Life On Mars #2: The One With Mel Gibson And Robert Crumb

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Welcome to the second edition of Life On Mars, my little column discussing pop-culture, current events, and whatever else is putting a bee in my bonnet.

Quote of the week has been preemptively won by The Daily Beast about Mel “Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world” Gibson’s upcoming movie Rothschild:

A representative for actor Mel Gibson claimed in a statement Monday evening that the controversial star’s upcoming movie project Rothchild—a film about a fictional ultra-rich, multi-generational family of Jewish bankers—was “completely unrelated” to the Rothschilds, a real life ultra-rich, multi-generational family of Jewish bankers.

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I think it’s really lovely that we live in a world now where we can just say what we really believe with no shame or even the slightest bit of goddamn self-awareness.

I was listening to a vlog I had followed for the last several months—you know, one of those “potpourri” types of video-thingies—and out of nowhere this guy was like “there is no greater evil than political correctness.” And I was like…”it seems like you have a little bit of a failure of imagination there, pal.”

Let’s take a topic that’s currently making its way in comic book circles: that of the alleged racism and sexism of classic underground cartoonist Robert Crumb.

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Now: I have loved the work of Crumb for decades. But I also have been increasingly aware as I was fangirling Crumb that there was a certain portion of his oeuvre that is **YIKES**. Yes folks, that is an actual adjective: **YIKES**. Got a 4-year English Lit degree just to say it.

And so I’ve wondered when it would suddenly dawn on the larger comic book reading cognoscenti that there might have been something problematic with some of this stuff. But in the current age, don’t waste time wondering for whom the tweet tolls—it will be probably be tweeting for you soon enough!

The question then becomes: is Robert Crumb “cancelled?” And, an even larger, more potent question: what does that even mean?

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yeah, I can’t **actually** run the actual offending art on this site cuz algorithms

Like most things in actual 3-dimensional living, the answer is quite murky. And my own opinion is multi-faceted and will no doubt please very few.

On one hand, I don’t believe all of Crumb’s work and influence should be scrubbed clean from the annals of Comicdom—he has had such a seismic influence on underground comics that to do so would be in complete denial.

On the other hand…I believe accessing the racism/sexism of some of his work is a justified intellectual exercise. And if you immediately shout down any attempt to have said intellectual exercise as being “too sensitive”—you do realize that the shouting down means you’re “too sensitive” as well, right?

And it boils down to this question: by using some extreme racist and sexist imagery, was Robert Crumb celebrating or ironically challenging popularly-held highly-offensive stereotypes? And the answer, I think, is…yes. Yes.

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And that’s the problem, and why this is such a murky topic.

Now, going back to the case of Mel Gibson and Rothschild…for a man with a past history of dicey comments about the Jewish people to come out with a movie whose same name and basic concept dovetails into a popular anti-semitic conspiracy theory…that’s CRAZY-SAUCE to me. This is what I mean about having a complete lack of self-awareness.

But, like I’ve said…we’re in an age where everyone’s increasingly just putting all their cards on the table.

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Of course, I write all this as if humans, in general—and pop-culture fans, in particular—are rational creatures unfettered by primal knee-jerk reactions born of the deepest and most subconscious wells.

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