Readers’ Corner: The Scary Printed Word

From the Duke Chronicle, regarding the school’s decision to have students read Alison Bechdel’s graphic memoir Fun Home:

Several incoming freshmen decided not to read “Fun Home” because its sexual images and themes conflicted with their personal and religious beliefs. Freshman Brian Grasso posted in the Class of 2019 Facebook page July 26 that he would not read the book “because of the graphic visual depictions of sexuality,” igniting conversation among students. The graphic novel, written by Alison Bechdel, chronicles her relationship with her father and her issues with sexual identity.

“I feel as if I would have to compromise my personal Christian moral beliefs to read it,” Grasso wrote in the post.

funhome1And from a report by the American Association of University Professors on “trigger warnings” and letting students opt out of materials they find offensive or troubling:

The presumption that students need to be protected rather than challenged in a classroom is at once infantilizing and anti-intellectual. It makes comfort a higher priority than intellectual engagement and … it singles out politically controversial topics like sex, race, class, capitalism, and colonialism for attention. Indeed, if such topics are associated with triggers, correctly or not, they are likely to be marginalized if not avoided altogether by faculty who fear complaints for offending or discomforting some of their students.

Granted, some of us who are great fans of Bechdel’s work will object to these objections on strictly aesthetic grounds. But it could also be seen as a troubling trend toward absolving students of dealing with any subject matter which they would prefer to ignore. True reading, true intellectual discovery comes frequently from the new, the unusual, and even the disturbing. Coziness should never be confused with education.

New on DVD: ‘Sleepwalk with Me’

sleepwalk-with-me-dvd-cover-98Mike Birbiglia’s funny, heart-tweaking film Sleepwalk with Me, one of the more refreshing comedies of the year, hits DVD and Blu-ray today. It’s an odd choice for Blu-ray (you could really see the crumbs when he was chowing on that pound cake…) but to each his own.

I reviewed the film when it came out in theaters earlier this year for PopMatters:

Based on his one-man show, Birbiglia’s film is a not-even-veiled account of his struggles as a standup comic who’s also battling fears of commitment and the possibly life-threatening sleepwalking that seems to get worse as his career gets better. Changing his character’s last name to Pandamiglio (a nod to the many mangled mispronunciations his real name receives from emcees) and little else, Birbiglia does a solid job of translating the downbeat, confessional humor of his show to the screen…

Here’s the trailer:

 

New in Theaters: ‘Chicken with Plums’

 

Anybody seeking a well-rounded love story featuring emotionally secure individuals should stay far, far away from Chicken with Plums. Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud’s adaptation of Satrapi’s graphic novel focuses on Nasser-Ali (Mathieu Amalric), a violinist living in late 1950s Iran. He plays like an angel, but suffers from an overwhelming moodiness. In the film’s first few scenes, he buys a violin and returns it almost immediately, screaming at the shop owner that he’s been cheated. In fact, life has cheated him…

Chicken with Plums is playing now, and makes for a certain kind of fantastic date movie. My full review is at PopMatters.

The trailer is here:

 

From the Vaults: Will Eisner’s Rifle Manual

In 1968, the United States Army decided to try and different tack for its largely conscripted force: instead of relying solely on telephone book-thick manuals and the barking of staff sergeants, the Army would pass on policies and training by utilizing a then still-disreputable art form: the comics.

At the same time, Will Eisner, one of the cornerstones of the American comics industry (also credited, incidentally, with essentially creating the graphic novel: 1978’s autobiographical  A Contract with God), was doing a lot of industrial work. One of the assignments he took on was the creation of one of these comic training manuals, which had the less than illustrious title of: “US Army Preventive Maintenance Manual for the M161A Rifle.”

While the subject might have been prosaic, the treatment was certainly not. As  you can see, Eisner doesn’t just slap images into a traditional A-B-C kind of manual, he breaks up the narrative into a visual and dynamic flow, spiked with jaunty dialogue rippled with colloquial language. It’s a wonderful piece of work.

You can see it displayed in full by Retronaut.