Tuesday, October 20, 2009

bibliobloggers on Robert Crumb: few mentions of his sexism and racism

Bibliobloggers are talking up a storm about Robert Crumb's comic book of Genesis.  But none of them has mentioned Crumb's sexism or his rape portrayal or his anti-Semitism or his other racism.

(David Ker was the first, in September of 2008, to notice Crumb's book as Ker tried to help a friend laugh by reproducing "Keep on Truckin'."  And John Hobbins can't seem to get enough after reading the reviews by Paul Buhle and fellow biblioblogger Chris Brady.  Dr. Jim West reads his fellow biblioblogger Roland Boer's post and gets most offended by how God's portrayed before finding that Robert Alter is not upset with Crumb's portrayals in the least. Doug Chaplin notes too how Alter is just fine and adds the take of Nick Baines with the conclusion that "the graphic sex and violence was there long before anyone drew it." Joel Watts quotes Ben Leach on how Christians down under are taking offense at "biblical characters having intercourse and [at the] 'gratuitous' depictions of violence." Theophrastus says "It certainly looks better than that awful Manga Bible." Karyn Traphagen compares Crumb's work to "JT Waldman’s Megillat [Esther]." And Michael Carden muses how less homophobic Crumb seems than "Jack Chick's 1980s tract, Doom Town.")

So we should not forget Robert Crumb's infamous sexism
("I do this stuff, and then I'm horrified and embarrassed when I see it on the paper, and I say, 'Oh, my God,' but somehow I can't stop doing it," Crumb says. "I have this hostility toward women," Crumb admits on camera.)
or his gynophobic, misogynistic rape portrayals
(Crumb took perverse pleasure in scorning anyone who had ever rejected him before, which included hippies, commercialism, and especially women. Aside from a few acid-inspired flights of fancy, Crumb’s art became cynical and neurotically, painfully autobiographical. Crumb’s favorite character to draw was himself: a poor, geeky shlub with pimples and a slouch hat. His comix [which had never been particularly woman-friendly] became violently misogynistic, as he graphically poured what were essentially his masturbatory fantasies onto the printed page. Women were raped, dismembered, mutilated, and murdered, sometimes all at once.)
or his anti-Semitism
(don't click here if you don't want to see more male over female sex in the context of hate of Jews; or don't click here or here if you don't want to see more of his portrayals of his own anti-Semitism from "When the Goddamn Jews Take Over America" by R. Crumb)
or his other racism
(don't click here if you don't want to see this white guy's comics to denigrate African Americans from "When the Niggers Take Over America!" in Weirdo #28, 1993 and reprinted in Taken from America, published by Knockabout Comics, London, 1994).


J. L. Watts said...

I miss so much when I rush over things. I regret that I missed this very real sexism.

I seem to pick it up more day by day, in life, the movies, tv, and, at home.

Theophrastus said...

Do you propose we ban Aristophanes, the New Testament, Justin Martyr, Augustine, Spenser, Shakespeare, Dumas, Twain, Pound, Eliot, Burroughs, and Rushdie on parallel grounds of religious prejudice, racism, sexism, and violence?

Not that I am defending Crumb -- who is clearly a world-class jerk.

The reviews and samples I've seen so far argue that this work of Crumb's is thought-provoking. (I haven't read the work yet, so I postpone judgment.) Even a flawed artist can produce a work that commands attention.

Sue said...

Amazing that no one would think that those illustrations were offensive to women. Oh wait, this is the bibliosphere we are talking about.

But the truth is that I did not know if he was simply illustrating the sexism that he found in the text, or whether he was illustrating his own sexism.

They are both fascinating and disgusting at the same time. I suppose this makes them thought provoking.

John Hobbins said...


Crumb offends everyone. This is not unusual in a certain kind of artist. One might just as well say: amazing that no one would think that those illustrations were offensive to Jews. Amazing that no one would think that those illustrations were offensive to anyone who believes in God.


I agree with Theophrastus. Though I have no idea why he left off the Old Testament and the Talmud from his list of "bad boys." The fact that he did comes close to ruining his argument.

Crumb is a flawed artist. Last time I checked, there are an awful lot of them around. Crumb should not be dismissed for that reason.

I do not wish to minimize Crumb's flaws (though I think you misidentify them). Nor would Crumb, when all is said and done.

Your approach is identical to the one I remember from those who wanted Clinton impeached. Given that President Clinton chose to have sex with one of his interns one fine Easter morn, a morning he might have chosen to spend elsewhere, with his wife and daughter, one precious moment in a long-term intimate relationship which was only the latest mishap in a long series which damaged the lives of many, given the fact that he lied about it and covered it up, under oath, he was to be dismissed as a person first of all, then as President, not to mention verbally lynched and crucified.

It's not that simple. Clinton will be remembered for his having the kind of intimate relationship for which you or I, Kurk, would lose our jobs, for his perjury (he was rightly disbarred from practicing law), but none of that can blot out his accomplishments as a President.

To this day, Clinton makes a valid contribution to society. He is an honored and sought after member of the political party that now controls the White House and both branches of Congress. He raises money for philanthropy, together with other ex-Presidents who were and are his political opponents.

Welcome to the real world, or at least, the saner segment of it. It's better, I think, than the one you wish to replace it with. It's a world that puts even grievous flaws into perspective.

In that same world, Elton John supports Eminem through drug hell, and refuses to criticize him as a person or as an artist.

Elton John, a PK if I remember correctly, chose the more excellent way.

Not everyone understood what Elton John was up to. Some people were genuinely hurt by Elton John's disclaimerless association with Eminem. Fine, I accept that. But that doesn't change my mind that Sir Elton did the right thing.

This is my way of saying that I feel as if you have misunderstood bloggers who appreciate Crumb and recognize his gifts despite what are for you, I take it, unpardonable flaws in his person and his art. You are welcome to your opinion, completely. But the way you have approached the topic suggests that you think that those who have another reaction are not welcome to theirs.

Here's the link once again to a review of Crumb's work by Paul Buhle (not Bruhle) in the Forward, a Jewish Daily.


Buhle puts the occasional charges of anti-Semitism and sexism against Crumb into perspective. To judge from the company he keeps, Crumb is not anti-Semitic, nor is he a misogynist. If he is, he has managed to fool a lot of Jews and a lot of feminists.

I think the only correct analysis is that Crumb is a conflicted personality, with huge gifts and huge flaws. I think you have missed Crumb's complexity and in the process, done violence to him and his art.

J. K. Gayle said...

>J.L., Thanks!

>Theophrastus, No I didn't proposed we ban anyone.

>Sue, Your truth is mine: I did not know if Crumb was simply illustrating the sexism that he found in the text or whether he was illustrating his own sexism. I do know that he may not know himself.

>John, I've corrected my typo of Buhle's name but of you and your opinions only said that you "can't seem to get enough." Please don't think I can "manage to fool a lot of" readers into thinking that I think that John Hobbins (who may have "another reaction" to what he asserts is my opinion) is "not welcome to" his own. Again, I only said that you "can't seem to get enough."

Theophrastus said...

John, you ask why I did not left out the OT and Talmud. In fact, I considered putting them in, but decided to omit them for separate reasons:

(1) Since Genesis is the work under consideration, including reference to the Hebrew Bible would have been circular.

(2) As for the Talmud, I do not believe it is a universal classic in the sense of the other works I cite which are, more or less, all read by almost all educated people (except, perhaps, for Justin Martyr -- who I probably should have left out). In my experience, only religious Jews and a few religious scholars read the Talmud (in anything more than brief excerpts).

Sue, I think that as a feminist you could also read this work with interest -- indeed, I would be surprised if there were not a feminist response to this work in due course. Of course, "interest" ≠ "admiration".

Doug said...

Interesting, Kurk. I knew nothing about this guy, just thought that this work might be worth more than a knee-jerk dismissal of a "heretical" reading / drawing of a sacred text which is, of course, deeply implicated in histories of sexual and racial violence.

Sue said...

I did read some of the reviews and interviews with Crumb and found it quite interesting. It reveals quite a bit about the male mind, and perhaps suggests that much of Genesis could be better understood from this perspective as well.