"Elias Nebula is practicing Japanese but no one knows."

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Boring Comics: Narratological Point.

It is a commonplace in Marvel comic books, particularly ones of a certain era, to waste several pages of the narrative with empty scenes showing the super heroes' battle abilities and finesse in generic battle scenes. The locus classicus is the Danger Room scene in The X-Men.
The splash page customarily begins with the X-Men seemingly spiritedly fighting one of their most notorious foes. After numerous pages (which we, the comic's humble buyers, have plainly invested and wasted whole cents in) the scene is revealed to be an exercise and an illusion. These were mere phantsasms - robotic simulacra created by the Shiiar technology of the Danger Room. Cut to a panel of Kitty Pryde at the Danger Room controls. Eating a slice of pizza, stuck in the mid-Eighties, talking her usual Mary-Sue jive.

This generic scene purportedly establishes the powers and pecadilloes of the characters for new, first-time readers. A similar scene is the opener of literally millions of comics: Spider-Man webspinning through New York and breezily espying a mugging in a back alley.

Must we ever be made to behold this sight ever again? Spider-Man captureing the muggers, grinding them down with vapid one-liners that everybody (really, everybody) is weary of. He webs them up and further lightly humiliates them, then turns to their victims who recoil from him and call him a "nasty hooligan" or some similar synonym.

Cut to a scene of J. Jonah Jameson droning on about the "web-spinning menace"; or a Daily Bugle front page editorializing against the infamous Spinner of Webs.

Marvel Comics are boring aren't they!!! I certainly wish they had never invented the Danger Room.

Add Danger Room scenes to my list of boring comics.

Also boring: "Pantheon" storylines that deal with characters from classical mythology.


Further "English Bands That Americans Like"

The full title should be "English bands that Americans like inordinately," but I think that goes without saying. "English bands that the English ceased to listen to in 1986 but which keep coming round on American turntables."

New additions:

Elvis Costello
Echo and the Bunnymen
Nick Lowe

I thought about adding Sting and Paul McCartney to the list. Does anybody in England listen to these two redundant rascals?

Etymology, Blasphemy and Bowdler

Speaking of the Americans-as-Anglophiles, there is a quite new bar under the Williamsburg Bridge called Gordon Bennett. I was in there with Toby Spinks, sat at the bar, and I was explaining to Toby what "Gordon Bennett" signified in England. "It's an exclamation of awe or surprise." I went further than was necessary, delving as I did into the gnomic realms of etymological conjecture. I said, "It occurs to me now that the phrase may have survived and prevailed chiefly as a bowdlerization of 'God damn it'."

Profane people today are unaware that blasphemy was taken very seriously less than a century ago, at least in certain milieux. There was a New York street gang in the 1850s called The Dead Rabbits. According to the nameless author of the entry on Wikipedia,

The name has a second meaning rooted in Irish American vernacular of NYC in 1857. The word 'Rabbit' is the phonetic corruption of the Irish word ráibéad, meaning 'man to be feared'. 'Dead' was a slang intensifier meaning 'very'. Thus, a 'Dead Ráibéad' means a man to be greatly feared.

This sounds like so much blarney to me, begad and beggorah.
(Blarney? On Wikipedia? It can't be!)

Uncoincidentally, the phrase "dod rabbit" was also abroad at this time-- as a canny, insider, subversive, neutralized way of saying "God damn it". When you said it, anybody astute knew what you really meant, and yet you hadn't strictly offended genteel values by saying the real phrase. The same trick persists today after a fashion in the middle-class use of the oaths "Gosh" and "Golly" ("Cripes" and "Crumbs") ("Begad" and "Begorrah"), which avoid breaking the Third Commandment while pointing ingeniously to the blasphemies. Ambrose Bierce published under the name "Dod Grile" (for "God Riled") in his earliest writings.

I submit that the phonetic similarity between "Dod Rabbit" and "Dead Rabbit" is more convincing than some airy speculation about words from Gaelic. This Gaelic interpretation sounds to me like the wilful excesses of academe at its most academic. And yet it endures. I really should write a paper on this subject for Notes and Queries.

Evenings in the university periodical section blandly leafing through back-numbers of Notes and Queries. This, which sounds pathetic I know, also sounds beautiful to me now. Idly flicking through issues of Artforum on a Norwich night.

Anyway, I merely speculated at the bar that the same may be true of the oath "Gordon Bennett!" While I was explaining all this to Toby, mine host the bartender - a generic Williamsburg collegiate laid-back slacker stubbled t-shirted bardude - had the gall to chime in to "correct" me.

He brazenly leaned across the taps and "explained it away" by means of a fatuous scenario: "If we saw a great sports car right now, while an American would say 'Awesome!,' an English person would say 'Gordon Bennett!'"

How was this different from what I had said? He simply situated it in a rather banal context. He then added, authoritatively, that "Gordon Bennett was also a real guy."

So, of course, was Joe Shmoe a real guy; and what's your point?

I looked at him with wan, noli me tangere disdain. Mine host was a total type, known on college campuses the world over (and Williamsburg is, lest we forget, a college campus sans college). The collegiate American Anglophile dude. He has a close equivalent in Australia in Ryan Webb [see past issues of Curiosa Rubberlineana, ca. 2003-6]. He is expert in smalltalk about exotic sports and is a total bore about "guest beers". He has a preferred English football team and follows them closely. He can talk companionably to anybody, as long as they have a dedicated fondness for utter boredom.

I do not. I am not that man. Nor do I take well to being corrected on points of my own national folklore by outsiders. I said, "Pardon my mistake, Herr Doktor Bardude, I had you for a lowly cocktail shaker! I didn't realize you were the doyen of the philology department. I merely grew up in England."

What I should have said: "Gordon bleeding Bennett!"

What I should have said: "And what is the etymology of the word pillock exactly I wonder, hein?"

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