Kim Davis versus same-sex marriage

I have been following with interest the events in Rowan County, Kentucky.  Since the Supreme Court handed down their decision in Obergefell v. Hodges on June 26th legalizing same-sex marriage, Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis has refused to issue marriage licenses.  Davis has cited her sincerely held religious beliefs as an Apostolic Christian, specifically her opposition to homosexuality, as the reason why she should be exempted from issuing marriage licenses to same sex couples.

Represented by the ultra-conservative Liberty Counsel, Davis took her case all the way to the Supreme Court.  On August 31st they declined to stay the United States District Court’s ruling that Davis must issue marriage licenses to all applicants.  In response, Davis continued to refuse to issue licenses, arguing that she was acting “under God’s authority.”  In a statement earlier this week Davis declared:

“To issue a marriage license which conflicts with God’s definition of marriage, with my name affixed to the certificate, would violate my conscience.  It is not a light issue for me. It is a Heaven or Hell decision.”

Finally, on September 3rd Davis was jailed by Federal District Judge David L. Bunning for contempt of court.  Bunning ordered Davis’ deputy clerks to begin issuing marriage licenses, which they did the following day.

I have no doubt that Davis’ beliefs are deeply and passionately felt.  Nevertheless, for several reasons, her actions are wrong.

First of all, there is a question of hypocrisy on Davis’ part.  She has been married four times to three different men.  As reported by U.S. News and World Report:

“She gave birth to twins five months after divorcing her first husband. They were fathered by her third husband but adopted by her second. Davis worked at the clerk’s office at the time of each divorce and has since remarried.”

I am not a Christian.  Nevertheless I know how to use Google.  After conducting a quick search I came across this passage:

“But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery.” – Matthew 5:32

Davis’ attorney argued that whatever her past sins, when she converted to Apostolic Christianity four years ago it wiped the slate clean, and she has been a God-fearing, righteous woman since then.  That’s more than a bit convenient!  But let’s go with that.  Even if that was the case, are we to believe that Davis didn’t issue any marriage licenses to divorced people since she found God?  If she now values the sanctity of matrimony so much, shouldn’t she be denying not just gay people licenses but also people who were previously married?

Kim Davis bigotry cartoon

Second, the argument that she should not have to perform the duties of her job because they violate her ethical and moral beliefs is nonsensical.  Most people will be able to tell you about occasions when their jobs required them to perform tasks that they found onerous.

Speaking from personal experience, I worked at a health insurance company for seven years. On several occasions that company canceled group short term disability policies held by businesses because they had too many claims. I was told to inform those businesses that A) their policy was canceled and B) they still had to send us their past due premiums.  I thought it was wrong to cancel policies like that.  But I did what my bosses told me to because I had bills to pay and I did not want to get fired.  I did not say to them “I refuse to perform my job because what you are asking me to do is against my personal moral beliefs, but I expect you to still keep me on as an employee.”  If I had really felt that strongly then I should have just resigned.

And that is what Davis should have done. If you believe that you cannot perform your job without violating your “sincerely held religious beliefs” then quit and find a new job that will not present that conflict.

Just imagine if a situation similar to this occurred with, say, an ultra-conservative Muslim man who worked for the Department of Motor Vehicles.  Suppose that Muslim refused to issue drivers licenses to women due to his religious beliefs.  I fully expect that the same ultra right-wing conservatives who are championing Davis’ cause would be utterly aghast at this.  They would be screaming in horror about “Sharia law” and predicting the downfall of America.  But because Davis is a white Christian woman she is a “martyr” whose religious liberty is being trampled, or some such nonsense.

As for why Davis doesn’t just quit and find a new job, per the Lexington Herald-Leader, there is this:

“County clerk jobs are worth quite a bit. Davis earns about $80,000 a year in a county where per capita income is about $15,600 and median household income just under $30,000, according to recent numbers from the U.S. Census.”

Davis wants to have her cake and eat it too.  She wants to follow the dictates of her faith and keep her well-paying position.  In this matter another Bible verse immediately comes to mind:

“No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” – Matthew 6:24

Third, Davis and her lawyers argued that gay couples simply travel to the next county and obtain marriage licenses there.  To which I would respond, why should same sex couples be subjected to an inconvenience that heterosexual couples do not have to deal with?  And let us say that these couples did travel to the next county to obtain licenses.  What happens if they get there and that county’s clerk, due to his or her “sincerely held religious beliefs”, also decides not to issue them licenses?  How far do these couples have to travel before it becomes utterly unreasonable?  Fifty miles?  One hundred miles?  Five hundred miles?  How much is too much?

In any case, the whole “go to the next county” argument is more than a bit reminiscent of segregation.  It is like a black person being told “No, you cannot use this water fountain, it is for whites only, but there’s another water fountain out back that you’re allowed to use.”  Simply put, that is humiliating.  It is an affront to basic human dignity.

sanctity of marriage

Fourth, and most important, the United States is not a theocracy.  We have a very clear separation of church and state.

On September 3 the Anti-Defamation League issued the following statement:

“Many of us make important decisions in our daily lives grounded in our religious values and beliefs. That should be respected, even per­haps, applauded. However when one chooses to take an oath of office or accepts a position as a public official in a secular constitutional democracy like ours, she has a responsibility to do the job she was hired to do. Rowan County Kentucky Clerk Kim Davis’s job requires her to issue marriage licenses to anyone who may legally get married.

Likewise, Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear stated that upon being elected Davis swore an oath of office to perform her duties.  Therefore:

“Neither your oath nor the Supreme Court dictates what you must believe. But as elected officials, they do prescribe how we must act.”

Davis’ religious freedoms are not being suppressed or discriminated against.  She still has the right to go to church and worship God in the manner she wishes.  She is not being asked to change her mind about gay marriage.  When she is not at work she is free to get on a soapbox and preach to the world about the supposed evils of homosexuality, or to spend all her free time campaigning for the passage of a Constitutional amendment outlawing same sex marriages.

But when Davis is in the County Clerk’s office, acting in an official capacity as an agent of the state, she must perform the duties of her job.  Either that or she must resign.

Yes, some laws are bad and should be fought.  But there are proper methods to challenge unjust statues, by court actions, peaceful protest and civil disobedience.  A person cannot simply argue “This law is wrong, I refuse to follow it, and I am going to perform my job the way I personally believe it should be done. Now go away and leave me alone.”

If Davis is accommodated in this case it would set a dangerous precedent.  Imagine if any government employee could refuse to follow orders or perform their duties due to ethical or religious concerns?  The result would be complete chaos.

Perhaps you may be wondering why I, as a heterosexual male, feel so passionately about this.  Why am I happy about the Supreme Court’s decision in June?  Why am I so alarmed by the actions of Kim Davis and others like her?

Well, in addition to actually possessing empathy for other human beings and feeling distress at seeing others denied equality, there is also my personal background.  I was born & raised Jewish. Growing up I learned all about the immense suffering and discrimination that Jews experienced over the centuries in countries that had an official state religion.  I am a very firm believer in the separation of church and state.

So when I see the rational for denying gay couples the right to marry as “God defined marriage as between a man and a woman” or “the Bible says homosexuality is a sin,” no, I am not going to stand for it.  Keep your religion out of my government.

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The Supreme Court rules in favor of same-sex marriage

“Every new and successful example, therefore, of a perfect separation between the ecclesiastical and civil matters, is of importance; and I have no doubt that every new example will succeed, as every past one has done, in showing that religion and Government will both exist in greater purity the less they are mixed together.” – James Madison (1789)

The United States Supreme Court issued two major decisions this week.  The first of these once again upheld the Affordable Care Act aka Obamacare.  I previously wrote about the ACA three years ago and my feelings remain pretty much the same.  So feel free to go to that blog post for my opinions concerning that issue.

The other decision arrived at by the Supreme Court, via a 5 to 4 vote, was to legalize same-sex marriage in all 50 states.  The four liberal and four conservative justices all voted as expected, with the deciding vote cast by Justice Anthony Kennedy.

In cases such as these, where the Court has been split down ideological lines, Kennedy has often (but not always) been the deciding vote.  Kennedy is something of a moderate Conservative, so it sometimes can be difficult to predict which way his swing vote will go.  There was a great deal of speculation as to whether, in voting in this case, Kennedy would maintain his long-held belief in the importance of gay rights, or if he would decide that this was an issue left up to the individual states.

In the end, Kennedy decided in favor of same-sex marriage, and he wrote the majority opinion.

Carlos McKnight of Washington waves a flag in support of same-sex marriage outside the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday, June 26. (Photo courtesy of CNN.com)

Carlos McKnight of Washington waves a flag in support of same-sex marriage outside the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday, June 26. (Photo courtesy of CNN.com)

With the 2016 race for the Presidency already under way (and, oh man, the election is over a year away and I’m already getting burned out by all of this nonsense) I fully expect that this is going to become yet another major issue.  I’m sure that most of the Republican candidates (how many are we up to at this point?) are already using the Court’s ruling on gay marriage to forecast gloom & doom, fire & brimstone retribution from the Almighty, and the imminent collapse of civilization as we know it.

You know what?  To hell with them and their hate-mongering.

Honestly, why does it matter if gay people marry?  To anyone who genuinely believes that homosexuality is a sin, I ask you this: how exactly does it affect your life if two total strangers who happen to be gay choose to get married?  If you disapprove, well, fine.  You are entitled to your personal opinions.  There are plenty of things in this world that I believe are immoral.  But I do not go around legislating my beliefs.

If two people, two consenting adults, love one another, then why should they not be able to get married?  How is it anyone else’s business?

In the majority opinion, Justice Kennedy states:

“The right to marry is fundamental as a matter of history and tradition, but rights come not from ancient sources alone. They rise, too, from a better informed understanding of how constitutional imperatives define a liberty that remains urgent in our own era. Many who deem same-sex marriage to be wrong reach that conclusion based on decent and honorable religious or philosophical premises, and neither they nor their beliefs are disparaged here. But when that sincere, personal opposition becomes enacted law and public policy, the necessary consequence is to put the imprimatur of the State itself on an exclusion that soon demeans or stigmatizes those whose own liberty is then denied. Under the Constitution, same-sex couples seek in marriage the same legal treatment as opposite-sex couples, and it would disparage their choices and diminish their personhood to deny them this right.”

Despite what some will claim, marriage is a civil institution, not a religious one.  If you want to be married legally, it must be officiated by a justice of the peace or some other agent of the state.  The Court’s ruling is not going to suddenly force priests and rabbis to conduct gay marriages in their churches and synagogues.  I expect that most gay couples are just going to head down to City Hall and tie the knot there.  So, no, this is not going to impose upon your religious rights.

Honestly, this is a country that is supposed to have separation of church and state.  All the attempts to make gay marriage illegal purely on the basis of faith are a prime example of why religion and politics should not become intertwined.

Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy

Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy

I find it ironic that the Republican Party of the 21st Century, the so-called “party of small government,” is so often expanding government intrusion into people’s personal lives, deciding who can and cannot marry, passing judgment on sexual behavior, interfering in the decisions that should be made between a patient and a doctor, and so on.  It seems to me that their idea of “small government” is allowing Big Business to operate in the most reckless manner with absolutely no oversight or restraint, while at the same time prying into the private affairs of citizens in order to appease the Religious Right whose votes they so desperately court.

Besides, I am sick of watching bigots cherry-pick Bible verses to justify their intolerance, forcing their narrow-minded views on the whole of society.  This is why I wholeheartedly believe that faith should be a personal matter.

There are so many problems facing the United States: massive income inequality, unemployment, racism, sexism, inadequate access to medical care, pollution, climate change, terrorism and global political instability.  Those are the issues we need to be worried about, not gay marriage.

I have met gay couples who have been together for many years, who have healthy & stable relationships.  And I have met heterosexual couples who simply have no business being married, who have gotten to the point where they hate each other’s guts, and a divorce is probably the only things that is going to keep them from killing one another.  Heterosexuality is absolutely no guarantee that a marriage will work.

My congratulations to the LGBT community on their victory today.  I hope that there be further progress made in obtaining equal protection under the law in the near future.

The Four Faces of Typhoid Mary

Writer Ann Nocenti, during her time on Daredevil from late 1986 to early 1991, told many unconventional stories that addressed a number of controversial topics.  One of her vehicles for exploring certain issues was the character of Typhoid Mary who she co-created with artist John Romita Jr.

Marvel Comics Presents 150 cover

Typhoid Mary is definitely one of Nocenti’s most memorable creations.  Mary Walker is telepathic, telekinetic and pyrokinetic.  She also suffers from multiple personality disorder, switching between the sweet, innocent, naïve Mary and the sadistic, domineering, seductive Typhoid.  This transformation is not merely mental but also physical, with her pulse rate & temperature changing.

After Nocenti’s departure from Daredevil, she continued to develop Typhoid Mary in a pair of serials that ran in the biweekly anthology Marvel Comics Presents.  Working with artist Steve Lightle, she teamed up Typhoid first with Wolverine and then with Ghost Rider.  The arcs of these two serials culminated in the full-length two-part story “Bloody Mary: A Battle of the Sexes” that appeared in Marvel Comics Presents #150-151, published in early 1994.  The artwork was by Lightle and Fred Harper.

MCP #150 opens with Typhoid ostensibly in the care of psychiatrist Doctor Hunt.  Unfortunately Hunt is badly in need of a refresher course on professional ethics, as he believes he has fallen in love with Mary, and their “sessions” involve having sex with her.  Hunt is supposedly planning to integrate Mary’s personalities together, although more than one character suspects that what he really intends to do is obliterate the kindly Mary persona so that he will have the kinky Typhoid all to himself.

Marvel Comics Presents 150 pg 5

Wolverine removes Mary from Hunt’s care, not only because he can see that the psychiatrist is a quack, but also because he requires Typhoid’s help.  A young mutant empath & chameleon named Jessie has been abducted by the Fortress, one of those innumerable nefarious scientific conspiracies that populate the Marvel universe.  Wolverine needs Typhoid to infiltrate the Fortress and extricate Jessie.  He is able to sell this mission to Mary by explaining that if Jessie is not rescued she will be subjected to unscrupulous experiments, much as the two of them also have been.

Typhoid’s rescue attempt goes awry and she is captured by the Fortress.  She unconsciously sends out a telepathic SOS to not just Wolverine, but to her old paramour / adversary Daredevil and to Ghost Rider… although at this point in time the flaming-skulled cyclist is dead (well, deader than usual) and the mayday is received by his replacement Vengeance.

The imprisoned Typhoid is probed by the Fortress scientists, which results in a third personality bursting forth.  Bloody Mary is a ruthless man-hater who vows to avenge the crimes “the patriarch” has inflicted upon women.  She brutally decimates the Fortress personnel and departs with Jessie.

Later, arriving at a woman’s shelter, Bloody Mary is shocked to discover that Jessie is, in fact, a boy; his empathic abilities had previously caused him to mimic first Steel Raven, the female mercenary who brought him to the Fortress, and then Mary.  Now, though, he is reverting to his true gender.  Bloody Mary is furious.  Calling Jessie a “filthy liar,” she violently slaps the teenager.  Stealing the shelter’s files on battered women, Mary flees, intending to avenge them.

Marvel Comics Presents 150 pg 24

Bloody Mary embarks upon her mission of retribution, brutalizing the husbands and boyfriends of the women in the shelter, inflicting upon them the exact injuries they gave their victims.  Attempting to track her down are Wolverine, Daredevil and Vengeance, who each have their own ideas about how to deal with Bloody Mary.  The three vigilantes at odds with one another, as they argue over whether Mary deserves psychiatric help, imprisonment, or death.

Added to the mix is Steel Raven, dispatched by the Fortress to retrieve Jessie.  Raven is beginning to have second thoughts about her employers, though, unsettled by their experiments on children.  When Raven catches up to Bloody Mary, she finds that she is in agreement with her quest for retribution against abusive men.  The mercenary holds off Vengeance and Wolverine so that Mary can continue on her mission.

Vacillating back and forth between her three personalities, Mary once again encounters Jessie, who has been looking for her.  The empathic teen begins to copy each of Mary’s personas in rapid succession…

Mary: Look at you, my multiple personalities, they’re contagious. Look at you. You echo all I am. Stay away. I can’t be responsible!

Jessie: I want to be with you, Mary. I want to help you.

Mary: How did you manage to trick me, make me think you were a girl?

Jessie: Because I am a girl. I’m just trapped in this boy’s body. I want to be like you.

Mary: Oh, yeah? Which me? Who shall I be for you?

Jessie: That Wolverine man was right. There’s one more in there. One more that’s the best of all. Don’t you feel it?

Prompted by Jessie, Mary looks within herself, and uncovers a fourth personality, a woman who refers to herself as “Walker.”  This identity shares certain aspects of the other three.  Walker is kind but assertive.  She is not abusive, nor will she allow herself to be abused.

Marvel Comics Presents 151 pg 24

Walker reflects upon her various natures…

“I began to hate all the shrinks and doctors, all the men, and I divided myself into four parts: one helpless before men, one using them, one hating them… and now me, indifferent to them. Beyond them.”

Walker returns to the hospital where she was being treated and confronts Hunt on his unethical, criminal behavior, and then exposes what he did to her.  As he is being led away by the police, she turns to address the reporters on the scene.  Walker vows to continue Bloody Mary’s quest to avenge women, but it is apparent she will be doing so a more rational manner.  And with that she departs, Jessie accompanying her.

The first time I read “Bloody Mary: A Battle of the Sexes” I was 18 years old.  I found it incredibly thought-provoking.  It raised so many questions that I had never really considered previously, about women’s roles in society and how these are often imposed upon them by men, about homosexuality & gender identity, about crime & punishment.  Two decades later, re-reading it, Nocenti’s story still stirred a great deal of contemplation.

Interviewed in October 1998 by the Daredevil fan site Man Without Fear, Nocenti explained the creation of Typhoid Mary…

“As for where Typhoid came from, you’ll have to ask the shrink I’ve as yet never gone to. I think I wanted to shatter the female stereotypes–virgin, whore, bitch, ditz, feminist, girl scout, all-suffering mother, et al.–into tiny fragments and yet keep all the pieces in the same little female bundle.”

Through her character Nocenti addresses the identities that men often assign to women.  Typhoid Mary is a challenge to the Virgin-Whore Complex, the idea often perpetuated by male-dominant cultures that a woman is either a virtuous, chaste innocent or a sinful, promiscuous seductress, with no middle ground in-between.  Mary is the “virgin” and Typhoid is the “whore,” and neither of them is healthy.  These two halves are the result of fission of personality.  The splitting of an atom initially results in tremendous energy but ultimately leads to radioactive decay.  Likewise, Mary Walker’s personality split to protect her from trauma, but over time this became detrimental, with neither aspect able to function as a whole individual.

Marvel Comics Presents 151 pg 16

Mary by herself is kind and caring, but also helpless and unsophisticated, unprepared to cope with the complexities of the world.  Typhoid, on the other hand, protects herself from harm by acting as the aggressor and manipulating others, but this renders her incapable of forming real friendships and relationships with others.  Both Mary and Typhoid possess attributes that, if united, would make them a strong, independent, healthy person.

Bloody Mary is another unbalanced splinter of Mary Walker’s personality.  Nocenti casts Bloody Mary as an embodiment of the stereotype of the militant feminist, what some derogatorily refer to as a “Feminazi.”  Bloody Mary views the conflict between men and women in absolutes, declaring that “All women are political prisoners.”  She regards all men as victimizers, not realizing that she is guilty of the same broad judgments as those she opposes.

If, however, the determination and convictions of Bloody Mary were united with the qualities of Mary Walker and Typhoid Mary, once again you would have an individual who is secure and balanced.  The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

I think that all of us, men and women, are incredibly complex.  At different times in our lives, in different setting among different people, we play different roles, we assume different identities, emphasize different parts of our personalities.  Sometimes we have trouble deciding exactly who we are.

Even with someone such as Hunt, Nocenti demonstrates that people are complicated.  For all his sins, at one point the psychiatrist does express self-doubt and begins to question his objectivity.  Ultimately, though, Hunt pushes aside his uncertainty.  He attempts to rationalize his actions to Walker with a misogynist rant about how all women are seductive manipulators.  Sometimes, when you get right down to it, people really are jerks.

Marvel Comics Presents 151 pg 28

Jessie is an interesting figure.  Through him/her, Nocenti touches upon the question of what determines sexual orientation and gender identity.  How much of it is conscious individual choice, how much is a result of socialization, and how much of it is biological?

When I was in my teens I was still trying to make up my mind about homosexuality.  I will admit at one point I knew very little about the subject and the thought of people of the same gender having sex seemed really weird.  Then in the early 1990s I read newspaper articles about how homosexuality was likely determined by genetics.  At that point I must have started to understand that if sexual orientation was something that a person was born with, just like skin color or eye color or height or being left-handed, then it was unjust to discriminate against someone on that basis.

As for the transgender aspect of Jessie’s character, two decades later sex change remains even more controversial than homosexuality.  It still seems a bit odd to me.  The concept of a person’s psychological gender identity being different from their physical one is difficult for me to understand.  But just because something is beyond my conception doesn’t make it wrong.  It is important to keep an open mind.  And I recognize that it is crucial for people to be comfortable in their own skin, to be happy with who they are.

“Bloody Mary” is a good story, although not without its flaws.  Perhaps Nocenti’s plot is overly ambitious, attempting to fit in its in-depth exploration of Typhoid Mary, appearances by Wolverine, Daredevil and Vengeance, and the introductions of Steel Raven, Jessie and the Fortress.

There may have been certain editorial directives at work that Nocenti had to work within, such as the use of Vengeance.  It would have made more sense to have Ghost Rider appear but, again, the character was (temporarily) deceased, and so Vengeance was slotted in even though he’d never met Typhoid before.   He doesn’t have much to do in this story.  Daredevil also seems to be fighting for space.  Halfway through MCP #151 he rather abruptly agrees to just let Wolverine handle Typhoid, and then vanishes from the story.

The division of artwork between Steve Lightle and Fred Harper isn’t ideal.  Both Lightle and Harper are very talented artists, but they have extremely different styles.  Consequently the two halves of this story are visually quite different.

Marvel Comics Presents 150 pg 16

Lightle’s detailed artwork on the first half of “Bloody Mary” is amazing.  I have been a fan of his since I first saw his covers for Classic X-Men in 1989.  So I was happy his work began appearing regularly in MCP starting in 1992.

Lightle works in tangent with colorist Maryann Lightle who, as you can probably guess by that last name, is his wife.  It seems likely that her familiarity with her husband’s work enabled Maryann Lightle to do an extremely effective job coloring his art on this issue.

I especially liked Lightle’s design for Wolverine’s stealth uniform.  Lightle also designed the Steel Raven character, and co-plotted the first half of the story with Nocenti.

It appears that Lightle was originally intended to illustrate the entire story.  In late 1993 I met MCP editor Richard Ashford at a store signing.  He had preview artwork for upcoming issues including this story, which he stated was going to run in #149-150.  Fast forward to early 1994 and MCP #149 came out with no sign of Typhoid Mary but instead four stand-alone eight page stories.  “Bloody Mary” by Nocenti & Lightle did begin in the next issue, but the letter column announced that the artist on second part would be Harper.

I don’t know if there were deadline problems and work on this story was running late (hence the story being moved back an issue), or if Ashford was worried that it would come in behind schedule, but whatever the case he assigned the second half to Harper, who was a regular contributor to MCP.  Lightle did illustrate to cover for #151, though.

Marvel Comics Presents 151 pg 5

On the second half of “Bloody Mary,” Harper does very solid work.  His layouts and storytelling on many of his pages are dramatic and inventive.  As I said, Harper’s art is very unlike Lightle’s, but judged on its own merits it is good.

Regrettably sometimes the coloring doesn’t do Harper too many favors.  I don’t blame colorist Joe Andreani, who did quite a bit of work at Marvel in the 1990s.  Apparently MCP didn’t get the best color reproduction that was available at the time.  Or perhaps it is just that Harper’s style with its heavy use of blacks is better-suited to appearing in black & white.  I’ve seen a number of his original pages from MCP and they look so much more impressive in person, revealing a lot of detail that was unclear or obscured when they were printed.

In any case, despite certain problems, Marvel Comics Presents #150-151 are still a strong pair of issues.  Ann Nocenti’s writing on “Bloody Mary: A Battle of the Sexes” it thoughtful and intelligent.  Nocenti does an excellent job continuing to develop her creation Typhoid Mary, and through her addresses a number of controversial topics while crafting an entertaining story.

UPDATE: I was just notified by Steve Andreski, via the Back Issue Magazine group on Facebook, that there is an upcoming trade paperback from Marvel collecting the Typhoid Mary serials from MCP including “Bloody Mary,” as well as several other excellent stories featuring the character written by Ann Nocenti.  Here’s the info…

Typhoid's Kiss TPB solicitation

I highly recommend purchasing a copy of the Daredevil: Typhoid’s Kiss trade paperback when it comes out.  There are some really great stories that are going to be contained in this volume.  Thanks for the info, Steve!

Separating the art from the artist: creators and bad behavior

As someone who reads a lot of books & comics, who watches television & movies, who listens to music, from time to time the question arises: can you appreciate a work of art purely on its own merits, even when you do not like the artist who created it?  If you know that person is unpleasant, or sexist, or racist, or holds an extreme political view that is anathema to your sensibilities, are you still able to enjoy the products of his or her creativity?

That question has once again reared its head for me in the last couple of days.  It concerned independent comic book creator MariNaomi, author of Kiss & Tell: A Romantic Resume, Ages 0 to 22.  I learned that MariNaomi, while she had been participating on a panel discussion on LGBTQ issues at a comic book convention, had been, in her words, “sexually harassed” by a fellow panelist.  It very soon was revealed that mainstream comic book writer Scott Lobdell was the individual who had harassed her.  I do not want to get into the unpleasant details of what MariNaomi experienced, or discuss Lobdell’s apology, but you can read both of them for yourselves via these links.  I’ll still be here when you get back:

http://www.xojane.com/it-happened-to-me/marinaomi-harassed-comics-panel

http://comicsbeat.com/scott-lobdell-i-apologize-to-marinaomi/

Are we all caught up now?  Good.

When I was in high school and college in the 1990s, I was a huge fan of Scott Lobdell’s writing on books such as Excalibur, Marvel Comics Presents, and Uncanny X-Men.  I found his stories to be both extremely funny and emotionally moving & poignant.  Aside from a couple of issues here and there, I have not read his more recent work on DC’s New 52, simply because I’m generally dissatisfied with the tone of that whole line, and the top-down creative style where editorial micro-manages their writers, leading to a lot of lackluster material.  I’d heard people complaining that within the pages of Red Hood and the Outlaws, Lobdell had turned Starfire into a nymphomaniac or something like that, but I just shrugged and figured it was something that his editors had directed him to do.  It didn’t really matter to me, since I wasn’t reading that book.

Now, though, having found out about Lobdell’s behavior at that comic convention, the manner in which he treated MariNaomi, suddenly I’m wondering to myself if I can now go back and re-read his Marvel work from a couple of decades ago and still enjoy it.  In the pages of Uncanny X-Men, he often wrote about how mutants were outsiders or outcasts, very effectively continuing the theme of mutants as metaphors for minorities such as Jews or blacks or homosexuals.  Lobdell would script powerful scenes where characters such as Charles Xavier would encourage tolerance & acceptance towards people of all backgrounds.  Is all that just going to seem hollow and hypocritical now?

Remember to practice what you preach.

Remember to practice what you preach.

I realize that Lobdell is only human.  Maybe he was just having a bad day.  Maybe he’s a practical joker with poor judgment who acts like this around everyone.  Should he be crucified for behavior?  Yet at the same time, we definitely cannot just casually brush aside all of the mental and emotional anguish MariNaomi obviously experienced because of his behavior.

So, getting back to my question, can I still, personally, read Lobdell’s work and enjoy it?  Thinking it over, there are numerous examples of creative types who had all manner of glaring flaws & defects, who behaved badly but who were brilliant writers or artists or musicians or actors.  Is anyone familiar with Ty Cobb?  He was one of the greatest baseball players who ever lived.  He was also, according to numerous sources, an extremely nasty individual who treated other people like crap and who would get into violent arguments with anyone & everyone at the drop of a hat, on or off the baseball field.  His teammates often hated his guts, but they wanted him up at bat because they knew he could help lead them to victory.

H.P. Lovecraft was an anti-Semite, and Robert E. Howard was probably something of a racist.  I still very much enjoy the fiction of both men, although if either of them were still alive, I doubt I would want to be in the same room with them.  Looking at a much more recent example, after September 11th Frank Miller seems to have gone off the rails, turning into an ultra right wing reactionary who demonizes Liberals and the Occupy Wall Street protestors as traitors.  Am I still able to enjoy his work?  Yes… sometimes.  I still think that Batman: Year One is amazing.  But I am totally repulsed by the extreme xenophobia and the idolization of fascism & violence on display in both 300 and Holy Terror.

So, yes, sometimes I can enjoy the works of controversial, offensive figures, as long as their ideologies do not permeate their creations.  But on other occasions, their upsetting behavior has become so associated for me with them that I find it distasteful to look at their works, even if their art has nothing to do with their beliefs.

What I really need to do is give this some time, and see how I feel about Lobdell’s writing a few months from now.  Maybe distance will give me a better perspective.  But right now, in the present, I really do not want to look at anything he’s worked on.

There is one last thing.  I see that the usual Internet trolls have, predictably, come out of the woodwork, either to defend Scott Lobdell, or to attack MariNaomi, arguing that she is “oversensitive” or “cannot take a joke” or whatever.  To those people, I have this to say: Imagine that was your wife or girlfriend or daughter or mother or sister who had been subjected to Lobdell’s poor, tasteless attempts at humor.  Would you have found his behavior towards your loved one to be acceptable?  Would you tell your significant other that they needed to “get a sense of humor” about what happened?  For your sake, I hope not.

Yeah, I've been there.

Yeah, I’ve been there.

As for myself, I’m not perfect.  God knows I’ve made mistakes.  When I was in my teens and twenties on a few occasions I said or did things that were sexist.  And there was this one kid in Junior High who was always being an asshole & treating me like crap, someone who I’d heard rumors that he was gay.  So one day I just got so pissed off at him that I shouted a homophobic slur at him.  And even to this day, from time to time I will put my foot in my mouth and accidentally offend people without meaning to because sometimes I’m still socially awkward.  Looking back on all those incidents, I realize what I did was wrong, and if I saw any of those people today I would absolutely apologize for my behavior.

I guess we can all take this incident as a lesson that we should be careful about what we say to others.  Even when we mean no harm, if we choose our words poorly we can unintentionally end up really hurting other people.

Homophobic chicken

The recent controversy surrounding fast food chain Chick-fil-A has raised some interesting First Amendment issues.  Chick-fil-A President and Chief Operating Officer Dan Cathy is a devout Southern Baptist.  The company has espoused many positions that fall within a strict, traditional interpretation of the Bible.  These include very strong opposition to homosexuality and same sex marriages.  This stance has made headlines within the last couple of months.  In regards to the issue, Cathy announced “We are very much supportive of the family — the biblical definition of the family unit.  We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that.”

In response, a number of politicians have come out in opposition to Chick-fil-A.  Among them was Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, who declared “Chick-fil-A doesn’t belong in Boston. You can’t have a business in the city of Boston that discriminates against a population.”  Also weighing in was Chicago’s Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who stated “Chick-fil-A values are not Chicago values. They disrespect our fellow neighbors and residents.”  Both Menino and Emanuel strongly urged Chick-fil-A to back out of their plans to open restaurants in their cities, and even contemplated utilizing zoning regulations to block the company.

This controversy has also arisen here in New York City.  Council speaker Christine Quinn, a strong advocate of gay rights, started an online petition to ban Chick-fil-A in the Five Boroughs.  On the other hand, Mayor Mike Bloomberg took an opposing stance, saying that “You really don’t want to ask political beliefs or religious beliefs before you issue a permit.”

Looking at all this, my first reaction was, admittedly, to jump on the bandwagon with those calling for a ban on Chick-fil-A.  I completely disagree with their opposition to same sex marriage, which they have backed up by donating millions of dollars to ultra-conservative political groups.  I think that they are a bunch of reactionary bigots, and I would be happy to see them shut down.

But, on second thought, giving it further consideration, I realized that would be completely against the spirit of free speech in this country, as guaranteed by the First Amendment of the Constitution.  I seem to recall an expression along the lines that the First Amendment doesn’t exist to protect the speech you agree with, but rather the speech you disagree with.  And Chic-fil-A’s stance on gay marriage would definitely be a case of that.  As disgusting as I find Dan Cathy and Chick-fil-A’s positions on homosexuality, they have a Constitutionally-guaranteed right to express those views without fear of government censorship.  I feel it would be morally wrong, as well as very un-Constitutional, for the government to block Chick-fil-A from setting up shop due to their views.

(Yeah, believe it or not, I’m actually in agreeing with that know-it-all windbag Bloomberg here.  Between this and his push for stronger gun control, that now makes two positions I actually see eye-to-eye with the Mayor on.  Well, as they say, even a broken clock is right twice a day.)

Besides, if Chick-fil-A was prevented from opening new stores by mayors or city councils that support gay rights, it would set a horrible precedent.  If that was allowed then, conversely, local politicians who were opposed to homosexuality could then ban businesses that practiced pro-gay policies.

So, yes, I say Chick-fil-A should be allowed to open in New York, Boston, and Chicago.  They must be allowed to exercise their First Amendment rights.  But, at the same time, I strongly encourage everyone who disagrees with Chick-fil-A to exercise their right to free speech.  Speak out against Dan Cathy’s bigotry, and boycott the hell out of that homophobic fast food chain.  That’s definitely what I intend to do.

What the Richard Grenell affair tells us about the GOP

Time to once again venture back into the murky, controversial world of politics.

I think that there are a lot of reasons for the current deplorable condition of American politics.  As I’ve mentioned before, one of the main reasons for this is the increased polarization of ideologies.  While there is plenty of blame to place at the feet of both parties, I personally feel that the lion’s share is due to the actions of the Republicans.  President Obama, despite declarations by his opponents that he is an ultra-liberal radical socialist, is actually pretty much in the middle of the road.  He has shown on numerous occasions that he is open to compromise.  It is really the Republican leadership and their key supporters who keep drifting to the far right of the ideological spectrum.  This is especially evident in the events of the last few weeks that have taken place within Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign.

In his quest to become the next President, Romney has attempted to promote himself as a moderate, while at the same time courting the support of the conservative elements of the Republican Party.  In other words, he is trying to play both sides of the fence.  But, as can be seen in the case of Richard Grenell, this is an untenable position.

Who is Richard Grenell?  He is a Republican, a political strategist, a former spokesman to the United Nations during George W. Bush’s presidency.  He was hired to be the foreign policy & national security spokesman for the Romney campaign.

Oh, yes, did I mention that Richard Grenell is also openly gay, and that he has spoken out in support of same sex marriage?

The day after Grenell’s appointment, Bryan Fischer of the ultra-conservative American Family Association was quoted on Twitter as saying “Romney picks out & loud gay as a spokesman. If personnel is policy, his message to the pro-family community: drop dead.”  Numerous other harsh criticisms from other figures in the Republican Party and the Religious Right followed on from this.

Despite all of Grenell’s knowledge & years of experience, and his endorsement by other former members of the Bush administration, the fact that he is homosexual and he believes in gay marriage is the defining characteristic of the man in the eyes of a significant portion of the Republican Party.  That Romney would appoint Grenell to his campaign was proof to them that their Presidential nominee was nowhere near “conservative” enough.

In reaction to this firestorm, Grenell was reportedly marginalized by the Romney campaign, shuffled off to the side, his expertise not called upon.  After only three weeks, an understandable frustrated Grenell resigned.  Romney’s camp claimed that they attempted to dissuade Grenell from departing, but the fact that they offered such a tepid defense of him in the proceeding weeks rather undermines their supposed loyalty.

The Grenell affair vividly illustrates just how extremist and myopic elements of the Republican Party have become.  This type of inflexible ideological stance has pervaded so many aspects of their platform.  They are no longer willing to compromise on most major issues.  They publicly embrace intolerance.  In this atmosphere, any sort of effective governing is going to be a near-impossible task.

I am not saying that all Republicans are like this.  Unfortunately, those aforementioned ultra-conservative elements are the most influential and vocal, continually dragging the entire Party further and further to the right.  The result is a political climate where the leaders and policymakers of half the government are almost completely out of touch with the moderate, mainstream beliefs held by most Americans.