Wake Up And Smell The Coffee: DC, Censorship & Hypocrisy

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When is it sensitivity and when is it censorship?

That’s the question I’ve been asking myself for the last couple of weeks. Ever since the horrible tragedy that struck this nation on September 11th, 2001… the world has reacted unpredictably, as expected. Left-wingers and right-wingers working together, thousands buying gas masks and avoiding mass transportation out of fear, George Bush Jr. impressing people with his speech… it’s been weird, that’s for sure. But throughout all of this, there has been a reaction on the entertainment front, also as expected. Can you show terrorism? Should you show terrorism? What kind of terrorism? And many more variants of these questions based on violence, devastation and even the World Trade Center. But where does it end? That’s my question.

I was very fortunate in my youth. Raised through the early eighties by a very liberal household, liberal television and surrounded by a variety of races and religions (myself a Jew) for friends and family… I admittedly grew up with a very open sense of the world. I’ve seen fear and hate in the faces of schoolmates and neighbors, but I’ve always believed that through perseverance and understanding that these elements would eventually melt away. I believed this because my sensibilities were created through people taking the time to explain the differences of the world to me and also being able to see the truth, whether through my own living environment or entertainment. It’s no surprise that the most open-minded people I’ve met in my life come from comic reading backgrounds, because this industry has always tackled the horrible injustices of man through stories and character depictions that allow us, as youth, to relate and learn. Hell, I read X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills when I was 10… and I learned more about the motivations of hate through that than I had through years and years of World War 2 popcorn films. Why, you might ask? Because the understandable fears and anxiety of our nation’s outlook during the early 80’s motivated comic creators to speak through their works, to show the youth why our thinking can cause others harm. It’s not that Chris Claremont, Alan Moore, and Frank Miller just decided one day to make something really grim and terrifying for the heck of it. No, they saw how dreary our future was beginning to look and took the opportunity to say something and make everyone the better for it.

Over the last decade, I’ve seen some truly shocking actions taken in the name of sensitivity. Go back about 15 years and people didn’t use the terms “P.C.” as much as we do now... if at all. In a culture largely influenced by the media, which had taken extremely large steps in the last several decades, it wouldn’t be long before we had to take a look at what we say and do and how it affects the rest of us. Subjects like discrimination, racism, bigotry, and prejudice are all dangers to the stabilization of society and the impressions made on youth. But how far do you go to stop it? I am the man I am today, because quite frankly, no one was afraid to show me the truth. My grandfather’s entire family, along with most of my grandmother’s, was murdered by the Nazi’s during the Holocaust. No matter how many times they explained it to me, or I saw some semblance of it on television, I never truly understood even a portion of what happened until I was 12. Do you know why? Because my parents told me to read Maus. That’s right, a comic book. I took my folks’ copies off the shelf and spent the entire night, from evening until morning, reading both volumes. I just wish my grandfather had lived long enough for me to ask him the questions I had afterwards.

How does this relate to what is going on today, you might ask. I don’t know how many of you have been paying attention to the last several weeks of news, but there have been some decisions made by DC Comics that are currently raising a lot of questions and controversy. After the events of 9-11, DC took a good, hard look at their publishing content and schedules, and made some very difficult decisions. All the solicitations for The Authority, The Authority: Widescreen, Goddess (trade) and JSA: Darkness Falls (trade) were cancelled until further notice. While the futures of the trade collections were left unclear, DC began to ask the creative teams of the Authority to edit their content in an effort to properly accommodate the tragedy. While some creators have decided to go with the program and make the necessary changes, others have declined due to various conflicts. Due to this inability to conform to DC’s editorial wishes, these stories may never see the light of day. Simply put, this news horrifies me. Not because of their refusal to publish the comic, but why this has only become an issue now and what this action means in relation to content from this day forth.

Do not let DC’s publishing edicts fool you. They are doing this to protect their company from criticism and litigation, not because it clashes with their moral code. Of course I’m not saying that absolutely none of them are troubled by the similarities or subjects of these books due to the crisis in New York. But if anyone expects me to believe that DC editorial is now more caring than ever about its readership and the impact of their stories… they can sell their bull manure elsewhere. Do not get me wrong. I loathe The Authority. I despise the kind of “stories” it passes as entertainment. Not because I’m some nutcase about violence, but because I’ve never felt they’ve offered more than low-grade fluff in the form of ultra-violence and explosions, much like the rest of Hollywood these days. But if DC wants to publish material like that, and especially through a Mature Readers label, I’m all for it. If there’s an adult audience for it, let them have it. We know who reads it and there’s no reason to kid ourselves. However, I don’t want them piddling a pitiful excuse for censorship in the name of sensitivity in an attempt to cover their own unmentionables. DC, I don’t know if any of you out there are actually reading this… but if you are, at least have the guts to back what your creators and content. If it’s going to be shocking violence, then so be it. Otherwise you’re just wasting everyone’s time. I can already guarantee you that you’ve lost a number of regular consumers due to your amazingly intuitive decision to edit/cancel those titles.

In the last two years, The Authority has depicted a Captain America clone raping innocent men and women. It has depicted children being suffocated underwater, or raped by their doctors. Entire worlds of females being raped on schedules in order to breed males. All of this, published and placed on convenient comic store racks and book store shelves without mature labels… and not one DC editor or press release has said a word, until now. This, my friends, is hypocrisy in its purest form. Basically, what DC has said, is that molestation is not a sensitive enough issue to be handled until it’s affected us on a scale that demands nation-wide coverage. Perhaps if JonBenet Ramsey had been raped and killed during that period of two years, DC would be more “sensitive.” Lord knows a giant redneck killer with a “harem of under twelve’s” hasn’t seemed to be an issue as there hasn’t been a widely covered media frenzy about such an event in recent history. No, despite children being molested in the hundreds year after year in REAL LIFE, it’s never been a problem making light of the subject in the pages of everyone’s favorite friendly The Authority comic. But now DC has a problem. You see… a lot of people died very recently, and very publicly, in a terrorist attack on an American landmark. DC wouldn’t want to draw attention to their content during a time like this… they’ll just wait it out. Hypocrisy I tell you, and it disgusts me more than anything I have seen in this industry to date.

Now, I can’t blame people for trying to make the world a better place. After all, the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. No, what bothers me is a complete lack of interest in what or why a publisher prints something, unless it endangers them externally. Take JSA: Darkness Falls, for instance. Here’s a storyline where the terrorists seize control of a plane and crash it to show their incredible power to the world. Frightfully similar to real life, correct? Well, here’s where the importance of the story comes in. One of the members of the JSA happened to lose his mother on that plane. Of course he joins the rest of the team to find and battle the terrorists, and at the end of the story it comes down to the hero and the villain who murdered all those people. What does he do? He restrains himself from crossing the line and killing the man. Despite the hate, the grief and the torture… the hero was able to move past it all to prove himself better and turn the villain over to the proper authorities. God forbid we should show anyone that story, right DC? After all, depicting our heroes as those who wouldn’t just kill our enemies in revenge due to terrorist attacks isn’t very topical, right? What has happened to comic publishers? When did they become these corporate slaves that bow for no man but their masters? All I know is this. If this collection, Goddess and any other previously published material goes without a re-solicitation or is edited in any sort of manner, I will lose any respect I ever had for that company. They can also expect my confidence in their product to act accordingly.

Where does this kind of editorial behavior leave us? What does it mean for creators and their work, henceforth? These are the kinds of questions I ask myself. I know a horrible tragedy has occurred and that there are many, many individuals across the world still struggling to grasp the seemingly impossible. I know all this, and yet there is still the part of me that understands the real world, the corporate world, and how some actions are made out of economic smarts and not emotional sensitivity or responsibility. I know how far reaching even the smallest bit of conformity and reactionary “political correctness” can plague our culture for years and years to come. Is it so necessary for corporate America to remain safe that we must hide the products of our past and stop challenging the future? Does anyone remember Song of the South? I think about all of these things and then look upon my youth and weep for the children of today, with their lovable, harmless and meaningless Digimon… remembering what it was like when G.I. Joe taught me “knowing is half the battle.” I just… weep.

Born and raised in Tampa, FL, Drew Reiber is a part-time student with aspirations of someday writing those comics he so loves to rant about. Currently he awaits the negation of “towers” from the title of Lord of the Rings 2 and eventually the dictionary, and swears he’ll have the right to whine when it all comes to pass. You can find his other column at (http://hometown.aol.com/nolansnewsstand/), which has a similar name, but different content.

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