chairman, and occasional Metabunker contributor, Thomas Thorhauge — who is highly critical of the censorious tendency evinced by the proposal — has appeared in a radio debate with Social Democrat Maja Panduro and the Council is presently preparing an official statement, which will appear in English in this space.

    Hype: Mutant Pop

    For those in the Copenhagen-Malmö region, I recommend checking out the exhibition Mutant Pop, now open at the Loyal Gallery in Saltimporten, Malmö. It is curated by Joe Grillo (it’s his work above) and Laura Grant of Dearraindrop and includes work by a host of talented artists, amongst them Mat Brinkman, Brian Chippendale, Ron Regé Jr., Yuichi Yokoyama and Gary freakin Panter! It runs till September 20th.